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Wide White: January 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011

Why you should read books to your infants

Mommy blogs are all the rage. A mom puts up a blog, starts typing and BAM! - she's got a part time job bloggin with all of the ad revenue she's getting from all of the other mommies drawn to what she has to say.

I haven't really seen that same phenomenon develop with daddy blogs. I've rarely even seen a daddy blog. I have no intention to start a daddy blog trend. But I do want to pause for a little public service announcement...

Read books to your children! Yes, that includes when they're infants staring blankly ahead, seemingly non-responsive.

Why should you do this? Well, there are studies out there to tell you why. I know this because my wife tells me they're there and she's pretty current on kid studies thanks to those mommy bloggers and her pure intellectual prowess.

Evidence for me often has to be experienced though. When Jamie started reading to Carson and Keira, they were pretty immobile and as far as I could tell didn't understand a darn thing she was reading. And really, they probably didn't.

But their brains were working. Jamie knew this because she read those nifty studies. I didn't because, well, logic just told me that was ridiculous. Their eyes wandered away from the books at first anyway. They seemed disinterested, but Jamie kept on reading.

I was playing with my kids this afternoon when Keira grabbed But Not the Hippopotamus, by Sandra Boynton (read her bio on Wikipedia or visit her website to see just how cool she is), and handed it to me. Well, she threw it at me, actually, but I got the point and read her the book.

Carson and Keira both love books. We read them at least one book every night before bed. We read books to them if they're fussy and need to be calmed down. Read them a book and they're hypnotized.

When I finished reading But Not the Hippopotamus this afternoon and put it down, Keira immediately picked it up and threw it back on my lap. She snuck a little fuss in there too, her way of begging, "Please read it again!"

Now, my kids have never said anything cohesive. Their communicative skills are minimal. Keira claps occasionally. Carson snaps his fingers and waves bye-bye occasionally. Neither really does much on command. They're still in the "laugh-cry-smile" communicative stage. But they love their books!

I read But Not the Hippopotamus to Keira again. And again and again and again. Finally after the 5th time reading the book, putting it down, and having it thrown back on my lap, I was able to quickly set the book aside in a hidden location.

Undeterred, she quickly found another Sandra Boynton favorite, The Going to Bed Book. She worked a few readings of that book out of me before I had to have a break and was able to hide that book too.

Keira is only 11 months old, but she already loves books. Sure, it's just as important that her dad's been making faces and babbling to her since she was a newborn. But it's so critical that her mom had the foresight to sit down and read to her when her dad didn't think it mattered yet.

Read books to your kids. They'll be better off for it. And as I'm finding with so many other things in parenting, so will you.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

How long will it take you to get here?

I've tried to be more conscious of giving accurate estimates for how long it will take me to get somewhere. We often use 5, 10, or 15 minute estimates and really have little intention of following through in that time frame.



Saturday, January 29, 2011

Putting 7 billion people into perspective

National Geographic put together a video that helps put the 7 billion people on our planet into perspective. The fact that struck me the most was how much space the 7 billion of us would take up if we all stood shoulder-to-shoulder. Any guesses? The answer is at 1:47.


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Thursday, January 27, 2011

The not-so-passive-aggressive bus rider

I've been riding a bus or train to work and other places for 4.5 years in the Twin Cities. I've lived in 3 different places during this time and have taken pretty much every type of route imaginable. I frequent both express buses carrying mostly office workers and local buses carrying a much more diverse group. I've taken every type of route at all hours that buses and trains run.

I often deal with passive-aggressiveness on the bus. Just yesterday I leaned my seat back, something I don't normally do except when I'm on 4 hours of sleep and nobody is sitting behind me. A woman sat down behind me shortly after that and opened up a newspaper, letting it rest on my head. After a few minutes of this - including page turns that swiped across my head - I started to think it was her passive-aggressive way of telling me she wanted me to sit my seat up. I just put on a hat so I didn't feel the newspaper, which I suppose was my passive-aggressive way of saying no.

But it's rare that I see any direct confrontation on a bus. Minnesota Nice tends to win out around here.

Today was a different day.

I get on the bus at its first stop of the day, so I always have a window seat. A few stops later as the bus fills up, someone usually takes up a seat next to me.

Bus seats are narrow. My estimate for the seat width of the bus I was on this morning was no wider than 36 inches, or 18 inches per person, and that's a generous estimate. By comparison, most coach airline seats are 17-18 inches wide per person.

I'm pushing 6'4". Leaning into windows and rubbing shoulders with my fellow passengers is a way of life on the bus. I normally sit in a seat that can be easily folded up to fit a wheelchair in its space. This seat offers at least 4-6 inches of extra leg room, which is a huge win for a tall guy. This seat also doesn't have two separate seat cushions, a fact that will matter in just a minute.

As the masses filed onto the bus this morning I began my daily wish that nobody would choose to sit next to me. This rarely works since I'm not overweight enough to dissuade people from sitting next to me. There's ample room in the seat next to me and being close to the front of the bus, it's usually taken quickly.

Sure enough, a guy about my size came hobbling onto the bus with crutches. I was in the first seat available to him, just 4 rows back and with plenty of leg room for him to stretch his bum leg. He plopped next to me - and I do mean "plopped."

There are three types of bus riders: 1.) those who maintain a space of at least 1 inch at all times between them and the person seated next to them, even if it means hanging off the edge of their seat, 2.) those who sit in the middle of their seat, unafraid to rub shoulders but attempting to make the best of the small space we're afforded, and 3.) those who think they own the entire seat and are being inconvenienced by needing to share it with anyone else.

This man fit the third category. His plop included mashing himself into my right leg, shoulder, and arm. "Great," I thought, "one of those guys..." But hey, the guy was on crutches and was probably just unsteady. No big deal, right?

As soon as the guy sat down, he slid away from me by about 4 inches, turned to me and said, "You're sitting on my seat."

Okay, this is a new one. In 4.5 years of riding the bus, nobody has ever said this before. I was about as jammed as I could be into the left side of the bus. My arm was resting on the window sill instead of the arm rest. If I mashed my body into the arm rest I could spare him a half-inch of my seat, maybe an inch if he's lucky. I could contort my body. I could...wait a minute, none of these are reasonable options. I was sitting squarely in my seat. I'd even shifted my legs to the left when he sat down so we they weren't invading any of his space.

I managed to respond with something like, "What do you mean?"

He was indignant and obviously upset. He pointed to the middle of the seat and repeated, "You're sitting on my seat!"

Part of the strap of the bag in my lap had fallen a couple of inches into his seat. I picked it up in case that was the offense and just responded with something like, "I'm sitting in my seat; I'm not sitting in your seat."

In a huff, he got up, spun around, and sat down in the seat behind me.

I started wondering whether the guy was right. Was I really taking up too much space? Had my broad shoulders gotten the best of me? Was there more to my 220 pounds than I thought?

I looked at the divider in the back rest that separated the two back cushions on the seat. My torso was definitely not invading his space. An argument could be made for my shoulders, but with 16-18 inches, that's a given for pretty much any passenger over 5'10". I double checked the cushion I was sitting on. It didn't have a divider since it was a solid cushion but again, I was squarely lined up in my seat. I started to wonder if the guy had assumed the seat cushion had a divider and because he couldn't see it, I must be taking up too much space.

