Nature Deficit Disorder and the Cottage Preseason Opener

pexels-photo-42240Nature deficit disorder appears to be a real thing and spending time at the cottage provides a great fix. As part of this, my family and I have been unintentionally creating additional habitat for various invasive species for almost 17 years.

We purchased an A-frame cottage on Lake Winnipeg to get closer to nature.The two-story cottage and the open design allow everyone in the family their own personal space. The metal roof and cedar siding keeps out the elements, but not the rodents, which need their own personal space.

Opening the cottage after a long winter became a joyous occasion for the family. The main reason for this joy includes my travelling to the cottage by myself beforehand and conducting a cottage preseason opener. Like baseball spring training, I do some preliminary cleaning to work out the bugs. And of course by bugs, I do mean insects and other things that would drive away family members till the incident was forgotten.

In the first year, the flat roof over the sunroom leaked. The good news was that the vapor barrier captured all the water. The bad news was that these bags of tarry water hanging from the ceiling pushed out the ceiling tiles and made the room reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Making an incision in the hanging cocoon and draining the water remedied the situation.

We recently installed a small outdoor hot tub that we can plug-in for the summer. When lifting the lid for the first time of the season, I ask please don’t let me find a dead small mammal inside. This is only exceeded by the triple please of don’t let me find a terrified, alive and wanting to escape small mammal inside. So far, we have been good.

When cleaning outside, I use the gas-powered leaf blower to man-dust the decks. I do walk through the cottage, engine off, to clean the upper deck. Only a few times has it passed my mind to quickly man-dust the interior. Who would really know? But there are the gas fumes. So next year I am so going electric leaf blower. The gas blower works very well in the garage, especially if no one is watching.

Inside the cottage, checking all of the furniture, particular the beds, for mouse droppings, comes next. We keep the cottage warm during the winter, so finding a soft fluffy mouse nest in one of the beds is not beyond consideration. A mouse nest would require a cathartic cleansing of the linens. And by cleansing, I mean burning.

Cleaning inside causes a bit less stress. The freezer has to be cleaned out to make room for the coming summer. Sometimes this means tossing everything. Sometimes this means not letting things go to waste. This spring I had to dispose of a half container of crystalized ice cream, and by dispose of I mean eat. It tasted liked solidified sugar. And regret.

The main event involves crawling beneath the cottage. We have this area closed in, insulated and covered in plastic. Dark, dusty, bit mildewy, no one could hear you scream, if you even had the chance.

One late fall, some mid-sized mammals had moved in underneath the cottage. The tunnel they dug underneath the wall enclosing the bottom of the cottage allowed the cold winter air to directly hit the pipe coming up out of the ground from the well pump. This resulted in no well water for the rest of the winter and no working toilets. So during the summer, I closed off their hole and installed more furnace venting to direct heat towards the corner to prevent the pipes from freezing. The following winter, the hole was redug, and the venting was ripped apart. Apparently they didn’t like the air flow. They continued to show their displeasure by scat throughout the level beneath the cottage. Mid-size mammal droppings are a general sign to be careful, but I would swear that the droppings were arranged into an actual sign that said ‘stay away’. It may have been the darkness.

The forested property provides a tremendous view of the lake, which with the waves can look more like the ocean. Lake Winnipeg suffers from some eutrophication. Surface runoff from the extensive watershed and fertilizer use creates algae blooms. These blooms create green waves with the consistency of green paint. Waves glurp when hitting the shore. And waves should never glurp. Not a sound you want to have alongside your morning coffee.

At some point during the summer the sun brings out the flowers and butterflies. When the family comes to the cottage, the BBQ comes out, along with the home-made beer, bicycles and kayaks. This sooths the nature deficit disorder somewhat, and we continue to get inoculated as often as possible. There remains a difference between watching nature, and nature watching you. Nature normally comes at night, with many pairs of eyes that appear to glow in the dark. But, we are intervening into nature’s arena and we should be respectful. And watchful. Always watchful.

