Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Dad, Stones Versus Beatles, And Water In Tires

My dad says there are two types of people in the world: "Rolling Stones people" and "Beatles people."

My dad never liked the Beatles. He doesn't hate them. And I think he has mellowed over the years. He liked George Harrison. But his separation really isn't about the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. The idea was there are people who become what people want them to become. Pacifist people who sing "Hey Jude" and like popular music and like to rant against war and corporations or for that matter, rant about Democrats. Then there are people who sing "War, children...just a shot away," people who like what they like, who hate work, but do work, people who kind-of like to fight, people who get angry and let you know it. People who live and exist no matter what others think.

This classification system reminds me of a community service day in high school. Our home room chose to help a housing agency clean up some rural impoverished households. We went to this one house where some old guy had collected old tires for twenty years. There was rain water in them. They were piled up in a muddy field. The kids in my homeroom were professors' sons and daughters. They did not like the mud. They could not lift the tires. I dove right into the mud. I could lift the tires. I was throwing them on the truck. I was upset that no one was helping. I was upset that I had mud all over me. The agency lady said we should get the water out of the tires. I growled at her "Do you have a drill?" She didn't ask any more questions and let me put the tires on the truck.

That's the difference. It isn't about the Stones versus the Beatles. It is about attitude.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Concussions And Such

I played football for nine years. Five years at the high school level. Four years at the NCAA Division III level. I was never completely knocked out. The only injuries I was ever treated for was a broken wrist, a broken finger, and a broken leg. But I did get my bell rung a number of times.

One time in high school we were going through our mid-season "hell week." We were 0-4, and the coach thought we needed to beat the shit out of one another to get better. We were doing this drill where one guy plays the fullback and one guy plays an unblocked defensive end. The full back gets a 5-7 yard running start and tries to knock the defensive end (who gets a couple of yards) off his feet. I went through the first time and knocked the defensive end down. I was woozy, and the second time I think the defensive end got me. I probably did the drill another four or five times. I was woozy throughout, but I certainly couldn't say anything. I would have probably been chastised for not having enough air in my helmet, and told to "suck it up."

During my first practice in college, we were doing a chute drill, I had almost no air in my helmet because we're in shorts, and a senior intentionally missed the bag and put his face-mask right into my face-mask and knocked me silly. I wasn't right for three or four days. This was my first college practice, and I certainly couldn't have said anything.

The point of these stories is that concussions and football have gone together for a long time and occur at all levels. New helmets will help, but football players and coaches have to change their behavior if anything is really going to change.

Thoughts While Watching People Drive On Ice Who Should Stay The Hell At Home

1. This morning my wife in San Antonio asked me "Why would you drive on the snow and ice if you didn't have to?" I replied "I have to get out of the apartment." She said "Getting out can wait until the afternoon when the sun, plows, and the idiots have made it much easier." She had a point, but afternoon is here, and I have cabin fever.

2. I really enjoy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The Office. I don't know exactly what the word irreverent means, but irreverent is the first word that comes to my mind. Both shows are just funny and perfect for the 20-minute format.

3. I watched the complete season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and most of The Office online for free. I know the advertisers can't be putting that much into the shows. I know Steve Carell gets paid a lot of money. Media is constantly changing, and advertising is changing. I can't wait to see what the future holds.

4. On a similar note, I finally finished Gladwell's Blink. To me, the next frontier of marketing, politics, social science research involves the idea that "we don't know much of anything when it comes to humans, but what do we do with what we think we know?" This revelation isn't enlightening and the idea has been around forever. But we have finally moved past the Renaissance/enlightenment idea that humans can know it all. The idea that given time and proper experiments we could discover the secrets of the universe. Micro-evolution and adaptation are not deterministic processes. It isn't about probability either. The last year should have taught people that there are fundamental shifts and changes. The past only approximates the future, and the quality of this approximation changes.

Joe Posnanski Does It Again

Joe Posnanski gives Up In The Air two thumbs up. Here are my two favorite paragraphs:

"I have not seen a great movie in a long time. It seems like I used to see great movies constantly — every few weeks, at least. Good movies were great. Mediocre movies could be great too. Maybe it is because my expectations were different. Maybe it’s because i was different. I could get lost in a movie when I was younger. It didn’t have to be brilliantly acted or snappily written or even plausible … as long as it had something real about it, something that could take me from here to there … I would go. I could go. Maybe that’s a child’s gift. I could disappear. The bright lights when the movie ended were blinding...

When Up in the Air ended, I wanted to sit there for a while and think about it. Maybe it was because I travel so much. Maybe it seemed well written. Maybe I like George Clooney. Whatever, this was an old feeling — the feeling I used to have about movies when I was a kid. I think the movie was great, truly great, but I’m not sure about that. In my younger, movie-loving days, it did not matter if the movie was “good” or “bad” or “OK” or any of the places in between. All that mattered was the feeling when it was over."

Read the whole post.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Some Things

  1. It is hell getting old. My hamstring and back are tight. I can't lift anything over 20 pounds anymore without getting sore. I am becoming my dad.
  2. I rode on a plane with a blind guy and his seeing-eyed dog, a bullshitter who said he played for the Patriots, and two non-nice stewardresses. The blind guy was fine and courageous, but he did require an amount of special treatment. It was just an interesting experience. The bullshitter said he played for the Patriots during their 18 and 1 season. He said they had lost focus at the end of the season. He couldn't remember who they played in the last game of the regular season. He told a guy his name. He said he was going to sign with the Cowboys next week after a week of rehab. He had just had knee surgery at Johns Hopkins (I think he just said Baltimore), but he did not walk with any limp and had no brace. He was shorter than me. He might have been a good small college player, but he did not play in the NFL. The flight attendants weren't ugly, ugly acting, or abusive. They just weren't nice. That really decreases the enjoyment of a flight.
  3. I saw REO Speedwagon play on Saturday night at a private party. They were old. I still can't figure out if there were any original members left. But they rocked. If I have half their passion at their age, then I will be a happy man. I am not a big believer in "callings" or the idea that we all have to do something we love. But we have to keep on searching and struggling. It is better to be passionate about bullshit than apathetic about bullshit. The secret is seeing that most everything has a probability of being fake and ultimately fruitless, but that doesn't give one permission to mail it in. REO Speedwagon should have mailed it in, but they didn't. There is a lesson to be learned from this.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Grocery Stores

When I was home, my dad and I talked about the grocery store he has worked in for the last thirty years. It is failing. Harris Teeter opened up on the other side of town, and business is down by at least 25 percent. Management (I guess I should say ownership) which he is part of has made a push to be a "local" business. They have tried to highlight their local vendors and their local products. They have put their old employees in the local paper. They have adopted a retro-hippie localvore our-town-first strategy.

I thought the strategy was foolish. I thought it was fake. Grocery stores by there very nature cannot be local businesses. They do not make fruit loops or grow bananas in Virginia. It is impossible. If you want to be a grocery store, you have to be a global business. Of course most customers don't see it this way. Some people think that buying from a local "mom and pop's" is somehow better than buying from Harris Teeter.

Now, the strategy also fails on practical grounds. The majority owner does not live in town. One of the old guys has never lived in town. My dad has lived in town his whole life but works too much to really be involved in town politics or even the volunteer fire department. He also believes that business success ultimately depends on providing value to customers. In other words "being local" is not a reason in itself to shop at the grocery store. Business is about reducing transportation and transaction costs (having locational monopoly power) and providing better and/or cheaper products.

I guess it gets back to doing what you think is right, and going with it. But I still worry about the store, and I don't like the fakeness of their marketing campaign. I would prefer them to concentrate on providing value to customers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

My Morning And Getting Things Done Or The Genius of Getting Things Done

My mom hosted Thanksgiving this year. We have our lunch/dinner at 1:00PM. I got home at 5:30PM on Wednesday, but during the day I realized that our (my mom's) house was a mess. There were a thousand things to do between 6:00PM Wednesday and 12:59PM Thursday.

Being the good son I am, I wanted to help. My mom told me to not worry about it Wednesday night. Thursday morning she was getting flustered. We needed ice. We needed to sweep. We needed to clean the bathroom. We needed to walk the dog. We needed to make beds etc. etc. etc. I said we needed to stop and discuss everything that needed to be done and assign tasks, next actions to her, my dad and I. She didn't listen. She just kept doing things. I kept doing things, and my dad kept doing things. We just went after it with no idea what "it" was.

Of course, Thanksgiving went well. Everything that needed to be done was done. Nobody got food poisoning or bacterial infections. But it was a very stressful morning. And my mom did the same thing the next Sunday when she decided to put up her Christmas decorations.

This morning I was waiting for the cable man. An hour after he was supposed to be there, I got a follow-up "how good was our service" call. I immediately called customer service, stayed on hold for 20 minutes, and was told that the repairman had completed the service. It was an outside repair, so he did not need to come in and didn't feel obligated to call me. I was pissed, but this is life in the 21st century.

While I was waiting, I tried to clean my mess of an apartment. I washed some clothes. I picked up some things. I washed some dishes. But I did exactly like my mom, I blindly attacked the mess.

I never really thought that there was a big problem with this way of doing things, but it finally hit me this morning. By jumping right in, I have no idea when I am finished. I have no idea what kind of progress I made this morning. I can't say what I need to finish before I leave tomorrow. I get no sense of accomplishment, and now I am in the office, and I feel like the morning was wasted. I have probably increased my stress-load.

Part of the answer is David Allen's system. But it is really about learning to take a deep breathe before acting. Attacking something blindly might be a way to start things, but it is never a way to finish things. And most of life is about finishing.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Health Care Post Or We're Not There Yet

Three and half years ago, my wife was diagnosed with two herniated discs. She was in graduate school with crappy insurance. She got an MRI, the diagnosis of two herniated discs, and the doctors told her that her best option was epidural shots. The idea being that she should avoid surgery and only have surgery as a last option. She had two or three shots over about a twelve month period. They worked for a while. She finally payed off these doctors last month.

Then she transferred, the pain came back, she got a new MRI, and her new doctors didn't think that the shots would help anymore. They sent her to a surgeon. The surgeon told her that given her situation, surgery was not an option. He sent her to a pain management specialist. The pain management specialist treated her with a short-lived chiropractic and physical therapy experiment, prescriptions, a procedure, and more (non-narcotic) prescriptions. He did exactly what he was supposed to do; he managed her pain. She (no, we) still owe these doctors and hospitals a substantial amount of money. They will not be paid in full for at least a year.

Then she got a job and moved. She got another MRI. The new pain management doctor would not treat her, saying that her two herniated discs were beyond pain management. He said that the pain management procedure was useless and unnecessary. She was sent to another surgeon. He said that she should have had surgery years ago. The surgery-hospital experience wasn't great. The nurses couldn't get on the same page to help her recover and be home in a day, but she did well and was home after two days. Right now, she is at a two-month post-surgery appointment and doing better than before the diagnosis. She has much better insurance now, so we will be able to pay most of these doctors and hospitals off in the next month or two.

My wife says that she has lived in pain for three and half years, because she had horrible insurance and self-interested doctors. I think it has more to do with the inexact science of medicine and doctors who do not know and refuse to admit that they don't know.

Today will be the first time she has seen the surgeon in person since she had the surgery. When I met the surgeon, I didn't think he wanted to deal with patients, but I thought he was focused, a quality I appreciate in surgeons. She has been his office for over an hour now. This lack of service isn't something I appreciate.

The whole experience pulls me in different directions. In a way, I think there were a number inefficiencies, the multiple MRIs, the lack of post-op care, the redundancy of visits, the lack of discussion on different options, and the general bureaucracy of insurance and hospitals. But I can't really imagine a better way. I think that a good public insurance program would have worked a similar way and have back-loaded our out-of-pocket expenses. (Our taxable income should be increasing in the next few years.) A bad program would have meant that she wouldn't have had the surgery yet, be addicted to narcotic painkillers, and it would have back-loaded our out-of-pocket expenses.
I guess the point here is that eventually you have to decide what you believe in, what you are willing to fight for, what you want out of the world where you breathe, eat and sleep. I believe in individual freedom. And if "they" cross that line, I am willing to fight for it. But I don't think we're there yet.

We're getting closer, but we're not there yet.

Ol' Pat Jordan

I forgot how great this article was. Same thing Rocky said in the last post, but the most important lessons in life need to be taught a thousand times before they really sink in.

Ol' Rocky

If he can't get you fired up, who can?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Comment

I have mellowed. I don't argue as much as I used to. I try not to get upset about politics or news. I try to flush the "social" bullshit from my brain. I have too much personal bullshit to flush or wade through to worry about the "world." Life is about what is right in front of you. It is about making money and teaching yourself to be happy. I am not good enough to get paid to worry about the world.

So, I have not followed Climategate. I am skeptical about climate change. I am more skeptical about what politicians can do. There will be no solutions in Copenhagen. But none of this is worth me wasting my time worrying about. What I have taken away from Climategate is something I have learned during my time in graduate school, professors, scientists, and policymakers are all bullshitters. And to be a really good bullshitter, you have to passionate about your bullshit. Al Gore is a passionate guy. He is more passionate than the skeptics. I accept that. And as I said before, I am not good enough or passionate enough and don't care enough to challenge the Al Gores of the world.

But then I saw this post and this video. All I can say is it made me mad. It proved my bullshitter theory, especially Holdren's reply to Bradley. Of course, I don't have the courage to do anything. But it kind of feels good to be mad again.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Some Things

1. I have ear hair. It is on my lobe, not in my ear. It is faint and hard to notice. But it is there.

2. I don't know what to think about number 1. I am dumbfounded by it. I will probably trim it this evening, but how did it get there? Is it a sign of me getting older, wiser? Is it because of secondhand smoke? Will I have to take care of this hair growth for the rest of my life?

3. I was going to criticize UVA's hiring of Mike London. I don't like the idea of replacing Groh with someone from the Groh tree. I think UVA needs a completely different direction. A direction that accepts it isn't Virginia Tech, a direction that embraces the "we're one of the best and most rigorous academic institutions in the U.S." attitude. But the end of this article suggests that it does seem like London is a player's coach, so I guess we'll see.

4. I don't really care about UVA football or VT football. It is just something I was raised with, and I thought UVA would have gone after a bigger Division I-A name.

5. If I really didn't care that much about it, then why did I spend the time to post it.

6. I am reminded of the old saying, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results." This will be my saying for my week.

7. This is the funniest thing I have seen in a while. It sums up the Groh era well.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Why I Couldn't Be A Football Coach

After today's Redskins' game, if I was Jim Zorn, this is what I would say at the post-game news conference:

"Well, I felt like the interception-fumble for a touchdown at the end of the first half could have gone either way. I think Sellers fumble could have gone either way. My real question is did Sellers quit going after the ball because of the whistle, and we saw what happened at the end of the first half. What if? Where is the damned counter-factual? How can you let a referee decide what would have happened if the dumb-ass side judge hadn't blown the whistle? How in the hell did he have indisputable video evidence? I am going to lose my job because of what some referee thought might have happened.

I say all of this fully recognizing that the calls and the bounces could have gone either way. Football is a game of luck. We aren't that good, but we were unlucky as hell out there today. In fact, we sucked for the first eight or nine weeks of the season. But we've played okay the last three weeks and we're 0-3. I believe as a team, as an organization, we don't know how to win yet. But that is bullshit too. We are all professionals. We have all won and lost before. And we'll win and lose again.

Some times things don't go you way. And it gives your fans ulcers. And it gets coaches fired. And it gets Canadian kickers waived. But you know what it is just a football game. Snyder is making money. The NFL is making money. Players are making money. I will be fired, but I've made money too.

Also for the record, I don't think too much of Sean Payton. I don't think he or Gregg Williams agrees with my "luck" philosophy. But we all know he'll get beat and probably won't win a Super Bowl. Our mediocre team proved that they aren't that good. If they couldn't stop us, then they'll never stop Favre and the Vikings. Also we found out that Brees is human too. But it really is a game of luck, so who knows what will happen?

Thank you, now all of you reporters can go back to covering Tiger Woods. He is a much more interesting story and his story doesn't anyone ulcers. Except for him and Elin, and maybe their immediate family."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Saturday Morning Thoughts

1. I made a salsa burger last night. I know this isn't original. But it was real tasty.

2. We have arrived at the last week of the regular season in Division I-A college football. After tonight, I don't think we will know who the best two teams in college football are, but we will have a championship game.

3. A playoff system would have to start this week or at the latest next week. That would be strange.

4. Oregon lost to Boise State. Boise State probably won't play in a BCS game.

5. Ohio State lost to USC. USC won't play in a BCS game.

6. Georgia Tech lost to Georgia and Miami. I could go on with this logic. I always felt that a team should know exactly what it had to do to make the post-season. For example, BCS conference teams have to win their conference. So I don't feel that sorry for USC or Georgia. But I don't think Oregon or Ohio State would have won the SEC. I certainly don't know what to say about Boise State and TCU. And is the BCS really a post-season?

7. It is just college football.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Something I Wrote

Tiger Woods reminds of this post. I guess I should say the Tiger Woods situation, but I think the situation is Tiger Woods. It is the "Same Thing" that makes him want to win so bad-, the "same old thing that makes the tomcats fight all night."

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Groh, Woods, And Honesty

There are two kinds of people in the world; those who seek honesty at all cost, and those who don't worry about honesty and create a delusional world where they are happy and successful.

The delusional world people can be very successful. The people who seek honesty cost hate delusional people and want to be like them at the same time.

I read the "Man in the Glass" poem in a motivational packet before a high school game. I don't think it is a great poem. It didn't speak to me then. It didn't speak to me when Al Groh repeated it Saturday.

But some times you have to live in your own world. A world where football means something and "your best" is all that matters.

Honesty at all costs requires one to look deep inside. It requires one to realize that "your best" might not be good enough. It requires you to admit that you've made commitments that you can't keep. It requires you to admit that we're all derived demands and dependent on somebody. And every time we think we aren't, life has a tendency to slap you in the face.

Delusions take away the sting. But the bruises are still there for everyone to see.