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Here’s what I learned about myself from a soul-crushing supercomputer

Remember Ken Jennings?

Of course you remember Ken Jennings.

How could you forget Ken Jennings?

Ken Jennings…the guy who won Jeopardy a whopping 74 times in a row?

Yeah…Ken Jennings.

Smart guy.

Did you know there’s a supercomputer version of Ken Jennings?

Remember hearing about this?

IBM built this mega-powerful computer called Watson.

To show how fast and adaptable it is, they made it play Jeopardy.

I mean, they put it on the show for three nights.

How do you think it did?

Do you think it did Ken Jennings good?

Absolutely…

It manhandled its human opponents. It ripped their souls out and crushed them.

Watson, as it turns out, is pretty smart.

And just recently, I learned something new about Watson.

You can meet Watson.

I met Watson this week.

When they brought Watson back from filming Jeopardy, I guess someone plugged it into the internet because anyone can access parts of Watson online.

I stumbled onto a pretty interesting part of Watson.

The part I discovered is a little tool that spits out a personality assessment based on your writing style.

You feed it a writing sample and it gives you back an assessment of your personality.

It looked easy enough…all I had to do was cut-and-paste something I’d written into a little window on Watson’s page and in less than a second I had my results.

Watson slices and dices the information in a few different ways, but the most useful is a short narrative.

Here’s what Watson said about me:

“You are a bit inconsiderate and somewhat critical.”

Ouch!

Watson don’t play!

Right off the bat I can’t figure out if Watson is nailing this thing…or just being a dick.

I guess we’ll have to read more to see.

Either way, I think I’m going to make “a bit inconsiderate and somewhat critical” my Twitter bio.

It goes on…

“You are unconcerned with art: you are less concerned with artistic or creative activities than most people who participated in our surveys. You are laid-back: you appreciate a relaxed pace in life. And you are intermittent: you have a hard time sticking with difficult tasks for a long period of time.”

“You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of efficiency.”

“You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider independence to guide a large part of what you do: you like to set your own goals to decide how to best achieve them.”

I’d say a lot…not all…of the rest of that sounds like me.

But how does Watson get that from a writing sample?

I have no idea.

It’s computer magic.

But I’ll tell you this…

I’m honestly impressed.

Want to get in on the fun? Want to see what Watson says about YOU?

To access Watson’s Personality Insights tool, CLICK HERE.

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Weekend wrap up

I have nine minutes to write this post.

Can anyone write a post in nine minutes? Can I? I doubt it, but I guess we’ll see.

Here’s how the weekend went down.

Friday:

  • Annie had a dance showcase (kinda like a practice recital)
  • I brought the little kids home early-ish
  • We got Pal’s on the way home, which was so right and so wrong
  • Buddy had a sleepover at a friend’s house

Saturday:

  • Blythe came downstairs early and was dancing to “Firework” in the kitchen by 6:18
  • Kid birthday party for all of us at 12:30
  • Took Annie to a birthday party at 3:00
  • Played outside with Buddy
  • Picked Annie up
  • Grabbed take-and-bake pizza
  • Got new Sunday School materials
  • Out to grownup birthday party with MC

Sunday:

  • Prep for Sunday School
  • Feed kids
  • Church
  • Lunch at Tupelo Honey
  • Haircuts
  • Play outside with Blythe
  • Take Annie to birthday party
  • Dinner with my parents
  • Pick up Annie
  • Sunday night back to school mayhem

That’s my nine minutes. It was a great weekend. Lots of time with friends and family. Maybe a little tiring, but good stuff overall.

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Early morning interneting

It’s 5:30 a.m. and I’ve been up for an hour reading quite a collection of stuff from the internet.

Just got done with a research report written by the chief of the Loveland, Colo. fire department.

Before that it was a study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

If your next party needs life, you know where to find it!

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While we were watching Paris

Hey, how about a quick Saturday morning brain dump? Great!

I spent a lot of time in the car this week, so I heard a lot of reporting on the terrible shooting at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris that left 12 people dead. The ensuing hunt for the attackers also left a trail of destruction that claimed more lives. It’s all so sad. I’m not your guy to explain or debate any of this.

