Tag Archives | Work

Get Perspective On Your Stress

My wonderful wife is a teacher at The Thacher School. One week every school year each teacher is required to take on the responsibilities of the T.O.A.D. (Teacher On Active Duty). One of the duties is to give what is called a “TOAD Talk” Monday morning to a full assembly of the school; students, faculty and staff. Her talk last Monday on stress was addressed to the lives of the students but as I listened to the talk it was apparent that she was speaking to everyone. Here is her talk. My hope is that this talk will speak to you.

Good Morning…

  • Stress affects our physical and mental health
  • Negative effects of stress on the cardiovascular system, the immune system, the endocrine system, and the muscular system, are measurable
  • Depression, one reaction to stress, is predicted to be the leading occupational disease of the 21st century
  • 54% of Americans are concerned about the level of stress in their everyday lives

During any given day at Thacher you hear people talk about how stressed they are. We are always busy and have a lot going on. As students you have tests, papers, pages and pages of reading, and little free time. There are complaints of endless work, worry about getting into college, not feeling good enough or adequate compared to your peers. Life seems too much to handle. Slowly we become conditioned to accept stress as a normal part of life. We learn to live with it but in reality it depletes us. If not dealt with in an effective manner, it literally kills us. Learn to live with it long enough and you won’t know what to do without it. We grow into adults who don’t know how to slow down and take time to enjoy life. We equate “down” time with wasted time. Of the myriad of ways there are to cope with stress, one is perspective—taking a look at the big picture—because, in reality, at Thacher, ours are the stresses of the privileged.

Don’t get me wrong. Stress is stress and very real to the person experiencing it whatever the cause. But most of the world would be pleased if a term paper was their biggest stress, or failing a class was their worst worry.

  • Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation
  • 1 in 3 children in the developing world lack adequate shelter
  • Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished
  • Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes—about one child every five seconds

In comparison to what life has to offer some, the stresses of a day in the life at Thacher seem almost welcome.

Think about it the next time you complain about being stressed out or complain about your life in general. Tell it to the mother of five from a poor country who walks 40 miles with her young children to gather a gallon of water you wouldn’t give to your dog.

Again, our stress is real and has power to wreak havoc on our being, but perspective can give us a new way to look at our situation and give us a much needed reality check.

Ironically, the things we tend to stress about most often are the stuff of life that is ultimately the least important.
I promise you at your 20 year reunion, the “D” Mr. Perry gave you in English won’t matter even when in the moment it may have been the end of the world or at least your immediate future.

On your deathbed, surrounded friends and family, the fact you didn’t get into Stanford, Yale or Brown won’t matter at all as you say your goodbyes. Your salary won’t matter. The grades you earned, both good and bad, won’t matter at all.

What will matter?

It’s not about the college, the grades, the money – it’s about you and what you bring to the table. What you decide to create of yourself from your experiences.  You will be all you have in the end. It will matter that you lived examined life — one of integrity, responsibility, curiosity and passion. It will matter to be able to look back on your life having enjoyed it all –the good the bad, the highs and the lows and maybe having learned something about the complexities of the human condition.

So that D on a paper? The rejection from your first choice college? Not being as good as you would like to be at any given endeavor? Not being the best? The grade, the college, being the best is irrelevant and stressing about your situation won’t help. A good education is available to anyone willing to work for it regardless of the institution. If you enjoy doing something you will get better at it with practice and patience. There will always be those who are more accomplished than you and those less accomplished. It could be argued that there is as much to be learned, if not more, from receiving a D on a paper as there is from an A.

When it comes time for you to graduate, your Thacher diploma shouldn’t be emblematic of the college you got into, your grades or your prowess on the athletic field – if that is the case we haven’t done our job.

Your diploma should represent friends made over your years here that will be some of the dearest of your life. It should represent hard work doing things you enjoyed and even those things you didn’t enjoy doing. It should hold the memories of having met challenges that would have never been asked of you anywhere else – walking long miles with a heavy pack at high altitudes, a stubborn horse that frustrates you daily, teachers that expected your best work day in and day out. It should represent your intellectual and personal growth as a human being.

So while some amount of stress in life is inevitable and maybe even needed at times, don’t let it control you or become a way of being. Stop and try to get perspective on your life. It is yours alone to design and develop.

As Anna Quindlen wisely said:

“Whether you are sixteen or sixty, begin today to say no to the Greek chorus that thinks it knows the parameters of a happy life when all it knows is the homogenization of human experience.”

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You will not end your life wanting more time on the computer.

Image of guy sleeping at computer

I have been in a slump as of late.

I have been busy and working (thank goodness in light of economic uncertainties). However, I have not taken time off in what is approaching a year. Feeling the burnout? Mmm… yeah maybe a touch. I have been here in this space before—to pre-burnout, then burnout and back that is—a few times. Sometimes I drive myself mad with the incessant desire to keep going, do a little bit more, forgo taking care of myself, and for what? Some imaginary idyllic computing nirvana where all my random downloads are in the trash, my email in-box is empty, and there is not an errant file sitting on my desktop? Did I just hear someone say “pipe dream?”

This ‘nirvana’ may be possible. But to think turning into ‘Jabba the Hut’ eating crap food and sitting in front of the keyboard for endless hours trying to achieve it? For what? I’m the only person that sees what is on my desktop. What kind of satisfaction do I think, that by doing this, it will somehow massage my pineal gland and make me feel complete? I enjoy working on the computer, but at what cost?

Sir? “Put down the mouse and step away from the computer.”

In this era of information overload, rss feeds, social media, email, it is easy to get sucked in if your job is to sit in front of a computer doing any type of job. What is worse is if you have a propensity to be a work-a-holic (ahem), and your career as a digital gun-for-hire also happens to be your hobby as well.

I’ve been reminded of late that at the end of my life I will not want more time on the computer. I will not think about how “I wish I had cleaned my desktop of all those files…” Or will I think “Gee, if I only got that email inbox to zero…” I will think of the people that mean the most to me, of the places I have travelled to and the things that I have seen. I highly doubt I will think of a YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr (unless its pictures of my kids 🙂

So this is a little “note to self” posted on the Interwebz…

Put down the mouse, turn off the monitor, get up, go outside, and do something with other people. Do something other than compute.

OK, that was a bit theraputic. Now back to my email…

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Thesis Tutorial: Multiple Custom Page Templates

thesis-binary

I have been working with Thesis for a little over a month now. Thesis is a relatively new templating platform for WordPress. Thesis has unmatched SEO, cross-browser compatibility, and top-notch HTML + CSS architecture. This website runs on Thesis.

I was looking through the Thesis forums and tweeting with others on how to get a solution to an issue. The issue has to do with creating custom templates. I want a custom home page design. I also want a custom template for other pages. Basically I want multiple custom templates available under one design. I have tried to explain what I have found below. I welcome your comments and ideas. There may be other ways to do this (usually is) but here is how I did it. Hopefully this can help others.

A Little Thesis Primer

If you are familiar with Thesis you can probably skip to, “Getting To It.” The way Thesis works is to keep all customization inside of one folder–that is part of its genius. Whenever the templating system is updated you overwrite the entire file structure, save your custom folder, and replace that back in and voila you have arguably the best templating system under the hood while keeping your design in tact. This may not seem like much to the layperson, but for those of us that design and develop web sites on platforms like WordPress it is a godsend.

So back to multiple custom templates inside of Thesis.

All of the custom files sit within one folder in ~/wp-content/themes/thesis/custom/

Image of folder structure of where custom files sit inside Thesis

Every customized design using Thesis has their custom templates, css, and images stored within this folder.

To create custom page templates you need to use Thesis’ ingenious “hook” system that allows you to tinker with the components of any part of the standard layout or, if you are brave, roll your own layouts and custom designs. The best entry-level instruction I have found for understanding and using “hooks” is at the web site of Sugarrae: here it is.

Once you have the basic understanding of “hooks” under your belt, have your designs ready to go, and have some WordPress chops, you are ready to create multiple custom page templates.

Getting To It

First thing you need to do is make sure you have your “home page” set to really be the home page. Whenyou are logged in as the admin go to settings/reading. “A static page (select below)” should be set to your homepage. See this image:

homepagesettings

Once I have done this I then need to make sure I have selected the “Custom Template”option from the drop down menu on the right side when you are editing any page (not posts!):

picture-2

So, first I want a custom home page template.

In the file thesis/custom/custom_functions.php I added:

/* HOME PAGE CUSTOM TEMPLATE */

function home_pagecustom() {
/* check to see if homepage. has to happen inside the function */
if (is_home() || is_front_page())  {
?>
...Your custom layout goes here...
<?php } }

/* Now we tell Thesis to use the home page custom template */

remove_action('thesis_hook_custom_template', 'thesis_custom_template_sample');
add_action('thesis_hook_custom_template', 'home_pagecustom');

The code above has been whittled down to show only the essential code. It works to display a custom home page as long as you have selected “custom template” from the pulldown menu when editing the ‘home’ page.

You may insert any HTML and style it in the custom.css file. Be sure to save custom_functions.php and custom.css and upload to your ~/wp-content/themes/thesis/custom/ directory.

One Custom Page Down.
How About A Second?

So how do you add another custom template after defining the home page template?

You need to define another function for your next page template. You can add as many functions (think page templates) that you like. Each one needs a unique name. You also need to define the conditional properly. You need to make sure that the conditional is within the function—it will not work outside of it.

Use the right *if* statement to make sure you apply the right template to the right page. I typically put the page tag and the page ID—a type of insurance. You can find a page ID by hovering your mouse over the link to edit the page when viewing a page list within the admin area of WordPress.

This example below is testing for the “press page” and if it is, puts the WordPress content on the left side of the page and both sidebars to the right:

/* CUSTOM PRESS TEMPLATE */

function new_presspage() {
if (is_page('press') || is_page('512')) { ?>

<div id="content">
<div class="post_box">
<div class="headline_area">
	<h2>Your Headline</h2>
</div>
...This is where your content goes...
</div>
</div>
<div id="sidebars">
<?php thesis_build_sidebars(); ?>
</div>		

<?php } }

add_action('thesis_hook_custom_template', 'new_presspage');

Since you already invoked the “remove_action” on the ‘thesis_hook_custom_template’ in order to replace the home page first you do not need to repeat it.

The example above looks exactly like the standard content column on the left with dual sidebars on the right. I used a custom template in this instance because I wanted to perform specific calls to the database and produce specific lists of posts. Since I am doing it this way I also create the ability to style the page however I like through the use of creative CSS implementation.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

You could then repeat the code above and apply it to any number of specific custom templates you would like. All you need to do is

  1. create a unique function name
  2. reference the right page in the conditional
  3. make sure conditional is within the function
  4. place whatever content you would like within the proper divs
  5. style the content within the custom.css file
  6. make sure your page within WordPress has the custom template selected as its template option
  7. test, test, test

That’s it. This tutorial should get you well on your way to creating multiple custom page templates within the single custom_functions.php file. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions I welcome them below.

Hope this helps.

This article is translated to Serbo-Croatian language by Jovana Milutinovich.

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Being around lots of brainpower.AKA “The Force”

braininskull

This past weekend I had the fortunate experience of travelling to the San Francisco Bay Area. I was helping my wife drive her Equestrian team to a horse show at Stanford University. We left Ojai on a Friday afternoon and returned late Sunday night. So overall we had 12 hours of driving in 3 days time.

We brought our kids with us and since my wife was busy coaching her team, I was the ‘decider.’ I got to decide what the 3 boys and I did on our weekend. I smartly consulted with friends who we were able to spend some time with during our visit. We asked them if they knew of any kid activites in the area since we don’t really know the lay-of-the-land. From what offerings were available I decided to take the kids to the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose and to The Tech and what a Saturday it was-busy, busy, busy.

