A Guide To A Good Life

How are you spending this time?

I thought I’d make a video about this historically significant period in our lives, one which deals with how I’m spending my time, with the importance of appreciating and enjoying one’s time alone and at home, and with using this free time productively, in ways which will enrich your lives now and later. (Sorry about the audio, my external microphone malfunctioned and I had to rely on what my phone’s microphone captured.)

Part of the discussion in the video comments centered around a reading list that would be well-suited to this time, so I put one together here. I hope it proves useful to you!

Released 21-04-2020
Thanks for watching!

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A Guide To A Good Life

Learning English

This is the fifth video in a new series where I talk about the people, experiences and things that have helped me in life. Who knows, perhaps they’ll help you as well! In this one, I talk about how learning English well has shaped my experience as an immigrant to the United States, about how learning English is still very much of relevance in today’s world, and I also offer some comments on the state of immigration in the US and Europe.

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A Guide To A Good Life

Things everyone should know about technology

The fourth video in a new series where I talk about the people, experiences and things that have helped me in life. Who knows, perhaps they’ll help you as well. This one lists the things we all need to know about the technology we use everyday (computers, tablets, phones, routers, backups), in order to use them efficiently, increase our productivity and avoid frustration and swindles. Enjoy!

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A Guide To A Good Life

My grandfather’s example

This is the second video in a new series where I talk about the people, experiences and things that have helped me in life. Who knows, perhaps they’ll help you as well. This time I’ll tell you the story of my grandfather, and how he inspired me to be better through his example. Enjoy!

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A Guide To A Good Life

The typing class

I started working on a new series of videos about the things and experiences that have helped me lead a better life. My hope is that some of the things that have worked for me will work for you as well.

In this first video, I talk about a typing class I took in high school, simply because I had an empty slot in my schedule. That little decision turned out to be a tremendous help to me in my career and in my work.

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Events

Two of my books are now published

Some of you know that I’ve been writing here on my website since 2000, so I’ve put a lot of words on paper and screen. But I’ve always wanted to write a book, to put that English major of mine to some good use 🙂. Life intervened and other priorities demanded my time. Good old fear also stuck its nose in those dreams and for quite some time, I found myself busy with a lot of other things. The funny thing is, my wife and I have taken on so many things where I should have been afraid going in and sticking it out, but I wasn’t. We’ve accomplished so much together. And yet, something that should have been easy for me, like doing a bit of writing, editing it and publishing it, something that I’ve been doing since my college days — became this obstacle that seemed to get bigger with time.

Earlier this year, I made a promise to myself that I was going to publish a photo book that had been sitting on my computer for several years. It’s a book about a place near and dear to our hearts, the Potomac River and the C&O Canal, which we’d visit often while we lived in the Washington, DC area. I miss those places. I miss driving out there to various spots along the river and canal, and walking or biking for hours on clean, safe, maintained trails, in the beautiful countryside and forests of Maryland and Virginia. Of course I’d take my camera with me and Ligia would allow me to indulge my photographic obsession. So that’s one book I’m happy to say I finished and published.

I’d started another book years earlier, back in 2005, about an interesting place doing interesting work in West Virginia. I’d found out about it by chance, as we were visiting parks in the area and I looked for a place with WiFi, but found none. When I asked why, that’s when when things got interesting. It turned out we were in something called the NRQZ, the National Radio Quiet Zone, where no radio transmissions were allowed, because of the research being done at a place called NRAO (that had nothing to do with the NRA). Its initials stand for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and it was listening to radio transmissions from space with very sensitive and very big parabolic antennae they call radio telescopes. Any sort of local radio transmission would create huge interference issues for them, so the American government decided to designate a large area around them as a Radio Quiet Zone. I ended up visiting the NRAO site at Green Bank in West Virginia and I became so interested in the stories about their equipment and the RFI (radio frequency interference) that created problems in their work, that I started putting together a book through site visits and interviews with the “Keeper of the Quiet”, the man responsible for chasing down RFI in the NRQZ, Wes Sizemore. I almost finished writing that book but life intervened, as it always does, and I couldn’t make the follow-up visits that I needed in order to close the story arc and put the finishing touches on the book.

It sat on my computer for about seven years, till in 2012, I decided enough was enough, I was going to re-edit what I had and publish it as it was, here on my website, and that’s what I did. You can read it in seven instalments, starting here. This year, as I was working on my other book, I started thinking, why not take all the materials I’d put together for my posts, re-organize them, re-edit them where I felt they needed it, and put them all in book format? Instead of publishing just one book, I’d publish two. So that’s what I did. This book is now as finished as it’s going to get and it’s also published.

You can see more details about each of the books on their dedicated pages here on my website:

They are currently available in the Apple Books (iBooks) format on the Apple Book Store. I’ve already been asked if they’re going to be available in other formats and other stores. I can’t promise you anything at the moment.

I work on an iMac in macOS and I have iOS devices (iPhones and iPads), so when I put these books together, I did it in an app called iBooks Author, which creates e-books in a native format for macOS and iOS. This format works for multi-touch displays and the text reflows and adjusts for various display sizes.

Were I to want to list my books in the Amazon Book Store, I would need to lay them out once more, page by page, in their own application, which is called Kindle Create. I’d want and need to do that in order to create a native e-book experience for the Amazon Kindle readers, an experience that works properly with those e-book controls and where the text reflows and adjusts for various display sizes. This means redoing most everything I did in iBooks Author, but on Kindle Create. I’m not looking forward to doubling my workload.

I am well aware that I can simply export to PDF from iBooks Author and publish the books as PDFs, but the reading experience just wouldn’t be the same. Mobile book readers simply don’t handle PDFs the same way they handle native e-books, and you’d have to constantly zoom in and out, drag the page up and down to see it all… it just isn’t a good reading experience as far as I’m concerned.

I’m also aware that had I started to work on my books in Apple Pages, I could have exported directly to the Apple Book Store from that app, and I could have also exported the books to a format compatible with Kindle Create (MS Word), that could have circumvented a lot of the work I now need to do. I didn’t know this at the time. 🤷‍♂️

I’ve also looked into publishing the books on the Google Play Book Store, but they’ve restricted applications for new authors for some reason. I applied and I’m waiting to see how that pans out. And I’ll have to find out what native e-book format is used for Android devices, and what I’ll need to do to ensure a good reading experience for them.

So, if you have macOS or iOS devices, you’re in luck. My books are available for purchase and you’re good to go. Please check them out and buy them if they spark your interest. 🙂

Cheers!
Raoul

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Thoughts

Work

The single highest purpose in life.

The more one lives, the more they ask themselves about the meaning of life. What’s the point of it all? Why are we here? Who made us? We get into all these complicated discussions about origins and God and the afterlife, discussions that amount to just about zero. All the while life goes on, with or without our answers.

The point is, we are here. And if our lives are to have any meaning, if we are to get any enjoyment from them, we need to contribute. We need to do something. We need to work. It’s not an external mandate but an internal one. We ourselves get to find out that our lives have less and less meaning once we stop working. Even if it’s work we don’t like, it still gives some meaning to our lives. And when we do like it, oh boy, then our lives become wonderful!

Some of you will say, “Surely love is the single highest purpose in life. You’ve got your priorities wrong.” Nope. Love without work is dead. That’s a paraphrase, and I bet it sounds familiar to some of you. The actual quote is “Faith without works is dead.” A wise man wrote it. What is love but a kind of faith? The two imply each other. Faith cannot exist without love and love without faith just isn’t love. Furthermore, what would your love be worth to your partner without works? If you profess your love for them, but your deeds (your works) say otherwise or say nothing at all, then that love is dead. I’m not talking about esoteric things here, I’m talking about human love, the kind I hope you’re experiencing in your lives.

If all this talk about work is ringing false for you, then I am sure you don’t like your work. You see, for most of our written history, a lot of people have been engaged in doing unpleasant work. That’s still going around these days. Instead of each of us thoughtfully considering what work we should do, because we can do that nowadays, we jump at jobs for the wrong reasons, only to find out we hate them, and therefore we wrongly assume we hate work.

Even if we can’t pick our jobs, we can actively choose to do the jobs we have better. It’s a choice we can make every day, to do good work and let that be what makes us happy in our jobs. When we do that, the wonderful thing that will happen over time, is that our jobs will get better. We’ll find ways to make them better and new opportunities may open for us, perhaps advancement, perhaps other jobs that we’ll love. But we have to do good work first. We have to make that choice and we have to follow it through.

Rest assured when I tell you that work is the highest purpose in life, and that we can only find meaning in life by doing good work.

In recent years, research has been done on productivity that has shown that people who take proper vacations (where they break off from work completely) are more productive in their jobs. It’s easy to misinterpret those results and say that we need more vacations as rewards for substandard work, but I’d like to point out with quite a bit of personal certainty that vacations only make people who love their jobs more productive. In case you hate your job, you’ll simply dread going back to work and once you’re back, you’ll do the same crappy work you’ve done in the past. When someone loves their job, the contrast of being away from it is what charges them up. It’s the lack of work that winds them up like a spring-driven toy, and once they’re back, they unleash their newly gained energy on the work they love. That’s why we see increased productivity.

