A Few Pieces from My Writing Workshop

My friend Joy jokingly chided me for complaining about slow broadband at the hotel I am staying at in Iowa City (I won’t even go into the problems with getting my iPhone on the network). She said “Maybe it’s a sign that you SHOULD be disconnected. Aren’t you supposed to be writing after all?” It been more like a billboard, one of those video screen that keeps flashing – “Get back to the writing.”

Here is a little proof of writing. I am taking a class in essay writing and our instructor Cecile Goding is exposing us to a variety of forms that blur the lines between prose, poetry, journalism, and scholarship. The survey is perfect for someone like me trying to find his way.

Here are a couple exercises and the results:

–In three sentences, include the following: a fruit, a musical instrument, a weapon, and someone famous:

Dilinger peaked out between the shades on the cabin window, Gatling in one hand a half eaten apple in the other. A fawn and her mother slowly walking into the yard. On the radio, Benny Goodman soloed on the clarinet while the feds plotted their next move.

–This was inspired by a one paragraph piece titled “The Host” by Jim Heyen in In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal. Very short and efficient, I wanted to see if I could do the same.

“That’s your father’s chair,” my mother would say, in a strangely over-protective tone, like it was the last chocolate chip cookie at the bottom of the Tupperware jar. She always claimed he would be sitting down at any moment, barring our use of the recliner/rocker.

The rules have changes. The throne is now a jungle gym, with as many kids as room allows. Companions for afternoon naps welcome.

–The final piece I want to share is a pre-assignment where the instructor asked us to write a recipe sharing whatever details relevant:

Cookie recipes all start with the same process. Softened butter is creamed in an electric mixer as sugar is slowly added. My mother’s 1969 Betty Crocker cookbook recommends a mixture of equal parts shortening and margarine pointing to the influence of industrial food science on the nation’s kitchen pantries. In the 1999 The Best Recipe, the meticulous bakers at Cook’s Illustrated don’t even mention the possibility of using these two 100% fat-based substances in their five page explanation of alternatives they tested in creating the perfect cookie dough. I asked the people-powered answer engine Aardvark.com about what I might give up switching to margarine in a cookie recipe and Jenn C. responded saying “In a word, taste. 🙂 There’s also a trade off with texture, since butter is fat + water, and margarine is purely fat – you’ll get flatter cookies when baking with margarine. I’d definitely recommend using unsalted butter over margarine for cookies.”

When I asked my mom about this inconsistency, she told me she had always made her Kenosha County Fair Grand Champion Chocolate Chip Cookies the same way. She even went as far to say that Parkay was the only brand of margarine should would use. “The others just don’t taste the same,” she said.

Fats aside, dark brown sugar is the other ingredient my mother insists on. This is another area of contention, where experts claim little difference between 3% molasses contained within light brown sugar and the 6% molasses found in dark brown sugar. All agree the specialty sugar adds a caramel flavor while lending a darker shade of brown to the baked cookie.

Purists would call these changes dumb or inconsequential, but the test kitchen at Betty Crocker clearly adjusted the ratios to optimize for the margarines used. The late twentieth century bakers called for an extra cup of flour to fight Jenn C.’s concerns of flattening. The additional bulk meant increasing the white sugar and calling for higher fortification provided by dark brown sugar.

The rest is pretty simple. Use teaspoons to drop batter onto cool cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for eight to twelve minutes. Enjoy after a few minutes on the cooling rack. A glass of whole milk is the recommended side.

Makes about 60 cookies

2/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup Parkay margarine
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 ½ cups flour
2 cups chocolate chips

1. Mix thoroughly shortening, margarine and sugars in an electric mixer
2. Add eggs, and vanilla.
3. Stir in remaining dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips until combined.
4. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet.
5. Bake at 375° for 10 to 12 minutes or until light brown.
6. Cool 1-2 minutes before removing from baking sheet and transferring to cooling racks

Three Favorite Things About My High School Reunion

  1. Talking to Jason Weber who took his love for the saxophone and turned it into a career as a musician.
  2. Seeing a photograph of the people I sat with for dinner at senior prom with my face physically cut out of the picture. I find something strangely enjoyable about the fact that someone did that.
  3. Heard someone say the other day, that the older we get, the more we become who we really are. If we are mean and angry, we become more mean and angry. If we are happy, we get even more positive about the world. That played out perfectly at the reunion – everyone was pretty much the same as they were twenty years ago. It really was great to see so many people even if just to talk to them for a few minutes each.

“Your playing small does not serve the world.”

I shared this with a friend today and thought I should share this with everyone else.

This was one of the passages we read at our wedding.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson is from her book, A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3 (Pg. 190-191).

