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Archive for June, 2010

 

America is the only nation in history that has gone directly from barbarism to decadence without the usual interval of civilization.
  —    Georges Clemenceau
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A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.   Specialization is for insects.
  —    Robert Heinlein (American Science Fiction writer)
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Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril, and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place.
 —    John Dewey (American Educator)
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Events

 

A thought — any thought — is a whole body event.
   —    Karl Albrecht
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Thinking is a bodily function.
  —   Karl Albrecht
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Never trust any thought you have while sitting down.
  —    Friedrich Nietzsche
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Readings
Last Saturday (26 June ’10), I finished “Partners In Command” by Mark Perry (2007).  The book is a dual biography of Generals George C. Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower.  I purchased the book because I have had a long term interest in Marshall.  Aside from Patton, Marshall has been one of my favorite World War II generals.  The book speaks very favourably of Marshall; almost as highly of Eisenhower; and, rather poorly of everyone else.  In particular, Bradley, Montgomery and Patton suffer by comparison.  The lesson of the book, which the author repeats in almost every chapter: Democracies should only go to war when they are attacked (and therefore “have to fight”), they should only fight when they have allies, and, they should fight for as short a time as is possible to win.
I must admit, I have never “really” been a big fan of Eisenhower.  Partly because I considered him a “community organizer” and not a true general; partly because he was a Republican President – who I felt did little to move the country forward during his eight years in office; and, mostly because he selected an obvious thug – Richard Nixon – to be his Vice President.  I believe had he not done so, it is unlikely Nixon would have ever become President and the country might have been spared the Watergate scandal and its on-going legacy – Carter, Reagan, and both Bush’s.  The last part is probably unlikely, Bush I might still have become President, but I don’t think we would have had to suffer Bush II / Chenny.  Still history is the way it is…
I would still like to read more about Marshall and will be on the lookout for more books about him.  Everything I’ve read about him indicates he was a man of extreme integrity, humility and completely dedicated to his country.
Today (29 June ’10), I finished “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell (2008).  This is a book about success.  What does it take to be successful.  It appears that it takes a lot of hard, dedicated work (a mythical 10,000 hours) and a great deal of luck.   The luck is not just personal luck, either.  It seems to involve timing (birth date) and cultural setting.  I’m not sure if I agree with all of Gladwell’s examples and extrapolations of “truths” which come from the examples, but he does make an interesting case.
This is the third book I’ve read of Gladwell’s (“The Tipping Point” and “Blink” being the other two), and I can heartily recommend him as a good read and a provider of new insight – what I would have called a “slap on the side of the head” in years gone by.
Celtic Blues
A little over a week ago, the Boston Celtics lost game seven of the NBA championship to the Los Angeles Lakers.  For years, my brother has insisted that all of professional sports are fixed.  I am not usually a “conspiracy” person, although I have seen moments in games when I questioned some referees calls (and non-calls).  This is the first time though, where I honestly believed the game was absolutely fixed and I will never look at an NBA playoff the same way again.  To start off with the commercials were heavily biased towards the Lakers.  As the game went on – particularly in the second half – they were a virtual coronation.  And this was while the game was still very much in doubt and the “greatest” player on the court (Kobe Bryant) was having an atrocious game.  I don’t mean a choke.  I mean a complete stinker – legacy game.  Instead, every time he got the ball in the third and fourth quarter, he would drive and if there was any defense applied, he was given a foul.  Kobe ended up with ten free throws made in the fourth quarter and the Lakers (as a team) had more than twenty extra free throws than Boston.  This, despite the fact that LA had to play tighter defense in order to come from ten points down to win the game.  In the end, the refs let the Celtics bring it back to within three points after letting the Lakers run ahead by eight.
World Cup News
A similar tragedy is happening in the World Cup this year.  Goals are being disallowed which are clearly in and onside and being allowed when they should not be (mostly players being offside).  Anyway, my three hopefuls have all been sent home (USA, England and Mexico).  I’m now hoping for a final of Germany vs. Brazil as I think that will be the most entertaining matchup.
Diet and Health
Not so good.  I’ve put back on about 12 pounds.  I’m back up around 305!  I’ve had a series of little (and not so little) aches and pains which has reduced my running to almost nothing.  I thought I’d really hurt my back, but it now seems as if I’m just having a flare up of kidney stones.  I’ve been pissing out a series of little grains for a couple of weeks now.  At one point, the pain was so bad I was limping and didn’t even want to walk.  Fortunately, that’s somewhat better now.  This last weekend, I tried to drink them away with a couple of gallons of water, but while it may have cleaned up my urine, it hasn’t fixed the stone problems.  The bottom line is that I’ve got to get back out there jogging.
I’ve been going to the pool instead.  So far, five sessions of treading water of about fifty minutes each.  No pain at all.  I’ve also been able to do the elliptical at the gym at work.  I’ve also tried the rowing at the gym, but that does result in a bit of workout pain (lower heaviness).
This weekend was the running of the Western States 100 Endurance Run.  It was interesting to check it out on-line while it was happening.  It seems like a distant and impossible dream now.
Drums
I’m not doing much better on learning to play the drums.  I guess Hil was correct.  “This too shall pass!”  I’m practicing in the car in the morning, but I don’t seem to have the energy (or make the time) to practice on the real drum set Art lent me.
Work
I got the news on my application for the Leadership Development Program at work.  This year, I qualified, but did not make the best qualified list.  My consolation is that’s better than last year when I didn’t even qualify.
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Family stuff first: Thursday, I drove down to UCLA to pick up Rebecca.  She finished her last final at 6:30, but wasn’t allowed to move out until 11, so we went to dinner and then just hung out until she was ok to leave.
We got back to the hotel (the Hampton Inn in Van Nuys) after 12:30.  We got back on the road by 9:30 the next day (Friday, 11 June) and were home by 3:30.  All in all it was a nice, smooth trip.  I was not looking forward to the drive down – mostly because it was all by myself, but it turned out to be not bad at all.  I listened to music (sang along) and it was quite enjoyable.
I had one of my serendipity moments on the way down.  I was at the northern end of the Grapevine and looked up at the hills and saw a unusual purple color on several of the (mostly brown) hills.  My first thought was, “Wow, they’ve either had a fire already or they’ve sprayed fire retardant in advance of the next fire.  As I got closer, I realized the color was from a small flower and not a chemical spray.  It was a faint, but very distinct purple.  It wasn’t on all of the hills or spread as evenly as the brown from the grasses – which was probably why I thought it was a spray and not naturally occurring.
Anyway, it occurred to me that I was probably seeing something which only lasts a couple of days a year and which probably only happens a couple of times a year – kind of like a “desert bloom”.
I would like to make a few quick comments about the hotel.  I’m not a big fan of hotels, but this was a nice little place for the price ($130).  It wasn’t much to look at from the outside and I can’t comment on the locale, but it was reasonably close to UCLA, which was my primary criteria.  The inside was surprisingly quite nice, appearing reasonably modern and well kept.  The room was a nice size with two full size beds.  There was a large flat panel TV, and free wireless internet in the room.  The bed was very comfortable and the shower was hot with good water pressure.  The room smelled a little musty when I first entered it, but that soon went away with the AC on.  All in all, I would highly recommend it.
I injured my back last week crawling around on the floor, shifting PCs at work in Oakland.  At first I thought it was just a strained muscle, but by the end of the day, I had tell-tail sharp pain all the way down my right leg.  The next morning, Tuesday, I tried to do a light jog to work it out, but all I did was aggravate it severely.  I had to stop jogging because the pain in my leg was so bad.  The pain continued all day until I could barely walk.  I texted James to set up my inversion table and I hung when I finally got home.  I managed to relax after about five minutes and I felt my spine snap back into place.  The leg pain was gone and I gingerly made it through the rest of the evening.  I decided not to risk injury by taking Wednesday off.
I haven’t had back (and leg) pain like that in quite a while and it put the fear of God back in me.  Thank God for inversion machines!!
James’ girl friend – Natasha – graduated from high school on Friday.
Sarah had her end of year band dinner last week – Saturday before last and we went.  It was lots of laughs and we are very proud of her.  Go Minuteman Marching Band!!
Home stuff: Hil and I took a trip down to The Shed Shop in Fremont to have a look at sheds.  We picked a model and size, so now we just have to have them come out and do the site evaluation and then we agree a day for installation.  Finally!!!!  We’ll have a shed.  We’ve also decided we’re going to start doing the floors with bamboo.  It’ll take us a few years to get it all done, but at least the decision has been made to move forward.