The one thing I noticed while in the bay area was being around brainpower. It’s no secret that there is an abundance of brainpower in that part of the country. It is arguably the tech “mecca” of the world. It could be the largest concentration of technology companies on the planet. I haven’t done the research and would be curious if anyone knows the hard fact and could point me to it. The fact that I am tucked away in the end of a wonderfully beautiful valley far from the trappings of the concrete jungle does contribute to my isolation from like minded people. It was interesting being around so many technologists. I couldn’t tell you if one person or another worked in the technology industry, but I am a betting man. I bet that I could have shot a spitball into the crowd and hit someone who does work in the industry.

It was like living a scene out of Star Wars. I was in the strong presence of The Force. I could sense it. I could feel it and knowing that was cool.

ps. I know now that I am truly a nerd.

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The Good versus The Perfect

rocks-460

Something I constantly strive for is perfection. I’ll admit it I am a perfectionist. I have written about this before. I have recently found myself editing, and re-editing just about everything in pursuit of some sort of non-existent pixelated nirvana.

While this quality can be seen as admirable it can also be seen as a pain in the ass. I tend to lean toward the latter. Trying to get things perfect can and will make people happy. Who would not be pleased with perfection? What is better than perfect? It’s nothing but positive when you have perfection. The underlying question is, what cost does one have to pay to get there?

When I work I do try to get things perfect and it costs me, big. It costs me time and what is more valuable than that? The difference in going from good, which is perfectly acceptable 95% of the time, to perfection is very high. It takes much more time to go from “good” to “perfect” in my experience. For example the change in time invested can go from 2 hours to get things “good” and then another 8 hours for “perfection.” To help out I will use a simple visual example.

Take a look at the image of rocks at the top of this post. The tower of rocks on the left are stacked well. Its an acceptable stack of rocks. The tower of rocks on the right are stacked perfectly. What if I told you that it took 15 minutes to find and stack the rocks on the left. But it took over an hour to find and stack the rocks on the right. To find the right rocks that presented themselves horizontally in a perfect vertical column takes time. These are both perfectly acceptable towers of rocks that look good. But is that extra cost in time really worth it to get the stack on the right? I would say no. its just a damn stack of rocks.

Are there times where perfection is required and the investment in time is worth it? Unquestionably yes. If I was getting open heart surgery I would want perfect, not just good, work performed. But does that simple web site you are working on need perfection? Not really. If it were to come easily then sure, why not? But does perfection ever come easily? 

Is the benefit of perfection worth the cost?

I say no, but it depends on the scenario (pay me big bucks and I can make a stack of perfect rocks for you).

I am perfectly happy with the good.

What about you?

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Some thoughts on the first day of 2009

Photo I took of the sun setting where I live on New Years Day 2009.

Photo of sunset on New Years Day 2009. Ojai Valley, California.

As the sun sets on this the first day of 2009 I have had some time to reflect.

Many people look at New Years Day as a time to initiate their resolutions. In years past I have concocted my own list of resolutions only to find that 3 weeks later they were nice ideas and that was about it. Now every year I like to reflect on the year that has passed and take stock of my overall experience, strengths, and weaknesses from the past year. From this reflection I develop some overall areas of focus  in the coming year. This is not a hardcore set of resolutions like “I will lose 15 pounds,” or “I will stop smoking” (although I can add that to my belt—non smoker for 15 years). Rather they are ideas that I will spend mental energy on in hopes of making my life, and the lives of those around me, just a little bit better.

When I look back on my reflections from 2007 I can see just how far I have come during 2008. 2008 was a very good year for me professionally but more importantly I made great strides personally.

Time, time, time what has become of me.

2008 was a very busy year that presented a great many challenges for me. The biggest challenge of 2008 was time management. Using time well and effectively are so important to achieving goals and feeling accomplished. In 2008 this issue came up for me time and time again (pun intended). I continue to refine my approach to managing my time as no one tool or technique is the silver bullet.

Work, work, and work. But not necessarily in that order.

