2018 Books

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Inspired by the post by Matt Mullenweg earlier this year, I’ve listed the books I read (either on paper, Kindle, or listened to via Audible or the library) in 2018.  I did not list books I started but chose not to finish.

In bold are my ten-ish favorites from last year. Those books, in particular, moved me emotionally, challenged my thinking, and/or continue to impact my daily habits today.

I got something out of every book on the list and would recommend any of them. They are listed in roughly the order I finished them last year.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Start with Why, by Simon Sinek
The Four Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferris
Traffic, by Tom Vanderbilt
The Magic of Thinking Big, by David Schwartz
I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
WTF: What’s the Future and Why it’s Up to Us, by Tim O’Reilly
Unf*ck Yourself, by Gary John Bishop
On Writing, by Stephen King
11/22/63, by Stephen King
So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport
Little Bets, by Peter Sims
Purple Cow, by Seth Godin
Coraline, by Niel Gaiman
The Inevitable, by Kevin Kelly
300 Arguments, by Sarah Manguso
The Last Wish, by Adrzej Sapkowski
The Blood of Elves, by Adrzej Sapkowski
The Time of Contempt, by Adrzej Sapkowski
Genius Foods, by Max Lugavere
Measure What Matters, by John Doerr
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Own the Day, Own Your Life, by Aubrey Marcus
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl
To Sell is Human, by Daniel Pink
Fluent Forever, by Gabriel Wyner
Quiet, by Susan Cain
Forever Nomad, by Tynan
How the Hippies Saved Physics, by David Kaiser
You are the Placebo, by Joe Dispenza
The Introvert’s Way, by Sophia Dembling
Feminism is for Everybody, by Bell Hooks
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by JK Rowling
Deep Work, by Cal Newport
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by JK Rowling
The More of Less, by Joshua Becker
The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
Quidditch through the Ages, by JK Rowling (Kennilworthy Whisp)
Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them, by JK Rowling (Newt Scamander)
Becoming, by Michelle Obama

Photo credit: walknboston, https://flic.kr/p/cmHjyS

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Talk Like a Traffic Sign

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As transportation professionals, each of us – consultants, public agency staff, and researchers – have at least one thing in common: the need to get our message to an audience. Gaining buy-in from clients, citizens, and peers requires us to communicate clearly, concisely, and persuasively.

One of the most effective communicators in the world is not an engineer or scientist. Born in 1915 and standing 7 feet tall, its iconic message causes the largest of machines to stop in their tracks. Some know it by its shape, others by color, and still others by its one-word message.

Traffic engineers call it R1-1. The rest of the world calls it a Stop Sign.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) helps us communicate safe and efficient use of the highway system across the United States. The MUTCD is the standard for signing, striping, signals, and related items to help all road users travel safely.

MUTCD principles have application beyond the roadside to help us convey information – not just about traffic control, but anything at all.

The Purpose of Communication
Let’s start at the very beginning. Part 1. Chapter 1A. Section 1A.01.

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The MUTCD clearly describes its intended purpose by answering the following questions:
• What does it do? Promote highway safety and efficiency.
• For whom? All road users.
• How? Provide for the orderly movement on streets, highways, bikeways, and private roads open to public travel.

What is the purpose of your communication? How will you achieve this purpose, and whom will it impact? In Give Your Speech, Change the World, author Nick Morgan challenges us: “If you’re going to take all the trouble to prepare and deliver a speech, make it worthwhile.” Morgan shares the potential value of the message: “We bother giving speeches because of the opportunities they offer presenters with passion and a cause.”

Whether giving a keynote speech to a full banquet hall, presenting to City Council, or e-mailing a coworker, we must identify a clear desired outcome.

Applying MUTCD Principles
The MUTCD next describes requirements each traffic control device should meet before it is installed on a publicly-traveled roadway in Section 1A.02, Principles of Traffic Control Devices.

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Fulfill a need
As any sign, stripe, or signal should only be installed to address a need, so should our communication. Just as unwarranted signs cause distractions for road users, unnecessary e-mails, phone calls, social media posts, and weekly meetings can create clutter for all of us.

Why are you making the next phone call, or sending another e-mail? What need are you fulfilling with your firm’s next press release or social media post? Is this afternoon’s meeting solving a problem, sharing a new idea, or just checking a box?

Command attention
Why should you be listened to? Maybe it’s your qualifications, experience, or current skill sets. Maybe your idea itself is worthy of attention. If you identify the communication purpose and tie it to a real need, the next step is to ensure your message is heard. These days it is difficult to stand above the deluge of information each person receives daily.

The MUTCD ensures traffic signs command attention with a clean, clear message using symbols or very few words, standardized colors and fonts, and consistency. A Stop Sign uses each of these. Its red color and “FHWA Series” font have remained the same for decades and are standardized nationwide. Its unique octagonal shape and vertical placement 7 feet above the edge of pavement ensure it is noticed.

What is the first sentence of your article, or your first words on stage? How do you greet attendees when they enter a public meeting? When behind the podium, how do you command the attention of the audience?

Convey a clear, simple meaning
With only a simple shape and color combination of yellow and black, Chevron Alignment signs alert the driver that they are in a curve – not just any curve, but one that requires their attention and care. The sign has no words, and it’s typically quite small, but its meaning is clear: “Be careful here or you’ll end up in the ditch.”

Improve your messaging with two important words: Clarify. Simplify. Your presentations, correspondence, and phone calls should have a single, easy-to-understand purpose.

Command respect
Traffic control devices that “make the cut” to be included in the MUTCD require research, testing, and continuous improvements to meet the ongoing needs of road users. Facts are required to demonstrate and ensure that we continue to install, maintain, and operate devices for safety and efficiency.

As a young traffic engineer learning the ropes, I was taught to “be the expert.” I observed traffic in early mornings and late nights, weekdays and weekends. Bolstered by these data and my observations, when I met with a citizen who said, “Buddy, you don’t know what this place is like on Saturday mornings – it’s a madhouse,” I could reply with, “I may not know everything, but when I watched traffic last weekend, this is what I saw…”

Without including facts, data, and findings based on experience, your opinions command little respect from our industry and road users, and you are likely to be tuned out. By bringing analytical findings, before-and-after data with statistical rigor, and analysis of impact – and communicating it clearly and concisely – you will command respect from your audience.

Give adequate time for a proper response
Signs and traffic signals are placed on the roadside and above the roadway so road users have plenty of time to receive the message and respond appropriately. Device shapes, sizes, and font styles are combined to ensure adequate response time.

In your communication, leave some “white space” for others to participate. Ensure time for questions during or after your presentation, and hang around after to talk with the audience. In meetings, try talking a bit less and listening a bit more.

Putting it All Together
Treat your presentation audience, workshop attendee, or essay reader like a road user, with the same potential distractions they might have while traveling. They are coming to your presentation or reading your research paper with other things on their mind, and it is up to you to compel them to pay attention to you. Use these lessons from the MUTCD to share your message, and to make the world a better place.


Photo Credit: Photos Public Domain, http://www.photos-public-domain.com

Four Traffic Safety Solutions Implementable Now

Originally published by Meeting of the Minds, 9/10/2018. https://meetingoftheminds.org/traffic-safety-solutions-are-here-28200 Republished here for archival purposes.

On September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people were killed in New York City, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania, in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. It was a senseless act of violence.

On September 12, 2001, 100 more people were killed at dozens of locations around the United States. On September 13th, 100 more died, and another 100 each day for the rest of the year. By the end of 2001 more than 42,000 people were killed in roadway crashes in this country.

Over the last 15 years, more than 500,000 people – one half million people – were killed on our nation’s roadways.

Each was a senseless act of violence. Each was tragic. Each was preventable.

Fast forward to today. The tragedies we continue to see on TV and online – especially for children and young adults – stem from gun violence, drug abuse, or terrorism. But the number one killer of our young people is not the opioid crisis or an AR-15 rifle. The single biggest killer in the United States for 16-to-24-year olds is a roadway crash. A boring, run-off-the-road, hit-a-tree, or texting-while-driving collision.

