Sarah Sheard's Thoughts and Theories

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Unusual storm prep advice

From my sister: how to prepare for the upcoming huge storm:

As someone who experienced ELEVEN DAYS without electricity this summer after the derecho hit us in Athens, Ohio, I decided this morning to share what I learned for all my friends facing "Frankenstorm." See the first few comments, below. Here are some weather maps of that historic derecho:

(1) Generators need fuel. If you don't have a large propane tank and rely instead on gasoline, you're sunk because gas stations run out of fuel and even when they have fuel, you have to wait in line for a very long time. Sometimes people fight over gas.

(2) Keeping food cool in a cooler works much better if you put the cooler in a bathtub and cover it with all the sleeping bags and extra blankets you have in the house. Once the stores reopen, ice will sell out quickly. Sometimes people fight over ice.

(3) If you get the super idea of buying popsicles instead of ice to keep your food cool in the cooler, be prepared for the colors of the popsicles to leak all over your eggs. Voila! Instead Easter eggs! But remember you haven't hard boiled your eggs yet.

(4) Water companies can't pipe water to your home unless they have electricity. And even if a water company has electricity generators, it can't generate electricity without fuel. So, you might not have water. If you only have one bathtub in the house, forget using it for the cooler and fill it with water instead. Fill other containers, too. Garbage cans? Storage tubs?

(5) Latrines. Flushing toilets takes lots of water. So, if your water company has run out of generator fuel, dig a hole in the ground. Really. If you live in an apartment complex, work cooperately to create a latrine lfor everyone to use. Make separate latrines for number one and number two.....the number two one should be deeper. If you don't like stink, buy some hydrated lime from a garden store or agricultural store and pour a cup of the powder after each poo. The hydrated lime works wonders. You'll earn gobs of pioneer credit for digging a latrine. About the seat of your latrine: remove the seat of your own toilet and use it outside between two concrete blocks. Works well.

(6) If you want hot water, having 200 feet of black hose curled up on a sunny day will make all the difference, provided your water company hasn't run out of fuel for its generator. The only issue will be what time of day the water (A) will be hot, and (B) won't be too hot. You'll earn super, special "solar pioneer" credit for this one.

 (7) Chain saws [that run on gas] come in very handy after a storm involving lots of wind. Buy one if you still see them on the shelves of your over-populated neighborhood big-box store today, and either resolve to loan it out to experienced folks or learn all you can about using them, quickly, now, today. Get gas and oil for your new chainsaw, too. Get work gloves. Any downed trees you cut up can be used for fuel. 

(8) Cars don't run without fuel. So, be prepared to stay put. Build community right where you are. Invite others over. Organize a neighborhood gathering. Take advantage of the opportunity to get to know your neighbors. Try stone soup.

(9) Once laundromats re-open, they will be full. Very full. That's because commercial areas are prioritized in the "get power back up" triage system of the electric company. Rather than fight the laundromat crowds, wear your clothes twice or more times. Also, if you have water, figure out how to wash your clothes by hand and hang them to dry. You'll earn more pioneer credits. (Note for future: next time you move, consider buying house on the same power sub-grid with hospital or commercial area.)

(10) If you like this advice, print it now. Also, print out instructions now for purifying water to drink, and print out any other emergency-related instructions you can find. Before the next store, buy a boy scout book or girl scout book or other book about how to survive in the wilderness. Why? Because without electricity and pumped water, we're all back to wilderness square one.

I wish all of you in the storm's projected path, from the East Coast to the Great Lakes, the very best. Please be safe, be prepared, and find joy in helping those less fortunate than you.


P.S. Too late to buy now, but a must for everyone later: Wind-up contraptions that serve one or more of the following functions: flashlight, radio, emergency weather radio, cell phone charger, camera charger, etc.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Peter Peter Updated

Picture of binder with pumpkin on cover

Peter Peter, pumpkin eater
Had a wife and couldn't keep her.
Binders work in 2012
Mitt Romney keeps them there himself.
  Trapper Keeper!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Age Is Who I Am

When we are young, we learn who we are. We learn we are right-handed, or left-handed. We learn we do, or do not, like Italian food. We learn we are numbers people or letters people. We learn we can or cannot carry a tune.  We learn what makes us distinct from others: I like penguins... I like cooking... Not too many people are black/filipino/Native Americans... We learn who we are: "I am a musician." "I am an athlete." "I am smart." "I am good with children."

We don't change our self-image much after we learn it. Once a dog-person, generally always a dog-person. 

What we also learn, because we are young when we learn who we are, is that we are young

This continues despite the fact that we eventually become not the young one but the old one.  First our parents' generation dies off around's a shock when we become the oldest in our genetic line. Even sixty-year-olds have referred to themselves as "orphans"...because they feel like young people.  My father confessed in his eighties that he saw himself as being 18.  He didn't want a girlfriend, because "I don't want to be dating a grandmother, and who else would have me?"

Our friends get arthritis, or heart problems, or cancer. We attend a funeral of a sibling or neighbor or coworker. We notice our college roommate's obituary in the alumni newsmagazine. Logically speaking, we are becoming the old ones, but we don't see ourselves that way because in our list of what we are, that we learned as children and therefore quite thoroughly, we are young.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


A Facebook friend posted this photo.

I agree, it's true!

BUT...sometimes it's not so easy to let go of a grudge. Why is that?

I made "grudges" one of my topics of cogitation for last year. I even asked that we discuss it at a monthly church discussion group.

I eventually realized a few things.
- Grudges are "held" or "carried". The very words imply effort is required to maintain one.
- I was afraid giving up a grudge would make me unsafe; in other words, I believed that holding the grudge was keeping me safe.
- I did not know how to release a grudge.

I did a lot of journaling, including writing down everyone I have vowed to have nothing to do with from here on in, and everyone who I thought held a grudge against me. Then I wrote down for each, what the circumstances were that precipitated the grudge (if I knew).

What my grudges had in common was, when the grudge happened:
a) Almost always, I did not feel safe.
b) Often, I wanted something, and couldn't get it, because I was too timid to be clear, and the other person did not read my mind.
c) Almost always, I did not feel heard. I didn't know how to persist in being heard.
d) Often I felt disrespected...laughed at, written off, not considered worth listening to.
e) I felt I had no option but to write them off. From my family I learned one did NOT speak up in a way that might incite conflict. This meant my only option was to withdraw and never go there again.
f) I was usually angry at MYSELF too, maybe even more than I was angry at the other person. How could I have let myself be that stupid, to be taken advantage of? or even, how could I have blamed that person for that, why can't I just act like an adult?

Clearly I couldn't just drop a grudge, I had to also forgive the people I had the grudges against. Of course, given f), I also had to learn to forgive myself. Forgiving myself also helped in the cases of people having grudges against me...first I had to face the facts, then understand the situation as it happened, then go humbly to the other person and raise the issue courteously.

I also had to learn (and am still learning) how to ask persistently and politely for what I need. Sometimes you can ask until you're blue in the face and you still won't get it, but it's better to ask than not.

In the past, if someone didn't want to comply, they could shut me down by pretending not to hear. Now I try to ensure that they DO hear, and get them to confirm they hear, so if they then don't do it, it's deliberate. No more of the "Well you should have SAID something" or "I didn't know you were SERIOUS." They will now know I'm serious.

Also, I have to live with the fact that my asking for what I need sometimes makes others uncomfortable. Sometimes they even get awfully obnoxious about it. My feeling is, better they are sometimes uncomfortable than it's always me taking the hit. I won't die if they are uncomfortable. I probably am not even really unsafe.

If you have grudges and would like to stop having people live rent free in your head, consider:
a) Listing the people you have grudges against, and trying to recall how they came about
b) Identifying who you are angry at, and why
c) Forgive yourself and them (there are methods online available with a search)
d) Humbly approach the others and confess what you have just done.

I'm good with a-c. I really need to work on d. It's the safety thing, I think.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Young women dressing to look sexy

A friend asked why young girls dress so provocatively. I offered the following opinion; what do you think?

When a girl is growing up, maybe up to age ten or 12, she is told, and believes that she has a lot of power, great power. She can do anything, she is the apple of Daddy's eye, she is strong. When she's 12 she's a head taller than the boys in her class and they stay out of her way.

Within a few years the boys have caught up and are bigger than she is. Furthermore they have developed an attitude that they are better than the girls.

In my theory, this is based on thinking they're nothing if not masculine and tough, and certainly must be better than someone, how about girls? I think in part this comes from the hazing that boys do to each other; the weakest is scorned and ridiculed. The ones who come out on top believe that they MUST show their strength or lose.

From the point of view of the girls, they have lost most of the power they thought they had and would always have. The boys are bigger and stronger than they are, and could actually hurt them if they meet as equals in the games boys play. Girls also notice that most of the people who make news are male, that more than 90% of the ones in power (President, Chief of almost anything, CEOs, etc.) are male. Girls are told by the boys "We are stronger than you, we are smarter, we are better at math, we make better money, and you better not contest that."

Girls learn to downplay their intelligence, and not face boys head-on, but rather concede physical and overt strength to them.

Yet both boys and girls acknowledge that the one power girls do have over boys, and will never lose, is that the boys find them sexually attractive.
I think that the tendency to dress sexually at that age is a stab at retaining some of the power they used to have.

Do you agree?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Productive Procrastination

One of my facebook friends mentioned this. My house is very very happy that I'm working on a PhD, because when I'm procrastinating from that I'm doing lots of "useful" things. I sew (jacket sleeves, mending, tailoring, 2 new shirts, fitted some pants etc); I clean (storage room, piles, hall closet); I shop for appliances (new dishwasher and fridge yesterday!); I garden (mulch, zinnias; pansies); I used the power washer on the deck and even sealed it, and I even built a whole new patio!

What will I ever do for motivation when I don't have a doctorate to avoid?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


You can trust someone to have the right attitude, but not the skill. "Thanks, dear, I know you mean well, but I want to call a plumber."

You can trust someone to have the skill, but not the honesty. "I know you have the ability to manage my money to my advantage, but since we're not married any more, I'd rather someone else do it."

Trust must be gained over the long haul, but can be lost with a single act of betrayal. "You used the information I gave you to get promoted over me?" "Oh but we can still be trust me, right?"

You can trust someone in some way but not in others. "Honey, you're a whiz at negotiation. Just use your GPS to get there, ok?"

Believing that your ex has your child's best interests in mind does not mean you believe he or she is capable of delivering the best care.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

That Pesky L

What do these mispronunciations have in common?


In all cases there is an "L" next to another consonant. We have difficulty pronouncing both the L and the other consonant together, so we add a vowel sound while we're either getting rid of the L or getting ready for it.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Here's why your suggestion stinks...

Suppose you ask a group of people what to cook for your picky kids that's easy.

Suppose they come up with a variety of suggestions; let's imagine:
-Spaghetti squash with ham
-Chicken tacos
-Scrambled eggs
-Ginger turkey with vegies and soy sauce

Suppose each person who sent such an idea included the recipe too. Maybe they even looked over the note to make sure it read well, corrected their own spelling, spaced it nicely.

You'd say thank you, wouldn't you?
You asked for help, people spent considerable amounts of their own time, getting no personal benefit, trying to help you out, and they hoped you'd like your suggestion. Seems to me you owe them one, big time!

If you don't like their suggestions, should you follow the lead of some of my acquaintances lately?:

-Hi, Stella, they won't eat squash and I don't eat processed meat.
-We tried tacos last year and they're too much trouble.
-Charlie breaks out in hives when I cook with eggs.
-We never have the right kind of vegies in the house for Chinese food.

What kind of game is this? Even though I personally was thanked for my suggestion, which the asker liked, I was offended that the other suggesters were given the Here's Why Your Suggestion Stinks (HWYSS, pronounced "wice") treatment. I mean really, if you ask someone for something and they give it to you, don't hold it against them if you don't like it! (It's akin to "Pass the ketchup? Yuck, I hate this brand.")

Here's the bottom line. If you ask for a suggestion and I provide one, you MUST thank me. Even if you don't like the suggestion I offer, you need to recognize that I went to some trouble on your behalf. Guess what? nobody cares why you hate something they suggested. The reason doesn't matter. They will take anything other than enthusiastic appreciation as a slap in the face. "Never again will I help her!" they might well vow.

