What do do when you’re not riding – Read about riding

Posted: February 7th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Book Review, Cycling | No Comments »

I’ve read more about riding this season than actually have ridden. It has not been unusually cold or snowy, I just haven’t done it. Part of the reason is that I no longer commute to work, which got me out every day in every weather. Working from home all day and by the end of the work day t seems to take me a herculean surge of energy to get myself out from the warm cocoon of home and out onto the paths.

That’s not to say I haven’t been riding at all. I’ve been cruising up and down the bike paths (see: Ent’s Graveyard), confirming and correcting the routes I’ve written up for a book I’m working on with a friend.

ut more often I’ve been staying in and reading about the races, scrapes and dieting experiments of the Wankmeister author of Cycling in the South Bay.  Then there’s Barbara Savage’s epic Miles from Nowhere.  Her cycling adventure with her husband is humbling, inspiring and deserves to be read twice.  I think about her sometimes when I’m riding along perfectly paved, completely separate bike paths and begrudgingly accept that I have it really very easy in Boulder.

I mean, how can you read this and not put the book down, walk around your space and think “I don’t know how I would handle that”

This section she describes riding in Egypt

….”But those last thirty-six miles packed a real wallop. The mood in the villages between Qena and Luxor was ugly, even brutal. Instead of grabbing for a single rock or stick when we approached, the villagers gathered mounds of debris to hurl at us. …Some of the villagers came at us brandished tree branches.”

I can’t imagine the strength and stamina it must take to ride a touring bike, packed with your worldly goods and having to joust with people to move forward.

Sadly, Barbara was struck by a truck and killed in her native Santa Barbara. I think it’s what’s so disturbing yet so powerful and enduring about her story.  You’ll have to pick it up the book yourself to understand the disconnect you feel to read about a life so fully live, cut short so quickly.

 


Cycling to get “Closer to the Ground” and other titles

Posted: December 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Book Review | No Comments »

Ever since I read Closer to the Ground, I’ve been devouring naturalist books. I don’t know what you call a genre of book that describes peoples, families, communities living   close to the natural environment. It’s not that they’ve turned their back on this modern world – many wrote their novels on a laptop – but they appear to want to live more fully and more appreciatively in their surroundings and natural world. They write about big dinners with neighbors, shopping at grocery stores but also about the best place to go clamming, winter night walk-abouts, and children growing up knowing the sounds of different birds and how to set lobster traps. I’m sure to some degree it’s romanticized but by not too far of a stretch; there’s nothing romantic about your car sliding down the road and off the side nor of cutting enough fire wood to last through a winter. And although the tasks they elect to do themselves are often hard-work and challenging, the hands-on approach provides them with so much more than simply a cord of wood or a dinner of clams. It seems those chores and tasks become imbued with and additional sense of well-being and feeling of stewardship towards the land and what they take.

Dylan Tomine, who wrote Closer to the Ground (awesome book –get it now), also included a wonderful list of similar natural-living inspired books.  I quickly logged into the Boulder Public library site and put a hold on Just Before Dark, Wild Marsh and The Collector. I enjoyed the Wild Marsh but for some reason the writings of Jim Harrison in Just Before Dark have made a deeper and I think longer-lasting impression.

Like this line:

“It has dawned on me that we appear to make specific decisions on a subconscious level far before we realize them, then simultaneously war against these decisions on a conscious level”

I think that provides the well-spring to guilt. Anyway, next up is The Collector, which is about the David Douglas, the guy who  lent his name to… guess.. the Douglas Fir.

Will these books inspire  me to begin hunting for my own food, chopping wood for our fire and looking for mushrooms? Inspire me? Yes. But I’ll definitely have to start small, like harvesting my vegetables when they’re ready instead of waiting for the dogs to develop a taste for cucumbers. And I guess in some ways, using the bike for quick errands is my  attempt to enjoy the process instead of simply just trying to get wherever, as quickly as possible. Oddly, working from home has gotten me out of the habit of jumping on my bike for those quick errands around town. The ritual of riding into work, got me used to doing most of the my running around on two-wheels. It’s one of things I miss about working in an office regularly.

In the meantime, I’ll keep reading, checking in with Whole Larder Love and poring over some the crazy ideas captured in Just Before Dark.


