3 basic tenets for getting things done

1. You get what you pay for. 
2. The currency is time.
If you spend two hours a night mindlessly watching TV, you have spent two hours. Your mind does need a rest, and distractions can be useful – but did you keep a pad and pen, or some other note-taking device, standing by to record any stray thoughts that could be useful later? Then you probably spent two hours. 
3. Currency is better invested than spent.
A practice I learned from David Allen, author of the book Getting Things Done, during a recent interview: Write down every stray thought that occurs that is not related to the task at hand, while staying focused on the task at hand. Come back to that list later and create a plan of action for each thought. Rinse, repeat.
I have already found myself getting things done a little faster and remembering other things that need to be done. The practice may solve the time management mess that has plagued me all these years.
You get what you pay for: Either the time is spent on the activities that make and keep you whole, or it is not. Invest your currency wisely; it is a finite resource.

152 years on the job and still counting

My column in today’s Door County Advocate:

Tis the season called Sunshine Week, when the news media likes to pat itself on the back and perform exercises in government transparency and write columns about our important role as watchdog. And of course there will come the inevitable observations that the watchdog is a little too much of a lapdog in its old age, is barking up certain wrong trees, and has missed more than its share of instances where the government (or some other institution accountable to the public) has fallen down on the job or misused its power.

This week also brings the 152nd anniversary of the first edition of the Door County Advocate, which legend says Joseph Harris started largely because he wanted a platform to advocate for carving a canal through the narrow isthmus that separated the waters of Sturgeon Bay from Lake Michigan.

A firm believer in maritime interests, Harris’ belief in the canal, and his opposition to competing railroads, were so voracious that he is said to have prevented many an encouraging word for railroad developers from appearing on these pages over the years. Within two decades the canal was built, and a few years later Door County became the last of Wisconsin’s 72 counties to gain rail service: power of the press.

And finally, this week also coincides with the 61st anniversary of my arrival on this planet, which legend says involved an anxious wait at a train crossing while Hilda Bluhm was preparing to deliver the second of her three sons. The whole Sunshine Week-anniversary-birthday triple whammy usually leaves me in a contemplative mood.

Around each March 22 I find myself asking the question: What does the Advocate advocate these days? What does it mean to be a Door County advocate in 2014? In its first editorial the paper spoke of encouraging settlers to make a home in this magical place, and 152 years later, we still spend a great deal of time encouraging people to come visit us, while giving voice to those who are concerned that we not spoil the natural beauty that makes it magical in the first place.

We are also here to tell the stories of the people who live and love and die here year-round. Sometimes those stories are uncomfortable, as people who live in a magical place are prone to the same foibles and missteps as people anywhere. Often those stories are heartwarming and even inspiring.That’s why this news outlet (It’s unfashionable to call it “this newspaper” anymore, as paper has become just one of several media in which we work) is here, after all — to tell the stories of this special place and to advocate for its best interests. If that is why we are here, it behooves us to be clear about what those interests are.

We got one of those “I hear the Advocate’s closing down” rumors again the other day — a not-surprising bit of gossip in these days filled with reports about the trials of the newspaper industry. And one day the rumor will be true — after all, it has been circulating all of my life and all things do come to an end eventually. When I was born, people were predicting the incredible new technology called television would eliminate the need for newspapers by the end of the decade. The rumor mongers never did specify which decade.

The important thing to know is that, 152 years later, there is still an office in Door County where people gather each day to collect the news and information about what is happening in this community and dispense it to you in a readable and convenient form. (And by the way, this is still a gathering of people who live here and love this place.)

If you have a story to tell or an issue to advocate, call us. Write us a note. We’re here to help and plan to be for a long time to come.

Cutting the cable

We have been watching BBC dramas on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video (Foyle’s War! George Gently! Call the Midwife! Downton Abbey!), we’ve been following the new American Idol season (Harry Connick Jr. has saved the show), we’ve caught Season 3 of Sherlock on the local PBS channel (Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are a stupendous team).

What we haven’t been doing is using our $85 monthly satellite TV service. So I called Monday morning and told an unusually cheerful operator we were canceling. She told me we were eligible to cut the monthly bill to $60, we could have two months of free premium movie channels, and a few other incentives not to cut the chain. I said, “I know you’re obligated to tell me all this, but our minds are made up.” Oddly, after about five minutes we were done.

This is the wave of the future. It’s all migrating to the Internet. Why pay close to a hundred bucks for hundreds of channels offering you content you almost never watch at the times they choose to offer it to you? Oh, of course, you can record it on your DVR (which is how we watch the local shows – now with TiVo for $13 a month), but we have increasing opportunities to tie into the Web and watch what we want when we want it. OK, Netflix and Amazon charge, too, but I was already paying them. With the satellite raising its monthly charge to $90 this month, we have effectively knocked $77 off the monthly budget with no change in our viewing habits.

What would you do with $924 ($77 x 12) more to spend each year?

I still like old stuff

I haven’t changed much since September 1993, when I spun off these words for a four-minute radio report about the steam engine Milwaukee Road 261, which had been restored and was carrying an excursion train through Wisconsin’s Fox River Valley.

I like old stuff. I always have. I’d rather watch Charlie Chaplin in the movies, or Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby than tonight’s sitcom. I’m a comic book fan, but I’d rather read Captain Marvel battling Dr. Sivana than the stuff that passes for heroics nowadays.   

I prefer the warm sound of vinyl records with all their clicks and ticks to the cold, precise cleanliness of a CD. I think Emily Bronte and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote rings around contemporary novelists.  

Even on the information superhighway, I like clunking along in the rumble seat of our Commodore 128 when I exchange bytes with other computer buffs, even though we have a perfectly fine version of last year’s Macintosh at home. It’s in the genes, I guess: My father waited to buy his first color TV until the late 1970s.

Twenty years along the line, I still love old stuff. (Oh, the Commodore is packed away somewhere, but I type these words on a seven-year-old iMac.) I didn’t mention it at the time, but by 1993 I had already created a superhero named Myke Phoenix, whose adventures I have finally begun chronicling monthly, just as I’d hoped to do all those years ago. It just took a little time to get him off the ground.

The series, I think, can trace its roots to three influences of the 1930s and ’40s:

  • Captain Marvel, the Big Red Cheese who fought outlandish threats and bad guys with a sense of innocence and whimsy.
  • Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze, and his band of friends who traveled the world righting wrongs. Here I am influenced as much by the creator as the creation: Lester Dent, writing as Kenneth Robeson, astonishingly published 180 short novels, one every month, for more than a decade and a half. I always wanted to try something like that.
  • The Spirit, Will Eisner’s immortal weekly comic book that was inserted into Sunday newspapers for many years. Again, the influence is as much the creator: Will Eisner wrote short stories set to the music of comic-book style art, stories about people, and sometimes The Spirit himself barely makes and appearance except perhaps to help clean up the mess. Search for a link between The Spirit and Myke Phoenix in stories like The Song of the Serial Kisser and Night of the Superstorm, where Myke is more of a supporting character than a centerpiece.

This week I release the fifth ebook in a series of 12, Duck Man Walking. My blurb for this installment is:

How do you trust a guy after he’s tried to kill you a few times? That’s the dilemma facing Myke Phoenix, superhero extraordinaire, in “Duck Man Walking.” 

One of Myke Phoenix’s most impossible foes, the half-man-half-duck Quincy Quackenbos, is released from prison. Rumor has it that after years of trying he cracked the code and has developed the formula that can kill Myke Phoenix.  

Are the rumors true? Or is Quackenbos telling the truth when he claims he’s turned his back on his criminal past? Find the answers mere moments from now in “Duck Man Walking,” just a click away.

I issued about 80 episodes of a podcast called Uncle Warren’s Attic; I have boxes and shelves full of goodies from bygone eras; and now I have a monthly superhero series that is best described as “new pulp” fiction, and it has all happened for a very simple reason:

I like old stuff.