But here’s what has given me trouble. The world’s attention has been focused on Paris this week. People have been tweeting “Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie” to show support. (Side note: what does that mean? Does it mean I am the magazine? I got shot? I am a provocateur like Charlie Hebdo is? What the hell does it even mean? It makes no sense to me.)

It’s good and right that we should honor the lives lost in Paris and it’s only natural that we would want to watch the hunt for the people responsible for the attack.

Meanwhile, I’m going to take you to Nigeria. And right off the bat you’re going to go Nigeeeeeeria? What? Yep, Nigeria. Let’s go there for a minute. Last week a group of nasty people – the same nasty people who made us all want them to #BringBackOurGirls (they still haven’t brought back the girls, by the way) – stormed a village while everyone was sleeping. These nasty people (they’re called Boko Haram) came in to the village with guns blazing. They overwhelmed the town so heavily that the soldiers nearby gave up and ran off.

This little village in Nigeria had about 10,000 residents about a week ago when Boko Haram seized it. That’s about the size of the town where Mary Craig and I went to college. Today, the town is ashes. They burned the town to the ground. Everyone has either fled, been captured or killed. They say that corpses are piled up in the streets.

I’ve seen estimates that anywhere from hundreds to as many as 2,000 people have been killed in this latest siege.

So where’s the round the clock media coverage? Where’s the Je suis Nigerian villager?

I have some thoughts about why Paris is getting more attention than Nigeria but I’ll keep them to myself. I don’t know how the news business works.

Geez, that got real serious. Sorry about that.

Story on Paris Shootings

Story on Nigerian village

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This is the opposite of helpful

Yesterday we did snatches at the gym.

The snatch, if you don’t know (and why would you, really?) is when you take a barbell off the ground with your hands out wide and whip it up over your head. When the movement is finished you look like you’re doing the “Y” from YMCA. Except you’ve got a barbell in your hands.

If you’re thinking this is going to be a workout post, don’t bail on me. It’s not. Stick with me.

I was going over the workout in my head while I was at the office yesterday. It was an easy workout to remember because my back and shoulders were sore.

I had 65 pounds on the bar for that workout. I started thinking that wasn’t very much weight.

The night before, I watched a video of a guy doing snatches with something like 225 pounds on the bar. Geez.

Comparison is a tricky thing.

In some ways, comparison is motivating. In other ways, comparison is completely un-motivating.

For me, anyway.

It’s way too easy to look at other people and start to feel shitty about how I’m doing.

It seems like everywhere I look someone is doing things faster, making more money, having more fun and taking more vacations. And dammit if their car isn’t shinier.

It’s good to look at other people to improve our own technique. But there are too many variables at play in life to measure our performance against others. Besides, I don’t think that’s what we’re really supposed to be doing anyway.

Watching a pro golfer’s swing to make my own swing better is helpful. Cursing myself because I can’t break 100 the one time a year I play golf is the opposite of helpful.

When it comes to comparison, it seems that the only person worth comparing ourselves to is our past selves. If we buy into the idea that we should be learning, growing and changing (and I do) then I should see improvement in myself from year to year, right?

So it’s fair to ask the question of myself: where are you compared to where you were at this time last year? Or five years ago? Or ten?

When I do that, everything changes. I really like what I see.

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So many burpees

If you’d asked me what a burpee was two years ago, I couldn’t have told you.

Then in the spring of 2013 I joined a CrossFit gym and I got an education in burpees.

A burpee, if you’re not familiar, is an old-school exercise move.

It’s probably something our parents would have had to do in gym class. Back when kids had gym class every day. Back when gym class was just a guy in short shorts with a clipboard telling kids to climb a rope.

A burpee is a combination of a pushup and a squat with a jump at the end. If you want to use a drill sergeant definition, it’s: fall down, get back up.

If you’re a visual person and need help grasping what I’m talking about, here’s a short YouTube clip showing what a burpee is.