A Book Review: Shop Class As Soulcraft & Redefining the Value of Work

Posted: January 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Book Review | No Comments »

I was originally drawn to the title Shop Class As Soul Craft after watching Jack Nickell of Threadless at the TEDxBoulder event last summer. In his presentation, he challenged everyone to make something, every day. I was truly inspired after the event. The idea of making something – anything – with my hands held a very tactile appeal for me and is one I don’t often get to experience simply working on a computer. I probably romanticize the idea to some extent but believe there is overlooked value in being able to make or repair things.

Jack’s talk is why I picked up the book at the Boulder Book store. I don’t know what I was expecting but this is a weighty, thought-provoking, get-your-dictionary-out, academic book. Maybe I was expecting some sort of feel-good expose on the rising importance of self-reliance and need for craftsmen, which is in there but there is so much more to it that simply recommending shop class be brought back or kids learn how to use a table saw.

Here are some of the major ideas that I’m still thinking about a week after finishing the book.

On custom options for a bike or teddy bear. Are we really creating or making an original object? According to the author…

A judgement of the goodness has already been made by some dimly grasped others…The consumer is disburdened not only of the fabrication, but of a basic evaluative activity. The consumer is left with a mere decision…..But because the field of options generated by market forces maps a collective consciousness, the consumer’s vaunted freedom within it might  be understood as a tyranny of the majority that he has internalized.

The readiness to do away with intuitive judgment and replace it with rules.

The crux of the idea of an intellectual technology is the “substitution of algorithms (problem-solving rules) for intuitive judgments. These algorithms may be embodied in an automatic machine or computer program or a set of instructions based on some statistical or mathematical formula.

Standards

Standards have a universal validity… A carpenter faces the accusation of his level, an electrician must answer the question of whether the lights are in fact on,…

There are many more of these ideas throughout the book and I highly recommend picking it up. I know that when I finished it I thought about my own work, what I create, what standards I aim for as a definition of success. It’s a little harder when it comes to creating content; there is no universal standard for defining it’s quality. Maybe good grammar or sentence structure is one definition but assessing its quality can be considered a subjective thing unlike whether the lights are on or off.

There is just so much to this book, so many ideas on how work has evolved, how reliance on judgement and intuition have become less valued in some industries, namely those that are more easily outsourced.  And so the jobs once perceived as lower on the pay scale, requiring less critical thinking are the ones that may blend the skills and intelligence most suited for the 21st century. The plumber, the mechanic, the tailor may be the jobs of the future – the ones where what you make and its adherence to a universal standard of quality are the jobs that reemerge as coveted professional roles.


Two Book Reviews: Slaying the Lizard Brain & Not Flinching While You’re Doing It

Posted: December 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Review | No Comments »

The weather in Boulder over the past two weeks or so has been aggressively frigid; the kind of cold that slashes at the part of your wrist exposed between your glove and the bottom of your sleeve, turns your breath into rainforest heavy dew that fogs up your glasses and freezes your gears. I, at one point, gave up the commuting goal and took the bus into work. I really feel that people don’t take the bus because the inside is as depressing as hell, which is only matched by the surliness of some of the drivers. But that’s another post altogether.

One great benefit of the weather is that it affords me extra time to do some reading. So, I picked up Julien Smith’s Flinch and Steven Pressfield’s War of Art. Both address the internal critic in each of us; the voice inside of us that crushes our creativity and slashes at our self-esteem when we try and step beyond our comfort zone. Julien’s inner predator is called Flinch, Steven’s is called Lizard Brain. Both believe that the path to life’s success is to constantly and consistently confront the Lizard Flinch; that if you aren’t uncomfortable, losing friends and families to your true self, then you’re not practicing your art. I’ve simplified and trivialized to some degree both books and although I do think there is real value in reading both, after the inspiration to get into the ring and kicked butt has left, I realize that I really love my family and friends and think they are an important part of my path. Of course, there are people we’ve all met in our lives that take great pleasure in bringing us down but there also wonderful people in our circle that have supported and lifted us.

Both books provide great reminders of the need to work and practice to achieve any sort of progress in writing, learning a new language – that there are simply no short cuts. You can either choose to Tweet and watch Survivor or you can work on that painting, getting code, whatever it is that enables you to create.

One of the thoughts that has emerged after reading both books is how singular their approach is to how we should engage with work. There’s nothing about collaborating, or working to benefit the larger community; it’s all about you vs. the Lizard Finch. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a person pursuing their purpose, I do think there is a problem when others are used and cast aside as fodder for anyone’s ambition. I’m not saying either novel is outright suggesting that but it can be easy to jump to that conclusion when you read how you may loose friends and family along the way towards building your own business, writing your novel, etc. Read David Brooks’ Life Reports, where he posts the thoughts of an older generation of Americans about their life towards the end of their life, they’ve never say they should have spent more time at work.

