You actually are living in the Matrix

Imagine you outline to your client the possibilities of two court actions where he is the plaintiff in one case and the defendant in another. Legal fees are no longer a cost consideration. In the first case, you advise that he could settle and receive $70,000 or have a 90% chance of the court awarding him $80,000. In the second case, you advise that he could settle and pay $70,000 or have a 90% chance of the court deciding he should pay $80,000.  If he was like most people, in the first case he would settle for the $70,000. In second case he would likely go to court and risk paying $80,000. People prefer sure things when it comes to gains, and take risks when it comes to avoiding losses.

This simple example captures a substantial portion of Kahneman’s book Thinking: Fast and Slow in addition to Thaler’s book, Nudge. Kahneman and Thaler separately won the Nobel Prize for work in their respective fields. The Obama administration successfully incorporated the concept of ‘nudges’ into their policy work. These theories on behavioral economics can contribute substantially towards the practice of law and the attraction and retention of clients.

Kahneman separates our thought process into a simple dichotomy of System 1 thinking, fast, and System 2 thinking, slow.

System 1 thinking explains why people feel losses twice as much as they feel comparable gains. Fast thinking comes into play when you stand up to object to a line of questioning without knowing why, when you sense a brief misses something, or when you believe that there really is a tiger outlined in the grass just ahead. Regardless of your personal circumstances, fast thinking comes in handy to avoid being eaten. Figuratively or literally.

Fast thinking includes intuition. Although, thinking with your gut can be dismissed as superficial, Kahneman recognizes that experts glancing at a situation can reach a correct conclusion simply based on continuous experience.

Intuitive thinking guides the halo effect. Someone’s reputation, and ego, could proceed them. Or exceed them. This may give this person an aura of invincibility in that they have won so often they will likely win again. If you, or a court, provides that person the benefit of doubt, a halo so to speak, then you should dissuade yourself of this notion. Rest assured, the rest of the day has not yet been written. Anything can and will likely happen.

Information immediately available primes system 1 thinking and feeds into the ‘anchoring’ concept. Kahneman provides the example of a panel of German judges asked to roll a weighted die that came up with three or nine. The judges were then asked to provide a ruling on a certain fact situation. Although it should not have mattered, judges rolling a nine more often gave higher sentences that the judges that rolled a three.

System 2, slow thinking represents the traditional lawyer mind; collecting facts, analyzing those facts, and providing a researched opinion.  Relative to fast thinking, slow thinking generally has to be dragged into the thought process if the mind feels that fast thinking ‘has got this covered’. Slow thinking eats Doritos while watching TV. I prefer the term ‘critical thinking’ as slow thinking suggests something negative.

Understanding how prospective clients think can impact how you market anything. Imagine yourself a prospective client landing on your firm’s website. The website asks if you want to allow cookies in order to enhance your website experience. Being like most people, you sort of realize that cookies attach to your browser benignly. But you read something about them somewhere and your overall impression leans towards not allowing cookies. You congratulate yourself on being prudent, but your web experience becomes muted. The firm suffers an opportunity cost.

Continuing your search, you land on another site that clearly, but not alarmingly, states that a small piece of code, a cookie shall be added to your web browser. Once again, you don’t know anything more about cookies than you did five minutes ago, but you proceed regardless. Your web experience becomes far more customized, and the law firm discovers substantial information on future clients’ interests.

Most clients intuitively refuse to accept cookies given the choice. The critical part of the mind would not examine the situation since there did not appear to be an immediate need. A client merely advised of cookie use would likely proceed, confident in the notion that someone vetted the cookie usage for them. The concept of providing a default cookie option nudges the client into a better result.

One would think that providing a range of options provides greater satisfaction than fewer options. However, Thaler says that having too many options leads to greater stress and reduced satisfaction. Therefore, providing a default option increases the probability that a correct choice is being made.

Thaler euphemistically refers to this as libertarian paternalism. People make better decisions by the correct arrangement of choices. The person in charge of this arrangement becomes the choice architect.

A business owner becomes a choice architect in numerous ways. In speaking with a client and laying out their options, the phrasing of options definitely impacts the client’s choice. Although business owners may feel that they want to leave the choice of options strictly to the client, one should determine what level of guidance the client requires. Normally they would want your best recommendation.

Thaler parses apart the various tools that a choice architect has into five main aspects: Incentives, mapping, defaults, feedback, expect errors and structuring complex choices. For example data visualization and mnemonics of legal information can illustrate the difference between complex choices. In retaining clients, understanding the process behind making decision choices increases your value proposition defined as the benefits relative to the costs. By making the correct choice easier, you have channeled your client to the correct choice. You have reduced not so much the monetary cost to the client, but the stress cost of making that decision.

In making an intuitive choice, clients want to know what other people did in similar situations. Thaler found that a need to conform easily influences peoples’ choices. Clients could operate on this basis to decide how to proceed on a case for example. They would rely more on what friends and other people have done in a similar situation. Therein lies the importance of stories. Relating other individual’s stories can add additional comfort to clients and make the decision easier. Adding stories to your advice makes a client’s choice easier.

