Where the Magic Happens

The past two weeks have been the busiest of my year, and it has taken all the hours I have available in a day to get everything done. That’s what happens when multiple big projects go live at the same time – projects with tight timeframes that challenge and stretch you, but also require that you step up in a big time. Get up even earlier and get to work.

During my too-busy-for-much-of-anything-else weeks, I’ve been reflecting on 10% to 20%. This seems to be the margin where the magic happens – of learning, of growing, of becoming better.

Consider:

  • 3M’s idea of 15% of work time for your own side projects projects, also practiced at Google and other places. 15%.
  • David Allen’s comment many years ago that a filing cabinet is full at 80%. There’s not enough space to use it easily once it is more full than that. 20%.
  • The Sabbath in the Old Testament. One day out of seven for rest and worship. 14.3%.
  • The personal finance idea of not spending it all today, and investing 15% to 20% of everything you earn. Pay yourself first. 17.5%.
  • The “study one hour a day for 5 years and you’ll be a world expert” idea. 11% to 12.5%.
  • The idea of creating one untouchable day a week for disconnecting from the world and focusing on your key project. 20%.
  • Value-added sales taxes of 10%-20% in various countries around the world (higher in some), which generates a nice additional stream of income for the government to help fund its expense streams. 15%.

I’m sure there are more examples.

The good news is that it’s not 50% or 70%. Just 15%.

Ask, Seek, Knock

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

I was reminded of the simple truth of this verse today. I had an idea in mind for a client for 2018, and for some reason was stuck on the thought that I needed to fund it out of what he was already paying me. And then I told the client about the idea, what I had in mind, how it would work, how it would benefit him, but that I was stuck on how to fund for it.

“Why do you think you should pay for it?” he asked. “Shouldn’t I be paying for it.”

Problem solved, funding released, the way forward opens.

What do you need to ask for, or seek for today? What door do you need to knock on?

Driving as Collaboration

In recent years I have trained four of my children to drive (sometime soon we’ll be at the halfway point: four down, seven to go). For a couple I was the near solo teacher; for others, additional friends and family have helped too (for which I was very grateful).

One of the principles I have tried to instill in my young drivers is that each driver bears responsibility for their own safety on the road, but also for other drivers too. How you drive your vehicle has an impact on the safety on others, for example:

  • Whether you brake fast and at the last second – or give enough warning to the person traveling behind you.
  • Whether you start to pull out at a roundabout and then stop suddenly after having a proper look at what’s coming (which can lead to a rear end collision) – or make it a practice to look properly before starting to go.
  • Whether you drive straight in your lane, or swerve between the extremes of your allocated space.
  • Whether you focus on your driving, or allow influences within and beyond your car to distract from the driving task.

And so on.

It’s the collaboration of driving: everyone working together to get each person safely to where they are going.

I was thinking about this joint responsibility yesterday when talking with a young person about using a phone while driving. While it’s not illegal to drive-and-talk-on-the-phone in New Zealand as long as you have a hands-free kit, I think it is sufficiently distracting to reduce ones ability to focus on the main task: driving safely to where you are going, and helping everyone else do the same too. If the mere presence of a smartphone in line of sight reduces cognitive capability for the task-at-hand, talking on the phone while engaged in a task with life-and-death consequences must be even worse. Have you noticed how people talking on their phone in normal situations zone out of what’s going on around them?

My view: no talking on the phone and driving.

I went looking for evidence of this position, and found this study:

Talking on the phone in the car is hugely dangerous even if you’re on hands-free, according to a new study.

All phones should be banned from cars, whether or not they are actually being held by the person using them, the new research suggests.

It is having a voice engage people in conversation that makes people react badly to hazards, the research has found, rather than the actual act of using the phone.

The study looked at volunteers who were asked to respond a range of driving hazards in a simulation. Those included pedestrians stepping into the road or cars coming up the wrong side of the road.

People who had a voice that was looking to speak to them detected and reacted to half as many hazards, the research found.

Source: The Independent, Talking While Driving is Incredibly Dangerous, Even When Using Hands-Free, New Study Finds (the comments are interesting too).

I’m sure there are other studies that present evidence that there is no difference in safety whether you are talking on the phone or not.

What’s your approach to driving and talking on the phone?

