Archive for the 'life tips' Category

life: thoughts on making politics constructive

When I step back and try to figure out why things in general seem so dysfunctional, here are some of what I think is happening:

Politics has become about power and survival instead of service. This is the one-sentence summary. When you spend the bulk of your efforts on keeping yourself alive through the accumulation of power (i.e., getting a seat on a committee, marginalizing your competition, etc.), and starting the campaign for the next election as soon as you win the previous one (time away, fundraising, etc.), what time is left to serve the constituency and build consensus and would doing so jeopardize your survival? And that is the root of dividing instead of improving. It has become about fighting instead of working. Listen to the language of the current candidates: “fight” is the prominent word. Not “represent”, and not “work”.

America is not homogeneous. There are broad regional differences in viewpoints and values. Not all of us are alike, and not all of us can be put in a blue or red bucket, though all of us are Americans. And that is what makes this place so awesome. Therefore, there is no single right answer for the country across so many topics. And this is why compromise is so absolutely necessary. We need to work together to figure out what works best for the country as a whole, instead of just one group at the expense of another.

At a high level, goals across party lines have a lot in common. Where we differ is on how to achieve them. There are many ways to achieve a goal, not just one. Not just two.

Compromise has become a lost art. It is replaced with slash and burn. Tearing down instead of building. It should be solutions vs problems, instead of neighbor vs neighbor. Fighting is easy, but collaboration across lines is hard.

Take a look at this social experiment by JetBlue. It is not just a metaphor for politics, and it is not a coincidence that they have red and blue hand signs. We all loose opportunities when we succumb to fighting, fail to compromise and fail to work together.

“News organizations” are communicating what sells the most, and fueling the fight. They do sound bites instead of stories, only scraping the surface. Unfortunately due to our human nature, it’s what we like to see.

Campaigns and politics are more about style than substance. The content has become superficial.

Running a campaign takes an unreasonable amount of money. In the 2012 presidential campaign, each candidate with party funds and super-PACs spent $1 billion each. Billion. Those without money can’t compete. The candidate becomes indebted to contributors instead of voters.

Debates aren’t about discussing the pros and cons of platforms and plans, but attacks on a person like a celebrity magazine or a middle school argument. Having a challenging conversation is very different than fight or flight.

There is a surprising lack of accountability and misinformation in truth telling: see factcheck.org.

Stories need to move from style (celebrity zingers and sound bites) to substance (long talks on proposed policy and plans). And we need to have the patience to listen and think and ask questions.

We can’t place all the blame for this on the candidates, the system is broken. Both the party system and the campaign process need an overhaul. We need to stop rewarding the wrong behaviors, if we hope for those behaviors to stop.

For each party during the primary process, the question seems to be “is the Republican conservative enough” and “is the Democrat liberal enough”. While that may play well to each party’s base during the infighting of the primary, it creates distance between moderates and the other party in the general election. Instead of finding middle ground that appeals to a majority of citizens across lines, it ends up pitting a small number of right-wing extremists against a small number of left-wing extremists, and leaving the moderates trying to figure out which extremist they dislike the least. This is what makes the party nomination/primary so short-sighted. It fails to think long-term.

A protest vote to throw out a few leaders isn’t going to make a positive effect, because the real issue is the current culture of the institution. It’s way bigger than a few people. Choosing leaders that are less likely to talk across party lines, less likely to find common ground, and more likely to polarize is going to increase the stagnation, not reduce it. A protest is different than getting something working. Like the old saying, “are you going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?” Our lack of governing ability is self-inflicted. When are we going to stop sabotaging ourselves? When we stop polarizing and start compromising.

I’m tremendously happy to be in America and we have it tremendously good here, but at the same time this country faces lots of problems. Many of which are very complex. I believe we are totally capable of solving them. But it’s going to take grown ups to do so. The question is if we can rise to the challenge, or wallow in the state of the natural man.

So what to do? Here are some ideas, for whatever it is worth to you:

Really research. Don’t rely only on news and social media friends. Or other sources that are recognized to be leaning or have an agenda.

Get a deeper understanding of the issues. We all make assumptions that turn out to be false or very incomplete.

Talk. It is the silent moderates that enable the noisy extremists.

Listen to others that are different than yourself and understand their perspective. Have civil conversations, it’s OK to not agree, really! Don’t be silent. Always be civil, even when others are not. Be slow to take offense. One party does not have a monopoly on all the good ideas.

Vote. Every vote matters. Be informed when you vote, really informed. Sound like work? It is! When you default your vote to party membership instead of the fit of each individual candidate, then you are letting the party vote for you.

Continue to engage with the officials after the election, whoever gets elected.

