Category Archives: Personal

An allegory for living a good life

This was recently sent to me from a friend, and while I’m not sure of the origin, it’s such a fantastic allegory for living a good life that I wanted to share it more broadly.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous ‘yes’.

The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

‘Now,’said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else—the small stuff.

‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

‘Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents.

Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18.There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.’

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented.

The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’

The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.

My next 3 books

As I’m about to finish off my latest book, I’ve already queued up the next 2 from Amazon.  I’m definitely on a business/non-fiction kick:

image The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

“Surowiecki first developed his ideas for Wisdom of Crowds in his “Financial Page” column of The New Yorker. Many critics found his premise to be an interesting twist on the long held notion that Americans generally question the masses and eschew groupthink. “A socialist might draw some optimistic conclusions from all of this,” wrote The New York Times. “But Surowiecki’s framework is decidedly capitalist.” Some reviewers felt that the academic language and business speak decreased the impact of the argument. Still, it’s a thought-provoking, timely book: the TV studio audience of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire guesses correctly 91 percent of the time, compared to “experts” who guess only 65 percent correctly. Keep up the good work, comrades.”


image How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In by Jim Collins

“Amidst the desolate landscape of fallen great companies, Jim Collins began to wonder: How do the mighty fall? Can decline be detected early and avoided? How far can a company fall before the path toward doom becomes inevitable and unshakable? How can companies reverse course?

In How the Mighty Fall, Collins confronts these questions, offering leaders the well-founded hope that they can learn how to stave off decline and, if they find themselves falling, reverse their course. Collins’ research project–more than four years in duration–uncovered five step-wise stages of decline…By understanding these stages of decline, leaders can substantially reduce their chances of falling all the way to the bottom. “


What are the next few books on your reading list and what should be my third?

What’s in my travel bag?

I’ve traveled quite a bit the last few years and a whack of that travel has been for work which has forced me on trips where I’m going to several countries each for few days at a time.  Traveling on such tight schedules, you find yourself paying attention to overall weight of your bags. Nothing sucks more than haulin’ ass through the airport with overweight luggage.

Here are my top 5 things I never travel without that has helped me cut the overall clutter in my bags, while making my travel far easier:

Apple Airport Express

image Everyone knows about this handy little device for the home, but few people remember to bring it with them when they travel.

First, when you’re traveling in hotels only hard-wired internet connections, you can use the Airport Express to bridge the ethernet to wifi. Presto! you’re no longer chained to that insanely small desk and can sit on your bed with your laptop.

Second, the USB port on it can be used to charge every single one of my devices that uses a USB cable to charge. This includes my iPhone 3GS, Samsung NV24HD camera and even my X-Mini II speaker.  This allows me to leave most, if not all, extraneous power plugs at home and only lug along my Airport and necessary cables.

X-Mini II Capsule Speaker

image I heard about this amazing little device originally from a co-worker who was rigging up this crazy portable A/V system with his Zune and a mini projector.  At that time, he only had the original version which was much smaller.

At first glance, this thing looks like a flimsy POS, but when you hear the sound it outputs, you’ll be amazed.  It’s come in extremely handy when I’ve wanted to watch movies in my hotel room on my laptop (my Thinkpad T60’s speakers absolutely suck), or even just listen to music off my iPhone.  You truly have to listen to this in person to believe it – the sound is amazing for it’s size. image

You have 2 options for connecting it – either through the 3.5mm cable protrudes from the bottom (and neatly tucks away when not being used) or through the cable that connects via mini-USB. That USB cable splits into a standard USB plug to connect a USB power source for recharging it’s batteries, and also another 3.5mm jack. So if you’re using it with your laptop, you can charge it and connect it to your headphone jack very easily.  As I mentioned earlier, it can also be charged through the Airport Express’ USB connection.

Belkin Mini Surge Protector with dual USB Charger

image I recently added this to my arsenal as I found that too often I either (a) needed more than 1 USB device charged at once, and (b) simply needed more power plugs. The Belkin Mini Surge Protector totally fits the bill and has a permanent place in my laptop bag (which is also my airplane carry-on).

It can also easily be used when you travel internationally by letting you get 3 outlets but only using a single travel plug adapter.

ATP Multislot Promax USB2.0 UDMA Card Reader (AF-CRMBK-MV1)

image Since I never travel without my laptop, I never had to worry about running out of space on my CF or SD cards.  Since my laptop also has Lightroom installed on it, I can offload pictures every so often and even triage them to discard the obvious duds, and even start tagging and organizing them. When I get back home, I export the catalog from my laptop and import to my main PC. For longer trips, this strategy has saved me so much time in finishing my photos off.

At times where I’ve had lots of spare CF/SD cards, I still offload my photos for safekeeping so there is a duplicate copy.

Other 4 other more minor things I usually always bring:

Seeking alternatives to SIGG bottle due to BPA

These past few years, I’ve been sitting all smug drinking from my SIGG water bottles thinking I was avoiding the dangerous compound called Bisphenol A, or more commonly known as it’s abbreviation “BPA”. It’s been shown to cause breast cancer and all sorts of other nasty things due to it leaching into drinking water when it’s used in manufacturing.