Here We Go Again

Four years, one month, 11 days ago I was here. Waiting late one Saturday night in the midst of a quiet corridor outside the theatres at the hospital, sitting in an otherwise empty waiting room as one of my sons had his appendix removed. That operation took two hours, as the appendix had burst and it was a bit of a mess to clean up. And the aftermath saw me camped out at the hospital for 6 days while he recovered.

Tonight it’s the same journey for me – waiting and sitting – as a daughter goes through the first of a kind journey for her. Same operation as her brother (although she bet him by a month, which she was pleased about), but a very different experience for an otherwise very healthy young woman. And my quiet room of four years ago is not quiet tonight; it is inhabited by others similarly waiting and sitting, although they are full of raucous laughter and crude language that seems out of place to me in such a place and at such a time, although they are here for a much more significant journey than I am. Each to his and her own; people handle times like this differently.

Last time I was grateful for the same things I’m grateful for this time. Nurses and doctors and many supporting personnel who can mobilise under life threatening situations to restore health and well-being. For specialist staff who stay beyond finishing time to figure out what’s wrong. For medical equipment that enables sight to otherwise normally hidden places, and advances in surgery that allow what used to be a long incision to be replaced with a few small holes that will almost completely disappear over time. For medicine and drugs and pain relief and knock-you-out anaesthetic that allows what must be done to be done in relative comfort.

And for that promise in Psalm 23, that walking through the valley of the shadow of death is never a solitary sojourn, but a close walk with Him who defeated death.

Update
The operation went well. The young lady is now recovering well. Amazing how much of a difference 10 hours after surgery makes.

When Sitting in the Front Row Isn’t Great

I have always loved sitting in the front row in a classroom, church service, conference presentation, and especially an airplane. Sitting in the front row allows unfiltered access to the speaker, with the distractions emanating from other people removed from sight. At university, it was the bored and don’t-want-to-be-here students who preferred the back row, but I did want to be there (except for Auditing and a few other classes) so could usually be found at the front. The front row of an airplane is a sanctuary of quiet and concentration, which is wonderful for recharging, thinking, debriefing, and getting ready for the next engagement. Visual distractions are removed, engendering focus.

But sitting in the front row is not universally a good thing – nor always symbolic of a good thing.

A couple of weeks ago I had to sit in almost the front row at a funeral. In reserved for family seating. For a niece who died at 15 – the youngest of three sisters of my sister-in-law and her husband. Sitting in the back row at such an event would be much preferred – “we knew the deceased from a distance” – but when you are required by right of kinship to sit in the front row the usual beauty and magic of being there is replaced with the picture-perfect clarity of deep loss.

  • Grief wearing its grooves on her mother, father and two sisters. All of whom spoke. And for the parents especially, both excellent public speakers with hard won storytelling abilities and skills in encouraging others, having to use those abilities for such a soul-wrenching occasion was heartbreakingly hard.
  • Grief expressed with clarity in the words and actions of school friends who paid tear-stained and tear-interrupted tributes to a good friend, of visions now unattainable, of future mid-school visits to McDonalds for Chicken McNuggets which would now never happen.
  • Grief rendered painfully (but beautifully) from the young woman who had to carry the load of opening the Maori Tangi, and her great struggle to deliver on the script while coping with a broken heart and a flood of tears.
  • Grief etched on the soul of grandparents, leaving them diminished, while dealing with questions of how to support children and grandchildren through this process while also trying to cope with the raw and deep sense of loss. Along with the other older folks at the funeral, perhaps more than one grandparent wondered “why her at the beginning of life instead of me who has lived a long and fruitful life already?
  • Grief from the many cousins – most of them my children – who were not ready for Emily’s final farewell, and would have much preferred to be playing one of Emily’s favourite games with her instead of sitting only metres away from her coffin.
  • Grief at being one of the six to have the right to carry the heavy coffin out of the service and load it into the waiting hearse.

And still, sitting in the front row also gave picture-perfect testimony of Hope, of God’s Goodness in the midst of deep tragedy, of Faith that there is more to this life than what we experience (and sometimes have to endure). While grief will wear its course, forever changing those it touches, yet there is the ever-present future expectation of meeting Emily again.

This was my attempt at capturing the grief and hope on the day after Emily died:

Dark clouds tarnish my soul,
Overcasting your vibrancy and joy for life
With the debilitating weight of grief.
And sorrow. And tears beyond count.
My eyes are bruised from weeping.

Too soon – so young – were you ripped from this world.
While death could not keep our Lord,
Life could not keep hold of you.
And you are snatched far beyond our grasp.

All those years yet to be,
Now unfounded and undermined.
The future promises of life and health and happiness – and joy,
Insufficient for our always-brave girl.

Dearest Emily, while we stood around your empty body,
You were already dancing elsewhere with Nana and Gran.
And then one foot on a scooter, the other on a skateboard,
The heavenly skate park your new favourite place to be.

Our grief will intensify, but eventually ease
As we learn a new rhythm of life without you.
But on that day when life loses its grip on us too,
And those dark clouds are peeled back to reveal the heavenly brilliance
We will meet again.
With no tears. No pain. No grief.

When Death Rushes Up

This is not a good way to greet the morning. Some words of tribute from afar …

When death rushes up,
We meet it as we are.
For some it comes swiftly, from the metal of a car.
For others the knife wounds, from the assailant himself.
For others death is stayed by the new bridge leap repertoire.

When death rushes up,
The trained run straight into the fray.
The soldier turned MP, suit sacrificed quickly for the sake of they.
The helicopter pilot, swooping in to extract the fallen.
The hands-on head doctor, applying skill to death allay.

When death rushes up,
The world stands in dismay.
Perplexed as to why, horrified as to death’s pathway.
What’s with our fellow humans,
That inflicting death on others is their own death’s preferred way?

When death rushes up,
Life often is shredded and torn.
For those who bid farewell in the morn,
And left for a “just another day” at work,
Don’t return home as evening’s born.

When death rushes up,
As it will for all of us one day.
Though perhaps not sprayed across the news in such a way,
Yet on this day, we must stand united,
To do life again, to bring life afresh, to live life valiantly, yea.

Laptops in Checked-In Luggage

It’s a common question: Can I pack my laptop in checked-in luggage?

The general consensus is “no.”

To wit:

There’s nothing saying you can’t, however, I definitely wouldn’t pack my laptop in my checked luggage (especially if it was a decently nice or really nice one). Have you seen how the baggage handlers throw bags into the plane? I usually bring my laptop in a carry-on bag. Chelsea, Quora

It is OK to do so, but probably not recommended. The reality is that you have no control over your checked luggage once you turn it in. There are so many cases of people stealing items of value from checked luggage that it is no longer a surprise. I personally wouldn’t check anything of great value…hand carry the laptop and you can be assured it will arrive at your destination. David, Quora

I would never put anything of value in a checked bag. Aside from the risk of theft I don’t have great luck with misdirected luggage. P_M, Fodors Travel

Take it from the TSA. A representative from the agency offered this advice for flyers: “Electronics … should be packed in carry-on luggage because they are typically fragile, expensive, and more prone to breaking if transported in checked baggage.” The threat to your electronics is two-fold: you need to protect your devices from burglary (see above) as well as breakage. No matter how many beach towels you’ve wrapped around your laptop, it’s still at the mercy of baggage handlers and bumpy flights while in transit. The TSA, Smarter Travel

While it’s not illegal to pack a laptop in your checked baggage, the Transportation Security Administration advises against doing so. Your sensitive electronic devices weren’t made to withstand the abuse that checked bags often endure. This means that if you plan to fly with a laptop, you should carry it on the plane with you – and there are a few simple rules for doing so. The TSA, USA Today

Avoid placing electronic devices in checked baggage
There is a very simple way to avoid this problem-just don’t ever put your computer, tablet, mobile device, other electronics, or your electronic data in checked baggage. There is the obvious risk of a lost, damage, or stolen checked luggage, and airlines will not compensate you for lost or damaged computers, other electronic devices, or electronic data. Also, airlines often load bags on top of one another in the cargo hold of your flight. Hundreds of pounds of pressure in conjunction with the low temperatures in unheated cargo compartments may lead to cracks or damage to electronic devices.
AirSafe.com

[FlyerTalk] is chockablock with people who’ve lost valuable stuff from checked luggage and are out of luck because the airline points the finger at security services and vice versa. Anything you check is completely vulnerable to crooks in various uniforms. End of story. BearX220, FlyerTalk

… why shouldn’t you pack your notebook in a checked suitcase when you travel by plane? Here are three excellent reasons. James, PCWorld

Set against that litany of experiences and concerns, there are new restrictions for anything larger than a mobile phone on direct international flights into the United States from specific countries:

Airlines that fly from certain countries in the Middle East and Africa to the U.S. must soon require passengers to check in almost all electronic devices rather than carry them into the cabin, a U.S. official said.

