06 November 2009

Moving Day for the Blogosphere

I'm moving the blog!

I've opened mdsimants.wordpress.com and am officially moving to WordPress. There are a few reasons for this that all deal with plans for the future (think personalized domain, etc). Additionally, WordPress has a really nice BlackBerry client, so I can more efficiently blog on the go (assuming that I actually will).

If you read my blog in Facebook only, I've already synced my WordPress blog over, so that should be seamless for you. If you read this in an RSS reader, then point yourself over mdsimants.wordpress.com.

See ya on the flipside.

03 November 2009

And the journey continues....

Well, we’ve come to a new point in the journey.


Things have been relatively quiet since the last update. With the exception of a 4 or 5 day exacerbation in September and a 2 or 3 day one in October, there has been very little to report. In both of these cases, the exacerbation presented with a new symptom.


We had our follow-up with the Neurologist on October 20. Dr. Boop was concerned that there was a new symptom in the previous two exacerbations. Events such as that typically reflect new lesions and make Multiple Sclerosis a more likely clinical diagnosis. We briefly discussed long-term treatment options and he armed us with a considerable amount of information (inclusive of a DVD that was a veritable “cheese-feast”). Dr. Boop also recommended that we proceed with a new MRI Scan.


There’s a saga that I should insert here that occurred in the process of getting the insurance company to approve the MRI. I’ll spare you all the insanity, but will make this general observation: Insurance companies have absolutely NO BUSINESS making medical decisions. The MRI was approved after an appeal letter from Dr. Boop.


A side note to the insurance saga (and an element of it that is truly too good not to share), the denial letter both APPROVED and DENIED the MRI in the SAME PARAGRAPH of the SAME LETTER – in back-to-back sentences. Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up.


At any rate, the MRI was conducted on 11/2. Dr. Boop contacted me on 11/3 with the results of the MRI. There were two lesions. These are the same two lesions that existed on the June scan, and there were no new lesions.

However, over the past few days, I have been experiencing off-and-on issues with tremors and other symptoms – including another new symptom. This one is actually kinda cool, in that it is an issue where I get a tingling in my spine and out toward my arms. It’s like when you get a cold shiver. This started yesterday morning. I can force this symptom by turning my head or dropping my chin, which is a clinical test called Lehrmitte’s Sign.

While on the phone with Dr. Boop, I mentioned this issue. He stated that even though the MRI was unchanged, the presence of this new symptom and the earlier new symptom confirms that this is Multiple Sclerosis. He further said that Multiple Sclerosis is the only real explanation for the collection of symptoms, and their appearance/disappearance/reappearance/etc.


What’s next? Based on the continued issues with and the length of this particular exacerbation, Dr. Boop has written a prescription for Prednisone. This is a steroid treatment that will help alleviate the on-going issues with the exacerbation. Additionally, we are beginning the process to get insurance approval (please refer to an earlier paragraph for my opinion on that statement) for Copaxone, which is a disease modifying treatment (daily injection) that works to minimize the frequency of and impact of future exacerbations.


For those of you wanting to know what directions we need/want prayers, good thoughts, karma, etc:

  • Wisdom for Dr. Boop and us to make wise decisions as we go forward in this process
  • Insurance approval for Copaxone, which is an extraordinarily expensive ($30k/annually) drug if you don’t have insurance. With our insurance, we will be able to get this treatment for about $500/year, so we need the insurance company to approve the drug
  • Steph and I to have wisdom/understanding/etc for explaining this to Emily (and later to Caleb). Em is, as you all know, one smart kid, so this should be easy, but never something that you WANT to have to do. So, maybe the direction here is more for us to have the strength/emotional stamina/etc to explain.
  • Strength (physical/emotional/etc) for Steph as we continue on this journey. She’s been unbelievable through this and I am so incredibly thankful to have her by my side.


We appreciate all that you have all done for us. Your kind words, prayers, positive thoughts, offers of help have been overwhelming to us. We find ourselves in a fantastic position to be surrounded by so many wonderful people.

14 October 2009

Back above 10k!

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07 October 2009

You Decide the Quality of Your Day

Bob Whiteley, who pastored at the church that I attended while a student at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, once said: "The first thing that you say in the morning will determine the quality of your entire day."

If you start the day with negativity, then your day will likely be negative. On the other hand, if you start the day with positivity, then it will likely be positive. It is up to you to make the determination on what type of day you will have. This is not to imply that if you choose positivity, then nothing negative will happen. Rather, your response to the negative will be positive. It all starts, though, with your choice when you get up.

This morning - after five hours of sleep - it would be easy for me to start the morning negative. Yet, I'm going with positive. Not with an "oh #*$@, it is time to get up," but rather with an "it is time to go make a difference."