 

 

Photo by mali maeder from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/snow-wood-forest-winter-42240/

Smart Phone Dopamine Doping

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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.

 

 

My Code of Conduct is wordier than your Code of Conduct.

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“Moral as well as legal obligations will be fulfilled openly, promptly, and in a manner which will reflect pride on the Company’s name.”

These words form the basis of a very fine code of conduct. Unfortunately, this code did not prevent Enron’s problems when it finally collapsed upon itself. So legislators passed Sarbanes-Oxley to fix the problem. The problem still grew resulting in almost the collapse of the financial system in 2008. The more regulations you pass to address the problem seem to magnify the next series of problems.

Various professional organizations provide for very comprehensive codes of conduct. Some groups expanded their codes to now include such things as principles for diversity. Just about everyone agrees that these constitute fine statements for people to aspire. Some disagree that they should not be forced to sign such principles. Others disagree that the principles do not go far enough.

If anyone needs to be reminded to simply act as a decent human being, then yes, the codes do not go far enough. But do fine statements actually work? Do people needing to change their behaviours actually change their behaviours based on something written down on a website, PDF, piece of paper, scroll or basalt? The last refers to the Code of Hammurabi of eye for an eye fame which we saw in the Louvre. A replica would make a fine reminder in any office lobby of the possibility of retribution for nefarious acts.

The various societies of Professional Biologists developed a pithy one page Code of ethics outlining responsibilities to the public, employer or client and within the profession. Membership requires adherence to the various codes listed, but these societies do not appear to govern the ability to practice as a biologist. You become a biologist when someone else calls you a biologist. I am not aware of any society that handles complaints, even if there were any. The biologists in breach rarely get into the paper.

The code of ethics for engineers begins to look more like a brochure. The code requires the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Engineers are expected to perform under a standard of professional behaviours that requires adherence to the highest principles of ethical conduct. Over the past four years the Ontario society may have averaged 6 complaints per year. They seem to be doing relatively well ethics wise.

We begin to enter a serious stage with the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants. At 114 pages, the code does go into greater detail as to how one should serve not only the client but the greater public interest. The fundamental principles include integrity, objectivity, professional competence, confidentiality and professional behaviours.  The Ontario CPA decisions list over 600 case over the past 30 years. Interesting, and perhaps indicative of accounting behaviour, the cases are listed by rule infraction instead of by year. The discipline journal of cases resembles a tax code.

The various law societies also come in around 113 pages, but have expanded this with some useful commentary and handy indexes found in the back and something that is not found in other codes of conduct, namely definitions. These are found at the beginning of each section. The essence of the code holds out integrity, competence, quality of service, confidentially and conflicts as some of the main pillars. In Ontario there appears to be a steady increase of complaints since in 2008 there were 132 decisions and 199 decisions in 2017. An almost 50% increase over a decade.

 

For comparison purposes, we might look at the Canadian Curling association’s Code of Ethics of 6 bullet points and Fair Play of 5 bullet points which would easily fit on a beer label. This would at least keep it top of mind. Infractions never seem to make the paper unless it occurs at some national level. To avoid the most common infraction, some rinks use a detector if a curling stone is released after crossing the hog line.

So, more regulation does not appear to be solving ethical infractions. An argument could be made that the problem would have been worse, but it’s always hard to prove how many icebergs you really did miss. People only remember the one you didn’t miss.

What appears to be missing from the paper code of conduct solutions would be an ethical culture and an overall ethical program. An ethical culture must originate from management. The various governing societies can help visualize what the tone should sound like, but management must be the one singing it. An ethical program requires more than just a well-defined code of conduct. You also need guidance, a system for obtaining advice and ethical training.

Some of this necessary infrastructure appears to be lacking in a number of governing societies. Compulsory Professional Development can cover some ethical training, but 1 ½ hours of required training a year may be far too low to effect meaningful change. Even a day a year would be insufficient to change some groups reticent to let go of old paradigms.

