Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Racing for Haiti Earthquake relief

Several Cricket employees and I are doing a 24 hour team endurance car race this weekend.

We are dedicating our race entry to the Haiti Earthquake relief effort. We’ve selected Oxfam America as our primary charity.


We are currently accepting donations (100% of donations will go to charity). If you donate, we will make you a honorary team member and you’ll get access to exclusive race footage - photographs and HD videos (to be sent after the race).

You can donate online here: http://www.oxfamamerica.org

Every dollar counts!

Kindest Regards,
Lawrence Hua
Stan Kurdziel
Mike Van Aken
Jon Bigelow

Here's our car from the last race:

It actually looks a bit worse now. If you donate and post as a comment to this post saying you donated (honor system), and contact info, we'll send the pics / vids of the Phoenix race.

If you don't mind noting the amount of the donation, put that in the comment too. It might be cool if we can exceed the total expense of the car (minus safety equipment, tools, gas, fluids, transportation and labor that is $500) in donations.





List of donors / Honorary team members:

  • Drivers - $20

  • Cynthia Jeffries - $50

  • Priscilla

  • Elizabeth Ferris (Cricket)

  • Tiffany Miravalles

  • Total known donations: $70 (almost certainly only a small fraction of the actual total ;-)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

RIP Dad

On May 1st, 2009 in the basement of his home in the small wilderness town of Irons, Michigan, my 57 year old father, Michael J. Kurdziel, answered Shakespeare's most famous question in the negative; He took arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, ended them.

I got the phone call while at work on a production outage call. My first reaction was shock and disbelief -- is this really happening? As the crushing weight of sadness fell on my shoulders, the tears streamed from my eyes, and I left the office without a word, half walking / half stumbling out of the building into a light drizzly rain and an overcast sky. The weather in Denver, which had been perfect and sunny all week, had decided to match the moment.

---
Those first two paragraphs and much of this blog entry were written in the early days of May 2009. Today is actually May 17th, 2010 - the day that he would have turned 59. Much has happened and changed in my life and inside my head since that fateful day. To a certain extent I have been avoiding finishing this entry for a year, but it has never been far from my mind. Even today I still consider it in draft form, but it's bothering me to have it on the back burner for so long, so I want to post it for his birthday today.
---

While shock was the overwhelming emotion when receiving that first phone call, I knew over the past month or so, that my Dad had been depressed. From semi-regular phone conversations, my impression was due to financial reasons, loneliness, and the cold extended winter. He had been laid off from a stint at Home Depot and collecting unemployment. Due to the slow economy and remote area, new jobs were not readily available, and he had been focusing on finishing construction of a partially completed house that he purchased in 2008.

A sense of blame and feeling of guilt was the next wave of emotion. I think it's an unavoidable reaction for anyone when they find out that someone they know has committed suicide. While it's easy to say "it wasn't your fault", and of course there's an element of truth to that, there is also an element of truth to the opposite. I'm very confident that if I'd called him 20 minutes prior, that it wouldn't have happened - at least not at that precise moment. Hell, if the dentist, car mechanic, etc had called him right then to set up his next appointment, it's possible it could have impacted events. Areas of gray become very emotional when the stakes are so high:
if only I would have called more often...
if only I would have insisted he come visit San Diego to get away from the cold winter... it was only his second winter back in Michigan after living in temperate San Diego for 20 years
if only I had sent him some money - I wouldn't have missed it - so that he could see the financial light at the end of the tunnel...
if only I had flown out and visited again and helped with the house...
if only I had taken his depression more seriously and helped him get treatment...
if only I had encouraged him to exercise more...
if only I had thought to tell him to get a pet to keep him company...
pages of coulda, woulda, shoulda thoughts run through my mind. It's not limited to things that actually make sense. For example, thoughts like "if only as a kid I'd not wished him ill after he'd yelled at me..."

There is a lot of pain associated with these kinds of thoughts. Unfortunately, that's all they are is thoughts - the past is past, and this particular past carries a terrible sense of finality that feels very wrong. If it was a movie or tv show, this event is so out of context with the rest of the movie, that I would be expecting some kind of "it was all a dream" or time travel based "magic undo".

My Dad had been living with depression for some time - probably longer than anyone really realized. Perhaps he would have taken this path years ago, but he did draw on the support around him at those times. Actually, his current situation was mild compared to things that he'd appeared to make it through unscathed in the past. Nothing at the current stage of his life appeared to justify any extreme actions. He had family and friends he loved and who loved him back. While loneliness was part of the problem, he was capable of striking up a conversation with almost anyone at anytime and often made friends easily.

The financial situation wasn't even that bad. We'd discussed it in a fair amount of detail and it seemed that he might only need about $1000 / month to keep working on the house. His unemployment was set to end, but I'm pretty sure it would have extended much longer than the initial 6 month term. My 3rd bedroom, vacant and almost entirely unused since he'd lived with me, probably could generate almost enough. A number of family members had offered him money and I really think he knew that his financial situation was not unrecoverable.

He had told me in the past that the idea of being a burden bothered him, and I think that's part of the reason he shut out his options of help. More importantly though, the only way I can make sense of this act was that it had to do with more than the current situation. He just wasn't in any kind of extreme situation that justified considering suicide.

"Remember your loved one as he was, not for what happened," the words of the police officer assigned to the case sounded shallow and tinny as they came through my cell phone. Regardless, it's probably not bad advice.

My Dad was a unique individual. He had a memorable quality to him - my friends remember him years later, even if they'd only met him briefly. His 6'3", 200+ pound frame was only part of it. He was outside the norm in almost every way. I think he enjoyed being different. He even would intentionally do things to differentiate himself, whether it was wearing a funny hat, telling everyone "Happy Birthday" on his birthday, or questioning things that no one else seemed to notice.
One of the core values he taught me was to be yourself, even if others laugh about it or if it would be easier to conform.

His occupations included: packing trains, Forestry, Woodworking, Loan Officer, Financial Services, Realtor and Real Estate Investor.
Some of the things he loved throughout his life were Swimming, Forestry, Woodworking, Guitar, Renovation of houses, Honda cars, Taekwondo, Sailing, Canoeing, Hunting, Chess, Basketball, Guitar, and Nature.

The next emotion after guilt that I had to deal with was anger. It seems like such a selfish action to take one's life and leave your family grief stricken, as well as missing out on talking to them, participating in their lives, knowing his eventual grandkids, visits, etc.

Sometimes it seemed like he was two different people. The upbeat, joking, happy side and the morose, sometimes angry side. As a kid, this didn't make sense to me, but in hindsight, I think it was part of a struggle waged inside his head throughout his whole life. Not that I claim to be able to read his mind, but I suppose I lived with him longer than almost anyone else, and spent a fair amount of time trying to understand him for a multitude of reasons. Once, when I was about 14, we were at the library and he was researching the topic, he mentioned bipolar disorder and wondering whether it would help him to take lithium. That was a period of depression also, following the divorce from my MoM. It's possible that he saw a psychiatrist at that time who recommended lithium, but to the best of my knowledge, he didn't take it or any other medication at the time. Bipolar or Manic/Depressive disorder was something I didn't know much about and didn't put much faith in being more than psychobabble mumbo-jumbo. I don't think he did either. He was a very mentally strong individual and valued as well as instilling in me a strong sense of self-control. However, after his passing and learning more about the condition, I am convinced that he was manic depressive and it explained a lot of behavior that I didn't understand at the time. His moods often swung between extremes of overly enthusiastic/confident to inconsolably sad, occasionally with explosive anger mixed in. (Some info on manic depression). IMHO, the medical write ups don't give much of a feel of the condition - perhaps it's because they are all written from the perspective of it being an illness that only has negative effects and a treatment goal is to eliminate it. In looking for more substantial information and understanding, I found and read An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, a manic depressive psychiatrist's autobiography. She presents the condition, not exactly as an illness, but more like a personality trait with both positive and negative effects. I didn't know that many famous and high-achieving individuals are manic depressive. Some examples: Van Gogh, Beethoven, Kurt Cobain, Charles Dickens, and Issac Newton. As I understood her, the treatment goal, instead of eliminating the condition altogether, is to achieve as much of a balance as possible and avoid situations where it's possible to harm oneself or others.

I'm not going to lie and say that the relationship between Dad and the rest of the family was always smooth, but in hindsight I believe the good out weighs the bad. During my childhood I built up a lot of resentment toward him, and even had periods when I really believed that he was the root of all my problems in life. During college, after moving away from home, I made peace with our relationship though, and forgave him for things that went awry growing up. More recently, from February to October 2007, he lived with me following a deep depression and hospitalization. He had mentioned within earshot of an off duty police officer that he was considering suicide. In some ways, this was a tough period for me, but I'm glad I had that time with him and got to understand him more. That period cemented an interpretation of his behavior that he really did give his all where his family was concerned, and that the shortcomings of temper and other behavioral oddities were largely outside of his control. Best intentions aren't an excuse for yelling at a family member, but combining best intentions with the idea of a manic depressive personality finally gives a plausible explanation for observed behavior. One example that I never understood while he was alive was the trouble he had during holidays or times that should have been fun/upbeat - like a trip to Disneyland. The only explanation I could think of while alive was that he didn't like to see people having a good time, but that doesn't make complete sense, because in less intense / more relaxed situations, he enjoyed seeing people having a good time. What does make sense to me now is that he had trained himself to avoid getting too happy/excited/manic during those times in an effort to avoid the resultant depressive swing. Along those same lines, the professional help he received leading up to and after his 2nd divorce in 2007 was only aimed at treating depression. Anti-depressants initially help during periods of depression, but they also can trigger strong manic episodes and subsequent extreme depressive swings. Much like a sugary snack will pick you up following lunch-time food coma, but ingesting a significant amount of sugar is likely to lead to a "crash" later as the sugar "high" wears off.

It would have been nice to have some of this understanding while he was still alive, especially since manic depression carries a 20% chance of suicide!, but if professionals didn't diagnose him manic depressive, it seems very unreasonable to expect family or friends to do so. Part of the problem is that I think he generally did have fairly good control of the swings - although I read it can get worse as one gets older, which along with the anti-depressant rubber-band effect and other issues initially noted (finances, winter, loneliness, living in a partially constructed house) start to paint a picture where I can almost understand why he felt like ending it. One takeaway is that increased understanding of manic depression throughout the population as a whole may help others living with the condition. To that effect, I setup a memorial donation page at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and a number of friends and family have donated to the cause - which is nice to see.

The note was not found initially by the police or my uncle - even though they looked for one. If I remember correctly, I found it in a box of unrelated documents that had been carried to my Grandpa's house by the time we arrived in Michigan - days later:

------
I'm sorry to all of my family who has tried to help
me. I love you. I wish I could have shown you better.
I just cannot cope with all the things that are happening to me
It is all too overwhelming and I can't see a way to solve
everything for the future. I didn't prepare enough, that's obvious
I really don't know why I made all the strange decisions
I did over the last year. Some how trying to feel better but
not well thought out. I took on way too much with this
home. I thought I could do it, but it is obvious it is
far beyond my skills to complete. I am so ashamed of all this.
A huge mistake. I was not thinking right many times over the last
year. I can't seem to move forward toward solutions.
My dear sons. I wish I was a better father to you. You are
so much more deserving of a better father than I have been.
I never wanted to be mean or unloving. I only wanted to
be loving, but I know you don't see that. I love you
and I am sorry. Please don't do what I did. Carefully
plan your decisions and get plenty of good advice before
you make them. Live within your means. Stay out of
debt. If you are in debt, get out of it as soon as possible.
Make this your first priority. I made many big mistakes
in this way. I cannot believe some of the decisions about
buying things I made over the last year. Stay in your
jobs. And stay in a city where there are jobs available.
Don't ever buy anything on credit and be in a situation like I
am where you can't find a way to pay it back. I shouldn't have
bought this home. It was way too much for me. I had a
false confidence in my ability at the time and didn't calculate
the costs well. Be sure you calculate the costs of everything before
hand. Don't let my death hurt you too bad. You are
much smarter and better than me. I have been stupid.
You are not, you are much much smarter. You get that from
mom. Rely on her. She is the very best of people.
Dad. I love you. Thanks for the help you always gave me. I
am sorry for letting you down.
Glenn, thank you for trying to help me. Mary Ellen, thank you
for everything, and Mark, thanks for being nice to me and
helping. There is so much more I would like to say to
everyone, but I don't feel like I make sense anymore so
I pray that God will forgive me for everything.

I am sorry, I can't function or think normally anymore. I am sorry.
------

The note still brings tears to my eyes. I do believe that his family was the first thing in his mind, and that he had convinced himself somehow that this was the best for us - to not have to worry about him anymore. I'm not so sure about the financial advice. I think it was weighing heavily on his mind, but we had talked less than two weeks before about the numbers in some detail - I had even offered to help with however much he needed per month. I'm sticking to not seeing the finances as a primary motivation - I think he knew it wasn't unrecoverable, it probably just seemed like something others could relate too - much more than feeling very sad for unexplainable reasons or loneliness, etc. Especially with the economy in full recession in spring 2009 - financial concerns were at the forefront of most peoples' minds.

If my Dad had been in a car accident, there wouldn't be an issue of being angry with him for taking his life. With my increased understanding of manic depression and being convinced that he was affected by this condition, I can see his actions as a "mental accident". I am completely convinced that he didn't want to hurt his family, and in his head at that moment, he felt like he was being less of a burden by ending it.

My current view is that some element of manic depressive behavior is part of the human condition - where the line is drawn between an illness and "normal", I'm not quite sure. Since there is a genetic element and I notice some of the behavior in myself that convinces me that my Dad was manic depressive, I am interested in learning more and possibly seeing a therapist to discuss further. I do think that some of my Dad's actions trained me to have the skills necessary to live with mood swings. For example, not getting too carried away with positive emotions, and instead being prepared for the eventual downswing. Or in bad times, being able to see how things are not as bad as they could be, or that they will get better soon. I think these are the things he tried to do for himself and I imagine they took hold better in me than him, since he was teaching them to me from a young age.
Also, there are effects like observing my Dad's paranoia regarding the world at large, that seeing from an external view didn't make sense - instead I saw the self-fullfilling prophesy angle of the beliefs and in reaction to that I've trained myself to avoid paranoia. If I do have an element of manic depression in my personality, I'll have to thank him for being somewhat trained to deal with it.
My preliminary thoughts on how to avoid/live with manic depression:
  • daily exercise and regular/sufficient sleep if feeling down
  • maintain close relationships with friends/family - avoid emotional isolation, which allows inner thought patterns to become more real than they should be
  • seek help if necessary. when able, give freely with no expectation of reciprocation. maybe it's mystical, maybe not, but positive karma can't hurt.

I miss my Dad a lot. I'll identify klondikes and vernors with him. Had some of those today to commemorate his birthday. While he lived in San Diego it was nice to watch or play basketball, or have him help repair something around the house. Over the phone we would talk on business ideas and many other topics. I think he would find the 24HoursOfLemons racing I've been into since he passed away to be very interesting, and probably chat about the M3 I bought recently quite a bit (mainly all it's mechanical problems and either wondering how Hondas don't have those problems, or ways to fix them). A few of the things he taught me throughout my life
  • where there's a will, there's a way
  • don't worry, be happy
  • how to take care of physical possessions, repair them and make them last
  • chess
  • winging it / persistence
  • how to stay still for long enough in the woods so that you can observe the wildlife
  • not to be afraid of much of anything / self-confidence
In October of 2008, my brothers, MoM, and I made a trip to Irons to visit him as well as the other family in the area. My MoM hadn't been back to Michigan for a large percentage of the time since 1987. It was a nice trip and peaceful final remembrance of him in person. We went canoeing, got Irons famous beef and venison jerky, and helped him some on the house.

One of the things I have faith in is that things happen for a reason. Feels strange to think of my Dad's passing in this context, but a few positive outcomes have been to bring the family closer together, give more appreciation for those with mental conditions, and perhaps most importantly it reinforces the point to enjoy every moment of life to the fullest.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Calorie Thoughts

Only had a few minutes for lunch today, and decided to drive through KFC (figured I'd try one of their box lunches I'd seen advertised).

The meal was pretty filling for $6.99 + tax = $7.60. If I was just trying to get enough food to survive, it would be a good choice. The starving SNL Whopper Virgin should stop by KFC instead.

I don't usually think about calories at all, but figured I'd see about how many were in this lunch.
OR Filet Sandwich: 480 cal
Mashed Potato Side: 130 cal
Potato Wedge Side: 260 cal
Biscuit: 180 cal
Piece of Chicken: 370 cal ? wasn't sure which entry was right
32 oz Dr Pepper: 400 cal
Total: 1820 cal - fairly intense amount of calories!

Found a Calories / day calc which says that a 6'2", 185lb, 31 yr old male needs 2921 cal/day if moderately active and 3310 cal / day if very active. I'll call it 3200 cal / day. That leaves 1380 for the rest of the day. If lunch is my biggest meal of the day, that seems to check out fairly ok.

Haven't really done the calorie counting thing much before. I suppose it's semi interesting... Although not sure it's very productive. It might be good to know if one is routinely consuming a 1000 or more extra calories / day, or to know that the soda has more calories than anything except the sandwich. But as far as health is concerned, calories are probably not the main goal. The quality and type of food probably have a bigger impact on overall health. And I bet the caloric needs of an individual swing widely away from the Calorie / day calc for individuals with the same stats, depending on other things.

If I ran into a book called "Eat Healthy without having to obsess about it", I'd buy a copy. I have a feeling KFC would not be a highly ranked food provider in this imaginary book.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rules of how to be a successful corporate drone

Planning to update this entry over time as I learn/think of things. It's definitely an opinion piece - and at least a bit tongue in cheek - so take it with a grain of salt.

Corporate America is a fairly non-intuitive place. It is not often true that hard or intelligent work is rewarded in and of itself. BUT, if you are intelligent and a hard worker and are confused as to why it's not being recognized, following these simple non-intuitive rules can get you far.

If anyone has ideas to add to the rules, post them in the comments. If it actually helps anyone, that would be amazing - in the meantime, I will just amuse myself =)


RULES of How to Be A Successful Corporate Drone (ethically)
========================================
Communication

  • Truth vs Lie - If you haven't already run into the fact that there are more shades of truth than black and white, the corporate world is going to be very tough. This is a place where appearances, projections, hype, spin, etc. are often more important than truth. No, I don't think that's how it HAS to be, but it's the default state of public corporations - it takes a LOT of effort to break from that mold. Just as in the world at large, out and out lying is not a long term strategy, but spin definitely is. Presenting yourself, and group and organization in the best light possible is extremely important.

  • When reporting news:
    • Report good news (no matter how small) to lots of people, especially people above you (lots of them)
    • Report bad news to as FEW as possible. Be sure not to hide it, that would look weak and definitely isn't an effective thing to do in any situation, let alone the corporate world. However, as much as possible, only send bad news to those who are motivated to fix it and/or those who have asked about it.

  • If working overtime, be sure to mention it. It will get you instant recognition, and also make it less likely that you will be asked to work overtime the next week.

  • When asking for something, some dramatization can go a long way.
    • Ex: "My whole family will be on vacation for 2 weeks, and even though I have two weeks of vacation, I told them that I will only join them for 1 week - So that I can complete all the support work for project X and get it launched by the end of the year". Bosses may wear the guise of a corporate drone tough guys, but really, they are people too, and if you can shock them out of the corporate mode for a moment, they may even say things like, "I'll have Bob work on project X - you have worked hard on project Y for the last 8 months. Take some time and be with your family".

Improving and Getting Promoted
  • When talking about ideas and accomplishments, ALWAYS phrase in terms of the audience you are talking to.
    • For instance, let's say you know how to improve the performance of a system 4x, but your boss doesn't care about that particular system. Listen to what he does care about and find a way to tie the two together, then sell the accomplishment or idea based on what he is already interested in.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day

Today is one of my favorite holidays.
Martin Luther King Jr is one of my personal heroes. His noble and inspiring vision, which he promoted against all odds, was for equality of opportunity for all mankind. An amazing public speaker, an admirable quality in and of itself, he used his talent to inspire people to make peaceful change in the world around them.

His awards include the Congressional Gold Medal, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Nobel Peace Prize. Each year I re-watch the I have a dream speech from the 1963 March on Washington:



In 2008 I visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee for the first time. It is a place with a very strong presence, and definitely worth visiting. Today am wearing the "I am The Dream" shirt from the museum

This year, with the first ever inauguration of a non-Caucasian president tomorrow, remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr is especially relevant. I believe our entire country, regardless of ethnicity, is currently filled with hope for a brighter future, and a lot of that responsibility rests on Barak Obama's broad shoulders. I imagine that MLKjr would be pleased at the election of our new president. If he was alive today, I'm sure he would make an inspiring speech tomorrow. I can imagine him as an enthusiastic 80 year old, applauding the progress made in the last 40+ years, and encouraging all citizens of the country to do our best within our individual spheres of influence, whether large or small, to improve the world around us.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Congrats to Obama

Listening to: The DJ Z-Trip Obama Mix
I'm excited about Obama as Prez for many reasons... Here's the top 3:
  • Restore the international image and peaceful relations of the US with our neighbors (the other 190 or so countries in the world). Rollback the imperialistic greed and cruelty of the Bush Doctrine. I love the US based on our highbrow principles and melting pot characteristics. I hope that we return to being an active and respectful member of the UN like when Bush Sr was President.
  • Be a symbol of unity to the 300+ million people living in our great country. Improve race relations of all kinds (decreasing conscious and unconscious racial prejudice) and unify the "red" and "blue". I'm looking forward to being able to proudly say, "I'm an American" again, without having to explain or qualify it.
  • Re-open the investigation into 9/11 destruction of the NYC World Trade Center. Been feeling extremely strong about this lately - I actually have been suppressing my thoughts/fears on what we may find for many years, and I don't think I'm the only one. Will compose my thoughts on this in another entry.
Top 3 things I'm worried about
  • Since the democrats have grabbed both houses of congress and the executive branch, I'm worried about a swing to the other extreme. We need balance, not a swing between extremes.
  • Who will be calling in debts after the inauguration? I believe Barak's campaign raised the most money of any political campaign ever? I just hope there aren't big favors owed back... the worst fear being some kind of morally corrupt shadow organization retaining a high level of control over the government - so that we don't really see change.
  • An economic correction casting a shadow on an otherwise strong administration. I really don't think short term economic swings should be the primary concern of the executive branch. I am not an economic expert, but I did get a 5 on both AP economics exams and once created something on the order of 1000% return over approx 5 years in the stock market ;-)
    Capitalism has an innate business cycle which is natural and I feel serves an important function. Unfortunately, while in the recession phase of the cycle, many people tend to over-react - ironically, their attempts to "correct" the natural cycle often prolong the recession :-/
    I am very concerned with the governmental bailout/buyout of a percentage of the US banking industry. This is not capitalism, and I truly believe the government will/would run the banks MUCH worse than the free market. Perhaps this doesn't sound right at the moment, but if you think for a minute, it's very obvious. The banks got in trouble for making bad loans at too low of an interest rate. What is the governments solution? To forgive / continue the bad loans! - which digs the banking system into an even deeper hole! So the government is much less responsive to the business cycle and will therefore create deeper recessions.

To end on a light note, let's give Obama Girl some credit for the election result ;-)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Interesting Article on the demise of Friendster

A friend of mine sent me a fairly well-written article on the demise of Friendster - which at one time was the top social networking website on the internet: http://www.scribd.com/doc/80907/How-to-Kill-a-Great-Idea

The article does a nice job at making the story sound extraordinary. Which is fine, as I'm sure founding Friendster really was an awesome rollercoaster experience. It really was the first big internet hit after the dotcom bust, and it also faded relatively quickly.

However, I will claim that there was nothing extraordinary about the management failures and the loss of users. I would rate a number of managers/execs I have observed as making relatively good decisions, and others as making relatively bad decisions. However, the vast majority of them (> 90%?) seem to embrace the idea that they are "The Decider". I have actually had people tell me, "you are probably right, but I'm the boss and we're doing it my way even if it won't work". I think the #1 tempation of management is to think of it as yourself as a technical expert, best suited for making ALL decisions under you (and even above?) and that the only reason to delegate is that it's too much work for one person to do.

But that isn't really what leadership is about. Leadership really is a different skill than "doing". Something I read a long time ago, explained a good leader as having 3 fundamental characteristics:
  • Vision
  • Resolve
  • Humility

There's nothing in there about brilliant engineering or decision making ability. A leader needs to set specific goals (things like "have more subscribers than myspace" or "implement a solution that meets these requirements on schedule"). Then you can't change your mind randomly, but instead need to have the conviction, resolve, and consistency that it is an achievable goal and the business unit will continue on the path towards that goal until it's achieved. Finally, there is the humility. Initially I had a hard time understanding the part of humility, but after letting it mill around in my head for a number of years, I now believe that humility is the most important of the three:

  • Humility is required to admit when you are wrong and correct course - the vast majority of managers I've worked with work under a model where they attempt to never admit they are wrong. But it's really an important skill to recognize early when you are wrong, and how to fix the problem - and the possibilty of undoing should be considered as well.
  • Humility is required to listen to underlings, peers, and even superiors suggestions and actually evaluate whether they are good ideas or not - and weigh them objectively against your own. Or even to give people a shot at implementing ideas you initially disagree with and objectively evaluating the results.
  • Humility is required to understand that the leader doesn't actually do all the work. Delegation isn't a mechanism for multiplying an excellent worker by their number of subordinates. In order to be most effective, the people actually performing a task, should have input into how that task is accomplished and ownership of the task itself.

The type of leadership that killed Friendster (the same style as the overwhelming majority of business leaders out there) is obviously flawed. The leadership team didn't present a consistent vision, provide conviction that the vision was achievable, and they definitely didn't have any humility or allow technical experts within the organization to do their job. From that perspective, I do agree with Johnathan Abrams that failure was inevitable immediately after the $13 million funding round.

So has he learned a valuable lesson from Friendster and we can expect Socializer to be wildly successful? I wasn't convinced of this from the article. I am sure he learned tons, but (from the article) it didn't sound like humility was one of those lessons.

What is the #1 lesson from Friendster?

Of course, I have the humility to acknowledge this is only my opinion =). However, it is not based on reading the article, but rather from my exerience as an involved Friendster user from very early on, someone who met a girlfriend I dated for more than 3 years on the site, and an interested observer of the sites evolution and it's competition with MySpace.

The Tipping Point from Friendster to MySpace was very quick - I would say the key period was less than 3 months. And from the user perspective it was super easy to explain, predict, etc.

  • The site was extremely slow almost from the beginning - this in itself was largely tolerated by the user base - to a point. Although I'm sure, if asked, many MySpace converts would have rated the speed as their top complaint. Sometimes it was ridiculously slow or wouldn't come up at all; however, during the 3 month period when they lost their lead in the US market, I would have to rate the page load speed as acceptable.
  • Friendster took a restrictive approach to user profile content, at times blocking customizations as simple as changing the background of a user's profile. MySpace on the other hand allowed almost any technically feasible customization, and spawned hundreds of external site/theme generators which allow users to fully customize their profiles to be extremely unique. (these sites are so widely used that many of them are successful businesses - ex, 17 year old millionaire Ashley Qualls' whateverlife.com). User's have strong bonding feelings with this type of profile customization, and that was probably the biggest reason for the Early Adopters switch from Friendster to MySpace.
  • Finally, Friendster quickly lost the elusive cool factor in a largely unfought battle with MySpace. MySpace created a more lively, more hip atmosphere. One of my friends described it way back then as almost like walking through a club where each persons profile is like a new room in the club, they have their favorite music playing, the room is decorated with all kinds of fun pictures and their top friends are featured prominently. Friendster did not capture this experience. MySpace also threw parties at trendy locations in cities around the country (I tried to get into one in LA - at a time when Friendster was still the leading site - and was one of thousands who didn't make it inside). On top of that, they promoted bands, got celebrities to create profiles on the site, etc. They consciously devoted lots of effort into making the site cool and tieing it into existing popular culture, while Friendster did not.

How can a fix for all these problems be summed up in a single lesson? Actually, very easily, and I feel it's the #1 key lesson for ALL online (and many offline) businesses with large numbers of users. This lesson is to listen to the users. It's almost too simple (and therefore almost always overlooked by "decider" style managers who don't have much humility). Anyone in a position to serve more customers than they can talk to in a single day, really should read the Cluetrain Manifesto - this is the #1 topic of the book. They do an excellent job of explaining why this is so important, and how our current online world enables companies to relate to their users in a way that was not nearly as possible before.

Friendster obviously did very little listening to their users. Instead of solving the user's compliants, or even focusing on positive user feedback they internally generated all their work. And unfortunately, I really do think this is the prevalent mode of business operations in the US right now. Hahaha - although it sounds like something out of the twilight zone in the article when it is mentioned, I have no difficultly envisioning the meeting of the execs when they are dismayed to learn that over half the users are from the Philippines (something I'm positive I knew before that meeting occurred - through anecdotal data), and they consider the idea of blocking Filipinos from using the site! ROTFL! It's disgraceful, but once again, super common... Even the site which the Friendster article is on (Scribd.com) has a fatal flaw for article content - their flash based reader is a much worse reading experience than reading a typical web page. I've worked at a company whose first assumption about their customers is that they are too stupid to use a competitor's "superior" product. If that isn't a backwards vision, I don't know what is.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Personal happiness vs world events

Maybe I've hit a string of luck lately, or I really enjoyed my recent vacation, or maybe some recent events keep reiterating that life is short, or maybe I've been getting just enough exercise to keep the endorphins pumping...   Maybe the 40 hour/week gig isn't putting mood altering stress on me at the moment...

Whatever the explanation, despite news of economic turmoil, a plumetting DJIA, and a high-stakes election hanging in the blanance, my mental state has been very positive lately.  Feels like I've got an excess of love to give.   I love my family, friends, cat, software, basketball, nature, teaching, and many other things.

Have to classify it as a love of life in general.

Really only have 2 major concerns at the monent...    cleaning my condo and making it into a sweet place to live & a bit of concern over the election.  In the grand scheme of things, a little cleaning isn't very major and Obama gives me hope that the US can correct course and stop abusing it's "lone superpower" status for a bit.  With any luck we can make a return toward role model status in international relations.  Granted, we've never been perfect, but I'm old enough to remember a time when rumors of the US pre-emptively invading a soverign nation (such as Iran or North Korea) would have been laughable.  I strongly believe that such actions are the equivalent to mortgaging our future for short term "wins".

In fact if I was a terrorist circa 2000 bent on the seemingly impossible task of the destruction of the US, dragging the nearly unchallenged leader of the world down to the level of an international thug would be the first order of business.  I was convinced for years that didn't make any sense for a motivation to attack the World Trade Center; however, the events of the past 7 years have played out much differently than I would have predicted.

I'm sure to a supporter of the Bush administration, this sentiment sounds blasphemous or at least anti-patriotic...    Perhaps a well known allegory has the best chance of getting the point across - and I'll present it in the form of a question from a galaxy far far away:

What would the Rebels in Star Wars (Leia, Luke, Han, etc) be if the Empire was merely a successful economic power who promoted human rights, a fight against starvation on the poorest planets, and whose most threatening "weapon" was economic sanctions?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thinking about Snowboarding again

There was one cold night here in sunny San Diego - Sunday night - right when we returned from Michigan (where it was warm for early October - ironically), and it got me thinking of winter.
And when I think of winter, I start thinking of snowboarding...

It's 75 degrees again now, but I had to watch this snowboarding subaru video again, it's awesome:


And now I wish I was on the slopes - just like 7 months back to the day when we were in Mammoth for the weekend and it snowed the entire weekend - perfect snow!

Instead I've got taxes to work on today - blah - that's what I get for filing a 6 month extension - lol

Monday, September 15, 2008

African American - European American Implicit Association Test

Middle of the night, I should be asleep, but instead I am reading blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. Since understanding how the brain works is one of the most interesting topics I've encountered in life, I am finding it a fascinating read.

Just finished a section on unconscious preference of one race versus another. They reference a Harvard study which claims to be able to measure this type of preference, so I had to check it out. I took the African American - European American Implicit Association demo test and actually wasn't overly surprised that I registered a Moderate automatic preference for European Americans over African Americans.

Like many/most people I know, I don't consider myself a racist... However, I definitely will agree that I have been influenced by some racial programming. As I first learned in Sociology 1A as a college freshman, it is impossible to completely separate the thoughts of the individual from the the thoughts of society. So it's natural for me to hypothesize that this test measures reveals this unconscious programming - instilled by society. The aggregate results (a bell curve) shifted drastically in one direction fit this hypothesis perfectly. Predicting an individual's actions is another story - much more tricky... Perhaps with an understanding of how much that individual rely's on the sub-conscious for certain types of decisions, and the results from the IAT, then some determination could be made. I've been realizing more and more lately that I'm more of a conscious person than most. It's not (at this moment) meant as bragging, but I suppose that's why the results don't bother me too much. I feel that my actions on important topics such as whether or not to hire someone, wouldn't be significantly adversely impacted by this unconscious preference. And unfortunately, although I don't have a strong feel for the numbers, I do often feel in the minority as far as a preference for conscious thought goes. It impacts me in interesting ways - for instance, I have been told by coworkers that there is an impression that I am slow, even though there are many important tasks that I can accomplish in a small fraction of the time of anyone else in the group. I bet that the reason that this isn't a glaring contradiction to them is that they are probably picking up my preference for conscious thought. So, perhaps with more reliance on unconscious thought, it is possible to achieve much faster average responses on a set of decisions, but with the price that the decisions can be swayed by possibly unrelated "automatic preferences". And these preferences aren't nearly as abstract as race - for instance, colleagues often have interesting preferences for things like starting from scratch over extending an existing system, or using new technology over old, and definitely there are unconscious preferences for particular technologies. I need to figure out a better way to bill my strengths though, because "slow" is just not cutting it... Perhaps "thinking out of the box" will work =)

Even if one does not act on this type of unconscious prompting, it definitely has influence... I was amazed at another study, referenced in blink, which found that when quizzing black college students with 20 questions from the GRE, that their scores were cut in half (on average) by asking them first to indicate what race they are. That is intensely disturbing! And they had no understanding of what happened... My emphasis for myself is at least to realize some of the unconscious influences as they impact my decisions. Lately, I have had exposure to a larger number of African Americans, and I actually have noticed a number of interesting unconscious thoughts/impressions bubbling to the surface that I had sort of assumed I didn't have. I don't think they are adversely affecting my actions, but I assume that given the right set of circumstances, they probably could...

Even more interesting than just identifying these types of subconscious society influenced preferences would be research into how this programming could be changed - society wide...
For instance, my impression is that in the US, there is a bias against Polish people as less intelligent than average. Since I am 1/4 Polish, I have read up on the topic a bit, and actually Poland has produced many brilliant scientists - probably more than their share worldwide. I'm sure I'm blood biased, but I really didn't form too much confidence around the idea of polish intelligence until a fair amount of research - including reading James A Mitcher's Poland, studying the discoveries of Polish academics, and meeting people from Poland. My impression of the Polish people, based on this moderate amount of reading is that they are above average on both peacefulness and intelligence. However, I bet that an IAT to determine associations of US society towards Polish intelligence, would show that the predominant opinion is much more in line with the jokes from popular culture.

Perhaps there is a way to shift these impressions... Marketing Hypnosis (ex: coke vs pepsi) does impact us at an unconscious level - perhaps the same approach could be effective for social issues. A problem with existing programs - ex: affirmative action, is that they can be seen as reinforcing the idea that African Americans are not as smart... Getting a black student into college and then having him get 50% of his test questions wrong because of racial priming before the exam doesn't really fix anything...

Related Research that I think would be interesting
  • To see how these opinions vary by country. Even though we appear to be moving towards a global society/culture, I bet there would be some interesting findings there. One that I often think about is "entrepreneurial spirit", or the tendency to own one's own business - I know there are significant differences from country to country on that one, and somehow in corporate driven America, I feel like the entrepreneurial spirit is fading. And then comparing that with the stock market and small business performance in that country over a number of years.
  • To see how the faces of black celebrities (or look alikes?) fare... Is this effect really race specific, or are there ways to tweak the results? For example, if using scary looking white faces and friendly and/or famous/respected looking black faces skews the results in favor of African Americans, what would that mean? Could it diminish the significance of the "automatic preference"?
  • There are also interesting studies that could be done on how individual experiences play into mix. For example, blink references a speed dating study, where people changed what they said they were looking for based on who they met. And I have noticed in friends that a very small set of experiences can reinforce a popular stereotype. Before that experience they can seem totally open-minded, but then one bad experience can cause them to switch entirely. Something along the lines of, "well I gave them a chance, and it didn't work out... the popular opinion must be right about x". Teaching people how to avoid that type of "bad statistics prejudice" might be a useful thing also.
  • For example, it would be interesting to ask of a person's top 10 friends, how many of them are African American and see how that changes the results.

I will have to finish the book... I imagine he offers some practical suggestions in later sections.

Friday, September 12, 2008

USA Basketball Gold Medal Game

The USA Men's Basketball Olympic Team - nicknamed the Redeem Team (I agree with Kobe, that's a silly name), brought the Olympic gold medal back to the US on August 24th, 2008. The reason the US needed redemption was that Argentina won Olympic gold in 2004 and USA was stuck with bronze. You'd think that would "piss" them off enough to return to dominance in international play, but in 2006 Spain won the FIBA world championship. (The NBA needs to stop calling the NBA champion the "world champion" when there is a tournament that more legitimately awards that title).

Team USA swept through the first 8 games of the tournament with nearly a 30 average margin of victory. This includes a 37 point victory over Spain, who turned out to be the last team left standing and the opponent in the Gold Medal game. That doesn't mean that the international competition is fierce. All the top international teams have 2-3 (sometimes more) NBA players/prospects, and when watching the teams play, one doesn't necessarily spot the NBA players as significantly better than the rest of the team.

The Gold Medal game came on at 11:30pm. My biggest complaint with NBC's Olympic coverage, even though all TV coverage was in HD, and they got special purpose olympic channels, and they posted even more hours online, was that they just didn't focus at all on giving people the tools to find the content that they wanted to see. The schedules were all screwy, the searching online was pathetic. Just a lack of attention to what in my mind is the most important element of Olympic coverage.

Until about 11:50pm, I thought the game would be on at 2:30am... Until finally someone (I think it was Bob Costas) mentioned the 2:30 time was Eastern time zone...
doh! Not even the website, which had many times in Pacific (I'd hope though my time zone preference) had the right time. Luckily I'd inadvertently recorded the first 20 mins, and I did feel happy to watch what turned out to be an awesome Gold Medal game live.

Bill Simmons takes it to next level by claiming that practically no one besides him saw it live. He does capture the game fairly well, so if you missed it, check it out:
http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?section=magazine&id=3575385
ESPN is ridiculous for not automatically including dates on their articles, but I believe the article was posted today - 9/12/08 - at least that's the first time it's shown up as a highlighted article.

I disagree with him though about not wanting the game to be aired again... and that brings me back to my biggest complaint about the Olympic coverage. Google takes you here, which has an article and highlights, but no link to the actual game: http://www.nbcolympics.com/basketball/news/newsid=254238.html#silencing+critics

The whole game was difficult to find (in that it took me longer than 5 minutes to find and there were indications along the way that it wouldn't be available)... So, although it's not as nice as watching on a big screen TV with a nice sound system, if you potentially might watch any basketball game online, it should be this one:
First link worked for me:
http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/player.html?assetid=0824_hd_bkm_en191&channelcode=sportbk
Second link is the one NBC gives for sharing:
http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/share.html?videoid=0824_HD_BKM_EN191

James got me a Dwyane Wade jersey for my birthday, so I'll have a memento of the game for some time to come =)

----
And what was up with Bob Costas during this Olympics? Was I the only one who thought he was about 100x more irreverent than I've ever seen him while covering a sporting event?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Check off a childhood dream

Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to go skydiving.
I finally went on Monday (Labor Day)! It was awesome! Totally worth the time, effort, $, etc.

I wanted to do the Accelerated Free Fall level 1 as opposed to a tandem jump, because that's always what the dream was - to jump out of a plane by myself.  Well for AFF level 1 there is an instructor who jumps on either side of you.  It turned out to be a good thing that they were there, as I had a bit of hesitation around 5200 feet (we were trained to pull the shoot at 5000 feet).  For some reason I started thinking of the reserve parachute instead of pulling the main chute.  Pat (the instructor I'd spent ~6 hours with in AFF training) pulled the chute for me.

The experience of actually jumping out of a plane somewhere between 12 and 13,000 feet was amazing...  Free fall is a really cool experience, and gliding and controlling the parachute to a soft landing was very cool as well.  All in all it was a very smooth experience, and I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested.  Perris Valley Skydiving has gotta be among the best and safest places in the world to skydive.  The staff was very professional and super safety conscious.

Haha - I'm tempted to go again and pull the chute properly =)






Video is below.
If you want to skip to the interesting part, it starts right around half way through.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Torrey Pines 9th grader passes Computer Science AP Exam, skips high school class

From Carmel Valley News/Del Mar Village Voice August 28, 2008 page 21
Torrey Pines 9th grader passes Computer Science AP Exam, skips high school class

By Vic Wintriss
When Sean Kemper tried to enroll in the Torrey Pines Computer Science Advanced Placement class, he was informed that, as a freshman, he was not eligible to take the course. Torrey Pines High School policy does not permit freshmen to take advanced
placement courses. The Computer Science AP exam is given each year in Java, a popular, Object-Oriented computer programming language that Sean had been learning at Wintriss Technical Schools, in Carmel Valley. He felt confident that since he had
been studying the language for two years, he was prepared to take the exam without taking the formal high school class. Sean signed up for the May exam and recently learned that he had passed with a score of 4 out of 5, sufficient to qualify for college credit. “It was easy,” Sean said.

Sean, along with his brother Ryan and friend Matt Allen, have been attending WTS learning to write fun game programs such as Tic-Tac-Toe, Pong and Asteroids and controlling robots from teacher Stanley Kurdziel, who works as a Java programmer
for Leap Wireless in San Diego and is a volunteer teacher at WTS. “I knew he would pass the test,” Stanley said.

The trio, calling themselves Team Squirrel, recently won second place in the International Autonomous Robot Contest, held at the Del Mar Fair.
They put to use all their classroom learning to program, in Java, a Sun Microsystems SPOT controller to autonomously guide a Roomba vacuum cleaner through a maze and race against other robots through an obstacle course. Sean’s brother Ryan is planning
on taking the Computer Science AP exam this year, in the seventh grade.

Wintriss Technical Schools offers after school and weekend classes in Java to kids starting in the fifth grade teaching Java in a unique, kid-appropriate, fun-filled way.

For more information, visit http://wintrisstech.org

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Over the ex

I didn't expect to be writing another entry on this topic, since I felt like I should have been over my ex long ago; However, for the past few weeks I'd been thinking of her frequently and (once again) wondering what I could have done differently. I even IM'd her and told her I missed her. (don't even recall the response, but it didn't break from the predicted negative reaction)

Today, thankfully, that all changed... in a blink!

While my Dad was living with me last year, he read a book titled Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. He said it was good, and left it with me - I added it to the "reading queue" section of my bookcase, which unfortunately doesn't get much attention. Today I was reminded of the book through a random IM conversation, actually talking about another book and Blink was mentioned as somehow similar. That was enough to get me to pick it up and take a look.

The book starts off talking about a situation where the Getty museum buys a fake sculpture for almost $10 million dollars. They didn't realize it was a fake through fancy analysis or extended research, which was done before purchasing the sculpture, but instead it was the first impression that a number of experts had when looking at the piece. They couldn't explain it, but the piece didn't "feel right" to them. That reminded me of something my MoM said about seeing the ex and I together almost one year ago. She was visiting San Diego for my birthday and it was her first glimpse of us in about 3 months. It's quite interesting to me that she had that impression, as she was probably 50 feet away at the time and the ex and I were shopping for stuff for my birthday party in a cheerful way. Post breakup (a little over one month after the costco encounter), when my MoM told me about her impression, I didn't really believe her.

I continued reading, and coincidentally, the next section was on relationship analysis. The topic was the research of a fellow named John Gottman who uses extremely analytical techniques to analyze the interaction between newlyweds. He records couples for 15 minutes and asks them to discuss how they met and anything contentious in their relationship. Then he reviews the video using an amazingly rigorous analysis. It turns out that after watching only 15 minutes of the couples talking he can predict with 90% accuracy whether they are together 15 years later.

The analysis is fairly strict and isn't fooled by couples who are very polite and appear fine on the surface. For instance, the example couple in the book is like this, they are joking and laughing while talking; however, some of the actions have deeper implications. When she rolls her eyes, that indicates contempt for him, one of the worst things for a relationship - and when he ignores what she is saying and rephrases his previous point, that indicates defensiveness, also another bad sign. As I was reading this, I realized that despite the idyllic nature of the three and a half year relationship, that it definitely had fundamental problems from the beginning as well. This was an amazingly great realization for me, as I was having a lot of trouble categorizing it as a bad realationship and understanding why it had to end. And even if it was bad, I was having trouble rationalizing how that didn't imply that there was something wrong with me. During the time we were together, no one ever said to me that they saw any problems with our relationship, in fact it was exactly the opposite. She has strong charisma and pretty much everyone I knew loved her immediately upon meeting her. Even after the breakup, only one friend said that they didn't think she was right for me (and she got that impression from a super tiny set of data, as Gladwell calls it "thin-slicing"). Despite this, and the fact that I was extremely happy with the relationship at least 98% of the time, I'm highly confident that at any point during the relationship we would have resoundingly failed Gottman's 15 minute analysis.

Why? To start off, she was never happy with the story of us meeting, so if we had started off with that, she would have been throwing unhappy signals immediately. I thought it was a cute story, and tried to modify in some way that she liked, but never did find a way to do that. Then we could have discussed any simple meaningless thing we disagreed on, and while there were only a handfull of things (ranging from the movie Memento to proper significant other board game behavior), we would have been stuck on that topic until the 15 minutes were up (and probably an hour if they didn't stop us). I don't think we ever once resolved a disagreement, no matter how small, during the entire relationship. We never really escalated disagreements, but we didn't resolve them either. I tried many different ways to get resolution, but pretty much ended up always giving in and just avoiding any future related conflict. She never gave in at the moment, but often apologized later. I thought that was good, but I suppose for a relationship to be healthy that can't be the only possible way to resolve a disagreement.

I had been repeating to myself for a year that there's nothing I could have done to keep her from leaving, but I never quite bought into it. My normal way of thinking about life is that if you want something bad enough then through persistence, creativity, hard work, and luck you can make it happen. So that makes it tough for me to understand that something like the relationship I had thought of as the most important in my life, would be completely outside of my control. However, that's what the truth turned out to be. The relationship wasn't "right" from the beginning.

Of course, when I told some friends about it taking nearly a year to get over her, then they started saying "oh yeah, that's fine - I'm surprised it didn't take longer"... LOL - But I suppose they were just trying to help me before when they said things like "Just get over her. Stop thinking about her"... That's friends for ya =) I think I'll return to my previous opinion of not weighting friend's opinions on people I'm dating higher than my own.

So now, with the weight of the relationship lifted from my shoulders, I feel free to go on living my life. In the end, I can't fault myself for not realizing the relationship was doomed, it was good while it lasted and I now can also believe that it set the foundation for even better relationships in the future. Funny thing, while I was grasping at straws, trying to encourage the ex to give our relationship another chance, I bought a book by John Gottman called The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work - I pretty much had put it into the "I'll never read" category, but now that he's played a key part in me getting over her, I may have to read it one of these days.

Friday, June 20, 2008

the road more traveled by

maybe it's not such a bad thing to have avoided the path more commonly traveled - at least for a bit... not sure exactly where the other path is leading, but certainly I'll look back one day and be glad.


youtube: I guess you'll do

And what's up with all these video posts? Gotta actually write something one of these days... I'm sure I have some comentary on the upcoming election, summer in San Diego, blue cars, silly cats, or something else amazingly entertaining to at least 1/1000th of the people that read it.

And, just cause I really don't have a hell of a lot else on my mind lately, here's a bonus robot video:


youtube: Micromouse - 2005 Expert winning robot

Our contest is significantly less expert... Haha - it should turn out well, but I'm sure the 2nd annual contest will have much more impressive videos =P

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ewok Gospel

Even though I classify myself as an Ewok hater, they did have the cuddly aspect - and I can appreciate cuddliness =)

The reason I am posting it though, is that this video reminds me why I love the internet:

Friday, June 6, 2008

Facebook Gangsta

I prefer myspace, but game recognizes game ;-)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Key

(flashback to approximately 6 months ago)
She repeated "I gave you the key for a reason"... After hearing that a few times, including from her friends, this phrase stuck in my head as if it was some kind of magic spell that I just needed to figure out how to invoke to end our separation.

Somehow though, if the reason for the key was that I would still be a part of her life and show up at her apartment unannounced, this reason never materialized in my reality. The more I tried to remain close to her, the further away she became. I tried everything I could, including avoiding her for some time, hoping the absence would make her heart grow fonder - and other things that I'm too embarrassed to write about. She never once gave me a glimmer of hope and more often than not was insulting/hurtful in her responses (totally out of character of the first 3.5 years of our relationship).

Unable to unlock it's secret, I placed the key on a Fleur-de-lis belt buckle I had purchased before she moved out, and put it into the glovebox of my car. As I worked through my emotions of being rejected/abandoned; I realized that I couldn't be depressed or thinking of her every single moment of my day-to-day life, and I redirected all thoughts of getting back together into the key.

As I slowly moved on, and perhaps understood some of the reasons why we couldn't be together, the key became a physical block against actually letting her go. No matter how much I told myself that I didn't need her, the key was the proof that I was still holding onto the hope of a return to dating. The key came up one time while talking to her. It was when she gave me back my key and she asked me for her key back. I didn't say too much, and she said something along the lines of, "I figured you would lose it".

(back to present time)
I've known for some time that I've needed to return the key in order to recover fully, but only today felt that I was up to doing it.

I wrote a short note to attach (thought of writing on a napkin like her Christmas note to me, but instead hand wrote neatly on a white piece of paper):
Endearest Fleur-de-lis,
I wish you luck with your new life. I'm sure that everything will work out perfectly fine for you, but even so nothing will ever convince me that you are better off without me.

Of course that is not my problem. But I do need to convince myself that I am better off without you. One step along that path is to return your key.
-sek

I tried to keep it as short and to the point as possible (and hopefully not overly desperate). Although I considered leaving the key without a note, I think the note was required in order to get "the last attempt" out of my system. Certainly, I would like for her to experience some emotion and maybe remember our relationship fondly when she sees the key, but really, I just needed to close the door on the past and truly let go.

Approaching her apartment with the key in my hand, feeling the cold, smooth metal of the belt buckle, it began to feel heavy and difficult to carry. The Lord of the Rings came to mind, along with the thought that this was probably the silliest thing I've ever done. Excuses started floating through my mind...
  • What if she was thinking about contacting me and this changes her mind? - nah, that's a stupid thought - you are just trying to wimp out
  • How can I get through the gated entrance? - just wait for a car to go in front
  • What if she's there? - unlikely, it's 2:30pm, she'll be at work, and if not, you'll see her car and can turn around
I open the door, see Jesus on the couch, and have a quick flood of emotion. I leave the key and note on the table and start to leave, but realize that it's a deadbolt only lock and there's no way to lock from the inside. Maybe it would add to the dramatic effect if the door was unlocked when she returns, but that's not my style. I quickly came up with a solution of separating the buckle and the key and then slipping the key under the door... Maybe that's good - the key was reduced to it's physical task and no longer emotionally linked with the Fleur-de-lis. Ok, kneeling at her door and thinking these stupid thoughts, this is definitely the silliest thing I've ever done!

Now there is no longer any physical thing in this world that is preventing me from moving on... it's definitely over... a lot less likely I'd take her back even if she did want to get back together.

As I walked back to my car, I felt a sense of relief & a release from the unrealistic expectation that I was holding onto. I think the worst part of letting go is the acknowledgment of failure at something that I put my full 100% effort into. But people who eventually achieve great success fail many times along the way. This was definitely a learning experience for me. And so, in the book of my life, this was the last page of the chapter where she was the #1 guest star.

I am content that I gave it my all, and I'm not listening to any critics, friend, foe, or other, who may say that I could have done anything differently. I've made my peace with it and am moving on with my life.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Common - Drivin’ Me Wild

Why are opposite sex relationships so much of a challenge? Seems whatever the other person really wants is the one thing you’d rather not give (or can’t give) and vise versa...







Common - Drivin’ Me Wild Lyrics

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Break Up

What started off as a pretty great day ended up as a bigger downer than I've had in quite a while. Interestingly (or maybe not), my opinion of how I feel about being single corresponded almost exactly with how I felt over the course of this particular day.

Woke up at about 8:30 this morning with a nice girl in the bed next to me. We had a good time waking each other up - or perhaps I was doing more of the waking, as she's not used to being up quite so early.

After departing the bed, I finished the laudry from the night before, got sheets washed, bed made, and the bathroom cleaned. Ok, so my female companion cleaned the bathroom - which was extremely nice of her (let's just say that my bathroom hasn't been this clean in a VERY long time). Having my room so much cleaner in one day boosted my hope of progressing even more with cleaning the place... At that moment, more so than any other in the last 6 months, I felt that I was beginning to understand why people often claim it's good to be single. Previous to that moment, I've always thought that was just what people said who:
  • a) are comforting someone who isn't in a relationship,
  • b) aren't in a relationship, but are avoiding being sad about it,
  • c) are currently in a relationship, but are putting a grass is greener, devil's advocate spin on their current situation.

To continue with the story of today... I taught the kids at 2pm and had a nice class. I always enjoy teaching them, but today was the first day I had an audience. The observer was another girl I've been dating who requested to watch a class (different from the bathroom cleaning girl). Ok, so some readers may detect a problem here. Or maybe they won't? I don't know what the current prevailing societal views on dating multiple people similtaneously are. Apparently lesbianisn is super trendy, but I'm not sure if that loosening of traditional rules has any impact on other aspects of relationships. Anyway, I think she enjoyed meeting Vic and the kids and had a nice time.

After the class, we went to Marshalls, bought some clothes and trinkets, had a light dinner at Panera Bread, and hung out there until they closed. So far so good... Pretty much all I could ask for from a Sunday - in fact, I'd say it was far above average.

After returning home, the conversation ended up in a bit of a sad place - we were joking around and she ended up hurt over the fact that I wasn't willing to be exclusive with her. It's not like she was being at all unreasonable, all she wanted from me was one very simple request... pretty much the basic requirement for any romantic relationship: to say that I wouldn't date other people at the same time. Although, I'm fairly certain she would have settled for affirmation that it was possible I would be exclusive with her someday. She is a great person: smart, sexy, nurturing, and understanding - she totally deserves to have that simple request and so much more honored. It even would have made me temporarily happy to acquiese. The irony, and perhaps this is the central irony of all "amicable" break-ups is that I didn't want to string her along by being dishonest - so I didn't say it. She, to her credit, decided that it was time for her to go...

Now I'm left to myself, to contemplate that this is the closest I've come to actually breaking up with someone... It doesn't feel good at all, at this moment it seems like I should have just lied. I've always thought it was a positive character trait that I'm not the kind to break up casually. Isn't that the whole point of being commited? But perhaps there is another side to this as well? If you are the type that never breaks up, is that really just pushing 100% of the decision as to whether you are in a good relationship to the other person?

After I walked her to her car, the last thing she said was "I love you Stan"... I wanted to reciprocate, because I really do love her, but I couldn't imagine how that would make her feel any better, and I was silent. As she drove away, I had an eerie feeling - similar to the times in the past when girls have broken up with me. But that's not what just happened here... Then why am I crying? it's pretty good be single huh?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Expectations, insomnia, and defeat

It's 4am, and I'm in bed but not yet asleep...
Some days this happens to me - it's possible it could have to do with the concentrated Vietnamese iced coffee I had at lunch, but as that was well over 12 hours ago, it's definitely not the only reason I'm awake. I'm more than physically able to fall asleep at the moment but my mind won't let go of consciousness. The best way I can describe my current mood / predicament is by referencing the most memorable, recurring situation I encounter in my dreams. It's a situation where I'm in a hurry or trying to get somewhere for some important reason and I'm running. More accurately, I'm attempting to run, because I'm barely moving. It feels like I'm stuck in some type of thick gel and the faster I try to move, the slower I actually move. However, due to the importance of rapid movement, despite the fact that logic would dictate a different course of action, I'm still putting 110% effort into flexing my muscles in an attempt to run.

So, I've been up all night coding, chatting, reading, or doing other random crap on my laptop. Looking back or forward in time tells me that there's nothing significant that I can accomplish in however many minutes I have available tonight. And even if I did accomplish some significant task, it would cost me nearly all my productivity and motivation tomorrow. But somehow, these are the times when that type of logic doesn't prevent the frustration of running at 110% in an unknown direction, where trying harder only makes me go slower, and yet trying harder seems to be the only answer left. Is this what others are experiencing when they say they have insomnia? Being someone who falls asleep easily (usually even if I'm trying to stay awake), I don't have too much of an understanding of what insomnia is.

Perhaps the trigger for my current insomnia is from an encounter with a friend's 10 year old nephew earlier today who commented on the asteroid game I was working on in support of the class I'm teaching. He commented on a concurrency bug I was fixing and showed me the BREW game he was playing on his phone. Somehow the comparison of the asteroids game I was working on to the sophistication of the game on the tiny handheld device hit me hard. The game he's playing is an insignificant piece of code, and yet it's sophistication makes the asteroids game look completely pointless - like a toddler's scribbles vs a highly detailed painting of a master.
Occasionally, at moments such as that, I am astounded by the fact that there is good software out there. Self doubt rears it's ugly head and makes me question my own software ability... When I think about it, the facts are in my favor: I am highly productive at work, always have been in every job I've had. It's extremely rare to find someone who's significantly faster than me at any individual task. My focus over the longer term is on process, management, organization, cooperation, etc This agrees with the prevailing opinion of software literature, for example: The Mythical 5%

Having reached some type of plateau at my current job, I have been thinking lately about what my next step is on the path towards running an insanely successful software company is. It's possible that it's just to taste a bit more success on a few larger projects, so that self-doubt is less capable of bothering me. Or perhaps even just observe the development of some software that turns out with such a more visually stunning product than the enterprise middleware I've worked with for most of my career.

I really have enjoyed teaching the kids the asteroids game, and yet I can't get a small saying out of my head: Those who can't do teach. It seems to have some veracity to it.... but, I've often thought that teaching allows one to understand their subject matter at an even deeper level and should help to improve productivity. Beyond teaching coworkers, kids, etc, I spend a high percentage of my free time on the computer coding, reading, planning, etc, so there really isn't much more muscle flexing I can put into becoming a more successful software developer.

I do believe the saying that one can only realize defeat if they admit to that defeat... Perhaps the currently non-functioning answer to the effort dilemma is to realize: I am where I am, I'll eventually get where I'm going, and I will never admit defeat.

Although that bit of wisdom sounds nice, there's nothing there which my mind hadn't already realized or just isn't listening too; however, it seems that writing this entry did the trick. I can feel the blackness of sleep, with it's promise of starting over fresh in the morning, beginning to drift over me...

I wonder if I'll be running in place in my dreams...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Millionaire Matchmaker on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch

I've gotten hooked on Donny Deutsch's show "The Big Idea" lately. It's cool to see people in various states of elevated financial success. It's like a dose of "It's possible!" once a week =)

Saw the Millionaire Matchmaker on there tonight. I think she's mainly focused on chicas snaring rich dudes, but Donny said "don't be sexist" and they discussed a guy finding a rich girl too. I know when I saw a girl at the mall on Sunday, picking up her Jaguar XK-R from the valet car wash, I was intrigued... And when I see a girl in a SL600 or Maserati Coupe or Lambo Gallardo (all sighted within 5 miles of my place) it definitely catches my attention. I don't think I am so shallow that I would be happy pursuing someone just for money, but there is something exciting about thinking about matching up with someone like that. I suppose it would be a total validation of my own worth to have someone like that interested in me. Plus, I have aspirations of starting multiple businesses and need to start associating with other successful people in order to get mentorship, ideas, etc.
Google found Wiki How / Find a Rich Woman To Date - LOL

I've often thought that one of my gf's responsibilities is to counter balance my natural frugal tendencies and convince me it's ok to spend a little money on myself. Somehow, I have some guilt about spending money on myself... Perhaps it's the midwest upbringing, or the fact that some of my family isn't exactly rolling or just habit - not sure. Certainly some chick driving a 100k plus car would have a counterbalancing effect without even saying a word.

I've gotta get a haircut... and clean/fixup my condo =) and start making more money - LOL