One Use Nissan Missed In Their X-terra Commercials

Do you remember those Nissan X-terra commercials? They would show a situation and then at the end show the SUV with a single word or short phrase describing the particular use of the vehicle. Some of the uses were "First-aid kit", "Foghorn", and "Battery Recharger". However, Nissan missed one function that their SUV could fulfill that any family would appreciate. I have no idea if an X-terra can do this, but I found my Kia Sportage was more than capable of filling in this role at a critical time:

Diaper Changing Table


When Your Actions Could Affect Somebody’s Career, Please Pay Attention To Detail

I walked into work this morning to find a situation that was less than pleasant. An email had been sent to me on Friday from somebody in a corporate finance office stating that I had a past due balance on my corporate American Express. The email stated that the charges appeared to be personal in nature and no expense report was filed, and my account was being closed because a fairly high balance was more than 100 days past due. Ethics was cc’ed on the email, as well as some people so far up in the chain of command that it is likely I will never meet them.

My first action was to reply to all with a statement that there must be a mistake or fraud on my account. I have not used my Amex since a trip I took last November and that bill was paid. I have seen no statements since that time. I also asked if it was corporate policy to notify Ethics without even contacting the person first. If my card were that far past due, couldn’t this person have, like, called me first? Why do we even have a Global Address Book if we don’t use it?

I also called the person and left a message. I like to get in early, and this person is on the "other" coast and would not be in the office for several hours. I did send the email, however, so there was a paper trail with the higher ups who had been involved by this person.

My next step was to notify my program manager. It turns out that my "chain of command" up to him is out today, and I wanted somebody in my immediate leadership to know about this issue. His advice was to call American Express, who said that my account doesn’t have a balance and is currently active.

I looked more closely at this person’s signature file. He apparently works for another branch of the company. I realized that I would probably have been notified by somebody within my own branch of the company if it were my account. I know there is a person in the same area as the person who emailed me with the same name as me, at least first and last, in fact with the exception of my middle initial, our corporate email addresses are identical and the area code of our phone numbers is very similar.

I opened the original email and did another reply to all with the update that my Amex account appears to be fine and I asked if this person is sure that he has contacted the right person.

When I was in Recruit Training (otherwise known as Boot Camp), our Company Commander tried to beat into our heads "Attention To Detail!" When you’re dealing with other people’s careers and financials, please pay attention to detail. Mistakes do happen, but as they say, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. To "almost" get the right person for a corporate finance matter is far off the mark. I can’t tell you how much paperwork I have had screwed up in the past, how much financial strain I’ve been put under, and how many opportunities I’ve missed out on because somebody "almost" did their job. Patients die in hospitals when doctors and caregivers "almost" do their jobs. Computer programs are buggy  when programmers "almost" do their job. Safety features on all kind of products fail when people "almost" do their jobs. Get the point? Almost doesn’t cut it.


Thoughts About Think TQ

I came across Think TQ last year at about the time my son Caleb was born. A look through gmail shows that I started receiving their daily emails on August 5, 2005. At the time I found the TQ site, I had read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and I was searching for ways to apply what I gleaned from the book to my own situation and life. For someone who has spent as much time as I have reading about time management and buying into systems, I sure am a procrastinator and a very inefficient performer.

I started with the Franklin system around 1996 while involved with a certain multi-level marketing scheme which I will not name but I am sure it will not be very hard for you to guess. ( See Merchants of Deception for more information.) Franklin later became Franklin Covey and is a good system but can become very intensive with prioritization. David Allen’s system proposed some interesting concepts such as keeping tasks undated and off the calendar but on seperate context lists. This is an interesting idea, but not one I’ve been able to follow wholeheartedly for reasons I will discuss later. Part of this reason is what sent me looking for websites that offered tips on how to implement GTD for my own particular situation, which led me to ThinkTQ.

One of the biggest problems that I have with most time management systems is that they are all mostly geared toward salesmen and executives. I hate looking for a productivity book and finding that most of them are geared toward selling. I hate selling. I have no talent for it, and no desire to sell anything. I’ve tried multi-level marketing and I hate it. Even if it is not just a huge pyramid scam, no matter how many times I read "The Magic of Thinking Big", nothing will convince me that selling is a skill that is part of my makeup. Just give me a computer to fix or an information system to design or a technical problem to solve and I will be  happy. Tell me to sell a product and I’d rather live under a bridge. I can’t even sell the idea to my wife to pick up a six pack of beer for me while she’s out. I don’t sell, and likewise I have little interest in reading books about how to sell better. I recognize that there is some selling inherent in everything, and I am not saying that I won’t try to "sell" myself to a prospective employer or "sell" my ideas to my management. However, I am not going to sell anybody soap, and I am surely not going to sell "owning your own business" again.

