Monday, April 4, 2011

All Up Out This Beltway

So when you run, make sure you run

To something and not away from.

– "The Weight of Lies," The Avett Brothers

After more than 3½ years in our nation's capital, it's time for a change. Mr. Smeath is leaving Washington.

April 22 (you know, Earth Day) will be my last day at the U.S. Green Building Council, and on May 2, I will start work with Western Governors University, which Time Magazine called "The Best Relatively Cheap University You've Never Heard Of."

It was one of the easiest hard decisions I've ever had to make. The Avett Brothers quote above really describes well my motivation and my mantra in this move. Returning to Salt Lake City is all about running to something, not away from something, and that's an extremely nice position to be in. Sure, I wish I could say that I was fed up with D.C., that I hate my current job and that I just can't wait to get out of here. It would make parting all sweet and no sorrow. But when it comes right down to it, there's something to be said for leaving behind something you love because you're going somewhere you really want to go.

When I moved to D.C. in September 2007, I was motivated by a desire to spread my wings professionally and stretch my legs personally. I knew no one in D.C., so I was leaving family and friends for a strange new city, taking a strange new job in an industry I had very little background in – which is kind of what it was all about. Jumping into a new adventure head-first that way led me to 3½ years of more personal and professional growth than I could possibly have expected.

But this time it's different. How do you decide it's time to return to loved ones on the other side of the country when it means leaving behind the new loved ones you've attached yourself to in your home away from home? How do you know when it's time to go back to what's familiar, your hometown? How do you know when the adventure is over?

Well, for one thing, I don't think the adventure is over. I return to Salt Lake changed in a lot of ways. Now that I know what's "out there," now that I've had the kinds of new experiences that come from uprooting yourself and heading out on your own, I think life in Salt Lake is going to be a fairly different experience for me this time around. I always knew I loved it there; now that I've tried somewhere else, I can really put my finger on what it is that I loved about it, and why I really can't wait to get back there.

Not to mention, now – when I finally become Uncle Doug in September – I won't have to rely on photos and phone calls!

And how do you decide it's time to interrupt your career path in one organization and start fresh as the new guy somewhere else? I have way, way too much to say about everything I've learned at USGBC. Our CEO, Rick Fedrizzi, has often pointed out that, for the vast majority of us who work there, USGBC will not be our last job, but it will almost certainly be our best. I happen to agree with him. If you don't work at USGBC, I can't really explain it, and if you do, you know what I mean. How many people get to spend the pivotal part of their careers, when they're still young and energetic and learning what they expect from professional lives, suddenly thrown into one of the world's fastest-growing, most-successful non-profit organizations? How many get to say they took part in transforming the entire marketplace? I started USGBC as a passionate believer in green building, but back then I had no idea what I was talking about. I leave USGBC as more than a believer – I'm sort of like someone emerging from an inexplicable spiritual experience who is forever changed, fundamentally and at his core, by what he's just been part of. I know that's dramatic, exaggerated and pretty over-the-top, but it's hard not to wax hyperbolic when talking about the green building movement and the against-all-odds optimism it represents for an environment, an economy and a human society desperately in need of that optimism.

So how do you leave behind an organization whose mission has so engrained itself on your soul? Well, you go on to work for an organization with a mission of its own, one that also resonates with you for its optimism and potential to make big changes for a lot of people. I still have a lot to learn about WGU, so I may be misrepresenting something I read, but I think it's the nation's largest accredited, non-profit online university. What that means is that it provides flexible, accessible, affordable education in a number of diverse degree programs – a mission of extending the benefits of an education in a more economically and socially equitable way.

So D.C. peeps, keep your eyes open (probably on Facebook) for news about going-away parties and happy hours. And Utah friends and family, well, get ready for me to jump back into your lives feet first! That is, if I can figure out the logistics of this pending relocation...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar recap

So here is my recap of my correct picks and my incorrect picks. I did very well, but I stand by my opinions and everything I got wrong was a mistake on the part of the Academy, not on my part. Just sayin'.

My correct picks

Supporting actor
My pick: Christian Bale
Winner: Christian Bale

Leading actress
My pick: Natalie Portman
Winner: Natalie Portman

Supporting actress
My pick: Melissa Leo
Winner: Melissa Leo

Art direction
My pick: Alice in Wonderland
Winner: Alice in Wonderland

Costume design
My pick: Alice in Wonderland
Winner: Alice in Wonderland

Documentary short
My pick: Strangers No More
Winner: Strangers No More

Original score
My pick: Trent Reznor (The Social Network)
Winner: Trent Reznor (The Social Network)

Writing (adapted screenplay)
My pick: The Social Network
Winner: The Social Network

Writing (original screenplay)
My pick: The King's Speech
Winner: The King's Speech

My incorrect, sad, pathetic, loser picks

Best picture
My pick: 127 Hours
Winner: The King's Speech

Best actor
My pick: James Franco
Winner: Colin Firth

My pick: Black Swan
Winner: Inception

My pick: Cohen Brothers (True Grit)
Winner: Tom Hooper (The King's Speech)

Documentary feature
My pick: Restrepo
Winner: Inside Job

Film editing
My pick: 127 Hours
Winner: The Social Network

Visual effects
My pick: Alice in Wonderland
Winner: Inception

My Oscar picks - now more scientific than ever!

Every year at Oscar season, I love to try to predict the winners. Every year, I try to correctly balance all the variables for each film — did audiences like it? did critics like it? did I like it? — and then pick my favorites for each prize. But every year, I fall a little short — there are always many movies I haven't seen, so I can't weigh in completely, and besides, it's hard to choose between what you want to win, and what you think will win.

This year is different. For the first time in my 31 years, this time I've seen all 10 best-picture nominees, a fact that makes me a little proud and a little embarrassed. But whether it's a sign that I'm on top of the popular culture, or a sign that I need some new hobbies and a life, the fact that I've seen them all helps improve my picks a little. Also helping is that this year, I have a foolproof* method: math.

*Note: May not actually be foolproof. Probably isn't foolproof.

After every movie I watched this year, I went to Rotten Tomatoes and gave it a personal rating out of five stars. RT stores that info, so I can go back and remember my exact impression of each movie after seeing it. It also gives a percentage average for how critics liked each movie, and how audiences liked it. My formula is simple: I convert my star rating to a percentage and then come up with the average overall score for each movie. (You'll see what I mean, below.) I like this formula because it gives equal weight to my own rating, critics' rating, and audience ratings. Since I'm just one person, my personal opinion carries a lot more weight in this formula than the hundreds of critics and thousands of audience members, whose opinions are all diluted by each other's. Also, since I'm working off of star ratings, my rating is much more volatile — the difference between 4 stars and 3.5 stars is 10%. So while my pick probably won't be the ultimate winner, it maintains a personal flavor while still factoring in what critics thought and what audiences thought.

OK, here's the breakdown, ranked from highest overall score (i.e., my prediction for best picture winner) to lowest. And the winner is... (You'll have to scroll down because for some reason Blogspot is reading my HTML table weird...)

TitleMy star rating out of 5My rating as a percentageCritics' ratingAudience ratingAverage rating — overall score
127 Hours4.590938890⅓
Toy Story 3480999190
The Social Network480978988⅔
True Grit480958787⅓
The Fighter480909086⅔
The King's Speech3.570959586⅔
The Kids Are All Right480957382⅔
Black Swan3.570888681⅓
Winter's Bone3.570957479⅔