Saturday, December 26, 2009

Zapp: The Lightning of Empowerment by William C Byham

Zapp: The Lightning of Empowerment--How to Improve Quality, Productivity, and Employee Satisfaction by William C Byham is a management resource mean to inspire leaders to make room for their employees to be and do their best. Written as a fable, the book contains images of notebook pages from one of the character’s notes as he learns how to apply the ideas, zapping his department with an enthusiasm they did not have before. The author suggests that if the reader doesn’t have a lot of time, they can just read the notebook pages and get the gist of the book, which is true. Very true. In fact, one could argue why bother with the lengthy fable at all? However, reading the notebook pages probably wouldn’t suffice and the fable does work to contextualize the ideas by giving “real life” situations. Because these “real life” situations are told within the context of the fable they, unfortunately, don’t feel quite real enough. I think that if Byham had used the fable as a framework, offering it in smaller and short doses as an introduction to a truly real life situation, drawing on his own and other professional leaders’ examples while still offering a bullet-list summary of the chapter’s content, the book would work better. It is a bit too long, the fable too drawn out, the points too buried in pretext, to be fully realized. With all of that said, I have worked for a person who exemplifies the principles Byham defines and I have to say that it was the most positive work experiences in my life. This manager knew, either by training or instinct, how to encourage and support the team without compromising the integrity of the work output. Motivation was given with empathy, honest recommendations made with reason. Although I would have preferred a more sophisticated presentation of valuable information, I cannot fault Byham for creatively presenting his ideas. No doubt, some readers will enjoy the format and even find the ideas more easily understood for it. And for those readers who find the fable a tedious affectation, follow the author’s advice and read the notebook pages. Where more clarity is needed, you can always read the pages that precede the one notebook page without having to struggle through the entire fable.

Paper Heart: DVD Review

Paper Heart starring Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera wreaks of indie irony. I watched it with my son and we agree--take When Harry Met Sally, add a bit of Spinal Tap without really tapping too far into audacity, and mix in a dash of Juno's occasional cuteness you probably would end up with Paper Heart. (And we didn't say that just because Michael Cera is in both this movie and Juno but the obvious parallel is there.)
The stars shine in their roles. Charlyne Yi's attempt to understand love and to determine whether she can experience love doesn't come off as much of an emotional stretch for her. Either she is this sort of quirky, clueless girl who is trying to be edgy rather than adorable or she is a brilliant actress. Michael Cera plays what I am beginning to think is who he is in real life--a sort of clumsy and equally clueless guy who is sweet, the sort of boy you wish your daughter would bring home but, if she did, would never have sex with her which is probably why you would want him to be there in the first place. Cera plays this character so perfectly--from Juno (Single-Disc Edition) to Superbad (Unrated Widescreen Edition) to now this mockumentary--that one can't completely fault him for milking it while he can. His voice may never deepen but one can assume he will eventually look older unless he's somehow genetically linked with Dick Clark or Rick Dees or whomever else you can think of who never seemed to age. Jake Johnson is effective as the director, sort of going along with the idea of observing his friend's exploration of love but then shifting into something a little less forgiving. The ending is predictable, a thumb of the nose at the typical Hollywood manipulated ending. Is this a chick flick? Probably. It has some cloyingly cute moments and Charlyne Yi certainly helps to make the cute somehow less annoying than it might have been in other hands. It would make a good date movie, not something you would have to see again and again nor a movie that will become frequently quoted by couples seeking inside jokes to further bond over memories. The closest the movie comes to providing memorable moments are when the couples share their real stories which are occasionally "acted out" in quirky/adorable/look-how-oh-so-indie-we-are puppetry. And if it weren't cute and effective it would be annoying but it all works. I liked it. I didn't love it. And given that I typically loathe chick flicks the fact that I didn't hate it probably means that more people will find it absolutely delightful and a must see movie. The movie works because it doesn't try to be more than what it is, is well cast, and is ultimately inoffensive. Like I said, a good date movie but not a movie that will get under your skin or into your heart. The extras on the dvd don't exactly add anything extra to the movie. The deleted scenes should have been left out so kudos to the actual director, Nicholas Jasenovec, and not the actor, Jake Johnson, acting out his role. The "Making of Paper Heart" feature reinforces the blurry lines the writers have created in making this movie--adding scripted parts to the actual documentary interviews, down to the confusion they sometimes experienced in their own interactions during and after filming. A nice behind-the-scenes look but the film student or screenwriter hoping to get some profound insight won't find anything of any real depth even here. But this reinforces that this film is not trying to be something big and maybe sometimes something small is good enough. The above review has been read and approved by my son. So I guess in some ways this is a two-for-one review.