A system should also be put in place to ensure others can ask questions if necessary. The most effective way to impact change would be to add sufficient transparency to what is occurring prior to any problems arising. Attempting to resolve an issue is far more difficult than trying to prevent the problem from arising in the first place. Reporting of problems after they have occurred can be problematic as people can be reluctant to report issues for fear of direct or far more likely, indirect reprisals.

Studies have shown that people act more honestly and ethically if they perceive that they are being watched. For example, people are far more inclined to contribute towards the coffee fund if a poster containing a pair of eyes is set up on the wall. The same effect could be had by filling in reports on levels of diversity or other steps taken by firm to minimize or otherwise address ethical issues.

Adding a reporting requirement may increase regulatory requirement, but this is actually different from simply adding another page to the code of conduct that may have no effect. Adding a process that increases transparency could have a beneficial impact on changing the corporate culture and address other systemic society issues.  Making small process changes can nudge various organizations and the people within them to make better ethical choices.

 

 

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The Agile Body-3-Old style Karate

pexels-photo-356147 (4)Trying to actually hit someone can be very difficult. In this rather unsanctioned instructional class, basically anything goes. We still were on hardwood floors, so there was no grappling. Everything was a standup fight. Except for foot sweeps. Foot sweeps were ok. Unless you are the sweepee and you land hard on the floor.

One black belt came up to me and easily swept me to the side. I landed hard, got up and brushed myself off. I guess he thought that it worked so well the first time that he would do it again. In a blink of an eye I landed harder and most likely cracked a rib. Not much you can do for it in any event. Many years later my doctor took a chest x-ray and found a blackened spot on the rib. He had a name for it, but I forgot to mention where I likely got it.

But the full contact fighting experience was the most exhilarating thing I ever felt. You are completely mindful with what is going on all the time. You become aware of what your opponent might be doing. Is he inhaling, exhaling, perfectly balanced, a bit off kilter? Does he rise up when he comes in, or does he settle down a bit? Our training emphasizes not to telegraph our movements.

I always found that being calm and serene does help for defense. Your opponent has to cover a few feet before he can get to you, so this always gives an opportunity to defend and react. Karate is for defense only as they say.

Our instructor would lay out a practice katana as a line. We would then leap as far as we could in order to hit the body bag. If we managed, he would move the katana back a few more inches. Getting momentum from the back leg allowed me to leap six feet and still punch the bag. Landing hard on my heels, I developed actual bone spurs for a period of time.

But most of the time I found offence worked for me. I imagined having to leap across a chasm. Later I imaged a tiger behind me. You go that much faster using the adrenalin the body produced. This was not anger or fear but rather this was charging yourself up and discharging as fast as you can. You learn to do this without conscious thought.

After a couple of hours of contact fighting, I felt completely jazzed up from the tremendous feeling that for a period of time I had gone all out. It was exhilarating. Up to a point.

I came in hard to into another older, more experienced fighter. I may have been overly confident, but I knew that I was rather fatigued. He easily saw me coming in, just not as fast had I been a bit fresher. He sidestepped my launch and gave me a nice roundhouse punch to the side of the head. Even through the helmet, I felt completely undone. If he decided to finish me off with a second technique, I would have done nothing to stop him.

Now, Mike Tyson has a lot of issues going on, but he had it perfectly right here.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

This seems obvious, but he provides amazing insight to this kind of situation. And to any situation when you go with in something and all hell breaks loose. Whatever you were thinking just disappears and you go on instinct after that. If you have a second chance. More often than not, there is no second chance.

You realize how difficult it can be to actually hit someone that tries to evade you. If you miss, or he sidesteps, then you are likely at his mercy. I learned more by actually doing in those few months than the previous years of just constant training.

My next time at the westerns I won my division. Along with almost imperceptible notch I now have along the bridge of my nose when I was completely clocked between the eyes.