Perhaps, the most significant thing (to me) is that Hil has finally decided she likes our house and wants to stay in it.  I think this will mean we’ll move forward on a lot of different things now.
Movie Review: Well, I finally got around to watching my DVD copy of “Slumdog Millionaire“.  It was a very intense (and moving) movie.  I discussed it with my son James who dismissed it as a chick-flick, date movie.  It was – at a certain level – simply a love story, but it was a lot more as well.  It raised questions of philosophy – are our lives destined?  It also hi-lighted man’s inhumanity towards others – particularly in circumstances of dire poverty.  Bottom line – I highly recommend it.
Book Review: Yesterday, (Sunday, 13 June), I finished “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell (2005).  The book is about how we are able to make almost instantaneous decisions based on limited information and those decisions turn out to be (frequently) as reliable as decisions we make with great consideration and lots of data / information.  Another interesting discussion was about using different parts of the brain to remember things.  If we think of the picture of a cow, we use a different part of the brain than if we think of the word “cow” and try to describe it, height, weight, color, etc., and the very act of trying to describe something tends to make us “forget” the thing we are trying to describe.  This seems to happen because of the difference in the amount of brain power allotted to long term versus short term memory.  Long term memory is virtually unlimited, but short term is “thimble sized”.  It takes some time to move memories from short to long term and the act of interpreting the memory, by describing it, seems to short-circuit the transition from short to long term memory.
I found this point very interesting because at one point, I used to “think” in text, as in when I “thought of” a “brown cow” (in my mind), that’s what I saw – the words, not the “image” of an animal.  I remember being mildly surprised at the time that others didn’t “see” the way I did.  (I asked several of my friends.)  I actively tried to “see” the image of a brown cow instead of the words when I thought of it and in the space of a couple of weeks, I started “seeing” the images.  Unfortunately, I found I had lost the ability to “see” the words now.  I’ve tried a few times to think my way back, but it seems to be completely lost to me.  I don’t know if it’s a permanently one-way street, but it certainly seems to be since I’ve never met anyone else who admits to ever thinking of things that way.
Bottom Line: the book was a very fast read and raised some interesting points for me to continue thinking about.  You can’t ask for much more than that from an author.  I now plan to make time to go back and read the author’s other work: “The Tipping Point”.
Running and Diet: Not so good of late.  With the continuing little injuries (back and legs), it’s been easy to make excuses for not running at night.  I’ve found the jogging in the Gym to be not the same.  For one, I try to run instead of just enjoying my time jogging.  I also tend to get distracted by the TV.  This means my brain is not continuously involved in my moving.  It also means, when I go do my school yard jogs, my head is missing the extraneous input (distraction) from the TV.  I believe the long term solution is to not jog at the gym and instead do other cross training, cardio workouts.
I’m still wearing my first pair of test shoes – the Ahnu Delta Water shoes.  Granted I haven’t been pounding them daily, but they still seem to have almost no wear whatsoever.  I’m already over a month using them (sporadically) and I’ve not done a hundred miles yet, but they still seem very sturdy to me.
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Memorial Day Weekend —  Three days off to relax!
At church, Father Joe said his last 1200 Mass for us.  He has finished his masters degree in Berkeley and is heading back to Malaysia.  Hil and I will miss him.  His sermons were always about Love.  Love for God and love for each other.  His final sermon was about fear of change and the unknown.  We were both struck by how this was an intensely personal statement about himself couched in a message of reassurance for the rest of us.
James went to mass with us.  It was his first time in a couple of years.
Saturday, I went to the movies with James.  We went to see “The Prince of Persia“.  It was a summer action movie about a poor child who is adopted by a King and who then goes forwards and then back thru time to save the kingdom.  Very entertaining.  I look forward to it coming out in DVD so I can see it again.
Yesterday, 30 May 2010, I finished reading “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance“, by Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. (2002).  I had seen the book in the used bookstore several times, but never picked it up because my past experience is these books always end up being self-serving autobiographies.  Then, about six weeks ago, I saw the book on a list of the 100 greatest business books ever written.  This piqued my curiosity and I decided to pick it up the next time I saw it.  I ended up looking for it several times (and places) before I finally found it.  Anyway, I found it this week and dove in.
