2019 Reflections

In past years I’ve spent time around the New Year reflecting on my life and what’s been top of mind going into the new year. This time around I think I’m going to re-read some of those and see how well I accomplished or progressed on them.

One of the long-running themes I wrote about was the desire to quit Facebook. This past year, more stuff came out about all the bad things Facebook either did, or allowed to happen behind the scenes. I’ve observed more desire than ever amongst friends to quit the platform, or find a viable alternative. I don’t think much will come out of the desire to exit Facebook, but as of today, I’ve made my peace with the fact that I will have to stay on platform to do things like organize, network, and market the things I’m passionate about. So I’m going to stop agonizing over it, but still focus on Facebook as a channel to put my own ideas out there. I want 2019 to be the year where I create, not consume, content as my main reasons for being active on social networks.

Another long-running theme over the years has been my struggles finding a path back to full-time employment. For the past 2 years, I’ve been a rideshare driver, which I began shortly after posting my last update in December of 2016. I wrote about three years ago how I began to see leveling up in video games as a metaphor for how to approach making progress in your real-life aspirations, and I’d like to believe I took that to heart. Since 2017, I enrolled in a life-coaching program, worked a couple part-time gigs, became a rideshare driver, launched a new website, got published on a major website, worked on a political campaign again, and built my brand as an education expert in Minecraft. All of this has taken longer than I’d hoped, but I guess I’m still hopeful that this is leading to something awesome in 2019 or the years to come. I still would like to find that dream full-time job with benefits so that my wife can switch roles and become the at-home parent instead of me, but if that job never appears, I do have a plan B. Two years into the Trump administration, I think many of us have been pondering a plan B, whether that’s emigrating to a more progressive country, moving to a red state to turn it blue, or helping a new generation of more diverse candidates win office and take back our country. The road ahead is unclear as it always has been this last decade but perhaps I am gaining a better outlook with the opportunity to look back more deeply this year.
Happy New Year.


Audio File Download

I just need to put a link to my audio file so I can download it.

Make Facebook Work for You – not the other way around

One of my top 2017 New Year’s resolutions is to spend less time on Facebook. I’ve ranted about this for a while now. But given the time of year, I’d like to also recommend it for you as well, especially if there’s a new year resolution you want to accomplish as well.

You see, how Facebook makes money is that it basically serves ads to you as you browse through your timeline, reading all the content generated by your friends. You are in effect, an unpaid moneymaker for Mark Zuckerberg and company by generating content for free which they can monetize. OK but so what you say. Sometimes I just have to blow off some steam and see all my friends’ photos of cute kids, puppies, and funny Internet memes. I get that. We all need to chill out from our real-world stressful lives. But more times that not, I find myself logging into Facebook to do something tangible and relevant to my career or passion project, and instead I end up distracted for no good reason (funny kangaroo video for example) or sometimes a VERY good reason (friend announces they have cancer, etc.) Facebook is designed EXACTLY to do that – distract you so you stay on the platform and keep reading, liking, and commenting. That way they can serve you more ads and make more money.

So what’s the solution? Instead of you working for Facebook, make the platform work for you. In my case, I’ve set up this blog and some other external sites so that when I create something, it now gets auto-posted to Facebook and other social platforms like Twitter. Thus I get my content shown to people I care about without the distraction of having to login to the platform. Doing it this way also makes you more visible to search engines and builds your brand online better than if your content was stuck inside the closed walls of Facebook. Set yourself up this way, and then when you’re done, you can reward yourself with 10 minutes of viewing cute pets on your timeline.

Online petitions

Interesting NYT article today on whether online petitions are worth it. I don’t know if it really answered the question, but after reading it leaves me more positive about clicking on the things that rapidly fill my inbox. Better yet, call your legislator directly. That has more weight than an online petition.

Oakbrook Center Mall Visit


We are normally an “I-94” family when it comes to our malls of choice. A quick northbound jaunt up the expressway from our home on the northwest side takes us to Westfield Old Orchard, Northbrook Court, or even several of the smaller ones in Niles and Skokie. However, today we decided to try something new and head west to Oakbrook Center. (Note: a promotional consideration was given for this blog post by Oakbrook Center’s PR firm). Here are the most important points to consider when visiting.

