On Reading Fiction

Reading FictionTurning the last page of a book I enjoyed is always a sad moment for me. A moment ago I walked in another world, observed the lives of others, felt and hoped with them and a second later I am alone stranded in my own reality with my own thoughts. Five minutes ago I have finished American Gods by Neil Gaiman and I feel like I just said goodbye to a good friend. I did not read it, I listened to it. It was the 10th Anniversary Edition full cast audiobook. Over 19 hours and 39 minutes, it had been my companion. It was not an easy start but it grew on me fast and now it had left me.

It went with me everywhere, on my way to work, to pick up my kids, entertained me when I cleaned the kitchen or sorted my mail. But now it is gone at least for a while.
You see, it’s not a small book. As it is with good books, they are better when they are big. Sometimes they are also hard. Especially when you actually read them. The Last Stand in its 1168-page original uncut version was one of those books. So hard to read, but so good at the same time. It accompanied me for quite a while. After I finished it, it looked like I have read it many times. I kind of did, I guess. I can still feel the void it left when I was done.
A good novel always leaves me inspired and motivated fill this void one way or the other.

Those good, big books change you. They will never leave you again. They don’t have to be lengthy to leave an impact, it’s just more fun if they are. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving will never leave me either. And, of course, books like 1984 (George Orwell, 260-280 pages) or Brave New World (Aldous Huxley, 180-280 pages) are so burnt into my memory that feelings of déjà vu and remembrance are triggered as I look at the world today. (more…)


Simplicity_3If you ever tried to hold your breath for as long as possible,  you know what one thought occupied your thinking right before you gave up. You wanted nothing more than the next breath.

Ever hit your thumb with a hammer? Same thing. Just one thought.

People get addicted to extreme sports because they want to relive moments of clarity when only survival matters.

There is something beautiful about the number one. There is no “and” and there is no “or“. Just one, nothing else. No distractions, no questions.


Yet, we are not inherently drawn to simplicity. We usually want more of the good stuff not less.

And because I am just the same, I made a list of what simplicity means to me and why I want to strive for it. (more…)

On Themes

Marathon-BridgeThis year, instead of primarily setting goals, I decided to go for themes. If you find the word theme confusing, then think focus word.

So far, for most of my big goals, there was always a chance that something could go wrong last minute and cause a major setback. It’s just life; there is always something that can and will go wrong. As a result, you can never really relax and be content before you completed your mission.

Let’s think binary for a moment. A “1” indicates success and a “0” the lack thereof. Your life in goals looks like this: (more…)

The Future Looks Dark- Why I Am Still Excited To Live Now

tracksAt times, I wonder if in the grand scheme of things we humans of the digital age are so much better off than our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestors.

It may be great to see when Jack across the globe is relaxing under a Palm tree in Bali. At the same time, Heather really hates the weather in New York. So great, she was fine an hour later when she posted her desert on Instagram. “What an amazing restaurant, the food was yumy.” “Yumy?”, I wonder. With one m? A second later I learn from Google that there is a Yum-Yum Donut’s close to my home, and their Apple Fritter has 600 calories…

Sure, it still makes me smile when I can send a fax, cash a check and schedule a dentist’s appointment with only the push of a few virtual buttons on my phone. These tasks would have taken me a couple of hours merely ten years ago.

I don’t have to leave my home for anything. I can buy, watch, and learn whatever I want from any room in my house. I can even do all that while I brush my teeth, take a bath or wait on hold at some customer support hotline. Great new world.

In all earnest, is it really that great? Does it make me happier or feel more accomplished?

Some sabre-tooth tiger may have killed me any day back then, a car, some disease, or freak accident my do it today. Are we dying less? Are we less afraid? Do we work less? Is there less hunger, less thirst and less anger in the world?
I don’t really know. And if it didn’t get much better then it may even get worse. We may run out of clean water, energy, helium, space, food, and ways to trick the financial systems.

And yet for all I know, I consider myself the lucky one. I am fortunate to sit at this very spot (20 minutes from the beach). And I am certainly happy to live at this time.
Thanks to all the banalities that seem to occupy most of our time today, there is real hope for real progress. I mean progress that matters. Not for my convenience but humankind and this planet.