I have to admit I was both correct – it is self-serving – and I don’t care because it is both very well written and offered me some thoughtful moments.  I must admit any book which can make me consider a point vis-a-vis conditions within SSA, is a book I will review positively.  I will offer a few quotes:
“Successful institutions almost always develop stong cultures that reinforce those elements that make the institution great.  They reflect the environment from which they emerged.  When that environment shifts, it is very hard for the culture to change.  In fact, it becomes an enormous impediment to the institution’s ability to adapt.”
“The truth is that no large enterprise can work without bureaucracy.  Bureaucrats, or staff people, provide coordination among disparate line organizations; establish and enforce corporate-wide strategies that allow the enterprise to avoid duplication, confusion, and conflict; and provide highly specialized skills that cannot be duplicated because of cost or simply the shortage of available resources.”
“I’ve never been certain that I can abstract from my experiences a handful of lessons that others can apply to their own situations.”
“A successful, focused enterprise is one that has developed a deep understanding of its customers’  needs, its competitive environment, and its economic realities.”
“Execution —  getting the task done, making it happen — is the most unappreciated skill of an effective business leader.”
“Great institutions are not managed; they are led.  They are not administered; they are driven to ever-increasing levels of accomplishment by individuals who are passionate about winning.”
“Most of all, personal leadership is about passion.”
“Thus, what every CEO has to do is decide what is going to be uniquely local (decentralized) and what is going to be common in his or her enterprise.”
“Great institutions balance common shared activities with highly localized, unique activities.”
Ok.  Having said how good the writing was and having listed a few quotes, what did I find “wrong” with the work?  To start off with there is an assumption that value in big organizations comes from systems and procedures.  Gerstner downplays this assumption by repeatedly discussing all of the great individuals he worked with.  But in the end, it is the big customer which must implement the technology (internet) before the value can reach the individual customer.  I’m not sure I agree with this.  Anybody can buy a shoe at a store – on-line or in bricks and mortar.  We don’t need the internet for that.  Knowledge, though, that is different.  The more widely we can make knowledge (facts and opinions, but not lies) accessible, the greater all societies will be.  It is the PC and the internet which are driving this phenomena, not the ability to buy shoes or jeans.  I’m not dismissing the value of on-line shopping for businesses or individuals, I’m just trying to establish where I place real value.
Of course, the process of posting to the internet does not differentiate between facts, opinions and lies – but that is another discussion.  The fact that buying and selling shoes and jeans is what ultimately pays to keep the internet up and running is also something for another day.
Ultimately, the most interesting part of the book is the infrequent mentioning of research and implementation.  Where a product cannot be driven to market in a timely manner, it needs to be leveraged by “selling” the use to others who will drive the product to market.  Essentially, this and the effort to make IBM a system integrator and service supplier are the key ideas for any company based on true intelligence / knowledge.  “We know how things work together.  We make some (most) of the parts (especially the big, expensive parts,) and what we don’t make we can help you buy and put together.  You pay some for what we make, but you pay most for what we know.”  [That is me, not Mr. Gerstner being quoted.]
I have to agree, this is a true growth industry and one that a large multinational corporation can make a lot of money from.
Today I went to REI and (finally) got myself a pair of Vibram FiveFingers (KSO).  They are SOOOOOO cool!!!  I wore them home from the store and they are extremely comfortable.  The biggest downside is the price: $85.  So, this is probably the only pair I’ll ever own.  But in the meantime, they are COOL!  Black and gray with cammo bottoms.
I will continue my current test pair, but I can’t wait to start logging some miles in the KSO’s.
Incidentally, last night I ran 240 minutes – about 7ish miles.  My feet feel good and my Achilles are a little tender but not bad.  Otherwise, I feel great!  And there was virtually no wear on the Delta Water Socks (the test pair).
Also today, I picked up and watched “Paper Chase“.  It’s a movie about a first year law student at Harvard.  I first saw it when I was in my 20s and I’ve wanted to get it for ages.  I couldn’t wait to get home and watch it.  Review: Even after all these years, it’s still EXCELLENT!!  John Houseman rocks as Professor Kingsfield.  He got an Oscar for his performance.
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