Dog Breath

What do you do when you’re faced with a curse?

A fate that is worse than your death?

A thing that can just be described as the worst

A thing that is Baxter’s dog breath?

I usually let him jump onto my lap

It’s not a big deal, normally

But when I wake up after taking a nap

He tends to come walk over me

He’ll stand on my chest and look into my eye

As if to say “time to get up”

And then he will yawn and make me want to die

As I gag and say “close your mouth, pup”

It’s really not funny, because when he yawns

It’s like he’s exhaling his guts

His breath smells like what he ate from dusk to dawn

And what’s more, he’ll stand on my nuts

So I must say, as I lie here today

Typing and scribbling words

Buy a dog bed, so when you hit the hay

You’ll wake up, and only hear birds

Brock Keckler: Full Interview

Millennials Making a Difference: Brock Keckler

What is a general description and title of what you do? 

I am the Marketing Director for the Edwards Porter Group Wealth Management. We do financial planning, investment strategies, retirement, 401k plans, life insurance, and estate planning.  My job is to help my firm be the premier financial institution in Wilson County.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Helping people with their financial future. Everyone has to start somewhere and its awesome to make an impact in people’s lives.

What things do you do/have you done to benefit the community?  

I am leading the MJYP [Mt. Juliet Young Professionals]. The Edwards Porter Group is extremely involved with local networking groups and events. We are always open to helping the community in any way.

What made you decide to chair the MJYP?

Joining this firm in my hometown, I wanted to find an additional avenue to help the city. The Young Professional population is growing exponentially in MJ and I want to be someone who gets them connected within the community. MJ is a special place to me and my family, so I want to do my part to help it succeed. As the city gets bigger, this group could be best professionals group in the mid-state.

What events does the MJYP have planned for 2017?

We have speakers lined up for the entire year along with some local tours and social events to promote networking. One thing we are focusing on is getting together at all of the local restaurants for some social time to get to know people outside of the business setting. New people and new connections are the foundation to our city and we look forward to all of the events we have planned for the year!

As always, I like to find out the “why” behind the “what”. Why do you enjoy the aforementioned career choices/extracurricular activities?

I worked for several years for a big corporation and I have seen what it takes to grow a business, and having the opportunity to grow an amazing  local company, in the city I grew up in, is a dream come true. I work with lifelong friendships, to people that just moved here, and I get to share my MJ experience with them. I enjoy playing golf, Basketball in our local rec leagues, and running the trails in providence.  My wife, Michelle, and I are expecting our first son, Carson, in the Spring.  We spend a lot of time at the local events and restaurants. We look forward to raising our family in Mj and helping this community flourish.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, please check out some of my other work at How the World Should Work

On the Eve: 6

King Jordain

She knows exactly where my heart lies. Buried deep within that sheath of angst, she knows the truth.

She knows I cannot raise my blade to her. This foolhardy campaign is fueled by her insatiable desire for revenge; her misguided malfeasance. Yet reality continues to elude her. The entirety of her army’s morale rests upon the simple assertion that I, King Jordain, committed the treacherous act for which I was accused. Why choose now to invade – does she wish to reunite East with West? Her accusations, ones which she herself believed to be true, were the very catalyst that ripped these lands apart to begin with.

And now, here I sit with the watchful eye above penetrating my soul. On my honor, woman, nothing occurred between the vice-regent and myself those many years ago. This divisive plot was a meticulously crafted story by that scum of a Hand, Ulric. The same Hand who deceived her, my Queen, for all these years. Slicing his throat was the greatest gift our God could ever bestow upon me, and for that I am eternally grateful.

We will hold these lands. God willing, we will reunite.  Jocasta shall at last hear the truth.

I Want to Play a Game

I’d like to try a thought experiment.

This might be weird; but just bear with me. You’ll need to pay very close attention to the things you’re about to read. More importantly, you’ll need to truly, truly, visualize and imagine what I’m going to say.

I want you to imagine yourself plugging your ears. Sound strange? Well it shouldn’t, because if you did it right you wouldn’t be able to hear it. Your ears are plugged, remember? Step one, imagine all the sound around you is gone. 

Step two. Think of the smells you’re experiencing. Then, imagine them going away. Close your nostrils if it helps. You can no longer smell.

Three. Cut your tongue out. Not literally! But imagine it disappearing into the same realm your other senses have traveled to. You can taste no more.

Four. You no longer feel anything. Your sense of touch is gone. Poof. Out the door. No more feel.

And last. Five. If you did it right, the only thing you have left….is this. You can see. You can read the words you’re reading right this very moment.

Now – close your eyes. Nothing. You should see, hear, smell, taste, feel….nothing. You should be nothing.

Okay, experiment over! If I had to guess, you’re probably thinking I’m a freaking nutcase right now. I, however, would say no; this is a thought process that has plagued me from the first time I considered it. I really, really want to know if there’s life after death. And no, I don’t want a feelgood story to make myself sleep better at night. I want to actually consider what really happens when we die. 

The above exercise is what I think about. Why don’t I remember anything before I was born? Seriously. Doesn’t this seem sort of obvious? When I was created, I gained the ability, through biological synapses and impulses that I won’t ever understand, to perceive reality. I was given hands, eyes, a nose, tongue, and so on to then be able to process the stimuli that is the universe. 

And you know what? When I’m dead, I bet I lose that ability to sense things. I bet I go right back to the blackness that was before I was born.

Now. Please. If there exists an individual who can tell me, in any logical manner why I should think otherwise, I’m begging you to do so. Because I’m going to be one hundred percent, completely real here: that scares the shit out of me. Wanna know why I quit insurance and write now? Well, here’s why folks. It doesn’t get any more real than this. I honestly believe that when I’m dead, that’s it. I don’t get another go around. So each and every second of my life, I want to make meaningful. And the worst part about this, believe me – the part that hurts the most, is thinking about Mom. That she may not be out there anymore. And that’s why I’m so torn, because the easy thing would be to say yeah of course she’s still there and so on. I really, really, can’t stand thinking this way. 

So. In summation. If someone can give me a rational, real explanation other than “faith” or “you just have to believe” or anything, please for the love of the ironic god I’m trying to find, tell me. 

That is all.

On The Eve: 1

Queen Jocasta – Sovereign Ruler of the West

I could not stomach the look of them. Misguided wretches, gathered in elated celebration of what is perhaps the most depressing of travesties.

Why does man celebrate the crushing of another man? This will forever elude me. You emerged victorious, an outcome which I am forced to regrettably concede through gritted teeth. Perhaps congratulations are in order, as my meticulously placed pieces were unforeseeably toppled. You conquered that which was unconquerable. Does it make you feel good, may I ask? Does your assuredly short-lived victory provide the shallow satisfaction that you so seek; soothing your insatiable desire to dominate?

You are nothing, wretch. Your victory is intertwined with the tragedy that is our history. Hear me, conqueror. You are weak. You are nothing but the hollow, human desire that has presented itself time and time again in these forsaken lands. Long before you were even a thought, you have been nothing.

We will rise again, of that I assure you. The sound of my armies’ iron and steel will echo across this domain like never before. Your meager triumph shall be effortlessly stamped out like the final burning ember of a desperately lit fire.

Enjoy your spoils tonight, conqueror.

For you will soon suffocate on the fiery blades of Hell.

Love & Loss: 11

I can’t do this.

I can’t. I’m so afraid. They’re here. The Germans. They’re retaking the city. They’ve launched an overwhelming counter offensive to regain control of Sicily. I’m so scared. I don’t know what to do. My God please help me. Please, I’m begging you. I can hear the gunshots outside. I can hear the footsteps of the German soldiers. Oh my God please don’t let them find me. God, if you’re there, please, don’t let them find me. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. 

Underneath the register. Hiding. That’s where I am. Please find me Adam. Please. Make them go away. I can’t do this. I can’t let this be the last night I ever see. Adam please help me. Oh my God Adam where are you? Please help me. Adam I love you. I love you more than anything.

Oh my God. They’re coming in.

Mack Lunn: Full Interview

Since the paper limits the word count, here is a full in depth look into what Mr. Lunn is doing.

What is the core mission of iCube?

The iCube is a multidisciplinary learning environment that makes it possible for any of our students to extend their learning into avenues that interest them outside of the classroom. We encourage personal learning, and thereby the pursuit of personal projects. We have a unique setup that intertwines different majors into working together on projects, and provide the capabilities to make sure they are equipped and knowledgeable.

We’ve received tremendous support from the administration at TTU to make this a reality. They repeat a mantra of “Imagine, Inspire, Innovate” as the three pillars of the iCube.  We are most well-known for our ability to create high-level virtual reality simulations, websites, 3D Printed projects, applications, and campaigns, but we work on a vast variety of projects applying technology.

We continuously work to give back to the University itself and find ways to integrate our teachings into the classroom, wherever possible. We are a faction of the college of engineering and the college of business, but we have found ourselves deeply entwined in many other colleges on campus, specifically Education, Nursing, and athletics.

What is a general description of what you do?
In short, I provide opportunities to learn for the students at Tennessee Tech.

I am the Manager of Special Projects at the TTU iCube, which is a title that is just ambiguous enough to allow me the privilege of using the latest and greatest technology to solve problems. I work with a great team of iCube employees and an a multidisciplinary group of students with a high drive and interest for learning. My job is to find strategic projects that offer a unique opportunity for learning, put together teams to accomplish the goals of the project, perform any necessary training and provide leadership in getting things done, and go after grants and/or funding.

On any given day when I come into work, there are robots running around, drones flying, 3D printers humming creations into existence, students working in virtual reality headsets, and more. It’s a fast-paced, open environment that requires a lot of mental agility so as to maintain a competitive edge. Moreover, in addition to keeping a finger on the pulse of technology that exists, I closely examine what is needed. I listen closely to find out what it is that students want to learn, and then make a point to integrate that if at all possible.

 

mack2

Good with technology, but wait until you see the snowballs he can craft
What kind of projects do you work on that have societal benefits?
We have become lucky enough to be able to orient ourselves towards projects that serve a societal impact—a variety of public policy projects.

We have worked extensively with the Tennessee Aquarium at Chattanooga on some educational entertainment projects including:

* Making their electric eel power his own Twitter account, tweeting facts whenever he emits a surge of electricity.
* Implementing beacons on their mobile app that uses proximity-based notifications to alert users when they are near an endangered species while touring the aquarium
* A classroom simulation that uses VR to demonstrate the effects of pollution and other harmful behaviors on a river ecosystem
* A “Fish Finder” that is permanently installed near the saltwater reefs that allows children and their parents to deduce the species of fish they are looking at and learn more about them
* TNACIFIN – A network for field scientists that uses geo-location to map where endangered fish have been found to help with conservation efforts

For education:

* We recently launched a behavior monitoring app for the education department that allows future teachers the experience of being in a virtual classroom environment, charged with detecting behavioral issues. You can also play the role of a student -exhibiting– these issues, for fellow classmates to detect.
* One of my pet projects is MakerMinded, which is a multi-state, Department of Defense funded program aimed at integrating STEM and Advanced Manufacturing activities with middle and high school classrooms—we offer points for completing activities, visiting related facilities for tours, etc that can be used towards really cool incentives like winning a 3D printer or a virtual reality station for your classroom.
* In terms of healthcare, we have created a diabetes simulation to show what is going on inside your body to cause this disease, a tour of the heart and lungs that shows how blood becomes oxygenated, and more.
* We work closely with the Tennessee Highway Safety Office on their marketing—which has prompted us to create several educational simulations that showcase why its dangerous to drive while intoxicated, texting, or otherwise distracted or inhibited. One of the projects places users in a simulation of downtown Nashville, complete with an AI that controls the stoplights so that other drivers mimic realistic driving behaviors. The driver is then introduced to simulations of different substances to witness their effect on the driving experience.
* We are working with different research projects as well, that all hold environmental implications. One of our genius students has developed a mechanism for turning recycled water bottles into 3D Printer filament!
* We are working with the Cullman Dam, and also researching the Falling Water River, to generate both engineering and animated models to help decide what course of action will be the most beneficial

How can virtual reality help hospitals?
Hospitals are a unique environment for virtual reality development because it can be applied at so many different levels. From an entertainment perspective, patients who would otherwise be bedridden can now travel the world at a moment’s notice, or simply connect with their family and friends. From a preventative standpoint, VR offers a new tool in education to give patients an “inside look” as to what is going on inside their own bodies—a knowledge which has been proven to be linked to positive behavioral change. For future doctors—and even doctors themselves—VR serves as an interactive learning tool. We have created self-guided, narrated tours of many of the body systems that users can explore at their own pace—sort of in the same vein as the Magic School Bus, but on a much more detailed level.

As we move into the future, the impact on biomedical engineering intertwining with virtual reality has become a daily game changer—lives have been saved from this new set of tools.

mack3

No purrfect Christmas is complete without a tabby cat

People like to know what motivates others, and what their passions are. Why do you do what you do?

I truly love what I do. I’m living every technogeek’s dream!

I love figuring things out, and never quite having the whole answer available to me—which makes the utilization of cutting edge technology very appealing. I love helping others, and being able to do so on such a broad scale is heavily rewarding. We are in the unique position to mentor students from the time they are just entering college to truly fulfill their potential and wildest dreams at the same time that we are helping major businesses with major scalable applications. I’ve gotten to tour NASA and work with the Army and travel a great deal of the US in the pursuits of creating a more broad knowledge base for our students. At the end of the day, we’re representative of the university and we are here to bolster the educational experience, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I truly care about people, and one of my core duties is to listen to people’s needs and figure out how to deliver on them, which I love doing.

The main thing I try to stress to people is to invest a little bit of time to figure out how we might be able to help create new good together. We visit middle and high schools very regularly—not to recruit, but to encourage young minds to start thinking critically and creatively early on. We have a lot of free programs where you can do, see, and earn some pretty cool stuff!

We also offer tours for school groups (and, really anyone who is interested, though we emphasize learning programs!) so if this interests you, schedule a tour and come check us out!

Reflections of Sadness, Elation, Hope & Regret – Happy Birthday, Mom: I Miss You Terribly

In the midst of the typical holiday cheer and excitement, at a time when everyone surrounding me is lit up with positive vibes and kindness, I find myself riding a roller coaster of peaking and plummeting emotion; teetering from positive, heart-warming memories one moment to tear-induced recollections of times no longer within my grasp, all in the blink of an eye.

December 23rd will forever be a particularly difficult, bittersweet day for me. My mother, who as you know passed in August of 2015 if you’ve read my book or blog, was born this day.

I spent a considerable amount of time going over this post in my head leading up to now, internally writing and re-writing it until I felt it was perfect. You know what’s funny, though? The sudden realization after I opening my browser that she would laugh and tell me I’m being absurd for stressing over it. Over her. After all, she knew exactly how much I cared for and appreciated her, and I knew the very same thing about her.

So rather than write about times together I miss and the opportunities I regret not taking while she was still with me, I’ll instead try my best to focus on the simple, happy things.

I’m absolutely convinced that my mother was without a doubt the most genuine, kind person I’ll ever know. Her saintly ability to always see the good in people, no matter their words or actions, still astonishes me when I think about it. I envy the thought-process that she embodied, something of which I regret to say I’ll likely never obtain. She was the simplest, yet deeply complex thinker – and her commitment to love and acceptance was relentlessly unwavering. I’m extremely proud to say with confidence that anyone who knew her knows exactly the kind of behavior I refer to. She was a beloved individual, to her family and everyone else who had the pleasure of knowing her.

Yet despite her outwardly simple demeanor and whimsical presence, Mom was also someone who maintained ferocious conviction in regard to her inward thought process. It’s actually a bit funny when I think of it, because the majority of people I knew growing up always told me they thought my Dad was smart. In retrospect, though, she was the one who truly had the gift of critical thought and analysis. Sure, Dad was some sort of confusing Applied Math professor, but so what? Mom had passion, she had depth, and she had character. Things which, incidentally, I would take over book smarts any day. Personally, I have more respect for those who maintain rock solid commitment to deeply-rooted moral philosophies over someone who can win at a game of Trivial Pursuit. After all, true intellect in my opinion is being able to control your thoughts and emotions, sticking to your morals in the face of anything, good or bad.

So yes, in lieu of the sorrow-laden post that my mind had written, I think its best to follow the example she set for me and allow my thoughts to settle on the smiles we had, not the frowns I’ve so frequently experienced. Because that’s what she would want – and I want nothing more than to emulate her joyous passion and thankfulness for life.

On that note, as a random tidbit – something Mom and I enjoyed immensely was playing video games. I, of course, grew up during the dawning age of the industry, having a childhood that can basically be described as school, baseball, and a progression of the newest game consoles. Mom, however (and I’m laughing as I write this), was absolutely obsessed with the 8-bit Nintendo’s original Legend of Zelda. One of my fondest memories is watching her play it time after time after time, smiling and talking trash to the bad guys all the way. I’m not exaggerating when I say this, but I honestly think she beat it a thousand times. I kid you not. After all, what’s a better pastime to share with your kids than a little casual gaming?

Incidentally, you might have been wondering why I chose to include a song from Bioshock Infinite at the beginning of this. While my previous paragraph probably gives some insight, the song carries a particular uniqueness; something I thought appropriate to include. It was the last song played at her funeral. She was watching me while I played it for the first time, walking into that beautifully designed fictional environment as the mind-numbingly pretty song played overhead. I knew she would approve of me selecting it for the procession’s conclusion because of the story behind it. If you give it a listen, which I strongly recommend you do, I trust you’ll recognize the beauty and sheer passion behind the lyrics. Choral hymns can be spine-tingling, indeed.

Yes, those are the things she loved more than anything else in the world. Spending time doing enjoyable things with us, her children. The woman quite literally lived for us and our happiness.

All that said, I would like to end this on something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life; and something I’ve mentioned previously. Now obviously the majority of us have parents who have a presence in the social media world – simple Facebook profiles, most commonly. I have to admit that I never paid much attention to it outside of the occasional post like, as probably not unlike most, I was admittedly too immersed in my own universe. After she passed, though, I visited her profile during a particularly painful day of missing her; and noticed something that genuinely made me happier than any individual memory I can recollect. As I’ve mentioned, there’s nothing I want more than to fulfill the life she envisioned for me; for her to be proud of me and the person I am. I never thought something as simple as reading the “Favorite Quotes” section on her profile could provide the validation for which I so desperately long. It might sound selfish to outwardly admit it, but I needed to know that she knew how much I appreciated her, and how much she inspired me. Her statement, which I’ve made the featured image of this post, did just that.

There are three, very simple quotes that my mother deemed important enough to spend time including on her profile. And yet as quick and concise as they are, nothing could more perfectly summarize the person my mother was and the priorities the drove her. This is taken verbatim from her profile:

“I love you.” – My children

“You’ve made me everything I am.” – Matthew

“I think every child is teachable.” – Unknown

 

I saw, in her very own words, she understood that she was my idol. And – more importantly – that we, her children, appreciated her. Seeing those few, simple words eased an enormous burden and uncertainty which plagued me for the longest time. She knew how I felt, and it meant enough to her to proudly display it on a public platform. It was an indescribable glimmer of elation during a devastating storm of melancholy; a saving grace which immensely helped keep my sinking ship of life afloat.

One last thing. Please, for your sake as much as theirs, make the people who motivate, inspire and love you aware of their impact. There’s nothing I can imagine which would instill a worse lifetime of regret than waiting until it was too late to tell your loved ones just that – that you love them.

Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas, Mom. And thank you so, so much for being such a shining luminescence in a world where darkness often prevails.

More than my words will ever convey, I love you.

Time is Our Most Valuable Asset

I spent six years in business after college. Mostly as an insurance producer, but I dabbled in some other things and even owned my own for awhile there. Anyone who has a similar background (or frankly anyone in sales or marketing in any industry) is well aware of the enormous number of seminars, workshops, books, and so on that teach various skill sets and habits.

Of all the countless such things I’ve read and attended, there is one absolute which never fails to be included in the content: time management.

I won’t bore you with a regurgitation of what I’ve learned (a simple Google search can point you to some great articles). What I will say, though, is that time is without a doubt the most valuable asset we own. Which, incidentally, is a beauty in and of itself, because it’s something we all have. What we choose to do with it is ultimately what dictates the quality of our lives.