More Thoughts on Me and My Weight

So, having posted about my intention to lose weight in 2010, the question is how. I’ve already shared how I’ve tried to be proactive and I have tried to be clear about my belief that the various things I have tried are not at fault, no more so than I. If any one diet plan were effective, there would not be so many ways to lose weight available to the public. What works for you may not work for me . . . and vice versa. This still leaves me where the previous post left me—how do I lose this weight that I have gained? All I can do is be open to different ways of trying to lose weight. Obviously, what I eat and my activity are both going to play significant roles in this experience. I also had a blog dedicated to this before, a blog I didn’t promote because I didn’t want to make my potential failure public. I didn’t want to share the posts here, in this blog, because they would be tedious to read. I mean, who wants to read about what I ate and what exercise I did each and every day? Of course, I debate with myself the value of such things. After all, I tracked all of these things when I was using SparkPeople and lost no weight at all. However, everything I read says that keeping a food journal and tracking your activity is somehow beneficial to the person who wants to lose weight. (And yes, I could have linked more sites and articles but I think you get the point. All of the experts agree.) Which means I will probably re-create a body blog where I can track these tedious details of my life. I’ll link over to it occasionally so that anyone who really wants to read the content may—probably during my occasional progress updates. (Notice how cleverly I do not say “weekly” or “bi-weekly” updates because, truth be told, I don’t how often I plan on updating at this point.) Where do you, the reader, come in? I need the accountability. If you are attempting to do the same thing and want me to encourage and urge you towards success then that is something we can and even should do. That doesn't mean we have to do the same things in the same way—only that we will keep one another updated. How would we mutually encourage one another? I leave that open to discussion. Here are some of the ideas with which I have come up:
• Create your own blog and we can link back to one another. • Create a community blog, by invite only, which can be public or private depending on your personal preference/need. • Email me directly. (See the nifty little envelope at the bottom of every post? Click that and voila—you can email me!) • Leave your progress in the comments and request I either publish them or keep them private as you prefer.
Or you can simply be my cheerleader, following along in this blog as I occasionally update my progress in attaining my intentions for 2010. In any event, between now and New Year’s Eve I will set up something, whether cooperatively with someone else or on my own, which I will begin using with the New Year. Maybe by then I’ll know how often I intend to update on my progress.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gasoline by Dame Darcy

Gasoline by Dame Darcy is one of those peculiar books that is not easily recommended. Either this is your type of thing or it is not. My daughter is a fan of Dame Darcy and I wanted to read this to see what it was that excited her so much. The truth is, I am not sure I get it. The stories collected here are very loosely connected. The writing style is not evocative, too much passive voice and telling rather than showing. The artwork is highly stylized which can be a good thing, if you like the visuals that are sprinkled throughout the text. The book takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the few survivors are trying to find a new way of being, living in a world where gasoline is highly prized, where there are nihilists and zombies, where women can spontaneously reproduce and the goddess is on the ascendant. In many ways, the novel tries to be a cautionary tale about how we need to be more mindful of how we are using and abusing our precious natural resources. Mostly it comes off as a quirky piece of pedantic prose with an agenda that the author doesn’t even try to hide. When I talked to my daughter about it, I said that it was sort of a steam-goth dystopian look at a fantastic future. (I don’t even know if there is such a term as steam-goth but I was drawing on the idea of steam-punk.) I also told her that she can do better illustrations than Dame Darcy. Argue that I am being an overly proud mother if you will but I do believe my daughter could produce something better than this if her heart were so inclined. Still, Dame Darcy is producing literature that is different from most anything else out there, a sort of cutting edge visionary who is clearly in the right place at the right time. For anyone curious enough to read, let the first few pages suffice to judge whether one should continue. If you do not find yourself curious and compelled to read on after the first chapter, you won’t find much to motivate you in the pages that follow. The narrative is so loosely connected from beginning to end that it is hard to even say that there is a clear plot. Definitely one of those books that the reader will either love or hate or, like me, give it an A for effort, a B for being unique, and a D for execution. And if my daughter reads this, I’m serious . . . you have at least this much talent. I’m sure Dame Darcy would agree with me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Weighty Blog Post