Anyhow, Girls on the Run held their annual Burpee Bonanza fund raiser yesterday.

The Burpee Bonanza is simple: the clock runs for an hour and you and a partner do as many burpees as possible.

I knew as soon as I saw the first Bonanza post on Facebook that I wanted to do it. Somehow I was able to con my friend Colin into being my partner.

So yesterday, along with another 10 or 11 teams, we met up at the gym and did burpees for an hour.

I found an app for my iPad that let me set up 2 minute intervals, so one of us would work for two minutes while the other would rest. We would get 20-25 reps in during each 2 minute block.

It was really, really hard. But we pushed hard.

We had two volunteers counting our reps for us. They’d let us know how close we were to round numbers (i.e. 25 in a set or 200 total). Their encouragement helped a lot.

The hour went by slooow, but eventually we got within the four minute mark and just gave it everything that was left in the tank. It wasn’t much.

But we spent that last four minutes doing burpees non-stop.

And then the buzzer rang and we could quit. Talk about a feeling of relief.

Our counters gave us our numbers.

688 burpees as a team.

I put up 345 of those.

I never would have dreamed that was possible.

I spent the rest of the day trying to recover. I was obviously sore, but I was also out it. Couldn’t get energy at all.

The big payoff came at dinner time. MC was a volunteer counter and said she was checking on me during the event. She said she knew she needed to cook me a good dinner to help me get my strength back.

She’s such a good one.

So she made her homemade spaghetti sauce and I stuffed myself with spaghetti and garlic bread. That’s a prize right there.

This morning I’m stiff and sore but I’ve got my energy back. I’m not in any hurry to do a burpee but I’m definitely on board for next year’s Burpee Bonanza.

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I’m bringing blogging back

I got an itch in 2006, so right after New Year’s in 2007 I set up an account on Blogger and started my first blog.

I was seven years removed from my last writing gig and I was starting to feel my soul die.

That sounds dramatic. Maybe my soul wasn’t dying, but I sure as hell hadn’t written anything in a long time and I didn’t have the edge anymore.

You know the edge I’m talking about?

I don’t mean I was edge-y. I wasn’t like, yelling at cops or skateboarding through the mall or whatever edge-y people do.

I mean the edge a person has when they’re practiced-up at something.

I didn’t have that anymore.

So I started a blog because with a blog I could write anything I wanted to write whenever I wanted to write it. I didn’t have to wait to for an editor to assign me something. I didn’t have to quit my job at the bank and go back to being a reporter. I could just write.

And so I wrote.

For a year or so I wrote all kinds of different things. Funny things. Heart-felt things. News-y things.

I wrote a lot of different things because that’s what you could do with a blog back then. It was a blank slate. You could do whatever the hell you wanted. You could even use the word “hell” without having to worry about what your prudish friends think.

And then things shifted. Everyone found a niche. But I couldn’t find a niche. I woke up every day thinking, “I really feel like I want to write, but I don’t really know yet what I want to say.”

Meanwhile, other folks were blowing it out with their craft blogs or cooking blogs or Jesus blogs or fitness blogs or business blogs.

It was like blogging became a game of musical chairs and all of a sudden the music stopped…and there was no chair for me.

I don’t say that because I have hard feelings. I don’t give a shit, really. I’m just explaining my history with this blog so we can talk about today.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about more history.

I said I started this blog in 2007. It’s not an overstatement to say I owe a lot of the greatest things in my life today to this blog.

What has this blog done for me, really? So much, but I’ll point you to two things:

1) We’ve made real, deep friendships through this blog.

2) If you had enough time, I could trace a thread that would lead to all sorts of connections made through this blog that influenced and supported our call to adopt our son

We’ve traveled the world and grown our family, in part because of this blog.

Earlier today, I clicked the tab in WordPress that shows the list of all the posts I’ve ever written on this site. It showed 805 posts.

Every time I scroll through the archives and read an old post, I remember writing the post as if it just happened. Looking back through old posts is like looking at old pictures of my children. “How has it been five years?” I think.

When you make something it becomes part of you.