But what if I told you that this problem has already been solved? That we have the research, the technology, and a path to implementation to eradicate roadway deaths forever?

I have spent the past 20 years learning all aspects of roadway safety. I have reviewed tens of millions of crash data records, searching for the most common reasons for these tragedies. I have spoken with police officers who visit crash scenes so I could learn what they look for. I have spent time driving and walking through a crash scene, envisioning it from each perspective of road users, seeing what they see, smelling what they smell. I have sat through legislative debates to add new laws, revoke old laws, and everything in between. Traffic safety is a complex topic because it is so much about us – more than the vehicles or the concrete or steel that make up the system – and we are complicated.

I am convinced that most solutions are already here to address our biggest road safety problems. We only need the internal fortitude, the moral compass, and the strength of conviction to apply the tools at our disposal. I have identified four specific solutions – each tested and proven to reduce traffic crashes – that if fully applied could easily cut U.S. roadway fatalities in half.

Solution #1: Ignition Interlock for Alcohol and Seat Belts
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, each year more than 10,000 traffic fatalities occur in crashes with an alcohol-impaired driver. There is a device called ignition interlock that requires a driver to blow into a breathalyzer and receive a 0.0 Blood Alcohol Content for the car to start. It’s an amazing technology with a $150 price tag. Installing ignition interlock in every new vehicle could result in virtually eliminating alcohol-involved crashes.

The interlock technology could be expanded to include seat belt use as well. Nearly half of those killed in traffic crashes (48 percent) are NOT wearing a seat belt. It is freely available in every vehicle manufactured, and in most states, it is illegal to not wear it. But what if the car would not start until everyone was buckled in? How many lives could we save?

Solution #2: Speed Reduction
More than 10,000 traffic deaths each year result from excessive speed. Nearly 100 percent of car commercials in United States include excessive speed. We build vehicles capable of traveling well over 100 miles per hour, but there is not one speed limit posted in the U.S. higher than 80 mph. And crashes at these speeds often result in fatalities.

The technology to solve this problem is simple. Speed limit enforcement cameras, coupled with zero-tolerance policies, have been highly successful in many countries in the world. For many years long-haul freight companies have regulated fleet speeds, governing their truck velocities for fuel conservation and safety. Should we consider a governor for passenger cars and motorcycles as well?

The culture change to solve this problem is much more difficult. Speeding is the most socially acceptable violation on the road, and for some reason forcing drivers to obey this law still feels like a ridiculous idea.

Solution #3: Active Transportation
An elegant solution many have chosen is to reduce their reliance on cars or forego driving altogether. I bus to and from my home to work, and my kids do the same to their school. It is becoming easier and easier to navigate without a car, and we find that without a 3,000-pound motor vehicle involved, the remaining crashes among 150-pound pedestrians and 30-pound bicycles rarely result in serious injuries or death.

In some parts of the country this decision is not as easy, as the lack of facilities and more extreme climates makes active transportation less convenient. In addition, most Americans have been pumped full of car-culture since birth. Recalibration takes time.

Solution #4: Connected and Automated Mobility
Of course, many of these human-centered problems could go away once the robots are driving. Not long after cars were invented, scientists were envisioning how to automate them. Vehicles connected to the roadway and each other have used the street as their laboratory since the mid-1990s, and now, with hundreds of millions of miles and decades of experience under our belt, highly-automated vehicles are a reality.

Like active transportation, it will take time for drivers to give a connected/automated vehicle full control of navigation. As late as 2017, more than half of those surveyed did not want to ride in a driverless vehicle, even if it is deemed safer. Of those who said no, 72 percent do not trust automated vehicles and have safety concerns about the technology.

Objectively, connected/automated vehicles have proven to be as safe or safer than human drivers, not suffering from our bodily limitations like drowsiness, inattention, fatigue, or impairment from drugs and alcohol. Connected/automated vehicles can see for miles all around them, not just in front, and they can respond near-instantaneously without the limitation of human reaction time. Research continues to push the technology forward, and experts estimate incredible safety benefits in the next few years.