It’s a great thing, really. Time has an uncanny ability to level the playing field. We all know people who were born with a silver spoon in their hand. You know the ones – those lucky friends or acquaintances that seem to have it all handed to them. Envy brews in our minds as we see photos of their tropical vacations and ornate items.

What many of us don’t seem to grasp, for some reason, is that there someone behind all of that luxury who understood one, simple unavoidable truth: time is money (or whatever else you want it to be). Someone sacrificed, someone grinded, and someone outworked the rest to obtain those things. And, of course, gained the ability to bestow silver spoons to their loved ones or whomever they deem worth the expense.

This is a truth I wish more people really got. That we are all capable of obtaining the lives we truly want and dream of. The only thing that limits your potential is your own self-image and perception of what your potential actually is. Your own perception of your limits, so to speak. The day you truly, honestly believe you can achieve anything is the day you begin the journey to achieving it.

All that said, personally I try to remind myself of this every day. So (for my own sake as much as anyone else’s), I want to write a brief snapshot of my own time. I find that going back and reading posts from my past can really give me a sense of how far I’ve come since I first dipped my toes into writing. So here’s a quick rundown of my week.

Mondays I work at an independent insurance agency, generally from 9AM – 3:30PM. I then wait tables at a local restaurant from 4 to about PM.

Tuesdays and Thursdays I dedicate exclusively to writing (with the occasional midweek shift at the insurance agency if I’m needed). I make sure at least 4 hours are spent writing, and another 4 spent reading. I split the two with a trip to the dog park (Mr Baxter gets antsy if he’s pent up all day). If I end up having some time in the evening, I usually write some more. If not I watch documentaries on random stuff (typically sciencesy things).

Wednesdays I use my mornings for more writing, early afternoons for Mr Baxter, and wait tables from like 3PM-9PM.

Fridays essentially look just like Mondays, but my serving shift usually ends closer to 10/10:30.

Saturdays I usually try and have brunch to catch up with friends (and to maintain a semblance of a social life), and then spend some time out with Mr Baxter somewhere (trails at local parks are his fave). Then I wait tables from 3PM-10/10:30.

Sunday’s are “off days”, but recently I’ve been using them to delve into projects I’m not as familiar with. Poetry, for example, is my most recent. Sunday is also the day I use for life’s dreaded, menial tasks. Like laundry. Ugh, laundry…

Anyway, I plan to stick to that schedule until I have a good enough reason not to. At the moment I’m relentlessly committed to striking a chord with my writing. My books done okay for not having marketed it hardly at all, but I’m trying pretty aggressively to obtain a literary agent so I have someone in my corner with industry experience and a relationship or two. The sequel is finished, but I halted the publication until I have a better idea if I’ll find representation in the near future. Other than the book(s), I’ve obviously got this blog and I write for my local paper. Oh, and occasionally for a website (mytrendingstories.com). So the plan is to keep chipping away.

In any case, I suppose the main point of all this is to never give up on yourself and where you really want to go in life. No one is any better or worse than anyone else when it comes to what we’re all capable of. All that matters is how high you think you can go.

Just be sure to use your time wisely 😉

Happy holidays everyone!

Pushing Boundaries: My Day at iCube

Let’s be honest – we all have a nerdy side to us.

Whether it’s experiencing a new Star Wars movie at an IMAX theater or wreaking havoc in the latest GTA game, we all enjoy an occasional escape into the newest tech. This is all well and good, considering we live in an age where technology dictates the quality of huge portions of our day to day lives. In such a rapidly advancing industry, there’s always something new right around the corner to satiate our appetites for the cutting edge.

Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to get a full on peek at several ground-breaking technologies that are being worked on by the brilliant minds at iCube – a fast growing technology firm located on the campus of TN Technological University (Cookeville, TN).


When you first enter iCube, you are greeted by one of their core philosophies: IMAGINE

iCube, a firm with hardly a year of operation under its belt, has already garnered a plethora of multi million dollar projects. They’ve contracted with private and public entities, their work ranging from hospitals to municipalities.

A friend of mine, Mack Lunn, is a project manager for the institution and was kind enough to give me an in depth look at some of the projects they’re working on. Read about my experience below.


The Oculus Rift – a gateway to another world

My introductory “lesson” was to familiarize myself with one of the primary outlets they work with – virtual reality. Not long after I arrived, Mack had me strapped in and ready to delve into (for me) completely uncharted territories. Once I was positioned correctly, he tuned me into a few of the on board programs that ship with the oculus by default. They were rudimentary apps developed (I imagine) for that very purpose – familiarization. I stepped into the shoes of a virtual line cook, taking orders and cooking digital food. I protected my castle as it was besieged by hundreds of little e-barbarians. I warped into the future and defended myself from dozens of laser shooting drones, moving about in my small space to dodge their fiery attacks. Needless to say, it was freakin’ awesome.


Hitting your VR tour guide with a clipboard is exactly as much fun as it sounds

After realizing I was having entirely too much fun with the default video games that all Oculus devices ship with, Mack’s next step was to show me one of the actual projects that iCube is working on. The first thing he showed me was perhaps the most relevant in terms of scope and benefit to society, which I’ll get to shortly.

In the grand scheme of things, the virtual reality arena is in its infant stages. The technology is finally available on a wide basis, and firms are just now beginning to apply it to all sorts of different industries in a practical manner. In iCubes case, they are currently working on a program with hospitals that will benefit diabetic patients. Here’s how:


The coolest $500K ride I’ve ever been on

Apparently doctors have experienced significant difficulty with getting diabetic patients to follow nutritional and health guidelines, leading to negative results. This is a big problem in the medical field, and one that I’m sure anyone in the medical industry can attest to. So, seeing the problem, there was a behavioral psychologist who one day said “Hey, why don’t we show people what’s happening in their bodies if they ignore our instructions? Maybe then they’ll get it and start eating right.”

This is where iCube comes in. The hospital basically tells them “We have this problem. We want to show people what’s going on in their bodies, and we want them to be able to experience it as if they were inside themselves. People are more likely to respond well and follow directions if they can actually see what’s happening to them.”

iCubes response? “Say no more.”


We come in peace. Take me to your leader

Cue the visbox, the thing you just saw in the photo above. This was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in quite a long time. I got to strap on some goofy looking glasses that made me feel like I had alien antennaes and then took a holographic ride into clogged arteries, walked around inside a human heart, and was apart of a group of red blood cells straight chillin’ in someone’s veins. Needless to say the visbox experience was, as the bards would put it, “totes amaze balls”. And to cap it all, the best part is that these programs are having a positive impact on people’s health, furthering the humanitarian mission of iCube.

The next thing I got to do was tour the development studio. This was great because I’ve always wondered how things go from being an idea in someone’s head into a real program that you can fiddle around with. So Mack took me into what I can only call the Main Event Room, because it looked like that’s where most of the work was getting done. It reminded me of the pictures I’ve seen of Bethesda Studios, Bioware, and the like. Lots of figureines, loads of dual monitor setups, and some super-bad computers.


And now, the main event!

Here I was again strapped into an Oculus, only this time I was sitting in a chair. I got to play around with a project that the firm is developing for the Tennessee Aquarium, virtually snorkeling through a river as I watched contamination levels rise and fall, noting the impact it had on the aquatic ecosystem. The program they ran for me here was one that illustrated how important environmental factors are in regard to marine life.

Finally, one of the last things Mack walked me through was the world of 3D printing. Now I’m sure you’ve all heard of this, but actually seeing and fiddling around with the stuff is so much cooler than watching it online or on TV. Truthfully, I’m still somewhat floored by the fact that human beings have figured out how to literally print objects, but I digress. I doubt that’s something I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around.


3D Printed T-Rex. Rawr!

The stuff starts out as just a simple thin line of plastic, almost like a thick spool of fishing line. Moments later you might have yourself a dragon for your desk, or perhaps a tyrannosaurus if you prefer the Dino route. In any case, the 3D printing process is one of the coolest concepts I can think of in our recent history. And there’s no telling how it’s going to impact different industries. There was one story I was told where a paleontologist used to dig up dinosaur bones and make casts of the incomplete parts, selling the skeletons to museums and collectors for about $30K. His casts costed about 20/25K to produce at the end of the day, so he saw a somewhat healthy profit, right?

Well, when the 3D printers heard about this, they offered to scan the pieces bit by bit and simply print them out of their material, ultimately resulting in an absurd decrease in production costs (down to like, $500/$750). And these pieces were even more durable than the ones created before! How’s that for efficiency? This was a mere glimpse at how the world is going to be changing due to technological advances.


A 3D printed dino who’s name I can’t pronounce 

There were several other things I got to toy with during my time at iCube, but for brevity I’ll stop here. It really was one of the coolest days I’ve had in quite awhile, and I must give a very loud shout out to my friend Mack Lunn for giving me the tour. Thanks man!

The future is now.

Cortney Edmondson: Full Interview

The following is the full response I received from Cortney Edmondson, the September 2016 featured Millennial for my monthly column at the local newspaper, The Wilson Post. Due to being constricted to a word limit, I use my blog as an outlet to post the full transcripts of my interviews. These transcripts contain a treasure trove of valuable content for anyone interested in learning more about the individuals I write about, as their experiences and insight provide an outstanding resource for those wanting an inside look into their success.

Cortney’s website can be found here.

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Bio

Raised in Mt. Juliet, TN, this Nashville Native has a heart for helping others.  In April 2015, Cortney launched #365DaysofCortney on Instagram, a #positivevibesonly campaign.  For 365 days, she posted only positive and inspirational posts in order to be a steady light of positivity for everyone who follows her.  In the fall of 2015, she left her career as a CPA at a major accounting firm to pursue her dream of public speaking.  Cortney is passionate about story telling because sharing her story has liberated her from her past of shame and inspired thousands of others to do the same.  
 
 On April 30, 2016, she launched edmonco.co, her blog and public speaking business.  On the same day, her birthday, she launched Thursday Thrive, a platform for other people to share their stories of overcoming adversity.   ThursdayThrive.com is a web video series that features a new person’s story bi-weekly on Thursdays.  Each individual’s story and topic is different but identifies the blessings, lessons and transformations that only adversity can provide.  Her mission is to share stories of hope and to connect communities of people who are facing similar life challenges. 
Transcript

MS: Tell me a little about your background and what inspired your passion to help others.

CE: I have experienced shame since the age of four, when my mother went to prison for assisting in a series of bank robberies.  No one ever told me to keep that fact a secret, it was just something I learned along the way.  I feared what others would think of me if they knew.  Would my friend’s parents allow them to be friends with me if they knew my mother was a criminal? Would people treat me differently if they found out? Would the fact that my parent was a criminal hinder me from pursuing my dreams? Questions like this kept me from letting people get too close to me.  I was hiding things from my friends at a very young age and suffered repercussions as a result.

The fact is that shame grows the longer you keep things a secret, and I was its slave.  When I finally decided to share a glimpse of my story with a group of people, I quickly discovered that sharing my secrets was liberating.  More importantly, I finally realized that the pain from my past did not have to be in vain because I could help people by sharing my story with others.  People began to share with me that my story had made a difference in their life so I started brainstorming how I could share it on a larger scale.

MS: What exactly is the mission of ThursdayThrive? From what I’ve seen, it seems to encourage others to open up about the skeletons we all seem to be hiding. I sort of get a “be yourself” vibe from watching some of your videos, which I love because I can relate.

CE:  The mission behind Thursday Thrive is to share stories of hope and to connect communities of people who are facing similar life challenges. The fact is we all feel so isolated and alone when we face adversity.  In reality, there is always someone who has been in a similar situation and just hearing their perspective from the other side of the challenge gives us the hope we need to conquer it ourselves.  We are all yearning for a community that is accepting of who we really are, one that encourages us to overcome.  That is what Thursday Thrive is all about.

The main focus was to reach people who needed encouragement.  However, the people we have featured have also experienced love and support from their communities as a by product of having the courage to be vulnerable and share what they have been through.  It is a win-win for everyone involved!

MS: Is there a particular case you’ve seen or story you’ve heard that might have impacted you more than others? Hopefully something with a happy ending!

CE: The beautiful thing about these stories is that they all have a happy ending!  For instance, in every interview, I ask the interviewee what they would change about their story if given the opportunity.  “Nothing” is the only response I have ever heard!  I think that is amazing considering some of the grief and heartbreak these people have faced. It tells me that no matter how traumatic the event, the blessings and transformation that takes place as a result is worth the pain.

With that being said, each story has impacted me in one way or another.  Dee Matherly’s story was a game changing story for me though. We have very similar backgrounds and she too kept family secrets for over a decade.

When she finally decided to share, she had a lot of anxiety about exposing her deepest and darkest secrets. It was an honor to be a part of her sharing her story for the first time and to encourage and help her break free from her past.  After we featured her story, she received an outpouring of support from her community.  The feature prompted the perfect opportunity for her and her mom to discuss “the elephant in the room” for the first time in over a decade.  Now Dee is an advocate for domestic violence and will be sharing her story publicly more frequently going forward. Thursday Thrive was a stepping stone for her to pursue a dream.  It is so inspiring to be a part of such a transformation.

MS: What do you see for ThursdayThrive moving forward? Are there plans to grow the site, speaking tours, etc.?

CE: As a public speaker, I am passionate about storytelling.  I know that people love stories, that’s why we have television, movie theaters and books. Everyone has a story, so luckily there is an endless supply of stories to share.  I hope to one day be able to capture incredible stories throughout the world, instead of just locally.  I took the first step towards this and recorded a story from a San Diego, CA resident just a few days ago!

Also, my vision from the beginning has been to create online community/support groups for different types of adversity.  For instance, if people stumble on my site and they are a victim of domestic violence, I want to point them to a Thursday Thrive online community group of other people who are domestic violence survivors.  Likewise, If they are a childhood trauma survivor, I want to connect them to a Thursday Thrive group of other childhood trauma survivors.  I know community is so important during hard times.  I hope to extend this platform to make community support more easily available for people.

 

Julian Hayes: Full Interview

The following is the full response I received from Julian Hayes, the October 2016 featured Millennial for my monthly column at the local newspaper, The Wilson Post. Due to being constricted to a word limit, I use my blog as an outlet to post the full transcripts of my interviews. These transcripts contain a treasure trove of valuable content for anyone interested in learning more about the individuals I write about, as their experiences and insight provide an outstanding resource for those wanting an inside look into their success.

The archived published article on Julian can be found here.

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Hey Julian!

Thanks for letting me write a feature on you. It looks like you’ve
done a lot of really awesome stuff!

If you’ve read the last two columns, I think you get the gist of what
kind of content I’ll need for the article. I know you’ve done a lot
with fitness and helping people transform themselves personally, so
anything you can elaborate on to describe how you’ve helped people
would be great. Maybe individual stories of people you’ve helped or
anything in particular that might stick out where you’ve had an impact
on someone’s life.

Also, if there’s anything outside of fitness that you do like
volunteer stuff or anything, fee free to let me know. The article will
essentially feature how you’re making a positive difference in
peoples’ lives, so anything you can think of is welcomed.

Thanks again! I’m looking forward to featuring you in November 🙂

– Matt

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Matt,

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I’m a nerd. I’ve been a nerd long before the Marvel blockbusters made them cool. With that said, my interest in fitness started due to superheroes and to hopefully impress the girls on my college campus.

Doing what I’m currently doing is the last thing I expected.  In fact, I gave up on thinking I was creative in grade school after realizing my work in art class wasn’t as good as everyone else’s—so I just stuck with athletics even though deep down, I’ve always had a creative itch. I’ve always secretly preferred an art crawl over a football tailgating event.

I ignored my creative itch for over a decade until I found myself in New York in the middle of taking first year medical school classes. Through chance encounters and meeting people from all over the world, that was my call to action that maybe I wasn’t doing the right thing.

With this in mind, I woke up in the middle of the night during my summer break and decided not to go back to school, but instead to start my own company.

Merging writing with speaking and coaching allowed me to still have the potential to tremendously affect people’s lives in a positive manner just as I could if I have chosen to continue along the path of becoming a doctor.

Honestly, my mission was really small at the beginning—I planned to just train at a gym and write on occasion for business purposes. The mission became bigger once I started working with more clients. hearing their stories, watching them grow and having random conversations with people who in return encourage me to think bigger.

Health and fitness are the most powerful and essential of assets required for us to live a fulfilling life and reach our potentials. Our health is the head of the octopus and the tentacles are the other facets of our life. Without the head operating accordingly, those tentacles aren’t going to operate as they should.

Achieving a fitness goal creates ripples within your life, increases your confidence, and allows you to share your unique superpower with the world.

With this new perspective, I rebooted my company into The Art of Fitness and Life and wanted to provide people a roadmap to succeeding not only in fitness, but in their specific personal and professional lives as well.

Our toughest challenges isn’t finishing another set of squats, it’s learning how to incorporate these healthy habits that we want to do and know we should be doing into our specific lifestyles without throwing everything else out of order.

I want people to improve their health, but not at the expense of becoming a servant to fitness—this is a mistake I made in college and my early twenties.

Leveling up your fitness leads to new discoveries and capabilities about yourself. While I certainly have helped a decent amount of people, they have equally played a huge role in helping me become the person I am today.

I wish I had the space to highlight all of them, but I’m going to stick to two of my favorite stories.

One of my clients was Cortney, many know her as the fearless leader of Thursday Thrive. Through a very detailed and long email, Cortney reached out to me.

The Cortney who reached out to me was a highly successful accountant, but equally unhealthy even if the outside didn’t show it. As with many people, we over-emphasize our physical fitness and place our professions above our health leading to a neglect in our mental and emotional fitness. She was over-worked, stressed, had a very unhealthy relationship with food, and was excessively exercising.

With that said, I only allowed her to weight train a couple times a week and eliminated almost all her cardio. I made her stop counting calories, avoid the scale, prioritize sleeping, not skip social outings with her girlfriends because she was scared of ruining her progress, and most importantly—start the process of falling back in love with herself.

Cortney was so unbalanced that it took a couple of months for significant progress to happen because she was so sleep deprived and stressed.

The story ended well though. This was a huge breakthrough for me personally that helped me think bigger about my abilities.

Little did I know during this process, she was confiding in a good friend of hers and a group about the influence I was having on her beyond the nutritional and workout arena. Most importantly, as she stated in a email she sent me, “I helped with her obsessive dieting and with her mental struggles with food”. My favorite line she wrote was “I’ve really fallen in love with myself and have a newfound confidence. I feel I’m coming onto something great and she was now reaching out to other girls to help them with their various struggles.”

And the rest is history. She took control of her health and that served as her launching pad to greatness in other areas of her life. Cortney is a picture perfect example of why mental and emotional fitness is critical.

Another client to briefly mention was Princess Belinda as I call her. The first sentence she said to me was “you’re the last hope—if this doesn’t work, I’m going to give up on this fitness thing.No pressure.” It was so bad with her that she wouldn’t look in the mirror nor take initial measurements. By all accounts to the outside world, she’s confident, successful and rather funny. She’s a highly-accomplished songwriter and singer with a light-hearted personality I’m jealous of.

Belinda’s case was intriguing because she has a disability with her foot and has a hectic traveling schedule, so she could’ve easily used that as an excuse. However, she didn’t and in doing so provided a model for others like her to follow. No one is excluded from achieving greatness with their health. It may look different, but everyone is capable of taking control of their health.

Another pivotal moment for me was when she wrote “I was walking in front of a store window yesterday and I saw a reflection in the window and in my peripheral. I thought, ‘if I could just look like her, I would be so happy.’ After a few steps, I glanced over…and it was me. So there I stood at the mall weepy. You changed my entire perception of my abilities.”

I’ve recently started speaking and will only do more of this. I have Cortney, Belinda, and a couple of others to thank for getting me out into public more. I’m in the process of launching health and wellness consulting for small businesses and companies in addition to one-on-one coaching and writing for my blog and various publications full-time. It’s not all work though, I have fallen in love with various latin dances, in particular salsa dancing.

It’s a busy schedule, but if I demanded my clients to think bigger of themselves and their abilities, then I must practice what I preach.

My initial big vision is to help a million people integrate health and wellness into their desired lifestyle and use fitness as their launching pad to leveling up in life, business, and creating their unique impact in this world.

Fitness can keep us young, music can move our soul, books can feed our brain, and creativity can drive us every day. This is what I deem living the good life and ultimately that’s what I want people to do.