Fixers

“I was a fixer, a builder – an inventor – ever since I can remember.” – Tom Scholz

I love this time of year.  The mornings are nice and cool (11C) but can still warm up in the afternoon (32C).  Our neighbors have decorated their homes with Fall and Halloween decorations.  Target has a mile-long line of candy aisles and we do our best to replicate that in our home.

I confess, I have an addiction. No, not the candy, I can meter that fairly well.  My real addiction is my obsession to fix things.  I can’t stand it when something is broken or a system is down. It drives me crazy. I am compelled to get it working.  This past weekend, my obsession was our new Tesla Solar system.  It all began with our decision to get solar a year ago… 

After research and talking with several solar companies, we decided on a small 8.5kW Tesla Solar plus Powerwall system. The main reason for our decision was the low cost, handsomely framed panels and the whole house backup capability. There were several good offers out there, but we were delighted when Tesla came in with the lowest price.  I’m very cheap, I admit, I love a good deal.  What we didn’t realize is that the way Tesla beat the market was to remove some of their overhead, mainly in the area of customer service.  That translated into a lot of waiting and frustration. 

Our system was finally installed last month and during commissioning, the first signs of trouble started showing up. The installers downloaded the latest software updates but were unable to get the Solar Panels to work correctly. The solar assembly was only producing 160W in full sun. They tried for hours, upgrading, rebooting and calling. They eventually gave up after showing me that the Powerwall could power our house if they cut the mains.  They explained that Tesla would send out a software patch to fix the Solar panels, most likely.  

I contacted our Tesla Advisor to report the problem and to see if they had an update. After several days of emailing, texting and calling, I received a note from the advisor that he would contact the electricians about the problem. I spent another week requesting updates but my Advisor had gone radio silent. It turns out that this is a common experience with Tesla. Assuming best intentions, I can only imagine that the Tesla teams are understaffed and overwhelmed. Regardless, it all results in a very frustrating experience for the consumer.  I escalated and was finally told that they could schedule a service appointment on Dec. 14th.  Seriously?!

We had all this gear in place.  We had these beautiful solar panels, high tech Powerwalls and all the gear to drive it.  But none of it was working.  Tesla’s mistake was bringing all of this into my home.  I can’t help myself.  My addiction set in.  I have to fix it.  So, I did.  I began poking around, measuring voltages, sniffing the system’s communication links, and researching all of the modules that make up the system.

I finally found the issue.  I discovered a WiFi based metering system Tesla had used was defective.  I reprogrammed and recommissioned the system.  It came online and for the first time ever, we had full solar energy powering our house and charging our Powerwalls.  Our home had gone green and we were 100% powered by the sun!  I love making things work.

Reflecting back on this experience it occurred to me that this is a lot of what we do.  In technology, we are often the Sherpas that help our business partners reach their destination.  Sometimes it requires research, investigation, designing, hacking, and even reprogramming to arrive at a reliable and operative solution.  All along the way, our partners are depending on us to be the experts to creatively solve problems, fix what is broken and deliver a working solution that helps them, our businesses and organizations deliver the best outcomes as we can.

Thank you all for being the fixers.  You substantially make a difference to the world!

If you want the gory details on my investigation and fix you can read them here

Life without Fences

“We were born to be free, to expand our horizons by going where we have never gone before, and not to hang out in the relative comfort and safety of the nest, the known. There is a place within us that is courageous beyond our human understanding; it yearns to explore beyond the boundaries of our daily life.” – Dennis Merritt Jones

My mom was a teacher.  She taught 3rd grade most of her career.  Growing up, my friends thought it was great that my mom was a teacher, but it wasn’t always great for me.  Most kids got sent to the principal’s office for acting up or misbehaving.  Not me!  I got sent to my mother’s classroom.  Corporal punishment was still in play and the principal proudly hung his “board of education” paddle on the wall of his office as a deterrent.  I would have preferred a meeting with that “board” any day, if I could have avoided being sent to my mom’s classroom.  I can still picture the horror on her face as the teacher explained my activity and then hearing the stern, “Just wait till we get home.”  

It seemed like most of my “acting up” happened during recess and on the playground.  I guess it was an irresistible smorgasbord of trouble waiting for me, but really, I just loved experimenting.  I tested Newtonian physics of balls bouncing off all sorts of surfaces, including other kids.  I loved exploring fencing techniques with pretend light saber sticks and branches. I even helped other kids prove or disprove their own theories.   A cute little girl with glasses and a confident attitude once declared to me an axiom, “You can’t hit a person with glasses.”  Much to her dismay, I was able to prove her wrong.  I fully expected to be thanked if not awarded some scientific prize for my discovery, but instead, I was granted another visit to my mother’s classroom, one that had particular impact on me, literally.  