To demonstrate this, Thaler identifies greater compliance in hotels where people are advised the guests before them selected the economical option of not insisting upon having towels replaced daily. People like to be part of the crowd as this makes their decision making easier. Your firm stories should reflect how generally others have proceeded.

These innovative concepts require greater examination and incorporation into today’s business practice particularly in cases where they might operate to your client’s detriment.

Did you feel the nudge?

Living after doing stupid

Have you ever thought back on wonder how you survived this long?

As the saying goes, there are bold pilots and there are old pilots, but there are no old bold pilots.

I think my earliest memory at 8 was one of those bottle rockets. You fill this plastic projectile with water and then pump it full of air. Making this sharp plastic rocket into bottled death.

My friend was busy pumping up one of these plastic death dealers when I noticed that he was pointing it right at me. Thinking this was not particularly safe, I fell to the side to lie on the grass. It was at that instant the rocket let go and basically grazed my face.

At about 10 my parents got me one of those BB guns. I built a little shooting gallery in the basement. I thought it would be cool to use those little metal hockey players from the hockey games they used to sell. Shooting them down I was Zabata. I was the Rifleman. A BB hit the metal player and ricocheted right back to just below my eye. No, instead I was Ralphie from Christmas Story.

I am beginning to think my parents were out to get me by enabling my various destructive tendancies.

My dear mother was kind enough to accompany me to the pharmacy. She asked for a few ounces of potassium nitrate, saltpeter. The major ingredient to gunpower. The pharmacist was astute enough to ask her as to why, and she simply responded that I wanted to conduct experiments. Which was true of course. He simply admonished her slightly that my intent was to make gunpowder. That was the experiment. That didn’t stop her. Or me of course. And this was 50 years ago. Kinder gentler more trusting times back then.

I didn’t have the internet. But I did have all 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Plus the maps and the index. All the world’s knowledge.

Flash forward a few years, then we have the teenage driving years. Got through that without a speeding ticket. I went through two transmissions however. And I went through, partially, one garage wall.

Not surprising, a lot of people are injured when skiing. When I was still in my late teens I went skiing through the forest. I careened towards an tree and managed to drive both my arms forward to force myself to merely shoulder check a tree at highspeed.

You think I would learned a bit better.

After attending a conference I went hiking in the mountains above the tree line. No water. No confirming with other people where I was going. But I struggled through this broken slate type of ridge. One side of the hill faced the lodge where a sharp eyed conference attendee might point out what that idiot, me, was doing. But if I fell on the other side, on the dark side so to speak, I doubt anyone would notice my absence till later the following day. I think some would notice my presence. But unfortunately those would have been the cougars. And not the figurative ones.

A few years later, again after a meeting, I drove up to the side of one of forest covered mountains and followed a cascading stream. As I worked my way, I had to cross the stream a few times. And it was deep and fast enough that if I fell in, it would have had its way with me. Meaning banging me around for about ten feet before bouncing me hard against one of the many boulders. Once, without notifying anyone, they would have started looking for me the following day. And there was the signage of course.

Keep watch for cougars.

Smart phone dopamine doping

I fondly remember the first cell-phones. And by cell-phones I mean the old brick sized cell phones that would come with their own power supply the size of a car battery. I would constantly check my voice mail to see if anyone left me a voice message. I became thrilled if someone left me an electronic message and asked me to do something. I also became disappointed if there were no messages, especially after loading up my briefcase to haul this monstrosity of communications device around.

Of course with continued miniaturization, you could finally fit your phone into your pocket without having to carry a briefcase. But as the phones got smaller, the larger their impact on your overall life. When the phones finally developed the most miniature of screens, this was like mana from heaven. Texting was pointless for me when you had to type a button three times to get the proper letter to form a word. No wonder the WTF abbreviations finally started and formed part of our lexicon. Writing, became another art form slowly being lost.

A lot of people believe that the precursor of the end of civilization as we know it came with the advent of smartphones. Now you really can communicate with anyone in the world and at the same time lose the ability to relate to everyone else.

Of course, the end of civilization was to end with television, and before that radio, and before that the telegraph, printed books etc. Even Aristotle opposed writing somewhat since then his students didn’t really learn something if they didn’t have to memorize it. This little bit of wisdom may still apply today since you can search the world’s knowledge whenever you want to and you don’t really have to understand it. The context of everything then becomes a little bit more lost.

The intellectual train comes with a bunch of preliminary cars such as facts, information, knowledge, wisdom and finally you get to the locomotive we all want to reach, enlightenment. But with our attention span fallen below 8 seconds, which is lower than the common goldfish, enlightenment may only come as a result of a search engine.

