Monthly Archives: January 2014

My Favorite Day of Winter

My favorite day of winter is just a week away—Groundhog Day!  I thought about titling this post—I Hate Winter—but I decided to use a more positive sounding title.  However, both titles may make more sense when you understand that I hate cold weather.  January is my least favorite month of the year so what better way to celebrate the end of January than to look forward to the 2nd of February.  And it is ever my hope each year that Punxsutawney Phil will accurately predict the end of winter and that spring will be just around the corner.

For someone like me who loves to drive small, sporty convertibles on nice warm days, winter means missing out on all that fun.  But beyond just the fun, I don’t like to feel cold.  My hands seem to suffer the worst as they get dried out and cracked due to the cold and the dry indoor heat.  I always keep a pair of gloves within easy reach during the winter and I have been known to wear them at work while I type away on my computer.

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My wife on the other hand loves the cold, snow, and wintertime.  And with just the slightest chance of snow predicted, she will run through the house singing “Winter Holiday”I am not such a scrooge that I hate snow, I think it can be very beautiful and I have captured some pretty snow scenes in our neighborhood on the rare day that we actually get snow.

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And even in our own backyard.

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And I have been known to at least get out in the snow and play.

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But I always look forward to coming indoors where it is warm.

While the weather in Memphis has been just cold so far this year, I did get a chance this week to experience some of winter’s finest on what was supposed to be a one-day business trip to NJ. Tuesday morning, I awoke in my hotel room to snow falling and by the time I drove to my business meeting, it had already accumulated several inches on the road.  As snow continued to fall during my meeting, I received first one airline text that my return flight home that day had been canceled and then another text later that my rebooked flight the following morning had also been canceled.  After my meeting ended, I drove back to the airport in 6 to 8 inches of snow, a trip that took three times longer than normal—but at least I made it back without becoming one of the numerous weather related accidents that occurred that day.

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Due the thousands of flight cancellations, my return home was delayed until Thursday morning.  So I ended up having an extra two days in NJ.  If only my wife had been with me on this trip, she would have loved to play in the 10 inches of snow we had at the hotel.

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So now that I have almost completely survived another January, I will get up early next Sunday morning to check out Phil’s prediction.  And whether or not he predicts that we are in for six more weeks of winter or that spring is just around the corner, my hope is whether Phil is right or wrong, winter will be over soon and I can bask in the warmth of the sun and drive with the top down soon.

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Life’s Goals

January is always a time for people to make New Year’s resolutions or establish goals for themselves to pursue throughout the year.  And at year-end, we can reflect on how well we kept those resolutions or achieved goals we might have set for ourselves.   And as anyone who has worked in the business world knows, the beginning of the year is also a time to set professional goals or objectives for the year—ones that our performance will be measured against at the end of the year.

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But rather than describing new goals that I want to set for myself in the new year, I want to explore goals I set for myself at least 20 years ago.

A number of years ago, I went through some management training at work where the focus for goal setting was beyond just the short term goals we typically think of.  The purpose was to establish “life goals” with the emphasis being that without life goals, one would be “rudderless” and may achieve little over their lifetime.  They were to be goals we would work towards over many years.

And so it was, I set out five life goals for myself, each with a different time horizon, but all multi-year goals.

1.    Own a Miata

For anyone who has previously read my blog, this first goal won’t come as a surprise.  And in terms of life goals, this might not seem that significant of a goal.  But at that time in my life, it was an important goal that seemed just out of my reach for a number of reasons.  It was with some difficulty that I eventually met this goal but since then, I have exceeded the goal by now owning two Miatas.  In fact this goal has expanded beyond just owning a Miata to owning four different fun little sports cars (A Stable of Cars).

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2.    Make a $100K

I don’t recall the year I set this goal but at the time it must have seemed a reasonable goal and one that represented some level of success in my field.  Of course with salaries increasing over 20 years just due to inflation alone, this doesn’t seem like that significant a goal anymore.

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3.    Become Known in My Professional Field

At the time that I set this goal, I didn’t know how I would necessarily achieve this.  It was at about this time that I had published a couple of articles in scientific journals and probably one of the motivators for me setting this goal was the excitement I felt upon receiving requests for reprints of my article from all over the world.  I did receive an award within my company for my research that led to these two publications but it was only recognition within the company.

But it was once I began to teach my scientific course—over 15 years ago—that I really began to get recognition.  And the predecessor to this course was actually being invited to speak at an FDA conference on the topic I would ultimately teach (How I Got Started Teaching – 101)This teaching in combination with serving on a scientific committee for many years for the trade organization that represents our industry has enabled me to become known in my field.