The science of traffic safety has solved the problem. Now it is up to us to apply these methods to save lives.

FAFSA 19 Review

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FAFSA 19 REVIEW
An incremental improvement over its predecessors  

 

OCTOBER 10, 2018
Reviewed on PC

By Brian Chandler: I have a long history with FAFSA, starting with the pen-and-paper versions of the 1990s. FAFSA ’93 was obtuse, challenging, and rewarding in a way that only government forms can capture. FAFSA 19 maintains the charm of bureaucracy while adding some quality-of-life enhancements.

FAFSA 19’s primary new feature is Story Mode, where a prospective university student navigates the world of federal aid funding. Your character grows from a young high school kid to college student, following a traditional path. You can choose a male or female hero, a home city, and up to 10 prospective schools. Customization options are inconsistent. You can add social security number and date of birth, but not hair color or tattoos. Maybe next year.

I reviewed on PC, but I’ve heard reports that FAFSA 19 will soon be made available on iOS and Android. No plans for Nintendo Switch, but the mobile versions will support cross-play and cross-progression with PC – a big step up for the franchise.

Gameplay is standard fare – tabbing through forms, typing information, some basic math-based puzzles. It’s what we’ve come to expect from FAFSA each year, and this edition doesn’t stray much from the formula. Its simplicity is its charm, though a couple areas required some head scratching. Coop mode lets the student bring in a “custodial parent” to provide additional financial information.

Save points are frequent and welcome, as I sometimes needed to refer to out-of-game resources for the trickiest puzzles.

The most useful features require additional sign-up through a separate service (similar to EA’s Origin or Ubisoft’s Uplay). Players can earn “Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID Status” to access additional game enhancements like direct import of tax returns and electronic signatures.

In the end, FAFSA 19 delivers a solid, if inconsistent, gameplay experience.

Recommended For: Fans of TurboTax, forms at the doctor’s office.
Not Recommended For: Those looking for superior graphics, sound, gameplay, or story.

SCORE: 7.5 

Mad Nurse: We’re Still Chasing Fatalities

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In 1986, Firebird Software developed Mad Nurse, a video game for the Commodore 64. The premise of the game was simple: You are a nurse in a multilevel nursery, and your job is to keep the infants safe. Your charge – put the babies in the crib – is easy enough. But the perils are endless, including knives, poison, toilet bowls to climb into, and an elevator shaft. As the levels become more and more difficult, the end result of Mad Nurse is disastrous.

The historic spot location approach to address traffic fatalities has similarities to Mad Nurse. We identify locations of recent severe crashes, “fix them,” and then move on to the next location.

And the next.

The situation gets worse over time as road users make poor choices more often. The results can be a group of exhausted traffic safety engineers and little change to the overall number of roadway fatalities.

Systemic safety solutions flip the script, focusing on predictable crash types instead of random individual locations, which has proven time and time again to reduce the number and severity of crashes.

I’ve promoted systemic safety for more than a decade now, and since that time it has been picked up by  State and local agencies and the Federal Highway Administration Office of Safety, who has done a nice job promoting a risk-based systemic approach in recent years. For more information, check out FHWA’s Systemic Approach to Safety website.

You fellas have nothing to worry about. I’m a professional.

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In my final official experiment of 2017, I went a little crazy. I pulled out all the stops! Threw caution to the wind!

I took an exam!

I decided early this year to attempt Project Management Professional (PMP) certification through the Project Management Institute, which requires a bunch of training hours and a 4-hour test. My studying was going slower-than-desired, so I folded it into an experiment to accelerate the process. For 2 weeks I immersed myself deep into project management and test prep.

Podcasts. I replaced my normal queue with as many PMP-related podcasts as I could find. I landed on these three, continuing to listen to them well after the experiment.

The Dip. After the initial excitement the first few days, I struggled to keep my energy up for continued studying. One day I completed four 1-hour study sessions. Brain fried and drooling a little, I fell into the waiting arms of Parks & Rec.

I was still behind the pace of the group, but gaining steadily. (And crying, again, over Li’l Sebastian.)

