My “Infinite Reading List”

I’ll never run out of reading material

Mobius Strip
(Image: canva.com)

Now that I’m a few weeks into my process to read more this year, I’ve decided to formalize something that’s been bouncing around the back of my head for a while.

I call it my “infinite reading list”.

No, not that there are an infinite number of books I’ll never get around to reading. Something smaller and much more practical.

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All Eyes are On You — Don’t Screw this Up

Democrats, you’re under the microscope

Gas Co ball, Trocadero, July 1941
Photo credit: State Library of New South Wales via Flickr Commons

In a recent political discussion, I discovered something shocking: the person I was talking with attributed the same horrible fears to my side as I did to theirs.

The bullet lists were nearly identical.

Wow.

I don’t believe there’s a short term fix. “How do we change their minds?” is not the question, because minds aren’t going to change any time soon.

The answer is both simpler and more difficult.

Show them they’re wrong.

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1918 – 2020

Flu Shot

“Investigators today believe that in the United States the 1918–19 epidemic caused an excess death toll of about 675,000 people”

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History was published in 2004, a full 15 years before COVID-19 would race around the planet beginning in 2019.

My greatest takeaway from this book might well be a sense of disappointment: in our inability to learn, in our government’s inability to lead, and in our inability to understand and trust science.

In other words, not a lot has changed in 100 years. And that’s sad.

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Upping My Reading Game

Biggest takeaway

(My apologies for the long delay between personal blog posts. All I can say is “2020”. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

When I was young I was a voracious reader. Lots and lots of books passed through my fingers. Once I discovered fantasy and science fiction the pace only increased. Being a socially awkward only child gave me lots of time to myself, and reading was one of the activities I thrived on.

At one point during my Microsoft career a manager turned me on to self-help and growth literature, and I was once again an avid consumer.

Fast forward <mumble> years and things have changed. I’m not the reader I once was. I watch my wife consume upwards of a book a day, while I’m lucky to do one or two a month.

I want to change that.

I think I have a plan.

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Chester

Chester (Brookehaven on Second Thought)
18-Apr-2007 – 12-Aug-2020

Chester the log dog
Chester the log dog

In 2011 we got a call from our breeder that, for reasons unrelated to the dog, she’d had one responsibly returned. The catch was that this was the son of one of our other dogs, Dagmar. It was an opportunity she wanted to offer to us first.

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Wear a Mask – Don’t Be A Dick

No, I’m not saying you’re a dick for not wearing a mask. Maybe you are, maybe you’re not, but that’s not what I’m saying.

In fact it’s very possible I’m saying exactly the opposite.

People are so freakin’ quick to judge, it’s frustrating. We’ve become so incredibly judgmental, and most often without even a shred of evidence. And yes, if that makes me sound judgmental, so be it. I also can’t tolerate intolerance.

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Science is Evolution in Action

Fire

There’s a line of thought among some of the COVID-19 conspiracy or anti-mask crowds running like this: do nothing and let people get sick. It’s how evolution works; the strong will survive, and humanity will be better for it. Besides, things aren’t as bad as [the government / the media / the liberals / the fraidy-cats] makes it out to be, anyway.

There’s a lot wrong with that thinking I won’t get into.

My point is more fundamental: it doesn’t have to be that way. Evolution can do better, and is, in fact, doing so right now. You can watch if you want to see it, and know where to look.

But you might also want to help.

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Was My Dad Ahead of His Time?

Assembly drawing, c1969 – Leo J. Notenboom (Click for larger image.)

Pictured above is a drawing my father created in or before 1969.

I don’t believe that it depicts anything particularly remarkable, but this isn’t my field.

What is remarkable is that this image exists at all.

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Father’s Day Thoughts

The Notenbooms, circa late 1957 or early 1958 (Click for large image.)

My dad (b. 1916) would have loved the internet.

I’m not sure he’d deal well with all the technology side of things — that could go either way: frustrated with the fragility, or stubborn enough to not let it get the best of him.

I think of him often, and usually in the form of “Oh, he would’a loved that!”

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How I’m “Stepping Away” From Facebook

(Because I’m “stepping away” from Facebook, I may post more frequent, shorter things on my blog https://leo.notenboom.org. For example the things I might have shared on Facebook might end up here. Or not. We’ll see. Interesting times.)

About a week ago I decided I really needed a break from Facebook. It was impacting my attitude, impacting my sleep, increasing my depression, increasing my anxiety, and decreasing my productivity. These are all things I’m normally extremely good at managing. But not here, not now.

You know the drill: Facebook bad.

But, of course, it’s not quite that simple.

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There Is No “Over”, There Is Only “New”

Health workers during the ‘Spanish’ influenza pandemic.

“When this is over…”

It’s a phrase we’re hearing or saying often, of late, frequently followed by a litany of activities to resume after things return to normal.

I’ll admit, it’s comforting to dream of a time when we’ll do what we did as we did before.

Unfortunately “when this is over…” is a lie.

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Looking For Opportunity in Crisis

Two months ago the coronavirus wiped out two thirds of Ask Leo!‘s ad revenue.

Two weeks ago a Google search algorithm update cut my traffic in half.

I’m not the only business in this position, online or off. For these and other reasons many businesses around the world are suffering.

Here’s what I’m doing about it, in the hopes it’ll give you ideas to follow along, survive, and perhaps even thrive.

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Control

These are scary times.

Angry times.

Frightening times.

Sad times.

Anxious times.

Fetal position not wanting to get out of bed times.

Needing to work on it all to stay sane times.

The trick, for me, is identifying what’s under my control, and what isn’t.

Focus on the former and let go of, or at least don’t dwell on, the later.

I don’t always succeed.

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What Can I Learn?

Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

Back in the day when I would look for a new position within Microsoft, one of my guiding questions was “what can I learn?” It was one of several criteria I used to evaluate opportunities. Rather than move to a new position doing the same thing, I preferred to find roles where I could both contribute and learn something new.

There wasn’t a plan, really; I wasn’t looking for something specific. I would just look at a job opportunity and see if there was something interesting for me to pick up. I think my career, both during, and post-Microsoft has benefited as a result.

It comes to mind because that approach feels like a huge opportunity in these “interesting” times.

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Notice Your Focus

This is not a meditation post, I promise.

Most meditation practices have you focus on your breath as part of the exercise. It’s always there (we hope), it’s always changing just a little, and it’s relatively easy to focus your attention on it. Some practitioners will say focus on where you feel it “the most” — being your stomach, your lungs, whatever.

When the monkey-mind isn’t successful in dragging me away from it, I focus on my sinuses. I find it absolutely fascinating what happens when I do.

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The Audacity of Positivity

In recent weeks I’ve run across at least two essays — one from a writer whom I respect greatly — that call into question those of us that try to maintain and share a positive outlook during these turbulent times.

The message seems to boil down to this: if you have the option of expressing some amount of positivity then you’re clearly not paying attention to what’s going on around you.

I beg to differ,

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Luck Isn’t Always Luck

I’ve lead a very lucky life, there’s no doubt. I reflect on it often, and try to remain constantly grateful.

But there’s an aspect to my “luck” a friend brought to my attention that made me realize there’s much more to it than the serendipity the word luck implies.

One has to prepare and be open to being lucky.

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This, Too, Shall Pass

Tears were running down my cheeks. Serious, vision-blurring tears. Which was probably a bad thing, since I was driving at the time, and my path included at least one school zone.

It was probably around 2001 or 2002, and I was on my way from my home to that of my parents. My mom had just called with some situation that my dad, who had alzheimer’s, had likely gotten himself into. It was a crisis of some sort — small or large — but the severity of each had been increasing over time.

I’d be in tears again on the return trip home. It’s hard to drive that same road today and not remember.

Dealing with my parents as they aged, being the designated on-call crisis manager, was incredibly stressful. But it was also incredibly educational.

I learned a lot about myself, and life, in those tumultuous days.

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Maybe Some Things Aren’t as Important as You Think

Pondering the importance...

We spend a lot of energy worrying about and stressing over things that, in the long run, aren’t really that important.

And by “long run” I really do mean long runs: decades and even lifetimes.

It brings to mind the book title: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and It’s All Small Stuff.” (Though I don’t quite agree that absolutely everything is “small stuff”.)

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Goals are Optional

At some point on our path the question changes from “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Same question, different words.

I could never answer either of them. Oh, I’d come up with something — “astronaut”, “lead engineer”, that kind of thing — but it was never a reflection of my true desires or goals. I had no idea what those were.

I’ve never really had life goals, and it’s worked out just fine.

I think I know why.

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