Where am I going with all of this?

Hang on. I’m getting there. I think.

When we traveled to Uganda to meet our son Franklin for the first time I set up a private blog. I wrote all kinds of stories for that blog. I wrote about the planes, trains and automobiles elements of the trip. I wrote about meeting him and caring for him for the first time. I wrote about navigating the adoption process in Uganda. I wrote about our emotional highs and lows.

I look back at that blog every now and then. It’s locked up behind passwords. The only people who have read it are the people who had invites to read along while we were over there. I figure there’s a lot of stuff in there that’s part of Franklin’s story now and it doesn’t make a ton of sense for the general public to know more of my kid’s own life story than he does.

But when I look back at that blog I realize how much I miss writing. I miss having a running record of what’s going on with us. I miss having my place to blurt out what’s on my mind or what I think is funny or what’s inspiring me at any given moment.

I guess that’s where I’ve been going with all of this.

In 2007 I started my blog on Blogger to claim my little corner of the internet. I didn’t grab it because I wanted to be a journalist or guru or ninja or any of that other BS people on the internet call themselves. Not at all.  I grabbed it because I could. I grabbed it because that’s the opportunity the digital age gives all of us.

In 2015 I’m reclaiming this spot.

But here’s the thing. I don’t know what this is gonna look like.

I’ve gotten so accustomed to this voice in my head of what a blog post is “supposed” to be like that I’m almost crippled. In fact, two lines up where I said “In 2015 I’m reclaiming this spot” I was then going to ask you a question because aren’t blog posts supposed to end with questions to encourage interaction or engagement or something like that?

Yeah. I’m not doing that anymore.

You’re comfortable jumping in if you’ve got something to say, right? Good.

I also have a tendency to try to put a pretty bow on the end of every post. Or finish up with a cutesy moral lesson. That’s out, too.

First, there are plenty of other writers and bloggers who you should be reading if you’re looking for good stories or moral lessons. I’m not your guy for those.

Second, is that how life works? I believe that people who think positively are going to do better in life, but let’s be real: not every day is sunshine and lollipops.

One of the best songs we found this year was one MC downloaded and put on her workout playlist.

She told me the story of walking the dog one day when all the kids were in school. It was a clear but cool fall day. She rounded a corner in our neighborhood and took in the glory of fall. Bright oranges and reds on the trees. A few leaves starting to flutter to the ground.

Through her iPod, this song she found, Cooper’s “This Year” came on. And she said she had a “moment” as she listened to the song. She said it was perfect timing.

I love the first part of the chorus. It goes:

This year

Has been the best

And the worst year

Here’s to 2015 and everything it holds. I hope that I have great stories to tell you. But most of all, I hope that I tell you real stories in a great way.

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Why We Love Twitter

Twitter.

Not long after I started my first blog in 2007, I saw other bloggers using something called Twitter. I didn’t get it at all.

I could’t figure out why people were writing to each other (or to no one in particular) in one-sentence bursts.

But then I got sucked in.

I created an account, learned how to follow people and send @replies and was hooked.

Everyone has their own favorite social network, and I’ll tell you up front, Twitter is my favorite.

What’s so great about Twitter?

I asked a few friends to share what they like about Twitter. Here are the top responses:

Laughs. Twitter is loaded with funny people and it lets you see the funny side of your friends and connections. It also lets you show your sense of humor to your followers.

Information. A lot of people hear about news on Twitter before they see it on a website or on TV. In some cases, you can know about a story before the news media even gets hold of it – or – you can be the person to break the story to the media.

Potential. Twitter isn’t an organism, it’s a tool. It can be very powerful and have incredible value or it can be totally useless. Twitter is a fantastic way to quickly gather people around a common concern and move those people to action.

All of those are wonderful things. But do you know what the #1 answer I got when I asked what the best thing about Twitter is?

Connection.

By a mile, connection with other people is the #1 thing people said they love about Twitter.

Connection is part of the DNA of Twitter.

