Friday, April 29, 2005

Information System Failure Promotes Communication

Today I went to the brand new Fry's Electronics store to pick up a corded headset telephone I had been looking for. What an amazing toy store for us wanabe Geeks! Huge, with lots of selection, and nice with knowledgeable people to help you.

But the really interesting part began after the salesperson helped me make a selection of the right phone. We went to a register in that department so that he could provide me a "quote," really a way of tracking what customers have picked up and try not to have merchandise "disappear."

The store computer system crashed. So as we stood there waiting for it to come back, we had a 15-minute conversation about the fact that he didn't have a clue about what he wanted to pursue as a career long term. My coaching self stepped in and he got a good (and free) coaching session on the spot.

Finally we gave up on the computer system, and after looking around some, I headed to check out. The line to check out was L-O-N-G. And it wasn't moving very fast, either. Turns out that the computer crash was causing the hoard of check-out people to have to process transactions manually. So that was really slow compared to scan and run the credit card. The result was another 15-minute conversation with a man I was standing in line with -- really a pleasant thing. I also got to talk to the person who had been assigned to control the queue, and then several minutes with the person checking me out.

It took a lot of time, but actually I really enjoyed the opportunity to have meaningful contact with others while I was shopping. While the convenience of information systems doing the scanning and funds transaction and the whole deal happening almost instantaneously is nice, I was reminded of how much I miss the leisurely interaction that naturally occurs before we had all the convenience of automation.

There is a price that we pay for "progress." That price is exacted from meaningful person-to-person interaction.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Test for Podcasting

This is just a test.

"Tamed by God"

Ronnie Norman, 4/24/05

How to Determine What Your Values Are

As a life coach, I frequently help people work to clarify their core values and take steps to better align their lives with what's important to them.

As I read Larry James' Urban Blog yesterday, he challenged churches to test how well aligned they are with the values they espouse, specifically regarding poverty. His suggestion was that they look at their annual budget and see how much they spend on helping those in poverty compared to all of the other things they do. Most of us don't need to actually look at the numbers to recognize that the portion we spend on buildings, staff, and programs focused on ourselves leaves little or no room for helping the poor.

In an incident still infamous in our family history, I got out a flip chart one night when the kids were still young and our church was facing a capital campaign, and we worked through how we spent our money as a family in order to gain an understanding of what our family values were. While I still get razed about the flip chart approach, everyone got the point. Core values, and even an area of misalignment or two came through clearly.

Looking at where we spend our money combined with looking at how we use our time gives a rather concrete picture of what our core values are. Sometimes when we do this, the picture comes out and we say, "Wow, how we're living really does reflect our core values!" Sometimes, though, we look at the picture and say, "No -- that doesn't reflect my values, just the necessity of spending my money or time to stay afloat." The latter calls for some honest reflection -- and probably some changes. Living our lives (as indicated by how we budget our money and time) out of alignment with what we truly value has all kinds of consequences -- and none have good outcomes.

So do the exercise and see what you learn. Then see if a little fine-tuning might not make a big difference in your life, or whether a major change in direction might not be indicated.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Too Many Electronics

I've given up. I'm looking for a corded phone with a headset.

Without making the story long, I've finally decided that there are just too many electronic devices in my house (and other nearby houses) to get satisfactory results from cordless phones. My most recent purchase was a Uniden 5.8 GHz, but it is getting feedback from somewhere and although I can hear people well, they are having trouble hearing me. Actually our 2.4 GHz phones work better, but not with a headset for some reason.

Could be that one of the four or five wireless networks nearby, the TIVO, the Cingular forwarding device, or other people's cordless phones are the problem. But even if I could figure out which it was, assuming it's not just the way the Uniden phone is made, it's unlikely that I could solve it.

So, I'm looking to go low tech for my coaching calls -- back to a corded phone and a corded headset.

I love the convenience of all the wireless devices, but wouldn't it have been nice if someone had figured out how to do all of that without interference?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Multitasking Lowers Your IQ

In a CNN item, the headline was "Emails 'hurt IQ more than pot.'"

What the study behind the headline was really about was the effect of multitasking on the ability to do tasks successfully, such as complete questions on an IQ test. Being interrupted by emails, instant messages, and the like resulted in scores 10 points lower than normal -- although the loss was just for tests taken while multitasking. And it is probably noteworthy that this degree of impairment is greater than for pot use.

We live in a world that worships multitasking. Many contemporary job descriptions even list the ability to multitask as a qualification. And many of us take pride in how we have learned to multitask. We brag about being able to read, watch TV, and talk to our spouses all at the same time. Truth is, we know that when we do so, we don't do any of these well. I'm just surprised that the loss was only 10 points.