Somewhere in the 3 seconds it took for this to run through my mind I heard him tell the woman in the seat behind me, "You're in my seat."

Ah, so that's how it goes. This guy just has issues. Okay, this could be interesting.

She sounded as confused as I had been and just responded, "What?"

He repeated, "You're sitting on my seat."

Unfortunately I couldn't tell you what happened after that as I didn't hear any words exchanged. He sounded exasperated with his last statement, as if he was the only person smart enough to figure out where people should be sitting and he was just going to have to give up on saving the rest of humanity that was packed onto that bus from their ignorance of proper bus seating.

All I could do was shake my head and keep on riding. At the next stop someone did sit next to me. They had ample room and in fact, we didn't even need to brush shoulders. Of course, it helped that she wasn't about the same size as me, wasn't wearing an over-sized coat and didn't have crutches.

I wanted to turn around as I got off the bus at my stop and just say, "I hope you have a better day," but I knew better. I could never have said that without a smug look that communicated something much different.

I'm just glad it took me 4.5 years of using mass transit to come across a guy like that.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Annual bonuses or base salary increases?

Is it better for a company to hand out annual bonuses or to simply go with annual raises on employees' base salaries?

What do you look for as an employee? Do you want a company that hands out bonuses to its employees?

The company I've been with for the last year now gives its employees an annual bonus. It's my first experience with that since my last company didn't hand out bonuses at all.

I'm always happy to take more money, whether it's in the form of an annual raise or a one-time bonus. You won't hear me complain!

Still, I was curious if one method benefits the employer more than the employee. Do bonuses provide a sort of short-term psychological boost to the employee while the long-term benefits go to the employer?

Some quick analysis gave me the answer. The data in the graph below represents 5 different pay scales. All trending lines begin with an annual salary of $50,000 in 2010. Four of the lines are calculated based on a strict 3%, 4%, 5%, or 8% annual pay raise. The red line is based on an annual 3% annual pay raise plus an additional 5% annual bonus (referred to from here on as "3+5").

10-year pay analysis

As you can see, the 3+5 starts out ahead of all of the others for the first two years. Of course, there's also a psychological boost of that first $2,500 bonus check!

But because the base salary is increasing by an even 3% every year the annual 5% bonus doesn't change much from year to year and because it's not part of base pay, it doesn't get factored in for future 3% raises. In fact, someone receiving an annual raise of 4% would be making more money than the 3+5 person after just 7 years. Someone with a 5% raise every year passes the 3+5 person after just 4 years.

Of course, that 3+5 person feels like they're getting an 8% raise, right? But if we actually compare the 3+5 salary with a salary that has an annual 8% raise, the person with the 8% annual raise is making more money in just 3 years.

The point of this isn't to say that companies giving bonuses are trying to pull the wool over their employees eyes. Again, I'm more than happy to take more money however my employer wants to give it to me!

This simply underscores the long-term effect of annual increases. If I were to extend the graph over the life of a typical 40-year career, each individual would end up with the following salaries in 2050:
  • 3% annual increase - $158,351.35
  • 3% annual increase + 5% annual bonus - $166,268.92
  • 4% annual increase - $230,818.30
  • 5% annual increase - $335,237.56
  • 8% annual increase - $1,005,764.88
Never underestimate the power of an annual percentage point.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wisconsin: "Open for Business"

Have you ever wondered why state welcome signs often contain the name of the state's governor? Not every state does, but many do, including Wisconsin's.

Well, Wisconsin's used to. Governor Scott Walker has replaced the state's signs containing former governor Jim Doyle's name with signs that say, "Open for Business."

Walker took a dig at Minnesota, among other neighboring states, with his statement explaining the signs.
"The pro-growth initiatives I support stand in stark contrast to those policies being discussed in our bordering states," Walker said in a statement. "These signs are aimed directly at job creators to make them aware that they are welcome here. As our neighbor states make it more difficult for private employers to create jobs, they can 'Escape to Wisconsin.'"
According to the last numbers I saw Minnesota's economy was doing better than Wisconsin's, but Walker seems pretty determined to change that. Whether or not he does - and I doubt he will - I like the fact that the governor's name is no longer on the welcome sign. It seems like a better use of space to advertise for the state instead.


Monday, January 24, 2011

It seemed like a good idea at the time

The other day Jamie said, "Having a baby always seems like such a good idea until I get pregnant."

It was just a moment of exasperation that I think every pregnant mom goes through because in reality, we're really excited about the prospect of the next one coming!

But after laughing (and sympathizing) with Jamie over the comment, my mind went down a bit of a rabbit trail. I thought about how often we say, "It seemed like such a good idea at the time!" Things that we do or say we later regret, even when well-intentioned, but we sort of excuse it because it seemed like a good idea.

One of the most recent examples of this in my own life was a blog post I had a few months back. I used some personal examples that, while kept anonymous, were still pretty hurtful to some people. After a few months and a number of conversations and emails, I removed the content, apologized, and asked for forgiveness. I realized that my reasons for posting what I did were really irrelevant. Nobody cared whether it was "a good idea at the time." It was made evident that posting what I did was a very bad idea.

What makes scenarios like this difficult is it's so easy for us to get hung up on what we thought were our good intentions that we lose sight of the hurt we've caused. I was hung up on that for quite a while. It took time and a good measure of grace for me to realize that "It seemed like a good idea at the time" had to be followed up with, "but it clearly wasn't."

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

There's a slapp for that

I've had this happen to me before. Nobody likes this guy.



Saturday, January 22, 2011

Elmo needs a lemonade

I have an uncle who does a voice just like this. What made me laugh with this video more than the voice was the reactions of the others in the car.


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Friday, January 21, 2011

Kent Conrad: a senator with a few principles

Senator Kent Conrad is a Democrat from North Dakota. He's served for 24 years and is retiring. I know very little about him and this post isn't about his policies. I know that he's a moderate who gets mixed ratings from both right and left wing groups, but the principles I see in him have nothing to do with his political stances.

Something caught my eye in a MinnPost story posted Tuesday about his retirement announcement. Eric Black said,
One more cool thing to know about Conrad: He was first elected to the Senate in 1986, as a deficit hawk, and pledged that he wouldn't seek reelection if the federal deficit didn't decline during his first term. It didn't decline, which wasn't Conrad's fault, but -- despite polls showing that North Dakotans wanted him to renege on his pledge and seek another term, he kept his word and "retired." When the state's other Senate seat came open soon after, he felt he could run without violating his promise, and he did run and he won.
I see politician after politician make campaign pledges, especially when trying to unseat an incumbent (as Conrad was), and renege on those promises. Conrad didn't do that.

No matter where you stand on any issues, a politician who keeps his word, particularly in such a difficult arena as politics in which to do that, deserves recognition.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Double-space or single-space?

I read an article the other day in Slate that argued against the use of double-spacing between sentences. The article begins,
Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.
Well, they didn't exactly leave any doubt as to where they stand.

I realize this is a pretty trivial subject, but it's something that anyone who writes has to wrestle with.

