Monday, March 24, 2014

Why I buy organic milk

I buy organic milk.  There.  I've said it.  And it's true.

But I do not buy organic milk because it's organic.

I do not buy organic milk because of its lack of pesticides.

Nor do I buy it because it's fashionable and others will admire me for my thoughtful and responsible choices.

In addition, I do not purchase it because I know that my milk choice will, in some small way, Save The World.

In fact, let me say this right up front: there is only one thing I really am interested in with anything ingestible: Does it taste good? Well, actually, the question really is 'do I like it,' because "goodness" is clearly self-defined.

And in terms of self-definition, I have little taste memory, so my assessments use the scientific A/B method on everythingthat is I taste things back-to-back to try to determine which I like better, or indeed, if I can tell any difference at all.

I also need to confess that I am a tea drinker and have both milk and sugar in my tea.

Thus I must have milk available every day, and it has to last.  It is inexpressibly sad to see a kelp bed of white curdled milk streamers appear at the top of your mug as you milk-up first thing.

And I like fat milk, a creamy taste.  I call it Boy Milk, i.e. whole milk, Vs Girl Milk, which is skim (as I child I thought was called 'skinned milk.' Really not too far off).

I was initially intrigued by organic milk by the remarkable sell-by dateoften a month away.  Given the issues around the allowed sell-by date (in New York City, the allowed date migrated to 5 days later, so milk that used to last for a week past the sell by date expired in two days, totally messing up my arithmetic) this swath of time was seductive.  I was seduced.

Then an odd thing happened.  I found the organic milk not only lasted longer, but tasted better, sweeter, creamier, I could have 2% and it tasted as good to me as regular whole milk (yes, I verified this in an A/B taste test).

There's a fair bit of information out there as to the whys and wherefores, but the most compelling explanation for me was in Scientific American.  The article's focus is on the long shelf life of organic milk.  It notes that organic milk processing is different from regular milk, as it is heated to a higher temperature (UHT), which kills more bacteria and enables it to last longer and hence travel further.  There are fewer organic farms and the product ships longer distances.  The high temperatures slightly caramelize the trace sugar in the milk, giving it a sweeter taste.  Yum.

I have not found non-organic UHT milk, and do not care for the taste of Parmalat, so I'm just paying the price.

And happy to.

Do you have things you do or buy for all the "wrong" reasons?

Isabel Swift

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The bigness of small talk

OK, maybe not all small talk.  But if you are having a business meeting with someone you haven't met or don't know well, it's big.

The convention that the American businessperson (or whomever) who wants to cut to the chase and avoid the traditional chit-chat—sometimes a trait associated with non-American cultures and can be seen as a 'waste of time'—is surprisingly short sighted.

Here's my example and my insight:

I recently overheard a half of a phone call between a 
manager and his freelance hire on a project.   (Yes, the 
intimacy of cellphones in public spaces).  They knew each other, but not well; it seemed early in the project.  And they spent about 10 minutes of their opening conversation before "getting down to business," going over the Superbowl, which had just occurred. 

And I realized how illuminating these oblique conversations could be, how revealing, how much information was presented.  You found out how each one presented their ideas, responded to the other's comments, explored issues, shared information.  You got a sense for how they spoke, how they listened, how they addressed problems—in conversation as well as the ones on the field.

It's how you say what you say, how you respond. How you judge, work, think—your 'general cognitive ability,' beautifully expressed in this article about what Google looks for in hiring. In the article, the head of hiring tries to articulate what's important, noting that credentials, grades, honors are all trying to be markers for something within, not things in themselves.  They aren't the point, they're the product, and are meaningless without the 'beef.'

Within publishing, writers sometimes ask if awards help sell a book.  Well, yes they can—but I also want to say, "You have it backwards."

Things (books, people, films, whatever) often get an award because they are exceptional.  So an exceptional, fabulous story may get an award, but it doesn't get bought because it got an award, it gets bought because it's fabulous.

That's also why some stories can get awards, but not get sold—because the judges may have wanted to reward or acknowledge something exceptional, perhaps something groundbreaking, or courageous.  

But by virtue of its very exceptionalness, it may not be very commercial.

So it can be worthwhile to listen between the lines.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Manly Tools...

No, no, not that one!

I'm talking about manly housework tools...

For example, it's the season of leaf blowers for those of us that live in a world with trees.  For me, they are one of the more seasonally irritating aspects of urban dwelling.