There's a lesson here about productivity. While our world, and especially our workplaces, extol the virtues of multitasking in the name of increasing productivity, the truth is that productivity suffers from multitasking. Time management studies have repeatedly shown that highest productivity results from focusing on a single task at a time. Time management gurus have long taught us to plan our days, work on one thing until it's done, and then move on. All recommend focusing specific time on reading and answering emails and phone calls rather than handling them as they come. This study just reinforces that advice.

This reminds me of good advice I picked up from Rolf Smith during one of his "Thinking Expeditions." Rolf calls the space in your office behind your computer and beside the phone as the "Stupid Zone." (He even suggests that you mark it off with masking tape as a visual reminder.) The Stupid Zone is where you are subject to the interruptions and distractions of others, essentially where they control what you do. We have managed to extend the stupid zone to almost everywhere with the use of cell phones, Blackberries and wireless hot spots.

Want to gain at least 10 points of IQ instantly? Then arrange to spend some quality time unplugged -- without the interruptions of your phone, your computer, your cell phone or your Blackberry. If you're like me, you'll go through withdrawal, but you'll find the results worth it.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Second Mile Mission Center

I'm becoming more sensitive to those around me living in poverty. Last night we attended the Second Mile Mission dinner, and it was both surprising and encouraging to see the level of support being provided to the poor in Fort Bend County.

Surprising because Fort Bend County is generally characterized as affluent. During the last 30 years, we have experienced rapid population growth as planned communities have been developed and a flood of people have moved in. Driving around the county, one sees new homes, abundant shopping facilities and restaurants, and the look and feel of success and prosperity. Yet Second Mile served over 40,000 people in real need last year. One doesn't have to drive to inner city Houston to find poverty -- it's in plain sight if you just get outside the planned communities that shelter us from seeing it.

Encouraging because Second Mile is bringing people together to do something about poverty in Fort Bend County. This year the organization hopes to help 57,000 of our neighbors in need. One impressive statistic is that Second Mile is the largest single outlet for the Houston Food Bank, distributing over 150,000 pounds of food monthly.

In Living God's Love, Lavender and Holloway make a very relevant point. If we believe that Jesus is coming again and that when he returns he will bring an end to injustice and poverty, then we should be about his business now. That's what Second Mile is about.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Jenny Plays Ball Her Own Way

Jenny Dog has her own ways of playing ball. Rather than teaching her our conventional way of playing ball -- us throwing it and her running to get it and bringing it back and giving it to us -- we've adopted her games.

For example, if I have one ball, the game goes like this. I throw the ball, and Jenny Dog runs and gets it. She runs back with the ball, but stays just out of reach. As I move toward her to get the ball, she moves further away, so it turns into a new game, "Chase Jenny to Get the Ball." Knowing I can't win that game, I turn away, appearing disinterested. She then comes back close, but not close enough for me to get the ball. If I appear to give up and sit in my chair, she'll often come and drop the ball at my feet and stare at me until I pick up the ball and throw it. Then the game starts all over again.

So I've added an adaptation. I get two balls. I throw the first ball and Jenny Dog goes and gets it and brings it back. When she gets close, I throw the second ball. She drops the first ball to retrieve the second one. So we keep this up until she gets tired and decides to quit bringing the balls back.

I know I could train her to play ball the conventional way. After all, I'm the master and she's just the dog. But I enjoy that she has a mind of her own and that when we play ball it's a thoughtful interaction -- truly a game -- and not just a trained response on her part.

Often we seek to reduce interactions with pets to thoughtless reactions. And it doesn't take much imagination to recognize that we attempt to do the same with people. By subtle and not-so-subtle means, we attempt to train those with whom we have regular interactions to react the way we want -- to play by our rules. We recognize this behavior when it's extreme -- we call it abuse or manipulation.

Isn't it interesting that God, the Master of all, doesn't choose to dominate us and in so doing chooses not to train us to just react. Instead God gives us great freedom in how we choose to respond to him. What he desires from us is thoughtful interaction, thoughtful response. Our love for him and our obedience to his commands comes as the result of thoughtful decisions on our part, not as a result of force or even behavior modification.

Without thought, without thoughtful decisions, I'm unable to interact with God.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Frustrations of Publishing email Newsletters

For the past few days, I've subbed for my friend Carol Watson. Carol puts out a daily email prayer newsletter for the First Colony Church. Every once in a while when she has a chance to get away for a few days, I put it together and send it out for her.

