Paul Buxman and the role of disappointment

I spent some time with Paul Buxman today.  He’s a friend of mine, and also a really talented artist.  We check in at least once a year, when he brings in the year’s crop of paintings for me to photograph and archive.

Paul’s paintings tell stories on more than one level.  Visually, each painting tells a story about a slowly fading agrarian way of life in California’s beautiful central valley.  But taken collectively, they tell a story about the artist.

When I see Paul’s entire collection from a year, I see changes.

Paul used more red paint this year.  When I asked him about it, he told me that this year he discovered red, and brought it out from the back of his paint-box.  I also noticed more purity in the colors he chose, and he confirmed that he spent less time mixing colors this year.  I also noticed some different kinds of composition creeping into his work, and more diversity in the nature of his subjects.  His paintings this year feel a touch more realistic, and also a little more wild; a little less controlled.  All these facets of his art make me wonder about Paul’s life, and the events that shaped the artist this year.  So I asked.

Paul told me that this has been the best year of his life.  When I asked why, he started listing off events and feelings that seem to me like anything but the ideal year.  But in looking back, he’s been able to see God’s hand in his life and in his family this year.  The struggles he has been through this year have brought his life into sharper relief.  They’ve brought out the reds.

I’m challenged.  I’m challenged to accept the hard things in life as a gift from God; as his tool for molding me into the shape He wants for me.  I’m challenged to try putting myself into places that seem less safe.  I’m challenged to work harder, as if I’m working on things that benefit someone else instead of me.  I’m challenged to let God show me where to find the red paint.


(Insert standard statement about the time between blog posts, along with inevitable apology, here.)

I’m reading about goals for a leadership and organizational behavior course I’m taking.  The reading is a little academic in nature, which I really appreciate.  Some of the important things I’ve learned (that are borne out by actual, peer-reviewed research):

  • People tend to set higher goals for themselves in the workplace than their supervisors would have set.
  • Higher goals lead to higher achievement.
  • Goals that are shared are more likely to be accomplished.
  • The process of setting and working on goals, not the prospect of reward, is what actually improves performance.

So what personal goals am I working on?  I’ll share a few.

  • To study 64 hours for each of the two classes I’m taking this semester.  It should probably be more, but this is the amount I feel I can actually achieve.
  • To exercise at least 5 days per week.
  • To be consistent with reading the Bible.
  • To avoid checking my e-mail (and looking at Facebook) before 1pm.

Lofty goals, you say? Aye, say I.  They wouldn’t be worthy if they weren’t.  So what am I doing to achieve these goals?  Well, setting them was a good start.  But I didn’t stop there. Measuring them is the next step.  Here’s where to tech comes in.  I use a series of specialized iPhone apps to record my progress. (Click on each app name for a link to the Apple App store.)

I use iGoal Pro 2 to track my study progress.  It allows you to easily set time-based goals, then run a timer track your progress.  It allows for pretty-looking  charts and graphs, which are all-important to a data hound like me.  Progress so far? I’m 6% of the way finished with my study goal for one class, and 4% of the way toward my other class.  Not bad so far, but I need to pick it up if I’m going to hit 128 hours.

I use iFitness to track my exercises.  (This has since been removed from the iTunes App store, but I still use it.)  iFitness is great for tracking both which days I make it to the gym and what I do while I’m there.  Again, it has pretty charts and graphs.  Pretty is important, and it helps me to make sense of the data.  How am I doing so far?  Well, I’ve been to the gym 29 times (and I’ve been running twice) since January 1st.  If you include the running, that’s just barely more than 5 days per week.  Besides tracking, I also set out my gym clothes next to the bed before I go to sleep.  Help me to actually get up and get it done in the morning.

I use the great Bible app from to both read the Bible and track my progress.  They have pre-built reading plans to help you set and achieve goals with your Bible reading.  There’s also a feature that will actually read the Bible to you, and this is what I use.  I have a set time every day when I listen – it’s first thing in the morning.  I listen while I get dressed, get to the gym, and warm up.  My only beef with this app is that the audio tends to cut out about 2/3 of the time if you change internet sources (ie move from wi-fi at the house to a 3G connection as you travel.  How am I doing on progress toward this goal? Well, this measure is a little more tricky.  I’ve started and re-started this goal several times.  But I CAN tell you that I’m 24% of the way through the Bible.  In the books of Judges and Luke, specifically.