Leaf blowers create an environment where your day is spent listening to a constant whine or roar that goes on for hours as some guy blows leaves from one bit of the pavement to...why, yes, to the next bit of the pavement and so on, ad infinitum.

Mostly, leaf blowers are used where a broom or rake would work fine, and rarely involve actually collecting the leaves & placing them into a receptacle to be removed.

Mostly, they just get blown into the neighbor's yard, the sidewalk, the street.  Where, naturally, they can just get blown back to wherever. Progress!

In fairness, there are places where a broom or rake won't workplantings, or fragile growth areas that might need to be de-leafed in the fall.  But for that, there are leaf suckersyes, they do existthat vacuum the leaves into a bag, so they are active a small fraction of the time leaf blowers are on (because they actually remove the leaves).

So I'm thinking: Why?

And the realization strikes that no self-respecting guy would want to take a broom to the sidewalk.  Women's work!  But when it comes to marching about with a giant dongle waving about in front of you (nearly reaching the ground!  How cool is that?) and making a lot of noise, it's acceptable.  Even desirable & fun.

Think about the creativity that has gone into lawn mowing equipmentthe advent of the riding mower transformed cutting the lawn into a macho experience.  What male wouldn't like to sit on a big, vibrating, noisy machine that gets driven around the Indy 500 track of your front yard?  Beautiful.

So for those women who wish men might contribute a bit more to household chores, the solution is simple: guy-ify the appliances.

Imagine if the dishwasher had a starter switch like a outboard motor pull?  Ideally it would be a bit fussy, perhaps requiring a certain weight within the dishwasher (like, there have to be some dishes in there & soap).  A couple of strong yanks, a loud whirr, and they're off!  There would not be a dirty dish in the house.

And how about a washing machine set close to the ceiling, where clothes have to 'make' the basket?  The floor around could be weight sensitive and a robo voice (like the self-help supermarket monitors) would make rude remarks about their skill, forcing them to pick up misses.  Now detergent comes in little tossable balls too, so that could work as well.  Another outboard pull or perhaps some drumming patterns that activates the starter.  I think it's viable.

So instead of trying to reverse Henry Higgins famous line: Why can't a man be more like a woman? we need to re-engineer our attitude and create the ultimate housekeeping video game...

Vive la différence!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sympathy Cards

Sympathy letters are not easy to write, but after being on the recieving end, I think I know the secretor at least a secret.  I hope it may help inspire you to add a little more than the store-bought "With Deepest Sympathy" to your card.

If you knew the deceased, please know that your words are a gift of memory.  They will offer the recipient a small unknown perspective of your way of seeing that person, which is unique.  Share a story, a moment, a memory, a realizationit doesn't matter what.  It just is something you know, thought, experienced about that person.

In sharing it, you make that person come alive.  You continue to expand and grow the recipient's knowledge of that personsomething they may have felt had ended with their loss.  You give the gift of the knowledge that you too are a repository of memories that live on.  That a life was valued, had impact, was appreciated.

It does not need to be lengthyor even positive!

It just needs to about you, about them and be shared.

With Deepest Sympathy....

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Greatest Asset=Greatest Liability

Well, I have a theory that every one's greatest asset is also, conversely, their greatest liability.  Think about itit's just the flip side of the same coin.  The dark side.  Too much of a good thing.

It's one of the reasons we can't get rid of our weaknessbecause they are part of what is best about us.

You are thinking, no, actually, that's not true.  But that's just because you haven't really thought about it.  So pause for a minute and work with me here.

What do you think is one of your best qualities?  Something that you are simply better at than most people around.  It isn't necessarily anything specific (your great tennis backhand, for example) but something more broad.  An ability, a power.  I think that like a Pokémon character, we all have both specific abilities and also hidden abilities.  And that as we mature, we go through many steps to accomplish cycles and become (hopefully) better defended, more powerful, with greater capacity to succeed.

So in terms of your abilities, or hidden abilities, (for example) perhaps you are remarkably bright and have an analytical and mathematical mind and are gifted with the ability to assess numerous data points and crunch remarkable amounts of information?

Maybe you have an intense desire to find the best answer, to be greatnot just good, to succeed at the highest level, never settle?

Or you are a "doer," action-oriented, goal-focused, get it done and plow through all obstacles?

Possibly your strength is in the ability to intuit others' perspectives and you can access ways to interpret and inspire others, creating paths of communication and understanding between different personalities, businesses, perspectives, cultures.

But for each of those remarkable gift, there is a challenge, a weakness, a dark side.