Recess!  What a glorious thing.  There are a lot of life lessons that you can learn during recess.  You also get a chance to see curious characteristics of our human traits on display.  One particularly interesting observation my mom made was the power of fences.  Having had the opportunity to work in many schools with different playgrounds, she noticed that when kids went out to play, if there was no fence, the kids would huddle together, close to the building or by the door.  Nobody ventured out very far.  When there was a fence, the kids would scatter and run all the way out to the edges, running up and down the fence line.  Why is that?

For those kids, the fences created a sense of safety, confidence and certainty.  With that in place, the kids used the entire space to explore, create adventures and have fun together.  I believe there is a good leadership lesson here.  We often talk about unleashing the potential of our team by empowering individuals to creatively solve problems, take on responsibility and innovate.  A good leader can help us manage the unknowns by bringing clarity, direction, and expectations.  They also promote psychological safety by establishing a culture that avoids the blame game, encourages risk and values continuous learning. Those structures help us navigate, explore and create results without fences.  But that is only part of the story.

The leadership lesson here also applies to us individually.  So much of our life and the world we live in has no fences.  It can be intimidating.  Our human tendencies, evoking survival instincts at times, will be to huddle close to what we know, where we feel safe, secure, confident and comfortable.  But if we do that, we miss out on the greater prospects and the rewards that can be waiting for us.  We need to take bold risks.  We should gather our courage and set out on an adventure into the unknown.  Experimenting, exploring, discovering, creating, solving and ultimately enjoying greater outcomes than we would otherwise.  

Spend some time this week in recess!  Examine your fence line.  Ask yourself, what is helpful and what isn’t.  Take a brave step and go beyond, explore outside the fences and enjoy our spectacular world.  And, hopefully, you won’t end up in my mom’s classroom.

Gullible?

We are in the midst of a series of critical repairs at the Cox home. The pandemic forced us to postpone many of them, but slowly they are starting back up.  This last week involved the removal and upgrade of our failing main electrical breaker box panel.  Of course, that meant an extended power outage and the hourly “When will power be back on?” questions from my girls.  I must say, we all gained a greater appreciation for our ancestors who navigated the 1800s with gas lights, candles and no air conditioning.

Speaking of appreciating our 21st century lifestyle, I love using Apple Pay!  With the team of contractors working hard in the heat to get our power back on, I decided to make a run to our local grocery store to pick up some bottled water, Gatorade and snacks for them.  As is my custom, I paid with my Apple watch.  The customer behind me was shocked and struck up a conversation.  

I grew up in the Midwest where you expected friendly conversations with random fellow human travelers all the time.  However, that’s typically not how we do things in California.  Here, everyone tends to be more focused on their own business, mostly without even making eye contact.  But I find I still revert to my Midwest roots on occasion, much to the embarrassment of my kids, especially when there happens to be a cute baby in line with us.  I just can’t help myself.  Babies are irresistible.  In any case, I happened to run into this concerned citizen in line with me at the grocery store who was seriously worried about my Apple watch.   The conversation was really quite fun.

“Hey, aren’t you worried someone is going to steal all your information with that thing?”  I responded, “Actually, it uses an encrypted token, not my info, to complete the transaction.”   

“Like whatever, encrypted nothing, they got you!  That’s dangerous!  Can’t someone just decrypt it?”  I really wanted to start drawing a diagram to explain how it worked, but I knew the rest of the customers in line were not interested in an extended lecture.  I still switched into professor mode, “Sure, but just keep in mind, this isn’t my information directly, it is just a token identifier.”  

“Man, you really are gullible.”   I wasn’t making any progress.  He shook his head but then proceeded to pull out his credit card in plain sight.  I was able to clearly read his name, card number and expiration date printed on the front.  No, I didn’t try to memorize it but was struck by the irony.  He swiped his card with his in-clear-text magnetic stripe, also showing the CVV.  Sigh.  Yes, I guess I’m gullible.