I’m using Evernote to track my fourth goal.  Evernote is actually a note-taking program, but I’m using it because of it’s ubiquity.  It has free apps for the Mac, iPhone, and the web. So I can pretty much always  able to log my progress, no matter where I happen to be working.  This one is a little less automated, but it’s still working.  I use Text Expander and a keyboard shortcut to automatically insert a datestamp and timestamp. (The keyboard shortcuts are ‘ddate’ and ‘ttime’.)  How am I doing with this goal so far?  I’ve only been tracking this since the beginning of February, but here’s a screenshot of my log.  This goal might bear some explaining.  I’ll keep it short: I get more work done when I’m not living or working out of my e-mail inbox.  Hence the goal.  (Also, don’t expect a reply from me on anything first thing in the morning.)

That’s long enough, but I hope you picked up a tidbit or two about goals.  And feel free to ask me how I’m doing with any of my goals.  That’s part of the reason I’m sharing them!


Disneyland Day 3

This was a Magic Morning for us, which means we entered the park an hour before it would normally open.  We’ve already seen almost everything we wanted to see, so we took the chance to ride Dumbo (again) and go on the Finding Nemo Submarine ride.  Then Clara and Mommy waited in line to be the first to meet the Princesses at the Princess Fantasy Faire while Liam and Daddy waited in line to be the first people onto Tom Sawyer’s Island (which is being rebranded as Pirates’ Lair).

I lost Liam on Tom Sawyer’s Island, which was distressing (but only for me).  I found him with the help of another family, who helped me scour the island.  I found him in time to see Mommy and Clara steam past on the Mark Twain paddle-wheeler.

We reunited in New Orleans Square to listen to a group of pirate singers, then headed out of the park toward Disney’s California Adventure!

Our first order of business was lunch, and we ate at the Taste Pilots Cafe, which is a hanger converted into a restaurant.  Our table was right next to a big picture of the Bell X-1.  (Made me think of you, Dad!)  Lisa and I have great Bleu Cheese burgers, while the kids enjoyed chicken strips and fries.

Then we rode on Ariel’s Undersea Adventure which, like almost every other ride during our stay here, had no lines.

We debated over our next move, but decided that a nap was strategically important.  So we headed back to our hotel, which has an entry directly into the middle of California Adventure.

After nap time, we headed back into California Adventure and went to the Hollywood Backlot area for Mike and Sully’s Adventure.  Then we attended the Animation Academy, which is something I’ve been looking forward to taking Liam to.  He has really been enjoying drawing lately, so I thought it would be cool to meet an animator and get a drawing lesson.  The experience wasn’t what I hoped.  We all learned how to draw Mickey Mouse, which was pretty cool.  But I had hoped for more one-on-one interaction, and the experience moved a little fast for his age level.  Nevertheless, he professed happiness with the experience.

Our next destination was A Bug’s Land, which was perfect for the kids.  A litte lame for bigger people, but perfect for little ones.  We went on four rides (one of them twice in a row), with no waiting in line.

We continued our meandering exploration of California Adventure and came to Paradise Pier. Lisa rode the California Screamin’ roller coaster while I took the kids on King Triton’s Carousel.  Then we reunited to wait in the longest line we’d yet seen: the line for Toy Story Midway Mania.  The half-hour wait was totally worth it; this was a really fun, interactive ride.  You wear 3-D glasses and play a variety of midway-type shooting games.

We headed back to the Pacific Wharf Cafe for a really yummy dinner.  They have soups in sourdough bread bowls, which are made on-site.  Both my broccoli cheddar and Lisa’s Monterey clam chowder were wonderful!  This place tops my list of places to eat again in Disneyland.

We headed back to the hotel to meet Uncle Jon.  He was waiting by the fireplace at the Napa Rose, a beautiful dinner spot at the Grand Californian Hotel.  Jon put the kids to bed for us and stayed with them fo Lisa and I could go out for drinks and dessert to celebrate our 10th anniversary.

Overall, it was a great third day at Disneyland.  Lisa and I were both surprised at how much we enjoyed California Adventure.  Lisa said that she might have enjoyed the ambience even more than that of Disneyland.  We look forward to exploring the park more today.

