Good Stuff! Two movies, a book, and a shovel

We’re going to start with the shovel because it’s been dumping snow this year, and I know there are some folks out there who want a quicker way to clear the snow from their driveways and walks. And, boy, do I have something for them.

I think it’s safe to say that the Brown family clears more snow by hand than the average American family. We have a driveway and street that together are a little over a tenth of a mile long. Here’s a picture.

We clear that lovely stretch of road by hand with shovels. (Yes, we are crazy; more on that below.) Most of the time we have it cleared long before any city plow shows up. But we love our city plows because they can do the heavy work at the edges on the bottom two-thirds. And they do all the work on that bottom part when it gets really heavy and deep. We love our neighbors with tractors who’ve come to our rescue as well.

Still, we do most of the clearing.

We began our mad shoveling craze for one simple reason: we couldn’t get to our house when it snowed. And it was a pain in the neck to hike that tenth of a mile.

Part of the problem is that we live on a hill, and there are a couple of steep stretches. Another part of the problem was that we had not availed ourselves of this higher technology called snow tires. We thought all-weather tires would do just as fine.

Wrong. Big wrong. They don’t even come close.

With all-weathers, on a hill, you have to keep the road clear. As in to the blacktop. Because once you build up even a small layer of snow, you’ll get slick patches, and then the all-weathers do nothing but spin.

But we didn’t discover that until a few years into it. And by that time, we’d learned that shoveling such a long drive was not only good exercise, but it also was a great way to teach our four girls how to work hard and not fear projects that seemed daunting.

I know some of you are thinking, dude, why not purchase a snow blower, or a pickup or four-wheeler with a plow?

Because snow blowers at the time, much less four wheelers and pickups, were out of our budget. Because I’d much rather spend the money on a family trip somewhere fun. Because why spend the money when you can line up as a family and create your own Brown Family Snow Blade and give your kids stories to tell their kids about living in the Gulag?

Anyway, it’s what we do. Fast forward now to this year. Three of our daughters have grown up and gone off to college. Nellie, my youngest daughter, and I can usually still get it done. But this year’s record snows kicked our butts. Royally.

Now, we’ve tried all sorts of shovels. I can guarantee, if it was at a store for sale, we’ve tried it. We’ve used brooms. We’ve used all sorts of configurations of girl, woman, and dad power. After all that experimentation, we found a standard push shovel to be the best for general snow and a square garden shovel to be the ticket for ice. But this year our trusty tools weren’t cutting it.

So, after one long day on the driveway, I went on line looking for a better shovel. And after looking at quite several contraptions, I found The Snowcaster.

You can see it in action below. It’s basically a plow. One made for a human to push.

When I saw it, I thought this thing had to be better than pushing shovels. So I ordered it and assembled it. The curved blade of incredibly hard plastic rises 9 inches above the ground and is three feet long. Its nifty design allows you to simply flip it to change the direction of the blade.

After using it these last six weeks on multiple snows of everything from ten inches of powder to three inches of watery slush, I will simply say that it’s amazing. It’s so good, I ordered a second unit.

The Snowcaster does have a limit—you’re not going to plow three-feet of snow with it. You’re not going to plow a build-up of two feet. If you’ve got a lot of wet snow over a large area, you will break a sweat. And sometimes you’ll still need a shovel to toss snow at the edges. But for moving large quantities of snow out of the way on asphalt or concrete, it’s the best thing I’ve found to date.

If you are like me and don’t want to purchase a machine just yet, have snow to move, and want to dramatically reduce the time it takes to move it while providing some fun for the kids, I think you’ll love The Snowcaster. I ordered mine directly from the company here: The model I chose was the 70SNC. I wouldn’t suggest the long model unless you rarely get snows above three inches. I say this because on some days with lots of snow the three-footer was about all I could push.

Okay, onto the movies. I have two excellent ones to recommend. Both of which are based on true-life events.

The first is Denial, a British-American historical drama, that tells the story of how Deborah Lipstadt, a holocaust scholar, was taken to court for libel in Britain by David Irving, a man who claims the Holocaust never happened. In America, you’re always innocent until proven guilty. However, in Britain, with libel, the burden of proof is upon the defendant. So how do you prove you weren’t slandering someone? The movie was thrilling and fascinating. And gave you something to think about afterwards. If you enjoyed Woman in Gold, you’ll enjoy this.

The next is Hidden Figures, an American biographical drama, that tells the story of female African-American mathematicians at NASA. These women were employed as computers—that was their official job title. Of course, this was before electrical computers and calculators, and what they did amazes me. The story is about the USA struggling to catch up to the Russians in the space race, and how four of these women helped while dealing with deep-seated prejudice against Blacks and females. It is full of humor, poignant moments, and surprises. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen these last few years. I don’t know what to compare it to. All I know is that you will laugh, be amazed, become outraged, and cheer.

Lt. General Michael T. Flynn. Flynn is a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Assistant Director of National Intelligence and is now our National Security Advisor. If you want to understand how he is likely to advise the president about our war against radical Islam, let me recommend his book The Field of Fight. In the book, Flynn describes his background as an intelligence officer and how critical good intelligence is in this fight. He then describes his take on who the radical Islamist enemy is and how he thinks we can win the war against them. He shares several surprising insights that only someone with his experience can and reveals as well how good and smart leaders can disagree about strategy. One of his main points is that we will never win the war by killing bodies—this is an ideological war, much like the war we fought against communism. For those wanting to get past news blurbs and hear the man speak for himself at length, I think you’ll find this book interesting.

And because, Dear Reader, you read all the way to the end, I will give you two more movie recommendations. Moana is a great, fun, family film. La La Land is an enjoyable musical romance that will probably break your heart. It did mine.

Good Stuff! How to Make Meetings Work

Do you regularly sit through meetings that seem to accomplish nothing?

Meetings where people drone on and on and on.

Meetings where people discuss and no decision is ever made.

Meetings that always slide off topic.

Meetings that should never have been held in the first place.

In many cases, the reason these meetings stink is because those organizing them are not aware there’s any other way to hold a meeting. But there is. I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to it just out of college while working for a business consulting firm in San Francisco. (And why they didn’t teach this in my business degree I will never know!)

After learning the simple and powerful principles, I was eventually paid to plan and facilitate meetings for clients. In some of these meetings they were making incredibly important decisions. I remember a client flying me and a colleague from San Francisco to Delaware for two days of meetings.

You might be groaning at the thought. But they paid thousands of dollars to have us come and facilitate. And when we were done, the energy in the room was palpable. A number of those that were involved were astounded and said they’d never been involved in such productive sessions. They’d accomplished more in the hours we were there than in months of other meetings. They were happy and grateful we’d come.

Think of that—happy and grateful for a meeting that went on for hours!

When meetings are done right, the collaboration and synergy can be amazing. Now, you may think that some secret handshake is required to learn how to do this. Or that it’s only for those with some special knack. Or that it’s only for high-powered jobs. If you do, you’d be wrong.

And that’s because you can learn the principles all for a few bucks. They’re laid out in perfect clarity in How to Make Meetings Work by Michael Doyle and David Straus. This is the book that was the source of our training sessions all those years ago. And I reread it every few years to brush up. The principles work in everything from a family council to a board meeting to class settings. I know because I’ve used the ideas in all of them. And when I fail to take just a few minutes to prepare, that’s when the meeting becomes, well, just another (yawn) meeting.

If you hold meetings of any kind and want to improve them, give this book a try. I think you’ll be happy you did.

You vote: excerpt or full text?

Readers, for the last year or so I’ve set the blog to show a summary of each post which you then click into as shown below.

For the years before that I just showed the full text like you see now.

I personally engage more with full text displays because I read as I scroll, so even if I’m skipping, I do at least pick up the gist of the post.

Do you have a preference? Does one view “feel easier” to you?

Let me know.

How we defeat the Global Jihad

Great video of a speech by Dr. Sebastian Gorka about defeating Global Jihad below. A few excerpts before you watch, bold emphasis is mine.

The White House was telling us publicly, “Not a problem, ISIS is fine, not an issue.” But our friends, especially inside the FBI, were saying we have a problem, and as a result, we sat down and for 3 months we collected all the unclassified information on what ISIS is doing in American, and here are the facts.”

“Have a look at that chart. It is a bar graph of every terrorist Jihadi plot in America in the last 15 years. Do you see the problem? The graph is going in the wrong direction. They’re doing more, not less.”

“…body bags are not a good metric of success. They weren’t during that little tete-a-tete in South Asian called the Vietnam War and they’re not much of a better metric today. This war should only be fought about 25 percent in the physical domain. Ultimate victory will happen where? In the mental and spiritual when the enemy no longer believes their own ideology and therefore loses the will to fight us just as happened with the Soviet Union.”

Which is why the kill-the-leaders-of-Al-Qaeda-with-drone-strikes plan all by itself will never win this war.

“…We are not at war with Islam. That is a fallacious and dangerous concept. Why? No. 1, do you remember the video of the fighter pilot in the cage burnt alive? Yes. What religion was he? Was he an Episcopalian? No. He was a Muslim. In fact, if you run the numbers, the majority of victims of Jihadis in the world today are in fact Muslims. Yeah. I mean, they’ve decimated Christian, Yazidis, Jews, yes, but by sheer numbers and proportions they are far more likely to kill you if you’re a Muslim who disagrees with them than anybody else. So we have to do what? We have to empower those Muslims who want to be our friends to help defeat them. The Jordanians, the Egyptians, those countries who for the last seven-and-a-half years have been betrayed by this administration. It is not tenable to have white skin or black skin or yellow-skinned Americans be the face of victory against the Jihadists. We want it to be fellow Muslims. We want it to be the King of Jordan. We want it to be President Sisi. That’s when you get victory. When the Muslims destroy the Jihadis.

“…The way I explain this in terms of visualization is, imagine if one of you, right now, left this building and went to downtown Miami and walked down the largest boulevard waving a giant swastika banner. Okay. You would not be cool to say the least. Okay. We have to do the same thing for the black flag of Jihad. It is a counter-messaging issue. We have to make it unattractive. Whether or not the end state is transcendentally informed or not is irrelevant. We have to associate that image with failure. Once we have done that we will be winning.”

For more:

Faithful Readers, Nominate Awful Intent for the Whitneys before Dec 31st!

Awful-Intent-originalSend Frank, Sheriff Hood, and the Knitters of Death club to kick some award patootie!

Here’s how: go to: and click “Nominate” at the top.

Enter a bit of info and boom! But this needs to happen before December 31st.

The Whitney Awards are open for the public to nominate books they think are great and which are written by LDS authors (this is where your voice is heard, Faithful Reader). Those books that get at least 5 nominations are read and rated by a panel of judges. The judges then send on the finalists in each category to the Academy for voting.

Servant won an award in 2009. Awful Intent is doing well, and if the reviews piling up are any indication, it could win another.

Please take a few moments to send Frank to kick some award patootie.

It’s time for Frank to bring home a trophy.