The magic “Purple” lot

Parking here, like many suburban malls, can be challenging, but especially on a holiday weekday right after Christmas. You’ve got to strategize. We had heard that a new parking structure had recently been built – called the Purple lot (see accompanying diagram). The mall itself was easy enough to find, located right off of the I-88 tollway. After entering the mall drive though, things got tricky. There are lots of surface lots surrounding the mall, but we wanted to get up close and into sheltered parking to minimize walking and having to cross busy streets. We quick-turned into an parking structure but quickly realized it was not the Purple lot and already at capacity. We buzzed out of that and after a couple of turns, got into the magic Purple lot. This parking structure looked brand new, and even had signage indicating how many parking spots would be open, though the signs hadn’t yet been activated. We zipped into a spot, and after some confusion about the escalators, figured out how to get up to the 2nd level right next to the AMC theaters and the new District dining area. Many of the restaurants had not yet opened, but it was certainly a convenient place to park, with restrooms nearby. I had also downloaded the official mall app, but had problems with it (at one point it crashed my smartphone and I had to uninstall). It wasn’t a big deal as there were plenty of directory kiosks close at hand.

Our path (green arrow and circles)

After a quick lunch at Potbelly (which was packed and hard to find seating – it seems like the District dining scene can’t come soon enough to accommodate all the food service needs – more on that a bit later) we headed out to shop and explore. I had not been to Oakbrook Center for many years, and it seemed like the mall had gone through a refresh. It has become a multi-level shopping experience, with elevators leading from the dining to the main levels. In this regard it reminded me of navigating Westfield Old Orchard, another outdoor-style layout. Using architectural designs to create turns and alcoves, it gives the impression the mall is bigger than it probably is in terms of square footage. Most of the retailers were the usual suspects you expect to see at a mainstream mall. In any case, the brisk walk in the frigid weather made me feel like this mall had more than enough to offer everyone. We ended up walking most of the length of the mall, from its north end to near the south point at Barnes & Noble, which had a very comfy kids’ area and cafe. One final note: as a coffee addict, I make note of where to find java when I hit the mall. I was surprised that a mall of this size had only one tiny Starbucks outpost near the center. This particular one was so busy people were standing outside in frigid temperatures waiting to get in. Sadly, I had to skip the line this time. It seems like a larger store is badly needed here, one, like the Potbelly’s, with more seating area for customers.

In conclusion, this is a place I’d make a return visit, especially when the weather is more pleasant. I’d love to explore the stores and restaurants along the outer ring of the mall, but honestly as a creature of habit, will probably just make a beeline for the sheltered parking so I don’t have to walk too far for my caffeine fix.


2016 Year End Thoughts

Notes to Progressives

To quote our President-Elect: “this year has been a disaster”. The waning days of 2016 have left me bereft of hope. It’s been hard to focus on the day-to-day aspects of life. I’ve got family members who have gone through much worse this year than I’ll ever know, so I’ll try and maintain some perspective. But at no point in recent memory can I recall seeing more friends and people I care about post pleas for help – needing cash, a job, or a way out of this soon-to-be authoritarian regime working hard to undo the Obama legacy of the past eight years. There’s got to be some crumbs of hope left to sweep from the table. What tips do I have to keep the pilot light of progressive thought going in the dark and cold winter of our discontent?

Spend less time on Facebook.

I’m the worst follower of my own advice. For the past few years, I’ve blogged about my desire to quit Facebook. But I keep coming back. #1 I now get paid to make posts on social media. #2 many of the groups I care about use FB as their organizing platform of choice. And this 2nd notion is one I’d like to address this year. FB is a time suck. It is designed to distract you from the thing you wanted to do on there in the first place. Progressives need to organize better and FB is definitely not the place to be doing that. One of my top priorities is to find an alternative platform to build coalitions and scale momentum on issues that are going to matter in the years to come.

Focus on one or two main areas you can make an impact

Every day, Trump announces another train wreck of a Cabinet appointment. Each one seems hell-bent on erasing all the gains we’ve made during the Obama years. Whether it’s the environment, racial integration, women’s rights, education, or international peacemaking, there’s just too many emergency flares going up. Pick something you can dedicate to focus on for the next year or two. Start from there. It’s easy to get pulled into many directions, attend multiple rallies and protests, watch a MoveOn online video, etc. Figure out what you’re most passionate about and connect with others that you can work together with to resist the oncoming wave of suck that’s about to hit America.

Build power at the local level

It’s tempting to give $27 to the next Bernie Sanders or whomever is going to run for a national post like DNC chair. But I’d suggest looking to the smaller races. No race is too small. Help elect a progressive dog catcher, or water reclamation commissioner. The smaller the race, the more likely your efforts can have impact. Progressives need to build a bench because eventually, these folks are going to run for higher office, and the experience you and they get on these smaller campaigns will help down the road when the stakes are higher.

Entertain the idea of strange bedfellows

My liberal buddy looked askance at me recently when I suggested a Sanders – Romney coalition is what we needed to form. When you’re up against mortal evil, you might need to employ the “enemy of my enemy” tactic and sign up with people you might not see eye-to-eye with on certain issues. With public schools on the chopping block by our new Secretary of Education, maybe there’s something the charter and anti-charter forces could do together to keep the voucher wolves at bay. Planned Parenthood and evangelical conservatives might not agree on the abortion issue, but maybe there’s agreement on supporting immigrants and refugees need for sanctuary. If Ralph Nader and Grover Norquist can work together, so can progressives. As we saw in this election, it’s not so much left vs. right as much as it’s elites vs. working class.

Millenials will save us (with our help)

OK maybe I’m reaching with this one. After all, I think they let us down in 2016 by not going to the voting booth in the same numbers as they did for Obama. But like it or not, they’re our future, and I’ve had the fortune to meet several people under 30 who have a wealth of creativity and optimism that floors me. But being under 30 also means not having the hard-earned life experiences that those of us GenXers brought having survived the Reagan and Dubya years. Millenials will be the ones with the energy to run for office, but we can support them through campaign donations, our network of expertise, our professional contacts, and the lessons learned from past mistakes made.

Retreat to the countryside

It’s kind of frustrating living in Illinois, a reliable state for Democrats in national races, but on a local level, stuck in partisan gridlock and unable to break the grip of strongmen who’ve been in charge of the Machine for decades. Hillary Clinton won Illinois regardless of how I voted. It seems like progressives waste the impact of their votes living in urban metropolises like Chicago, San Francisco, and New York. I wish we would spread out to rural and small-town America. Spread out and establish beach heads or outposts to the needs and frustrations of the America that saw Trump as their last, best hope. Yeah it might suck not having a Whole Foods within walking distance of your house, or five craft coffee cafes to pick from. Yeah, you might not have high-speed Internet. But if we don’t make a decent play to win in some of those states, we’re going to get more Trumps in our future.

Hoping for the Best; Planning for the Worst

What to Do Now If You're a Chicago Public Schools Parent

I’m a parent of two kids in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). It looks dire right now for public schools in Illinois. The governor and legislature seem locked in a Game of Thrones type last man standing battle, with parents and kids caught in the crossfire. With no education budget passed, and CPS on the hook for billions in pension payment obligations, the system is near collapse. Just this week, the CPS CEO, Forrest Claypool, said without a budget, schools will not open in the fall. There’s a lot of chatter in parent circles about moving to the suburbs, or even out of state. That’s not a viable option for many families, including us, so what options are left?

Mind you, I’ve been involved with a group of parents and education activists working tirelessly advocating for new revenue streams from both the city of Chicago and the state to plug the financial hole crater that is Illinois right now. I’d like to hold out hope that all the daily calls, petitions, marches, and visits to legislators’ offices is doing something, but I’m deeply skeptical that politicians, in an election year (is there ever NOT an election year?) will play political games instead of doing what’s in the best interest of average citizens.

So what’s a parent to do? I’ve been thinking about a viable Plan B. One which addresses the scenario that either schools don’t open, or they are open but with deep cuts meaning teacher layoffs, greatly increased class size, and loss of many extra-curricular and elective subjects. In that scenario, would some kind of home-school option be the best way to proceed? Like I said, we aren’t in a position to move, nor switch to a private school. I’ve been mulling the idea of home-schooling off and on for over a year now. Since I’m a stay-at-home parent, the logistics of it would be feasible. I’m aware that for many, home-schooling isn’t a feasible option due to not having the luxury of a caregiver with built-in downtime. I’ve also gotten over the common fears around home-schooling – that it is intimidating for non-teachers, hard to develop a curriculum, fears that kids will fall behind their peers, lack of social interaction, and on and on. I’ve become convinced that children naturally desire to learn things, and that given the freedom to choose their own adventure, will thrive and be successful in the long run just like everyone else. There is even a name you can assign to this mindset: self-directed learning.

What would that look like in practice? Well, I’ve been compiling a list of options including the library, museums, free workshops, Minecraft, coding, and lots of other things dredged up online. Heck, my kids could probably get by on Minecraft and YouTube alone. YouTube, by the way, is the greatest knowledge bank storehouse ever created. Have a question? Someone has probably made a “How To” video answering that question. Or if it’s not on there, it’ll likely be on sites like Quora or Wikipedia.

Now comes the interesting part. Let’s say you either have a work stoppage or the system is flat out too broke to open schools in the fall. That probably means a lot of teachers aren’t getting a paycheck and are looking to supplement their income. What if you put a few of these teachers together armed with some of the tools I just mentioned. Give them a lot of creative leeway unbound from the strictures of bureaucracy, mandatory grades and testing, and see what they could do. Is it scalable? No. Will it be equitable? No. But it might be a tiny model of what an enormously broken, incompetent, fiscally and morally bankrupt system could be if you strip away almost everything and leave behind the pure freedom to learn.

I am putting Plan B into place. What’s your plan?