The other end of the spectrum, as I said, is executives. Again, not everybody searching for ways to manage time better is an executive. Getting Things Done seems to be geared for this crowd, and it does not exactly help technology centered peons. As Merlin Mann so eloquently pointed out, most computer geeks only have one context: @computer. We carry our laptops around all day or we go from one computer to the next. I go to work and log into my computers at home through Log Me In when I have time. If I put a task in the @computer context, I wouldn’t even know which computer I meant.

While Getting Things Done focuses on highly practical tips and techniques, I think it falls short in several areas. Most GTD disciples will refute that, and I’m happy for them. I’m glad they find it to be a perfect, faultless system. I don’t. Something occurred to me one day while I was reading a discussion forum about GTD. One poster pointed out that GTD is great for people who get 1000 emails a day. Suddenly, I wondered what particular value or long term goal would lead you to stay in a job that left you burried in email day in and day out. That opened me back up to Franklin Covey.

I finally got around to reading Steven Covey’s 7 Habits this past Spring. The book had been out for more than a decade and a half, and I just read it. Covey also takes an approach that seems to be geared toward managers and consultants. He tells a lot of stories and spins a lot of platitudes. These are inspiring but seem to fall short on application for a low level computer geek. I am simply not creative enough to apply ideas written for an executive with a secretary and a staff to delegate to in my own life when I can’t even write a script to automate Windows XP tasks. That would be the limit of my delegatory abilities and powers. Oh, wait, last week I did manage to delegate my laundry to my wife, but only because I had a really busy schedule and she wanted to go out of town Thursday night. I can delegate putting my dog to bed to my 2 year old, but he can’t quite close the latch on the kennel yet, so that’s not really delegation.

All of this led me back to Think TQ. For most of the year, I have glanced over their emails, read relevant quotes, and ignored the rest. I almost canceled my subscription a few times, but I was too lazy and it is free anyway. I recently began to take them more seriously and I went back to their site to retest my Time Quotient, which I did test last year when I found the site. When I retested I found that my TQ went down from abysmal to just plain pathetic. I think that a TQ score below 80 means that you don’t accomplish much, and I didn’t even score an 8. I also don’t think I’m being that hard on myself. I feel that I answered the questions truthfully.

I have been debating the last couple of weeks on whether or not to buy the complete ThinkTQ system, which includes their custom book "published just for you", all 10 workshops, and a screen saver as well as complete access to their site. I took their offer for a free CD, and I chose the "Act Now" color of the time prism.

I am really impressed with the fact that the TQ system is not geared toward any strict demographic. They do not focus on salespeople or executives and their materials are applicable to anyone. I really like that. They have no platitudes. Even though their materials are highly repetitious, they are full of simple and practical actions that can be taken right now to improve your situation. Most of them are total common sense, such as "I plan my day around my values, vision, and mission". If you think about it, however, that affirmation is very deep. What exactly are your values? What is your vision? What is your mission? I couldn’t even answer all three of those questions right now. TQ provides a system that helps you to discover those 3 things as well as so much more about yourself that you can put into practice for immediate results.

One thing that disturbs me about TQ is that there is almost no information on the internet about it. When I search for TQ, I get plenty of hits from their site, as well as a few other URLs that are either purchased by them or are from affiliates. Most of them have the same information, word for word, as the site. I think that if they truly have as many customers as they claim, SOMEBODY would write on their blog about their experience for others to read. The only testimonials seem to be in the possession of ThinkTQ.

One option that I have is to simply purchase the personalized book along with a CD for approximately $40 plus shipping and handling. If the system for some reason isn’t very good, that’s no problem. However, if I decide that I really want the full system, I have to pay for the whole thing. This is a tough choice.

It is apparent to me that this system is not fluff. A lot of time, energy, and research went into it and I am impressed with what I have seen so far. I think this a great mix of all of the best time systems combined. GTD is good for low level or runway time management, or the day to day stuff. Franklin Covey helps a lot with high level management or values and lifelong goals. I do firmly believe that value based time management is the most effective, while context based task management is highly effective, and ThinkTQ really does a great job of putting these concepts all together.

When I changed the format of my blog, I was originally going to call it "Bring Back Franklin Covey- value based time management for peons". I first named this blog "Eric’s Watchtower" because I was going to do socio-political commentary. You can see that some of my earlier posts followed this line, but I gave up because the world has way too many socio-political bloggers and most of it amounts to less than farting out the window. I settled on "Life Integration" for my format change because I don’t believe in compartmentalizing life. Life should be a healthy balance between all of the factors that make it up in your individual case. I am a husband and a father, yet I’m also a computer geek. I’m an "information worker". All of these things make up who I am and how I live along with many other roles like church member, citizen, etc. My goal is to share information on how to balance all of these in a healthy way.


