Fragrance of Life

Flowers

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
– Amanda Gorman

Grandpa was fast asleep on the sofa.  The grandkids decided to play a prank on him and quietly smeared a dab of pungent limburger cheese on his moustache.  Hiding from the shadows, the grandkids watched as he startled to wake.  He wrinkled his nose and squinted his eyes.  He sniffed himself and cried, “Wow, I really stink!”  He made his way into the kitchen and soon discovered, “It smells bad in here too!”  Wandering from room to room is suddenly dawned on him that the odor was all over the house, “The whole house stinks!”  Hoping for some fresh air, he plunged outside and drew in a deep big breath and was shocked.  He declared, “The whole world stinks!”

As we all manage through the current pandemic, grapple with family difficulties, experience or see social injustices, face financial hardships, receive bad news or deal with health challenges, there is definitely an odor of despair, frustration and weariness.  My wife spent the weekend trying to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for my high-risk 86-year-old mother-in-law, waiting 10 hours on hold (that stupid hold music is still stuck in my head) and several days juggling the overwhelmed scheduling systems.  My wife kept telling me. “They seriously need some DevOps.”  Almost on a weekly basis, we hear about some friend or family member seriously impacted or taken by COVID.  In the US we recently witnessed a powerful assault on our democracy with the insurrection.  Division, hate and uncivilized war seems to dominate the landscape.  Each week seems to bring news of new challenges or disappointments.  Frankly, it stinks.  

The truth is, there is still so much good to experience.  Sure, the hurt is real.  Grief is real.  The fatigue is real.  But we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to count our blessings too.  This safe-at-home lockdown means I get to spend more time with my family.  My daughters and I recently made a habit of tea and Anime before bedtime.  For all the mask-wearing social-distanced adventures outside the house, I always have willing volunteers to join me.  What teenager ever wants to go with dad to the store otherwise?  Those are simple but precious times and enjoyable moments. I could continue to despair about all the bad, but I would miss the opportunity to enjoy the good.  It occurs to me that much of our experience of reality is determined by what we bring to it.  Losses can become learning.  Hurt can become hope.  Grief can become growth.  Buried in the bad is a bed of begonias.  

What fragrance are you bringing to your situation?  You can be the aroma of hope to yourself and others.  A perfume of positivity and an odor of optimism can make a difference.  Wear it well this week!

Channel of Peace

“Make me a channel of your peace… Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness joy.” – St. Francis of Assisi 

“Your screen time was up 39% last week.” Just 39%?  What a week!  The events in the United States made me feel overwhelmed and numb. Like many of you, I became fixated on the news.  How will we survive and overcome this?  I remember feeling the same way after 9/11, but for different reasons.  The external threat has become internal. The insurrection is testing our core, our democracy and our ability to peaceably pursue happiness together.  The backdrop of all of that is the devastating impact of the pandemic, now claiming more lives per day than all of the souls lost on 9/11.  I need a hug, how about you?

I recognize that many of you, like me, are impacted by the events over the past week and will most likely continue into the weeks to come.  Make sure you are taking care of yourself, your loved ones and each other.  I need to constantly remind myself of that.  We are all being affected by this new stress and grief.  It can have a negative impact on how we think, work and relate to others.  We need to give ourselves time to decompress and heal.  “Breathe.”  Soak in the positive goodness as well as the negative news.

In the darkest hour, light becomes the brightest.  Ask yourself what you can do today to sow some light.  Embrace extra consideration, empathy, truth and kindness.  And that for yourself and for others.  We will get through this.  

Our work matters.  YOUR work matters.  Let’s do our best to keep bringing unity, peace and happiness to our human family that so desperately needs it.  

A New Year, A New Start

Forward

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Dan Millman

My home office is in our dining room, specifically on our dining room table.  Like many of you, I built up my home office area to best accommodate work.  I have an office chair, large monitor and plenty of accessories.  However, for the holidays, I needed to vacate the area.  As is our tradition, our dining room hosts all of our holiday treats and Christmas dinners.  We sit around the table, enjoy the feast and pop Christmas crackers.  Yes, we even read the corny jokes and wear the paper crown.  The pandemic limited our ability to gather with our extended family, but we still had a delightful Christmas holiday.