Twitter allows you to connect with friends, family, authors, athletes, CEOs and singers. If there’s an actor you love, you can peek inside her life and career by following her on Twitter. The same is true for your favorite writers, golfers and TV chefs.

Knowing what I know now – and especially knowing the people I know now – I can’t believe I hesitated to create a Twitter account.

Laughs. Information. Potential. Connection.

What’s YOUR favorite thing about Twitter?

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The Only Thing I Know About Marriage

I can’t believe the amount of stuff for sale at Target.

Eleven different kinds of lip balm. Six flavors of M&Ms. Black iPad minis. White iPad minis.

Three kinds of fedoras. Does anyone wear those fedoras?

I wish I was the kind of guy who could grab a fedora off the rack at Target and boldly wear it all weekend with some beat up jeans and canvas shoes.

Or whatever goes with a fedora. I don’t even know.

Target is a magical place. Like I said, I can’t believe the amount of stuff they have for sale.

Fresh popcorn and People magazine. Apartment furniture and sunscreen.

It’s nuts.

I could never keep up with all of that.

I mean really – how do you keep up with all of that?

If you’re the lady in charge of The Target, how do you remind yourself to re-stock the purple earbuds and the Britax Roundabouts and the tennis balls?

It seems very complicated. Certainly more than I can handle.

I read somewhere that the simplest recipe for success in business in to ask people what they want and give it to them.

That makes a lot of sense. Target does that, just on a very big scale.

They find all the things people want and put it all under one roof.

It seems to work. Every time we go in there, $100 leaves our pockets.

That same simple recipe – ask people what they want and give it to them – is the only thing I know about marriage.

Mary Craig likes to spend time together. It fills her tank for us to be in the same space.

When we’re together, she feels like everything is right with the world. She feels loved.

So I spend time with her.

It’s pretty simple.

To a lesser degree, she also feels loved when I do things to help her. Fold clothes. Make the bed. Buy the groceries.

Her big thing is time together.

None of it is rocket surgery.

Simple. What does she want? Give it to her.

That’s the simplest recipe I know for success in marriage.

I don’t know what happens if both people don’t play along. It’s harder that way, I’d say.

But this works for me.

Today we’ve been married for 14 years. I want to be married for a lot more years.

Whatever she wants, I want to try to give it to her.

She’s worth the effort.

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One Surprising Fact About Tackling Hard Things As a Couple

I have a lucrative business idea if anyone is up for making stacks upon stacks of cash.

What’s the big idea?

Airplane baby sitter.

Simply a guy or gal who’s in charge of a kid or kids on a flight while mom and dad do their thing in a separate part of the plane.

This airplane baby sitter would have come in handy recently when we brought our son home from the other side of the world. Keeping a toddler entertained on an airplane for 30 hours is, well…I don’t know what it is. But I know I don’t ever want to do it again.

That trip – I mean the planes, trains and automobiles part of it – was very, very tough. We’d been up since 6 a.m. We caught an 11:30 p.m. redeye flight. Then a 9:15 a.m. flight. Then a 3:15 p.m. flight.

Throw in a few stinky diapers, a handful of all-out fits and lots of trips through TSA-style security and you know what kind of experience it was.

I guess I probably don’t need to tell you that if you could have plotted our stress levels on a chart, the chart would have looked like a roller coaster. Mary Craig and I were up and down all day.

It would have been so much less stressful to hand the child and a roll of $100s to the airplane baby sitter at the start of the trip and say, “See you in the States!” and then slip on some noise-cancelling headphones.

I read something interesting about couples who do exciting and challenging things together. You’d think that with all that stress, we’d want to murder each other at the end of the trip.

But what really happens when couples do things that are new and challenging together is that they feel higher levels of commitment and satisfaction.

Not bad.

Now, would I have wished a 30-hour wiggle-and-scream fest upon us just for the sake of having extra feelings of commitment and satisfaction between me and MC? No.

But what it tells me is that I shouldn’t shy away from doing hard things and bold things and exciting things and things we’ve never done before with my wife. Because stress and anxiety and doubt might not beat us down.

It might just knit us tighter together.

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