I appreciate my friend’s paranoia, despite his negligence in protecting his own identity.  No system is 100% secure.  We know that.  Several years ago, I had the privilege of teaching a cybersecurity class at USC where we explored the anatomy of an attack.  One particular study was the 2013 Target breach. We examined all the points of vulnerability that existed in the system at that time.  It began with a phishing scheme that equipped the attackers with a contractor’s credentials to log in to the energy management system for the stores.  That led the attackers to a vulnerable Windows PC that just so happened to bridge the HVAC network with the global store network. That network was home to all the point of sale systems for all their stores.  The card readers on those systems only accepted plain text magnetic stripe data. The hackers installed BlackPOS, a malware opensource package that intercepts track data.  It began reading all of that data, sending it off to a server hosted in Russia.  They managed to extract 40 million credit cards before they were discovered.  A year later, the nearly exact same attack occurred at Home Depot, but for 56 million credit cards.

Vigilance is needed.  Reliability engineering is not just about system performance or uptime, it is also about running secure systems.  As we help design, build and run systems, this is a great reminder that we can all help safeguard our customers’ and company’s data.  Have you found a vulnerability?  Are you concerned about some missing measures or designs that should be modernized or addressed?  If so, don’t wait, raise those issues.  Speak up and act.  You can make a difference.  Let’s continue to help make our systems more secure for the good of the kingdom, our guests, businesses and fellow employees.

Automate, Accelerate, Optimize, but first, Delete

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.” – Elon Musk

The Tesla Model 3 production line was too slow. Demand was high but delivery was low.  The entire line was being delayed by one particular step in the battery production line.  Specifically, it was a step where a fiberglass mat was added between the battery pack and the floor pan.  Elon Musk talks about the focus that was suddenly placed on this choke point.  In an interview he gave, he says he was basically living on that production line until they could get it fixed.

Automate, Accelerate, Optimize. To address the constraint in the system that was choking the throughput, Elon goes on to explain how they focused on the automation.  To make the robot better, they adjusted the programming.  They increased the speed from 20% to 100%, optimized the paths it would take, increased the torque, removed unnecessary motion and reduced the amount of product needed.  Instead of spackling glue on the entire mat, they programmed it to deliver dabs of glue that were just enough to hold it in place, sandwiching it between the battery pack and floor.  These all added up to some minor time savings.

After investing a lot of time into the efficiency improvements, it occurred to Elon that he didn’t even know the reason for these mats.  He asked the battery safety team, “Are these mats for fire protection?”  They answered, “No, they are for noise and vibration.”  He then went to the noise vibration analysis team and asked them, “Are these mats for noise reduction?”  They answered, “No, they are for fire safety.”  

“I’m trapped in something like a Kafkaesque or Dilbert cartoon!”  Elon discovered the mats had no reason to be included.  After verifying with testing, they eliminated the unneeded parts that were choking the Model 3 production line.  Production throughput increased.

How many times have you optimized a bit of code, a process or a system only to finally realize that the best optimization was to simply delete it?  Before we take on some new work, a new project or even an improvement effort, ask yourself and others, “Do we even need this?”  We all have limited time and resources.  Some upfront investment in validating the real need can pay material dividends.  Seek to eliminate waste.  Instead of focusing on improving unneeded processes, let’s focus our efforts on things that deliver real value and outcomes.  

Before automating, ask yourself if the time investment will deliver more value than we put in.  Before accelerating, ask yourself if the haste will actually eliminate waste.  And before improving something, ask yourself if we should just delete it instead.  Challenge assumptions so we can ultimately deliver bold results that matter.

Heroes

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” – Arthur Ashe

It was an early and cool September morning.  I arrived at our small civil engineering office in Tulsa a little after 7:30am.  The survey crew had just left the building to stake out one of our new projects.  Thankfully they left a half pot of brewed coffee for the rest of us.  I logged in to my AutoCAD station with my cup of coffee and started planning my day.  The phone rang.  It was my wife, Jane, on the other end of the line, who added, “You need to turn on the news, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!”  Our first thought was our family in New Jersey, especially my brother-in-law who worked in downtown Manhattan at the New York City Rescue Mission.  He took the Path trains and Subways in and often exited at World Trade before walking to the Mission.  I wondered if he was there and if he was safe.

I quickly told the other engineers in the office what I had just heard.  One of the offices had and old CRT style TV and we managed to get it to work.  It looked a bit like a relic from the old Jetsons cartoons, complete with a bizarre looking antenna adorned with aluminum foil balls to somehow coax a better signal.  It rarely worked.  Thankfully however, this morning it picked up our local ABC station, and that was perfect.  The World Trade Towers were full screen, with smoke billowing out of the North Tower.  The entire office had gathered in the room.  We were glued to the screen listening to GMA anchors Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson verbalizing the same questions we all had. What was happening?  How could this happen?  