The Experiment Pays Off. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

Before this experiment I was well behind pace on these employer-provided study sessions. After diving in the first week, I was selected as a “Top 25 Performer” in our company’s PMP prep class. This afforded me an opportunity for additional training reserved for the “top students” (cough, cough).

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

All’s Well that Ends Well: Eventually I completed the application process, scheduled the 4-hour-running-clock exam, and passed it (all while peeing twice and eating a snack – take that, running clock). Now I can call myself a PMP into infinity (well, as long as I pay annual dues) and live happily ever after.

Photo Credit: www.iamclosetgeek.com 


During 2017 I conducted 10 different 2-week experiments and wrote about each one here:

  1. Address Book Lottery
  2. Experience Tranquility
  3. Less, but Better
  4. Eat Real Food
  5. 12 Minute Workout: It’s easy just kidding
  6. Coffee Break
  7. Make Good Art
  8. Give Thanks. Complain. Repeat.
  9. Look! Free Money!
  10. You fellas have nothing to worry about. I’m a professional.

Look! Free Money!

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For this experiment I spent 2 weeks learning how much money I wasted buying literally nothing.

Paperless Statements + Auto Pay. Years ago I embraced the “conveniences” of automatic bill payment and paperless statements for most bills. In other words, I stopped paying attention. It dawned on me that maybe that was a bad idea, so I started reading.

Here’s what I found.

Electricity: Warning – math and science below. 

From a recent (winter season) bill in Seattle:
Level 1: First 944 Kilowatt Hours (KWH) at 7 cents per KWH = $66
Level 2: (we used an additional 573 KWH) at 13 cents per KWH = $75

We paid more for the last 573 KWH than the first 944. So reducing just a little will go a long way.

Light Bulbs: “Kill the Kilowatts” started with replacing some incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and LEDs. And over the summer I realized we get about 22 hours of daylight, we opened the blinds. Free lights!

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Trash Collection: At our house garbage rates increase by bin size. We’d been paying $34/month for our half-filled 32-gallon trash can. By changing to an 18-gallon container for $26/month, we’ll save $96 in the next year by DOING NOTHING DIFFERENT!

Water In, Water Out: Complaint of the day: I don’ t like paying for water twice – first out of the faucet, and then down the drain. What if we could reduce one or both? Could “pasta water” be dumped outside – or water the flowers? What if we composted more and used the garbage disposal less? How many weeks days can I wear jeans before washing? How important is flushing, really?

Dog Food: We’ve been proudly serving our dogs two different “5-star” foods. Then I learned a dirty little secret: Big dogs and little dogs can eat the same food because it’s literally the same food. Switching to one shared bag, and reducing from “5-star” to “4.5-star” food (don’t tell the neighbors), we’ll save $200 in the next year.

Car Fit Bit: I added a Bluetooth device to the car (State Farm Drive Safe & Save) that allows them to collect user data like miles driven, speed, deceleration, and my innermost thoughts. Since I rarely leave our neighborhood anymore, our annual cost savings is estimated at $200 for DOING NOTHING DIFFERENT.

Too Much Data: I discovered we had been using 7 GB of a 15 GB cell phone shared data plan. I was flabbergasted that AT&T didn’t tell us we were buying data we don’t need! By reducing our plan from 15 GB to 10 GB, we will save $10/month by DOING NOTHING DIFFERENT.

Just a Little Patience: I found a door-mounted pull up bar on Amazon and put it in my shopping cart. While deciding whether to purchase, the same item popped up in our neighborhood giveaway group! It pays to procrastinate.

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Final Tally. By identifying a few hidden costs, we are set to save more than $600 in the next 12 months on those things that required little-to-no change. I spent roughly 2 hours of combined research, paperwork, etc., to make it happen.

What else is out there?  How might we recoup even more?

Image credits (top to bottom): 401(K) 2012 via Flickr Commons; https://flic.kr/p/aYWk56. Keith Ellwood via Flickr Commons; https://flic.kr/p/dWRtep. Gary Larsen.