While SIGG has never come out and said their bottles don’t contain BPA, they haven’t denied it either.  They skirted the entire issue by saying in an interview back in April ’08:

“…there are many copy-cat manufacturers in the market (most based in China) that would like to get their hands on this formula, our supplier has an agreement with SIGG to keep his formula confidential.”

“Very thorough migration testing in laboratories around the world is conducted regularly and has consistently shown SIGG aluminum bottles to have no presence of lead, phthalates, Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), Bysphenol A (BPA), Bysphenol B (BPB) or any other chemicals which scientists have deemed as potentially harmful.”

Well turns out that SIGG has finally admitted that the linings in their bottles made before August 2008 do in fact contain BPA:

“Within the reusable bottle water category, polycarbonate plastic bottles (#7) came under scrutiny in early 2008 because they were found to leach BPA. As a result, many consumers turned to metal bottles (aluminum and stainless steel) because these bottles had no issues with BPA migration. Prior to its transition, SIGG utilized a water-based epoxy liner which contained a trace amount of BPA.”

While studies have shown that their is supposedly no risk of the BPA leaching into the water, call me crazy if I don’t trust that claim.  I mean serious, WTF?!  Talk about a sure fire way of breaking all the trust your customers ever had with you.

I’m not even risking it and tossing my SIGG bottle immediately both for health concerns, but also because SIGG has absolutely lost my trust and confidence.

Anyone have a favorite alternative?  Here are my leading contenders, of which I’ll probably choose the Kleen Canteen:

  1. Kleen Canteen stainless steel bottle
  2. CamelBak  Better Bottle (or alternatively, the CamelBak with the “bite valve”)
  3. CamelBak stainless steel
  4. Nalgene HDPE wide mouth bottle
  5. Nalgene wide mouth bottle
  6. Nissan Intak Hydration bottle
  7. ThinkSport Stainless steel double-walled bottle (great for hot and cold liquids)


Books I should read on my vacation?

Matt Cutts’ recent blog post gave me the idea to also crowd source recommendations for my own needs.

In 10 days, I’m headed off for my honeymoon to Fiji where I”ll be relaxing on white sand beaches.  I need suggestions on what books I should be reading.  That’s where you come in 🙂

Here are 4 books I’ve read in the last few years that I’ve really enjoyed for various reasons:

Here are books that a few people have already suggested:

Let’s hear your suggestions!

Inbox Zero and Getting Things Done

I’ve wanted to implement the Getting Things Done (GTD) process, especially since I deal with so much email on a daily basis.  After years of haphazardly adopting a subset of the GTD practices, I finally decided that 2009 was going to be the year that I got my inbox, and productivity, under control.

Being a “knowledge worker”, the work I do on a daily basis depends on so many other people both inside my team and outside my team, so a lot of work is done in email and in meetings.  Because of this, the volume of email that I get can be absolutely crazy at times, as everyone else at Microsoft (and other large tech companies) can attest to.

After about a week of re-reading David Allen’s awesome book and listening to Merlin’s Man’simage great podcast (and interview with David Allen), I was ready to dive into transforming how I deal with email and tasks.

One of the first things I did was to bug Mike and Omar, who are the closest thing to productivity gurus that I know personally. Both of them were great in fielding my random questions, giving tips and even pointing out apps and Outlook customizations that might help me in my quest for email nirvana.  Mike even survived my barrage of questions during a recent lunch we had to catch up with what has been going on since we last met up. Little did he know, I was going to turn out social lunch into “GTD 101” 🙂

As of last Tuesday, I’m happy to say that all my hard work paid off.  I finally got to Inbox Zero!  Prior to this, I had over 5000 items in my inbox. 

Getting to this milestone involved a lot more than just hitting the <delete> key (although not being afraid to delete emails is a key step in all of this).  It also involved creating a sustainable workflow in Outlook 2007, which is our lifeblood at Microsoft.  Getting that workflow implemented required a lot of customization in the UI as well as VBA macros.  Another big thanks to Mike for sharing his tips for customizing Outlook – it really got me off to a running start.  My workflow is a very close to his, with some subtle but important differences that make it work better for me.

Here’s a screenshot I took of my inbox about 30 seconds after I cleared the last email out on Tuesday at 10:45pm:

image

Some important things I learned out of this process:

  1. No amount of software tools is going to help you – you need to commit mentally to the process and have a sustainable workflow that makes sense to you.
  2. While the entire GTD workflow is important, don’t be afraid to customize certain portions of it for your liking. For example, I don’t use many of the @ categories like @Work and @Calls.  Just find something that works for you.
  3. Don’t be afraid of the <DELETE> key. Delete, delete, delete!
  4. The upfront costs you need to invest in seem like a lot, but it’s really not.  The payoff you get in productivity improvement is worth it.  I’m already experiencing less mental weight and improved productivity after 3 days of jumping in.

I’ll be blogging continually on the topic of GTD and productivity, since it’s now a topic that I’m even more passionate about.  Using Outlook 2007, and being inside a corporate environment, I found it hard to adopt some of the existing ideas I read on various blogs.  So hopefully my future writing on my workflow within the constraints of my environment will help someone else and also act as a form of an archive so that if I ever need to explain my specific process to someone else, I can just have them read the stuff I write about on this blog.