Realize that those elected officials likely have less impact than they claim, either for benefit or detriment. I doubt they are either a savior or a devil. Treat elected officials with moderation.

Remember that they are here for us, we are their customer, not the other way around. That’s why they used to be called a “public servant”.

[Update]: The other thing I see going on is the candidates (especially one presidential candidate in particular) promoting fear. Fear is a strong motivator, but for all the wrong reasons. It creates an emotional response instead of a thoughtful response. Be aware of when people try to manipulate you using fear, for they are doing so with the goal of benefiting themselves. Instead of reacting to the fear, stop and calm down, dig through the facts, and figure out a productive solution to the problem being faced. It’s likely to be more complex and in a different direction than the manipulators prefer.

life tips &op-ed marcelk 03 Mar 2016 No Comments

life: 43 Thoughts About Investing and the Economy

This piece from the Motley Fool reminds me that when it comes to investing, there really is no magic. I don’t understand why this isn’t required learning in school. Important stuff.

Read it: 43 Thoughts About Investing and the Economy

life tips marcelk 14 Sep 2013 No Comments

life: the epic road trip

Stats:

  • duration: 23 consecutive days
  • driving distance: 6747 miles
  • longest single day: 856 miles, 15 hours driving (not including breaks)
  • total hours driving: 112
  • average mpg: 29.1
  • gas consumed: 321 gallons
  • number of kids upon departure: 5
  • number of kids upon return: 3 (2 left at college)
  • family groups visited: 9

Monuments / Parks / Museums visited:

  • Frazier History Museum: Louisville KY
  • Gateway Arch: St Louis MO
  • Keeper of the Plains plaza: Wichita KS
  • Mesa Verde National Park: Cortez CO
  • Canyon De Chelly National Monument: Chinle AZ
  • Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial: Gallup NM
  • Petrified Forest National Park: Holbrook AZ
  • Meteor Crater: Winslow AZ
  • Historic Route 66: Winona & Williams AZ
  • Grand Canyon National Park: Grand Canyon AZ
  • Cedar Breaks National Monument & Brian Head Mountain: Brian Head UT
  • Bryce Canyon National Park: Bryce Canyon UT
  • Capital Reef National Park: Torrey UT
  • Goblin Valley State Park + Little Wild Horse slot canyon: Hanksville UT
  • Arches National Park: Moab UT
  • Colorado River rafting: Moab UT
  • Mountain biking + horse ride: Moab UT
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast: Salt Lake City UT
  • Field Museum: Chicago IL

My favorite moments:

  • Standing at the top of Brian Head peak, 11307 ft elevation, 53 degrees fahrenheit on a sunny August day (not including a significant wind chill), able to see for 100+ miles in every direction.
  • Hiking across amazing landscapes.
  • Laying on a blanket on a cloudless night in Arches NP looking at the stars.
  • Enjoying the dry air (low humidity). It really does make a difference.
  • Driving on a section of historic Route 66 while the kids watched Pixar’s “Cars” movie, and in the end credits the song “Route 66” played while we were driving through “don’t-forget” Winona Arizona.

We flew my oldest daughter home from college so she could do the trip with us. I’m thinking it may be the last time we have all the kids together for a big trip like this. Even after being in the minivan for 3 and a half weeks, at the end I told my wife that I could keep going if there was no need for me to have a job and earn money. The kids did really well. It was work, but it was fun, and we saw amazing sights, and I got to spend quality time with my family.

The following pictures were taken with my phone, and are untouched except to increase the compression to make them smaller downloads.

brianheadtree3 Near the peak of Brian Head mountain.

brianheadclouds Sunset clouds over the resort at Brian Head.

waiting3 Waiting for dinner to be served at a restaurant after a day of driving and hiking.

life tips marcelk 08 Sep 2013 No Comments

life: going to college with financial responsibility

Now that my second child is on their way to college, I think my wife and I have narrowed in on an approach to higher education that is sustainable. Here are the principles we’ve been teaching and doing with our children.

Go to a school that is affordable.

It would be great fun to drive a Ferrari 458. Really great fun. But until I win the lottery, it’s just not realistic to own a $250,000 car. Instead I drive a low-end Acura. The Ferrari is literally 10 times the cost of my Acura. Does that make it 10 times better to drive during my daily commute? The Acura serves me very well. There are way better things to spend my limited money on. The same concept applies to schools. Is the small class size and name and some extra networking opportunities really 10 times better than a qualified school with in-state tuition? Perhaps better, but 10 times better? I think you have better things to spend your limited money on. If you can get scholarships or tuition reduction, then go for it. If your money is unlimited, then go for it. Want to take out loans for the expensive school? Read the next item.