For our fourth morning, we have tickets to a character breakfast with Ariel at Ariel’s Grotto in California Adventure.  Clara is especially looking forward to this.  We’ll also buy some souvenirs today.  We told the kids they could each pick one item to buy, so they’ve been looking and debating for the past three days.  It’ll be fun to see what they choose.

Disneyland Day 2

Lisa made some really yummy cinnamon/brown sugar/raisin/buttermilk/flax seed/sunflower seed scones. They were moist and fluffy, and were a great start to our second day at Disneyland!

This morning we went straight to Mickey’s Toontown for Toontown Morning Madness.  It was a singing/dancing show introducing many of the classic Disney characters.  The kids really seemed to enjoy it.  We went to Mickey and Minnie’s houses to meet them, played on Donald’s boat, and then rode (twice) on Gadget’s Go-Coaster.

The kids played around Toontown (which is about as close as possible to walking around in a cartoon world), and Liam and I rode on Roger Rabbit’s Car-toon spin.  That’s one ride I don’t recommend for anyone.  It was too scary for Liam, and it really wasn’t all that fun for me.

We headed to Frontierland for lunch at the yummy Mexican restaurant, then rode on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride.  Liam and I rode together, and Lisa took advantage of Disneyland’s great ride-sharing policy for parents with children too small to ride.  The first parent goes on a ride, waiting in the full normal line.  Then the second parent enters from the exit and gets right on the ride.  This saves so much time it’s almost worth having kids with you for this benefit alone!  The lines everywhere were very short, though, probably because it’s the middle of the week in the off-season.

After lunch and the roller coaster, we headed back to the hotel for nap time.  As expected, the kids had a hard time settling down.  At least, they had a hard time until I told them that we weren’t going back to the park until they took a nap.  They fell asleep almost immediately.

While Lisa and the kids slept, I went back to Disneyland and rode Indiana Jones (which the kids are too small to ride), Star Tours (which Lisa doesn’t care to ride), and the Haunted Mansion (which I refuse to take the kids on).

When Lisa and the kids woke up, we went to Disney’s California Adventure through our hotel’s special short-cut entrance and picked up our tickets for tonight’s World of Color show.

Then we cut through Disneyland (past the infamous Club 33, Disney’s exclusive club with a 10-year waiting list) to Adventureland, where we went on the Jungle Cruise.  The constant flow of bad humor makes the Jungle Cruise my new favorite ride.

We spent a little time in Frontierland on the way to Critter Country, where we rode Splash Mountain.  Splash Mountain was terrifying for Liam, but somehow after the ride it became his favorite.  I don’t know why this happens, but I remember having a similar experience with Pirates of the Caribbean when I was a little guy.  By this time in the day, the rides were so short that we could have ridden Splash Mountain several times in a row, if children would have permitted.  But Clara’s too small for Splash Mountain, anyway.

Both Liam and Clara LOVED Winnie the Pooh’s Adventure, which is a cute, mild, non-scary ride in Critter Country.  We saw all the characters from Winnie the Pooh, but were about 20 seconds too late to get a chance to greet them.

We enjoyed dinner at the Golden Horseshoe saloon as some of their last patrons of the evening.

Everywhere we went, cast members offered us special buttons to pin onto our shirts.  Not the collectible pins that people seem to trade and wear on lanyard around their necks, but the old tin round buttons that elementary school kids love so much.  I’ll have to take a picture of Liam with his button collection; he’s quite proud of it.

Our evening was very eventful.  Were were able to enjoy both the Soundsational parade in Disneyland AND the World of Color show in Disney’s California Adventure.  The kids loved the parade, as expected.  And the World of Color show was Amazing, but not great for kids.  If you want them to be able to see, you really do have to hold them.  And holding them for the length of the show was pretty difficult.  Still, the show is a definite must-see; a true spectacle of lights, water and fire.

Tomorrow we hope to visit California Adventure in earnest.  We have early-opening tickets for the Disneyland park, but we need to figure out exactly what opportunities those tickets afford.  Whew!  Good night!

Day 1 in Disneyland

We left Reedley and arrived mid-morning in Disneyland.  What a fun experience!

Our first ride was the train around the park.  Liam was scared of the dinosaurs, and it was an early indication that we would have to watch out for scary experiences.  Next we went down Mainstreet, USA to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.  Again, it was a little bit scary for Liam.

