Life’s Been Good to Me, So Far

Songs have an almost magical way of transporting us back to another time. One song in particular makes me think of my dad…

dad_NHRA_2013

Songs have an almost magical way of transporting us back to another time.  One song in particular makes me think of my dad…Joe Walsh’s, “Life’s Been Good to Me So Far.”  Every time I hear it, I’m about eleven years old, very early in the morning, on the way to Escape Country.  This song is playing on the radio.  I know my mom and brother were there too, but when it comes to this song, my memory only conjures up my dad.

Escape Country is long gone.  In the ‘70’s, Escape Country was a motorcycle riding park in Orange County, located about ten miles from Cook’s Corner.  I’m pretty sure Dove Canyon is built mostly where Escape Country used to be.

“I have a mansion, forget the price

Ain’t never been there they tell me it’s nice”

My dad has a way of focusing on the task at hand, while having fun.  In this case, his task was being the president of the Hilltoppers Motorcycle Club, and this was our annual Gran Prix race weekend at Escape Country.  A series of 60-90 minute races with various motorcycle sizes and rider skill levels, ranging from mini-bikes to 500cc’s, and beginner to expert.

“My Maserati does 185

I lost my license now I don’t drive”

The president of the club has overall responsibility for the race, and works with everyone else in the club to create the best possible racing experience for the racers. On race days, one of my dad’s specific jobs was to line up each race at the start.  I was amazed by the way my dad was able to keep everything straight.  How did he know which bikes went where?  It was always noisy, dusty, and confusing to me.  And yet, he’d refer to a small piece of paper, look at the numbers on the bikes and immediately know where they were supposed to go.  I remember he’d often carry a wooden stake to use as a pointer.  He might as well have been an orchestra conductor in my eyes.

“I’m making records my fans they can’t wait

They write me letters tell me I’m great”

These were dead-engine, Le Mans-style starts.  The bikes were on one side of the track, and the racers were lined-up on the other side.  When my dad dropped the banner (which I helped raise and lower), the racers would run across the track, jump on their bikes, hope they started on the first kick, and, in a cloud of dust and rocks, they’d be racing down into the first turn.

“So I got me an office gold records on the wall

Just leave a message maybe I’ll call”

My dad took the time to watch about the first five minutes of each race, and then he was focused on preparing the start for the next race.  This meant re-making the white lines to delineate the starting positions.  I remember one of my jobs was to mark off the distance between the lines.  I know now that he probably didn’t need my help, but at the time, I was a key part of the process.

“Lucky I’m sane after all I’ve been through

Everybody says I’m cool (He’s cool)”

Amazingly, my dad always seemed to wrap up the start-line preparations with fifteen to twenty minutes to spare before the next race was to start.  This was enough time to jump on his bike and ride to various spots, checking-in with other members of the club to get a status from them.  We didn’t have radios or cell phones back then, so communications happened the old fashioned way:  face-to-face.  He also had time to watch a bit more racing, and then back to the starting area to coordinate the newly arriving racers for the next race.

“I go to parties sometimes until four

It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door”

My job during the down time?  Riding over to the sign-up area on our Honda Trail 50 to get the piece of paper with numbers that he used as the basis for setting up the next race.  Sometimes, while at sign-up, I’d get involved in helping the sign-up crew for a few minutes before returning to the starting area.  Again, I was a key part of the process.

“They say I’m lazy but it takes all my time

Everybody says Oh yeah (Oh yeah)”

When the last race of the weekend ended, the work was far from over.  Course markings, ribbons, barricades, banners, and everything else that we’d put up in preparation for the race had to be taken down.  Most of the items would be reused in following years, so the put-away process was almost as important as the put-up process.  I wanted nothing more than to help.  I wanted to be like my dad.  Doing anything other than working toward the goal of finishing the job never entered my mind.  I was part of my dad’s team and that is all that mattered.

“It’s tough to handle this fortune and fame 


Everybody’s so different I haven’t changed”

Thank you, Dad, for always making me a key part of the process.  Thank you for always trusting me to be at your side.  Thank you for always knowing I could do the things you asked of me.  Thank you for having confidence in me, even if I wasn’t so sure.  Thank you for making me a valuable part of your team.

“I keep on going, guess I’ll never know why 


Life’s been good to me so far”   

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  I love you.

TEDx ChapmanU

TED Photo

I heard about TED talks from a friend many years ago.  TED was started in 1984 as a conference to bring together people from three worlds:  Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  TED talks are limited to no more than 18 minutes in length, and cover a wide array of topics, all focused on “ideas worth spreading.”  More than 1,400 talks are available for viewing on-line.  We heard today that TED talks have over one billion combined views.

Janet and I were excited to see a TED event in person today at Chapman University.  Our youngest daughter, Jennifer, is home from school for a couple weeks, so an added bonus was having her attend with us.

Here’s a quick taste of what we learned today from the fourteen speakers (twelve “live,” and two on video), in no particular order:

Shawn Achor told us that 90% of our happiness is internal, 10% from our surroundings.  He also said that people who view stress as a challenge and not a threat are much happier.  He was incredibly funny, and one of the fastest talkers I’ve ever seen.

Phil Hansen told us to embrace the shake.  He is an artist with a condition that makes his hand shake.  He left his art for about three years because of it.  When he went to a doctor to see what could be done, the doctor informed him that nothing could be done, and that he recommended that Phil embrace the shake.  Phil found that by embracing our limits, we find ways to go beyond them.  Let go of outcomes, failures and imperfections.  Don’t be encumbered by results.  Show up for the process and allow the limitations to harness your creativity.  His artwork is awesome.

Allyn Rose talked about her decision to have a double mastectomy to prevent getting breast cancer.  She had lost three family members, including her mother, to breast cancer.  As she said, the odds were very high that she would be afflicted by the disease at some point.

Lisa Sparks talked about improving healthcare-related communications.  80% of all medical errors are a result of communication problems.  She talked about ways for the healthcare provider, the patients, and the patient’s family to arrive at shared meanings on the wide array of topics that surround a person’s health and their healthcare decisions.

Ali Nayeri discussed String Cosmology Theory as a basis for understanding the universe.  He showed how the theory can be used to describe the behavior of galaxies in multiple dimensions, not just flat like the current theories would dictate.  It was at this point that he lost at least half of the audience, including me.  I felt like I recovered when he showed a diagram of two universes flowing from one side to another through a symbolic sideways hourglass.  The idea is that there are really two universes with one contracting and the other expanding.  The point where they cross looks to the observer like an origin, or singularity (the Big Bang).  He showed how String Theory supports the existence of these two universes and that there wasn’t really ever a Big Bang.

Jennifer Sullivan talked about Frictionology.  Between 1860 and 1890, 500,000 patents were issued.  This was 10x more than the previous 70 years combined.  During that time, she said that there was limited competition, and no friction.  With competition, people get choices, and there is friction.  Understanding friction is important, since friction is where the money is made.  Good friction equals access to, and curation of, the good stuff, and dumping of the bad stuff.  People have discovered that content is the best way to sell other stuff.  She ended her talk by saying that a big trend now is not Do It Yourself, but Make it Yourself.  Consumers want the tools and they will make the rest.

Michael Goldsby talked about the future of medicine.  With the ubiquity of smart phones and other easy-to-use data capture devices, it’s  possible to capture a tremendous amount of data about a person in real time.  All of this real time data can be analyzed to create actionable insights for the patient.  He talked about how smart phones and their apps can become a digital sixth sense from a medical perspective, and can be a foundational part of the coming Internet of Everything.

Kathy Thomson talked about her company, the LA Times, and the things they are doing to remain relevant and valuable in the age of digital delivery.  She said that the challenge for them isn’t so much the content, but ensuring that they can put it where, when, and how the reader wants it.  She discussed the maverick/mainstream paradox.  How do they innovate in sometimes radical directions, while continuing to preserve their mainstream values that make their content so valuable.

Prince Gomolvilas, the only Thai-American playwright (according to himself), talked about maintaining your integrity and your ideals, even when faced with overwhelming financial threats.  He told a riveting story about a play he wrote for a “very fancy private school” in the Bay Area for their 8th grade class.  The theme of the play ran counter to what the school’s largest donors thought was acceptable.  He had a choice of either modifying his play and its theme, or keeping it as originally written.  The potential consequence was alienating the large donors and causing huge financial harm to the school.  You will have to watch the video on the TED website to learn what he decided.

The Orange County Youth Symphony Orchestra had two of their percussion representatives perform an extremely complicated drum duet, based on a native American rhythm.  They didn’t say anything and let their instruments do all the talking.

Kristen Howerton told us about being in Haiti with her six-month-old daughter, visiting her soon-to-be-adopted son on the day of the horrific earthquake.  To cope with the devastation, and her inability to do anything except care for her daughter and soon-to-be son, she focused attention on packing and re-packing her suitcase so she’d be ready to leave whenever a plane became available.  It became a diversion and coping mechanism for her.  The “punch line” to the story:  when a plane was available at the US Embassy, there was no room for any luggage, and she had to give up her coping diversion in order to get home.  She related this to other diversions in our lives, like the internet.  She called the internet the diversion to end all diversions, and said that we need to be willing to leave it behind enough to take the time to experience the feelings of real life.  As a psychologist, she said, “The only way to work through crappy feelings is to walk through crappy feelings.”  Diversions often prevent this process.

Mark Pampanin talked about why being an icon isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Specifically, he discussed the tokenizing of gay men.  Look at most television shows…he described the “token” gay man in every show.  As a gay man, he said that he’d rather we all just treat each other as people, and not the “token anything.”

Liz Fiacco discussed transferrable skills, specifically the skills we hone using computer games, and their application to our real lives.  The power of games comes from their rapid teach and test cycles.  She proposed greater use of computer games as teaching tools.  She described how a computer game was used to figure out how to fold proteins within a few weeks, after being something that stumped scientists for years.

Reggie Gilyard talked about leadership in the New Normal World of Rapid Change.  He talked about Circuit City, Egypt, and Lehman Brothers.  All are organizations that were unable to respond to the rapid changes happening around them.  CEO’s set direction, organize, select people, motivate, and establish systems and processes for their companies to operate.  Running through all of these tasks is the need to establish signals that allow them to see and manage risks, manage time, and understand their customers’ behaviors.  Think fast, and move faster.

Gwynne Shotwel talked about the need for increased investment and focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education in the US.  Engineers are never satisfied, they always want to improve on what they’ve built.  The best solutions are the simplest ones…less complexity wins.  If only one person can do something, that means that someone else can too.  She related this to how her company, SpaceX, decided to build heat shielding tiles in-house since there was only one supplier out there, and they didn’t want to get “screwed” by that sole-source provider.  She peppered her talk with video highlights of SpaceX’s rockets.  Rockets are cool.

I highly recommend attending a TED event.

A great thing happened last night…

Our phone, internet and cable TV stopped working.  We used my cell phone to notify our provider and schedule a technician to visit this morning.

Janet had an early morning appointment, so she was up and out of the house early.  Rather than eat my breakfast while watching some Sunday morning show, or something I had previously recorded, I sat out on the patio and enjoyed my Coach’s Oats with a cut up banana…and a hot chocolate.

Far from silence, I was sitting in the middle of a chorus of bird songs.  The flutter of wings, and the squeaks of hummingbirds greeted me as I sat there.  Everything else was quiet, and while I sat motionless, a flock of quail strolled in to sample the seeds I had put out on the hill behind our house.  They didn’t even notice me as they milled about, chirping at each other and eating.

After finishing breakfast, I didn’t check my email.  I didn’t check my news feed in FaceBook.  I didn’t check out my Twitter feed.  I didn’t pop-up Zite.  I didn’t fire up my favorite Pandora channel.

I grabbed my Kindle and read.  This is something usually reserved for the final sleepy minutes of my day, around bedtime.  A big reading session at that time is about fifteen minutes.  This morning, I read for about two hours.  It’s amazing how fast I can read when I’m actually awake and not distracted.

Of course, there were times when the bird action around me was so intense that I couldn’t help but stop reading and enjoy the show.  I also heard an argument going on up the hill from our house between a mom and her twenty-something daughter.  It’s sad that they were spending their early Sunday time arguing.  Seems like a waste of a glorious morning.

I hear the technician arriving out front.  I wonder if I should answer the door when he knocks.

P.S.  Since you’re seeing this post, you guessed it…I answered the door.  We may be back on the grid, but we plan to make this house a grid-free zone on a regular basis going forward.

Whack-a-Mole

Whack-a-mole

If you’ve spent any time in an arcade, bowling alley, or Dave and Buster’s, you’ve probably seen a Whack-a-Mole game.

The player uses a mallet to whack “moles” in the head as they pop up randomly from under the “ground” in front of them.  The moles appear and disappear randomly, sometimes popping-up all at once, one-at-a-time, two-at-a-time, etc.  The winner is the player who whacks the most moles in sixty seconds.

It’s a simple game, and can be lots of fun.  When multiple moles pop-up simultaneously, players have to decide which ones to whack before they all disappear.  There isn’t much time to formulate strategy, or anticipate where the next mole will appear.  It’s all about reaction time, and a bit of hand-eye coordination.

Whack-a-Mole is fun in an arcade.  Unfortunately, many people live their lives like a huge Whack-a-Mole game.  They’re always busy, whacking moles, and constantly on guard for the next one that pops-up.

There’s no time to think.  No time to strategize or find creative solutions.  No time to ask for help.  No time to address root causes…only time to react.  It’s not important that the same issues pop-up over and over.  It’s all about reaction time.

If you’ve allowed your days to become a large Whack-a-Mole game, do yourself a favor.  Put down the mallet.  Look up from the game.  Take time to think.  Take time to prioritize.

Chances are you’ll start to see beyond the urgent and put your focus where it matters most…on the important.

About Rocks…

Riding motorcycles can be dangerous.   Especially when riding through a rocky section of trail.

When I rode motorcycles (a long time ago), I was always amazed at the way certain riders were able to go through rocky sections so quickly, while others struggled just to survive.

Ask anyone who can fly through rocky sections how they do it, and you will usually get this answer:  Focus on where you want to go, and don’t look at the rocks.

An amazing thing happens if you focus on the rocks.  You inevitably run into them.

The same thing happens with potholes.  The surest way to hit a pothole is to focus on it.

We all have rocks (or potholes) in our path.  They will always be there.  The best way to avoid them is to resist the temptation to look.

Your Ten Best Days

What if you could choose the ten best days in your life and relive them as many times as you want?  You only get to choose ten.

How would you go about choosing your ten best? Here are some possibilities to kick-start your thought process (in no particular order):

  • The day you learned to ride a bike
  • The day you lost your first tooth
  • The day you hit your first homerun
  • The day you got your driver’s license
  • The day you graduated from high school
  • The day you graduated from college
  • The day you received your first paycheck
  • The day you bought your first car (which might have been the day after you got your first paycheck)
  • Your wedding day
  • The day you finished your first marathon
  • The days your children were born
  • The day you became the boss
  • The day your trained someone else to be the boss
  • The days your children graduated from high school…how about college?
  • The days your children were married
  • Your first visit to the Grand Canyon
  • The day you went to the top of the Eiffel Tower
  • The day you and your family swam with dolphins
  • The day the doctor told you that you were cancer free
  • The day you watched your grandson being born (a definite front runner for me)
  • The days you visited your children’s first homes
  • That super hot day when you and your kids went to the Angel game and tried to keep cool with spray bottles
  • The day you zip-lined through a rainforest
  • The day you retired
  • The day you first had a Tommy’s Burger
  • The day you helped a complete stranger

The possibilities are infinite, and everyone’s list is different.  Have you chosen your ten best days yet?  What pictures flash in your mind as you try to decide?

Here’s some good news:  you don’t have to choose just ten.  And, you get to relive your best days any time you’d like.  All you have to do is picture them in your mind, like you just did.

Here’s one more piece of good news:  many of your best days are still in front of you, yet to be enjoyed.

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