The old school way of doing things is to use double-space. That's how I was taught to type and is how I did things until sometime in the last year or two when I was called out on it by Bill. I realized pretty quickly that there really was no reason to put two spaces between sentences and it wasted a lot of time anyway. Of course it didn't waste a lot of time at once, but over time, all of those extra clicks add up.

But I'm curious, what do you do and why? I'm guessing most of us use one way or the other based on what we were taught, but I wonder if there are any other reasons or if it's something you've never even considered?

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to frame a news story

The opening paragraph of a Christian Science Monitor article I read the other day on new Republican Party chair Reince Priebus caught my eye. It said,
A year ago, Wisconsin’s political landscape would have been described as a healthy purple, overseen primarily by Democrats who prided themselves on being socially progressive but fiscally conservative. No more.
I have to take exception to how this story is framed. Notice the word that sets up the article. It's the word "healthy."

By using the word "healthy," the journalist has setup their position of what a good political landscape looks like. It's not a political landscape with one party in power across the board, but one in which both parties share oversight, right?

Well, for the last few years, Wisconsin's Senate, Assembly, and the Governor's office have all been run by Democrats. So presumably, this journalist is indicating that these Democrats represented a "healthy purple." In fact, the description of the state being "overseen primarily by Democrats" could be changed to "overseen solely by Democrats." And I can assure you that there wasn't much fiscal conservatism to be found in the bunch. Minnesota's missing $58 million in tax reciprocity dollars from Wisconsin are a testament to that.

Of course, without knowing any better, it's entirely possible that the Democratic Party had a number of those "healthy purple" moderates. But without knowing any better, it's equally possible the Republicans have a few as well, and that's really not the point here either way.

The point is the journalist needs to stay out of determining what's healthy and what's not. The journalist's job is to report the facts. It may be that purple is healthier, but let the reader make that conclusion.

I realize it's impossible for journalists - or anyone - to remove their personal perspective entirely from their stories, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating to see, especially when it's so blatantly obvious.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Another potential cause of autism

If you were hanging your hat on the now-debunked 1998 Wakefield study proving a link between autism and vaccinations and need a new silver bullet, a new study has come swooping in for the kill.

Okay, so it's a preliminary study, but still, this one says that spacing babies closer together results in higher rates of autism for the second baby born. Specifically, babies born less than 2 years apart apparently have shown significantly higher rates of autism than babies born more than 3 years apart.

Our next baby should be about 17 months younger than the twins, so of course we're freaking out and feeling like horrible parents for not spacing our next child out properly. We should have planned better! (Because these babies are very carefully orchestrated, planned events...)

If the thick sarcasm in the previous paragraph didn't get through, let me put it this way: this study doesn't change a thing for me.

Oh, it's interesting. I hope we find the cause of autism and maybe this study will reveal the importance of something like prenatal vitamins. But I can't help but wonder how many parents will intentionally space their children further apart out for fear of autism now. If a bogus study linking autism to vaccines could singlehandedly prevent parents from vaccinating their children, it's certainly not out of the question to expect people to start frowning on their friends whose children are spaced less than 2 years apart.

It's good to be aware. It's good to be educated. It's good to make informed decisions based on that awareness and education. But paranoia doesn't help anyone.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

A new chapter for Wide White

Wide White has moved to a new domain, URL, web address, link, or whatever word you use to describe the space where you enter websites you want to go visit. After almost 5 years at, Wide White has moved to

First and foremost, update your links and bookmarks! There's currently a redirect in place so if you type in the old URL, you'll be brought to the new URL. However, that's only because I'm still using Blogger, which is handling the automatic redirect. It won't last forever, so update your links and bookmarks ASAP!

Second, I'm moving from Blogger to WordPress. This move isn't happening immediately. Because Blogger handles page redirects from the old blogspot address to the new .org address, I'll be leaving the blog on Blogger so Google can update its links for Google searches and people aren't sent to dead pages. Once that's complete, I'll move to Wordpress. That move won't require you to update any links again, but you will see a new blog template at that point in time. It will probably be a few months until that happens. If all works as planned, you RSS subscribers shouldn't have to change anything since Google Reader should update everything automatically.

These changes should have pretty minimal impact on readers. For now, just update any links or bookmarks you have. Once I've made the switch to WordPress, you'll find better a better platform for commenting and I'll have a much more flexible blog platform to work with, among other things.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for taking the time to update your links and bookmarks!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

High score

I laughed for a few minutes when I saw this. The concept is hilarious.


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Saturday, January 15, 2011

A daddy-daughter duet

I've watched this video at least 3 or 4 times. I love it! I envision this being Keira and me in a few years.



Friday, January 14, 2011

Paul R. Nelson for Congress, Woodville, WI

This is part 5 of my summer job series. Click the following links for part 1, 2, 3, or 4.

By the time I got my 5th summer job I'd spent 7 summers between 4 jobs and was a college graduate. Aren't summer jobs over by then?

Well, technically, yes. But I was offered a job as a campaign manager for a U.S. congressional campaign and being that it was a temporary job, I consider it sort of a summer job. Besides, I'm getting a lot of really positive feedback on this series so why not extend it to one more post?

This job is in some ways the most exasperating and embarrassing job I've ever had and also the most life-changing. I was in my last semester of college in the fall of 2005. I was the president of the College Republicans on campus and was doing what I could to engage students politically in a civil manner. I'd been frustrated with the rather partisan tone I'd seen previous College Republican leaders take things on campus and was trying to help change that.

In our congressional district we were represented by Ron Kind, a moderate Blue Dog Democrat. The district was comprised of 19 counties in Western Wisconsin stretching from the Illinois border to Eau Claire. It was a 5-hour drive from north to south. The only candidate running for the Republican nomination was a guy named Paul Nelson who lived in Woodville, just 20 minutes from our school. I was able to get some of the college students involved in showing up to hear him speak and help him out a few times. By November he approached me about managing his campaign. He'd been impressed with my coordination of the students on campus and wanted me to apply that to his campaign full time.

I was planning to go to law school when I was done with college so this would be a diversion. However, law school wouldn't start until the next fall at the earliest and I still wasn't sure how I was going to pay for it anyway. I was seriously considering the National Guard to help pay for it if possible. I also knew that if I wanted a career in politics a job as a campaign manager for such a high-profile race was a great place to start.

Our first step was to negotiate salary. He asked me to draw up the contract. That really should have been my first warning flag. Typically an employer offers a salary and the employee then accepts, rejects, or counter-offers. When he asked for me to draw it up, I turned to my aunt for advice. She suggested I aim high because nobody ever offers more than you ask for! I asked for $45,000.

I wasn't stupid. I knew $45,000 was too much for a temporary job straight out of college managing a campaign with no experience doing that and a liberal arts degree in history backing me up. The reaction from the candidate was predictable. He countered with something along the lines of $33,000 with a $12,000 bonus if he won the election. I thought it was a fair compromise. Built into the $33,000 salary were my living expenses, with something like $500 a month being deducted from my paycheck in exchange for living in a studio apartment on the second floor of the candidate's house. The place really wasn't worth $500 a month but I wasn't going to complain.

Let me tell you a little bit about the candidate. My initial impression was of a Christian guy who home schooled his kids, was part of a very conservative home church, had a successful realty business, was a Marine veteran, and was politically passionate to say the least. While I wasn't exactly head-over-heels fawning over him, he seemed like a genuine guy who was a viable candidate.