We are so anxious to get our little dopamine fix. I used to play Black Jack a fair bit. This was the one game where you could get closest to beating the house. Rest assured, you think you can beat them over the very long-term, but you can’t. That’s why they have such great hotels in Vegas. Any money leakage is quickly squashed. I had a fairly simple system of knowing all the odds and pressing the advantage whenever the cards starting going my way. It paid for a couple of trips, but I got out when the going was good since the long game always favors the house. But I remember the chemical effects. You can feel the dopamine pouring through your system whenever a good card was laid out. You win just enough to keep you completely engaged. And you can now feel this same effect whenever you agree to push notifications from your favorite social media.

I had my computer bing whenever a new email came in. I would drop, electronically, whatever email I was working on in order to read the new email. My concentration was slowly being eaten away as I agreed to the new hormonal influx from the new email. It would take me a minute or two to get properly focused on whatever I was doing before however.

Now you can get notifications whenever something new is posted, or new comments on that post, or if someone comments on your post, or if someone comments on your comments. Time keeps getting chopped up more finely.

After a while it seems that you might have an angry squirrel in your pocket since your phone constantly chitters at you. Begging for a bit more attention. If this is making people happy, then more power to them. But this seems like a short jump to Brave New World when the population turned to Soma instead of facing reality. Attaching electrodes directly to the brain seems to be simpler and faster route than having to go through the smart phone interface.

Eventually things got bad enough that I turned off all push notifications from any sort of social media. This recapture of free will became most liberating. I feel that being able to focus on one thing at time increased my creativity as I go through various scenarios. This reduction in dopamine happiness likely had other positive ramifications however.

Scientific American provided some research on the difference between happiness and well-being. There appears to be a synergistic effect where one can increase the other but they remain different. One can be happy watching TV even though you would be better off learning something new or completing that homework assignment. By changing your focus from short-term tactical happiness you can then focus on the long-term strategic happiness.

Pets can add to happiness

I was recently reading an article in the globe and mail. Pets are an investment in happiness. “A field study demonstrated that pet owners who were randomly assigned to spend five dollars on their pet reported greater happiness than those who were assigned to spend on themselves or another person. An effect specific to feelings of happiness rather than to mood more generally. This was reported in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

I imagine this depends on what the money was used for otherwise. If I crossed the dessert, I would sooner spend five dollars on a bottle of water. Even if it was plastic.

I do keep some large carp. They might not care if I got them a little plastic castle. But if I got them five dollars of little feeder fish, they would be leaping out of the pond to get them.

My golden retrievers would be ecstatic if told them I got them a treat. As long as I was enthusiastic, and gave them attention, they would quickly forget if I gave them anything at all.

I think the point I was trying to make, is that we can justify just about anything. I prefer my own person Journal entitled Journal of Confirmation Bias. I like to read things that substantiate the way I am already thinking. I am inclined to disbelief things that do not align with the way I am already thinking.

And perhaps the definition of pet can be somewhat misleading. Any animal could be a pet. I think most people go immediately to dogs. A pet can be defined as a domestic or tamed animal kept for companionship or pleasure. Dogs seems to fit into companionship. Are cats more in the pleasure category?

Almost interestingly, psychologists have a convoluted definition for PET which I accidently googled. Positron emission tomography (PET), which is similar to the MRI, is a scanning method that enables psychologists and doctors to study the brain (or any other living tissue) without surgery. Not a great companion.

Getting back to the point, three recent studies aimed to find out how and why pet ownership benefits people psychologically. They found that Pets that fulfilled their owners’ social needs better were related to less depression, less loneliness, greater self-esteem, and greater happiness in their owners.

During these times of COVID, favorite dog types were in high demand. I did not check into cats. I visited my pet store and I did find that carp were still well stocked.

Happiness divided by Sadness plus Meaning equals Well Being

The equation looks simple, but getting the numbers right is the hard part. Fortunately, well being does not include calculus. And no, the number is not 42 as in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything“, calculated by an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years.

Happiness and Meaning provide two powerful motivations in life. Scientific American provided some research on the difference between the two and that happiness and meaning are essential elements of well-being. There appears to be a synergistic effect where one can increase the other but they remain different. One can be happy playing video games even though you would be better off learning something new or completing that homework assignment.

The one thing that increases meaning in life but likely causes unhappiness would be having children of course. Having children seems meaningful when you are finally playing with the grandchildren that go home at the end of the day as opposed to the times when you are up at 3 am with a colicky baby.

Other studies have found that feeling heathy or having wealth contributed to happiness while wisdom contributed to meaning but detracted from happiness. So happiness relates more to having your needs met while meaning relates to helping others met their needs.

Meaning possesses two major parts, a cogitative processing component which makes sense of and integrates experiences and a purpose component which includes motivation and long-term goals. This demonstrates the potential negative impact of attempting to be happy all the time and not experiencing the full range of negative emotions needed for personal development. While connotative processing strongly relates to a passion and perseverance to long-term goals. Which is quite a long-winded way of saying Grit.