Like all of us who publish email newsletters, Carol fights an ongoing battle to get her email letter through SPAM measures the ISP's are trying. The most frustrating problem for us is the technique more ISP's are implementing -- limiting the number of emails from a single address to their domain. In a place like Houston, lots of the folks we correspond with use local ISP's like and EV1. They are both using this technique. So Carol gets a lot of email from subscribers because their prayer email letter is not getting through.

If you keep up with the SPAM wars, you know that we're all losing (except the spammers). ISP's will try almost anything to reduce SPAM. The problem is that almost every measure they implement will prevent some SPAM from getting through, but also prevents some of the email people want from being received.

Seeing Carol's frustration this week caused me to do some rethinking about pushing information rather than allowing people to pull information. "Pushing" is using techniques like email. "Pulling" is using blogs or websites where people have to go look for it.

Generally, most of us like to have information we want pushed to us. It's easier for us because we don't have to think to go look for it. The problem, though, is that we are all having so much pushed at us that at times it's overwhelming. And when you put the SPAM problem on top of that, pushing information is becoming increasingly problematic both for the sender and the receiver.

Maybe it's time for some of us to rethink pushing vs. pulling. Blogs, while fundamentally a pulling technique, have tools available that will alert interested readers when the blog has been updated and provide simple click through navigation for the reader. I use Bloglines to remind me to read several blogs that are interesting to me. The Bloglines notifier is resident in my systray, and provides a message when one of the blogs is updated. So it's sort of like getting the email notice, but without the hassle. I expect to see more of us who are struggling trying to publish email newsletter transition to Blogs.

What holds us back is fear that some of our readers will not make the transition. But maybe if we can make it easy enough for them, they will. It might be worth an experiment!

Monday, April 18, 2005

God Led Her to a Job.

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to be the graduation speaker for a group that had completed the Wings life skills training along with The Technology Opportunity Institute computer skills training at Houston's Christian Community Service Center JobNet.

This was a big deal because the students had completed a 14-week program. Two of the students had perfect attendance, for which they will be rewarded with refurbished computer systems.

One only had to see the pride and smiles on their faces to understand what this opportunity means to them. Their lives have been changed for the better because of people who care about them and who are providing practical help to increase their employment opportunities.

While I was billed as the "motivational speaker," I was the one who was motivated -- by the glowing adults I had a chance to interact with, including the caring individuals who made it all possible.

During a conversation with Heather Eyles, who recently came on board to lead JobNet, she explained that over the last few years she had come to a growing realization that she really felt like she had to work in the Christian non-profit arena, and not in the secular non-profit world. Her thought process had to do with the motivation for her service, and being able to be openly Christian. She beamed as she talked about being led by God to her job.

Wouldn't it be great if everyone enjoyed the happiness and joy of being led by God that I saw in Heather?

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Gathering of Men

I attended the Gathering of Men breakfast yesterday morning. It started at 6:45, which meant that I was up and out unusually early for me. As I was driving in the Southwest Freeway, I had doubts about whether this was going to be of sufficient value to have interrupted my comfortable routine to attend.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the J. W. Marriott, the first thing I found was that I had to park in the very back of this large lot. Other men were streaming out of their cars heading toward the hotel. I couldn't help but be a little surprised and quite impressed as I joined all of them funneling into the Exposition Center. It's a large facility.

After being greeted and seeing a couple of people I know, I made my way into the room to find my host's table. Again I was surprised at the number of tables. We're talking about thousands of men having breakfast together and hearing a speaker talk about the power of Jesus in his life!

Vince Evans, who was a star quarterback at USC and then for 17 years in the NFL, was the speaker. Hearing his story of how he came to Jesus and the difference it made and is making in his life was exciting. He held the full attention of everyone there.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet several men at my table. Most, like me, had never been to a Gathering event, and none of us knew each other, but quickly formed some bonds.

Roger Wernette leads the Houston organization, and does a great job. During the fall, there will be a golf tournament and a dinner and breakfast featuring Ken Blanchard. To get on their mailing list, just email Roger (

On the drive home, I couldn't imagine NOT having disturbed my comfortable routine!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The 60th Birthday Weekend

We went to Concan, Texas for the weekend to celebrate my 60th birthday. Concan is in the Texas Hill Country, a magnet for bird watchers and swimming in the Frio River. We did neither, but just enjoyed the views, trying to catch fish, eating at Neal's Cafe, and mostly being together. Most of the immediate family was able to make the trip.