My first memorable red flag came on a trip to Washington, D.C. We went to a conservative organization called the Leadership Institute for training in political campaigning. It was the type of seminar and workshop series that leaves you feeling like if you dot your i's and cross your t's following their methods, you will win your election! (NOTE: If you ever leave a seminar feeling like you suddenly have all of the answers, A.) they were successful and B.) there's a reasonable chance you're delusional.) While we were at this event the candidate, who was a spotless family guy back home, suddenly took up swearing on occasion. It wasn't a big deal to me but was odd given what I'd seen of him to this point. One evening we went to a bar and restaurant and he took up drinking. Let me rephrase that: he took up a LOT of drinking! He was so hungover the next day he couldn't sit through the workshops and had to leave a few times to throw up.

So 2 months into the campaign I knew that the guy had a bit of a double life, acting one way at home around family and church people and another when with a different crowd. That was a bad sign.

I also should have raised a red flag before I even started with the campaign when an expensive fundraiser on a river boat brought in a very meager crowd, half of whom was there for free for the purpose of adding bodies and making the event look halfway respectable (which it still wasn't).

But hey, I was running a campaign! We were traveling to all 19 of those counties, he was speaking at events, I was on a first-name basis with the attorney general and governor candidates (the attorney general actually won and is still in office and one of the two governor candidates just won election in 2010 and is Wisconsin's new governor). For a political junkie it was as exciting as it gets!

I spent a lot of time doing opposition research, finding parades to fit into our schedule, writing and sending press releases, traveling to events, trying to find volunteers, and trying to maintain my sanity in the midst of the 24/7 campaign schedule. The candidate took some time to let me know that he thought I should be working harder at one point that summer. Never mind that I often stayed at the office until midnight and was in by around 8:00 AM every morning or that my only day off was Sunday and even then, I was still on standby and often barely had time to make it to church before I had to be at another event. He documented the times I was posting updates on my blog and demanded no blogging while I was in the office. Never mind that many of those posts came out of the issue and opposition research I was doing. He also wanted more recruiting and management and less opposition research, campaign strategy, and other things that he considered menial. And at first I really tried to buy it. I told myself that he had some fair points. After all, he continually talked up his business résumé so I had to trust his wisdom and experience. Maybe I did just need to work harder than I was. Maybe I did need to quit those blog posts that took a whole 5 minutes of my 16-hour days. And so I tried to comply as best I could with what he wanted me to be doing.

As the summer dragged on and fundraising was almost nonexistent, he started to get increasingly desperate. He frequently came back to me with edits to my weekly press releases that inserted more forceful language. It started to get to the point where I was simply uncomfortable sending them. They were too harsh, too mean-spirited, too far-fetched. I remember one press release that had to do with a "wall of terror." He had photos printed of every Muslim terrorist who had been a part of 9/11 or any other terror act. He put them up on a wall and used them to show that if someone was Middle Eastern and was wearing a turban, we should profile them. That's right, he was advocating racial profiling. He went on the evening news in Eau Claire with that wall of terror behind him hammering his point home in defense of racial profiling. Nobody really cared about the issue but he was going to make it an issue!

I was really starting to hit my breaking point. But I was committed. I had signed that contract committing to the campaign through the end and I didn't want to back out on a commitment. So I plugged ahead, hoping something of the campaign could be salvaged.

Mercifully, it all came to an end in September when the candidate called me up to his office and asked for my letter of resignation. I couldn't have been more relieved. I asked him why and he simply responded that his expectations weren't being met. That was fair enough. Mine weren't either.

After I left the campaign it went from bad to worse. I started receiving calls from volunteers and staffers for other campaigns throughout the district asking what happened. I'll never forget a response I got from one of the staffers for gubernatorial candidate Mark Green: "WHAT?!? What are they going to do now? You're the only hope that campaign had!" That helped put to rest any insecurity I may have had. A colleague in the campaign office cried and gave me a hug as I packed my things. It was strange to be walking out, but it was so freeing!

The campaign continued to grow increasingly vicious. They ran through 3 or 4 campaign managers in the 2 months after I left. They aired a couple of TV ads that were literally the most controversial ads in the nation. The ads warranted the candidate time on the radio with shock jocks Opie and Anthony, but not on CNN. To this day I see clips from his ads aired on shows discussing how low political campaigning can get.

I'll never forget something the candidate told me the first time he took me aside for a walk around town to discuss his problems with my performance. He said, "If you want to just sit in a corner researching, that's fine, but anybody can do that, Joey. You'll never make more than about $50,000 doing it. You'll never make six digits as a data geek." He added something about needing to know how to manage and motivate people. (Never mind that we were competing with a number of highly competitive statewide races for volunteers and he wasn't open to collaborating with those campaigns for shared resources.) He also said he was running for Congress instead of state assembly because a Wisconsin assemblyman made $50,000 and a congressman made $160,000. "Joey, I've been a successful businessman and frankly, that would be a step backwards for me."

I say all of this because it makes the end results so sad. After the campaign ended the candidate filed for bankruptcy. His reputation in the area was in ruins and he moved to Wyoming, where last I heard he does flooring. As easy as it is to vilify him, I feel bad for him. He sold his dream home to run for congress. He believed passionately about what he was doing. And it all fell apart.

I could write a week's worth of posts on memories and lessons learned from this campaign. I learned that there are no more passionate people than political grassroots activists. They are the reason politics in America is so polarized, yet they are the lifeblood that keeps political campaigns going. It's a strange balance every candidate has to play between keeping the activists working on the ground happy while also appealing to the middle-of-the-road bums sitting on their duffs watching a political ad pop up between reruns of The Simpsons. It's the bums (okay, and a number of intellectual moderates) who decide these elections but they're rarely the ones putting in the manual labor for the candidates.

I fielded one complaint from someone who was offended by the behavior of a volunteer who was being very obnoxious at a 4th of July fireworks display. It wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't been sitting next to the candidate wearing a campaign t-shirt and talking loudly about how stupid the opposition was. I tried in vain to keep him off the campaign but it was another area where the candidate and I just didn't see eye to eye.

After I left the campaign I was pretty anxious. I'd never just been jobless and I began a frantic job search. I had no income source and a new girlfriend who would be needing a new ring a few months later. I had no idea where to turn but I was confident politics wasn't it. I knew I wanted to stay in the Twin Cities because of that girl. My dad offered me a job with him but it would have meant moving away from that girl and besides, as previously stated I was pretty convinced the manufacturing world wasn't for me.

One of the volunteers on the campaign was a senior software engineer for a software company in Minneapolis. I knew nothing about software companies but I knew I needed a job and with my history degree and political experience, just about anyone who was willing to hire me and pay a moderately decent wage was fair game. That engineer sent me an email and referred me to his HR department. I had a job less than 2 weeks after leaving the campaign, working as a Customer Operations Analyst in client support.

I was promoted 6 months into working at that job, largely because of the management experience I had on the campaign. Oh, and that girl I married? I met her at a church I was going to because of where I was living while working for the campaign.