Best of 2008

I know I am suppose to write this post before the year end, but with travel and children I ran out of time.

So, in no particular order here is what has happened and what rises above the rest when I think of 2008:

  • E started kindergarten and Z started preschool.
  • I posted my favorite business books of 2008 over on the 800-CEO-READ blog and Inc.com worked with us on their selections.
  • Jack and I turned in the manuscript for The 100 Best Business Books of All Time in April. And we just got finished books today and they look great. The book hits shelves February 5th.
  • My 91 del.icio.us bookmarks remind of these yummy sites:
    • Spoonflower for custom fabrics based on your designs
    • Sticker Robot for custom stickers
    • Moo for business cards, holiday cards, and sticker books from your Flickr photos
  • We survived the snowiest winter on record in Waukesha. I think it was 109″.
  • That turned into a flooded basement after warm weather and some huge rains.
  • Mac Apps you should be using: NetNewsWire for RSS feeds, Ecto for blogging, VoodooPad for note taking, and possibly WriteRoom for a clutter-free writing space.
  • Mac Apps to consider: Things (I use to manage to-dos in BaseCamp, but I think I like this desktop/iPhone combo better) and TweetDeck (allows filtering, grouping, and searching all in one Tweeter app)
  • I posted 305 tweets this year. I would have never guessed that and TweetStats tells me I have been accelerating my use of Twitter.
  • Music that worked for me:
  • This American Life provided the best description of the credit crisis I heard, read or watched anywhere. Listen to The Giant Pool of Money. It is worth all 58 minutes. In second place is Michael Lewis’ Panic, an anthology of articles, reports, and missives on the bubbles we have gone through since 1989.

Boom Goes The Resume

Seth has a great post up titled Why bother having a resume?

There is something comfortable about the standards of a resume. You know how to fill in the blanks. The format has already been worked out. The only question left is if you are going to send it in a Rich Text Format or Word Document.

If you blow up the resume, the questions are wonderfully endless.

  • What I am going to say?
  • How I am going to say it?
  • Is this really what I want to do?

I was describing my career to someone last week and realized the textbook method doesn’t really explain who I am or what I want to do next. Today, I was looking at the description at the top of my tumblr blog and came to the same conclusion.

Every person is a sum of their experiences and certainly my mechanical engineering degree and the time at General Electric is important, but there are a whole set of new things that show better what I can do and want to do with my time.

This image is from a document I turned in for a chance at an internship with Ben and Jackie from Church of the Customer. I always liked this representation, experiences overlaid and fading with time. That collage is three and a half years old and would look quite different today.


As I look at the things that I am interested in now, there are seeds in those past projects and positions, but they would be hard to see through bullet points and required corporate speak of a standard resume.

This post should not be considered by anyone reading that I am looking for a new corporate home. Seth’s post just made me think about the stories we tell other about what we do, both in form and content.

Four Things…

  1. If you really are interested in what is going on with me, bookmark my tumblr blog or subscribe to the RSS feed. I pull together my blog posts from here and 800-CEO-READ, my del.icio.us bookmarks, flickr photos of the family and twitter posts from when I am in a hurry.
  2. I have been feverishly writing to finish a book manuscript for a title that will be coming out early next year. It is a part of my gig at 800-CEO-READ. The book is the 100 business everyone in business should read. It has been a great project in a million different ways and I’ll be talking about that more over this coming year. So, that explains why there has been close to nothing here at the Astronaut Projects blog.
  3. Marc Orchant’s More Space essay Work Is Broken was published on ChangeThis last month.
  4. Check out Grant McCracken’s This Blog Sits at the : Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. I was hestiant to recommend it because I was having problems with the RSS feed. I upgraded to NetNewsWire 3.1.3 and don’t see any issues.

Trying out Tumblr

Tumblr is an interesting site that pulls together information from the wide variety of sources where you may be storing it. You can take your flickr photos, twitter messages, blog posts, and del.icio.us links and put it in all one place.

I used to try and put everything up here. You can see by the lack of material that that strategy is not working.

For family and friends, you probably want to watch my tumblr site going forward. It will be a better source of information about what is going on with me and the family. If the experiment fails, I will direct everyone back here.

Your Inspirational Quote For The Day

This is one of the passages we read at our wedding:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

-Marianne Williamson from A Return To Love (pg. 191)

[again zaadz gets the nod]

I’ve been tagged…

My dear friend Andrea has drawn me into this little game of tag.

