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The spring weather outlook according to AccuWeather.com

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a meteorologist.  Weather is an earth science that had captured my fascination from a very young age.  Science was my best subject in grade school, and my dream was to attend Penn State University and pursue a meteorology degree through one of the few major universities with such a program.

Long story short, I went into computer science and information technology instead, but that has never stopped me from nerding out on weather and meteorology when I get the chance.  Long-range forecasts have always peaked my interest.

According to AccuWeather.com, this spring will bring fairly normal weather to wide mileage throughout the United States.  Damn near the entire state of California, along with the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas will see worsening drought conditions.  Overly wet weather will plague the eastern part of our nation’s mid-section and the north, once again, gets the proverbial shaft with cold weather and a delay in significant ground thawing.

As Accuweather points out, the colder than average weather in the north will affect farming leading into the spring.  Still frozen solid in many areas, the ground conditions may negatively impact the ability for some northern farms in the upper midwest to plant new seeds , especially Ohio.

I couldn’t live in the north.  I just couldn’t.  I hate the cold.  Motorcycle-riding season is comfortably counted using the fingers of only one hand rather than both.  I live in Arizona – drought or no drought, this is the place for me.  It’s warm.  It’s usually sunny.  I can take the motorcycle out for a ride on almost ANY day of the year and be relatively comfortable without heated clothing.  It’s nice.  As far as colors on a long-range weather map, give me red any day.

 

Chalkboard with Math Problem

8 life lessons that I will never forget

Growing up, I had a particularly lofty expectation about professionals in the working world – heck, about the world in general.  I thought that high level executives were the best in their field.  I thought perfection was a critical element to success.  I thought my competition would be my greatest limitation.  I was fearful of what the world was about to hoist upon me.

After releasing myself into the wild nearly 12 years ago, I quickly began to realize that I had nothing to be afraid of.  My assumptions were largely wrong.  In fact, quite wrong.  Managers are often promoted beyond their capability, and it is tough to find truly talented and dedicated people in this world.  The competition is not tough.

In truth, it is not hard to look good.  As my dad used to tell me as a child, “showing up is half the battle”.

I have learned a lot in the last 12 years of my life about not only being a professional, but working with other professionals.  And without further ado, below are the 8 most interesting life lessons from my humble existence in this world that I’ll never forget.

My Lessons Learned

  1. I’ve worked with a wide variety of people with different educational backgrounds – from PhDs to high school graduates.  In that time, I learned that those with college degrees are not necessarily smarter, wiser or more prepared to intelligently confront problems than those without higher education.  They tend to be more confident in their ability to think, and I admire confidence.  But many times, problems need more than sheer confidence to solve.  Problem-solving takes rational thought with a solid foundation in reality, and experience is often the best way to compile the necessary understanding to confront complex problems.
  2. Those who insist on prefacing their job title with “senior” (ie: Senior Software Developer, or Senior Product Buyer) are often quite a bit less productive and capable than those below them.  Too often, the true definition of “senior” means nothing more than someone who managed to keep a job in the same industry for a long period of time and is not necessarily an indication of  skill or capability.
  3. A person who holds a different opinion than yours does not necessarily make him or her right and you wrong (or vice versa).  Type-A personalities are confident in their ability to make decisions, right or wrong.  Their opinions often come across as gospel, and those around them may interpret these opinions as such.   Certainly, all rational opinions should be taken seriously, but I have found that Type-A opinions are neither more nor less credible than others.
  4. It is always easier to critique the work of others than to create the work yourself.  Remember writing term papers in high school or college?  Unless you are a gifted writer, coming up with a well-crafted original piece is not easy.  But read a term paper of one of your fellow classmates and their mistakes often jump off the page.  Same concept for new ideas or proposed solutions.  Try not to be discouraged when your thoughts get struck down by others, because criticizing others is far easier than coming up with a sound and original thought.
  5. Contrary to popular myth, we are not all created equal.  Some of us are naturally more gifted in athletic abilities, math or public-speaking than others.  Some of us were born to be an astronaut.  Others were born to drive a garbage truck.  Everyone’s strengths and weaknesses make us very different and unique people.
  6. Unfortunately, very few people have a concept of money and how much they spend on trivial and unnecessary pleasure items.  Like my last article discussed, the morning Cup-of-Joe keeps people at work YEARS beyond when they could have retired and started to enjoy life more fully.  What about that cell phone plan with unlimited data, cable TV, expensive car or house, those season tickets to your favorite sports team?  All of these items cost a good chunk of change.  Ironically, these same people lament the fact that retirement seems to be a goal that keeps getting more and more distant into the future.  People have the right to spend their hard-earned money however they see fit, but understanding how lifestyle choices effect retirement is a concept that too few understand.
  7. Nobody is better than you; then again, you are not better than anyone else, either.  Drive up next to an expensive car like a BMW or Mercedes, and the driver might look at you as if you are downright inferior.  And why?  Because they are driving a car that put them further into debt than the one you’re driving?  Some people have a 5 foot vertical leap.  Others can downhill ski faster than lightning.  Good for them, but ask yourself a simple question – who cares?  Have you ever mumbled under your breath “I wish I could do that”?  If so, all that you have done is willingly put yourself down.  In the greater scheme of life, it does not matter who downhill skis the fastest, or jumps the highest, or drives the most expensive car or walks around with the biggest arms.  Who cares?  Focus on your life and your immediate goals.  Never be envious over someone else and their situation because it rarely helps to improve yours.
  8. I am convinced that people’s IQs drop about 10 points in the driver’s seat of a car.  I have witnessed very smart people drive as if they were completely out of their minds.  Rolling over curbs, speeding up and slowing down in rapid succession, changing lanes suddenly and without signaling (generally right in front of someone else).  These are smart people, but when behind the wheel of a car, they turn into clumsy and unaware drones in control of a 5,000 pound death machine.  The larger problem is few people take driving seriously.  Understanding and following the rules of the road are a thing of the past.
Starbucks

Is that morning Starbucks worth another decade of working?

During my commute into work every morning, I ride by a Starbucks coffee shop whose drive-through line not only wraps around the building itself, but out into the main road.  Each morning, cars line up outside of Starbucks anxiously awaiting that $5 to $6 cup of coffee only to commute to an office or work place that likely already has coffee available.

Starbucks FrapaccinosA few dollars a day may not seem like a big deal, but over time that cost adds up tremendously.  Your monthly cable television service or high speed Internet follows the same principles.  Multiply an average of $5 for a morning cup of Starbucks coffee over 20 working days, and you quickly spend $100 every month on coffee.  That is probably the cost of your cable television service as well.  Oh, and what about that cell phone plan with unlimited data?

Spending money vs. Saving money

Human nature dictates that we want immediate satisfaction.  Buying “stuff” makes us happy, and we like happiness.  We get a raise or bonus at work, and we proceed to spend that extra money on items or services that bring joy into our lives.  But,  how many more years are our spending habits keeping us at work for the sake of this temporary joy?  Shouldn’t several more additional decades of life free of listening to bosses drone on about mission statements, profits and additional overtime be far more satisfying?  Why doesn’t early retirement make us more happy than temporary enjoyment derived from “stuff”?

Take a minute and estimate how much money you save every year and how much you spend.  Be honest with yourself and your current situation.  Then, think of it in terms of retirement, and remember, the more you spend while young, the longer you work when you are old.

Mr. Money Mustache wrote a cleverly simple blog post that reveals just how easy retirement truly is.  Sure, the more you save the earlier you can retire.  But paying attention to the percentage that you are saving every year is the first step towards ensuring your most productive years of life are not spent in an office.

How would you like to retire by 45?  If you saved about 50% of your income since you were 30, then 45 would probably be a reasonable age at which to quit the rat race.

Save 50%?!?  Are you crazy?  How could anyone save half of their income every year?

Look at where your money goes and calculate the true happiness derived from those expenses.  Your $100/month cable television service – do you NEED that?  Is there content that you watch that you just can’t possibly miss?  If so, ask yourself this question: is watching those “can’t miss” television programs worth another 5 or 6 YEARS getting yourself up at 6am every morning for work?

Is it really?

Invest those unnecessary expenses

What if you invested that $1,200 annual cable bill into the stock market instead of spending it on cable television service?  According to Fool.com‘s calculations using historic stock market rates of return, that $1,200 invested in the stock market will turn into $2,841 after 10 years.  Or after 40 years, it climbs to a whopping $37,691.

What if you permanently kill your cable service and invest that same $1,200 every year?  In 10 years, your investments turn into $22,713.  After 40 years, your nest egg turns into a $479,642 stockpile.  Is 40 years of cable television service worth almost a half million in lost wealth?

Remember that $5 Starbucks every morning?  That adds up to another $1200 a year.  Combine the value of cable and your morning cup-of-Joe and you’re treading in the neighborhood of $1 million in lost wealth over 40 years because of these temporary pleasures.  $1 million!

Your salary does not matter.  Whether you earn $100,000 or $50,000, think of your savings in terms of your yearly expenditures as a percentage of your salary.  Many families live off of $25,000 a year and save the rest.  This makes retiring early on a $50,000 salary possible if 50% is invested every year.  It is possible, and it happens every day.  The trade-off?  No morning Starbucks.  No cable or satellite television.  No $40,000 car.   You trade stuff for quality of life.

Most people do not need a lot of stuff.  They buy stuff because it provides temporary happiness.  I was just as guilty as the next person when it came to spending more than necessary on extraneous items that only provided temporary enjoyment.

I eventually realized that I am not looking for temporary enjoyment.  I want permanent bliss!  When I am 45, I want to wake up on a Monday morning at 8am and look forward to a day walking through the park with my lovely wife, or riding my bike around town, or throwing my camera in the car on the spur of the moment and taking a leisurely trek out to the mountains on a photo expedition.

Whatever it is I want to do, I want to do it…on Monday when everyone else my age is working.  Or perhaps Wednesday.  Heck, any time is good for me.

How about you?

Food and Farm Livestock Identification

Why is Vegetarianism a moral lifestyle?

The beginning of the new year ushered in the beginning of a personal health experiment: eating completely vegan for at least a month.  This means cutting out all meat and dairy (including honey) and eating a diet free of animal byproducts.  In doing so, it got me thinking more about the vegetarian diet and why it is consiTexascalfbrutality (1)dered to be a moral way of eating.  Vegetarians only cut out meat.

I understand that animals are kept in truly horrid conditions at meat farms.  The animals that we eat routinely stand in their own feces, are beaten with hammers and pitch forks and are often injected with growth hormone to promote unnatural growth of muscle (meat).  Vegetarians do not eat meat as a way to protest the unsanitary and deplorable conditions that animals are kept in during their often short and painful lifespans.

Vegetarians eat dairy, however.  Many dairy products, like milk, cheese and eggs, come from cows and chickens kept in these very same unsanitary conditions.  Cows on dairy farms are kept alive until they can no longer produce a sellable product and are often slaughtered.  The conditions that these animals live in are one in the same as the cow that produced that deliciously-seasoned New York Strip that vegetarians will pass on, but order a salad topped with cheese and a dairy-based dressing.

Investigations have found incredible animal cruelty throughout the country, such as MercyForAnimals.org’s report on an Ohio dairy farm and the merciless beating of livestock, or another investigation into a Pennsylvania dairy farm that included dead chicken corpses littered throughout cages that housed other egg-producing chickens.  Another investigation documented cruelty of animals at an Idaho dairy farm, and these investigations only scratch the surface of what truly goes on at dairy farms throughout the country.

The conditions of animals at dairy farms are well documented, just as they are at meat farms.  Why, then, is eating dairy any more moral than eating meat?  Is eating the byproduct of an animal before slaughter inherently better than eating a byproduct of an animal after slaughter?

My intent with this post is not to change the minds of vegetarians or pass judgment on the dietary choices of others.  My interest is one of pure curiosity, and certainly an interest prompted by my vegan experiment started at the beginning of 2014.

Is vegetarianism a moral lifestyle?

The Biltmore Estate

Visiting the Biltmore Estate, North Carolina

Over my Christmas vacation to see my brother and family out in North Carolina, we had the opportunity to see and tour the amazing Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC.  The architecture was artistically excellent and every room had meaning to the late George Vanderbilt, who inhabited the mansion that took the majority of his inherited fortunes.  The new Nikon D7000 camera got a lot of work.

The Biltmore Estate

© Steve Adcock / Taken with my Nikon D7000 and 50mm f.1,4

The home itself was large and expansive, a room for virtually every purpose (including an animal-studded room used to keep and showcase George Vanderbilt’s collection of guns available to him and his many exclusive guests for hunting.

Seriously, this estate is stupid big.

The tour includes more than just a walk through the home itself.  Surrounding the huge house is hundreds of acres of land owned by Vanderbilt with luscious gardens that, unfortunately, were not in bloom during our visit (Winter, 2013).  However, a conservatory on the estate is still maintained that houses a large collection of impeccably-maintained flowers and plants that gave Vanderbilt’s guests a unique and colorful walk through a wide variety of plant-life.

Flowers in the Biltmore Conservatory

© Steve Adcock / Taken with my Nikon D7000 and 50mm f/1.4

The photo opportunities were amazing.  Stroll a little ways past the conservatory and you’ll get to choose from a variety of walking paths through Vanderbilt’s scenic landscape, which includes ponds, streams and a waterfall.  Scenes like this were typical:

Stream near the Biltmore Estate

© Steve Adcock / Taken with my Nikon D7000 and 50mm f/1.4

Of course, I could not let this opportunity pass by without letting my lady friend capture a darn good picture of me showcasing my “rustic” look.

My rustic pose on the Biltmore Estate

© Steve Adcock / Taken with my Nikon D7000 and 50mm f/1.4 by my lady friend

I highly recommend a visit to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC to anyone interested in architecture or nature, or experiencing how George Vanderbilt recklessly spent through his inherited fortunes.

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Exercise the power to control your life

People have much more control over their lives than they care to admit.  From the job you hold to the house that you call home, you truly are master of your own destiny.  The term “I can’t” is almost never a valid answer.  The fact is you can – if the desire to achieve it is strong enough.

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If cranberry sauce makes you happy, make it!

I graduated college from a small university in Colorado Springs.  I moved back out East to take a job and promised myself that I would work towards getting back out West.  I love everything that the West has to offer me.  The sun shines bright and the air remains dry.  It encompasses everything that I cherish in my lifestyle.  I hate being indoors.  I need to experience the elements.

I took the job out East, but living on the Eastern seaboard is exactly how I remembered it as a child – cold in the winter, hot and humid in the summer.  Oh, and crowded, very crowded.  From day one, I promised myself that I would take the first opportunity that presented itself to move back out West – anywhere out West.

“I can’t” was not in my vocabulary

It would have been easier to stay in the area and continue what I was doing for a living.  The money was great.  The hours were decent.  But, I still was not happy.  I needed to get out of there.  I needed to finally escape the stranglehold that the Eastern seaboard has over so many people living in the United States.  Money, money, money.  It talks, but with me, I gave it deaf ears on which to preach.

The fact of the matter was the phrase “I can’t” was never in my vocabulary.  I did not matter what I was doing.  No amount of money could possibly make up for a lifestyle that I was not happy with.  I knew what I was getting myself into.  I willingly moved out East to take a job at get much-needed experience.  But, I also knew what I wanted to get myself out of.

That was seven years ago.

Since then, I found my new home in Arizona and started a new life for myself – and took a hefty pay cut to do it.  I have a beautiful and carrying lady friend and a house in the suburbs.  I’m not rich.  I do not have a BMW.  I can’t claim to be a millionaire.

None of that matters because I am happy.  It meant enough to me to move away from the monied East and establish myself out West, and so I did it.

I can, and I did.

Believe it or not, so can you.  Do you want it bad enough?   Is money the final qualifier before you are truly happy, or do you want more out of life?  If you could do whatever you want to do for a living without having to worry about money, would it be something different than you are doing now?

Stop muddling through life’s undesired moments

It does not take a millionaire to build a life of happiness.  In fact, being happy and having money are not necessarily connected.  The guy who passed you in a Ferrari this morning might have more cash than you, but is he truly happier?  Maybe, maybe not.

Live your life so you are the one smiling through the window of your 8-year old Ford pickup at the stressed-out BMW driver who is rushing from or to another meeting.  Ask yourself if living an unhealthy lifestyle is worth the expensive car or house.  Each day that you get up, are you looking forward to the day, or are you looking forward to crawling right back into bed that night?

If all you want is bed, then you might as well be dead.

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Cheat to succeed: How cheat days help you lose weight

It is true – to lose weight, you need to keep your diet in check.  A caloric deficit is one of the best ways to shrink that spare tire that you’ve been carrying around your waist.  In other words, burn more calories than you eat.  But every once in a while, it’s okay to pick a day to cheat and take in significantly more calories than you normally would on your diet.  In fact, cheating is good.  Cheat to succeed.

Here’s the deal.  When you significantly reduce your caloric intake in an effort to shed extra pounds, your body’s metabolism – flexible as it is – will respond by adjusting to the caloric shortfall and slow down.  While you will definitely see tremendous weight loss shortly after you begin your new diet, your impressive weight loss will slowly begin tapering off.  Eventually, you’ll find yourself in maintenance mode – neither gaining nor losing weight.  It is called the plateau.  Everybody hates it.

Why does this happen?  Because your metabolism has adjusted to your new diet.  Your body will burn the right amount of calories to sustain your activity level based on the foods that you eat.  When you take in fewer calories, your metabolism no longer needs to work as hard to burn through the food that you give it.  Effectively, give your body less and it will end up burning less.  Make sense?

Kick your metabolism in the butt!

Cheat days keep your body from falling into a maintenance period quite as easily.  Every once in a while (once a week, at most), gorge yourself on all kinds of food – the kind of food that you used to eat before your diet.  Donuts, breakfast burritos, Chipotle, pizza whatever.  Your cheat day is your opportunity to kick your metabolism in the butt and keep it operating as efficiently as possible.

The minute that your body thinks that your diet will allow your metabolism to sit back and relax, you feed it an additional 3000 calories.  Confused, your body will rev back up again and start burning those additional calories as fast as it can, automatically.

But it will not stop there.  For the next several days, your metabolism will remain active and on high alert, burning as much food as it can as calories are reduced again after your cheat day.  In the end, kick starting your metabolism will burn more calories than you took in on your cheat day.  And bingo, you have successfully manipulated your body’s natural desire to maintain equilibrium with your dietary habits.

Don’t fret – the day after your cheat day, you will gain a couple pounds.  However, much of this is water weight and will come right back off again once calories are reduced back to what your diet allows.

There are several ways to cheat your metabolism.  Resist the temptation to cheat more than once a week – remember, your metabolism needs time to slow down after a period of caloric reduction.  If you cheat too often, your diet will not be nearly as effective.

Some cheat every two weeks, while others will cheat only in the afternoon on their cheat day.  There is no wrong way to cheat provided that cheating is controlled.  Try different methods.  Eat different foods.  See what works best for you.

Hey!  Only cheat if you are on a diet

This article should not be taken as an excuse to regularly gorge yourself, especially if you are not on a caloric-deficit diet.  Cheat days work, but only when your metabolism has slowed through dieting.  Do not convince yourself that cheat days will help you lose weight in the absence of a diet.  It will not work.  It will do nothing but make you fat.