New Year’s Reflections 2019: For Auld Lang Syne

 

I haven’t written much in the past few months. Each time that I’ve tried to sit down to write, I found myself at a loss for words. Mostly, I’ve lacked inspiration. This year easily ranks among the most difficult in my life. It caps off a roller coaster decade filled with ups and downs.

Suffice it to say, when the clock strikes midnight, there will be no love lost for 2019.

In no particular order, here’s a short summary of the past ten years: I’ve welcomed my son into the world and two nephews to boot, completed law school, earned an advanced doctorate in law, moved to and lived in a foreign country, traveled the world multiple times, adopted a dog, moved home, moved to Wyoming, moved to Arizona, got married (8/15/09 but close enough), got divorced, saw my career develop, stopped attending church, saw my physical and mental health decline, gained weight, lost sleep, and saw the decade cap off with my Grandpa’s passing on August 2, 2019.

Along the way, I’ve also met scores of people from all over the world. Some are like family. All of them are good people. Folks that are passionate about their work. Some passionate about their faith. Others passionate about their families. To a person, these people have affected my life in positive ways and have inspired me to try and be a better person even when that didn’t seem possible.

While I cannot say that the decade has been a total bust, I think it’s objectively fair to say that it was a difficult one. Highs and lows. Not just little dips: soaring highs and shattering lows. It’s a small miracle that I’ve made it through. In retrospect, it’s easiest for me to think of the 2010s as a hurricane battering the little ship that I call life. Now, as I come into port for 2020, I’m a threadbare schooner, wood split in places with a broken mast. A new year, a new decade are most welcome for my money.

Still, a friend made me think about today and about the importance that I’m placing on a year that reads 2020 rather than 2019. According to her, “it’s just another night and a new year.” No big deal.

So why is a new year so important? To me? To us? To the majority of the world that’s celebrating as I type? My friend is right on some level. Just another day/night. There’s nothing magical about the date January 1. Nothing substantively will change in my situation from Dec. 31, 2019 to Jan 1, 2020. But I think the importance of a new year is less about the date on the calendar and more about the chance to hit reset.

A new year brings an opportunity to set in motion all of the goals a person can set for the year. It allows us to assess where we are as people over the next 365 days. It’s not the date that matters. What matters is the mindset we carry forward into a new year, and by extension the fact that it matters how we approach life as a new year kicks off. As a bit of caution, it seems pretty obvious to me from the past ten years that negative thoughts begat negative outcomes. Pessimism becomes the enemy of progress because it is self-sabotage from the outset. Nothing guarantees a bad year quite like making up the mind that it’s going to be a bad year.

It’s also unnecessary.

If I’ve learned anything from my tumultuous 2019, it’s that hope is the critical element of being happy in life (aside from God himself). When we lack hope, we lack that piece of us that makes us look forward to tomorrow. Hope is our internal motivation. It’s the reason we endure the troubles of a decade, fall asleep, and awake with the expectation that a new year will be better than the year and decade that has passed. (And while we are on the topic – how in the world did ten years fly by so quickly?)

So, in response to my friend, I think a new year is important because it reminds us to hope. Hope is important because it’s the means by which we wake up and do it all again no matter what life deals our way. And the motivation we have through hope is what keeps us living life rather than merely waiting around to die.

With that, here’s to 2020, friends. May the best of your 2019 be the worst of your 2020.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

Courtesy of CNN.com

Tech Dilemmas

For a variety of reasons, I’ve lately had the need to rethink my technological footprint. Over the past five months or so my job has taken a few left turns that now have me working on projects that were not contemplated when I was originally hired. Many of these find me making treks back and forth between my offices on the U of A campus. In turn, I’ve felt the pull to travel lighter, and to pair down my tech footprint to only the essentials.

Enter Apple’s new iPad Air (or iPad Air 3).

As any good technophile knows, the decision was not one easily made. I had five key criteria in seeking a new tablet:

  • Portability
  • Digital Note-Taking
  • Laptop Replacement
  • Processing Power
  • Word Processing Capability

I’ll explain each below.

Portability. As mentioned, my new job obligations see me schlepping across resort-like U of A on a fairly regular basis now (I’m clearly not biased toward my alma mater at all). By way of explanation, the University of Arizona is in the midst of developing programs that involve a major commitment to Native American Advancement at the institution, and I’m grateful to be a part of the team that’s seeing some of these initiatives through. But the changed reality for me is that I’m no longer tethered to a desk at any particular location, on any given day. This means that much of my work was being done on my MacBook laptop circa 2016.

To be fair, my MacBook is still a fine machine. It has ample storage and I’ve yet to run into a processing task (or series of processing tasks) that it can’t handle. Even so, having replaced the keyboard twice, it was quickly becoming less portable and more a computing station in my home office. The wear and tear of trips across campus would not have served its longevity very well, and I’m not overly eager to spend upwards of $2k USD on a replacement. I could probably have made the arrangement work for another year or two, but the hinge of the screen and top case had become gradually more flexible (loose), and the screen itself was beginning to show faint signs of degradation in the coating of its Retina display. Not something uncommon after a usage-intensive three year run, but clearly happenstances that would not bode well over the long-term.

Thus, my need for a newer, portable replacement.

Note: The iPad was not an obvious choice for me. I had considered getting a new laptop altogether. The price point of the MacBook line is still pretty good and some of the internal hardware has been upgraded overtime. But in my three year break from the iPad, some quick research told me that the internal processing, app selections and software upgrades had all made the iPad a much more formidable player in the productivity space. (I had an ailing iPad Air 2 that hadn’t really seen much use since my, then, toddler son scraped up the back of it while playing on a less-than-sparkling wood floor). Given the price difference between a tablet and a laptop in the Apple ecosystem, a tablet replacement for my laptop seemed like a good option for what I envisioned.

Digital Note-Taking. Another key component of my job involves taking copious amounts of notes. Formerly, I had done most of these by hand and then manually transcribed them word-for-word on my work computer. In a laptop replacement, I wanted to avoid this if at all possible and find a combination of hardware and software that would transcribe my abysmal scrawl into usable text that I could edit and modify as needed without the need to transcribe. On this score, the Apple Pencil seemed like a nice alternative. So, whatever iPad I bought would need to be compatible with this function of the Apple Pencil.

I should probably mention that I’m not an artist by any means. Some users seek out the Apple Pencil purely for sketching and drawing – and nearly any iPad available today has this function and capability. But given how atrocious my handwriting is, despite Mrs. Gensman’s best efforts during Senior year of High School, I needed something with the power and ability to do the impossible: make my handwriting legible, recognize it (something my Mother still can’t do), and transform it into digital text like you’re seeing now.

Laptop Replacement. Above all, the replacement had to wield the ability to take the place of my laptop in my technological day-to-day existence. This may seem an obvious point but I reckon it’s an important distinction. Some tablets are great at providing options to consume media. One can use a Kindle to read voluminous amounts of books. The iPads of yore, even, were great vehicles for watching movies and streaming videos on YouTube and Netflix.

But whatever I opted to purchase needed not only to handle both reading books and watching movies (flights are long after all), but also help me stay atop the steady and increasing workload that is now coming in. In sum, I needed a machine that would both allow me to consume media, and be productive. (This narrowed the options considerably but more on this later).

Processing Power. Given the above, the device I sought would need to have top of the line processing power. It would need to handle multiple applications at once and accommodate my spastic nature. It’s not uncommon for me to type a few paragraphs, hit on a word that pops into my mind, and then send me reeling on a lesson in etymology, and wondering whether the word selected is fit for the occasion. Self-doubt is a cruel mistress.

Suffice it to say, the ability of the internal processor needed to be stronger than my undiagnosed, adult ADD at a price that wouldn’t break the bank.

Word Processing Capability. And finally, my “forever” device needed to provide multiple, and ample opportunities for me to write.

To the kids reading (I so hope you’re not reading, kids), pay attention during your English class. Pay attention to your English professors in college (no matter how lame they may be). And above all learn to write. And when you’ve mastered this basic skill, learn to write well.

As a university yokel-in-residence, I can’t claim to have followed the advice I’ve just given. But writing in all its forms, from emails, to contracts, to law review articles (yay – new publication coming soon!), to hiring decisions, to blog posts – writing is 90% of what I do. So, my laptop replacement needed to provide the capacity to accomplish this basic function with aplomb.