Do not go into debt.

I hear people talking about exiting school with a degree and 50 or 100 or 200 thousand dollars in debt. I find that crazy. It’s a mortgage that you can’t live in that will take 30 years to pay off. Do you really want to burden your existing or future family with that much debt? It does not have to be that way. Pay as you go. If you need to take a semester or a year off of school to earn money to carry you through the next period, do that. There is absolutely no shame in that. You need to go at the right pace so you exit school with zero debt.

As parents, we will match whatever you can get.

I can help because it is expensive, but I want you to have financial skin in the game. So we will do a 1-for-1 match of whatever income or cost offset you can get. Get a job and earn some money, and we’ll kick in a matching amount. Play video games and hang with your friends and earn nothing, and we’ll kick in nothing. Now do you have motivation to put it in that scholarship application? My first daughter is earning money to cover her living expenses, and we pay for her tuition, these being roughly equal. I like that arrangement, as she gets quicker feedback on managing her living expenses, those being more variable than her tuition expenses – she learns budgeting and balance.

As parents, we will cover your first semester or year expenses while you get your feet under you.

It can be a tough transition from high school to college. When you get to college you are going to need to apply yourself at a substantially different level than that last year of high school where you breezed through your classes and had a case of senioritis. Although ultimately I want you to be financially responsible for your education, more importantly I want you to be successful in your education. In the beginning I want the transition to college to be successful. I don’t want the first year or semester to be a failure when you combine tougher school with a job, which may also be the first time you’ve done this combination. So focus on school for the first semester or year, figure it out, and I will cover your tuition and living expenses. I’m not going to cover your playing expenses: learn to be frugal and figure that out on your own.

Although we are helping financially, you are responsible for getting the bills paid.

Is tuition or rent or meal plan payment due? I’ll transfer my contribution to your bank account. But you need to go to the tuition office and write the check or set up the draft, make sure the funds are in the account, and keep track of the due date and get it in on time. That’s just part of being an adult. And you’ll be doing these kinds of things the rest of your life, so you better know how to do it now, because they are really important.

I don’t want to sound judgmental, but having parents pay for everything and the kids not having any responsibility was not how we wanted to do it. I love my kids and I want to help them grow, be responsible, and independent. This is part of our path in getting there.

life tips marcelk 29 Jul 2013 No Comments

life: Blockbuster video on-demand

Back in the day, there was a Blockbuster store right down the street from my house. My family would go in on the weekends and pick on a DVD to rent. That Blockbuster store is now gone. And so are many others. Now the closest store is a 15 minute drive away. Since I’ve had Netflix, I haven’t thought about Blockbuster. And if something wasn’t available on Netflix, I’d look at Amazon streaming rentals. Literally a couple of windows away from that old Blockbuster store is a Redbox kiosk.

So when I was in the mood for a movie yesterday, I couldn’t find what I was looking for on Netflix. Or Redbox. Or Amazon. So on a whim I looked at blockbuster.com and found their streaming rental service, Blockbuster On Demand. Instead of running a monthly subscription, it is on a per-rental basis (pay for what you use). So I can keep an account there for occasional use without hitting recurring charges. When streaming, it doesn’t play in your browser like Netflix, they have a standalone app for Mac, PC, and Android (curiously, not for iOS). I watched an old 80’s movie, so I can’t speak much to the picture quality due to the master, but it did stream flawlessly. I found a movie to watch, and nobody else had it.

So it’s worth giving Blockbuster a shot. Will this be enough to help them survive as a company? Looks like they are playing their cards right from and end user’s perspective, but it won’t be the same Blockbuster store down the street – those are likely gone forever.

cool stuff that doesn't cost much &life tips marcelk 28 Feb 2013 No Comments

life: art of manliness

Today’s society seems adrift in its definition of what it means to be a man. A good man, and one who has confidence, serves others, and grows. My hip brother-in-law got me connected to the newsletter from The Art Of Manliness. I don’t necessarily agree with absolutely everything they say, but I do like most of it. It’s got good advice for someone who is refining their character, even at an advanced age like me. ;-)

life tips marcelk 25 Feb 2013 No Comments

life: a flashlight

Every person needs a good small flashlight. I used to think that a Maglite Mini was the reference. Well built, but bright? But then I found the Ultrafire WF-502B. It uses a Cree LED rated at 900 lumens, which is way brighter than anything else I’ve found. It also uses an Ultrafire 18650 battery, which is not a typical AA battery. That battery is slightly larger than an AA, but outputs 3.7 volts at 3000mAh. At Amazon I got the flashlight (no battery) for $11 and two batteries and a charger for $13. I carry it in my laptop bag. I really like the brightness, it’s amazing compared to other flashlights I’ve owned, even ones that take D cell batteries.

Disclaimer: I do own Cree stock.

life tips marcelk 17 Feb 2013 No Comments

politics: misconceptions and partial truths

Here I go wandering into the shark-infested waters of US politics during an election year. But this is meant as a non-partisan post.

First, the financial advice site Motley Fool has a thought-provoking writeup titled “3 Huge Economic Misconceptions From Election Season”. Remember, this is coming from a financial advice site, not a sideways-leaning news or politico site. I think all of us have misconceptions, unintentionally, that sound perfectly logical and sensical. But when really digging in to them, they aren’t true, at least in the simplistic way we assumed them to be.

Second, the amount of partial truths being tossed around by both parties is just astounding. Perhaps “saddening” is a better description. Take a provocative soundbite, start to dig under it, and generally only half (or less) of the real story is being told. Everybody is twisting the partial truth that is convenient for them into a full truth, with the expectation that by repeating it enough we start to believe it as the whole truth. Life is not as simple as the politicians make it out to be. They are playing to our own lack of knowledge, our knee-jerk reactions, and our misconceptions, for their own benefit. Don’t let that happen. Take a look at FactCheck.org to unwind the spin and to get fair information. Be informed with the full truth, even the parts you don’t like.

Third, please vote. Get registered, get informed (correcting misconceptions and partial truths), make a choice, and manifest that choice with a vote. And after the vote, communicate with your representatives. It saddens me that living in the greatest democracy in the world, only 50% of eligible voters vote (on a good day). And how many times have you communicated with your representative regarding a topic you care about via a phone call or email? As a citizen in a democracy, you have a sacred responsibility to uphold that democracy and participate in the political process. Otherwise, the democracy is weakened by your absence. Don’t be absent.

Fourth, learn to coexist with others that have different opinions. Respect them, even when you disagree with them. Be able to have a meaningful exchange where ideas are shared and understandings are widened, instead of forcing a conversion or just hurling insults. You don’t have to agree with them, but do you understand them? Do you understand what their motivations are, even if you disagree? Often we have the same goal, but differ only on how to achieve it. Make it about finding the best ideas independent of the source. Understanding others will help you understand yourself. This country is made up of a lot of unique regions, histories, and cultures. The USA is not homogenous. And that is what makes us strong.

It may not feel like the best time right now, but this is the best place.

life tips &op-ed marcelk 06 Sep 2012 1 Comment

food: the North Carolina Historic Barbecue Trail

I stopped by a recommended BBQ restaurant recently (Hersey’s in Graham NC), and noticed a plaque on the wall. Part of the plaque reads:

NCBS (the North Carolina Barbecue Society) has designed a barbecue trail from Eastern North Carolina to Tennessee. The trail will meander across the state with stops at 24 NCBS Historic Barbecue Pits. These pits were carefully and selectively chosen by the NCBS board as representatives of the distinctive methods and barbecue cooking styles that have made North Carolina the Barbecue Capital of the World. Each NCBS Historic Barbecue Pit still cooks the old fashioned pit cooked method. And each NCBS Historic Barbecue Pit will proudly display a specially designed emblem depicting old style barbecue cooking that is part of the tradition, heritage and culture that NCBS seeks to preserve.

This is for real. And when I got home I looked it up. Yup, there is a map that meanders through the state, with a cluster of sites in the center of the state. Time for a road trip!

entertainment &life tips marcelk 26 Aug 2012 1 Comment

life: visiting Disney World?

My family visited Disney World over the Christmas holiday. Yes, this is the absolute peak season for visitors. So I went bracing myself for an hour in every line all day long. Right before leaving we talked to a neighbor who recommended a service named RideMax. He told me you feed it a list of things you want to see at the park, and it optimizes a plan for what to see when. I said we’d give it a try.

So we did give it try. We spent a 4 days at the parks, and we never spent more than 15 minutes in a line. Again, this was during the peak season. The wait times we saw posted as we walked by other rides were between 30 and 120 minutes, most were an hour or more. We paid $15 for our RideMax subscription, but I would have paid $100 for it with the value we got out of it with 8 people for 4 days. We were totally sold on how it works. I assume it sends us to where the crowds aren’t. We wandered off the plan once, and paid for it with a 90 minute line – we learned to stay on the plan. We got to see everything we wanted to, it just gave us an order and a time for each. We even got done with our plan a bit early. We were able to modify our plan from our iPhone.

If you’re going to one of the Disney parks during a congested time, I highly recommend RideMax. Personally, I won’t go without it.

life tips marcelk 29 Jan 2012 No Comments

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