Human nature (learned, not inherent) is to go negative as soon as possible. Yet, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (TNIV), "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old is gone, the new is here!". Further, Paul writes in Romans 12:2 (NLT) that you should "let God transform" you "by changing the way you think.". However, God does not forcibly change your mind; rather, God waits for you to allow your mind to be changed.

If you start your day by giving over the selfish, negative thoughts and words, and you allow God to have the reins of your mind, then positivity wins, and your day can be positive.

Bringing us back to Whiteley's comment "The first thing that you say (outloud or internally) in the morning will determine the quality of your day."

UPDATE: Thanks, Pam, for calling attention to Proverbs 18:21 (TNIV): "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit." (God's Word Translation translates the second phrase: "and those who love to talk will have to eat their own words.")


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13 September 2009

30 July 2009

Caleb

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24 July 2009

My (From Experience) Argument for Healthcare Reform

For those of you who have been following the Simants’ medical saga: “In Search of Michael’s Brain”, I apologize if the next few paragraphs are a bit redundant to you, yet you will pick up a couple of tidbits that will help in understanding my arguments to follow.
BACKGROUND
12 years ago this November, I began a journey that was highly unexpected. After a very dizzy and blurry dinner on a Friday night, I began to experience slurred speech, tremor on the right side and difficulty walking. Over the following two weeks and three MRIs, countless heart tests, CT Scans, Visual Evoked Potentials, Visual Field tests, a spinal tap and more hospital coffee than anyone should ever be allowed to consume my lead doctor a neurologist named Webb concluded that I had a case of probable MS.
Over the next two years, a few more MRIs and another spinal tap, I continued to have occasional issues. Then in December of 1999, it all seemed to stop. More importantly it stayed stopped for the next 9.5 years -- save one brief interruption. In early 2008, I got dizzy and fell down the stairs. My PCP recommended that I see a neurologist. He ordered an MRI. He concluded that I did not then, nor had I ever had MS (yes, he had copies of all the records from 1997-9). When I pressed him to explain what had happened in 1997, he said it was a virus. A virus that in 1997 was unknown.
Between 2008 and 2009, I changed PCPs. At my first visit with the new PCP, I hand delivered the 1997-9 records and the 2008 records and had a conversation with him about each.
At roughly noon on Monday, June 22, 2009, it all came back like a song – a dizzy, blurry, shaky song. I called my PCP. He asked that I come in to see him. I did. I was hoping for a referral to a neurologist in town. Instead, I was told to go to the Emergency Room since he felt that I had a stroke. I tried to explain it was the same as 1997 to deaf ears.
We spent FOUR hours in Emergency Room waiting room (good thing it wasn’t a stroke). When we were finally called back, I tried to explain to the ER Doctor that it wasn’t a stroke or tumor or whatever, and he should go straight to MRI. Instead, he ordered a CT scan. After it was clear, he ordered the MRI. Then he consulted with a neurologist, scheduled me an appointment for the next day and sent me home.
When we saw the Neurologist the next day, he ordered a spinal tap (not sure why this wasn’t done when I was in the ER). When it came back clear he sent me to an Ophthalmologist to determine why I was still having vision problems, and hoping that the vision problems would help determine diagnosis. That brings us up-to-date.
COST/INSURANCE
I have insurance – good insurance. To date, the amount that Doctors have billed to the insurance company is $10,852. My out-of-pocket has been a mere $195. More important (and strange) is the amount that the insurance company has actually paid. This amount is $2,953. That’s a reduction of 73%. If you assume for a moment that the medical provider is still making a modest 5% profit, the actual cost of the medical service provided was $2,805. That is a markup of about 385%. In short, healthcare is ridiculously overpriced.
Assume for a moment, that I did not have insurance. How would I cover $10,852 in medical expenses? Assuming that I paid it off in monthly installments with no interest: 1 year: $904/month, 3 years: $301/month, 5 years: $180/month.
According to the National Coalition on Health Care (link), in 2007 46 million Americans were without health insurance and the number of Americans without health insurance is rising at the rate of ~1.15 million per year. Additionally, $100 billion each year is spent to provide medical care for those who are uninsured. $34 billion per year is spent by hospitals providing uncompensated medical care.
The cost of medical care for the uninsured or underinsured is being covered by the mark-ups that medical providers are billing that fall beyond their markup. By providing health insurance to all Americans, we will be able to reduce the cost of medical care for all Americans.
MEDICAL RECORD KEEPING