(Lest anyone think I’m being overly dramatic, think about the apps any given professional might use on a daily basis: Apple Mail. Outlook. Microsoft Word. Dropbox (file syncing across devices and because Box sucks). iA Writer. Scrivener. Facebook Messenger. iMessage. Skype. Snapchat. Kik. Twitter. The lone thread in all of these apps is that they all depend upon the ability of an individual to translate the thoughts in the mind to digital text on a platform. Simply this and nothing more. And as our robot overlords come to take our jobs, the ability to write and communicate is one of the lone bastions of human ingenuity that they have not quite mastered. Or have they?)

Outcome

Out the gate, I immediately bought the new iPad Mini (or iPad Mini 5) that was released alongside the iPad Air this past March. The Mini ticked nearly all of the boxes above. It’s portable. It accommodates the Apple Pencil and digital note-taking. It has superb processing power. And I thought that this made it was a viable laptop replacement. Until it wasn’t. Alas, I overlooked the key final component: It was incredibly difficult to actually write on the iPad Mini.

Consider the following image:

The iPad Mini checks four out of the five boxes that I wanted in a laptop replacement. It’s incredibly portable. The entire bezel of the device is only slightly larger than than the largest Apple iPhone. It’s size makes it great for note-taking. Any moleskin notebook aficionado will appreciate the form factor of the new Mini. And it’s processing power is actually equal to that of the iPad Air. It is also an amazing media consumption device. Users can happily surf the web, watch movies, and read books to their electronic heart’s desire.

But it’s 7.9 inch screen means it also has a concurrent 7.9 inch (or so) keyboard. And this made it terrible for word processing, and thus a terrible laptop replacement. I honestly didn’t think that this would be a problem given that my hands are only slightly larger than those of a large child. But even for me, it was ridiculously difficult to type on the external keyboard that I purchased for the Mini, and the onscreen keyboard wasn’t any more convenient. Suffice it to say, I had made a costly miscalculation (the iPad Mini with 256 GB of storage, and Wi-Fi only capability runs $549.00 USD – excluding tax).

Given the tech dilemma, I wrote off the mistake à la Seinfeld  and purchased an iPad Air (or iPad Air 3).

As you can see in the image above, the iPad Air 3 is considerably larger than the iPad Mini. The extra 2.6 inches doesn’t seem like a lot, but in the context of onscreen real estate, the difference is dramatic. The iPad Air allows me to tick the final box and actually be productive in the crucial area of word processing capability. This transforms the device from one that permits media consumption to one that also allows for creativity, and communication. I’m sure there are some users that would not see so stark a contrast, but here are some side-by-side comparisons that illustrate the point:

Above, the Air and Mini showcase their respective screen viewing capacities. The Mini is scarcely larger than the Apple Pencil that I used for taking notes, while the Air has a full-sized keyboard that makes typing a breeze.

Above, you can see how much easier it is to write on the iPad Air than the Mini. Both are actually great for taking notes. But the larger screen makes transcribing my scrawl much easier – both to do, and to read!

Afterward

In sum, I’m a few weeks into the experiment, and I can’t say that I’ve missed a beat by not lugging around my laptop. Even when I work from home, the experience of using the Air makes me inclined to sit at the kitchen table with my iced coffee and work, rather than dragging the laptop out from the doldrums of my home office. In terms of price point, the iPad Air is in the almost dead center of the iPad lineup and retails for $649 USD, excluding tax. I find that this extra $100 over the Mini is worth every cent for its larger screen and word processing capability.

While there are some limitations, and a few processes that can be done faster on a computer, unless you are in the top 1% of tablet users, I think the iPad Air is a reasonable middle ground between Apple’s smallest iPad and its most expensive (the iPad Pro).

With that, here’s that a new device will inspire more blogging, and increased productivity.

On Letting Go

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I drove home from work on Friday. It had been a productive day.

 

I had had meetings with our project team, wrapping up a major initiative that our Institute puts on every year. The feedback was helpful. To a person, we were all very pleased with how the initiative turned out, particularly given the vexing circumstances and truncated timeline that had precipitated its beginning.

 

In the words of the ignoble Charlie Sheen, we were “#winning.” And we were all enjoying the moment of a job well-done. Rightly so. We deserved it.

 

Fast forward to the end of the day.

