Marketing, Minneapolis, Music & More

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

I’ve been reading a lot lately, well really the last year.  A very large amount of that has been work reading–learning about solar power, climate change, decarbonization of the planet andelectrification of our power systems.  But about two months ago, I hit a wall.  I was tired of reading for an hour every night about work.

So I picked up three novels.  The first was Ham on Rye by Bukowski, which came recommended from a friend.  Very good.  The next was In Cold Blood by Capote.  This is nonfiction writing, which is not really my forte, but trying new things with books is always good.

In Cold Blood is the story of a small town Kansas family who is brutally murdered with essentially no clues left behind.  It’s the story of a detective and his team trying to puzzle together who could do such a heinous thing and, just as importantly, why they would.

The book is told as a semi mystery, however it becomes obvious who actually dunnit within the first half of the book.  At that point the story turns more mysterious, trying to understand the reason why the murders happened is likely as curious as the actual act.  Capote is excellent at his craft, creating visible, human characters with stories to tell.  Seemingly no matter how small the person presented, they are effortlessly painted in human tones.

Chapters are normally short and poignant.  Words are similar.  Capote was capable, he was caring.

He showcased the murders for what they were.  He didn’t blanche at their brutality but he didn’t turn it to pornography either.  He simply told the story through those who knew it best.

The story does have an ending.  Perhaps as interesting as anything written here is the psychoanalysis of the captives, along with their cell mates.  Holding cells and time to view that slow train coming.  Acceptance, consideration and attempts at self preservation.  Any day now, any day now.

Music Streak — When I Was 33, It Was A Very Good Year

The last three months I haven’t purchased an album I didn’t like.  Normally my purchases have a 50% “value” ratio where it’s a good album and will get listened to again in the future.

Some albums hold up for a few spins and otherwise aren’t paid attention.  Some get a huge amount of rotations during the year and eventually fade out.  Most albums follow this route.  Some last two years and fade.  Then there are the upper echelon of albums that are played repeatedly over the years.  Very few albums break into this area simply due to inability to come to mind as something to listen to out of nowhere.

This is why certain artists continually get more plays.  Dylan especially has created so many “timeless” albums that were, are and will forever be great.  I’ve been on a hot streak lately, it’s been like ten albums straight of really good music.  It’s going to be a very difficult time to choose top albums this year.

Here are some albums to check out if you are looking for something new:

Okkervil River – Away
Conor Oberst – Ruminations
Frankie Cosmos – any of her albums, but the most recent is fantastic
NOFX – First Ditch Effort
Atmosphere – Fishing Blues
Bon Iver – 22, A Million

There are some older records I’ve been listening to as well, but I’ll wait until the year ends to put together the proper list.  Hopefully I’ll be writing a good amount during that time as I’ll be taking some much needed vacation.

Life Today

Life today is mostly focused on parenting and work.

And it’s a lot of fun, despite that sounding relatively mundane.

The truth is, as you get older, things slow down and get a little more predictable.

They need to.

So here’s a brief update:  new day care for Juni all is well there.  Work is very busy at this point of the year with lots of travel and business planning for 2017 in full swing.  Teresa is starting school again and we’re trying to decide if we want to put in new fireplace inserts as it gets coooooooold here.

Summer went too fast.  Juni is growing up too fast. It’s tough to keep up.  Hope you are well.

Ham On Rye

Charles Bukowski is a writer I’ve been hearing about, off and on, for years.  He has been referenced in songs of musical artists I follow, as well as friends recommending his work.  Still, I didn’t find the time to actually read one of his books until my recent vacation.HamOnRye

Ham On Rye is a seemingly autobiographical look at Bukowski’s childhood.  One can’t help but reminisce at times having long since gone when reading a Depression era writer describing the neighborhood and difficulty seen during that time.  Books like this do a great job of telling everyman’s story and what could reasonably be expected in an era.  There are many works similar in painting these times–Kerouac’s On The Road, Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye, etc.

What’s odd and interesting about Bukowski is his capability to weave wry humor into his work while still serving as a serious account.   His word choice and what he’s willing to put down on the page is lude and hilarious.  It really doesn’t feel tongue in cheek either.  It’s simply the account of a young man learning and living–sometimes funny, sometimes very sad.

Despite the two other seminal works called out earlier, the first book that came to mind while reading this was actually Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.  The difference being that Bukowski is much more relatable and easy to follow than Joyce.  He says what he thinks (or was thinking) and makes no apologies for it.

The majority of the tale is the protagonist being put upon by most everyone including his parents and attempting to make his way.  And it’s written in such a way that makes you root for him–but there are moments that showcase the underlying importance of the story.