One of my intentions for 2010 is to lose the weight I gained in 2007. I am not really sure how I will accomplish this given that I’ve tried several things with less and less success. Weight Watchers was a surprising disappointment. The nice thing about the program is that it is easy to follow, they give you constant and consistent support, etc. When you lose weight, you receive token awards meant to motivate you. A keychain first simply for showing up and then, when you lose the first 5 lbs you get a charm to put onto the keychain. Another for the first 10 lbs, etc. So is it any surprise that after six months of following first one Weight Watchers plan and then another, attending weekly sessions, and using the online resources and not getting even the first 5 lbs lost charm the whole thing lost its charms for me? Adding insult to injury, when I started Weight Watchers I was still using the walker and by the time I gave up on it, I was walking 1-2 miles a day without a walker. Notice I said I gave up on the program and not on myself or my ability to lose weight. Clearly, I haven’t given up. I liked the online support and resources and soon found SparkPeople, a free online resource that offered many of the things Weight Watchers did and then some. I joined communities, participated in discussions, shared ideas, resources, etc. I earned points because of my participation, tracking my nutrition and activity daily, etc. And nearly 10 months later I had lost . . . nothing. Not a damn thing. I mean, I was literally at the same weight to the ounce! I also tried one-on-one accountability, a body buddy or whatever else you want to call it, where I emailed with a friend once a week but he kept praising me for losing the one pound and then shrugging off how I would regain the same pound. I appreciated his intention but I told him that until I was below a certain weight there was no reason to praise or appease—rather, it is best to say nothing until we see that magic number below which I needed to fall. He didn’t listen to me and continued to praise the typical monthly loss and I would once again remind him that women fluctuate and until I fell below a certain weight it would be best to say nothing and . . . I also noticed that he was not exactly losing weight and maybe his seeing my own stagnant struggle was reinforcing his perception that it was okay that he wasn’t losing. I don’t know. But I cut off the arrangement, saying that I didn’t feel he was listening to me because he was disrespecting my request to please stop praising me for being dehydrated or at a different time of the month from one week to the next. And then I never heard from him again. In some ways I suppose that reinforces that my role in that relationship was to somehow validate his struggle. The thing is, I am not one to keep trying something that doesn’t work and I feel that giving Weight Watchers, SparkPeople, and even mutual accountability months and months of my intention only to be here, precisely where I’ve been, give or take a few ounces, is just too heartbreaking. Want to hear the punch line? In a few days I’ll be posting a review for a book that is supposed to help with weight loss and I gained two pounds while reading it. Don’t try to guess whether I’ll give it a good review or not. I am still mulling it over myself. All of which leaves me where I started; I’ve gained weight and I want to lose it. How? How how how how how? Well, given that it is now officially one of my goals for 2010, I probably need to consider my options and make a commitment.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Writing in Winter

In rereading my old blog posts, I was reminded of Personal Journaling, a publication from Writer's Digest which has since been canceled. In the first issue, along with articles on why journaling is good, how to journal online, etc., there was a one page offering of writing prompts. This article, sans the pretty photograph, is available online. Here are the prompts as offered in the Winter 1999 issue of Personal Journaling: Writing About Your Life.
Writing in Winter
by Katie DuMont
Time introduces a new character to our lives each season, one with a temperature and temperament that affects our own. Take the time to record the details of your life in winter. A snowflake forms from at least 50 snow crystals, each with a three-dimensional shape unlike any other. Did you ever try to catch snowflakes on your tongue? Where were you? Who were you with? There are an estimated 22,000,000 cubic kilometers of ice on Earth. If this ice melted, what would Earth look like? "Winter" is synonymous with words like "cold," "bleak," "harsh" and "cheerless," yet in winter you often experience warmth, brilliance, calm and coziness. When is winter harsh? When is it cozy? "Winterize" means to make ready for winter's freezing temperatures, wind and snow. What did your mother or father make you wear to winterize you against the cold? The North Pole is defined as the northern-most point of the earth's axis, a point 90 degrees latitude and 0 degrees longitude. Have you ever been in a very cold place? Between Feb. 20 and March 5, 1988, a team of people led by Myron L. Ace built a 63.56 foot snowman named "Super Frosty" in Anchorage, Alaska. Have you ever built anything out of snow?