As I re-assembled my “office” this past weekend, I was struck by the amount of stuff I had accumulated.  At first, I blindly started to stack it all back onto the table.  It occurred to me that this was the perfect time to apply lean principles and deploy only what is needed, when needed.  There is an incredible satisfaction when you can thin the clutter and start fresh.  To me, that is what a New Year is all about.  Sure, it is just another revolution around the sun, but there can be a human significance. It is an opportunity to mentally restart.  It is a chance for us to reduce the clutter and begin again on a new canvas.  

As a young art student, I had just been introduced to oil painting.  I had been struggling with a landscape I had been working on for weeks.  I expressed my frustration with my art teacher.  She said she knew what needed to be done.  To my horror she grabbed a tube of Titanium white and with a large brush, quickly whited out all but the outline on my scene.  Shock became relief as new possibilities began to explode in my head.  With the constraints of my past mistakes gone, I could begin anew.  I could focus my energies forward, projecting my imagination and crafting a new world. It was a great lesson to a young artist… Don’t be afraid to start over.

What is important?  What should we start doing?  What should we stop?  What new thing should we build?  What should we leave behind?  These are all great questions to ask as we embark on this new year.  

I’m excited to dream into where we are going!  I’m looking forward to the things we will build, the investments we will make in ourselves and others, and the outcomes we will achieve.  Let’s celebrate the new adventure!  Welcome to 2021.  

Happy New Year!  Let’s make the best of this new slate.

Painting note: “Into the Dawn” by Julia R. Cox.

It’s a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life

“You see George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?” – Clarence

Strange, isn’t it? Each person’s life touches so many other lives.

What is your favorite holiday movie?  Each year, at our house, we celebrate the countdown to Christmas with a selection of some of our favorite movies: Home Alone, The Santa Clause, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Christmas Story, Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas and many more.  Whatever your list may be, I suspect many of us would also list “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a holiday classic.  You might be surprised to know it was a spectacular flop and very well might have vanished from history, if it hadn’t been for a mistake. That’s right, a mistake. Let me tell you about it…

Philip Van Doren Stern was unable to find a publisher for his 4,100 word short story, “The Greatest Gift.”   He eventually privately published the story in the form of a Christmas Card booklet that he mailed to friends and family. Producer David Hepstead happened to receive one of these and decided to purchase the rights to make it into a film.  Frank Capra was selected to direct the film starring James Stewart.  It opened in 1947 to extremely poor performance.  It resulted in a bankrupting loss of $525k for RKO Radio Pictures. Paramount Pictures purchased rights to the film temporarily and through a sequence of other sales, it landed a new home with Republic Pictures.  This is where the crucial mistake happened. 

The U.S. copyright protection law act of 1909 required that copyright holders file renewal notices with the Copyright office after 28 years from publication.  Republic Pictures failed to file for this renewal.  The film lapsed into the public domain in 1974, meaning anyone could show the film without permission or royalties.  As a result, television stations, networks and distribution groups looking for low cost ways to program holiday content, picked up the movie and begin airing it at all hours and in all markets, often times even in back-to-back showings.  Over the next 20 years, this beloved story found its way into the hearts and minds of so many who would have never seen it.  It surged to become one of the greatest “holiday classics” of all time, all because of a clerical error not to renew the copyright.

It’s a Wonderful Life tells a great tale of how we all make a difference.  In the story, Clarence gives George Bailey a gift to see what the world would be like without him.  In that revelation, George and the audience discover the incredible impact that one person has on others and on history.  Every person matters.  We are all of infinite worth and are irreplaceable parts of our human story.  We imperceptibly touch lives around us, profoundly affecting the performance of our human symphony.  We may never know all the lives we touch or events we change, but it is there.  Every encounter, each friendship, every word, each choice and every actions radiate from our lives as a force of change.  They are like ripples of gravity invisibly pushing and pulling us together and weaving the sparks of life into the beautiful tapestry of our human story.

I know I say this often, but I can’t emphasize this enough.  You matter!  As the protagonist of your own story, you are part of a much bigger epic and you make a difference. Every role, every part is significant. As we go through this holiday season in the 2020 pandemic way, continue to play the part you were born to play.  Be the best you, you can be!   You have a wonderful life.  Enjoy it, celebrate it and use it to continue to touch other lives. 

I wish you all, a wonderful and blessed holiday season!

Reference: Library of Congress https://blogs.loc.gov/copyright/2017/12/its-a-wonderful-life/

Love, Joy and Peace

Love, Joy, Peace

The decorations are up!  The lights are on and the trees are trimmed.  We are ready for the holidays!  As the shadows of darkness grow long in the shortening days, I’m reminded of the importance of light.  As is our custom, we hang lights on the house literally moments after the last Halloween trick-or-treaters leave.  Our human family, all over the world lights candles, adorns their houses and trees with lights.  It’s a beautiful time of the year to stir the embers of joy and share the warmth of hope with our fellow human travelers.

Speaking of sharing, I love sending greeting cards.  It has become one of our family traditions.  I know it seems old fashioned and tedious, but there is something magical about going through the list of family and friends. You get a chance to stop and think about each person as you address, stamp and stuff each envelope.  Fond memories, care and concern arises with each note sent.  We normally select a generic holiday greeting, but in this crazy pandemic and challenging time, I stopped to think about the best, most appropriate message we could wish to everyone this year.  I landed on a three part wish that I think fits our time: love, joy and peace.

Love.  We have symbols, songs and slogans about love.  It often gets described as a feeling or a desire.  But at its core, true love is a choice and an action.  It is an act of selflessness, consideration and giving.  In this season, we unwire our selfish tendencies and focus on others.  We give of our time, our treasures and our talents to benefit someone other than ourselves.  That is love.  As we think about our freedoms, privileges and blessings, think about it for others too.  Have empathy: understand each other.  Humility: encourage others.  Charity: care for one another over your own comfort or convenience.  Yes, in a pandemic, love even means wearing masks to protect others not just ourselves.  We can choose to love, to be the best that we as humans can be.  This time of the year, the world becomes a bit brighter as hearts and minds turn toward love and giving.  As the song by Jackie DeShannon, says, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”  I wish you love! 

Joy.  Like love, joy is often described as a feeling.  It is often explained as the state of having cheer or vibrant happiness.  But that would sell it short. True joy is a purposeful decision and attitude.  Even in difficult times, you can feel joy.  Darkness, loss and pain can rob us of happiness.  But even in those moments of sadness, we can still choose to have joy.  Joy is living in the moment, combating the darkness and choosing to put on the mantle of hope.  It is our mind and heart choosing to be above the circumstances.  Joy chooses light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.  I wish you joy!

Peace.  With the chaos, conflicts and challenges we have seen in 2020, there is an increasing need for peace.  It is a unique and rare gem.  But we can experience it, wield it and promote it.  It is a gift we can give that always gives back.  In a world of polarized views and tribal separations, peacemakers are needed now more than ever.  Peace shines in unity over conflict, collaboration over competition, and civility over combat.  Peace is born of love, embracing our differences while respecting each other.  It brings a calm to raging seas and graces us with wisdom that there is more that unites us than divides us.  I wish you peace!

I wish you all love, joy and peace this season and always!

Thankfulness

Fall Colors

“Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery. It merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors.” – Richelle E. Goodrich.

As we roll into this Thanksgiving Holiday, I pause to reflect back on this unprecedented year.  It has been a tough year for all of us.  With the headwinds we have seen due to the pandemic, the challenging consequences, and the toll on our families, friends and businesses, it may be difficult to spot those golden nuggets of thanksgiving in what seems to be a 2020 mine of despair. Nevertheless, there is still reason to be thankful!  Look for that glimmer and you will find it:  Those sacrifices of others to help. Those kind words and gestures to those struggling. Heroes emerging. Incremental wins. Awakenings. Project completions, team accomplishments, and personal achievements unlocked.  Those are all blessings to be celebrated.

Take time to pause, reflect, appreciate and enjoy the beautiful colors of blessings this Thanksgiving Holiday season.

Stay safe and stay well!

Illusion of Knowledge

Avianca 747 Plane

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” – Daniel J. Boorstin

Avianca Flight 011 took off from Paris on its way to Spain’s Madrid-Barajas International Airport.  It was a routine flight.  Upon reaching the Madrid airspace, the pilot asked and received landing clearance.  The pilot then unwittingly made a wrong turn on his approach vector.  As the aircraft dropped to 2248 feet, the ground-proximity warning systems started sounding.  “Terrain! Pull up!” filled the flight deck.  The pilot was sure they were on the right path and the altitude was appropriate for the descent to runway 33, so he ignored the warning system.  After all, the airport approach controller would surely inform them if they were on the wrong path.  Moments later, the outer starboard engine impacted the top of a hill at 163 mph causing the right wing to dig deep into the ground, pitching the plane into a “cartwheel”.  The entire airframe spun violently and disintegrated.  All 19 crew members and 162 of the 173 passengers perished. In addition to the negligence of the pilot to heed the warning systems, investigators showed that the airport failed to inform the crew that their radar service had been terminated and they were unable to monitor their craft.

This is a tragic story of the illusion of knowledge.  So strong was their illusion of what they thought was true that the flight crew dismissed the ground-proximity warning system that could have saved their lives.  We often see things like this and blame the pilot for irresponsibly ignoring the clear warning signal.  But how often are we guilty of the same thing?  There is a tendency for us all to elevate our own mental models to the point of silencing anything that contradicts.  Challenging our perceptions or established views is difficult and painful.  We like to form simple models for the world, our work and our systems to make our lives easier. With a model, you don’t need to think, you just act.  Like muscle memory, we fall into the lowest cognitive energy state.  That can be extremely helpful in allowing us to process vast amount of information every single day, but unfortunately, those models can be wrong.  And sometimes, those differences make all the difference in the world.

Last year, when we were able to travel, my family and I spent several days in London.  We traveled around the city using the Underground railway.  As you bounce between Waterloo, Jubilee and Bakerloo among the various cavernous stations, you often hear the public announcement system remind you to be observant and diligent about reporting anything unusual, “See it.  Say it.  Sorted.”   It is to raise awareness of the vital role we all play in keeping ourselves and others safe.  That isn’t just appropriate for riders of the London Tube, it applies to all of us, including our jobs.  

Seek the truth and strive to see problems clearly.  As engineers and scientists, we should always be in pursuit of evidence and truth.  When data presents itself, like an early warning system, don’t dismiss it, report it.  Investigate it.  Adapt to it. Be a warning signal to others.  Make it safe for others to approach you with truth.  Do you feel safe calling out problems or issues to your leaders and others?  Are you hesitant to report or responds to indicators that something may be wrong?  Don’t!  Truth is gold. Leaders need that insight.  Seeing clearly and embracing data, even if it is inconvenient or breaks our illusion, will help us all become better.  I challenge you this week, look for truth, honor the truth and speak the truth.

Note: Photo from Creative Commons (link).

To everything there is a season…

Fireplace

“To everything there is a season…  a time to plant and a time to reap… a time to weep and a time to laugh… a time to mourn and a time to dance.” – Ecclesiastes 3

A time to reap…

“It’s cold outside!” I received that text at 4am this morning when one of my IoT devices detected temperatures in our backyard dropping into the frost zone.  It seemed like a great idea when I built the device, but at 4am, it wasn’t so hilarious.  We did manage to harvest the last tomatoes and peppers from our garden before the cold hit.  Despite the cold, we did enjoy the weather here in Santa Clarita this weekend.  Sunny rain showers with gusty winds visited our neighborhood. The fires are out and the air is clear. We even had a few doses of hail cover our yard like a sparkling winter wonderland.  And just like that, the leaves on the trees in our neighborhood began to change.

A time to laugh…

I know it is only November, but with the nice weather and all that is going on, Saturday felt like Christmas.  I hung the lights and lit a fire in the fireplace.  There was even a rainbow or two that streaked across the sky as if to welcome the new season and bid farewell to a long and emotionally draining week.  Regardless of where you are along the US political spectrum, there was news made and records broken.  Related to that, I fully appreciate the emotion, the exhilaration and the disappointment that some may be feeling right now.  We should recognize that and be kind to one another.

A time to dance…

In other news, Pfizer and Biotech are reporting positive results from their COVID-19 vaccine trials.  That’s encouraging news!  Most of us have family or friends personally impacted by the virus.  We still have a long road back to pre-pandemic “normal” but any progress is cause for celebration.  Speaking of celebrating, I often talk about the need to recognize our accomplishments and wins as a team.  I love seeing the updates and one-off notes that my team sends me so I can celebrate with them.  If you are not doing that, you should!  Reflecting back on this year, it is amazing to see how much we have accomplished despite the challenges the pandemic threw our way.  I am incredibly grateful for my team and the hard work we continue to do to help each other and our company weather this difficult time.