The official said this will impact some airlines flying into the United States. Another U.S. administration official says this covers devices larger than a cellphone.

An aviation official told CNN that there is a security concern regarding passengers boarding nonstop flights to the U.S. from specific countries. This relates to the “screening in [some] countries” for nonstop flights to the U.S.

They added that they believe a threat to the U.S. would be negated if a passenger transferred through a secondary city with additional and more trustworthy screening procedures. The directive is to ensure enhanced security measures at select airports for a limited duration.

Ouch.

Net-net: the device is still carried on board, and almost everyone is inconvenienced while in flight and runs the risk of damage or theft of said devices.

Flow-on effects? Fewer visits to the United States? The purchase of new hardened checked-in luggage? The acquisition of new hardened laptop cases to go inside checked-in luggage? More insurance claims for damaged or lost devices?

Highlights Reel

Earlier this decade I met a friend for breakfast, and he proceeded to tell me an idea for an ambitious project. I had some doubts about the efficacy of the idea, but he lined up the support required and pushed go. And started working. And working. And struggling. And wrestling. And facing a string of disappointments, annoyances, and very difficult situations. But he persevered – with great tenacity in the face of sometimes overwhelming odds and apparent gross incompetence on the behalf of others involved in the project.

His ambitious project was finally completed this week, and he gets to tick the box on the formalities. But more importantly, he has become the type of person the project was designed to make him – not in a tick box way, but in the depths of his core and professional work.

I’m still smiling for him, hours after hearing the good news of his achievement.

Rain

We’ve had a drought in the part of New Zealand I live in. There’s been little rain for months, and the ground has shown the lack thereof. But it started raining – thankfully – last week, which has been good for Canterbury, but has had a less ideal response up north. Some thoughts on rain …

Rain is.
Falling. Finally. Pelting the parched and dried out land.
Inviting a response. A softening, an opening up, a letting go of hardness.
The beginning of a new journey into growth. A precursor to a new flourishing.
A gift. Of all that is fresh and vital.
For dancing in. Umbrellas be closeted.
A signal for impending change.
The no-colour ingredient that colours everything anew.
A symbol of something different.
A test of resolve and discipline. Of that which is easy to claim in the warm optimism of the sun.
A question of price. Will you pay up in its drenching relentless?
Rain is. Necessary.

Container Homes

New Zealand is suffering a housing crisis in many of its cities – the cost of buying a first home have skyrocketed over the past couple of decades since my wife and I first purchased a place to live. Given that I have many children who will want to enter the housing market over the next two decades, I’m interested in alternative approaches.

Earlier this week Stuff ran a story on a container home in Auckland that appears to have been done “just right.”

Her house in the bush is deceptive from the outside. Painted in a black steel paint with white window trim, it’s hard to tell this is a container house, until you walk to one end and watch her open up a large services hold by pulling on the traditional steel rods that close up the container.


Kelly has put her two containers at right angles and mounted them on deep piles – she needed just four per container, rather than the dozen or more that would be used for a typical house. The longer 40ft container accommodates the entry, sitting area, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, while the second 20ft container houses an office and guest bedroom.


Not surprisingly, everything is adaptable. Kelly imports her own furniture, specially designed for tiny houses. Items include a corner sofa with huge storage beneath the cushions. The sofa can also become a double bed. And there is a lift-down bed on the wall in the second bedroom, a desk that opens out to form a bed, and a portable wardrobe that can become a room divider. Her own bed is equipped with storage. So it’s clear every inch counts. In fact, Kelly says the house can sleep up to seven people.


There is also a huge 30 square-metre timber deck off the living area, which is effectively a large entertaining space. It is covered with a clear, arched pergola, and plastic sheeting can be pulled down to keep the wind away. Kelly says even in winter, it’s a warm spot to relax.

Very cool.