Looking back, I can see how I imposed a level of grit into my life approach. My life moto turned out to be you only fail once you stop trying. I certainly had to apply this throughout all my years of university. I was incapable of giving something up once I started it. Unfortunately, I have not included house cleaning as part of those tasks that I am not prepared to give up. I recognize a Sisyphus boulder pushing task from the get go.

Processing and purpose fuse together to provide meaning in life. Examining your life brings to mind Aristotle’s teaching that the unexamined life is not worth living. A more positive way of saying this would be that processing your life makes living more worthwhile. Although behavioral economics has already taught us that that people feel losses twice as much as they feel gains, so Aristotle may have had it right the first time. People are more encourage to act in order to avoid a loss.

Life examination does not appear to be one time thing, but rather an all-time thing. You can’t just examine your life once and forget about it. Each step seems to require its own examination to see how it all fits together.

Speaking of great philosophers, Vince Lombardi said something similar. “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while. You don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately so is losing.” This can be applied in numerous situations as we constantly examine our lives and continue to live our life with purpose. The final part, about the meaning of life needs can now be phrased as to how to live with long term goals and perseverance. 

So when it comes to goal setting, what would Vince, or Jefferson do in a similar situation? Jefferson spent a great deal of his youth studying. He laid out in great detail how one should study and for how long. From 8 o’clock in the morning till dusk he would study all areas of science, law and agriculture. From dark till bedtime he devoted his time to poetry, drama and literary criticism with an emphasis on Cicero’s speeches. At night, he ran past the city limits and back again. After Jefferson, all other presidents stood on the shoulders of this giant.

Taking Jefferson as a role model, we can see the benefits of the setting long-term goals for the mind, body and spirit. Had he lived another ten year, it’s unlikely that he would have allowed his work to have been interrupted by checking the telegraph machine every few minutes.

Why do sinners make the best saints?

The most interesting Saints cover a broad spectrum. They transition from the generally bad state to sainthood state. Everyone likes the come from behind kid.

St. Augustine may have had the most sinful past. He fathered an illegitimate child. He eventually abandoned the child and the mother in the prospects of marrying a heiress. His mother, like almost all mothers, persisted that he repent. Eventually he did and turned to the priesthood. As a nod to his party past, he remains the patron saint of brewers. He apparently prayed for chastity, but not just not yet.

Ancient Rome subcontracted out tax collection to locals. These people were generally hated by all. Tax collectors notoriously extorted additional fees on top of the taxes. Even if they didn’t, they were seen as Roman collaborators.

Likely the most famous was St Matthew. Followers harangued Jesus for including roman collaborators.  Eventually St. Matt moved out the money collection business and into Sainthood. I think it is telling that ever since tax collection in the US started, no one working there has been raised to sainthood.

St. Mary of Egypt lived in Alexandria in the fourth century. She was a ‘seductress’. Some research suggests she was a prostitute. Other studies suggest that St Mary never charged for her services. She seemingly liked the challenge.

Fortunately, she joined a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She did this apparently to either drum up more business or join what would have been the closest thing to the mile high club. Either way she managed to seduce everyone along the way. When she finally got to the holy site, she saw a statute of the Virgin Mary and repented. What must be the greatest turnaround in ancient history, she is now the Patron Saint against sexual temptation.

St. Angela spent most of her life seeking wealth, material possessions and pleasure. As an aside, I really didn’t like where this one was heading. She had several children but was still more interested in gathering possessions.

At 40 she realized the emptiness of her life. Unfortunately, her mother, children and husband died three years later. She sold everything and joined an order and became the patron saint of widows. Part of her tagline includes adulteress. I am not sure what they did for SEOs back then.

The Blessed Bartolo Longo started off as a devout catholic. He may have been looking for more immediate gratification and became a Satanic Priest instead. He joined the Dominican tertiary and helped college students learn about the avoiding the evils of the occult. We can only be thankful that there was no cool aid back then.
All of these people focused on the long game. This means there is hope for all of us.

Superheroes don’t all wear capes

Photo by Ronu00ea Ferreira on Pexels.com

Some carry BBQ tongs.

I led another daring rescue one time. Spoiler Alert. Everything turned out fine. I say led since my dog Seamus started things off, but otherwise he didn’t help very much outside of emotional support. And really that’s what he does all the time, so there was no increased emotional support.

During the summer, fall, spring and perhaps winter, I engage in my favorite activity. BBQ. One fall day, I moved hamburger Wednesday over to hamburger Thursday. So I attempted to minimize the charring on the various pieces of meat for people wanting theirs’ medium and those wanting well done. This activity normally included beer, but I minimize, ok abstain, completely now. The sound of sizzling meat filled the air.

Our backyard contains an extensive network of gardens and raised beds. The pond in the corner holds my various goldfish and comets. Basically carp. A large pump circulates the water and causes it to cascade over a small waterfall. I find the sound quite relaxing.