Sara and Mark schemed for over a month to keep my present a secret and to try to keep me guessing. They even got Kathy to wrap it along with ancillary gifts in a large box with rocks to add intrigue. And they had a few sibling arguments along the way just to make it more interesting. John managed to avoid all the fun by being out of the country, and Catherine chose to not get sucked into the fray. So finally getting to open it was a lot of fun. Turned out to be an iPod, which is something I have really been wanting. Eloise, in addition to footing the bill for the weekend, arranged with my friend Johnny to make a shirt embroideried with "On the map, but not over the hill." And I am still deciding what to buy with the always appropriate gifts of money from my Dad and my Mother-in-law.

It was a great time, and I look forward to writing more about it in coming days. I'm blessed by a loving and fun family!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Talking to India

I recently had trouble with my DSL connection, so called the SBC support line.

First, I got to have a conversation with a computer. It asked questions and then used speech recognition to process my answers. It worked well, although I still find talking to a computer a little uncomfortable. It's amazing how good the speech recognition software has become, at least for this type of application.

When a person came on the phone, he was from India. Actually I had to call twice, and so talked to two different people. They both were quite helpful although they were obviously working from a script, and so the outsourced tech support worked quite well, even though there were some problems with the phone line quality. What they walked me though helped me figure out what the problem was, and I was able to fix it.

This is my first personal experience with service outsourced overseas. But it is obviously a growing trend. M.D. Anderson, among others, is now outsourcing the reading of MRI and CT-Scan images to India due to a shortage of radiologists in the U.S. I'm more comfortable with the computer tech support than the imaging outsourcing, but it's just a manifestation of how well our world is connected.

I wonder what else is being phoned in?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

John's Home!

John landed in Norfolk this afternoon after completing his tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq. Okay, Norfolk is not home home, but it's a lot closer. He's scheduled to be back in Houston Friday to begin his re-entry into civilian life and reserve duty.

I feel a lot of joy that he has returned safely. I feel a lot of appreciation for all that have regularly lifted him up in prayer.

At the same time, I'm very aware that there are over 100,000 men and women still serving there, and I relate to their families' anxiety and prayerfulness. I encourage you to join me in regular prayer for their safety.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Masters of Our Own Lives?

"A man who considers himself the master of his own life can never be humble, because he thinks that he has no obligation to anyone. The man who considers service to God to be the purpose of his life is always humble, because he feels that he has never fulfilled his obligations." Tolstoy

Isn't this the issue for all of us? We want to be the master of our own lives -- to be in control. We want to be self-sufficient. We want to be capable of doing whatever needs to be done to achieve success ourselves using our own smarts and resources.

As I work with people who are between jobs, I see how they are affected when they get laid off because of circumstances beyond their control. They recognize for the first time, or at least the first time in a long time, that they truly are not in control. They are not, after all, the master of their own lives. They talk about self esteem being low as a result.

The exciting thing to me about these circumstances is the spiritual growth that I often get to witness. It's amazing to see that as people recognize that they are not the masters of their own lives, that they begin to recognize the need for faith in and reliance upon a God who is the Master.

Seeing this frequently is helpful to me for two reasons:

1. I, like every other human, still struggle with wanting to be in control, wanting to be the master of my own life. I need to see regular reminders that none of us really are.

2. I need to be reminded that the best help I can offer people in transition is encouragement to rely more strongly on God, and to recognize that He is in control. This is counter to my natural tendency to give them advice based on helping them regain control of their lives -- best practices from the world of job searching.

I need to remember, "Seek first his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Franchise Owner Incomes

Ever wonder how much a person who owns a successful franchise earns?

I spent some time yesterday with a guy who has worked for 20 years helping people buy and run franchises of several different types. His answer is that a franchise will net about 15% of gross revenues, essentially no matter what type of business the franchise is in. Of course that assumes that the business is well run.

If that's right, your local fast food franchise or golf store or car painting shop or whatever must generate a lot of revenue to provide the owner a good income. Doing $500,000/year would provide income of $75,000.

Makes for some interesting guessing as you drive around and see all of the franchise businesses popping up.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Accountability Software

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, here's more on accountability software that can be used to track websites visited by an individual and share that information with someone you wish to be accountable to help minimize the temptation to visit internet porn sites.

Apparently the best established program is called Covenant Eyes. It has the advantage that it can't be turned off or subverted. Many Christian organizations now require that all staff members use this service. A monthly fee of $6.95 is charged for the service, although discounts are available to organizations for multiple installations.

NetAccountability offers a similar service at a lesser monthly price.

Another well-spoken of program is SafeEyes. Safe Eyes adds internet filter capabilities to tracking. It sells for $59.95 with no monthly fee.

For more information of all of these types of products, see the summary.