Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Is your video streaming tap leaking money? Here's a 4-step strategy for taking control.

It's money down the drain!

A leaky faucet can be insidious thing. A barely noticeable drip, drip, drip easily falls below our awareness. Yet running hour after hour, day after day, it can siphon away a huge amount of water and lead to a massive surprise water bill. And worse, the water is pointlessly gone without ever being used!

Monthly payments can be like that dripping faucet. Seemingly insignificant expenses can easily fall below the radar as we automatically pay them and go about our busy lives. And when these expenses are for stuff we don't really use, well... that's just a stupid waste!

In this article I'm going to challenge you to think about one category of monthly expenses that can easily get out of control if you don't consciously manage it. I'm talking about streaming services. And like the water from that dripping faucet, the dollars spent on that unused (or underused) streaming service is gone forever, leaving you with nothing to show for having spent them! Consider this from Lifewire.com:
"The average person who uses streaming services subscribes to between five and seven services. You know the ones: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Apple TV+, Discovery+, Paramount+, Peacock, HBO Max, and others."
So let's say you are limiting yourself to five of these. The basic, ad-free versions of five of the services above could get you a monthly bill of around $65. Subscribe to all nine of the services listed and you'll be paying well over $100/month with fees. Add this to your cable bill (Why are you still buying cable!?! Can't you use an antenna?? That's a topic for another day...) and your internet bill and WOW -- that can add up to some very big bucks spent on content!  

Seriously: Step back and ask yourself: Do you actually use every one of your streaming services every day? ... every week? Do your payments stop when you're not using a service? Have you really "dug deep" into the catalogs of any of your services to see what shows you're paying for, but not watching?  If any of these questions make you uncomfortable, then you're ready for a more disciplined, strategic approach to your streaming. 

A Four-Step Strategy for Taking Control of Your Media Streaming

At our house we have a rule: Subscribe to no more than three paid streaming services at one time. This rule isn't all that hard to live with if you're willing to be a bit strategic about your choices. We add and drop services frequently. And we also supplement the paid ones with a couple of excellent free services from our local library (Kanopy & Hoopla). The bottom line: Our current total streaming bill is under $25/month! And we still have WAY MORE stuff to watch on these services than we have time available!  

(At the moment, our subscriptions are with Hulu, Acorn TV and PBS Passport. But these are all subject to swapping out for Netflix, etc. at any time.) 

Here's how you can implement this money-saving streaming strategy.

Monday, October 25, 2021

10 Specific Actions That Can Help You Become Happier (an audio podcast)

Focus:  Whether you're part of a project team or a family group, when individuals are happy, the entire group will likely be happy! But how can you become happier? In this archived podcast from 2009 I share 10 specific actions that I’ve taken to create more happiness in my life.

------------------ October 2021 Update ------------------

This podcast was originally produced in December of 2009. In the 12 years since its release, social media companies and their fine-tuned algorithms have mastered the art of manipulating our consciousness. They pull us in and lock us down into contentious tribes. The sites cherry-pick news, opinion, sensationalistic rants, memes & images that exactly match our unique biases and push our buttons. Then they serve them up in a customized stream to keep us angry, warring and, most importantly to their bottom line, glued to their sites. 

If I were creating this podcast today, my highest-priority Action for producing happiness would be:

  • Ration your time (or remove yourself entirely!) from social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. 
These sites are powerfully toxic to our happiness. At the very least, they generate a lot of FOMO (fear of missing out) as we see our "friends'" self-servingly-edited timelines and perfect lives unfold via their curated posts. And, at their worst, the algorithms keep us angry and outraged and posting our own venom. And all this is antithetical to happiness!

So as you listen to this podcast (or read the transcript) consider the powerful negative roles these social media sites have come to play in our lives as omnipresent aggregators of everything that irritates and enrages us. Then ask yourself: "If I am pursuing peace of mind and happiness, why am I engaging these toxic social media dumps?" 

--------------[End of October 2021 Update]--------------

(Use the control bar below to download or play the podcast. Or scroll down and simply read the rest of the transcript. Enjoy!)

[Transcript of this audio was originally published on December 7, 2009. Some links referred to below may no longer be valid]


In this post, we focus on the individual instead of the team. After all, teams are made up of individuals. And when individual team members are happy, there’s a good chance the entire team will be happy! But how can anyone become happier? To begin to answer this question, I share 10 specific actions that I’ve taken to create more happiness in my life. (And I hope you will share your suggestions in the Comments section at the end of this post.)

1. Turn off the local news; it’s not real.

Think about it. News production is a business. News producers must create powerful headlines that generate a sense of urgency on the part of viewers or listeners. They want big, bold, sensational announcements that scream nervously about fires, murders, local indiscretions by public figures… all to attract a large audience. If it’s nasty and ugly and sensational, we’re going to hear about it. To make matters worse, these kinds of stories are comparatively easy to get.  Journalists can simply listen in on the local police scanners, follow the police or fire department to the scene of the latest crime or accident, and pick up that sensational story.  So it’s easy for broadcasters to bury us in this drek! Yet, at the same time, there are countless little acts of kindness in neighborhoods everywhere that go unreported.  What’s more, there are employees who labor quietly to create a great new product, or go that extra mile to serve their customers, or otherwise make their anonymous positive contributions to make the world a better place. But most of this positive energy goes unnoticed by local news producers.

The result: You come home from a long, hard day at work, turn on local news, and a glut of negative energy pours over you. You wallow in bad events that simply aren’t real for you, your family, or the people in your neighborhood! Ultimately you begin to feel a little uneasy, sad or angry.  If you aren’t careful, this stuff begins to cast a dark shadow over your whole life. But you don’t have to let this happen! You can do what I do: I turn off my local news and go out and enjoy a walk in my neighborhood or call a friend or relative and say Hi or whatever! I do anything other than sit through all that bad news.  (What about the local weather, you ask? No worries. I get my local weather, updated every few minutes, from the internet!)

2. Turn off the national & world news; it’s not real either.

The same business dynamics related to local news apply to the national and world news.  And worse yet, with national and world journalism, the scale of the bad news is typically much grander.  The bad behaviors of public figures are said to have world-wide implications. The wars (there are always wars, right?) and acts of inhumanity are captured in gory detail. And it is implied that the local disaster on the other side of the world could soon apply to you, in your neighborhood.  Meanwhile, in nations all over the world, public officials, citizens, and workers labor quietly to do their jobs as best they can and generate countless acts of kindness that go uncelebrated. So again, I suggest this: Turn off the national and world news, go outside and look around. There’s a good chance that all that bad news that was so compelling as it poured into your home is simply not a reality in your back yard, in your neighborhood, in you family, or among your friends. And if it’s not in these places, then it’s not real to you. So why let it shape your thoughts and your mood?

Here’s a challenge: Stop watching local, national, and world news for one solid week. At the end of the week, tune in to a news broadcasts and see how you feel. If you’re like me, you’ll be shocked at the amount of negative energy these things spew at you. And you’ll probably quickly turn them off again!

Remember these words from Marcus Aurelius:  “Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind, for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.” So the question is:  Do you want your soul to be dyed the color of bad news or the color of the countless good deeds that are happening all around you?

Monday, September 20, 2021

Authority, Responsibility, Freedom & Ordered Liberty: How a Basic Management Practice Clarifies Our Civic Duties

In the past year or two the Covid pandemic has prompted serious questions about our civic responsibilities and individual freedoms. Vaccination and mask mandates, business and school closures, travel restrictions and other attempts by public health officials to control the spread and reduce casualties from the disease have been met by fierce opposition from some folks while being welcomed by others. Many of those opposed to the mitigation measures feel that their individual freedoms are being trampled. 

In this essay I'd like to explore how a widely accepted business practice, that of balancing authority and responsibility, has clarified and inspired me to think differently about these issues. In particular, I'd like to suggest that these are not so much legal or constitutional questions as they are questions of morality. 

Authority versus Responsibility: Why the Balance Matters

Let's start by defining some terms. The following video distinguishes authority from responsibility and shows how balancing these is simply a matter of fairness. 
To summarize the video:

  • Authority is the full empowerment to take action. It is the authorization to use money, tools and people to get a job done.
  • Responsibility is the state of being held accountable for the completion of certain actions. For the responsible party "the buck stops here" in terms of a specified task completed or a given result attained; he or she bears the consequences of having exercised authority.
Clear lines of authority and responsibility help project team members, middle managers and senior managers sort out who should be doing what, when. But at its essence, balancing authority and responsibility is about achieving a fundamental fairness. A lack of that balance can lead to confusion, victimization, resentment and generally bad relationships within the organization.

