Category Archives: friends

Oma lehmä on ojassa – cows and vested interests?

The Twin Cities area is enduring a nearly record-breaking wet June. Areas in outstate Minnesota that were in moderate drought earlier this year are now lake front properties. The wet weather combined with an unusually huge mosquito hatching has curtailed outdoor activities, but allowed me to do some overdue de-cluttering.

During my reorganizing, I found another intriguing Finnish translation Lucy kept. Linus Torvalds, the Finnish inventor of the Linux operating system, used the phrase “oma lehma ojassa” during an interview, which he said derives from “oma lehmä on ojassa“. The literal translation for the former phrase is “vested interests”; the latter phrase means “your cow is in the ditch”. The Finns have a great sense of humor and there are two explanations for the phrase. The first explanation is that pasture land is at a premium in Finland so having a cow in the ditch means getting a little free feed along with providing a public service by keeping the grass short enough to not obstruct visibility. The downside is a cow in the ditch likely becomes a cow on the road, and a cow on the road does not move swiftly away from an oncoming vehicle. Cows definitely share that trait with deer. The other explanation is that a cow sometimes broke through a fence and ended up in the ditch, oftentimes with water and deep mud in it. Once in the ditch, the cow could not climb back up to the pasture. The cow’s owner would require help getting the bovine out of the ditch and back to the pasture, so it was in the farmer’s best interest to persuade neighbors to help.

Having a vested interest in a transaction or an outcome is not the same as a “quid pro quo” (from Latin meaning “this for that”) interest because one party does not expect something in return of the other party. For example, a corporation may sponsor a non-controversial charity event. The charity directly benefits from the sponsorship resources and the corporation indirectly benefits from positive public relations. A quid pro quo interest is a Political Action Committee (PAC) pouring money into a political candidate’s campaign. The campaign benefits from the cash infusions for ads but the candidate is now expected to something in return for the PAC.

Many of the online Facebook games reward players if the player has a large number of “friends”. This basis for this type of vested interest relationship is mutual need and in some cases, the player gets scammed by a new-found “friend”. Relationships based on need disintegrate quickly after satisfying the need. Other online games promote a quid pro quo relationship with Facebook gaming “friends”. The player performs tasks or challenges for another player and hopes the other player reciprocates. A quid pro quo relationship usually dissolves because one party perceives the other party as not reciprocating in kind, of being all take and no give.

Friendship in the purest sense of the word is not a vested interest or a quid pro quo arrangement. Its foundation is altruism and its floor is trust. True friends do favors without regard to payback, they trust each other unconditionally. No one carries a ledger book for tracking favor costs and no one is worrying about leaked secrets or damaging lies. It does not start out with a “you must trust me, but I don’t trust you” paradigm or with a combative disrespectful stance. Most of us have a great number of acquaintances and a small number of true friends. The true friends are worth cherishing.

Let your close friends know that you appreciate them and that your life is better because of them. They don’t expect anything in return but would appreciate the sentiment. Give your special someone a meaningful hug or three. Hugs are free and always brighten someone’s day. As for vested interests, the proverbial “cow in the ditch”, save the livestock wrangling for an online farming game and minimize it in your life.

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Filed under friends, rebuilding, weather

Forty days and forty nights

Forty days and forty nights can seem an eternity. Many religious works have a number of “forty days and forty nights” events, with few of them pleasant; many centered on sacrifice, suffering, and destruction. The Twin Cities has endured slightly over forty days and forty nights of below zero (Fahrenheit) weather this winter, but we have not cracked the top ten for years with the most sub-zero temperatures. Today was day 43 and it is hopefully our last for at least the next ten days.

As a gardener, my worry is the severity and duration of our unseasonable weather will result in serious winter kill in the gardens. For all intents and purposes, my area went from USDA Growing Zone 4 to USDA Growing Zone 2. I have mulch in all the gardens and we had sufficient rainfall before the ground froze. That should help, but will it be enough?

As a homeowner, I worry that the frost line will get deep enough to cause frozen pipes. That is happening in other places, and I have a friend who mentioned on Facebook that the going rate to thaw pipes in her town is $200.00 per hour. I have been in my house for fifteen years, and I do not remember a winter with this many below zero days. A natural gas shortage is causing problems for some homeowners in rural parts of the Midwest even if they can afford the nearly 400% price increase. The National Weather Service tells us this is the coldest we have seen for over thirty years. We heard that the weather and climate have been steadily growing warmer for decades or centuries depending on which study one reads, so perhaps we got complacent. Maybe we solved Anthropogenic Catastrophic Climate Change and the earth is back to normal?

After our eighteen consecutive days of going below zero, we may finally start seeing temperatures approaching normal. When the temperature starts rising, people will emerge from their homes much like a creature emerging from its winter shelter, blinking because of the sunlight, smelling the fresh air rather than the mostly recirculated air in a sealed house, and shuffling off to forage and frolic. I hope these folks do not act like a bear in the woods.Valentine’s Day is Friday. It used to be known as St. Valentine’s Day, but the religious reference faded a number of years ago. Lucy’s ancestors came from Finland, where Valentine’s Day was known as “Ystävänpäivä”, or “Day of Friendship”. Lucy was my best and closest friend, so it made perfect sense. I’m fortunate to have some wonderful friends for my Day of Friendship.

If you are buying flowers for Valentine’s Day or Day of Friendship, buy them from a local florist rather than an online service. On top of getting  a superior product, you are supporting your community, and it shows you took the time to get the right bouquet. Take a moment to be thankful for your friends, whether they are near, distant, or departed. Friends help friends through forty day and forty night challenges, and can brighten even the darkest and stormiest of nights. As always, give your special someone a meaningful hug. Here’s hoping we get forty days and forty nights of warmer weather!

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Filed under friends, gardening, rebuilding, weather

“We are experiencing technical difficulties…”

Those of us “of a certain age” or older (born before Apollo 17, the final NASA manned moon landing) remember when a television network feed was interrupted by weather, solar flares, mechanical issues, or occasional human error. A “Please Stand By” graphic appeared on the TV screen and an announcer would intone in a deep, serious, ceremonial voice “We are experiencing technical difficulties…please stand by”. The announcement repeated every few minutes until the station either regained the feed or switched over to alternate programming. They acknowledged the problem, worked on a resolution, and used the announcement to let us know they had not forgotten about us.

Technology improvements through the decades have nearly rendered technical difficulties obsolete, at least for “Over The Air” (OTA) broadcasting. The same is not true for cable TV transmissions or streaming video. Once signal drop happens, there is no warning, no acknowledgement of a problem or a resolution; it just stops working. Compounding the matter is many cable subscribers have Internet, television, and telephone bundled together. When it works, it works well, but when it fails, it fails completely.

Business class Internet provider service level agreements (SLA) usually stipulate 99.9% availability. I was an IT manager for almost ten years and signed several of these agreements. Simple arithmetic shows that the 0.1% allowed downtime per day is 86.4 seconds (60 seconds per minute × 60 seconds per hour × 24 hours per day = 86,400 seconds; 0.1% = 0.001, so 0.001 × 86,400 = 86.4). During a standard contractual year of 365¼ days, the allowed downtime is 8 hours, 45 minutes, 57.6 seconds (86,400 seconds per day × 365.25 days per year = 31,557,600 seconds; 0.001 downtime is = 31,557.6 seconds; 31,557.6 ÷ 3600 seconds per hour = 8.766 hours).

Consumer class Internet service does NOT have SLAs. I have Comcast for my cable, Internet, and telephone services, and there is no uptime guarantee. If I need an uptime guarantee, I could upgrade to their Business Class services for considerably more money per month. I could not find consumer SLAs for Dish Network, Charter, Century Link, Frontier, or Knology, though it is possible SLAs exist. The providers assume “it just works” and that people can call in and navigate several minutes of automated phone before being queued to a human in a call center 10,000 miles away. After all, everyone has a smart phone and a smart phone provides voice service in the “unlikely” event something is amiss. This is not a rant against Comcast, for until last Friday they provided reliable service, and the replacement cable telephony modem appears to have solved my issues. However, I was surprised at the dearth of consumer SLAs for these services even though a consumer is locked into a contract for a prescribed time frame.

Service level agreements are based on trust. The service provider trusts the service they are providing meets or exceeds the SLA parameters. They trust outages rarely occur, but are quickly resolved, oftentimes with no noticeable interruption to the customer. The customer trusts the service provider to honor the SLA. Because of this trust, the business customer is allowing the service provider to handle a critical piece of the business’s communications infrastructure. It is puzzling why Comcast et al. do not seemingly trust their consumer services enough to back them with an SLA. Perhaps they know something that we do not know.

Trust is very important to us. We trust our family to nurture us and love us unconditionally, and I am fortunate that mine does. We trust health care providers to care for us when we are vulnerable because of illness or injury. We trust public safety to protect us when we are in peril. We trust a particular product brand because of reputation. We trust a service provider to provide the best possible service. Trust is difficult to earn and easy to destroy.

Finally, we trust our friends. Trust in our family may have its origins in preservation of the species, but we choose our friends, and we hope we choose them wisely. We trust our friends with critical pieces of our internal infrastructure: our hopes and dreams, our worries and fears, our strengths and weaknesses, our secrets. We trust our friends to cheer us up when we are feeling down, to celebrate our victories, to help us see things from a different perspective, to listen when we need to talk, and to be good company when we are lonely. There is no formal signed contract needed because our friends provide these services willingly. Any unresolved violation of our perceived terms of service result in the friendship terminating. This is why ending a friendship is almost as devastating as a loved one’s death. Our friends become part of us.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow in the United States. My post from last Thanksgiving is still timely. We should take time and be thankful for the people we chose as our friends, and for those people who trust us to be their friends. That trust helps us get through our life journeys.

Give your loved ones a meaningful hug, try to stay away from retailers open on Thanksgiving Day, stay warm, don’t eat too much, and celebrate your thankfulness for being together! If you have a friend or loved one who cannot be with family tomorrow, try to give that person a call or better yet, try to include that person in your celebration. Those people make your life better by being part of it, and that is definitely something to celebrate. You can trust me on that.

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Oh, deer.

The month before Thanksgiving in the United States is usually the beginning of harvest season. Large tracts of former prairie land now filled with corn, soybeans, oats, or wheat also make ideal feeding grounds for deer. Deer hunting season and large, heavy harvesting equipment rumbling through tall corn leaving no cover, combine to pressure deer to move somewhere safer. Most of the crop harvesting along Interstate 90 in southern Minnesota is complete. It is not the most scientific surveying method, but the number of deer carcasses along the roadway shows the deer population is rebounding nicely. The live deer are harder to see because they are much farther from the freeway now, but they are out there, though I think many hunters may disagree.

Despite the size of their eyeballs, deer have terrible eyesight and their eyes are better suited for low light environments. Bright lights such as headlights temporarily blind a deer causing it to momentarily freeze while it tries to figure out how to see again. A vehicle moving at 70 mph covers 103 feet per second, and the average passenger car weighs ten times as much as an average deer meaning a collision results in major damage to the vehicle and serious or fatal injuries to the deer. Like deer, people freeze up when facing very bright lights, but we can use our arms or hands to shield our eyes. “Deer in the headlights” is a phrase used to describe someone freezing up in a critical situation.

We all have “deer in the headlights” moments: public speaking gaffes, first dates, forgetting one’s lines when acting in a play, the first day on a new job, a traumatic experience. Our moments usually end with maybe some embarrassment, or some ego bruising and loss of dignity, or laughs, or life lessons, but we are usually able to walk away intact, unlike the deer along the freeway. We have loved ones and friends to help us get through those moments, help with damage control, and help with getting us back on track. If not for those people, “deer in the headlight” moments are permanently damaging. Having those people in our lives gives us one more thing to be thankful for this holiday season.

Give your loved ones a meaningful hug and think of the times they helped during a “deer in the headlights” moment. Stay warm, and don’t stare directly into bright lights.

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Filed under family, friends, nature, philosophy, rebuilding

The holidays are encroaching

Yes, the holidays are approaching. They are also encroaching, especially Christmas because of the shorter buying season this year. Home Depot already had a Christmas display by October 20th. You really are seeing Christmas promotions coming earlier every year. It is encroaching even more into autumn (in this hemisphere).

Thanksgiving in the United States is the fourth Thursday of November. Many companies also close the day after Thanksgiving, so people can enjoy a four-day weekend. Retailers realized that people enjoying a day off might have reason to go shopping with proper incentives. Wikipedia has a detailed definition and explanation of “Black Friday” for those of you living outside the United States or want more detail.

The latest date for the fourth Thursday, the 28th, occurs when the 1st is on a Friday, like November 1, 2013. The earliest date for the fourth Thursday, the 22nd, occurs when the 1st falls upon a Thursday, like November 1, 2012. Those extra six days of shopping season are very welcomed by retailers. Fast food and casual food restaurants also see a noticeable increase in sales during that period.

Stores opening on Thanksgiving Day is a recent development. There are businesses that traditionally have been open on Thanksgiving: gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies, and restaurants. But retail stores like Target, Best Buy, Gap, and Wal-Mart would close. Unfortunately, the shortened shopping season is resulting in more retail chains opening on Thanksgiving Day itself, with some opening as early as 6:00 p.m. They believe if they are open, people will come.  My hope is that their Thanksgiving Day sales volume will not justify opening on Thanksgiving Day next year.

I had the misfortune of working for two small companies that did not close the day after Thanksgiving. I was lucky because Lucy and I would have a quiet Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, then we traveled an hour to my brother’s house on Friday evening to be with my family, but it was still a nuisance not getting that Friday off. Some of my co-workers had family out-of-state or out-of-country. Traveling to Asia is much easier with four days off rather than a weekend. This year it directly affects a close friend who will be unable to travel back to Illinois to be with family. I know it will also affect a niece and a sister-in-law.

As long as people are willing to stand in lines waiting for a chance at acquiring a loss leader item in extremely limited supply, the retailers will keep pushing “Black Friday” open times earlier into Thanksgiving Day. People should choose to be with family on Thanksgiving rather than wade through a sea of crazed shoppers only to go home empty-handed.

While the big-box retailers are participating in their “social experiment”, a different social experiment started in 2010. Small businesses are at a disadvantage to the big-box stores.The idea behind “Small Business Saturday” was to level the playing field a bit. It is ironic that American Express championed the idea. American Express usually has the highest per transaction “swipe” fee and charges the highest merchant fee of the major credit card brands. This years’ Small Business Saturday is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 30th. Even if you are not an American Express card member, please take the time to shop at a small business. Check out the Shop Small map to find participating businesses. I hope to visit Carver Country Flowers, Gifts & Formal Wear and say hi to Annette.

I have my outdoor Christmas lights installed. It doesn’t take very long, and I try to do it the first weekend in November. Putting lights up in 50 degree weather is better than putting up lights in 20 degree weather and standing in snow. Lucy would insist the lights stay off until the day after Thanksgiving. That is when I will plug in the outdoor light timer. The Christmas tree gets installed the Saturday or Sunday after Thanksgiving. Perhaps I’ll try making piirakkas and red velvet cakes again this year. Julie and Suzy survived my last batch of baking with no ill effects, and they’re still talking to me.

Give your special someone an extra hug tonight. I know some of you have a loved one away from home, so surprise him or her with a phone call, text message, or email. Stay warm and thank you for your time!

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