In the course of all of this, we have had several interesting episodes with medical records. We had a need to get the records from Dr. Khan (the Neurologist from the 2008 escapade). As we began to try to find these records, we discovered that Dr. Khan had skipped town to take a fellowship somewhere, and no one knew where. Additionally, he had apparently taken his records with him, burned them, used them for wrapping paper or left them in a ditch next to his old office. They were no where to be found. Finally, I called the office where my old PCP had worked on the off-chance that he had actually sent them over. After three phone calls, $25, and 45 days, we finally received those records. Buried deep within were the write-ups and dictation from Dr. Khan. Very sketchy, sort of misleading and quite evasive, but they were there.
The records were given to my new PCP (Dr. Ford) less than one week prior to my visit with him on June 23. The record packet that I had given Dr. Ford was 105 pages of information that provided nearly conclusive evidence that my June 22 episode was not a stroke. Yet, at any rate, he chose to pursue my symptoms as a stroke. Clearly ignoring the 105 pages of information, he insisted on sending me to the ER to explore a stroke.
In the Emergency Room, even after hearing that Dr. Ford had records that would indicate otherwise and that my symptoms began with a sudden onset some 28 hours earlier. Clearly past the “point of no return” for stroke patients or the impact of the majority of anti-clotting medications that are typically given. Yet, a CT Scan was performed – needlessly. A CT Scan that was billed at $1889 and a reading of the CT Scan that was billed at $198 -- a wasted $2087. Finally, an MRI was ordered, but to look only at the brain – no C-Spine, no Spinal Cord. Even though my story had been told and the CT Scan was clearly normal, they continued to think Stroke.
When Dr. Boop referred me to an Ophthalmologist, I was left on my own to find one. When I did, the Ophthalmologist (Dr. Berry) asked me to contact Dr. Boop to have records sent over. Nine days later, sitting in Dr. Berry’s office I learned that he did not have the records from Dr. Boop. Now here is the kicker to this one. Dr. Boop and Dr. Berry both work for Baptist Health System. Their offices are “a line drive to left center” from each other. Dr. Berry had to call Dr. Boop and have the records faxed -- seriously, phone call and fax.
I have either had terrible luck with medical records, or there is a serious gap in medical record keeping. With the technology that exists today, it is far outside of my realm of understanding why such a gap exists. There needs to be a considerable investment made in the centralization of medical records. This system should be secure, yet contain the ability for the patient to access their full-range of records (including test results, films, scans, etc) on a whim. There is no reason that phones/faxes should be used to transfer records. Patients shouldn’t have to hand carry records from doctor-to-doctor.
Additionally, doctors should be held accountable for not taking time to read and understand a patient’s medical history. I understand that this will require more time to be spent per patient, yet at $200 for 10 minutes is that really too much to ask? If Dr. Ford had been paying attention 5 days prior to my visit with him on June 23 or had looked through my records before walking into the exam room, then he would have known that it was not a stroke he was dealing with. He would not have sent me straight to the ER. He would (and should) have made a referral to a Neurologist and called it done. The question that I am continuing to struggle to answer is if I should continue to see Dr. Ford, or should I go elsewhere?
ELIMINATE UNNECCESSARY TESTS
As I illustrated in the above story, the Emergency Room continued down the wrong path, even after they had been told it was the wrong path. They were insistent on continuing to pursue a stroke that did not exist. This caused an unneeded CT Scan and an inadequate MRI Scan to be performed. As it was the MRI showed two small areas on the brain, yet because it did not include the C-Spine and Spinal Cord other areas susceptible to MS-related lesions were not scanned.
Additionally, while in the ER, I was tapped for an IV – that was never accessed. I was given an EKG and connected to real-time monitoring – again unnecessary.
MY CONCLUSION
I am not a medical professional. I am not a politician. I am only a person who has followed a twelve year path and learned a few things along the way. In my experience, the healthcare system is broken. There are far too many gaps in information sharing and there is a wide gap between billed costs and real costs. It is time that this issue is corrected.

15 July 2009

My Unexpected and Unrealized Brush With Grace

Piano. Proficiency.



Say those two words to an Undergrad Music Major and beads of sweat, uncontrollable shaking, sobs, running in circles, and other extreme symptoms of anxiety. For me, those two words were the bane of my undergrad existence.



I took private piano every semester in my undergrad program. I loved playing everything that was not directly related to piano proficiency. Consequently, piano proficiency stuff only was given a single (maybe double) run-through while everything else was practiced.



Now, I should at this point interrupt myself to remain completely forthcoming. I am not - by any stretch of the imagination - a great pianist. I never was. I never will be. I would much rather just sit down and improvise than actually play something out of a book.