Civic Freedom as Authority

In a sense, our civic freedom is a kind of authority. By granting this freedom to each other through our Constitution and Bill of Rights we are all empowered (i.e., authorized) to act on the world. But unless you are absolutely alone, far from any other humans, your actions can have have consequences that affect others. In a civilized society, where we necessarily share public spaces and resources, we have a duty (i.e, a responsibility) to be aware of the consequences of our actions and adjust them in order to respect the boundaries of our fellow citizens and their freedom to act.

The Lion and the Gazelle: A Case Study in Absolute Freedom

Consider this example. Imagine a primordial African savannah. There are no shared resources, no shared spaces, no protections. Each creature is absolutely free to act on any impulse without regard to the impact on any other creature. The gazelle has no right to safely enter a particular space. Nor does the lion have any obligation to defer to any of its fellow creatures.

The lion and the gazelle have no agreement to share their world. There are no roads, no schools, no shared firefighters or police protection, no shared public spaces, etc. In short, the lion exercises its absolute freedom, devouring the gazelle and dominating whatever territory it chooses.

My Fist versus Your Nose: The Concept of "Ordered Liberty"

There's an old saying, “Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.”  What this means is, in contrast to that primordial savannah, a civilized society recognizes some mutually agreed-upon limitations to individual freedom, originating in our shared public spaces and resources.

In fact, our framers codified this perspective in the concept of "ordered liberty" when they were debating what provisions of the Bill of Rights were to be upheld by the states. (See Webster's "Ordered Liberty" legal definition.) 

Encyclopedia.com explains (my bold added):

"A loosely used term, diversely applied in scholarly literature and judicial opinions, 'ordered liberty' suggests that fundamental constitutional rights are not absolute but are determined by a balancing of the public (societal) welfare against individual (personal) rights." 

In short, in moral and civic terms, our freedom extends only as far as it threatens or causes harm or loss to others. It's through this lens that we must view statements like, "It's a free country!"  Yes, we are generally free to act on our impulses. No, we can't act on impulses that endanger or constrain others. So my freedom to drive wherever I want does not extend to my ignoring stop signs or driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

And it's worth noting that these framers worked together in a cooperative fashion (though they were sometimes fiercely adversarial) to create a set of common boundaries for behavior. They were not individual rogues interested purely in self empowerment. They were crafting the rules of the road for an entire democratic society.

Of Masks and Vaccines and Civic Duty

Viewed in light of the balance of our freedom and civic duties, our current debate about mandatory Covid vaccination and masking is not so much a legal question as it is a moral one. We have a civic duty to NOT serve as breeding ground for a disease and potentially be an unsymptomatic, stealth carrier. And we have a duty to NOT breathe invisible aerosolized virus particles on our fellow citizens. And since we can't know, minute to minute, whether we actually are unsymptomatic carriers, we have a responsibility to protect each other by masking when we enter publicly shared spaces and by getting vaccinated.

Forget legalities and contentious, self-serving personal interpretations of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. These can be devisive abstractions. What we need to propagate are some key moral values related to the pandemic. Such values would embody appropriate civic duties that balance our freedom and manifest our "ordered liberties" related to the pandemic. Here are the most important:

  • It's not okay to threaten others' health and safety, consciously or unconsciously, by showing up unmasked, possibly as an asymptomatic carrier in public spaces.
  • It's not okay to thwart business owners' efforts to create a pandemic-free space for their customers by refusing to mask.
  • It's not okay to thwart the efforts of school administrators, museum directors, concert venue managers and all the others who are trying to serve as good stewards of safe public spaces by fighting masking policies.
  • It's not okay to remain unvaccinated when the widespread adoption of the vaccine represents a clear path to return to our normal freedom of movement and a robust economy.
  • It's not okay, either by refusing to mask in public spaces or refusing to get the vaccine, to contribute to overflowing healthcare facilities, penalizing the very people who have dedicated their lives to saving ours.

To place a Covid twist on that old saying above: "Your freedom to exhale aerosolized viral particles ends where my nose and mouth begin." 

So just get the shot. Just wear the mask. These are the fair and decent things to do. 


Other Articles You Might Find Interesting: