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How to win at gift giving for kids (and their parents)

My wife is part of a large family. With 6 siblings, and those siblings have 18 children of their own. That’s a huge number of birthdays, Christmases and special events where presents are expected. We have been trying to go another route with presents for the kids.

With so many grandparents, uncles, aunts and friends the children are showered with presents. Toys and books and batteries and stuff. So much stuff. Christmas morning looks like a toy store exploded under some Christmas trees. Instead of buying more stuff for their kids, we have been giving different sorts of gifts.

  • College Funds

We have encouraged anyone who doesn’t have a 529 account to set one up for their kids. Then we can send them money for their futures instead of toys for today. It’s a good gift for the parents and helps a little with their kids’ future. It also encourages them to setup the account (if they didn’t already) and I hope makes the conversation easier to have with others. Instead of buying the kids another toy, do something that will benefit them in the future.

But think of the children! I can hear the wails of grandparents everywhere needing to see the kids filled with delight over the wrapped packages. This brings me to the second part of winning at gifting.

  • Awesome Greeting Cards

Instead of spending $20 (or more) on a toy, find the coolest car you can with with the current favorite cartoon character, prehistoric creature or just neat artwork. We sent Thomas the Tank Engine card (for a little Tommy) and that elicited running around and showing everyone who was near with the card for the next week (and it remains intact 7 months later). For Christmas, we found a card with a series of little pop-open windows and different scenes playing out. And the boys love opening the windows and seeing things pop-up.

Instead of another toy in a pile of toys, it’s fun to have the kids talk about the cards months after we send them. I know kids love what they love. But it’s so much fun seeing them love the cards as much as we loved picking them out. And now you’ve got extra money to send for their futures. Or to get their parents something nice, like an Instant Pot.

Seriously, if you haven’t found the Instant Pot, it may change your life. It’s the best gift we gave to an adult last year.

Make It Happen

This tweet inspired this post.

In another case, I was asking too many specific questions, which I thought were harmless, but they were un-intentionally setting off a chain of useless workflow at a company because when a board member asks a question everyone drops what they are doing to answer it, even if it isn’t all that important.

Feedback for Board Members – Javelin VP – Medium

This one really hits home and is related to the Executive Makes Request and No One Asks Questions problem that happened recently.

This has happened at every place I’ve ever worked in support. An Executive makes a request like “I need X for a meeting.” This triggers a flurry of activity. Meetings are called. People are given marching orders. There’s a flurry of activity caused by this request.

This is all as it should be. Until questions are asked.

Questions such as “When is this meeting?” Well… um…. I don’t know. “Where will this meeting be held? And for approximately how many people?” Um…. I don’t know. Just make it happen.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been given orders like make it happen without the most minor details provided or questions answered.

This leaves the people responsible for making it happen in a awkward position because they often don’t have the power to ask or know who to ask for details when their managers also don’t know them.

And no one will ask the Executive in question for this information, or go through their assistant.

So what should be a 5 minute conversation often turns into (if you’re lucky) a single day of meetings, phone calls, IMs, and activity all in the service of nothing.

All of this motion wastes all of this time and at the end of it, you’re still no closer to a successful execution because you don’t know what to execute.

Marshawn Lynch: A History

Compression, concision, velocity are my three watch words. And you could say that’s true of Marshawn as well.

Lynch: A History is a documentary about American Football player Marshawn Lynch.

I learned about it from Austin Kleon’s tweets this morning. I’d been aware of Lynch and his refusal to speak to the media, which I had never realized was part of the contract professional athletes sign. One day he stopped talking to them. Stopped giving interviews. Stopped playing into the professional sports game of things like we played hard out there or we didn’t do enough tonight to get the win. There’s so much utter nonsense about the interviews after games.

The team either won or they lost. There’s not a lot of deep thought that needs to go into why. They were outscored or they outscored the opponent. Done. Why do we need this “analysis” after the game? Why talk to the tired, sore and frustrated/pleased athletes after they performed for us?

It’s streaming on Kanopy, (likely available free through your local library), so I watched it this evening. Making a film about a man, but without the man himself must have been a challenge. When filmmaker (author and professor) David Shields approached Lynch he was told no, but they wouldn’t stop him from makin it. So the result is a video collage.

The result is almost jazz-like: pulling together more than 700 video clips and a handful of literary quotes, “Lynch: A History” forms a collage around the athlete that spirals out with greater and greater aims. The movie jumps quickly, sans narrator or an overt guiding hand, and yet it tugs its viewers through time, linking sports to mythology to biography to history and back.

Watching the film is like riding on Lynch’s shoulder as he twists and spins his way through blockers and kicks into high speed. It’s a frenetic ride that goes hard for 84 minutes without stopping to breathe. The collage is about race and athletes. The insistence that entertainment and politics should be separate by a vocal minority and how athletes (often black men) are told to Shut Up And Entertain.


With 700 clips, I hadn’t even considered the fair use implications of making this film. There would have been no way to get clearance (or afford it) to make this film, so as Shields had his lawyer on speed dial brevity was key. Use as little of a clip as possible. This exercise in artistic restriction shaped the film into the bruising ride it became. This film is an amazing balancing act.

And then a third thing for us — just sort of boringly but crucially — was just sort of fair-use considerations. I had my intellectual property lawyer on speed dial and he explained to us over and over again that it’s crucial that all clips be as brief as possible, and that they all be making a commentary, and that the cultural commentary be legible to so-called average viewer.


Two things I was curious about that while the film didn’t answer, subsequent stories about the film did.

Has Marshawn Lynch seen the film?

A couple of months ago I sent a vimeo link of the film to Marshawn’s entertainment agent, at the agent’s request, and now I asked Marshawn if he had watched it and what he thought; he said, “I wanted to hate on you, but I couldn’t, ’cause you did a good job with it.”

What’s up with the Skittles?

“You’re not just dating Skittles,” Waggoner told Lynch. “You love Skittles.”
“We intimate,” replied Lynch. “We done became one.”

His love started young.

It was during his prep years that his mother, Delisa Lynch, began giving him “power pills” — or Skittles — during games to keep his stomach settled.

I wish Lynch: A History would have gone deeper but without his participation, there was little chance of that. It’s an interesting project and a fascinating piece of art. I’m glad to have watched it and tells a story that needs telling.

Uncut Gems needs cutting.

Uncut Gems movie poster

I was skeptical about seeing this movie because it starred Adam Sandler. I took a chance on it because it wasn’t an Adam Sandler Movie. It had high scores on Letterboxd and I had seen a couple of people I follow online mention it was enjoyable.

I could say something about the plot. But it was unmemorable. Man makes series of extremely poor decisions. Outcome is as expected. I didn’t hate this movie for any of the reasons I was prepared to.

The Sound Mixing.

What happened? When mixing sound, the point is not to layer sounds upon sound upon sound and call it done.

When you have a room full of shouting people, layering all of those shouts and then adding music from your old Atari on top of that isn’t a good idea. It was so loud and discordant and painful to endure.

At one point there’s a fountain. You’ve seen fountains before, yes? They’re found outside office buildings as this one was. When you walk near it as the water flows through it, does it sound like a roaring ocean sweeping away everyone in the street? Perhaps you’ve awaiting The Rock’s appearance landing a Chinook on the corner? No? Then why did you make the fountain sound as if Sharknado was around the corner?

The best part though had to be a scene where our hero is hiding in a closet texting his love interest. And we are to believe the DING DING is not audible across the room. I’m pretty sure the people in the next theater over heard those texts coming in.

I don’t know exactly what it was about the sound (other than the volume turned up to 11) but I felt anxious the entire time. I spent the entire film fidgeting and crawling out of my skin. It was a painful, uncomfortable experience to sit through this film.

There were many shots in the film that… went… on… way… too… long… for no good reason. Here’s Adam Sandler walking away. There he goes… There’s a car driving down the road. Why? We needed to make this movie hit 2 hours 15 minutes. When it could have been 75-90 without losing anything.

Plot: Meh

Sound: OMG NO!

I have never enjoyed the silent elevator ride back to the lobby and silent walk across the street into the misty night after this aural assault.

Car Crash. Ending your day.

Tonight I heard a sound that I thought was something blowing around (it’s been extremely windy here with gusts up to 50 MPH). I thought it was a trash can blowing over. Or something blowing down the road.

I looked out the front window and saw something very different.

Car upside down on the road.

I saw the car with a side smashed in at first. The other car was hidden behind some bushes. When I saw it, I called 911 while another person was already with the driver speaking to her.

The 911 Operator said the call was being reported. The guy speaking to the driver’s wife was on the phone with 911 already.

Once the Operator told me she had the call and dispatched people I hung up.

Thankfully, there are two fire departments very close by and there were police cars here in moments with the fire trucks and ambulance not far behind.

Fire truck parked in my yard.

The driver was able to walk and talk. Besides being shaken and in shock seemed mostly fine. Other than having a bad Thanksgiving.

Be safe out there everyone.