Because we cared so much about taking our music with us, because we got hooked playing games on the go, because we were willing to pay more for more added features, yes, because we are still riding this never ending consumerist wave we now hold the future in our hands.

It was not for Dale in L.A. caring so much about the global community, but because he and many others were looking for stuff to buy and sell on the internet that now children in remote villages in Ethiopia and other developing countries have access to knowledge at a scale that was unthinkable a few decades ago.

And I am convinced this is just the beginning. As with every major shift in human history, several new technologies are available right now that in combination will impact our lives dramatically. Let me just glance at a few. (more…)

My 2015 Annual Review

2015-great2015 was great.

2014 I really liked.

2013, what?

Gee, I think I skipped 2013.

Have you ever come out of a movie feeling great, but a couple of months later, you didn’t have much recollection of it?

Some years are like that for me. 2013 for example. I guess it was a pretty good year, nothing bad happened, but I just can’t remember much of it now.

Big events act as landmarks for our brains. In contrast, like in a movie, without big, memorable scenes, a year may have been enjoyable but may appear irrelevant in retrospect. But what are 90 minutes of shallow entertainment compared to an entire year of my life?

In recent years, I would take barely a minute on New Years Eve to decide, “Well, there goes another great year!” and then welcome the new one. I am sure I did so in 2013, but heck, still can’t remember if I did anything cool that year. I also don’t remember my small victories and fails. Quite sad, isn’t it?

I am a big fan of project reviews (aka. postmortem meetings), in which you revisit the wins and losses during a project and identify what aspects need improving and what worked well. It’s a great method to improve and grow personally and as a team.

So why not do it on a personal level for the past year?

I’d like to keep it short and focus on three main questions in my 2015 Annual Review:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What are themes for 2016?

2015 was a year full of positive changes for me, but I also failed on several levels. Since it always easier for me to find more things I am failing at over things that work, I will limit myself to the four biggest points each to keep it balanced. Let’s start with the good stuff. (more…)

The Monday Check – Robot or Not?

Human or Robot

As you embark on this journey of yet another work week, ask yourself: “Am I still human or have I become a robot?

Don’t you sometimes feel like we are on the best way to becoming robots?

We humans love consistency and structure. Being safe in our caves before nightfall protected us from falling prey to predators that were better adapted to nocturnal life than us. Following the same trails protected us from getting lost, drinking from the same water source from getting sick. In short, consistent behavior kept us safe. Rules and habits helped us survive and evolve to the modern human that we are now. As a heritage of those darker prehistoric times we still easily snap into routines. That is how we like it and always have.

However, when we think about the great developments of humankind, we value them because at the time they happened they represented significant deviations from the norm.
A well was dug because someone didn’t want to fetch water from the river anymore. Clubs were switched for spears because someone didn’t want another scar. We have vacuum cleaners because somehow beating a rug every Saturday had lost its appeal.
You can argue whether and how we are better off than our ancestors. Sure is, without these deviations we would still sit in caves.

As you wake up, check your phone, eat the same breakfast, get to and from work, all in the same fashion every day, how about you think about what can you do differently today?

When was the last time you stopped in your tracks to smell a flower, watch a squirrel, or notice anything else that can’t be re-watched on YouTube? Actually, when was the last time you took a stroll?

When was the last time you noticed how you felt and intentionally took some action to prolong or change this feeling?

When did you last take a different turn at a traffic light, just to see where to road leads you?

Life is how you live every single day. Robot or human? Decide now. Do it consciously.

Ballet, Cakes and Ants

balletshoesThis morning, I dropped my daughter off at the theater for her ballet dress rehearsal. She just turned six. Costume and all. It’s incredibly cute. And hard to believe for someone who is is flexible like a brick that they have fun doing all this. They do because it’s easy for them.

All other parents seem to know where to go and what to do. That’s another thing that’s not easy for me, knowing what’s going on. Reading all the emails that tell about schedule and room changes is one thing, remembering another. So I am standing here after we’ve rushed from A to B to C, back to B and over to E. I am sweating. We made it, even in time. Everything is okay, but it could have been easier.