A time to heal…

Even with the good news, we are still facing challenging times.  This is a good time to remember to breathe (and not just because your Apple Watch tells you to).  Take a moment today and let your mind and body heal.  Let go of the tensions that the pandemic, remote work and life pressures bring your way.  Breathe.  Rest.  Renew.  A new season is here… drink it all in and enjoy!

One in 7.5 Billion

Girl on Beach

“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset and saw a young girl in the distance.  The girl kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water. Over and over she kept casting things into the ocean. As he approached, he was able to see that she was picking up starfish that had washed up on the beach.  One at a time, she threw them back into the water. The man asked what she was doing.  She replied, I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean, or they will die.” The man laughed, “There are thousands on this beach, and many other beaches like this.  You can’t possibly make a difference.  You can’t possibly save them all.”  She smiled, bent down and picked up another starfish and replied as she threw it back into the surf, “I made a difference to that one.”

We have a big family.  I have four kids, a relatively higher than average size family.  But that is nothing compared to the 7.5 billion people in our human family across the world.  With such a huge number of kin, is it any surprise that we sometimes feel insignificant?  How can we possibly make a difference in such a huge ocean of humanity?  With coronavirus, we may feel even more distant and helpless.  Is there anything that we can do that can possibly matter? 

It turns out that we can indeed make a difference.  We don’t need to shift continents or singularly help millions of people.  By helping just one other person, we make a difference.  It can be as simple as a kind word.  Help someone carry their burden, show some compassion, bring some light.  One on one, a donation of time, care, resources or attention can change a person’s life.  If we all make that effort, it becomes even greater.  Collectively we are a formidable force of 7.5 billion points of light that can illuminate and change the world. 

Look for an opportunity to help someone this week.  Be encouraged.  You can make a difference, one person at a time.

Tune In

Antenna of NASA Near Earth Network

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” – George Lucas

It is like static, a quiet noise, a low hum or a faint crackling sound.  That’s how some of us may describe 2020. It feels like someone pushed pause and we are all in time out.  We are caught in the current of the void, the stream of random indistinguishable flutters and rings.  

Back in the 1990’s, my dad decided to get a satellite TV dish.  Forever a can-do and frugal engineer, he signed up for the “self-installation” package.  Naturally, that translated to us being on the roof with a bag of bolts, parts and indecipherable instruction manuals. The kit included a simple compass and directions to mount and orient the dish toward the geosynchronous satellite.  A cable ran from the dish into the house to a receiver hooked to the television.  The setup screen displayed the signal strength with an audio signal that went from a low static hum to a solid high-pitched tone when the dish was correctly oriented.  Getting the dish oriented correctly before cell phones was an hour long comedy skit with my dad monitoring the TV yelling out the status to my sister in the yard who was yelling up to me on the roof.  I made slight adjustments left and right then up and down until we finally had a clear solid tone, indicating success.  We had the dish locked on to the satellite.

Getting a good signal during this pandemic has been difficult.  About the time we adjust to the new rhythm, the timing changes.  Some news we didn’t want to hear arrives.  Projects change to match new business conditions. Pandemic tidal forces ebb and flow.  All the while, we keep working and living life remotely with facemasks and limited interactions to keep everyone safe.  A low hum, a static, a faint noise.

Tune in. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking for a clear signal.  It’s time to focus and lock in.  This past week and this weekend reminded me of how important it is to have solid structure, rhythm, traditions and habits. I’m convinced that those are important geosynchronous targets that we can launch to help orient our days, even during this pandemic.  It could be something as simple as events on the calendar, a checklist of to-dos religiously made and cleared, or a purposeful goal with clear directionality.  

This week, I challenge you to a tune-up.  Examine the structures of your week and life.  Do you need to add some framing?  Give yourself the edifice of a clear target.  Focus on clear steps and proceed forward purposefully.  Yes, these are challenging times, but our focus can shape our reality.  It can help us manage and thrive during difficult times.  Focus, lock in and win! 

Photo: Antenna of NASA’s Near Earth Network at the Alaska Satellite Facility