I now have you tell you five things that you didn’t know about me:

  • When I was 13, I had to have brain surgery to remove an infection that started with a freak water skiing accident. I spent three months in the hospital recovering.
  • I was kicked out of the band in 8th grade for playing too loud and talking back to the teacher. I was heavily recruited for the high school band (can you believe that?), joined on a fluke, and played all the way through college; serving as student director for my last two years.
  • Just as our GE careers were starting to take off, my wife and I quit our jobs and travelled for a year – first to Australia and New Zealand, and then three months around the US. It is #4 on the life highlight reel after my marriage and births of our two children.
  • Products I manufactured during my operations career – Ziploc Bags, industrial diamond, motor control systems for steel/paper mills, reverse osmosis water filters, transformer enclosures, and PET scanners.
  • My favorite holiday is Groundhog’s Day. It is so pagan. We still worship of a large rat to see if we are going to get more snow.

So, now I need to pull five more people into this:

  • Jory Des Jardins – she tells great stories, just go read her More Space essay.
  • Bob Sutton – he often blamed me for getting him into blogging; I think this a great way to get him a little deeper into the blogging community.
  • Rob May – I still feel like Rob and I were pioneers in the business blogging community.
  • Steve Farber – Mr. Farber is also relatively new to blogging. I hope he can share some great stories under his banner of Extreme Leadership.
  • Tom Ehrenfeld – Tom and I share a passion for business books. I have always wished he would blog more. Here is a little nudge.

Housing Update

Much has happened since my last post on the house.

The short story is we sold our house and have an accepted offer on a new house.

With our house, here are the stats:

  • Days until offer:  63
  • Days on the market: 128 (based on the Sept 18th closing)
  • Number of Showings: 12
  • Number of Open Houses: 2
  • Advertsing: One ad in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (no response from it)
  • Final Price: $284,900 (we listed at $297,600, lowered price to 289,600 on May 26th in response to what we were seeing in the market)

There is a contingency in the offer that the buyers need to sell their home.  The buyer’s buyers are the ones creating the September closing.

Interesting side note – our buyers also sold their our house themselves.  Their for sale by owner method was putting a sign in the front yard.  They said they has it sold within days and are continuing to receive calls.


We had pretty much stopped looking, so we had to get back to it.  We have looked at a number of houses and have an accepted offer on a house in Waukesha.  It is the great 1927 colonial revivial that has had alot of updating in the last couple of years. 


We love it.  I am going to show some controlled exhuberence at this point.  Friends and famliy know we have been working on this deal for a couple of weeks.  We have two houses and six weeks until we close this whole thing.

You can check out additional house photos on the real estate listing.

Healthcare is going to change

Our family is one of a couple million who will swtich to a high-deductible health insurance plan and start a Health Savings Account.

I have seen talk about how this trend both is and is not going to change health care.

Let me tell you our experience and you can add it as another data point in your thinking.

For a family of four, we are paying about $177/mo. for a plan that has $5450 deductible.  One the plan we choose, office visits and prescriptions do not count toward the deductible.  That option would have cost another $50 a month and based on our family we didn’t think it made sense. 

A comprehensive plan would have cost us around $1000/mo. on the open market or with my current employer.  In addition these comprehensive policies are rising in price about a rate of about 20% per year.

For taking on the high deductible, I can set aside tax-free $5450 a year that I can use toward health expenses.  I can use this money for anything from prescriptions to glasses to dentistry.  When you put money into your HSA, it work just like a 401K – it is your forever and you can invest to your level of risk.

All the warm-up here is to share the story of my first experience with our new health care coverage.  I have a history of developing sinus infections every 18-24 months.  I am partial to getting them because of some surgery I had when I was a teenager.  This week another one hit and I had to start the process of getting some antibiotics to treat them.

My doctor is aware of the history and was comfortable diagnosing the situation over the phone.  She called in a prescription to our local pharmacy and we were able to avoid an office visit (first money saved).

I got to the pharmacy and they had already had it filled.  I was prescribed a brand name antibiotic called Levaquin.  10 pills cost $110.36.  As I mentioned, there is no drug component to our new plan, but we are given a discount card.  They claim we get a 20% discount off  brand name drugs and even more off generics.

Both the pharmacist and I were a little taken a back.  I explained our new situation.  She wondered if amoxicillin would work, and I said that I had taken that before, and she offered to call the doctor.  The called back and agreed that would be OK and 20 pills of amoxicillin came to $18.71.

Had we been under the old policies at GE, I would not have thought twice about walking out with the Levaquin.  It would have probably been a $20 or $25 copay and I would not have even known the full price of the drug.

People are going to start questioning what they are paying for.  They are going to think twice about going in for every sniffle they have.  I was on a plane with an insurance executive about three months ago and he said that fees for office visits only went up 7%to 8% in 2005.  He said it was the first time in years that it was not a double digit increase.  He attributes that to people have to pay more of their healthcare and putting pressure on the industry.  He thought you would start to see this in other areas of health care as well.

I wholeheartedly agree.