Instead of asking ourselves charged, difficult questions about the meaning of life and our origins, we should be asking questions like these, questions that will help us see right away that our lives have purpose and are worth living:

  • Am I working?
  • Am I doing good work? (Here I’m referring to the quality of our work.)
  • Is my work contributing to the greater good?
  • Do I like my work?

If the answers to those four questions are yes, then I’m fairly sure your life is good and you’re also feeling good. You wake up each day with a sense of purpose and at the end of the day, though you’re tired, you go to bed content because you’ve done good work. If not, then find out how you can turn that no into a yes. You know exactly what to tackle in order to get your life in… order.

These questions are also good criteria to be used when evaluating those in our societies who prefer to shirk work, the goldbricks, the ones who seek to be on social aid perpetually, the ones who complain about not having enough and about being downtrodden while they sit at home wasting their days glued to their TVs, making children so they get more aid from the government. Sadly, there are plenty of those human bed bugs around. What’s even more sad is that governments are willing to tolerate them and use them for cheap votes instead of requiring work from them. Those are exactly the kinds of people who deserve to do unpleasant jobs, because they’ve been living off the blood and sweat of honest folk and they haven’t contributed anything to the greater good. They need to go through plenty of tough work so they can compensate society for their squalid, useless lives where they’ve only consumed resources and generated trash and bodily waste.

Okay, back to pleasant things…

Let me entreat you to find work that’s meaningful to you. See if you can do work that contributes to society somehow, work that adds to our civilization, that builds upon that of others in order to yield even better results.

If you’re retired, see if you can do some consulting or mentoring work for 3-4 hours each day. Not only will you supplement your fixed income, but you’ll wake up each day with a renewed sense of purpose and you’ll contribute your lifetime of experience to those who need it, even if they’ll take a while to realize it.

Here’s to good work from all of us! 🤲

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In 1938, Ed Sullivan wrote in one of his newspaper columns that “youth is wasted on the very young“. He was paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw, who once said: “Youth is the most beautiful thing in this world — and what a pity that it has to be wasted on children!”

What does this have to do with management? Several years ago, I got quite angry when an older, more experienced friend, declared to me during the course of a conversation that “people under forty are unfit for management positions“. He was over 50, wealthy and quite accomplished. I was in my early 30s and had already become a director at age 25. I had done a great job in that position — not that I was saying it; people in executive management had said it of me, repeatedly, during my appointment. So I thought my anger was justified. I asked him to clarify and he said something to the effect of, “there are certain things you can only understand, directly related to the management of people and organizations, after you pass a certain age“. Well, that didn’t make sense to me, but I chose to let it go. There was no point arguing with him and possibly ruining the friendship. 

I am now over 40 myself. And the funny thing is that as I approached and passed this age, I began to have certain realizations that collectively, allowed me to finally agree with my friend’s statement. He’d had the benefit of experience on his side when he said it. And the cumulative benefits of dealing with many more people, at all levels of employment and management, during his long career (which still continues by the way, because the fellow has an insatiable work appetite.)

Now I also see the wisdom of Shaw’s statement (which is also attributed to Oscar Wilde in some instances). Beyond the surface applicability of mere skin beauty that tends to be there in abundance when one is younger, I see a deeper meaning that has to do with the experience of age, which would certainly be very handy to the young. 

What I also see nowadays, paradoxically, is a lot of young people promoted to management positions. To further clarify, I see a lot of (mostly) inept young people promoted to management positions, making one big mistake after another, because they don’t have the life experience and the work ethic of an older person who has dedicated themselves to their career. Perhaps this is to be expected when the current mantra is that “you really should change your job every couple of years”, which is the sort of idiotic thing young HR managers say to sound smart, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that promotes superficiality in one’s work ethic and the sort of bullshit CVs you see these days. 

I’m not saying I didn’t make mistakes in my job as a director at 25. I can think of several right now, off the top of my head, some of which still embarrass me. But I did a good job, as good a job as I could do. I gave it my all, earnestly. It turns out that in this modern world of ours, where youth is prized more than experience, that my performance as a young person in management was an exception, because most young people I see in management are a disappointment to say the least. They’re no good, and they’re not even trying. They’re not giving it their all. They’re bullshitting their way through their jobs and their lackluster, inadequate performances are accepted as-is, because “you can’t get better people nowadays, there’s a skilled labor shortage”. 

Really? There is one? In an ever-growing world, with 7.2 billion people (at the moment), there’s an HR shortage? What a shame… I wonder how much worse this shortage will be when we’ll be at 8 billion… And how come we didn’t have a shortage of people during the Great Depression, when there were only 2 billion people in the world? You know, back when (mostly) experienced people were promoted to management positions? 