I managed to come in hard underneath to his ab region, and he came in hard overtop to my nose region. Only difference was that I pulled my punch and he didn’t. He dropped me pretty hard and I managed to crawl back to my side of the line. The head referee called it a clash. I called it taking advantage of the situation.

The good doctor came over and asked me if I wanted to continue. I said yes. I have not voluntary stopped anything I had ever started. Perhaps unwisely. The blood flowed pretty profusely during this time.

But he managed to pack my nose with a goodly pile of gauze. I retained my lead and win the match. I was told afterwards that I looked the saddest sight with that blood soaked uniform and a bit of gauze hanging from my nose. But fond memories regardless.

After that I began to wonder what other martial arts might have to teach me.

I spent a year or so learning hapkido. This is the Korean form of Japanese Aikido. My instructor spent several years instructing the Korean police force. The guy seemed ageless. His chest muscles were simply a series of muscular striations. He had no body fat or fear.

They simply taught general self-defense such as wrist locks and arm locks. Very handy if you want to immobilize someone instead of hitting them between the eyes. But they taught that too. I continue to enjoy the fighting and now the hands on grappling.

But I now have spent years working out in windowless basements, or dojos, or gymnasiums.  I start to look for something else to motivate me.

Blink

The Agile Body-2

When I started Karate at the Main Street dojo, our sole mantra was one punch, one kill. The idea being that your technique was to be so pure that you never needed more than one technique to defeat your opponent.

At the Main street dojo, we would always be encouraged to do something a bit crazier to show our dedication. We would often run around the block in our bare feet during middle of winter. Our feet would be quite swollen from the cold and it was quite a shock when our feet warmed up again.

Most often we would going back and forth across the hardwood floor. On occasion I would tear the callus off of the ball of my foot. The blood did make it easier to slide my foot across the floor. But they would generally order me off the floor and get fixed up.

I managed to strain the medial collateral ligaments of both knees. For years I couldn’t sleep on my side with my knees together.

My technique was good, but my competitions were hit and miss. I did manage to win the provincials for my division a number of times. With my left leg and left fist forward, I could easily launch myself several feet into my opponent. This usually overwhelmed them. But I did not do well in the next series of competitions of several provinces, called the Westerns.

I would launch myself at several people always stopping in time. But at this level, they never counted such a technique. I was completely stretched out and there was no indication that I was pulling my punch. You had to be close enough that you would have made contact and could have completely gone through the person had you chosen. Getting closer and closer trying to win a point just meant that I smacked into an opponent. Just lightly.

I continue my training and later that year a few of the old timer black belts got together at the main street dojo. They wanted to pull out the body armor they used to use for full contact fighting.

This was a completely new venture for me. The helmets have full face screens. The chest protectors were hard plastic. Softer material covered the shins. For hands we used the traditional bag gloves. Everyone brought their own cup, thank you very much.

For my next entry, I’ll cover off  how some of that experience went.

Still standing, so it went well enough.

Shock

 

The Agile Body

pexels-photo-356147 (4)I consider my body a temple. Not in a religious sort of way, but in a way that people gather together and exchange things. I may be actually thinking of the bazaar found outside some temples where people exchange money for goods and other services.

As a youth, I spent more time reading than I did playing sports and the like. I didn’t care much for the competitive aspect back then. When I turned 15 I finally started to approach exercise in a serious way. I did a bit of running, but I spent most of my time weightlifting or in the martial arts.

I spent a few months studying judo, but by the end of the class I usually managed a serious headache. I always seemed to have these serious debilitating throbbing headaches. Those thankfully finally stopped by the time I turned 20.

After judo, I found karate more to my liking. Most of time I went to the closest YMCA and studied there for a few years. On occasion, we would all load up to go to central dojo on Main Street. These guys seemed like the masters of old. They all had amazing speed and agility.

I am going to spend the next few days going through some of the various excercise programs.

A bit of weights, running, karate, yoga and finally biking. You have a to keep the body confused at all times.