Why I Am Staying With Windows

If you actually follow my blog, you’ll know that I recently went through a phase of trying to claw my way out from under Microsoft products. I attempted to use 2 distributions of Linux on 2 laptops and I switched to 2.0 for 1 class project and I attempted to use at work before realizing that it just won’t support the format of my deliverables. I spent a lot of time thinking about and analyzing how best to go about a switch until my thinking came full circle and I settled into a quiet acceptance of Microsoft for now. This has not been an easy journey, but as extensive as my attempts and thoughts have been, I now feel almost at peace about it.

As an Information Technology student at the University of Phoenix, I have had classes on Analysis and Design. I have found that the process is not as simple as deciding to write a program to say, replace Microsoft Outlook and then start turning out code. In the case of a company capable of writing an Outlook replacement, this could take thousands of people. On a scale this large, the Systems Analysts and the programmers would be working on separate phases of the project, along with the testers and tech writers and anybody else that is required. Requirements have to be ironed out, design has to be completed, and only then can the specs be handed to the programmers to turn them loose. This is not only applicable to programming, but to entire systems. Often, an entire system will be designed through this process with software being only a small part. Software may even be purchased off the shelf to fit in with the requirements of the system.

And so as I worked on switching to Linux, my thinking became less of a struggle to leave Microsoft and more of an analysis of my own requirements and of which platform best fit them. The first thing that I learned about Linux this time is that the Linux kernel doesn’t yet support wireless natively. I believe that the next release of the Linux kernel will, but the kernel that shipped with SuSE Linux 10.1 does not. This is no problem. After playing with Linux for a couple of weeks, I am now able to put a fresh install on my laptop, take out my OEM CD’s, and install my wireless driver with ndiswrapper and begin surfing through my wireless network. Here I run into a problem. Windows XP will load my wireless driver on startup, and my wireless is tied to a hardware button above my keyboard. Linux did not support that hardware button, and although I could have changed a configuration file to modprobe ndiswrapper at startup, those few times when I DON’T want to run wireless madke me not want to write that file. With Windows, all I have to do is press the button to enable or disable wireless. Another problem that I came across with Linux was putting my laptop to sleep. With Windows XP, I hit FN-F5 and my laptop goes to sleep. This is nice because I can carry my laptop with me all day and pick up exactly where I left off. I don’t have to shut down all of my programs and save my work and on the other end bring everything back up. I wasn’t able to do this with Linux easily; at least I didn’t figure out how to.

Then I began to think about other requirements that I have based on the configuration of my home network. I need to be able to share files with my other computers and with my wife’s laptop. If I put Linux on my desktop system, would Linux support my WinTV and Orb? Some of you would probably tell me that "yes, Linux will support all of that", but now let us talk about the time investment.

I work a full time job. Thanks to software such as Log Me In, I can connect to my computers at home which is something that I love. I was not able to configure remote access to either laptop while they were running Linux. I’m sure this can be done, but the task was over my head at the time I stopped. Aside from my full time job, I am married, going to school, active in church, and I have 2 small boys, ages 1 and 2 respectively. The time investment that would be required to learn how to make Linux do what I require Linux to do is just not worth the commitment at this time. My wife is still angry at me for the 2-4 weeks that I was actively working on switching to Linux rather than spending time with her and our boys and of course helping out around the house. The "mission critical" argument might buy me a night or two, but not 2 weeks.

There is a term in economics called opportunity cost. This encompasses all of the other factors involved in price aside from money, and all of the other economic costs. For instance, my wife recently switched us to cloth diapers because she said we would only have to buy them once. OK, financially, we’ll never have to buy another diaper (which is not true because we didn’t buy enough originally, and they only fit our 2 year old so we had to buy more of a smaller size for the baby, and we need more hemp inserts for nighttime…), but there are other costs involved. We go through a LOT more wipes now. I used to just bundle the wipes up in the old diaper which I used as a wipe also. Now I put a wipe on the carpet to place all of the other wipes in. We’re doing laundry EVERY SINGLE DAY, which will raise our gas and electricity bills. The house now has a funny smell from the cloth diapers, which sometimes don’t come out of the wash smelling Snuggle fresh no matter how much vinegar and baking soda we add. If my wife waits too late at night to start washing the diapers, I have to put a disposable on our 2 year old when I put him to bed anyway. You see, cost isn’t the only factor. Linux may be free-as-in-speech and free-as-in-beer, but there is also a learning curve and an investment in time to customize Linux to your own system and your own needs. For $99 (approximately, prices vary) I can pick up Windows XP Home and expect Windows to do most of the configuration and customization work for me. Yes, Windows isn’t as powerful (although Windows XP actually is fairly reliable and powerful in many ways), yes, Windows isn’t as cool as Linux or as scriptable, but Windows does work, and for now Windows is what I will use.

At least you cannot say that I am making this decision mindlessly. I have done extensive analysis in making this decision. I also realize that the proper name is GNU/Linux, but honestly I don’t care. The proper names of other products are Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh, but we don’t see people as picky with those names as with GNU/Linux.

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