I recommend reading either book to learn suggestions for silencing your own Lizard Finch and then hug your dog.


Toughest Hard Time – A Book Review and a Knock Upside the Head

Posted: April 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Review, Sustainability | No Comments »

I’ve had to take some time off from this blog because I’ve been recovering from the Boulder Lurgy. This has been a humdinger of a cold, which saddled me with both a congested head and chest. I really thought I was walking around with cement in my head and lungs and although my voice still sounds like I smoke a pack-a-day followed by a chaser of whiskey in the evening I am feeling better. Marginally. At least until I try and complete one of the work-outs at CrossFit Roots then it all goes to hell.

But my hard time pales, quivers and becomes transparent when placed next to the events described in “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl“. It’s hard to read this story and come to terms with the fact that these events happened relatively recently, that there are still areas of the Plains states where the earth has not yet recovered and that the severity and level of destruction was man-made. I don’t know how someone could finish this type of book and not accept that humans can change the environment irrevocably. I find it harder to believe that politicians from states with this history could be so resistant to the ideas and impact of climate change. The effects of human behavior on the land still leaves a mark in some areas of the High Plains; the land has never recovered.

A couple of ideas stayed with me:

  • A huge percentage of Oklahoma’s residents were on some sort of social welfare program during the height of the depression because the land was so scarred it could no longer provide subsistence living to those that farmed it.
  • The topsoil found in the Plains states had taken 1000s of years to develop and we removed 80 million tons of it in two decades.
  • Each state’s soil had a unique color as it blew all over the country.
  • Dust traveled from the High Plains to the East Coast and 200 miles off-shore to coat a naval ship with fine silt.
  • Removing the native grasses plus aggressive farming destroyed the soil and the land. The High Plains were never meant for farming; grazing of animals but not farming.
  • Elderly and children suffered the most, many dying of dust pneumonia.

Can you imagine having so much dust in your lungs you basically are drowning in silt? I walked around congested, breathing in relatively healthy air, and found the going rough. The dust blew in from every crevice of a house; it was everywhere, covered everything and people breathed it in all day and all night.

The book folds in stories of real families desperately trying to survive, and the descriptions of what a dust storm looked like and how they destroyed homes, crops and killed entire communities. Amazing and poignant read, which had me thinking, but hoping to the contrary, that we were headed in a very similar direction.


The New Capitalist Manifesto – A book review

Posted: January 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Review, Sustainability | 1 Comment »

I just finished reading “The New Capitalist Manifesto” by Umair Haque and was totally blown away and inspired by the ideas the author addresses.  I guess like a number of people caught on up in the maelstrom of the noughties, you had to wonder if this circus ride would ever end. It just didn’t seem possible that companies could drive what was first year-over-year improvements that then warped and became quarter-over-quarter profits. The whole situation seemed crazy with a race to the bottom when it came to the cost of production, which ultimately influenced what we were producing.

This book articulates a number of ideas, one of which I had been thinking and ranting to my husband about for some time which is ‘we don’t really pay the value of what we purchase’. Umair describes it simply by using the cost of producing – the ‘authentic economic cost’ a burger versus what we pay for that burger.  This imbalance is creating a deep dept to our environment, our communities and to our health.  We aren’t actually paying the actual costs of our flat screen TVs, or SUVs because we are cost-shifting and benefit borrowing against future resources, generations and/or exploiting communities. We’re doing all this to produce what is essentially worthless crap (my words, not the authors)

But the book is not a downer by any means. I love the ideas he explores to promote change of our industrial era capitalism to a 21st centuryversion, where our businesses are  “striving to make a difference instead of seeking differentiation….that focus more on outcomes and less on outputs”.

Tomorrow’s economy is an economy where “participation drives production”, where the health of the community and environment cannot be ignored or outsourced.  Umair explores how social media technology and platforms are changing the relationship between consumers and companies. These capabilities are giving voice and influence to consumers, who can begin to demand greater durability, transparency and depth from the companies from whom they purchase.

He wrote a number of very interesting facts, one of which has stayed with me:

growth in developed countries reached an inflection point decades ago and had been steadily slowing for the last half century Hello! (for me, this explains the wild race to the bottom to limit all costs and pass on any rising costs in resources or offset community or environmental damage to the consumer)

The author talks about the difference between thick and thin value, defines dumb growth, value cycles – think cradle to cradle,  and my favorite the steps to create authentic value!

I need to figure out if I am able to share a book I downloaded to Kindle because I would love to share the ideas expressed in this book.


Falling in Love with Reading Full Sentences Again

Posted: October 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Book Review | No Comments »

I work part-time at a super company working in the social/text analytics space. They have some amazing technology and my role is to research and write about social media trends, engage with our customers and develop our analytics strategy. Very. Cool. Stuff. I love how the way we are communicating, sharing and collaborating and using tools that did not exist even 5 years ago is changing how we work and to some degree what we work on.  But sometimes at the end of the day after taking in too many 140 character shots of content, I feel I have all these sparks of ideas/thoughts going off in my head. Not necessarily unpleasant but I do feel  like I need to find a quiet place and sort through all of the data I have absorbed during the day…and make notes of topics I want to remember and think and maybe write more about.

But it might also be why sentences like this rivet my attention and nourish my imagination:

I remember the moment that I first saw the house. I remember the date, even the precise hour. We drove up into Saint-Cyprien for the first time on a crisp, gusting morning. The tree were turning, leaves spinning up and and off into tossing thickets. The sun was high, the sky that intense Ricketts blue of childhood: brilliant, hard, washed clean by the recent mistral, it sparkled like a polished mirror….I saw, far below, the rippled red-tiled roof of a modest, compact farmhouse, standing four-square to the winds on a green plateau below which spilled terrace upon terrace of great olive trees. Beyond the terrace a little pointed hill crowned by a chapel. Beyond that, a valley. Beyond the valley, golden with fading vines, the jagged line of the Estoril mountains, lilac against the harsh, scoured blue of the sky, and, to the far left, distant, sparkling, dancing in the light, teased by the wind, the mistral-whipped seam creamed with little flickering waves.” (A Short Walk from Harrods, Bogarde Dirk)

BEAUTIFUL. I even enjoyed typing it out – the image of the sea sparkling in the sun made more real for me by typing each word.  Short punches of information that lead to a trail of deeper reading and understanding is wonderful. But creating imagery, characters and scenes with language is both a gift to the writer and the reader.

Now, I’m off to run the furs and get back to studying. I received some great feedback from my plea for suggestions to fill out my curriculum on sustainability, so now it’s time to get stuck in.


The Necessary Revolution – My Book Review

Posted: June 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Book Review | No Comments »

Most of the time when someone suggests a business book, my face puckers like I have taken an unfortunate swig of sour milk. I know these books are insightful and provide all sorts of useful and juicy tidbits and I can’t really explain my irrational dislike of them but there you have it. Some people don’t like black-eyed peas, nor the smell of patchouli and I am not a fan of business books. But then, as usual, I made a fool of myself by extolling the greatness of “The Necessary Revolution” by Peter Senge a business book I just finished reading.

The book is about “sustainability” and how some businesses today are embracing this new age (new age as in era not the “aaa a aa” one); it chronicles what worked, what didn’t, the unexpected successes and alliances that formed.  Some of the key themes from the book were:

  • Collaboration – companies, normally competitive, working to solve industry-specific waste issues or alliances formed between NGOs and Fortune 500 companies to address water safety issues.
  • Systems-thinking – describing what happens to what we make, buy and use within the context of the larger systems of nature
  • Regenerative society – discusses the meaning of a vibrant, healthy, diverse community

One of the most amazing parts of the book described the interaction between humans and chimps and the ability of chimpanzees to communicate using human language or specially-designed keyboards. And not just “sit” and “stay” type commands but rather the chimps interacted in a contextual manner. The idea was to illustrate that although humans are unique, we are much more connected to the natural environment than we could ever have imagined. When I read this last chapter, I was completely blown away. I could not believe the stories of interaction between some of the chimpanzees and their human researchers. For me, it changed how I see our (human) place in nature; we really do share this planet with other creatures, whose range of emotions, ability to communicate and needs we are slowly beginning to understand.

The book is full of examples of groups, businesses, organizations working together successfully! The book had such a positive message, one that I don’t hear very often above the din of destruction, waste, pessimism I often associate with books dealing with our changing environment.  The book also provided tips, toolkits and ideas for working on issues that readers may have within their community or organization.  Really great, tactical advice on how to tackle some of the issues and problems many of us would like to improve in our working lives.