I've tried to disassociate myself from that campaign as much as possible. My résumé lists the vague "Nelson for Congress." With enough Google searches someone could still track me down to the campaign but I don't want to make it easy for them. I'd hate for someone to think I was associated with that train wreck without knowing the full story.

There's a bright side to every experience, no matter how frustrating. This was one of the more exasperating experiences of my life but was also what led me to my wife and my career. I'm thankful for the experience. I'm equally thankful I never have to repeat it.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Delaware North Companies, Yosemite National Park, CA

This is part 4 of my summer job series. Click the following links for part 1, 2, 3, or 5.

Also, if you stumbled here while searching for information on jobs in Yosemite and want to know more about what it's like to work in the park, send me an email! You can also find currently available positions at Delaware North's Yosemite jobs page.

The best summer job I ever had is one I've talked about a number of times on this blog. In 2005, my last summer in college, I worked in Yosemite National Park in California for Delaware North Companies, the concessionaire who provides almost all services inside the park.

I first visited Yosemite on a road trip with a friend in 2004. I was hooked. When trying to figure out what to do for a job the next summer my attention turned to national parks. I researched a few and Yosemite seemed like a great fit, so I sent in an application.

My great-grandfather worked for the National Park Service in Yosemite in the 1930s. My grandma was literally born inside the park's hospital, which is now a clinic, and the houses she lived in are still used as homes for park rangers today. But it was more than that pulling me back to Yosemite. The 2 days I'd spent there were enough for me to know I wanted to spend a whole summer there.

I drove across the country, leaving my friend's graduation party in Maplewood, MN, and driving 26 hours before stopping in Austin, NV. Austin is literally in the middle of Nevada - their slogan is "Welcome to the middle of Nevada" - and boasts 340 people. It's referred to as a "living ghost town." I didn't care. I was stopped. I had used a few too many methods to stay awake on the drive out. I talked to a friend visiting Hawaii, which was 5 hours behind me. I took in a crazy display of Northern Lights in Nebraska (they saw them as far south as San Diego that night). During the day I read and re-read the only reading material I had, a welcome pamphlet telling me what to expect as a Delaware North employee in Yosemite. The reading offered enough stimulation to keep me awake. I only stopped for gas, otherwise I just kept driving.

I was scheduled to be in the park the next day and only had a few hours to go past Austin, or so I thought. When I got to Carson City I found out the mountain pass into Yosemite from the east was still closed due to the long winter. (It was the end of May.) So, I started through the Sierra Nevada Mountains just south of Lake Tahoe, made my way through a small snowstorm, and got to the west entrance to Yosemite, only to find that entrance closed as well due to flooding in Yosemite Valley, which is where everyone lives, works, and where most visitors spend their time. In fact, it was some of the worst flooding they'd ever had. So I had to double back to the city of Merced and find a hotel for the night.

When I showed up at human resources the next day I was an "unassigned hire," as most summer employees are were (I've been told by DNC they no longer hire this way; all new hires are hired into specific positions ahead of time). That means you don't know what you're doing until you get there and they fill positions as needed. You could be working as a housekeeper, scrubbing toilets, busing tables, serving fast food, etc. I was given my pick of jobs and decided to be a hotel porter. I headed back to get my ID badge and the woman behind the counter started making small talk. Something came up about me being from Wisconsin and being a cheesehead. A woman nearby overheard the conversation and mentioned that she went to school in Ashland, just 2 hours from where I grew up. As we talked she asked what I was doing for the summer and then if I really wanted to do that. Of course, I was open to other options. She asked if I had a background with teaching and with kids. I told her I'd been an education major until the previous semester and was the oldest of 11 kids. She asked if I'd be interested in giving tours instead, coming on board with the Interpretive Services department as a seasonal naturalist. She didn't have to ask twice!

And so began the best summer of my life. I was interviewed by Emily the next day, who worked for Julie, the woman I'd originally spoken with. Emily's first words were something to the effect of, "So I looked over your résumé and there's just one problem: I see you're a College Republican..." She had a smirk on her face and it was all good from there. Emily had also gone to school in Wisconsin at both UW-Green Bay and UW-Stevens Point, both within a few hours of where I grew up. She's originally from the Twin Cities and remains a good friend to this day. Her interview was mostly along the lines of, "Here's what the job entails, but don't feel like you have to take it if you don't want it." The job was highly competitive with students in that field and it was only open because an employee lined up to take it backed out at the last minute and they were scrambling for someone to fill the position. It really is amazing that we were able to connect the way we were.

I gave tours of the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, led amphitheater programs, took kids on nature hikes, ran an hour-long astronomy program, led campfires (guitar and hip cowboy hat in hand), and really just had a blast. In my free time I hiked as much as I could, over 200 miles by the end of the summer.

It's tough to convey how much that summer meant - and still means - to me. The skills I learned in public speaking and leading large groups are still with me today. I learned to value nature more than I ever had before. And to this day I often wish I could be back there working in Yosemite. It's not uncommon for people to go there for a short-term job and never leave. I've been back twice since, both times with my wife. When we went this summer, it was at her request. She's hooked too. I occasionally check Delaware North Companies' job listings to see if there's anything out there that matches my fields of interest.

Being a history major and a bit of a research nut, I quickly became the resident expert on the Ahwahnee Hotel, doing what I could to clean up any bad history in existing materials and adding any new material I could find. I'd run over to Emily's office and ask, "Have you ever heard this before?" I hope to stay in that hotel some night. It costs around $400 a night and they have 96% occupancy year-round, but I'm determined to make it happen, even if it's just for a night! I spent too much time studying and being in that hotel to not sleep in it just once.

I was not a fan of the astronomy program. In fact, I protested having to do it quite a bit. Emily really pushed for me to do it though, regardless of the fact that the stars held no interest for me. So I researched and worked to hone a program that I thought I could deliver. I went into that first program with a piece of paper with all of my notes and a little flashlight in case I needed to refer to it. I presented my program and at the end, I had told the group of people present every single fact I knew about the sky. That was it. There were no more things that I knew about the sky. Nobody could ask me a question because I wouldn't have known the answer. A woman came up to me when it was over and asked, "Are you an astronomy major?" And so did another. I couldn't believe it! As flattered as I was, I felt like I'd fooled them!

Of course, you can't always fool everyone. One night I had a man who worked for NASA on my astronomy program. His wife made sure to keep him relatively quiet, but he wasn't without his interjections. I think I sweat bullets through that entire program after finding that out, sure I was getting each fact wrong.

Of course, working in a place full of tourists we had to deal with normal tourist stupidity. But honestly, when you're working in a place that beautiful, it makes it a lot easier to deal with. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's totally true.