As we watched, a second plane entered the screen and crashed into the South Tower!  “We are under attack!”  That was the general sentiment in the room.  People started making phone calls to friends and family.  Nearly an hour later and we were all still glued to the news.  The Pentagon attack, then The South Tower collapsed, followed by the North Tower.  We watched the unbelievable footage of first responders, firefighters bravely rescuing people from the towers, many sacrificing their own lives.  Citizens were helping other citizens.  All of us TV bystanders felt a tug to reach through the screen and join the effort.   We couldn’t, so we just watched and watched and watched.  For the next several days and even weeks, everyone around us seemed to be plugged in to the news feed.  Offices, homes and even restaurants were all running the 24×7 coverage of the attack. The event had captured the entire conscious of the nation had awakened our hyper focus.

What was your experience on 9/11?  I will never forget that day or the weeks following.  It changed us.  Yes, we were suddenly remined at how vulnerable we can be.  But more importantly, it taught us how good we can be.  In a crisis, heroes emerge.  They enter the scene not for the drama or the recognition, but to answer the call to save and serve others.  Many did so at the cost of their own lives.  Would we do the same?   Not that we will all be asked to run into burning high-rise buildings, but we can all answer the call to serve others, help each other, and carry each other through tough times.  It’s a job that always has openings.  

In case you are wondering, my brother-in-law never made it in to work that day.  He had missed his train to accommodate some visiting relatives.  It was a frustrating inconvenience that turned into a grace.  He spent the next several months helping others, providing food, clothing and shelter from the rescue mission.  He was a hero too.

Encouragement

It was a hot and humid summer day.  My hands were sweating and it wasn’t just because of the heat.  It was my first job and I was terrified.  I had been hired by Calvin, a local farmer, to help mow and bale hay on his fields.  He had hundreds of acres, some cattle, horses and a barn.  We were standing in a field with tall grass that was nearly up to my armpits.  I was listening intently to his instructions.  Parked before us was a huge yellow beast.  The enormous tractor had towering wheels that were as tall as my scrawny 12-year-old self.  I kept thinking, “This is a really bad idea!”

“You can do it!  Climb up,” Calvin said enthusiastically with a broad smile.  I climbed up the yellow mountain and sat in the well-worn black leather seat.  I could hear and feel my heart pounding in my ears.  He climbed up next to me.  “Now step on the clutch and turn the key.”   He pointed at the big metal petal on the left.

My leg was shaking uncontrollably as I stepped on the clutch.  The pedal went down with a loud satisfying clunk.  My relief was short lived as the pedal pushed back at me with enormous force.  It reminded me of one of those spring riders you could sit on as a kid at the McDonalds playground.  Just about the time you thought you had wrestled it to the ground, it would whiplash you back up with incredible speed.  The same happened with the pedal.  It literally shot me out of the seat.  Calvin burst out laughing.  I grabbed the steering wheel with my sweaty hands. Using that leverage, I was able to mash the pedal down again.  It stayed!  “Good job!” he exclaimed, “Now turn the key.”  I did.  The entire beast roared to life.  I was somewhat relieved to think that my nervous shaking was suddenly masked by the bone jarring violent rattling of this yellow dragon.  Calvin began working a lever on the console that revved up the engine.  “You want to set it at this RPM,” he said, pointing at the tachometer.  It smoothed out.

“Now, put it in first gear,” Calvin motioned to the gear shift, “and let out the clutch slowly.”  My brain refused to accept those instructions.  I managed the gear shift, but there was absolutely no way there would be any “slowly” about my ability to let out the clutch.  The death grip I had on the steering wheel had turned my knuckles white.  “You can do this!” he coaxed.  The next part is a bit blurry in my memory.  I tried.  My foot edged back slowly, shuddering and shaking, until my muscles finally surrendered.  Pow!  Kaboom! The leviathan leaped forward nearly hurtling Calvin and I off the beast.  But thankfully, it stopped as suddenly as it began.  I had popped the clutch and killed the engine.  I was convinced I had also just emptied my entire bladder in the well-worn leather chair.  My face was flush and I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.  I was sure I broke it and Calvin was going to be angry.  I looked over at Calvin.  He was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe.  I laughed too.