Peter Pan’s flight was, as expected, a highlight.  While waiting in line we met a couple who are retired teachers.  They are also grandparents, and really enjoyed talking with our kids.  King Arthur’s carousel was next (see the photos below), and then we took a break and ate lunch in Fantasyland.  Lunch was $40 (yikes!), and the adult portions were about right, but the children’s portions looked small.  They weren’t; our kids actually had plenty to eat.

The crowd index was really low (as expected for a Tuesday in November), and our rides on both Dumbo and the Casey Junior Circus Train were quick, due to the short wait in line. Liam sang the Casey Junior song for the rest of the day.  But he only knows the words, “Casey Junior’s back….”, so he sang that one line over and over and over and over.

Clara’s favorite ride (so far) was the Mad Hatter’s teacup ride.  After enjoying this spinning sick-inducer, we headed to Tomorrowland, to the Autopia cars and Buzz Lightyear’s Astro-Blasters.  Clara drove(?) with me on the Autopia cars, and she had so much fun. She laughed the entire time!  On the Astro-Blasters, Liam and Daddy competed with Clara and Mommy for the highest score.  Daddy was a bit worried early on, because it turns out Mommy is a pretty good shot.  But the ladies were soundly defeated by the end of the ride.

We were getting pretty tired by this point, so we wandered through innoventions (meh), then took the Monorail back to Downtown Disney.  We were able to ride in the front of the Monorail with the driver – we’d heard you can request this, so we did.

We had a late but scrumptious dinner at the Storyteller’s Cafe downstairs in our hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian.  Lisa enjoyed the corn chowder and a salad, the kids made their own pizzas, and I enjoyed the buffet, complete with New York strip steak and an over-the-top dessert selection.

After dinner we collapsed into bed.  Lisa and I intended to plan Wednesday’s fun, but we were both snoozing before we knew what was happening.  I’m writing this during naptime on Day 2, and I hope we can update the blog to share all of today’s fun and adventures sometime (late) this evening!

Abstraction, progress, and my theory of creativity

I’ve observed abstraction both in the movement from assembly language to high-level coding frameworks and in the human upgrade from chiseled stone to steel tools. In all cases, abstracting principles and moving to higher-order thinking enables progressive leaps forward.

Changing the basis for a decision can affect an entire discussion. In some ways, those who figure out the end are more powerful than the best of those who design the means.

But so many times we live exclusively in a world of means. We don’t stop to divine the ends, or even move up the systems-thinking chain. Answers to intractable questions may be available laterally. When people see such answers, they often call them the results of creativity. They don’t realize that creativity is only the result of a habit of mind.

So what makes abstraction into progress?

Completion of the abstraction is one factor. If the abstraction is mostly complete it can be useful. But it can’t allow the freedom and comfort of giving our minds entirely to the higher-order frame of mental reference. Though being able to mentally scale referent frames may be the habit of a strong, creative mind, it’s better for progress that the abstraction be completed and society function at the new, higher level.

Critical mass, support, and surrounding infrastructure are also part of the picture. The pace of change cannot be too fast, or the ecosystem that surrounds the abstraction will choke it off.

What else am I missing?

Things … feel

Most of the time, it doesn’t feel. Only under strain does its existence make itself known. When heavy, it’s considered.

Its purpose is the only indication of a moment to feel. If it doesn’t feel wrong, most of the time it doesn’t feel at all.

Glad to be chosen. In a sea of so many others, it feels selected as if by a narrow-gauge beam of light. Unless it’s the wrong one. Then, it may cry out at the description it’s forced to give. Some of them always feel wrong; as if forced to witness every atrocity committed in this vein as each one is given expression. Words can’t commit suicide, but there are some that would like to try.

Its feelings are numerous, and it has all the time in a decade to feel them. From cold to creaking to stifled to full. It witnesses all the life, and bears each part in turn. With each passing month it feels more.

How would I know?

The future past

Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back: back before things were complicated, before life became what it is today. But there I find a problem: I’m not sure that I’d want to go forward again. And so I press on, trying neither to look backward or forward. For behind me, things are simpler. And before me looms the unknown. Tragedies and complexity are certain to lurk ahead, and I head toward them, blissfully ignorant.

Ecclesiastes 6:12 “For who knows what is good for a man in life, during the few and meaningless days he passes through like a shadow? Who can tell him what will happen under the sun after he is gone?”