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4.    Watch My Kids Grow Up and Succeed

Often times when we set goals, we don’t necessarily have complete control over their outcome.  This is one that certainly falls within that category since it was ultimately up to my children to accomplish them.  But as a parent, I provided encouragement and support and maybe just a little, served as an example for them to model.  And I can happily say that they have each achieved success in their own ways.  And what’s even more exciting is that their potential for future success is still growing.

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5.    Have a Lifelong, Close Relationship with my Wife

I knew the odds would be stacked against me in regards to this goal as nearly 50% of all marriages end in divorce.  And my goal was not to just stay married, but to have a truly close relationship, an accomplishment that is probably achieved in even fewer marriages that actually survive.  And while there have been some difficult times in our marriage, I am happy to say that together, we have achieved this goal and hopefully we will have many more years to work on it (Our 34th Anniversary).

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As I was listing out the topics I would want to write about when I first decided to write a blog, this was one of the first ten ideas I wrote down and January just seemed like the right time to reflect upon this topic.  One of the things I was told many years ago as a part of this training is that as you achieved these life goals, you should set additional ones.  That part of the training I haven’t followed as closely but now that I am getting closer to retirement, maybe now would be a good time to establish new life goals, goals to strive towards in future years and ones to feel satisfied accomplishing.

When To Take Down The Christmas Tree?

When should you take the down your Christmas tree?  If you Google search this question, you will find a number of answers along with the corollary question of when should you put up your tree?  As we return to work after Christmas or New Year’s day, we begin to get a glimpse of how our neighbors answer this question as the exterior decorations disappear and barren trees begin to pile up in front of each yard before they are finally collected and hauled off—often times a depressing sight for the end of a joyous season.

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Having been raised a protestant, we fell into the American consumer-focused tradition of putting up a tree well before Christmas.  And growing up, my mother was ready to take it down soon after Christmas day was over.  She thought the tree looked naked or depressing without all of the colorfully wrapped presents underneath it.  And since we typically put up a real cut tree on my brother’s birthday—December 9th—it would be dropping a lot of needles by then anyway.

But soon after I was married and I became a Catholic, one of the “adjustments” I had to make was how Advent was a time of preparation for Christmas, rather than a celebration of Christmas.  I thought it odd that Christmas hymns were for the most part, not sung in Mass until Christmas Eve and then continued to be sung into January, well after Christmas day had passed.  But once I recognized that in the Catholic tradition, Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Jesus and Epiphany—January 6th—was the celebration of the arrival of the three kings with their gifts for the baby Jesus, this made sense.

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When our kids were young, we would typically put up a real tree—at least that is until we discovered several family members had allergies and then opted for artificial trees.

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But whichever type tree we put up, our tradition was that most presents would not appear under the tree until after Santa had arrived on Christmas morning.  And since, I was always the first one into the room on Christmas morning to check to make sure Santa had come, I could always get a great shot of the tree before the presents were opened.

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So for most of the time the Christmas tree was up in our home, either before or after Christmas, it wasn’t filled with presents except for Christmas Day.  And once we switched to an artificial tree, the tree could go up as early as we wanted and stay up as long as we wanted without the concern of the tree drying out and dropping all of its needles.

I recall reading Robert Kraus’ book, The Tree That Stayed Up Until Next Christmas to our children when they were young and this allowed me to go along with my wife’s suggestion to leave our retro aluminum tree up all year.

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But for this year, our artificial tree is now down.

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It didn’t stay up until yesterday because of the more traditional Catholic way of taking it down after Epiphany, but rather because with our travel schedule over the holidays, this was the first weekend I really had the time to do it.  And so it will stay hidden away until Christmas season 2014 begins—sometime after Thanksgiving—when it will be time to bring everything back out for the next celebration.

Books I Read in 2013

Happy New Year to all!

It was inspiration from reading a post my daughter made on her blog last December that motivated me to keep a list of all the books I read in 2013.  Her post was The Best Books I Read in 2012, a review of the top 10 of 46 she had read that year.  While admittedly being a “card-carrying” list maker, I had never thought to keep a list of all the books I read.  In fact I had never even kept up with the number of books I had read in a single year.  I was a little intimidated by the fact that she had read 46 books in 2012, nearly one a week.  In years past, I might feel pretty accomplished if I had even read one book a month.   But undaunted, I set out to keep a list.

I created a WORD template that I kept on my computer desktop to serve as a reminder to document each book as I finished it.  Not that I needed a list to serve as motivation to read, I really wanted to.  As I have grown older, I have gained a passion for reading more.  My greatest challenges that have limited the number of books I have read in the past are: 1) I am a slow reader, and 2) I don’t have a lot of free time to read.  But this year turned out to be an exceptional year in that I had ten airline trips—including two to Europe and three to the west coast.  And for me, there is no better way to spend a long flight than to enjoy uninterrupted hours reading.  At the end of the year, my list totaled up to 30 books.