Here's the polite way:

Question: "Does anyone have any ideas for quick meals for my 4 kids?"
Answer: "Chicken Tacos have vegetables, lowfat meat, and even cheese as well as the taco shell, which is gluten-free."
Thought: ...Ewww, I hate Mexican food...
Permissible response: "Elena, thank you so much for providing the recipe. I really get a lot of ideas when a lot of people respond. And I appreciate that you remembered I must eat gluten free, and offered something balanced."
Not said: ...I'm never going to make this stuff....

Don't punish friends for being nice if you want them to continue to be nice.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Congratulations on your hard work

My guilty secret is that I watch game shows. I look at Family Feud as an exercise into understanding how normal people think...well sort of. ( Name something that breaks out... answers skin, prisoners, and epidemics.)

What has bugged me about the show is when the host says: "You've got a lot of hard work to do" or when the answers someone gives don't match the survey, "You've got to work harder"...

Clearly coming up with "epidemics" instead of "zoo animals" isn't harder work, it's just more successful. The show is set up so that one does not have time to work hard, one answers immediately. Success is defined by how many people out of 100 respondents came up with the same answer. It's not like you sit there and shovel dirt out of a ditch, nor even that you organize file cards or analyze something you read. You just make a guess.

The assumption that hard work = success (and conversely, that lack of success = didn't work very hard) really bugs me.

Here are a couple instances where the assumption DOES seem true.
You walk into a teenager's room, and everything is put away, and the surfaces are gleaming. You can bet this teenager spent a lot of time (and some of it was hard work) focusing on cleaning this room. Hurray for your success and your effort!
(I'm guessing that most cleaning tasks show proportionate success with hard work.)

Your child passes the driver's test with a 100%. You know this child has been reading the booklet every day for two weeks. It worked!

Here are a couple instances where the assumption is definitely not true:

Your child has an I.Q. of 130 and gets an A on a test. The teacher automatically assumes the student worked hard, but the student knows that this subject matter was easy for him/her...just listening in class and glancing at the book led to the A. The student feels like a fraud being congratulated for hard work.

The teacher assumed the student worked hard because the teacher assumes that all students have the same capability, therefore results=hard work.

Of course the opposite scenario is sadder, even tragic. An average or below-average-IQ child works really really hard. Studies every night but *just doesn't get it". Child brings home a B-. Teacher and parent both tell the student that the student could have worked harder. Student feels he/she DID work hard, but didn't understand the topic. No matter how much everyone thinks hard work=success, for some children hard work brings fewer results than for others. (No Child Left Behind can then be equated to "We'll hold back the smart ones and make sure they don't learn any more than the below-average ones, so everyone is the same, as we believe they ought to be.")

The following business scenario was illustrated by W. Edwards Deming in his "Red Bead" experiment.
Managers make the assumption that people who are more skilled will have better results. But a lot of results are random, and processes sometimes not only do not help increase good results, sometimes they prohibit them. His experiment has a barrel full of white beads with some red beads mixed in (representing defects). He has a scoop that he gives different people to scoop out some red beads. He describes a complicated process of shaking and tapping the scoop that should produce only white beads. Of course the red beads are clearly unavoidable, but management incorrectly attributes a lack of red beads (a random occurrence) to hard work, or careful work. Those who got the fewest red beads yesterday were given raises for their hard work, then accused of getting sloppy the next day.

I wish people would pay more attention to cause and effect, or at least to when an "effect" is not entirely explained by whatever one deems the "cause" to be. Many times such an explanation is so simple as to be clearly wrong. Making decisions based on that model is foolish.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Rich people, exploitation, and the economy

A friend of mine asked if it is true that American car companies can't make cars profitably. I actually consulted with a US car company briefly, last year, though not about car prices in any way. However I believe I have a handle on the problem.

Consider: Minimum wage here in the US is $6 and senior laborerers get maybe $40 an hour, or more, but in third world countries you can get work done for cents per hour. U.S. car companies were selling tiny cars because they had to to get their gas mileage average down, but they had to price the small cars in such a manner that they thousands of dollars on each car, in order to compete with import makers. The only cars that US carmakers could make money on were the big ones (read: gas guzzlers), which earned the company like $10K per car.

There would have been a day when I would have thought that was obscene. However I know now that money is the “food” of an economy, and if you don’t feed an organism, it dies. No one is going to keep making cars if they don’t get paid, or keep selling them, or keep anything if there isn’t money to pay them, so a company has to make money somehow.

In my mind this is a symptom of a larger problem, which is unavoidably temporary. We here in the “civilized” world consume every year more than we could possibly make, whereas most people in poor countries probably consume 1/10 to 1/100 in a year Americans do. They are subsisting. So when someone gives them a job to make anything for almost no money, to them, it may be twice what they WERE living on, and they’re happy to now be able to, say, have an indoor toilet. Or hot water most of the day. Or maybe shoes for all their children.

Whereas we (and I’m no exception) want cars, and hardwood floors, and big screen TVs and jet vacations, and cruises, and stainless steel appliances, and handmade art etc. Forty years ago we Americans didn’t have all those things, since we didn’t have the global economy of today, and we could only buy at prices that Americans were willing to make things for. Forty years from now we won’t either, since the global economy will average out income somewhat by then. (When everyone is making about the same money, everyone can consume, on the average, only what people make, on the average.)

But now we HAVE a global economy, and it hasn’t yet averaged the economies from country to country. We still have poorly paid subsisters in third world countries making shoes for us. We haven’t yet realized, or perhaps are starting to realize, that the reason companies outsource everything is no one here can live what they believe is a reasonable life on $.50 an hour, so we demand $5 or more an hour by law. Thus any maker who can goes overseas (or perhaps a better way to say it is: those who go overseas become more competitive in the marketplace and outlast the makers who stay domestic). I heard a fast food chain has even outsourced order taking between that little scratchy speaker in the parking lot and the restaurant kitchen, putting the job in the hands of someone around the world!

So now instead of buying a $500 quilt from, say, the Amish in Pennsylvania, who still make them in the US by hand, we buy a $99 quilt from an importer, and have $400 left to buy, say, chairs, made in Thailand from disappearing forests. (We wouldn’t have been able to afford any chairs if they were made in an eco-friendly way inside the US.)

Historically everyone would like to have a job that pays them enough to obtain more than they could make themselves. In the past, the ruling class in every society I know about exploited someone and made them make things for them, from Indian castes to Egyptian and US slaves, to women prior to about the 1960s here and in the Islamic world still.

As we stop exploiting people and want them to have the same opportunities we have, we’ll have fewer fruits as a result. I think as we continue to send money overseas to cheap labor markets, they will get less cheap, and our neighbors here at home will be willing to work for salaries that don't enable them to buy as much, and prices will come a bit closer together. But until we recognize that not everyone can have everything, we will be surprised that the economy does what it does. We try to send everyone to college so that everyone can have a $100K a year job, but we don’t want to pay $100K to our maids or our children’s babysitters or our gardeners.

Enjoy it while you can if you have a job. It won’t be the same in 40 years. My opinion only.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Process complexity

Often we believe that if we just instituted good processes, we could hire inexperienced people to follow them, train them well to follow the processes well, and then our projects would go smoothly.

The problem is, most of our projects are not in the realms of "Simple" or "Known" (these terms come from 2 different versions of the Cynefin framework), that which is the proper realm for process reengineering and best practices, where bins can be identified and once you find the bin your situation is in, you just enact the preprogrammed response.

Rather, most of our projects are at least in the "Complicated" or "Knowable" realm, if not the "Complex" realm. In both of these, we have difficulty just following process. Complicated situations embody cause and effect separated in distance or time, so we need to analyze to figure out what the right thing to do is. In complex situations "cause and effect are only coherent in retrospect and do not repeat" excellent regime for Monday-morning quarterbacking but not an easy place to predict in advance what to do.

My theory here is that when we find ourselves in a complex or complicated situation and we are told to follow processes that assume a Simple or Known situation, here is where we deviate from the processes. We intentionally apply more knowledge than the processes think is necessary...we use our brains, also called our "internal neural networks".

One advantage that neural networks are known to have that is superior to sequential computing is pattern recognition and associativity...meaning, this is *like* something I have seen before. Our brains do this, much better than processes encoded in text and stored digitally. We look for processes that might handle the current situation, and if we don't see one that avoids the problem we saw in the past, we move on and invent one that we think might be better.

Of course, inventing processes for documenting game software is a bit different in effect than inventing processes for testing a nuclear power plant...the latter could blow you up and possibly destroy a large part of the planet.

In general, we need to become more aware of what complexity is, how it affects our products and our development programs, and what we should do about it.

I am in the process of making new modules related to this for my Complex Systems Engineering course.


Dan Breslau, in his post "Living Agile", describes what I happened to call "Blog-jam"...(here I unfortunately had to delete his simile...)

"...I’d planned to pick up where I’d left off,... inevitably, just as I sat down to write, a new idea poked its head in. on its heels came another one,... a third idea showed up...Some of those ideas were so darned appealing. But before I knew it, there was a crowd of them, each struggling to be the first to slide into the keyboard. With all of their jostling, none of them could get through. If I couldn’t break that logjam, this post was never going to happen. ... I’m trying to write a blankety-blank blog, not The Great American Software Book."

I too have too many ideas, not only when writing blogs but even just sitting down to work. Sometimes putting a Task into Outlook with the thought in it breaks the jam. Sometimes writing it up in a Word document and storing it in my Ideas file helps. Often nothing helps and I spend the day dithering.

I will meditate on focusing on one small thing. Thanks, Dan!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Dressing up

It is important to look good when you are on a job interview, or a date. I have been doing a lot of thinking about why. Certainly, you want the other person to think you are attractive. And second, in the job interview or date you are more likely to get what you want if you look the part.

But I always thought that was the end of it...and I was wrong.

I thought if a man showed up at a job interview in sweatpants, well, he is cutting his own throat...and the people who saw him wouldn't be insulted so much as would feel sorry for him. Similarly, if I were to attend the opera in dirty jeans, it would be my loss, not everyone else's. I was the one who would feel out of place. I figure my clothing was my business, and no one else would take an interest in it...they'd all probably be too busy wondering if what they wore was correct.

I found out that people DO get insulted if others don't dress up for them. Once I figured out a good analogy explaining why, I was sold.

The Queen of England figures in a lot of my etiquette analogies, so let's bring her in again.

Suppose you had an audience with the Queen of England. Would you dress up? Oh yes, you would. You'd wear the nicest thing you had, or maybe even go buy (or rent) something even nicer, more formal, more wealthy-looking. You would get your hair done and take care to ensure that nothing blew a hair out of place. You'd shine your shoes, match your accessories, and depending on gender, either shave precisely or put on fine make-up. You'd really go all out.


Because what the Queen of England thinks of you *matters* to you. You care what kind of impression you make on her. She is important.

Now back off to the job interview, the date, the lunch meeting. Suppose you don't dress up. Suppose your hair looks terrible and your shoes are messy. Why is the person you're meeting likely to be insulted? Because what you are saying is, "You are NOT the Queen of England. I do not care enough about you to look good." You are saying that what that person thinks of you does not matter to you.

As I say, I learned this late in life. People always want to think that YOU think they are important. Dressing up for them is one way to say that.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Eric Holder says we are cowards

According to an Associated Press report on Attorney General Eric Holder's speech during a ceremony at the Department of Justice,

Holder said...the United States was "a nation of cowards" on matters of race, with most Americans avoiding candid discussions of racial issues.
'Race, Holder said, "is an issue we have never been at ease with and, given our nation's history, this is in some ways understandable... If we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us." '

Now my response:
I am white. I was brought up in an integrated neighborhood outside of Cleveland Ohio. Back then race and racism were a valued and valuable topic of discussion. In the last 20 years such topics have become politically incorrect. Holder is correct in saying we don't discuss it, although the "cowardice" imho means we don't dare say things that are politically incorrect, not that we're cowards about the other race.

I think in refusing to talk about it for 2 decades, we have driven racists underground in most areas. As a result I think some people, especially young people, do not experience racism and see no problem with interracial dating, etc. But there is a core of people who still have not discussed race and their ideas toward it and why those ideas don't meet their own purported value systems.

I think it is time to admit
-Racism is alive and well
-By all's not just white v. African Americans
-We need to make a decision that we are going to understand and fix our own attitudes.