Henry Chinaski is the main character.  There are a few different situations where he sees the world and it’s inhabitants gang up on the weaker individuals or animals without mercy.  Pack hunting is commonplace.  While he has a conscious, many don’t seem to see things similarly, and the fact that he can’t change that.

Books like those mentioned in this post mostly end unceremoniously.  Ham On Rye is no different.  I’ve always appreciated these endings.  Halden Caulfield, Stephen Dedalus, Jack Kerouac and Henry Chinaski are not heroes.  They aren’t meant to be painted as such.  They’re just simple people living in a manic jungle of a world, trying their best to keep their heads above water.

Void the Default Setting

Teresa, Juniper and I just spent twelve days in Stockholm, Sweden and multiple cities in Iceland (though mostly Reykjavik).  I’ll post again with some pictures from the trip soon.  But today I want to point out something that has been rattling around my brain since about half way through the trip.

Vacation is a really interesting time for me.  I spend most of it considering life in general and what our “normal” time is like.  Normal being working life.   That time is usually “in the weeds” where there is very little time to think about what’s actually happening from day to day, so much as just try to do the absolute best job possible with work and parenthood and anything else that pops up over the course of time.

David Foster Wallace’s This is Water speech speaks of a default setting.  Although that speech is more focused on our self centered nature, the default setting applies in other fashion as well.  Taking time off from your normal day to day helps you clarify the default you are running on currently.  Default settings aren’t really a choice, they just happen as you seek to live your life.  There’s some natural tendency of your mindset that is repeatable, and there’s the normal human trait of taking things easily where you can.  People probably don’t like hearing it, but humans are somewhat lazy animals when given the means to be so.

We walked on vacation.  We took Juni our in her stroller or in her carrier and would go from event to event and place to place, near all the normal waking hours.  The reasoning was that our time was limited in the new, exotic locations and that being out and about was the best option to maximize the vacation.  Yet that same thought process should be applied to every day you take breath.  It’s so incredibly easy to fall into the pattern of what happens normally, regardless if it’s good, bad or ugly.  Vacation always seems to point out the errors that I’m making in that regard and need to do it more often.

We should be walking all the time and maximizing our time in every circumstance, not just in foreign lands.  That said, it’s really hard to do.  I can already feel my laziness sinking in at home again.  I’m a pretty driven person, but there’s something about being at home that changes the mindset.

This isn’t about walking and exercise.  It’s about how you approach your daily life and accomplish your goals by mentally challenging yourself to think differently.

Void the default setting.

How?  That’s the rub.

Aging and Mortality Warning Signs

About three weeks back Teresa and I were doing some landscaping work in the back yard, I was digging up some of the dirt by the new shed.  The ground level was too high to open the door on the shed during winter, which inhibited being able to drive through the shed with the snowblower.  So we decided to repave a lot of the area surrounding the patio with larger stones.

During said shoveling activity, I felt a generalized, non acute pain in my chest.  Not necessarily concentrated but from shoulder to shoulder.  I stopped shoveling and attempted to understand where it was coming from.   I really couldn’t.  If you know anything about the potential for death in the US, pain in the chest is nothing to mess around with as it’s a primary indicator of a “heart attack” or myocardial infarction–a situation where arteries are struggling or incapable of delivering blood to the heart at which point the heart cannot get enough oxygen to properly pump blood.  Without oxygen the muscle tissue begins to die off and often leads to death.

After stopping shoveling I took it easy the rest of the day.  I went and saw a general practitioner to get their opinion on it.  I work out three to four times a week and never have any issues.  My thoughts were that it was a general muscular strain that could be confused with issues from coronary arterial disease.  The doctor was very cautious but thought that was a good guess. They ran and electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) and everything seemed fine.

Since then I’ve been trying to be aware if there are any other issues but nothing seems too off other than the occasional twinge from reaching a certain way.  All good, but this type of thing is a big wakeup call generally.

The idea of having issues with your heart is really scary.  Not necessarily on a personal level so much as that my daughter is so young and the idea of not being around was terrifying–and worrisome.  I was thinking about it nonstop for a few days and everything else seemed a lot less important.  I’m 99% sure it was all just a scare, but it will probably only serve to help me focus on the things I’d already been wanting to do–eat healthier and get in better shape.

Regardless of how old you are, taking care of yourself  is important if only for those around you that depend on it.

Mobile Computing

It’s been a long time now that I’ve expected mobile computing to take over the desktop computing platforms.  There’s always going to be a desktop platform (or at least some version of it) as it’s so helpful to have large screens for analyzing data.  I use two wide screens at work, usually have multiple Excel files, Email, Powerpoints and PDFs open.  It’s very productive.

On a side note–it seems like a lot more lately people have been asking me “What do you do at work all day?” I think it’s pretty lost on people as “Marketing” sounds really generic.  I love my work because it’s largely variable.  My role is centered on business growth and runs the gamut from market research (a lot of it) to helping our business development teams build relationships and get project work.  Every day is different and it’s an incredible job at an incredible company.

Productivity at work is very important, but at home it doesn’t mean a lot.  Most of my computing at home is simply a leisure experience.  And most websites have gotten well developed enough that a tablet computer is just fine for interaction.  We have speakers and seating upstairs, where my favorite past time of listening to music happens.  Since having put in all of those components, my computing with a full QWERTY at home has gone down immensely.  As have my posts to this site.

There’s still a ton of interesting things going on, but posts will likely continue to dwindle until I figure out how to bake it into a routine.  Juniper has kept us busy this last year and it’s been a really fun and challenging change.

Mobile computing is here to stay and will only get stronger.  It makes me wonder if writing, even if only from casual folks such as myself, will dissipate more thoroughly throughout the world as this technology continues it’s path toward ubiquity.

Happy Mother’s Day

I called Mom this morning and think she appreciated it.  My parents were here this last week to watch Juni as our daycare provider had vacation planned.  Having some help around for those situations really does mean a lot–thanks Mom and Dad!

Today is a special Mother’s Day as it’s Teresa’s first with Juni in the house.  I’m not sure how we’ll celebrate, but we will.

I’m not big on made up holidays, and Mother’s Day definitely falls into the category, however the importance of celebrating parents makes it seem a little more genuine.  Happy Mother’s Day to you and yours.

Work Travel

The last three weeks have all been work travel.  San Francisco, Dallas, and Richmond Virginia.

I don’t mind work travel, it’s a nice chance to meet with customers and hear what they are working on in their business.  It also breaks up the typical work you have going on, although it also means potentially falling behind slightly.  Every day after a trip is usually spent catching up on emails and trying to get back into actual project work while trying to manage the new things coming your way in addition.

Travel is not, however, glamorous in any way.  Often when I mention to people that I’m traveling to meet with customers or for an exhibition, people will state how they wish they travelled and insinuate that it’s just having a good time.  It’s not.  It’s real work and it’s draining too.  I do enjoy it, but make no mistakes about it being a vacation of some sort.

In my previous role, I worked with sales teams that had corporate account managers overseeing very large global customers (and today work in a similar situation although in a different industry.)  These folks travelled all the time, near every week.  Much like consultants, the job is based anywhere and everywhere you are needed.  And that’s why you’re compensated as such.  That life is simply not something I could do and I’m filled with admiration for people that can handle a family life and still travel consistently.  It would be very difficult in my esteem.

Travel is a part of business, at least for many roles, however it’s still work and if you think otherwise…you likely haven’t had to travel much for work.

The Manager and Direct Report Relationship

I’ve been thinking a lot more about the manager and direct report.  I’ve been direct report to about 15 people in my life in all my different roles.  I’ve seen a lot of different styles of management, as have many of you.

It’s important to consider the objective of this relationship prior to analyzing it in depth.  There are many potential scenarios that one could cite as the reason for this relationship existing at all:

1.  Hierarchical management of resources – too many people in an organization makes it impossible for one person to manage all, hence many managers and direct reports
2.  Functional expertise and knowledge – having someone oversee another in order to properly transfer knowledge of the position needs and expectations, this includes leadership transitions over time
3.   Responsibility ownership – managers often are responsible for the output (volume, quality) of someone at an organization

There are other things that could be discussed, but those three things seem to cover off on the organizational considerations that come to mind.  The next questions are focused on the individuals, what does it take to be a “good” manager or a “good” direct report.  Most organizations write job descriptions for the positions themselves.  But how to facilitate those roles in the lens of manager and direct report is worth considering.

A manager’s work is primarily concerned with getting the best out of their team, much like a coach for a sport–at least in context of managing others.   However, managers are also tasked with the functional output of their role.  In effect, they are managing to objectives for the organization *in addition* to managing people that are likely also working toward that objective.  To put an example of this down, a marketing manager may well be accountable for revenue and margin growth within a business, she is given resources (budget, direct reports, etc.) to accomplish the tasks that lead to those outcomes and judged accordingly.

For new managers, if you’re considering how to outline your role, consider the idea of bifurcating your work into two larger buckets:  delivering the business results and delivering team performance.  They are not necessarily the exact same, though they should be correlated in terms of objectives and metrics.

I’ll dive more thoroughly into both of these ideas in the future.

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