Our golden retriever, Seamus sat on the deck, Sphinx like, looking into the neighbors’ backyard. A wire fence encloses the backyard and vines and cedars provide sufficient privacy. You can sort of tell through the fence that the backyard neighbors keep a swimming pool going. Their large yellow lab sometimes goes for a swim. A delicate thing he is not. His front legs would come to the surface to be plonked back down. Sort of like your younger days when you used to dunk your younger brother.

Instead, Seamus, continuing his sphinx pose, watched their lab circle around the outside of the pool.   I could see him occasionally through the fence. Over top the cacophony of sounds, meat sizzling, waterfall falling, lab scrabbling, I heard a much smaller series of plonks. But my attention was constantly drawn to increased sizzling whenever a fire erupted.

I suppose the intuitive part of my mind sensed something was wrong. Seamus’ favorite activity includes ping pong back and forth barking with the neighbors’ dog, but both distracted. The smaller plonk sound grabbed my attention, so I walked over to the back fence and peeked over. Now, I think we own this fence since it seems similar to the one at the side yard. But the previous owners must have tried to make their leftover fencing fit since the top of the fence does not have those nice round tops, Rather, they sheared the tops off at an angle. This converted the nice neighborly wire fence into something like suburbia razor wire.

Approaching the fence carefully, I grabbed the least flesh and tendon rendering part of the fence and looked over the top. I saw that the neighbors’ Yorkie going for a swim. I found this surprising as I didn’t think Yorkies liked swimming very much. But I did not know much about the topic. Much like my lack of knowledge about worms.

I scanned the perimeter of the pool and quickly surmised that there was no easy, or any, access for this little dog to leave the pool. He needed help. I momentary wondered about the social and cultural norms of jumping into the neighbor’s pool. I decided that the situation overrode all of that. It seems longer reading about it, and critics might be thinking the word interminable comes to mind, but the entire process could not have taken more than three seconds.

Remembering the suburban razor wire, I dashed to the garage and got my step ladder. Leaning the ladder against the fence, I climbed to the top. Now, at this point I thought some gloves would have been a nice addition. I grabbed the top wires carefully, there is no other way to handle razor wire, and I clambered into a vault position and balanced at top since straddling the top did not appear to be an option.

The next required leaping clear of the fence and landing on the concrete. Dropping six feet onto concrete should be something that all 60 year olds should avoid, but there was no avoiding this and no backing out. The landing came off fine but continued until I came to a complete stop. Sort of frog like with my butt bouncing off the concrete and slapping down my palms.

The Yorkie managed to swim now to the side of the pool and scratched away at the liner, He remained a good nine inches below the pool deck. I ran to the far side as this seemed much better than jumping in. I grabbed the little guy with only his head above the surface, bulging eyes and pounding heart. He shook uncontrollably. Me too by this point.

I walked over to their house and knocked on the door. The Yorkie’s owner became understandably quite distraught when I told her what happened. She thanked me profusely. She offered to let me walk through the house back to the street. Getting back to the BBQ, I could now hear more sizzling, became a priority. Going through their house would require going around the entire block before getting back to my home. I elected the proto-superhero exit. By this I mean a superhero before they received their powers or after they lost them.  Remember how lame that guy was before being bitten by the spider, irradiated by gamma rays, or fused with machines. So visualize them climbing a wire fence. So I gamely clambered back up the fence, without the ladder which remained on the other side. My neighbor started to look a bit more concerned about a 60 year old climbing a razor wire fence. I contained my own concern since successfully getting over the fence became paramount with a watching audience. I managed to hoist myself up and avoid being eviscerated on the top. Putting my foot on the ladder on the other side helped my balance and I could climb down. Jumping back to our side would have been softer with the dirt gardens, but by no means safer. Jumping would mean landing on the field of my wife’s hostas. Even the razor wire seemed a somewhat better alternative. Quicker and done, so to speak.

This shows how connected we can be with all living things if we paid attention. I try to reconcile this with my constant desire to eat meat products. Our backyard neighbors rewarded my wife and me with a nice BBQ set, spices and sauces. So my angst continues as I look forward to the next outdoor cooking season.

Kids buying homes need dads with tools.

Woman in Green Jacket Holding Smartphone
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I pack my favorite tools in a checked bag. I fly to Victoria and successfully avoid and evade COVID in order to help our son and daughter-in law with their recent house purchase. I pour over the inspection report whose main purpose includes finding as many defects as possible. Caveat Emptor. The buyer needs a thousand eyes, but the seller, well he needs but only one. That kind of university education does shake one’s faith in humanity a touch, but I persevere.

Arriving at the house, my son and daughter-in-law beam happily. But the house remains stoic. I am pleased that the house does justice for all of the photos from the report. Any photo from the realtor seems to distort reality, while the inspector’s photos bring reality back to focus. Sometimes harshly. Like all good things, a bit of distance does make things look better. Up close, some of the flaws can be distracting. Thoreau’s mild caution comes to mind for when the couple get their house, they may not be the richer but the poorer for it and it be the house that has got them. 

At twenty-five years, the house aged well. The first owners may not have aged as well however. When the original owners sold, a contractor bought the house a few years ago and saw an opportunity to do a quick gut and turn a bit of a profit. The subsequent buyers only had the place for a couple of years and decided to move to a different neighbourhood. Unfortunately, they had to sell during the time of COVID. The virus had not peaked yet, but the fear component was quite high. And Warren Buffet did recommend along the lines of buying when others are fearful, so this seem be that situation. Not that he made it into the realtor’s report.

The contractors revamped the exterior. This meant a new coat of paint that also meant painting the roof. They advertised the roof as slate tiles, but I eventually figured out the tiles were actually cement. Did painting cement mean anything longevity wise? How well does paint adhere to concrete? Many questions and not too many answers. The house inspector did not have a firm answer. This became more of a research project as opposed to a renovation project.

All the lovely flowers in Victoria seem to be a result of all the rain. So it seems that constant November to February showers bring March flowers. It does not sound as poetic that way. A problem with houses is that they are mainly made with wood. If the wood is no longer part of a tree, then the showers contacting the wood becomes a problem. Showers also bring fungus rot. Not as pretty as a flower.

And yes, we began caulking. One of those neat words that act as a noun and as a gerund. Builders cover many of the decks with vinyl to keep the area underneath the deck relatively dry. So whenever they cut through the vinyl to make way for deck railings, it just seems to defeat the purpose. Remember National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when Clark Griswold was happily putting hundreds of little staple holes in his shingled roof? Something like that. More Chalking.

The main living area on the second floor faces a rock hill behind the house. This attractive feature diverts all of that surface water down to the base of the house. Lovely moss and ferns cover the rock face. This suggests that lots of moisture cascades down this area. Weeping tiles seem to be doing a great job in collecting the water and diverting it around the house. Except for all of those little spaces in between the house and cement patio. More Caulking.

A few deck posts appear to have been heavily puttied. This material covers up areas that have decayed away, until the putty starts to crumble itself. Cut and replace. Way past caulking.

At the far end of the deck, one of the main beams no longer reaches its final destination. A standing post. Just a few inches shy. A post too far perhaps. The next to last post is only four feet away, so this hovering beam needs to be redone. The beam can cantilever for a couple of feet, but it can’t cantilever there forever. Cut out the old, and put in the new.

Good job for a reciprocating saw. I have a nice rechargeable Black and Decker one. Did I say rechargeable with one of those large lithium batteries that seem to catch on fire occasionally when on a plane? The battery would have to come in my carry-on while the saw itself would have to stay in the checked bag. And does anyone besides me read those little boxes you check before printing your airplane ticket? One asks are you carrying explosives? Easy no there. The next one asks about carrying power tools? Answering yes kicks you out of the main line and into the exception line for check-in. In Canada, the attendant taking the bags simply told me that a saw would be fine. I have been dragged into the “exception line” in foreign countries on occasion. These rooms have metal tables and people with automatic weapons. No reasons were ever given, and it was not a Midnight Express experience, but something to avoid.

After the outside repairs, we can now look inwards. Not for introspection, but for the problems inside of the house. The one thing that could be worse than water, which gives life and appears so attractive in photos, would be termites.

Termites have a right to live too, just not in the house. Our inspection found this little insect colony near the boiler room. Termites become the kiss of resale death for houses in the US. The Western Drywood termites there can start on wood and carry-on merrily until they are done. The Victoria Subterranean Termites require moisture and they construct tunnels in order to move from one area to another. So they constructed little earthen tunnels. Taking out small parts of the drywall, we can see that they did not affect the wood at all and simply abandoned the nest. It resembled an ancient abandoned Mayan civilization. Only the structures remain. But we got rid of the termite structures anyway.

After a week of tearing some things apart and rebuilding others, I return home. The young adults seem pleased. Job done. At least for now. I pack away most of my tools. I leave some behind since I seem to own 4 or 5 of the same tool. I can’t resist shiny things.

Later that month at home our daughter calls. She just bought a nice turn of the century house. Come and have a look she says. Bring tools.  

Adventures in moving

Tired couple lying on bed near boxes
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Dante Inferno describes nine levels of hell. Moving reveals a tenth.

The concept seemed simple enough. Our adult children bought a house in Victoria. My wife and I hope to move in with them eventually and share costs. What better way to create a type of beachhead than to ship some of our excess furniture. And what better way for a daughter-in-law to benefit from the helpful advice of an in-house mother-in-law?

My plan involved renting a truck and hiring others to load it. This seemed cost effective except for the three days of travel, hotels, gas, and food. Crossing over the Rockies during the fall and early winter in an unknown truck seemed imprudent. Dropping the truck and flying back home seemed really imprudent. At least the level of in-flight service for the plane and three days alone in a truck would likely be comparable.