I think we are somehow confusing youthful enthusiasm with leadership potential; energy with stamina; bright faces with optimism; intelligence with wisdom; knowledge with experience; a tailored suit and good cosmetics with a good work ethic. There’s a lot of confusion going on. I suppose it’s to be expected when so many changes are taking place in the world. Perhaps in this day and age it’s easy to look at the worn, exhausted faces of older employees and believe they can’t carry the load of a department or division or company, but it’s not about the cosmetics; it’s about the experience, the ability to look at the big picture and the small details. These are things that come with age, with dedication to one’s career and yes, with wrinkles and white hair. 

If you’re stumbling onto this post randomly and you don’t know my website, you’re probably waiting for the pitch. Well, there isn’t one. I’m not selling my services. I’m busy enough with my own work. Thanks for reading this and carry on. 

Thoughts

Management: wasted on the youth

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A Guide To A Good Life, Thoughts

Coming to terms with the complexity of life and the fear of death

I thought I’d write a lighthearted, cheery post, sort of a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year ahead, so naturally, I wrote (and made a video) about how complicated life is and how we’re all afraid of dying, but we shouldn’t be, because zombies and vampires… Wait, what?!

“We trouble our life by thoughts about death, and our death by thoughts about life.” ― Michel de Montaigne

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much… The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” ― Seneca

“You are mistaken, my friend, if you think that a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of life and death. He has only one thing to consider in performing any action – that is, whether he is acting rightly or wrongly, like a good man or a bad one.” ― Plato

Here’s (more or less) what I talked about in the video.

Whatever your beliefs about life after death, one thing is for certain: this life you’re living now will end within the span of a few decades. That’s pretty short and it’s no wonder we have a hard time dealing with that notion.

I’d like to submit to you that one way we grapple with death is through the introduction of death-less characters into popular culture. Nowadays, those characters are vampires and zombies. We call both of them undead and we’ve made up all sorts of fiction to explain their existence and ways they survive this event that scares us so much. And yet, neither character is something we’d choose rationally, if we were faced with that choice. Both vampires and zombies must continually kill in order to survive and in that sense, they’re terribly selfish: they sacrifice the lives of many innocent others in order to preserve themselves. In escaping death, they force it upon others. And zombies, those putrescent, barely alive corpses, are never first on anyone’s list of ways to prolong existence.

Both these characters though, are ways in which we’re not only dealing with the question of death, but with the question of life. Both offer simplified ways to view and treat an existence which many of us find to be complicated and stressful. Zombies are the perfect example. Instead of dealing with life’s mind-numbing complexity and options, upon becoming a zombie, you have only one option: eat brains. That’s it. No more jobs, bills, taxes, children, etc. Vampires are a bit more complicated and I think that is because they were invented earlier, in the 19th century, whereas zombies, as a manifestation of popular culture, only appeared midway through the 20th century. The more complicated real life will be, the more simplistic the escapism tends to be.

If we’re to stack these deathless characters by level of complexity against others invented throughout history, we find them on the lower rungs of life. If we step back in time, we find that people invented many deathless gods, most of which led far more interesting and complex lives than the humans who believed in them. But as life started to move faster and became more complex and harder to deal with, as we experienced world wars that terrified and scarred entire continents, we began to look for simpler characters and the unfortunate “best” we came up with were blood-sucking parasites that slept in coffins and blabbering, putrid corpses that dragged their rancid meat through cities and the countryside looking for brains. It’s quite sad really, to see where we’ve arrived.

I for one miss the more lofty deathless characters of old, gods who lived interesting, full lives, were articulate, powerful, higher and better than man (though sometimes just as petty and vindictive) and gave us something to look up to. Now we’ve got coffin-sleepers and tomb-climbers… It makes for good escapism through books, TV shows and movies but it does not make for a good alternative to death, nor does it ultimately help us deal with the complexity of life. Instead, we end up terrifying ourselves even more with the various “end of days” scenarios that are fed to us when we watch or read about these characters.

There’s no easy solution to this. Life is only getting faster and more complex. At least it seems that way, because we haven’t yet learned to filter all that is coming our way, and we haven’t learned to only deal with things that are of immediate concern to us. That’s what people did 100 years or more before our time. They didn’t have access to all that we have now. We should do the same. Just because we can have access to something, it doesn’t mean we should introduce it into our lives. We need to turn off the TV more often, put our phones away and spend more time with our selves, getting to know who we are, developing the skills that we deem valuable, exploring nature, sitting in silence. This won’t take us all the way, but it’ll put us in a much better place so we can deal with life. As long as we continue to be terrified by its complexity and by its quickly-approaching end, we’ll continue to look for quick fixes that are sorely inadequate and unrealistic, grotesque versions of ourselves that end up inflicting yet more of the pain and suffering that’s been scaring us but (in theory) take us out of the routine of daily living and offer us a simpler way to see our existence.

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