“Well, son, we are going to need to build up the muscles in those skinny legs of yours before we can get much further,” Calvin said with a grin.  With a glimmer in his eye, he added, “You will be driving that thing before you know it!”  I was given instructions to sit on the yellow beast and just work on pushing down the clutch until I could do it smoothly.  “I’ll come back for you at lunch.”  Calvin jumped off and headed to the barn.

Needless to say, I was relieved.  I followed his instructions until I could execute it without failure.  He was right.  It wouldn’t be long before I was mowing and baling hay.  I worked all summer and even returned to help the following summer.  Calvin made a big impression on me.  He taught me how to drive a tractor, but more importantly, he taught me about encouragement and trust.  I think back to those moments where I was afraid, uncertain and unskilled, yet I had a friendly guide who believed in me.  He firmly and patiently encouraged me to go beyond my ability and do something greater, something I didn’t even believe I could do myself.  He taught me to face my fear and turn setbacks along the way into humor and teachable moments.  

I’ll always remember that big yellow beast, my somewhat soiled pants and those dusty hot summers on the farm.  But most of all, I will remember Calvin.  He taught me the power of encouragement and trust.  Be a Calvin.  Encourage someone today!

Sunday Scaries

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love… Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.” – Steve Jobs

Sunday scaries, anyone?  This weekend I happened to come across an article that talked about how the majority of workers and students are often seized by anxiety, dread and sadness that the weekend is ending and Monday is on the way. The uncertainty and the dread of the new week can effectively consume and ruin the whole Sunday.  Have you ever experienced that?  I have.  It can be something as simple as, “Oh no, I need to get ready for that thing on Monday!”  Or it can be, “I wonder what new monster or demon is waiting for me in my inbox or possessed some time slot on my calendar?” 

Living for the weekend?  I have fond memories of a security guard in one of our offices who loved to remind everyone on their way to the elevator, how many days we had until Friday.  His sympathy for the first of the week and growing enthusiasm past “hump day” was simply delightful.  I always looked forward to seeing his smiling face, regardless of the day.  He was channeling the feeling that so many of us felt, counting down the days until the freedom of the weekend.  But, if we measure our quality of life by the 2 of 7 days, we are only living 29% of our potential.  

I love working for a company that creates happiness.  What we do is great work.  The magic we ship delights, informs, entertains and inspires people all over the world.  More importantly, I love working with our amazing teams.  So, why do we face the Sunday scaries?  I noticed that there were things I could do to minimize if not remove those scaries.  I’m still learning and adjusting, but I wanted to share with you some of the tricks I found to help make the workweek more like the weekend.

Plan.  The biggest spike of anxiety for me was a sense of being unprepared for the week.  At first, I started logging in on the weekend to prep for the week. This was a bad idea.  Not only were the scaries robbing my joy on Sunday, I was suddenly working 7 days a week and setting a terrible example for my team.  I changed.  I started investing time on Friday, including booking time for myself to go through the following week.  I look through and adjust meetings.  I create new meetings and add planning time to give myself time to review each day before it gets started. If I need to work on a project the following week, I will create a “placeholder” template document or start a list of “to do” items.  I also ensure I create space on my schedule for the following week to start the day with reflection, review and preparation. 

Transform dread into anticipation. I try to schedule some “fun” activities each week, and especially on Monday.  I also realized I was overbooking myself, not just on the weekdays but on the weekends as well.  I had to learn to be compassionate with myself, pacing my activities and treating myself with some leisure time.  Those things along with the planning, made an incredible difference for me.  I rarely dread Monday now and even have some sense of positive anticipation, wanting to dive into things I am ready to take on.  To be fair, there are still moments the scaries return, but they are fewer and easier to defeat.

How do you deal with Sunday scaries?  I would love to hear your own experiences and any discoveries you have made.  We are part of something special.  Let’s keep doing great things, and help vanquish the Sunday scaries along the way!

Mind the Gap

The London Underground, commonly known as “The Tube” is the oldest rapid transit system in the world.  A few years ago, during a summer before the pandemic, my family and I made our way to London for a vacation.  Our excursions almost always required at least one ride on the Tube.  We absolutely loved it.  It was incredibly convenient!  With just a little practice and a route guidance app, you can get just about anywhere in London with very little effort.

Anyone who has traveled the Underground quickly becomes familiar with the public service announcement, “Mind the gap!”  A loud audio warning is accompanied by visual signs to remind Underground passengers to take caution crossing the gap between the train doors and the station platforms.  For some of the older lines and stations this can be a significant gap which can include nefarious vertical steps.  Much to my chagrin, somewhere along my journey, my less than graceful physical skills caused me to bump my toe on one of those vertical gaps. I stumbled out onto the platform.  A friendly fellow passenger, concerned about my maneuver, smiled and repeated, “mind the gap.”  We both laughed and I shook my head walking off with my much-embarrassed family. 

Life is full of gaps.  Some of those gaps are risks that we must manage for ourselves and others.  Sometimes we see them and raise the alarm.  Other times, those warning signs are broadcast by experts.  Put on your seat belt.  Hot, don’t touch!  Wear safety goggles and other personal protection equipment (PPE).  Get vaccinated.  Walk carefully on wet slippery floors.  Don’t fly your drone around high voltage power lines.  

Another familiar public service announcement on the Underground is, “See it, say it, sorted.”  It’s a call to action to all passengers to report unusual activity to keep everyone safe.  As technologist, we are often in the front row seat to see systemic problems, reliability issues, security weaknesses, and the like.  Be on the lookout for those dangers and gaps.  Raise the alarm if you see a problem.  Often the issues are not just technical problems, but issues with process, support and usability.  Those are important too.  Improving inhumane experiences or user frustrating processes is like an ancient magic that unleashes incredible power and potential.  It also helps clumsy dads exit the Tube safely without bruising their egos.

As we journey from point to point on this adventure, we will spot gaps.  Our attention and expertise are needed to ensure we can continue to ship value… better, faster, safer and happier for everyone.  Mind the gap!

Direction

“Direction is much more important than speed.” – Anonymous

Two weeks ago, I sent out my update from Walker Lake in Minnesota where we were visiting with family.  We were in the middle of our two-week 6,000-mile driving adventure across the US.  We passed through California, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.  Whew!  That’s a lot of distance to travel by car, but thankfully we were able to travel at 70-80 mph most of the way.

With a family of five, as you can imagine, there were plenty of stops along the way.  For the most part, I have a good sense of direction, but the thing about a long drive is that the roads, exits, hotels, and fuel stations all start to look alike after a while.  If you’re not careful, you may end up getting turned around and going the wrong way.  I recall one particular bio-break stop where I ended up on the wrong onramp, heading East instead of West.  Thankfully there was a quick exit and turnaround.  If I had made that miscalculation in one of the Dakotas, I may have been stuck on that road going the wrong direction for 50 miles!

I love going fast!  Seeing the world move quickly beneath you as you arrive at your destination is exciting and rewarding.  But when you make a directional error and end up 100 miles off course all that excitement morphs into a sick feeling of failure.  It occurs to me how much that applies to our work, projects, business and life.  Sure, there are measured risks we must take when we need to explore new directions, but most of the time we can quickly assemble enough data to select the right bearing.  That’s engineering.  My dad used to say, “Son, with engineering you assume a point of beginning and proceed with great accuracy.”  Like the scientific method, you begin with a thoughtful plan, act, measure and make corrections.  My recent road trip reminded me how important it was that we plan, measure and correct when the vector is off.  Reaching the final destination demands that discipline.

What does your compass say?  Are you headed in the right direction?  Pull out the map and measure your position and trajectory.  Are you going where you want to go or do you hear the GPS suggesting a “next legal U-turn”?  It’s never too late to alter course, especially if your goal is to arrive at the right destination.  I challenge you all this week to think about your destination and the direction you need to go to get there. 

Bitter or Better?

“You can be bitter or you can be better.” – Alice Zahnow

I love getting a slice of lemon or lime with my iced water.  Once I asked for a water with lime and the waiter brought out a water with a strong shot of lime essence. It surprised me and was extremely bitter.  I couldn’t drink it.  Thankfully the table was equipped with some sugary sweeteners.  Suddenly, the bitter water turned into a delightful drink.  

So much of the time, what you bring to a situation makes all the difference.  Imperfect things with a positive ingredient can become something even better.  As we have been traveling and celebrating my mother-in-law’s life, it occurred to me that one of her favorite sayings applies to so much of life, “You can be bitter or you can be better”.  Disappointment, loss, change, hurts, worries and fears can all become opportunities to become better.  The crucial ingredient is you.  I recognize that we are experiencing a lot of change in our lives, family and work.  How you react, the attitude you bring, the faith you have, the actions you take, all determine your destiny, how we do as a people and the impact you can make on the world.

We only have a tiny amount of years on this planet. Don’t waste it.  Things happen to or around us all the time.  We can be bitter, or we can be better.  You only need to change the “I”.