Agile

A Thoreau style Personal Vision

pexels-photo-268660Creating ‘the vision thing’[1] took me several years. Ok, several decades, and I’m still working on it. Trying to create a personal vision in simple, clear and effective ways can be tough. Taking years kind of tough. If no vision comes to mind, then some of the collected works of the great essayists might provide you enough background to pick a particular way to create one. This might even include some of the greater poets (most aspire to reading poetry but I admittedly haven’t gotten the hang of it).

However, from a collected works perspective one of the greatest visionary writers would be Thoreau. By visionary, I suggest that the writer eloquently promotes an enthralling way of life clearly and simply. When Thoreau wrote that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation he suggested that they had no real goals or visions, just a continuous state of anxiety and drudgery. He wrote that living was so dear that he did not want to live anything that was not life. Although his time at Walden Pond was somewhat short, he only lived there for two years, he wrote a wealth of inspirational prose based on these experiences. He provides a classic explanation of his rationale.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately… and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.”

Here Thoreau paints a tremendous vision of what life should be all about, living deliberately. As a true leader, he does not necessarily flesh this out in any detail as to what his really means. However, he has set out a noble objective and he has left his readers with enough flexibility to determine how they might achieve such an objective. We can look at a later passage to see that living deliberately could mean any number of things.

“I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

Here we see that life can run the full gamut of a life solitary, brutish and short to a type of ecstasy only achievable by being part of it. To him, nothing is more important than life itself and having all of the money or beauty in the world will not make up for a life wasted, or even shortened. He does provide certain guideposts to determine what living deliberately would require, and this would be to “simplify, simplify, simplify”. It would be difficult to achieve one’s goal if one is surrounded by reams of trivia. Other non-life things would have to be put to rout in order to get to the core of the matter. This also includes cutting close in order to carve away what gets in the way and defining life as a type of art. The essence of any great art would be to do away with anything that gets in the way of the thing itself that is being represented.

Perhaps the other attributes of leadership are not quite there, such as facilitating the change required to make such a change. Simplifying life in order to get at the art of life may be more difficult than most of us would like to acknowledge. This again does not suggest that taking time to get the kids to soccer interferes with your living deliberately, since interacting with your children on any level could be the sublime part that Thoreau mentions.

We can look to see if there are any particular tactics you might try to use and free up some more of that precious, and most often limiting factor called time. The amount of time per day is already fixed, so we can only look at getting some more time available to set out other objectives you might want to accomplish. Do not expect time travel any time soon. Besides, if someone had already created it, you would think that they would have visited our time line already to try to find out what were we thinking when we did whatever it is that we did in the past.

Finally, you need the wherewithal to make available any resources that might be required to facilitate what you are setting out to accomplish. In a corporation, this might look like accessing the necessary training and people to accomplish a particular objective. Personally, this means something slightly different. Having the necessary resources could be as simple, or as complicated, as making the necessary time available to accomplish what you are setting out to do. This of course, can be really dependent upon your own personal situation. It can be hard to find the necessary time when you have to run the children to their hockey lessons across town, or if you are running double shifts just to put enough food on the table. Your time has already been set out to accomplish as much as you can in the time allotted. These various constraints will straighten themselves out in their own time lines, and this might not be the same as yours.

Thoreau suggests that the oversupply of resources might be what gets in the way of living a deliberate life. When he suggests that we should simplify our lives, we should be simplifying our purchasing at the same time. This runs counter to the majority of contemporary thinking that the objective of life would be to gather as many things as you can put your name on before you die. If this is not your sole objective, then it appears to be a major indicator that you ran your life well. A proud moment in any couple’s life is when they finally get their first house. Considering the life span of a mortgage, Thoreau suggests that the couple did not get their house, but rather, the house got them.

A Thoreau personal vision suits a slimmed down less stressful lifestyle which allows you to follow-up on the more important things in life.

 

 

Pixabay

Source: pixabay.com

[1] George H. W. Bush and “the vision thing”. Bush was not impressed with some advice to go to Camp David and figure out where he wanted to take the country.