Parents are not allowed behind the scenes -I didn’t know – and so I am standing here, waiting and writing this post. I may not publish it. I may change it a hundred times. I may also delete everything I just wrote. But you’ll never notice. That happens behind my scenes.

Ten minutes later, talking to the other parents I realize most of them don’t know what is going on either. One guy admitted he was following me because he thought I looked like I knew where I had to go.
Not sure how he got that impression. It was nice to learn that I am not alone, though. We all struggle. You see it when you get granted a look behind the scenes.

One day years ago, we returned home just to find an entire ant invasion coming through some crack in the wall. They formed a thick black line straight from the crack to a spot in the middle of the living room. That’s where I must have dropped a cake crumble the day before. They were in a straight line! Crack to cake. Those were tiny ants. Imagine ant, less than a 1/10 of an inch (about 2 mm). Distance crack to wall about 15 feet. That’s like if you and your friends managed to find a giant cake within a three mile (5 kilometers) radius in the middle of a deep forest. You also established the shortest distance between the cake and your cabin while bringing pieces back to your cabin. All that without any tools or devices at all!

Incredible, isn’t it?

That is until you see the very first ant. (more…)

Pronounceable Serial Numbers

Serial-NumberYesterday at my local coffee shop, I realized how many variations there are for some names. Bob, John, Brian, and also Alex are simple. But Catherine, Carry, or Jasmine allow for quite many variations. Here are – just for fun and absolutely not related to recent news – some ways to write another name: Kaitlyn, Katelyn, Kaitlin, Katelynn, Katlyn, Kaitlynn, Katelin, Katlynn, Kaitlin, Caitlyn, Caitlynn. While our names are supposed to be pronounceable (or in shout- and scream-able), serial numbers are not.

But why not?


What Would You Do With 100 Hours?

Stop-CnLWhat would you do if somebody gave you 100 hours? I don’t mean 100 hours of some membership or rollover minutes in your mobile phone plan. I mean if you had 100 hours that you could spend any way you want. As if somebody bought you out of your usual obligations. For all the 9 to 5ers among us that could be two and a half weeks not spent in the office or your car or meeting clients. But I am not talking about vacation. That would be too easy.

What would you do if you suddenly had 100 hours to spend on whatever you want in your everyday life?

I realized last week that this is the case for me right now. I suddenly have a couple of hours every day when I am free to do what I want. And, to be honest, I am already about 20 hours in and have to admit that this is more difficult than I thought.  As so often I greatly overestimated my energy and underestimated the time it takes to do stuff, especially after work. I have just moved and a lot of things I promised to do had to be postponed for after the move. And now I suddenly have more time than I thought. No excuses for me.

Anyway, as I found myself last weekend with the perspective to have so much time at my hand, I was wondering what others would do with the time. Of course, I asked my friend Google “How would you spend 100 hours”: (more…)

Dear Outlook, you still suck! … or not?

Ole-Olook 210There is a saying in German “Man trifft sich zwei mal im Leben”, which means so much as “You always meet twice”. I don’t know what your first thoughts are when you read these words. I always took them as true advice to treat every person you ever meet well because you’ll never know in what situation you’ll meet them again. For meeting them, you will. In other words, in the sense of never burn any bridges. Karma is a bitch. I absolutely believe that. What goes around, comes around, eventually.

However, just a month ago I met an old friend (not), who I thought I would never ever see again: Outlook

I can remember for my first job that involved a lot of email communication, coming from clunky webmail, I was out of my mind happy to use Outlook. I could finally write emails just like I wrote a letter in Word. I would have a calendar and task reminders, and…
Well, yes and an ever-growing archive file that included all my saved emails (*.pst). To save valuable hard disk space (the olden days…) you had to be brave and delete the ones you didn’t deem important. And because it was impossible to find even the ones you kept ever again, you had to print out important emails and file them at physical locations. Well, then Gmail came around with the promise you’d never have to delete an email again, with filters, labels, the possibility to use Gmail with your company’s email address (Send via Gmail), with plugins like active inbox , and so much more. Life was good.

After almost a decade without it, I was sure I would never have to use Outlook again. In fact, I didn’t know Outlook was still around. But you know, you always meet twice.

One new job later and there it sits on my computer. And not much has changed. (more…)