 

As the desert sun set over Tucson, I drove home, windows down, blaring Sinatra’s Nothing but the Best from my Ford Escape. True I wasn’t nearly as badass as the suped-up Tahoe next to me, which blasted Migos’s Bad and Boujee. But being neither bad nor a member of the bourgeois, I simply didn’t care. It had been a great day, and I was of a mind to head directly over to the store, in true bourgeois fashion, and pick up a few treats for my dog – which I did. #FirstWorldProblems.

 

As Sinatra sang of bull fights in sunny old Spain, a smile graced my lips for the first time in weeks. Damn straight, Frank. The month of January had been hell. Friday was payday. From here on out, Nothing but the Best.

 

 

Understand, however, that my version of ’the best’ may be a bit different than most. Mine started off at the local Walmart off of Wetmore here in Tucson. It’s an unprepossessing place. Its denizens are of the sort that would be ripe for cameo appearances on the “People of Walmart” website. (Note: I would make contributions to the site, the locale is that ripe for humor. But for all I know, I may well end up on the site myself one day, so why tempt the fates?) 

 

Regardless, I joined my betters and wandered through cramped aisles, narrowly avoiding the carts and electric wheel chairs of the Walmart vanguard. Before long, I found all of the essentials for my little dog – a new crate, a new bed, and a box of treats as a reward for just how good he had been all week. 

 

For the record, since my last post, not only did Nigel have zero accidents in the house (and zero incidents of destruction), but he also let me know every time that he needed to go out. Often, this amounted to jumping on the bed and kissing me awake at 6am (ALWAYS 6am – Every. Single. Day.). But I welcomed this outcome, as opposed to the times when he felt that he had no choice, but to soil his doggy bed rather than soiling the apartment. (Apologies if you have a weak stomach. No trigger warnings for you on this slice of the web.) 

 

Ebullient, I drove home. So pleased to reward my little dog. It had been touch and go, but perhaps we had turned a corner. Leaving my wares in the car, I bounded up the steps, unlocked the door, and went in to check on my Nigel. 

 

He had an accident in his crate again. But his eyes were so overjoyed to see me. It looked as if he might burst from happiness. It was a magnificent reunion. While I struggled to unlock his crate, I saw a yellow stream of urine flow from between his legs as his body shook with excitement to see me.

 

And my heart fell. 

 

After taking him down, to do his business, I cleaned up the old crate, before promptly folding it up and throwing it in the trash. I would never leave him crated like that again. It was cruel. All while I did my work, he lay on the floor looking at me. 

 

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It’s a strange thing to realize that one is wholly inadequate. That no matter the best of intentions, it will never be enough to meet the need/s of another. Such was my Friday night realization with Nigel – what he needed, I would never be in a position to give him:

 

  • Nigel needed a place to roam free. Because of his anxiety, I had to leave him crated during the day. 
  • Nigel needed consistent human interaction, lest his anxiety lead to an adverse outcome. I work a typical 9am – 5pm schedule and coming home for a mid-day hello is unrealistic.
  • Nigel needed an owner with energy and time to play. My idea of fun is firing up Call of Duty online.

 

In my rationale, there was simply nothing that I could do to meet his needs, while also maintaining enough scratch to meet my own.

 

Except, that I could find him a new home. And so I did.

 

The internet is remarkably adept at facilitating pet adoptions. Within 14 hours, I had placed Nigel in a home with a large family, where everyone is home at some point during the day. They have two other Cocker Spaniels to keep Nigel company. And Nigel’s new home is much bigger than the two bedroom space I’m renting here in Tucson.

 

It was the right call. But it certainly wasn’t easy. 

 

Sitting here now, in the quiet of my apartment, I’m torn. Rationally, I understand that what I did was in the best interest of everyone involved. And yet, I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed Nigel. That I’ve followed the status quo and took the easy way out. On the other hand, I think about Nigel’s shaking after a day in the crate. His joy and relief (literally and figuratively) at being let out – and it somehow, seems cruel to keep him in such dire straits. 

 

At any rate, the transition is done on my end. It’s only beginning for his new family – though they are well acquainted with the breed, and with the quirks of Cocker Spaniels in general. 

 

Here’s wishing them my very best. And here’s hoping that my existential dilemma will have no bearing on their very practical efforts to take good care of my little dog.