The problem was that no matter how many private piano lessons I took the piano proficiency was not progressing. By now you are thinking (and you are right) that there is only one person to blame for that lack of progression. In my (poor and pointless) defense, like many thousands of other music students, I just never saw the point in learning how to play the Star Spangled Banner from memory.



The relatively sad part is that even though I wasn't progressing in the proficiency department, I kept receiving "A"s in my private lessons. Until that fateful semester when Dr. Bridgeman assigned me to Dr. McConnell.



Now, I am not sure how Dr. McConnell drew the proverbial short straw, yet was happy he did.



At the end of the term though I was still short of the bar required to pass proficiency and received a 'B'. Ouch.



I've given Dr. McConnell a lot of grief over the past few years about that 'B'. Most of the time in jest. Part of the time not.



I completely earned that 'B'. Well, in actuality, I probably earned less than that. So, yes, grace.



But that is not the end.



When it came time to graduate, all requirements met except one (well two, but chapel fines are another story) -- Piano Proficiency.



I remember it like it was yesterday (or more aptly last night's nightmare). Dr. Bridgeman administered proficiency exams. This was my fourth (or so) attempt.



Scales - check.

Hymn Sight Reading - check(ish).

America the Beautiful - check(ish).

Star Spangled Banner - oh hell.



It was bad. I don't mean "wow that was bad" kind of bad. I mean "cover your ears what the hell was that supposed to be" kind of bad. Dr. Bridgeman in a way that only she could do asked if I would like to try again. I only half-joking said not really. We tried again. Worse.



Ms. Bridgman then illustrated mercy. Opened the hymnal and said play. I did. Sorta. Better but still rough.



I passed.



Grace.



Not of my own merit. Not of Ms. Bridgeman's desire to get me the hell out of her office. Just simply grace.



I was reminded recently of this story. Dr. McConnell and I have remained friends. He has helped me through numerous major life events and still the hell I've given him over that 'B'. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20.



In hindsight, I'm thankful for the grace that Dr. McConnell shared. I'm thankful for the grace Ms. Bridgeman illustrated.



I've heard grace defined as unmerited favor. It is the bridge that takes us from unsatisfactory performance to success. It is that thing that says we are worthy despite our own efforts at worthiness.



So, to Ms. Bridgeman and Dr. McConnell I say "Thanks". The lesson wasn't lost. It just took a while to learn.


27 June 2009

19 June 2009

Caleb

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Truth in Advertising

The story (somewhat edited to protect innocent parties) goes like this:

We realized about two weeks ago that we were heading toward an absolute train wreck. We did not have adequate staffing to support our converted customer base and had about 10x that number of customers to support in just about six weeks.

With the training cycle being five weeks, we scrambled to develop a contingency plan. Our options were severely constrained by call routing, training space and trainer resources as well as the need to continue supporting the non-converted customers. Nevertheless, a (about 85%) good plan was developed. The scramble then began to determine how to support this brainchild.

The plan was to pull additional resources (~75) into training in two locations. The first location would train about 45 of the resources in a room that was ready to go and sitting idle. The remainder would be trained in an idle training room, but PCs would need to be installed. After a couple of phone calls and calling in my last favor from IT, they agreed to make it happen.

At 3p on Friday, before the room was to go live on Monday, I received the dreaded phone call. There was a problem with the power draw that the PCs required. So bad, in fact, that they could power no more than 12 out of 30 at a time. We would need an alternate plan. It doesn't take an experienced project manager to know that 3p on Friday is NEVER the right time to deliver a bombshell. Scramble begins.

45 minutes later, I receive another in a long string of phone calls. This one telling me that facilities would "make it work" and would do so by Monday Morning at 8a when training was scheduled to begin. I asked that I receive a phone call when it was done just to be safe, and was told that it was safe to assume that silence was indeed golden, and I would receive a call only if it wasn't going to be ready for 8a Monday. I know that I should have not agreed to that, but at 4p on Friday, I'll take it.

Crises averted. Right?

Sunday I sent three texts to two different people to confirm. Silence.

Monday, at 715a, resent the text from Sunday. Two replies. Both said exactly the same thing: "Yes, you are ready."

Monday, at 930a, I get an IM asking why the room wasn't ready until 915a.

Four days later, that question remains unanswered.

The morale of my tale is simple: "Just tell the truth."


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11 June 2009

Kindle Initial Thoughts

I'm now about two weeks into my Kindle 2 ownership. I have had a lot of people asking about my impressions and decided this would be a good point to share those.

The short impression is I LOVE it.

Here are some reasons why:

> Accessibility - books are easy to get and plentiful. The Kindle store has something like 300k titles available. These range in price from $.25 (Alice's Adventures In Wonderland) up to $9.99 (with some textbooks slightly higher). Additionally, there are multiple sites where you can get books in the public domain for free. I can go to the Kindle Store and enter the title of a book that I've heard about or that was a reference in the book that I am reading and download it or a sample.