I had a number of crazy weekends. The craziest was probably the weekend I went to visit my friend in Sacramento. I left as soon as I got off work and arrived late. We stayed up all night and went to church together the next day. I left that evening and decided at the last minute to head to Los Angeles to see my uncle and aunt. It was about a 5-hour drive but I figured I could make it. I stopped to sleep a couple of times and pulled in the next morning. I visited with them for an hour or so and then left, driving through LA and then to Pasadena to see the Rose Bowl. I went on to Joshua Tree National Park, where I did a few short hikes, and then headed back towards Yosemite. By this time it was the evening before I needed to be back. I had to work at noon the next day. I pulled over to sleep along the highway and woke up much later than I'd wanted. In spite of the fact that I was cutting it close, I still decided to make a couple of detours to see some things I'd been meaning to see, including the Devil's Postpile. Visitors to the Devil's Postpile are required to park and take a shuttle in to see it. I knew I had no chance of making it back in time and was able to convince the rangers at the gate to let me in since "I work in Yosemite." I made one more detour that would almost be my downfall. To make a long story short, I got stuck in sand on a trail meant for dune buggies and spent a half-hour or so jacking up my 4-cylinder 1994 Mazda Protege and propping it up on sticks and rocks to get it out of the sand hole I'd dug myself into. I made it to work about a half hour late and I don't think anyone believed me at first when I told them all of the places I'd been that weekend.

I miss my time out there. That's a time in life you only have once, where you're single and have this whole park to just explore. It's something I wish everyone could have the chance to do once.

There are other stories I could tell, of a Harley ride to King's Canyon and Sequoia National Parks with my uncle, of a couple of crazy hikes up to Half Dome, of a 35-mile solo day hike that was nothing short of insanity, and of the friends I made while I was there. But I'll save those for another day.

I have nothing but fond memories of this job. I've often recommended it to others and have yet to see someone take me up on it. I suppose the pay could be better. The hotel porter gig would have been $7.50. As it was I was paid $10 an hour. Of course, this was a few years ago and I'm sure pay has gone up since then. Employees do have to pay union dues, which is especially frustrating for a summer employee. I thought it was good pay for summer jobs out there, though I know there are better-paying jobs elsewhere, especially when considering the cost of getting out there in the first place. But you won't find another job that provides that kind of a wild, adventurous, inspiring experience.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

AirPro Fan & Blower Company, Rhinelander, WI

This is part 3 of my summer job series. Click the following links for part 1, 2, 4, or 5.

For my first two summers in college I worked for my dad's company, AirPro. He was starting the business manufacturing industrial fans and I was what I would label a "shop rat."

I made trips to pick up materials. I painted fans. I assembled fans. I did some light welding and metal cutting. I operated a forklift.

Of all of the jobs I've had, I think I have more memorable stories from this one. Part of it was the fact that it was a startup business. Things are always more interesting with startups. Part of it was it was a machine shop, which was really outside of my element.

I had a few incidents with the van and trailer I used to haul materials. On a return with a load of steel I realized the tailgate on the trailer had fallen off. It was big, probably 8x4 feet, and I knew it was lying in the middle of the road a few miles back, just waiting to take out someone's tires. I had to turn around ASAP. I was on a 55 MPH highway and pulled off into a driveway, deciding to attempt a 3-point turn. Halfway into maneuvering what I'm sure became at least a 5-point turn, I saw a car coming and knew I had to hurry. I made my final turn and decided I had enough clearance to keep going. The sound of metal on metal told me that I didn't have as much clearance as I thought as the trailer punctured a hole in the corner of the van.

In another incident with the van I realized I had gone past the road I needed and had to turn around. (Are you seeing a theme with turning around?) This time I was free of the trailer but no better a driver. I pulled off on the shoulder and was again going to make a 3-point turn. The tall grass on the side of the road hid the fact that after the one foot of gravel shoulder there was a 2-foot drop straight down into a marshy area. The front right side of the van plummeted and the van was left teetering. A passerby offered to call a tow truck once they got service since I was in the middle of nowhere. After about an hour, a visit from an obviously disgusted deputy to help with traffic diversion on the small county road, and a $75 tow truck fee later, I was free again.

My uncle, an engineer at the company, still talks about an incident where I got stuck with the forklift. I was taking a load outside the building and got stuck in some soft sand in front of the building where the street was being repaved. The guys working on the street came to my aid with a big front end loader. They attached a chain to the front end loader and hooked it onto the forklift. My uncle said he looked out the window and the appearance was that my rinky-dink forklift was hauling this huge front end loader.

I did a lot of painting. As a small company trying to meet shipping deadlines, we had a number of cases where I was there until 2 AM trying to finish a paint job for a fan that had to be assembled, tested, and shipped out the next day. In some cases the paint was still wet as it went on the truck, normally spots that I was touching up at the last minute. After those summers I have a huge appreciation for painters!

I have a few scars from my time there. In one case I got careless with a grinder and put a big slice into my knuckle. In another case my brother and I were trying to flip a huge sheet of metal. It was 6-8 feet long and between 1/2 and 3/4 inches thick. We were dumb enough to try to flip it on a table, which didn't work. The sheet came sliding down and did some fairly significant damage to the skin on my hands.

After two summers, I felt I had received pretty solid confirmation that I had not found my calling in life. I made $10 an hour my first summer and $7.50 an hour my second summer. (I could explain that reverse in fortunes, but I don't recall all of the details of my conversations with my dad over that agreement, just that that's what it was.)

I go back to visit the shop at least every few years. After my first summer they moved locations and have since expanded on that location a few times. The place is a professional outfit that's impressive to see.

But on the wall in the break room is a picture of me after a long day of painting, covered head to toe. It's a reminder of where the place has been - and really, of where I've been.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Shopko, Rhinelander, WI

This is part 2 of my summer job series. Click the following links for part 1, 3, 4, or 5.

My 2nd job was at a Wisconsin-based retail store called Shopko. The starting salary of $6.25 an hour was a $0.50 raise from my previous job.

I started out as a cashier since that's what I'd done at the grocery store. I was training another new employee a week after I started. Within 2-3 months my boss recognized that I was bored and moved me to stocking shelves. I spent most of my time stocking new shipments, unloading trucks, backstocking merchandise that didn't fit on the floor, and restocking the floor.

I remember them training me for a few months to take on a role of a full-time employee who would be going on vacation. Right when her vacation came up my little brother's Little League baseball team made the state tournament and my dad was pretty insistent that I go with the family. I was sure I'd lose my job for it, but as mad as my boss was, I lived to see another day at the store...

A year or so in I got a new boss, Tom. We never got along very well. I didn't like him and he didn't like me. He gave me a written warning once because he claimed that I put the price stickers in the wrong spot in the lamp aisle. He tried to deflect responsibility and say the store manager was really particular about the lamp aisle and it was him who really had the beef with me, but the store manager never said a thing about it. I argued my point with Tom since I thought he was crazy and only signed his written warning when he assured me it only meant I'd read it, not that I agreed with it.

Our security guy would occasionally ask us for backup. One time, 5 or 6 of us were called off from unloading a truck to come up to the security room and help with a bust. We watched the security cameras as a group of 3 people in their 20s with a baby in a car seat stuffed CDs into a diaper bag and the car seat. We were then stationed near the entrance of the store to help in case they tried to run for it when they left. Thankfully they didn't.

That same security guy was later fired when he used a key to get into an employee's locker, take her car keys, and prank her. I think he pulled her car up to the emergency parking area and left it there.

The music selection in Shopko was awful. To this day I refer to songs on their playlist as the "Shopko Classics." It wasn't uncommon to hear the same song twice in a shift, which got pretty old after a few years of working 5 days a week.