I thought about just publishing the list without comment, almost as a badge or award but there would probably be little interest in that.  And picking the top 10 out of 30 books wouldn’t be pairing down the list much—almost like the NBA playoffs when 16 of the 30 teams make it to the playoffs.  So instead, I just decided to narrow it down to my favorite fiction and non-fiction book.

Over the last five years or so, I have become much more interested in reading nonfiction.  Prior to this, I had to read so many technical, factual documents for my work, that when it came to reading for pleasure, I just wanted to be entertained with a story.  But I have become much more interested in reading history and in particular, books about building things.   So for this year, my list of 30 included 13 nonfiction books.

And my favorite nonfiction book this year—was a four-way tie (sorry I couldn’t pick just one).  I have already written about two of them this year,

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747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a life of Aviation by Joe Sutter, and

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The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope by Ronald Florence so I won’t repeat myself describing those.

The third book tied for my favorite is How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown.

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This is a book written by a colleague of my son-in-law at Cal Tech that tells the fascinating story of how Mike Brown, after years of searching, discovered a 10th planet beyond Pluto.  But rather than extending our solar system to 10 planets and prompting the need to revise a multitude of primary educational textbooks, Mike’s discovery sparked a controversy in the international scientific community that led to the demise of Pluto being considered a planet and becoming labeled as a “dwarf” planet.

The fourth nonfiction book tied for my favorite is American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Co. written by Bryce G. Hoffman.

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I was already familiar with Alan Mulally having seen the PBS documentary many years ago on the building of the Boeing 777 jet airplane.  And I recalled from 2008/2009 when the other big automakers were getting bailout loans from the federal government as they were entering bankruptcy; Ford had gone it alone and survived without government loans and without enduring bankruptcy.  While he seemed to be quite a likeable person in the PBS series, it was only through reading this book that I gained tremendous respect for his executive office prowess.

This book covers the period from when Alan became CEO of Ford when the great grandson to Henry Ford, CEO Bill Ford stepped aside.  It tells the story of the struggle between the changes Alan wanted to make and the wishes of the Ford family, which to this day as a block, owns a controlling interest in Ford.  To Bill Ford’s credit, he recognized that dramatic change was necessary to save Ford and so mediated with the family to help Alan make the changes.  This story is so intriguing and came so close to failing that it might well become a case study for others to learn from in business school.

And now on to fiction books, I read 17 this year and my favorite was—a two-way tie (surely you saw that coming).  The two that tied were both books my wife recommended to me, ones that I think her book club had read in the past.

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The first is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, a story narrated by one of two twins, Marion Stone born in unusual circumstances at a mission hospital in Ethiopia to a nun.  Marion’s retrospective discovery of how his mother could find herself pregnant with twins is superimposed on a time of turmoil in Ethiopia when the country is on the verge of revolution.  It is a story you will wish continues even after reading the last page.

All year long I kept comparing this book to other fiction books I read—and it was head and shoulders above the others I read.  At least that is until I read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, which ties, for my favorite fiction.

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This historical fiction novel tells the story of the adolescent love and struggle between a young Chinese American boy and his Japanese schoolmate girlfriend set in Seattle during the tumultuous times following Pearl Harbor when Japanese were being relocated for “security” reasons and anyone of oriental descent was questioned.

So rather than just writing about my single favorite fiction and nonfiction book this year, I at least narrowed it down to the top six—all tied for favorite.

And on a final note, I have to mention two of the books I read this year fell into a separate category—not yet published manuscripts.  Through a special connection to both the authors, I was privileged to get to read early drafts of each.  The first is a nonfiction book about surviving and maintaining one’s creativity during the most difficult of educational processes in our culture today.  Once published, it will be an inspiration for those that pursue that loftiest of all graduate degrees.

The second, and actually the last book I read in 2013 was written as a part of NaNoWriMo just this past November.  Without the author’s permission, I cannot reveal anything about the book.  But what I can say is that through this special connection, I am only the second person who has been allowed to read it.  And I can further say that while reading it, at times I found my heart racing with excited anticipation or my eyes filled with tears upon learning of the outpouring of love and support by the protagonist’s friends and neighbors.

So for 2014, I plan to keep another list of the books I read during the year.  With fewer trips planned in 2014, I doubt I will exceed my total of 30 books in 2013.  But I do know that whatever the number of books it turns out to be, it will be a year of enjoyable reading—a year of learning and discovery and entertainment.