Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to the Steam Bath

Just came back from a fabulous six day mountain biking holiday with Cindy & the boys... The third day was our longest: 7 hours on some fairly technical trails through remote mountains. 45 minutes into the ride my back "locked-up". This happens to me once or twice per year: I don't fully understand what causes it, or even what is going on with my back, but each incident lasts 3-7 days, and during this time my lower back is super stiff and fragile. Walking and standing is particularly uncomfortable.

I knew this might happen during the trip, so I came prepared with strong prescription pain-killers, which make things bearable during an incident. Problem was, I didn't have the pain-killers on my day pack. They were back in the van. That day being so long we didn't have an extra 1.5+ hours to go back to the van and get them. So when my back locked up I was faced with two choices: abandon de ride and go back on my own to the van - then wait for ~6 hours for them to finish - or, continue with the ride. I could barely stand or walk, but riding was fine. I decided to try to continue with the ride and return if it got too uncomfortable. Turned out riding the bike was mostly fine and only getting on and off the bike was painful. Our guide Chris and Cindy helped me out during the short sections when we had to carry our bikes and I actually really enjoyed what turned out to be one of the best rides of our trip. Having said that, by the 6th hour even riding started to become uncomfortable, and by the time we made it back to the van I could not put any weight on my Left leg. The pain-killers and a dip in an icy-cold stream helped, but I was starting to believe it might have been a bad idea to keep riding...

The next morning (days 2 & 3 of an episode are usually the worst) I could barely walk. