I’m Awesome

•March 4, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Last year the new department head asked if I saw any I think should change. I said that “Auditors are good at looking for improvements in other people’s processes, but that we could do a better job evaluating ours”. I asked her for the opportunity to work on that for our department. Last week I during a presentation about audit initiatives she repeated my words almost verbatim, and then pointed to the work my team and I did to standardize the audit process.
It was a reminder that:

1) you can influence your boss’s boss

2) phrasing an issue succinctly and effectively makes it memorable a year later

3) I’m a born auditor with strategic vision

Fast Minds Think Alike

•January 7, 2015 • Leave a Comment

ADHD Brain Difference

It’s been a long time since I blogged, a little less longer since I journaled in meat space. I’ve noticed that do both when I have a purpose, but not a need. I need to record my thoughts and work things out in text more than I do, but when I have a purpose that’s when it happens. This blog started as an assignment for a class, so there is one purpose. It was a way for me to organize my thoughts on a particular subject and share that with friends in a greater than 140 character way (which as an aside, I think facebook and twitter are analogous to fast food in terms of expressing our thoughts – it satisfies the need, without being nutritious, and while it can occasionally be tasty, it’s more likely to be palatable at best).

Back to purpose – therapy has been a purpose for organizing my thoughts. I’ve always approached counselors as more of a personal trainer to help with a specific goal or issue, rather than a paid friend. So that means I expect it to be short term, and I put a lot of effort outside of sessions into fixing the issue. I find when I have to report to a mental health professional, I should be prepared with well though out material on my initial complaints and my progress since the last visit. The last time I saw a counselor (cognitive behavioral therapy, which I highly recommend) was when I was supremely unhappy (depressed is a loaded term) with the trajectory or my life, and within weeks I was making positive steps to change my perspective and environment where appropriate. Not long after that I sold my house (which see the previous post, was a stress trap) and within the year I took a better (for me) job without abandoning my career of choice which I was considering.

While I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress towards being a better, more self actualized person, it’s not surprising that it wasn’t a permanent fix.  One thing about the cognitive behavior therapy that struck a chord, was that it boils down to the idea that you create your own hell (keeping in mind that I’m now strongly in the middle class and live in relatively peaceful times/areas). I had a job that kept me interested and where I could be my weird self, I’m reasonably intelligent, unreasonably ambitious, and married to a very supportive spouse.  Yet, I still didn’t accomplish my doable short term goals, it was taking me longer than it should to complete projects (although, the improviser that I am I always made up good reasons, and pulled out an awesome final product to make up for it) and I was getting overwhelmed and worrying myself into what felt like an ulcer (which I later learned were gallstones, but never-mind).

So, cue the therapy – except that I kept procrastinating that, too.  Until, my wife, was one night taking a ‘do you have ADHD assessment’ online.  Her being a teacher (incidentally, the profession with the most diagnosed ADHD), she knows the symptoms and has long thought she has ADHD, and I have long agreed, namely because she can’t stay in one place, especially lines.  So I took the quiz, and thought the questions were designed so that everyone “should speak to a mental health professional to be evaluated for ADHD”.  I mean, who hasn’t lost their keys or paid a bill late, really?  Fast-forward several months and a lot more insight about ADHD, and I decided to visit a mental health professional.  My first legit psychiatrist visit – M.D. and everything – and I received a diagnosis of inattentive ADHD.

So here are some of the things I’ve learned about ADHD and how it’s completely changed my perspective on my career trajectory and my family life growing up.

There are currently three categories of ADHD, 1) Inattentive 2) Hyperactive/impulsive 3) both.  All three categories stem from impairment (mild to severe) of executive function in the brain. Executive function is a mechanism that acts like the conductor of the orchestra, organizing, focusing, and integrating different parts to produce a complex piece of music.  Without a conductor the orchestra is just a bunch of noise, or a flute player that doesn’t know when to stop playing. As a result, people with a less effective executive brain function struggle with 1) working memory and recall 2) motivation (getting started or staying engaged) 3) emotional control 4) impulse control 5) complex problem solving including prioritization.  Or, seemingly, these people are useless, lazy flakes.

 

So, the reason I thought that I didn’t have ADHD was that I wasn’t a flaky idiot that flunks out of school and can’t hold down job.  Except that stress increases the systems of ADHD, and I was becoming a flake that couldn’t get stuff done, and I felt like a terrible, lazy person.  People with ADHD are motivated by their interests and have a hard time when they are bored. As a result people with ADHD can hyperfocus when they are interested in something (ex, someone who stays hours late a work because they just want to get one more thing done) or act on an impulse when they are not interested (ex. interrupting others, walking off from the grocery line).  Adrenaline is another way people with ADHD maintain interest, so we tend to procrastinate and the rush of the deadline makes us focus. In general, people with ADHD have a need for stimulation. Unfortunately, this is why those with ADHD more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, have unprotected sex, and other risk-taking behavior.  On the positive side, stimulation can also come from self-guided learning, desire to achieve personal goals, or athletic pursuits. I think that because psychology, in general, focuses on abnormal behavior and behavior that adversely effects our lives, we don’t hear much about the positive sides of ADHD.  And more over, part of the diagnosis for ADHD is that the symptoms are negatively impacting your life.  Which makes sense, if you’ve found a way to cope with the symptoms without knowing you had them, then what’s the prob?  Some jobs require the symptoms of ADHD – paramedics, theater, art, television, teaching.

ADHD is hereditary, which makes total sense looking at my parents.  First, I’m only here because my parents married after getting preggers with my older brother in their early, early twenties.  Pretty common for people with ADHD to have unplanned kids when they are young (surprise, I wasn’t planned either).  Also, my parents are terrible with money, emotional control (if you’ve never seem a grown man throw a temper-tantrum then you’ve never seen my dad angry for some stupid reason) and long term planning and problem solving (this is why my mother is virtually homeless and penniless).  My mother even attempted suicide, which is common for people with ADHD, and especially in women, is usually diagnosed as bi-polar disorder or depression.  Looking at the situation, though, it makes more sense that she acted on an impulse from the stress of a temporary set back. Kids with ADHD lie a lot, either to be more interesting to friends (which creativity!, so . . . ), or to protect themselves from feeling embarrassed when they make a mistake. My brother lied all the time when he would get in trouble; he insisted, even if it was obvious that he was lying, that his version was true. Once he ran into something and broke the mirror off my dad’s truck, he said an orange truck side-swiped him after speeding up and slowing down and speeding up, even though there was yellow paint transfer on the truck.

So how did I go so long not knowing, and what helped me cope without knowing I was coping?

Positive encouragement/rewards – I was lucky to have a partner, friends and teachers that encouraged my creativity and work ethic, but I could have just as easily had friends that encouraged drug use and risky sexual behavior.  Conversely, as a teen, I was defiant with authority figures (another symptom), so when someone tried to control my behavior with punishment or shame it motivated me to defy them more.
Strong Interests – when I chose my own interests, rather than what my family wanted, I was more committed to succeeding and prioritizing my studies where needed so that I could keep participating in my interests
Theatre/Art – not only did it satisfy my creative drive (also a trait of ADHD people) I learned project management skills and teamwork.  How to break up a project into manageable sections, rehearsal, set building, with milestones all leading up to opening night, and how my part contributed to the success of play.
Exercise and Sleep – Exercise and good sleep is important for everyone but especially those with ADHD, because both help reduce stress.  A lack of sleep increases stress which can drastically increase the severity of symptoms.  Incidentally, ADHDers prefer to be night owls.
Mentors – These are the people throughout my life that helped me to develop the habit of planning not only my actions but look for potential consequences of those actions.  The more practice I had at predicting what could go wrong, the less I acted impulsively.  More importantly my mentors were people that started from a place of caring and acceptance rather than judgment, and didn’t make me feel ashamed for making a mistake.
It was interesting to read that people with ADHD are their own worst critics, and typically feel like outsiders their whole lives – I’ve always attributed that feeling to being gay and actually being an outsider in many respects.  It was also interesting that there seems to be a divide in the outcomes of people with ADHD – if they find success and support they tend to have good self esteem and accomplish a lot (and are therefore probably not diagnosed) and if their efforts are met with criticism (I’m thinking of my mother-in-law right now) rather than support they give up and tend to do poorly in school and work.
So my next question is, who isn’t ADHD and does it even matter? I’m sure that we seek out people like us, and so that’s why we pick partners and friends like us, and that certain professions attract certain people.  I wouldn’t be surprised if half of the internal auditors I work with are ADHD – the work is project based so you don’t get too bored, it requires creativity and problem solving (most of the time) so you get engaged in the work, there is a lot of communication with others so your social needs are met and you can shine there, and there is a audit structure and deadlines so it’s easier to stay focused and get the work done.
Why does it matter?  Well if a tree falls in the forest, and the net impact to the environment is minimal, then it doesn’t matter.  In some respects it’s like knowing that you have extra vertebrae, or that you’ve been a hermaphrodite all along.  What did matter for me, is first, knowing that my struggles weren’t the result of personal failings -it’s just how my brain is wired, and second, knowing the root cause for the issue and using my problem solving skills to develop solutions that work better.  It’s also interesting to look back at my life with a different lens, and look forward with a different approach. I’ve always been positive about what I could accomplish, but it was at the cost of being critical about setbacks and using that energy to motivate myself to do better and more.  That attitude is changing, almost to a kooky self-help guru mindset.  I’m more reasonable about what I can do in a set amount of time by reminding myself that spending time with friends and family and personal interests need to be balanced with career success, so I plan time for all of them and plan time for nothing – floating to whatever activity I choose.  I’m trying to look back at the end of a day, or week and instead of inventorying all the things I didn’t get done, I inventory the progress only.

The American Nightmare

•June 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

My aunt told me that the happiest days of your life are the day you buy your house and the day you sell it.  I recently sold my house, which was not the happiest day of my life, but only because it was clear to us how much money we lost on it.  During the process we had several people ask us where we are going to buy next (nowhere), why we are selling, advice for buying, and I heard plenty of advice from people who never owned a house (which I considered hearsay, unless they were well read).

Briefly here are some marginal costs, advice, and other things to consider before buying a house:

  1. Get it in your head that you will live here FOREVER!  – There is a possibility based on the market and shifting populations that no one will want your house.  Even if you buy in a ‘good neighborhood’ they don’t stay that way.  In ten years gas prices affect housing choices, city budgets on education affect school achievement, and shitty neighbors move in and start manufacturing meth.   — So if you’re going to buy a house, buy in a city you love and be prepared to take action if it starts to change.  You are buying into a community.
  2. Don’t think of it as an investment.  I don’t care how people spin it- i.e. you’re building equity instead of paying rent, you get back what you pay when you sell it, etc.  First of all, if you’re buying a house outright without a mortgage that might be true, but keep in mind that you would have to buy low and sell high like any other investment.  And it’s best not to have an emotional attachment – like other investments.  Second, if you do have a mortgage you wind up paying twice as much for the house over 30 years with additional interest.  The way most mortgages are configured is that you have a set payment with a principle portion and an interest portion.  The payment is the same for the life of the loan (if it’s a fixed loan), but the interest makes up a greater portion of the payment in the first 15 years.  This is because although the payment is fixed, the bank is not going to miss out on their interest income, so they apply the interest first, and the difference between that and your payment amount is what goes to paying down your principle.  If we take an example of a fixed 30 year note with a 5% interest rate that accrues daily for $120,000 (A 150k house with a 20% down payment) we’ll have a total payment of $1000.02 of which $355.83 is escrow (aka paying someone else to pay your taxes and insurance) and $644.19 is your principle and interest payment.  If you never refinance and pay every payment on time you’ll pay $120,000 in principle and $111,905 in interest over 30 years.  Because compounding interest is a wonderful thing you pay nearly the same amount in interest as you do the principle.  Additionally, after 5 years of paying $1000.02 a month ($60001.20 in payments) you’ll have paid $9,806 off the original note leaving a principle balance of $110,194.  (Incidentally, these calculations were made with the CNN Money mortgage payment calculator and the Federal Reserve Bank Mortgage Comparison tool.)
  3. On top of paying nearly twice as much for your house, you have the privilege of paying for everything that breaks down.  This Wall Street Journal article suggests that maintenance costs are 3-4 times the purchase price over 30 years.  Obviously there will be higher repair costs the older the house is, but remember it’s an investment!  Even in my house where I did most of the work I can safely say that I’ve spent at least $35,000 in the 10 years we owned the house, that’s a little more than a quarter of the purchase price.

So considering that you are not very mobile (can’t take better paying jobs elsewhere as easily) and you wind up paying 4-5 times the original cost of the house in interest and maintenance, why is it that people still think that homeownership is a solid investment?  If I put $500,000 ($120,000 purchase + $110,000 interest + $270,000 repairs) over 30 years in a low return mutual fund (5%) I’d have at least $800,000 at the end of 30 years (401k calculator just google one).  If I spend $120,000 on a house now I could probably sell it for $400,000 in 30 years. 

So why? – The housing and mortgage industries are huge sources of revenue – as seen above banks and contractors stand to make a lot of money off the American dream.  There is no doubt that homeowners fuel the economy, and more than corporate executives homeowners are job creators.  As such there is incentive for banks and government to encourage homeownership and make it easier for people to make that investment.  (Tax breaks, flexible mortgage products).

Also, there is a sense of pride and freedom (if you like where you live) in having property that you can do what you please with (within the limits of your city ordinances and/or Homeowners Association rules).  Want to take down a wall?  No problem.  Add solar panels (check with the city).  Maybe not a problem. Raise chickens? Maybe not a problem.  Be the only ethnically diverse person in your neighborhood?  Depends on where you live.  Start a family with your same-sex spouse?  Get a little closer to downtown, but things are getting better.

If I could do it again, I wouldn’t.  Although I had some great experiences in the house, as my friends moved away I felt stuck.  As I looked for jobs after graduating, I felt stuck.  As I tried to pay down debt, or make changes in my financial future, I felt stuck with the bill of homeownership.  We were so excited to buy that house, and we had good times there, until the joy of owning a home became the burden of it.  Now that the change of address forms are filled out, and our meager proceeds have been received from the sale, I feel free to make choices other than – what can we afford to fix this month?  Even though we ultimately lost a lot of money on the deal, I consider it the price of learning.  The day we signed the house over to someone else wasn’t the happiest day, but it was the day we got to start over.

Dark Age Medical Care for Women

•March 13, 2012 • 1 Comment

Recently unnerved and angry about conservative rhetoric surround woman’s reproductive rights, I decided to further educate myself with a quick YouTube surf session.  I initially heard about Rush Limbaugh’s reprehensible, misogynistic comments from my morning attempt to wake up by reading news on my phone.  Then of course I turned to The Daily Show and Colbert Report (like any good 18-35 year old) for analysis.  Today I watched Sandra Fluke’s testimony and follow-up video, I Have a Say: Sandra FlukeI was impressed with Fluke’s testimony, particularly that there was little that was unreasonable about it.  The story she shared about her friend who used oral contraceptive to treat ovarian cysts illustrates the purpose of the bill, which is to reduce the cost of expensive medical treatment that can be prevented by covering the less expensive preventative treatment.  The more moderate conservative reaction in the Wall Street Journal took Fluke to task by claiming that she exaggerated the cost of the pill.  Their argument was that Georgetown students can get a $4 prescription filled at Wal-mart or Target, but they seem to have not done any fact checking on that because that only applies to special programs and those with insurance that covers the pill.  My insurance will cover oral contraceptives, but like all of my other prescriptions, only after I’ve met my very high deductible, which means at Target and Wal-Mart, these would be $4-$9 once I’ve paid $5000 for the year in medical expenses.  The second argument in this article is that condoms are a cheaper birth control alternative, or that women should get men to pay half.  Besides that combining them is a great way to prevent pregnancy, they seemed to have not listened to Fluke’s testimony at all, because she spend a good deal of her testimony discussing other medical needs for the pill than birth control.  Which gets back to the point at hand.  Why is this particular prescription being singled out as drug that everyone but a woman and her doctor have a say on?  There are hundreds of drugs that could affect a woman who is pregnant or could be pregnant and we trust women and their doctors to make decisions about these. 

What struck me in Fluke’s follow-up statement her second story about a woman who recently had a baby and her doctor prescribed birth control because there could be potential health consequences for the woman and fetus if she were to get pregnant too soon after giving birth.  In the video Fluke comments that she was taken aback by this story because the woman in it was doing what the church expected of her and still couldn’t receive enough respect from the church to receive the healthcare recommended by her doctor. 

Both this story and Fluke’s reaction illustrate the problem with the birth control discussion.  Women, doctors and insurance companies agree that providing access to this preventative drug is beneficial to women’s health and will reduce healthcare costs.  Panels of men have told them that universally providing this medication infringes on religious freedom, the same conservative politicians that tout tort reform as a cost cutting measure because it could reduce malpractice insurance rates, balk at this one which could reduce health insurance rates.  And finally, conservative personalities (no not just Rush) personally attack Fluke, for what I can only assume is her gall to put together a well thought out and passionate appeal to reason, and then they claim (mistakenly) that tax payers pay for her sex.  First, tax payers pay for everyone’s sex: when they spread sexually transmitted diseases that call for public health intervention, when they get pregnant and increase insurance rates, when they have children which increase enrollment in schools, and taxpayers pay for teen abstinence programs, which also lead to sex.  Second, employers and insurance companies would actually pay the proposed costs, employers already pay for maternity leave (this starts with sex), employers pay for Viagra which leads to sex, and insurance companies pay for the higher cost of insuring a pregnant woman.  An impassioned plea for fair treatment of male and female student health coverage (as far as I know Georgetown’s insurance plan doesn’t deny medications only used to treat men) is met with personal attacks, misdirection of the issue, and a bogus claim that religious groups have the right to discriminate against women.  I say this because religious employers are paying women less.  By not providing equal medical coverage (that is to say picking an choosing what they wish to cover for women, and not for men) they have provided a lower total benefits package to a woman than a man, for the same role. Under Title VII, the ADA, GINA, and the ADEA, it is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment (with the exception of religious ministers), including:

  • hiring and firing;
  • compensation, assignment, or classification of employees;
  • transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall;
  • job advertisements;
  • recruitment;
  • testing;
  • use of company facilities;
  • training and apprenticeship programs;
  • fringe benefits;
  • pay, retirement plans, and disability leave; or
  • other terms and conditions of employment.

Why then, can employers with church affiliations compensate women less?  The counter argument could be that all women are not required to take birth control, therefore you’re not universally discriminating against women.  But the only objection the church has is to a medication for women, therefore only women are affected by this lack of coverage.

The real point is, I’m tired of hearing really good points from women and healthcare professionals about the usefulness of universal coverage of oral contraception as a preventative measure only to have them matched against the opinions of those whose opinion I would never consider for any of my other medical needs.  So while Limbaugh is busy watching the colonoscopy tapes of all the representatives that were paid for by tax payer dollars, I’ll be looking for advocates I can support with my time and money.  Because even though the sign in the picture expresses how I feel, I’m not about to let women’s equality slip away under the guise of religious freedom.

I cannot believe I still have to protest this shit.

Two Paths Diverged

•February 7, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I recently obtained a certification as an internal auditor. What this means is that I have demonstrated sufficient work experience, education, and knowledge of the principles embodied by the profession. What this also means is that I now have initials at the end of my name. I updated my work email signature so that it’s official (as of February 2nd) and every time I see that signature I see a that I’ve made a choice. I’m now a professional internal auditor, I’ve agreed to uphold professional standards and maintain my knowledge in the subject through continuing professional education. I mention this not so much because I’m proud of the accomplishment (relieved to be done would be more accurate), although it’s not easy, anyone with the initiative could do the same. To misquote Frost: Two roads diverged in wood and I- I took the one most traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

The more I think about this poem the more I feel like it represents a cruel irony. Growing up this poem was quoted in school by those who took the most traveled path to encourage students to take the other. As a kid I wanted nothing better than to please people, especially adults that had expectations for me. As such, I, unlike other kids, followed implicit and explicit advice from those more experienced. The result was that I had less hardship from making some responsible decisions, and also made choices based on idealist regrets from other people. I also had other issues to contend with, such as a lack of stable middle-class parents to support me, and ridiculous stubbornness to do everything myself and have it all at once.

This is all to say that rather than being told to go to college and major in business and then bucking that expectation to make my own way, I was encouraged to simply make my own way. The result is that making my own way turned out ultimately to pursue art, not have the money/will power to make it a career, then going to college to major in business. And here I am, officially a professional, made my family proud (although they never seemed to think I was destined for this) and for what? I don’t feel any different than I felt at sixteen: ambitious, willing, idealistic, and completely unsure of what I want to do when I grow up. The difference is I’m in a worse financial position and now that I have these initials after my name, I have a new set of expectations to manage.

What Should the Standard Deviation be For Education?

•September 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Batch-–noun
1. a quantity or number coming at one time or taken together: a batch of prisoners.
2. the quantity of material prepared or required for one operation: mixing a batch of concrete.
–verb (used with object)
1. to combine, mix, or process in a batch.

In business the process of batching is used to trade off the cost of setting up a process, and the cost of processing time. That is to say if I am making bicycles I must first weld the frame, then attach the handle bars, gears and tires. If I need to produce 800 bicycles by the end of the week then I can choose to do all the welding then move on to handlebar assembly, then gear assembly, etc. If I was a factory of one person this would make sense, however by batching I’m actually increasing the time to complete each bicycle- 1 bicycle is completed when the entire batch is completed. If instead I reduced the batch size or created an assembly line system(one piece flow), the time to produce one bicycle is reduced proportionally. This is expressed in a simple equation referred to as Little’s Law: I=RT; Inventory= (Rate of Production)(Process Time).
To illustrate this means if I have an batch size of 400 (Inventory) that I can process at a rate of 160 per day this means it will take me 2.5 days to process this batch(Time). However if I reduce my batch size to 200 my time reduced proportionally to 1.25 days. I won’t produce any more total by the end of the week by reducing the batch. So if my customer wants 400 units, they would still have to wait 2.5 days. But if I have two customers who each want 200 units, one can have it in 1.25 days, and the other in 2.5 days. Changing the batch size gives me more flexibility to adjust my production process as needed to meet customer demand.

In general, I think making analogies between business/manufacturing and humans is only helpful when it’s done to explore potential problems. The spirit of an analogy is broken when folks assume it is an equivalent. That said: Batching seems to be the idea behind teaching. Stick 20-30 kids in a room, educate them to a certain level and send them on to the next stage of the process. A child is like a unit of goods sold in the sense that some are poor, average and good quality at the beginning of the process (meaning are the refined enough for a specific stage in the process). A child can also become a poor, average or good quality product based on the process. We measure the child at the end of each grade against a standard that’s been set (standardized tests). We measure the child’s personality based on how well adjusted they are. The problem with this is it’s based on the environment, some shouldn’t be adjusted to. A child is unlike a unit of goods sold in the sense that there is not such thing as industrial child waste (although to hear some parents tell diaper stories perhaps it’s not completely true). Still, one main goal of a manufacturing firm is to reduce waste because that means lost money. To reduce waste they send in Six Sigma black belts to improve the process and reduce the deviations from the quality parameters.

The education process does produce waste. The process was designed to work for most kids, and it does exactly that. If you’re too poor, your parents work nights, and can’t help with homework, you’re not as likely to succeed. If you learn differently than other students, you’re not likely to receive the individual attention you need to understand the material, which will prevent you from understanding the next level of study. If you’re too smart, you may get bored and hate school. If you’re too different, you may spend most of your brain power on how to avoid bullies.

Perhaps the analogy is useful in the sense that if we redesign the process for educating children perhaps we can reduce waste. It would be ideal to reduce the batch size of class rooms, more individualized attention, progression that matches the student’s aptitude.

This post isn’t really a lecture, although it started that way. I’d like it to be a starting point for a discussion.

How can we redesign the process of education on greater scale to reduce industrial child waste?

Would less focus on age/grade levels and peer standards decrease the ability to monitor child quality?

How can we integrate technology to decrease the processing time and replace outdated methods, rather than supplement them?

With the lack of political will to fund education in it’s current form, what improvements can be made so that the process still produces quality students?

I think I’m cracking up.

•March 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

So this is what just happened in the previous 10 minutes. I put on some water for ramen (you can tell this is going to be bad already) then I sat down to finish reading my accounting case study. With my guitar nearby I absent-mindedly strummed away and then began singing my case study with accompaniment. Realized what I was doing and put my guitar away and went to the bathroom. Then I start to hear a loud hiss and remember the water which I ran. . . or rather hopped with my pants down to the kitchen to take off the burner. And then of course went on the internet to post about.