> Easy on the Eyes - when I first heard that it was "like reading a paperback", I was very skeptical. However, I can tell you after several hours of reading, it is like reading a paperback.

> Dictionary - it's built-in! If you are not certain of the meaning of a word, or want more info on a topic, then you navigate to thw word and the definition is displayed on the bottom of the screen. Pressing the "enter" key will show additional information.

> Advanced Additional Info - from within a book, you can enter a search phrase and search multiple sources including Google and the Wikipedia for that phrase. For example, the other night I was reading Ted Gioia's "The History of Jazz". He referenced the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). I typed in "Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians" and searched Wikipedia. I read the entry for AACM. In the reference section at the end of that entry was the citation for George E. Lewis' book "A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music". I then opened the Kindle store entered the title of that volume, and 45 seconds later it was on the Kindle ready for me to read.

> Changeable Font Size - there are six or seven different sizes of fonts from which you can select.

> Clipping/Annotating - I'm an "underliner". I like to make notes in books as I'm reading and highlight and underline. Kindle allows me to do this. Additionally, it places my notes/highlights into a "My Clippings" area on my Kindle and syncs them to my Kindle page on Amazons website.

> Search - from the Home Page of the Kindle, I can enter a search word/phrase and the Kindle will scour through everything on the device and display every occurrence of that in a navigatable list.

> Mobile Web Access - while not the best web browser in the world (nor is it designed to be), it works well for quick jaunts of text info. It is relatively easy to get weather forecasts, news updates and sports scores. It works well with Google Reader (my choice for RSS feeds). It also works with Twitter.

> Range of reading material - I have found myself exploring books that I would not have likely gotten around to reading. I have something like 60 books on the device and 20 samples (when I come across a title, or hear about a title that I think I might find interesting I download a sample of it to peruse at my leisure) and the topics range from fiction in the public domain to heady history and specialized music books. People that have Kindles have told me that their range of reading material has widen dramatically since purchasing a Kindle.

What I wish it had:

> Reference book - as mentioned earlier, I can go to the Kindle Store and do this manually, but I would love the ability to click on a book title that is a reference in the book I'm reading and have it take me to that Kindle Store entry.

> Page Numbers - Kindle uses a "location" within the book. I'm uncertain as to what makes something a location. Yet, I wish there were something that translated a location to a page number. That way you could actually do functional research/citations. As it is now, if you are reading something that is research for a paper, you need to go to a hardcopy and find the page. Either that or someone needs to create an APA citation method specific to Kindle. (That said.... There appears to be a national one debate regarding how one should cite passages. It seems to be split between use the location number and say it is the Kindle edition, and get a book.)

> Onboard RSS reader - while you can use Google Reader (mobile), it would be nice to have a built-in RSS reader.

All-in-all it is one of the coolest devices that I've ever owned. It is pretty neat how much information you have access to when you carry it.

Thanks, Steph, Emily and Caleb!


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08 June 2009

Octo Slip Cover

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05 June 2009

My New Office

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28 May 2009

My Boy

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21 May 2009

My Birthday/Father's Day/Graduation/Anniversary Gift

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The Birthday Wine

2006 Markham Sauvignon Blanc. $16 Very nice. Fruity. A hint of oak. Light. Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

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Let's go 'round one more time again

Today I completed trip number 35 around the sun and began trip number 36. For those keeping count, that's 20,988,000,000 miles traveled. There are a lot of great memories in those miles!

I decided to write a blog to reflect on this past trip around. All-in-all it was fun. There were a couple of rough spots that mainly centered on a deep struggle between myself and a lawn-mower. In the end, I won. Of course, it cost me the price of a new mower.

My oldest turned four and my youngest turned one. Their mother and I passed six great years of being married.

My Granny scared us by falling and breaking a hip. Fortunately, she is recovering quite well.

Emily learned to read. Steph learned to teach Kindergarten. I learned to worry about the cost of MIT.

I finished all of my actual course work for my Master's Degree in Project Management.

My company was bought.

Thanks to a wonderfully understanding and sharing family I got to spend my Uncle Jack's birthday with him in Napa, CA. It was (and will always be) one of my favorite trips of my life.

I read a few books.

I laughed a lot of laughs.

I got to take my daughter to see Hillary Clinton.

I was able to vote for an African-American to be President, and got to sit and hold my daughter as he took the oath of office. That was something that I was almost certain I would never see happen in my lifetime.

I was able to meet many new friends and reconnect with many old friends.