By the time I left I'd worked in every department except Optical. I helped out in the pharmacy a few times, lawn & garden in the spring and summer, and pulled the night shift during a couple of winter breaks in college. When I left I was making something like $7.15 an hour, not much, but enough to pay for my first year and a half of college.

I think everyone should work retail at some point in their life. It gives you a whole new appreciation for people, both customers and employees...

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Cirilli's County Market, Rhinelander, WI

This week I'm going to take a look at the summer jobs I had in high school and college. Click the following links for part 2, 3, 4, or 5.

I got my first job at age 14. I had looked into getting a paper route for a while but that never went anywhere. I started looking around at places that would actually hire a 14-year-old kid and decided to go for a grocery store. I figured anyone could bag groceries.

I dropped off an application at Trig's, a local grocery store with a few locations in Northern Wisconsin. I didn't hear anything back so I turned to the only other store in town, Cirilli's County Market. The Cirilli family had owned a grocery store in Rhinelander for as long as anyone who had ever lived there could remember.

I walked into the store and asked for an application at the front desk. I left the store, spent an hour or so filling it out, and returned with my mom to hand it in. When I did, Jeff Schultz walked up to the front desk. He was the co-owner along with Tony Cirilli. My recollection is bad, but I think he was somewhere around 50, a little tall and big. Mary Raabe was working behind the counter and he asked her (and me?) who I was. She told him I was applying and handed him my application. He took a quick look at it and said, "Hire him!"

I spent the next year bagging groceries and the year after that as a cashier. Being home schooled, I often worked during school hours, which always threw people off. I wonder how many people shook their heads at the screw-up high school dropout who bagged their groceries.

I started making $4.75 an hour, which was minimum wage for the initial 90-day probationary period for a minor. When I left I was making $5.75. I remember when an older kid who'd been working there for a few years longer than me happened to see the hourly wage on my paycheck when we picked them up at the same time one day. I was making only $0.10 less than him. Let's just say I didn't know many people working there for the pay.

There are a lot of memories from that job. I remember Tuesdays, with a BOGO deal on all bakery bread and a 5% senior citizen (55+) discount that made me sweat every customer who appeared to be between the age of 50 and 60. I remember making the 3-mile bike ride in 10 minutes because I only had 10 minutes to get to work. I remember working on Christmas morning - yes, they were open Christmas Day - and thinking how horrible every person was who was shopping instead of at home. I remember Mary yelling at me for stopping for a few minutes to talk to a coworker and get a drink and then writing her an apology letter that made her feel terrible about it. I remember Tony's kid working at the store and clipping inappropriate articles from magazines and posting them in the break room. I remember Anne Marie wearing Bears shirts anytime they played the Packers. I remember taking loads of bread, cakes, cookies, donuts, etc. home from the bakery the day after it would expire.

I remember a whole lot of other things that probably don't mean much to most of you, but I learned a lot at that job.

Cirilli's County Market closed not long after I left, shutting down not long after the Walmart Supercenter opened across the street. I had a few more siblings after me who worked at either County Market or the subsequent, short-lived store they opened, Save-a-Lot. It's always sad to see a small town icon like that disappear. I'm just glad I was able to be a small part of it towards the end.

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

The best elevator pad ever

I wonder what percentage of corporate America would have trouble figuring out which floor they'd need.


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Saturday, January 08, 2011

A marble run to end all marble runs

This is awesome.



Friday, January 07, 2011

To vaccinate or not?

Our family was interviewed by WCCO yesterday on the connection (or lack thereof) between vaccines and autism. Our kids were cute, Jamie talked, and I spit. Well, we both answered each question that was asked, but she clearly had the more intelligent, camera-worthy responses since none of mine made the air!

I didn't really intend to get wrapped up in this debate. I suppose most people really don't. Jason DeRusha, a WCCO report, anchor, and prolific tweeter, posted to his Twitter account,
Two casting calls: 1) Anyone buy a big screen TV in the last 6 months? 2) Anyone avoid getting shots because of autism fears? Message me!
I definitely didn't fit the first category and I didn't exactly fit the second either, but I did respond,
@DeRushaJ We used to avoid shots. Eventually realized the lack of shots/autism correlation and don't avoid them anymore.
Long story short, they decided they wanted to interview us, picked me up from work, headed to our house and interviewed us.

So that's how we got our 2 minutes of Twin Cities fame.

But what about the issue at hand?

I realize the concerns of the anti-vaccine crowd. I could go through them point-counterpoint style, but I won't. I'm not interested in tearing the anti-vaccine crowd apart. If you don't want to vaccinate your kid, that's up to you. You are impacting the rest of the population by making that decision, and that matters, but still, it's not anyone else's job to force you to agree to vaccinate.

I want to do for my child what I would want done for myself. I'm glad I'm vaccinated. Therefore, I want the same for my child.

Of course, my position has been shaped on research and discussions with doctors, nurses, and midwives we've had over the last few years.

Here's some of the hard evidence. The now-debunked British study that supposedly proved a link between autism and vaccines was published in February 1998. The Associated Press notes that since that study,
Immunization rates in Britain dropped from 92 percent to 73 percent, and were as low as 50 percent in some parts of London. The effect was not nearly as dramatic in the United States, but researchers have estimated that as many as 125,000 U.S. children born in the late 1990s did not get the MMR vaccine because of the Wakefield splash.
CNN reports the effect of this drop,
The now-discredited paper panicked many parents and led to a sharp drop in the number of children getting the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination rates dropped sharply in Britain after its publication, falling as low as 80% by 2004. Measles cases have gone up sharply in the ensuing years.

In the United States, more cases of measles were reported in 2008 than in any other year since 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 90% of those infected had not been vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown, the CDC reported.
I don't think it can be disputed that there's a direct correlation between an increase in measles and a decrease in the MMR vaccine that protects against it.

There's also concern that the rise in autism rates over the last 30 years corresponds with the increase in vaccines that children receive. Personally, I don't see this as being any more of a correlation than the increase in Big Macs consumed by toddlers, but I'm not a scientist and could be way off base. All I'm trying to say is I think vaccines are unjustly targeted.

I also wonder if we simply are diagnosing cases as autism that were previously undiagnosed. People speak of the "autism spectrum," and there are autistic people who are very high-functioning who may have simply not been diagnosed as autistic until more recently. Of course, this is really just speculation, just as a potential correlation between vaccines and autism is speculation in the first place, so take it for that it's worth.

I'm surprised that anti-vaccine people seem to ignore the good that vaccines have done and continue to do. The number of diseases that have been reduced or eliminated since the greater population started getting vaccinated is alone a testament to their effectiveness. Even if one could prove negative effects from vaccines - and there's little doubt that there are occasional negative effects, though autism certainly hasn't been proven to be one of them - these are far outweighed by the positive effects.

Perhaps most important is that refusing to vaccinate impacts the entire population, not just our own children. Because infants shouldn't be given certain vaccines until they're older, we rely on the rest of the population to be vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of diseases to these children. A whooping cough outbreak in California killed 10 infants last year, all under the age of 3 months. These were preventable deaths. Of course, there's really no way to ensure that 100% of the population is current on their vaccines. Honestly, I have no idea if I'm up to date on my vaccine for whooping cough (it does wear off over time). But I don't want to intentionally avoid them either and being that I'm around babies every day, I want to be especially careful.