For the analytically gifted who offer a deep understanding of issues in all their complexity, sifting all the information in the universe can be very time consuming.  It is sometimes hard to stop analyzing, make a determination and move forward.  There is always more to assess.  There are always downsides and risks to be considered. Finding why you can't do something can sometimes overwhelm the goal of figuring out how you can.

The aspirational vision of the perfectionist demands a higher level of performance, often inspiring step-out accomplishments, demonstrating we can successfully stretch beyond our assumed limits.  But it too can be time consuming, demanding, never satisfied, and that can burn people out and create a sense of ongoing failure in always reaching for the next step, crushing excitement and delight.

A "doer" (often 180 degrees from an analyzer) creates powerful energy with their goal focus and 'can-do' attitude.  But doers can forget to listen, can overwhelm sometimes valid concerns and objections, and can lose the support and buy-in of the team, becoming a dictator rather than a leader.

Intuition can cause those with the gift of that special knowledge to intermediate themselves overmuch between conflicted parties, and be overwhelmed in working to find a common ground.  In trying to please all, they may please noneand be resented for their efforts.

So your greatest asset can also be your greatest liability.

But remember, too, that your greatest weakness also can also be a powerful strength!

Oblivious and inconsiderate?  You may cheerfully march to your own drum and break new ground for those limited by their fear of what others will think.

Outspoken and obnoxious?  You could be a lighting rod, articulating issues others are afraid to voiceand you will have the strength to brush off the criticism and the challenging headwinds you may face.

Quiet and withdrawn?  You may see more than others, gain insights, see patterns, and find better pathways to a solution than the loud speakers.

Finding the balancewhich is constantly shifting in response to the contextit the challenge and the key.

I don't know how to surf, but that is my visual and my metaphor.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Golden Rule

You know, the one that says: "Treat others as you would be treated."  And apparently there's a Silver Rule (who knew?) that is the 'negative' form of the Golden Rule, that is: "do not treat people in ways that you would not care to be treated."

It's interesting to consider the fact that the saying: "an eye for an eye" also captures a kind of negative Golden Rulethat is: "as you have been done to, so too should you do."

However (despite its sweetness), revenge is not an ideal way to live one's life.  It tends to start an endless cycle of retaliationbecause your entirely appropriate and justified "revenge" is often seen by the revengee (?) as an act that needs to beyou guessed itavenged!  And so it goes, back & forth, escalating and unstoppable until there is no one or nothing left.  Not so very sweet after all.

But there is a reverse angle view of the Rule:  that if you do something, you are giving cosmic permission to have it done to you.  Because by your action, you have declared it is an OK thing to do. So of course it is OK for others to do as well.

So if you, for example, cut in front of people in line, you really have no right to complain when others cut in front of you.  You have set your seal of approval on the action.  If you're dishing it out, you've got to take itthat's only fair.

It's something to think about when caught in a retaliatory action.  Perhaps someone says something sexist and negative about women.  It's almost automatic (if you're a woman) to say something sexist and negative back about men.  Justified, as really, they are just being given a taste of their own medicine. Surely that will offer insight and learning!

But actually by that reaction, there is an implied declaration that being sexist is an OK thing to be. The two people simply disagree as to what justifies being sexist, or racist, or whatever.  But being sexist or racist or whatever is clearly OK, because both parties are actively participating in being sexist (or racist, or whatever).

Another example is if people make negative statements about "rich people." They are, by definition, endorsing any parallel behavior that makes negative statements about "poor people."  Because they clearly indicate it's entirely justifiable to make negative statements about "people" based on their financial status. Of course they happen to think it's only justified when people have more Vs less money, but really the concept is fine.

I loved Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Ain't She Sweet, but I always wanted Sugar to say that every one's retaliatory meanness comforted her, because her enemies had sunk to the same level, behaving in just as appalling a manner as she had.  The issue was not that the behavior was bad and should not have happenedby their actions, that kind of behavior was fine.  They just disagreed on what justified it.

It is not easy to quell the desire to retaliate.  But if the behavior is wrong, it is wrong.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What do you call it when...?

What do you call it when someone adds a comment to your post that purports to be genuine, but is really just a self serving gesture to get their own URL in there?

They'll say something vaguely complimentary, then something vaguely critical (to add a tone of verisimilitude) but generic, so they can add onto every post they think, for whatever reason, their own message or URL might have traction.

At first I thought an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment.

But then I thought maybe it was just marking--you know, the way a male dog lifts his leg on various things to add his scent, to proclaim his territory.

Maybe a little of both...