It has been another blessed year. I am grateful for the ride.

And one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs (video here):

Hear 'em singing Happy Birthday,
Better think about the wish I make.
This year gone by ain't been a piece of cake.
Every day's a revolution,
Pull it together and it comes undone.
Just one more candle and a trip around the sun.

I'm just hangin' on while this old world keeps spinnin',
And it's good to know it's out of my control.
If there's one thing I've learned from all this livin',
Is that it wouldn't change a thing if I let go.

No, you never see it comin':
Always wind up wondering where it went.
Only time will tell if it was time well spent.
It's another revelation,
Celebratin' what I should have done,
With these souvenirs of my trip around the sun.

I'm just hangin' on while this old world keeps spinnin',
And it's good to know it's out of my control.
If there's one thing I've learned from all this livin',
Is that it wouldn't change a thing if I let go.

Yes, I'll make a resolution,
That I'll never make another one.
Just enjoy this ride on my trip around the sun.
Just enjoy this ride, (One more trip around the sun.)
Until it's done. (One more trip around the sun.)
(One more trip around the sun.)

(Trip Around The Sun - Jimmy Buffett/Martina McBride)
(Al Anderson/Steve Burton/Sharon Vaughn)

Let's go 'round one more time again!



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18 May 2009

Today is Graduation Day

Well, not for me (I have four weeks left), but for thousands of others this weekend (or the next couple) marks the end of their educational journey. While I have been trying not to be all nostalgic about my own previous two graduations - not that I can really remember a single thing about either - I have been thinking about what I would say if I were asked to speak at the graduation of either of my kids (Thank God that is a long ways coming). Here are some thoughts that I would try to convey.

PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION

Everyday you "suit-up" for a game. Play to win. Only losers say, "No matter what happens, I'm just happy to be here." Play fair. Play with integrity and honesty.

THE MEANS NEVER JUSTIFIES THE END

I remember learning golf from my Grandfather. The most important lesson was "count every shot (defined as an interaction between the ball and the club)". Play your life like a golf game - straight, aim for the target, respect the rules, and be gracious to the other players.

BE NICE

There was a slogan that went around when I was working on my undergrad - "Mean People Suck". That saying is as true today as it ever was. There is absolutely no reason to be mean to people. It will do nothing to further your career or your life.

BEING RESPECTED IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN BEING LIKED

The popular way is not always the best way. Don't be afraid to go against the grain and make a tough call. People will respect you for it. They may not like you, but they will respect you.

HAVE FUN

Play. Alot. You will find life to be stressful. You will find business to be stressful. The old saying is true; all work and no play will make you dull. Find outlets for the stress. Play golf. Play basketball. Play tennis. Play video games. Just play.

NETWORK

A recent study in the British Medical Journal (http://tinyurl.com/563wmj) illustrates the impact of the social network on up to three degrees of separation. In a separate study that also appeared in the British Medical Journal (http://tinyurl.com/6f5dhv) (subscription required), we find research that supports a correlation between one's social network and one's health. All that to say that your social network should be ever expanding. Yet, don't allow yourself to confine that network to a web-presence. The web is a way to enhance the network, and should not be treated as a replacement for 30-inch interactions. My friend, Mark Shead authored an excellent article (http://tinyurl.com/cb8oxz) titled "9 Steps Towards Genuine and Effective Networking" where he outlines ways to bring the network to the 30-inch level.

LOVE WHAT YOU DO

This is critical. In a commencement address to Stanford University (http://tinyurl.com/4lxnfh), Steve Jobs said that every morning you should look in the mirror and ask yourself, "If this were the last day of my life, would I be doing what I have planned for today?" He went on to say that if the answer was "No" for several days in a row then it was likely time to go do something else. If you don't love what you do, then burn out will set in and you will lose effectiveness and relevance.

NEVER STOP LEARNING

You will never know everything that there is to know about a subject. Learn. Always.

READ ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND

For Christmas in 1981, my Uncle Jack gave me a copy of this great Lewis Carroll work. On the inside he wrote the admonition to "read it again when you are 30". Since 1981, I have read this literary masterpiece no less than 25 times. I recently had the pleasure of taking my four-year-old on Alice's adventures with me. Yes, the story is total nonsense, but the exercise that it gives your imagination is priceless.

LISTEN TO MUSIC

Do not trap yourself within a single genre. Challenge your ears.

REMEMBER THAT LIFE IS BIGGER THAN YOU

You are on this planet for one reason. That reason is very simple. Make someone's life better. If you can always remember this, then you can mark your life a success.



Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

15 May 2009

One of the world's best inventions

Take a cold beer mug.
Salt rim.
Fill with ice
Fill to about halfway with lime
Top off with SOL
 
Drink
Repeat
 
Cheers!
 
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Posted via email from mdsimants's posterous

13 May 2009

08 May 2009

Is Dick Cheney Right?

This morning's CNN poll started with the phrase "Is Dick Cheney Right....". It continued with some mumbo-jumbo about the Republican Party moderating. The poll results at that time were something like 30% yeah/70% nay. I wonder how many people actually read past "Is Dick Cheney Right"?

Dick Cheney is one of the most polarizing figures of the last decade. I have argued from the day GWB picked him as a VP that he was really the guy running things. He's an effective puppet-master.

So back to the original point.... When a poll question is asked, and the opening phrase asks if Dick Cheney is right, the poll is skewed. In this case, (and believe me this is hard to say) he is right. If the Republican Party moderates, it won't stop the bleeding. The problem with the party is the absence of leadership. They need someone who can bridge the divisive factions. There are a lot of individuals vying for that role, but none are fitting the bill.

Michael Steele could be that individual, but the Limbaughs and Cheneys of the party need to fade quietly into the night, or, better yet, simply STFU and stop trying to be relevant.

I, for one, am ok with the GOP never figuring this out.


Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

13 April 2009

Are You A Black Hole or a Secret Weapon?

Someone once said that the most important impression that you can make on someone is the first impression you make on them. While there is immense truth in that statement, it is only part of it. As you observe people and their behaviors, then your first impression is changed or affirmed. In either case, I find myself using that initial impression as the basis for how I decide to size up my co-workers.

Let me begin by defining co-workers. In this post, I expand the concept of a co-worker as someone with whom you interact everyday (I consider them to be peers) to include people whom you observe as well.

I find myself constantly sizing people up. Im always on the hunt for talented people. The call-center business (like many others) is pretty tight knit. Chances are that you know someone who knows someone and that will often lead to new possibilities or opportunities that would not have otherwise existed. I know that there are people (many of them my personal acquaintances) that are looking for new employees. By keeping a running tally (in your head or on your contact list) of people who you consider to be high-potential, then you could very well help those looking for talent find that talent.

Yes, I keep a tally. I know every person on my contact list(s). Whether theyre on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Outlook, Rolodex, etc I know who they are and have made a determination about what category in which I put them. This is my open-ended recruiting pool. Should another acquaintance or I need someone who has expertise in a particular area, I know who I would recommend for, recommend against, or give no opinion of.

Before I get into my categories, I must make this disclaimer: Yes, I will tell you which group you are in. However, it will be in a one-on-one conversation and I will give you specific reasons. Yet, you also need to keep in mind that they are one persons personal opinion. While I think you might be a secret weapon, someone else might think youre a black hole.

The categories are:

Ø Black Holes These individuals are those who through interaction or observation have no real skills. They are the ones who cause you to ask yourself, How did they ever get their job much less stay in it? If someone asked for my recommendation on these folks, then I would very quickly and firmly give a Never hire this person response. These individuals have either shown incredible lack of knowledge, skill or ability.

Ø Ho-Hums These individuals are just sorta ho-hum. They have the knowledge, skills and abilities, but they dont really take any initiative. They wait for someone to tell them what needs to be done. These are the individuals who require micro-management. My response to a request for recommendation would be, they CAN do the job, but you will have to prod them, stay on them, double and triple check their work. If you want to micro-manage someone, then this would be the ideal employee.

Ø Unshakeables These individuals are there every day, they do their job, they are competent and relevant, but they have no ambition to lead the pack. They are happy being the person who reports to the person who reports to the person. They are steady, calm, cool, work their 8 and turn it off. Every company needs these folks. They provide balance to the entrepreneurs, but have no desire to be the entrepreneur themselves.

Ø Go-Get-Ers These are the entrepreneurs. These are the folks who see the problem, may not know how to fix it, but dive in anyway. They make mistakes, but they see the mistakes, realize them, remap and roll on. They understand that the mistakes make the product or service better. They also understand the importance of the “Steady” individuals is to their own success.

Ø Secret Weapons These are the individuals whose name comes up time and time again in meetings that they are not even in. Their opinion is often sought and highly respected. They enter an organization or a new role and weave themselves throughout it. They see the biggest picture of how each element of the business impacts every other element. They are not afraid to speak up when necessary, nor are the afraid to sit quietly and allow the Go-Get-Ers and Developers do their thing. They are like special ops in the military. They get in before everyone else, get things ready, and then head out when the main force (the Unshakeables) heads in.