The next best option involved those transportable containers. So, I opened a container company account. Drop off, load up, and take away. What could be easier? I rented a couple of containers for 30 days. More than enough time. But as Stephen Hawking clearly proved, time speeds up when you enter the space-time continuum of a potential additional rental fee.

The company quickly delivered two containers. They seemed deceptively small, but the advertised videos showed how much stuff you could pull out of one of these things. Sort of like a clown car.

Next day, a couple of burly gentlemen picked up, packed up and bundled up all of the furniture.  I did wonder what clowns say to one another as they pack themselves into that car. I assume there is quite a bit of discussion of what everyone ate beforehand. The container company picks up the containers and they merrily make their way to the coast. Twenty-seven days remain on the rental.

Two weeks later the containers land in Victoria. The unpacking crew call to confirm when they intend to pick up the containers. The container company, a close relative, but still separate, also calls to confirm when I intend ‘to access the containers’. I try to clarify that yes, they will be accessed, just not by me. This becomes the first sign that there is a separation between the plan and the implementation.

The container company calls our son, and tells him that the unloading company had been ‘delisted’. And we would have to cancel. We enter the first level of hell. Thirteen days left on the rental.

Renting containers resembles buying flight cancellation insurance on-line. Both take perhaps five minutes and are deceptively easy to use. Heaven help you when you have to make a claim under the insurance. The two times I made insurance claims it took three months and several days of mailing in paper forms. You note the word mailing and paper. Even faxing did not appear as an option. The 1970’s retain a firm hold on filing for insurance claims.

I navigate the tortured confines of the container customer on-line system, cancel the job, and obtain a ‘store credit’. I receive a “VIP” credit number, separate from my contract number, separate from my container contract number. Numbers abound. Next hell level. Twelve days on the rental.

Two days later, I am BBQing and the phone rings while the pork cutlet catches fire. I let it burn for a bit since my father-in-law prefers it that way. The mover asks why I cancelled and I explain how he became delisted. The pork continues to burn away merrily. The mover will try to gain access to the containers still. The burning pork personifies my patience with this situation. Hell level uncertain.

The next day the container company denies the mover access once again. The mover gives me the name of the warehouse manager. I leave a few messages, but never here back from him. Abandon all hope ye who enter here. Ten days remain.

I futilely try to use their website to arrange delivery and unloading of the containers.  I get helpful return emails about using the website and using the credit. I send slightly perturbed but mostly desperate emails to the container company and to the moving company. I try to arrange delivery that week, the week following, and the week following that. I leap a few months into the future. No availability. I jump-frog several levels of hell. Eight days left on the rental.

I seek out a real person at the moving company but listening to the array of options can wear you down.  When I do find one she nicely explains to me that someone in a Ford 250 flatbed picked up the containers. My son confirms that no containers arrived. Thoughts of insurance proofs of loss dance through my head.

The company realizes their mistake. The warehouse does still have the containers, but the moving company does not move them, only loads and unloads them. She apologizes, and sends me over to the manager. I hear the same recording of options. A male answers, and I explain my sordid tale once again. This time he apologizes and says that they dropped the ball. I hear music this time, but it sounds more like the Twilight Zone theme.

He makes a note to file and gives me the name of another person that holds the containers. Although being held hostage also fits. This time a woman answers. She can help get the containers to the house. At a nominal cost. I am getting closer. I seized upon the following day opening. Six days remain.

Later that night, a Vancouver woman calls, apologizes more, and says the delivery will be free. I thank her profusely and make light of the number of emails, number of people called, and the number of levels of hell I travelled while listening to the various twilight zone holding messages.

Later that same night, the container company calls, and asks why I had not returned the equipment at noon. I simply ask what equipment. Perhaps she did not realize that she was holding my containers hostage and she could have extracted whatever concessions she wanted. She apologizes and corrects the file.

The next day the containers arrive. The steep driveway compels the driver to leave the containers on the street. However, one box remains bolted down. Apparently, they deliver free of charge, but if you want access, well that is another cost. Clever. Very Clever.

Another trip to have the container company remove the bolts. For free. And the real fateful day arrives. Many levels of hell traversed. Five days remain.

The movers arrive the following day and distribute the furniture throughout the house. Now, we just need to get the containers off the street before the persnickety neighbourhood association catches sight of them. Limbo welcomes us. Four days.

The next morning the company picks up the containers with three days left over and only six months taken off my lifespan.

Later on, I look around nervously around our house and decide what to do with the rest of our belongings. I open another corporate account. Kijiji. Look for the springtime ad.

The Joyous Flow of kicking someone

2 People Doing Karate during Sunset
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Flow describes the state of being blissfully immersed in a task to the exclusion of everything else, including one’s self. Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist introduced this concept back in the 70s.

I have felt this type of bliss just a few times. Decades ago, I competed in my very first karate tournament. I had just gotten my green belt, and I appeared to be the only one at that level. All the others had blue and heaven forbid, brown belts. They were like demi-gods back then. The black belts had their own special time and location.

My nervousness approached extreme levels. We engaged in some preliminary sparing at our own club, but I had never been in a real tournament when people were planning to give their all.  The rules were fairly simple. The first to two points wins. Don’t hit anyone. Hard.

I found my assigned ring and they called all the names. I answered to mine with the standard OSS! Which can be used for yes, no or present. The word OSS symbolizes the attitude of suppressing your emotions and to persevere through all of the training. Similar to the army slogan. Karate Strong!

We do the traditional bows to each other and to the judges and line up outside of the ring. The ring comprises of tape on the floor of the gym that the competition is being held. Makes getting in and out way easier.

We all wear the white sparing gloves. They do protect the knuckles somewhat, but since you are not supposed to actually hit anyone, they don’t serve any other purpose. They work most of the time. The one time they didn’t resulted in one of my knuckles residing in my palm ever since then. I push it back in every now and then, but it seems stubbornly happy where it is.

I don’t recall anything from my first four fights except that I managed to win them somehow. The fifth and final fights sticks in my mind. My opponent was a brown belt, and tall and athletic looking. I tried not to get somewhat too off balance from the fact that he had more skills, musculature, and experience. Meanwhile, I felt exhausted, pained and severely bruised. I had banged my toes against harder objects like knees and elbows all afternoon.

We both bow to enter the ring, and come up to our own line. We then bow to the referee, and to the judge and then to each other. The referee says Hajime, I feel an additional spike of adrenalin as the fight starts.

Csikszentmihalyi suggests that there are five basic aspects of flow.

Firstly, intense and focused concentration on what one is doing in the present moment. In the middle of a competition, the last thing on your mind is that project due tomorrow. You are totally focused on what you opponent is doing, and you let your own body take care of itself. You can’t think and hit at the same time. Although Yogi Berra was not thinking about throwing punches when he said that.

Secondly, there should be a merging of action and awareness. My opponent steps in with a kick and I quickly block and respond with a reverse punch. Just a half point for me since the referee perceives that the technique may have been less than perfect or that it may have partially blocked.

Thirdly, there is a loss of reflective self-consciousness. You are no longer engaged in a competition, you essentially become the competition. Constant repetition allows you to react without thinking. I sense an opening and respond with a quick roundhouse kick. Another half point for myself.

Fourthly, a sense that one can control one’s actions. I normally have the traditional anxiety interacting with people, but the moment I enter the ring this all falls away. The rules are certain and the objective is laid out. This is totally different from social situations where you don’t know the rules and you don’t know what the objective might be. Other people may be beyond your control. My opponent wins the next half point

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Fifthly, there is a sense that time has passed faster than normal. Time becomes thicker and denser. The bouts are generally two minutes. My opponent wins the next half point again. We are now tied where one more well executed technique would win the match and the division.  I glance over at the clock. Thirty seconds remain.

Lastly, the experience of the activity becomes intrinsically rewarding such that the overall goal just becomes an excuse for being there in the first place. So if winning falls away, and the focus becomes exercising the best technique you can, then you have entered the flow. The match starts once again. With my left side forward, I start to compress myself smaller. Like a spring. Every muscle become galvanized. I imagine the tiger behind me as I try to jump a chasm. I bring my right knee up and launch myself directly at my opponent with a right straight punch. This catches him completely off guard and he rotates around to try to evade me. This becomes a mistake as now I can punch his unprotected side.

The referee throws himself between the two of us and calls the fight. I am awarded an ippon, a full point and the match.

I don’t recall the awards ceremony, or the little trophy they give you afterwards or even being happy about winning. The goal completely disappeared. But that one technique became burnished in my mind like another tattoo. I am sure that the surge of neurochemicals such as endorphins, dopamine and serotine were responsible for my feeling good about it and for a short time after. When the hormones wore off the painful bruising remained for days.

The recollection does come in handy on occasion when I am doing some bench presses and I want to squeeze out one more rep. Putting your all into something becomes easier with a visualization and an extra little shot of adrenalin.

Part of the flow includes a balance of skill level and challenge level. You can be easily overwhelmed by a foot sweep and the balance would be gone. The challenge can’t be so far above you that you are too anxious about even being able to succeed.  My own challenge appeared to be above me, but not so far above that it seemed impossible.

I wonder if animals experience flow, or are they constantly in a state of flow. When I talked about my dog Seamus attempting to the chase that jackrabbit, it did not seem to the least bit concerned. It only applied the exact amount of effort required to avoid the dog. And when Maguire joined the chase, the jackrabbit just applied a bit more effort and outran them both.

It merged its action and awareness seamlessly. I am sure the jackrabbit was right in the moment and not thinking about anything else. It was no longer engaged in outrunning the dogs, it became that thing instead.  

Once again, the struggle becomes more important than the destination.