Life skills upgrade: focus

I have a confession to make: I have a very hard time focusing on things in general.  You may have noticed this, as it’s been several months since my last blog post.  (Case in point: After writing the previous sentence, I left this post to go check a minor point in my server’s configuration, looked at three config files, then did a Google search on how to modify them.  While my results loaded, I returned to this post.)

I’ve found some help for this problem, and I want to share it with you.  It came in the form of a book, simply titled “focus.”  The subtitle is: “A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction.”  Poignant? Yes.

I found the book from the great blog Lifehacker, which I then stopped reading on the advice of the book.  Irony abounds.

Anyway, the book is free.  Sort of.  It’s free for the free version (which is a .PDF-contained eBook), which you can download here: FREE GREAT BOOK HERE NOW SUPERLATIVE EXCLAMATION!  I have to confess, I read the free version first.  But it was so good that I actually went back and purchased the paid version of the book (which is also a .PDF-contained eBook) for 35 bucks.  The free version was worth way more than 35 bucks to me, which means that the full version is worth potentially more still.  Either way you choose to go, it’s a heckuva deal for the quality of the material.

Though the writing is intentionally clean and easy to read, this is not a book that you want to rush through.  I have tried to read it as part of a morningly working focus ritual.  Here’s how it works for me: I sit down at my desk, close all other programs, close the door and issue a stern warning to any who might be tempted to break my concentration, and breathe deeply a few times while I mindfully start reading.  At this point, I’ve gotten a lot of value out of the exercise before I even start reading the book!  When I read, I never read more than one chapter at a time.  I’m not really meditating, just reading mindfully, learning to focus and only do one thing.

This is one of several aids to productivity that have influenced my thinking about work in the past few years.  The other is the Getting Things Done methodology, pioneered and preached by David Allen.  Getting Things Done, or GTD in the parlance of us devotees, deserves its own blog post.  It probably deserves several, but I’ll leave that for another day.  Suffice it to say that this book, Focus, is influenced by and compatible with GTD.

So how has it gone for me?  Really well so far.  I wouldn’t be writing about it otherwise.  (I never would have gotten around to it.)  I’ve read the entire free version of the book once, and I’m now re-reading the full version of the book.  I don’t end up reading it every working morning, but I find that when I do invest a few minutes in the morning to focus, my entire day is VASTLY more productive.  As a matter of fact, if I’ve done any work for/with you in the past six months, you probably owe my participation partly to this book.

The format of Focus is very helpful, as well.  It’s not framed as a large, thought-provoking explanation of anything.  It doesn’t carry that kind of authoritative weight.  Instead, it’s a bunch of bite-sized chunks of useful tips and helpful practices.  There are sections with tips for parents, employees, managers, etc.  Most of the time, I’ve been able to read a chapter and walk away with a very small change to my day.  There’s been at least one occasion where I stopped reading mid-chapter, closed the book, and went on to implement something from that day’s chapter right away.

Anyway, I highly recommend it.  I’ll even buy you a copy of the free version if you’d like.  It’s at least that good.  Here’s the info:

focus : a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction

author: Leo Babauta
price: free or $34.95

Movie Review: Gone with the Wind

Last night Lisa and I finally got around to watching that old classic, Gone With the Wind.


When the movie finished, I was angry.  What a dissatisfying ending!  It felt like the movie makers just ran out of minutes and weren’t able to tell the second half of the story.  The ending was abrupt and kind of weird.  The movie lasted through all kinds of horrible events, then stopped short when Rhett walked out.


I really fell in love with Rhett, that roguish, good-looking, inexplicably rich leading man.  In fact, he’s probably the arch-typical leading man.  I don’t think I’ve even seen anyone stronger in that role.

Scarlett was reprehensible, inspiring true disgust.  Somehow, at the end she turned from the very definition of a bitch into a hope-possessing angel bent on following the true love she’s just discovered she always had.  This change of character was so complete as to be unbelievable.

I kept waiting for the movie to parallel Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. That never happened, at least not completely.  Scarlett, the shrew, was only tamed after Petruchio, Rhett, gave up and turned away from her.

A few technical notes:

  • It might have been our jank-tastic home theater system (or lack thereof), but we had a tough time understanding the dialogue for the first half of the movie.  Subtitles helped, but made us feel like we were watching a foreign film.
  • The special effects were pretty cool to see.  I’ve heard that a lot of the movie is actually illustrated, and that would explain the rich contrast and great coloring.