I know people who won't allow their babies around people who don't vaccinate. At first I didn't understand this mentality at all. But given the health risk that can pose, I can understand their concern.

This subject is difficult because our society is increasingly pushing us pills and an increasing number of people are rightly rejecting them. My infant doesn't need a children's Tylenol just because he's been fussy for 10 minutes. I don't need an aspirin just because my head hurt for a couple of minutes. These remedies should probably be saved for more significant circumstances and I suppose that's the same vein in which anti-vaccine people are operating.

But vaccines are critical. The unvaccinated are really only protected by the vaccinated against disease. As is happening with measles, the more people go unvaccinated, the more the diseases will spread. That's not a place I want to see us going.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

I love meetings!

When's the last time you heard someone say they love meetings? Probably never. And if your typical meeting ends with, "Let's get back to work!" why would you?

I really do love meetings. I love the collaboration, head-butting, emotion, laughter, interaction, and growth that comes through meetings. Maybe that's more typical of a small company but that's generally my experience.

However, the key to those meetings going well is that they're well-run. People hate meetings because they're poorly run. They end them with, "Let's get back to work!" because they feel that no work is accomplished in the meeting.

There are a few key factors that I've found contribute to a quality meeting.
  1. It starts on time. This is absolutely critical! I have a client who starts almost every meeting 20 minutes late. He's rarely prepared. For our last meeting nobody had the link for the web conference we were supposed to join until between 10 and 20 minutes into the meeting. By the time the meeting got started 25 minutes late, 2 people who were needed on the call had to leave for another meeting and weren't able to participate. When the meeting host apologizes for the late start and you don't feel like you can honestly say, "It's okay," there's a problem.
  2. It has an agenda. This doesn't need to be an itemized, bullet point list. It just needs to have a purpose. If it's a presentation, it will have a flow. If it's a weekly department meeting, it has a structured format. I had a call a few weeks ago where the client called me 10 minutes before the meeting started to go through the topic of the call, which I'd been working to get from him for a few days. Needless to say, the call was run pretty haphazardly.
  3. Someone keeps the meeting on task. The more people that get into a meeting the more potential there is for tangents. Tangents can be good for a minute or two, but someone has to reign everyone in.
  4. Limit the meeting to people that need to be on it. I can't count the number of calls I've sat in on where I spent the whole hour with my line muted, responding to emails. Don't invite people to a meeting "just in case we need them." If you need them, call them after the meeting is over.
I could go on, but these are my top 4. If these 4 things are followed, meetings tend to be pretty productive. I often see meetings where a week's worth of emails back and forth are saved by a simple discussion with everyone in the same room.

What would you add to the list? Do you have any fun experiences with meetings gone bad?

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

With a rate that low, what's the point?

Jamie has a federal student loan through Wells Fargo. When we got married it carried the highest rate of interest of any debt we had at over 7%.

What we didn't realize at the time is the loan is a graduated loan where the interest rate reduces after so many on-time payments in a row.

After a year or two it dropped to around 4% and a year or two ago it dropped to just over 2%, both times out of the blue for us since we didn't know what the schedule was.

This week we received a letter saying it had dropped by another 2% to 0.22%. Basically, Wells Fargo is loaning us money for free.

Yes, we make the minimum payment on this one. It's crazy to me. It's a Stafford loan so I imagine there's a government incentive attached to the rates, but I could be wrong.

I'm not complaining. I just can't believe they make any money on a loan at 0.22%. I understand the concept of an introductory rate of 0% since it always increases after 12-18 months, but a rate that declines over time? Wow!

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The impact of grief on the outside observer

Grief is something I don't understand very well. I've never lost a parent or a sibling. I lost one grandparent at 17 but have otherwise had a relatively grief-free life.

Others have not been so fortunate.

This Sunday we visited a new church - well, new to us - and one of their elders had just lost a 35-week-old pre-term baby. Needless to say, the church was grieving.

Last week we had an appointment with our midwife for our own baby, who's now 13 weeks along. At some point the conversation turned to her own family and she told us of her 7-year-old daughter who she lost this summer to meningitis. She mentioned that we may have seen the story on WCCO. She showed us a picture and Jamie teared up just listening and imagining the thought of losing our own child at such a young age. Later, I found the story and her CaringBridge site and teared up more times than I could count by the end of it.

There are many other stories I've heard and seen over the last couple of years. A 10-month-old died due to a "freak" accident involving food lodged in his throat and becoming infected. Another story involved a full-term stillbirth. My brother and his wife have been through two miscarriages in the last year.

Each of these families has endured grief that has changed them for the rest of their life in some way.

What's the purpose of all of this? Why were these little lives brought into the world only to be taken away so quickly?

I can't answer why. I suppose that's the question that each of these parents wrestles with and hopefully eventually comes to terms with. Sure, I can give some textbook theological answer, but those answers are often rather insufficient when the real scenario is being played out away from the textbooks.

But I'm thankful that there are parents who choose to tell their stories. People like me need it. We need the perspective it gives us towards our own children, towards our parents, towards our siblings. We need it as a reminder the next time we start to lose it with our 10-month-old's fussing or our spouse's (or our own?) seemingly incredible stupidity. We need it when we're tempted to run out the door for work in the morning rather than lean in for a goodbye kiss.

Grief is hard, but we need to see it because it helps make us better at the relationships we have. We need to see it because we will experience it. We need to see it so we can walk alongside those going through it and weep with them.

Thanks to Chad and Bridget, Abraham and Molly, Chet and Priscilla, and many others of you who tell your stories. They mean more to the rest of us than we know how to tell you.


Monday, January 03, 2011

Scream wars

Kids love to scream. No matter how quiet your kid is now, they will likely begin screaming at some point. I'm not talking about screaming about a toy that's been taken away or crying or whining. I'm talking about just screaming for the sake of making noise, because it's fun and hey, why not?

Some, like my son, will scream for the fun of it at various times throughout any given day for no apparent reason. Others, like my daughter, are more selective in their screaming. (Hmm, maybe there's a gender pattern to it...)

Regardless, screaming - or loud noises at the least - happens.

There are two ways most people deal with happy, screaming children.

1. Control them. Tell them to stop screaming. Mind you, this is pretty futile. It may work when they're 4, but I couldn't tell you. I can tell you that it hardly works on 10-month-olds.
2. Deal with it. Let the kids have at it and make as much noise as they want. It may drive you (and your neighbors) crazy, but at least the kids aren't crying, right?

If you're like me, there's a 3rd option.

3. Join them. Scream right back. Not in anger, of course. Again, this is fun, happy screaming. Bonus points if you can match their pitch.

What I love about screaming with them - I call it "scream wars" - is they laugh at me. As soon as I start mimicking them, they catch on. They start beaming and then will scream, stop, and wait expectantly for me to scream back. As soon as I do, they both giggle.

Trust me, it's a whole lot more fun than either of the first two options.

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Sunday, January 02, 2011

If animals could poke fun at humans...

...they'd do stuff like this.



Saturday, January 01, 2011

Creative Christmas message

I know, Christmas was a week ago, but I came across this on Christmas Eve and wanted to share it.

It's creative, thoughtful, and even funny. Check it out.

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