Ø Developers My favorite group. This group understands that the only thing that matters is that their people, peers, coworkers are developed to be as successful as they can be. Developers were usually once a Go-Get-Er or a Secret Weapon. They have moved to an understanding that they cannot expand their own horizon until they have someone ready to fill their current horizon.

The element not accounted for in each of these definitions is whether or not they are nice people. While I would generally be quick to recommend the Secret Weapons or Go-Get-Ers, if they are asses to their coworkers, I would hesitate. As someone once said, theres only one letter that separates the assets from the asses.

It is also important to remember that any one of these categories could appear at any level of the organization. There are Vice Presidents that are Black Holes and there are Front-Line employees who are Secret Weapons.

In which category would you put yourself? In which category would you put me? Your coworkers? Your husband or wife?

As I sit in meetings, at my desk, at the lunch table, at the coffee shop, I am constantly sizing people up. Im constantly asking myself this question: Would I hire this person? Even more importantly maybe is the question Would I recommend this person to a person or company that I respect?

04 February 2009

Executive Compensation Proposal

My thoughts on Obama's $500k executive compensation cap.

It doesn't go far enough. Here's what I propose:

  • Cap cash compensation at the equivalent cash compensation as the organization's lowest paid employee.
  • All bonuses are in the form of stock options. If you lead your company well, then you will have money when you cash your options. If you lead poorly, then you will loose money when you cash your options. The value of your options at time of issue may not exceed 3% of your companies Annual Net Income.
  • Health/Life/ADD/401k/Tuition reimbursement/discounts/etc benefits are equal to that of your lowest paid employee.
  • You may use the corporate jet for business purposes. You may also use it for personal reasons, yet must show it as non-cash compensation for taxation purposes. (Essentially, same rules as exist today.)
  • Any other business asset used for personal reason must be shown as non-cash compensation (Same rules as apply today).
In short, if it's good for the front-line, why isn't it also good for the CEO and his/her directs?

20 January 2009

Open Letter to GWB

Dear George Bush --

I sat eight years ago today in disgust and watched as you took the oath of office. I did not believe then (nor do I now) that you fairly (or even actually) won the election. Nevertheless, you took the oath and became President. Since then, I have never "warmed up" to you. I find you to be smug and flippant about your duties. Yet, I have two main areas that I believe should define your Presidency and should be your legacy.

First, the obvious -- Iraq. I agreed with your initial response to 9/11. The invasion of Afghanistan was the right thing to do. That said, I do not agree with the push to "spy" on Americans nor did I agree with the over-reaching "Patriot Act" (which I often referred to as the "Police-State Act"). Yet, you and your team then fabricated "evidence" to justify the invasion of a country that (even though a nuisance) posed no credible threat to the United States, our interests or our Allies. Since this invasion 4,229 US service people have lost their lives. Additionally, 30,634 US Service people have been injured (source). I am extremely proud to be the son, grandson, brother and brother-in-law of service people and am very proud of our service people. Yet, do not understand how you could justify sending these fine men and women into harms way based on fabricated evidence.

Additionally, you allowed the atrocities that were Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo to occur. Torture is not acceptable and I am very disappointed that you allowed these atrocities to occur. Coupled with the war in Iraq, they served to thoroughly destroy the reputation of the United States.

Second -- Stem Cell Research. In November 1997, I was diagnosed (potentially incorrectly) with Multiple Sclerosis. Fortunately, I was blessed that my symptoms have largely gone away and that I have been able to lead a very normal life. However, I do not understand how someone who claims to love the "sanctity of life" can in good conscious justify hindering the research necessary to preserve that sanctity for millions of people both here in the United States and abroad. Stem Cells hold the key to many debilitating and even deadly diseases, and the hindering of that research is nothing more than saying that you do not at all care about people like me.

In addition to those two key points, I have left out numerous other elements of the past eight years that will be your legacy. As example, I cite you and your team's response (or lack thereof) to Hurricane Katrina and that "Mission Accomplished" banner.

On election day this year as I listened to Sen. McCain's concession speech, I determined to have something nice to say to you at the end of this letter. I thought, surely in eight years, I have something that I can say about you that was nice. For the past twenty-four hours, I have been trying to think of something to say. I will admit that it has been an intense internal struggle to find something to say.

Mr. Bush, you have over the last eight years been the President of this great country. During those eight years, my faith in the United States and in you have been greatly diminished. I have no respect for you as a person and only call you President because the office you sit in requires it. Nevertheless, I promised myself to come up with something nice to say.

I admire your sense of duty and believe that you have a genuine desire to do the right thing. You have strong beliefs and are not afraid to stand behind them. While I don't agree with the beliefs, I do appreciate your courage and conviction.

May the future years bring you and Mrs. Bush happiness and peace.