I am fortunate to be self-employed, learning new things, and been able to make a bit of money while doing both. It has been a great experience thus far. However, I basically make my money one way, actively. I do not derive any income from passive resources. An active source is like what I do. Trade your time and expertise for money. A very simple transaction. The passive model involves me building something (think e-book, etc.) that is created once and sold again and again without having to recreate it every time. In 2009 I am working on ideas of generating passive income and have some things in motion already. Lets just say that this year will prove to be a very busy working year to provide fruits of the labor afterward.

The suitcase and the onion.

Personally I have been working on myself quite a bit. We all have our suitcases of issues that we drag along with us through life whether we want to or not. Sometimes we open them up and deal with the issues inside, others may keep them shut and carry their weight with them all their lives. For me it was a year to open all the suitcases and lighten my load. Suffice it to say that I have opened all my suitcases, processed and discarded many heavy items, and I continue to find new items in the cases when discarding others—like the layers of an onion. I peeled much of the onion back in 2008—more than I have than at any other time in my life. I continue the work and discovery of self improvement with a much better toolkit going out of 2008 than when I went into it.

It looks like I will be spending mental energy (and time) on using time more wisely and effectively, working on passive income streams, and peeling back more of the onion. So here is to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

So what has your attention for the next 12 months?

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So much to say, so much to say…

The empty speech bubble.

Yes I have had so much to say these past few months. Really. Seriously.

I have had many good blog topics pop into my head. I have come across many good blog posts this year that have prodded me to respond either by replying after the post, or posting my own retort on this blog—alas, neither happened. There are many things I can point to and say, “that was the issue,” or “that was in my way,” but basically it comes down to one simple concept.

Time.

The management of time, the use of time, the juggling of time, the lack of time. ( I know that last sentence is a fragment but who cares, it’s my blog). It all boils down to time.

In 2008 the one thing that has sucked for me has been the management of my time. I’ve sucked at it for years, but this past year the chronic disease developed pustules that popped and started oozing goo that was stinky and foul to many people around me. OK, enough of the gross visual examples.

In some respects this may be a considered a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ or whatever—who cares. All I know that time management is something for me to tackle in 2009. I need to work on it and maybe, just maybe I might be able to post some more to this blog.

But really, who cares?

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Looking Forward…

Been working hard since my return from vacation.

Time for a little play tomorrow.

Going to see Radiohead @ Hollywood Bowl.

Find more videos like this on w.a.s.t.e. central

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Getting Through Crappy Work

Going through the Google Reader today and 43Folders had a link to this great video from Ira Glass of This American Life noteriety.

If you make or create anything for a living you should watch this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hidvElQ0xE
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One of my arguments may have fallen.

Image of This on textured board

I have always been a proponent of standards-based web design. Semantic markup is tasty for me and for the search engines. It makes everyone happy. However, clients do like Flash based websites for the ability to control things explicitly. The rub has always been that a great website is Flash is basically invisible to the search engines. I have always argued that non-Flash sites are best. All your content is indexed and searchable, and Flash-based sites are out of luck. Well apparently no more.

I read in Ars Technica today that Flash based sites are good-to-go. Apparently the major search engines can now rip through Flash sites and index the content. Does this mean that more sites will be Flash-based?

Perhaps.

However there is one caveat from the article:

Of course, Google (and eventually Yahoo) won’t be able to index everything embedded within a Flash file—at least not yet. Anything that is image-related, including text that is embedded into images, will be invisible to the search engines for the time being. Google also noted that it can’t execute certain JavaScripts that may be embedded into a Flash file, and that while it indexes content that is contained in a separate HTML or XML file, it won’t be counted as part of the content in the Flash file. These are all issues that are being worked on, however, and are likely to change in the future.

Just how will it index text rendered in an image? Isn’t that what CAPTCHA systems are now? Images of text that you have to type in so that humans can be separated from the bots? Would love to see how that will be done. I don’t see that coming any time soon. But I can be proven wrong too. 🙂

Do you think that Flash sites are better than traditional non-flash websites?

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