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Opinion Editorials

Blog Action Day- a story of personal redemption

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Since its inception in 2007, AgentGenius.com has participated in Blog Action Day, an annual event that “unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day” in an effort to heighten awareness on global issues. This year, the topic is water:

We asked people to submit creative pieces describing what it would be like if they woke up tomorrow and all of the drinking water in America was toxic? You think you have time to conserve and that a Brita filter will fix everything, but given that 40% of American waterways are already too polluted to fish or even swim, do you really have time? Our world is so arrogant with water use that we don’t even bat an eye that it takes 400 gallons of water to produce a single cotton shirt. How can we justify this to our grandchildren when there is no more safe drinking water in our midst?

Below is Indianapolis Realtor, Ryan Crozier’s creative entry. We invite you to add your thoughts to the comments as to how YOU would react if you woke up to toxic water nation wide?


Dear Diary,

The last 21 hours have been a living hell. My wife Andrea & I woke up @ 6:45am to the sound of our neighbor Elizabeth banging on our kitchen window. She was screaming hysterically about water. Still groggily from sleep and in my pajamas I thought her house was on fire the way she was screaming about WATER!!! I opened the sliding door and began pouring water into a bucket when Elizabeth finally made a complete sentence and told me “The water is toxic… it’s all over the news… the water is toxic!” My first thought was that this was just another one of those “investigative reports” our local news station does to uncover some “major issue” wrong in our community.

Andrea quickly flipped on the TV to discover this was much more than a few bad water samples from the water treatment facility. This was a national issue. The United States water supply had been contaminated with toxins. Elizabeth ran to the next house to alert the rest of our neighbors. I’m so thankful she woke us up this morning before we sat down to our daily bagels & cups of coffee made with the contaminated water!

The news told us not to panic; that things would be alright. Well, the entire day was filled with nothing but panic. Everywhere I went people were in a state of absolute emergency. I’ve never seen so many people angry and fighting. It was crazy because just the day before today everyone was fine. In fact, I remember on my drive home from work seeing a number of homes in our neighborhood with the sprinkler on. Today, that same water is the source of so much hurt & pain.

Luckily, Andrea & I were able to fill our bath tubs, air mattresses, rubber-maid containers, & buckets with water before it was turned off by the city around 8:15am. We plan on boiling the water over the coming days & weeks to purify it from the toxins so we can use it for drinking water. I am telling absolutely no one because of the immediate threat of robbers breaking in and stealing our water. After the water was turned off I decided to head out and see if any local stores still had any water available. Andrea stayed home to protect the little water we do have. Leaving the house was a huge mistake. The stores were overrun by people. It reminds me of the news footage from Hurricane Katrina… just mass chaos. (It’s ironic that Hurricane Katrina was caused by water and this was caused by a lack of water.) People were standing out in the parking lot trying to sell gallons of water for anywhere from $200-$500. It was a scene out of a movie.

After leaving the store, I drove by the small church on Main Street. (The church that always has that goofy sign “C H _ _ C H – What’s missing? U R!”) Well, today they had handwritten “Free Water & Free Prayer”. I couldn’t believe it. This church actually had large bottles of water and was giving each person 1 bottle for FREE!!!! I struck up a conversation with a little old lady named Jeanne. As she handed me my free bottle of water she took my hand and said “God Loves You… He always has & always will” I asked her how she could be so calm & peaceful during a time like this? She leaned in and whispered in my ear “I trust in the Lord”.
I looked up and saw that she had a tear in her eye. She took out a pen and with her hand shaking she wrote…. “Jeremiah 17:5-8” in the palm of my hand. She gave me a big hug and told me to go home and look it up in my Bible as she started to serve other people their free bottle of water. Little does she know that I haven’t touched a Bible in over 20 years.

By this time it was around 2:30pm. All the stores were shut down and lots of people were leaving town. I’m really not sure where they were going. Somebody told me they were headed to Lake Michigan to see if more water was available there. Something inside me told me to stay put. The best thing I could do is protect & provide for my family. I headed back home to find Andrea had already called through our address book to see how family & friends were doing. My mom was already on her way down to stay with us for a while. Luckily, she too was smart enough to collect about 30 gallons of water and she was bringing it to our house.

When she arrived around 7:30pm we carried in all her stuff and placed her water supply in the basement next to ours. We sat down at the dinner table and she told us about her day. The drive from my mom’s house normally takes two hours. But because of all the traffic it took her six hours today. She said she saw a number of people trying to climbing water towers on her drive down. I guess they thought they could just open them up and get a drink?

Usually, I give my wife a hard time for the time she spends on Facebook & Twitter, but today is came in real handy. We were able to get updates from friends and discover that the water is drinkable as long as it is boiled for 5 minutes. People were posting on Twitter that rain was in the forecast. I guess, too many people found out about the the “water tweets” because not too long after that the twitter “Fail Whale” was all we could see no matter how many times we reload the page.

It’s now almost 4:00am… Andrea is asleep in bed. My mom is sleeping in the guest room and I’m in my office. I never in a million years thought this would happen. Of course, I’ve seen on the news how there is water shortage in Africa, but I never even dreamed this for the United States. I went down into the basement and dug up that old Bible my grandma gave me when I turned 13. It took me a few minutes but I finally found the book of Jeremiah (who knew the Bible had so many books) and found the verses Jeanne wrote on my hand…

Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.
But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.
—Jeremiah 17:5-8

I think I just heard rain drops on the window. Yep! It’s raining! Thank You God It’s rain!

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

4 simple tips to ease friction with your boss while working remotely

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Find it challenging to get along with your boss while working from home? Here are a few things you can try to ease the tension.

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Woman stressed over laptop in remote work.

Most people probably feel like their relationship with their boss is fine. If you’re encountering friction with your boss for any reason, though, remote work will often exacerbate it—this is one instance where distance doesn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder. Here are a few ways to remove some of that friction without adding to your boss’ overflowing plate.

According to CNN, determining the problem that exists between you and your boss should be your first step. There’s one caveat to consider, however: Your boss’ boundaries. Problem-solving on your own time is fine, but demanding more of your boss’ time—especially when you’re supposed to be working—may compound the issue.

An easy way around this is a low-impact communique—e.g., an email—sent at the beginning or end of the workday. Since that’s a more passive communication style that takes only a minute or two out of your day, it’s less likely to frustrate your boss further.

If ironing out the issue isn’t your prerogative for now, examining your boss’ parameters for success is another place to start. Does your boss prefer to receive multiple updates throughout the day, or do they want one summative report each morning? Do you respect your boss’ preferred communication styles? These are important questions to ask during remote work. If you find yourself reaching out more than necessary, for example, it may be time to cut back.

It can also be difficult to satiate your boss if you don’t know their expectations. If you’re able to speak to them about the expectations regarding a project or task, do it; clarifying the parameters around your work will always help both of you. It is worth noting that some supervisors may expect that you know your way around some types of responsibilities, though, so err on the side of complementing that knowledge rather than asking for comprehensive instructions.

Finally, keep in mind that some bosses simply don’t communicate the same way you do. I’ve personally been blessed with a bevy of nurturing, enthusiastic supervisors, but we’ve all had superiors who refuse to acknowledge our successes and instead focus on our failures. That can be a really tough mentality to work with during remote periods, but knowing that they have a specific communication style that hampers their sociability can help dampen the effects.

As always, communication is key—even if that means doing it a little bit less than you’d like.

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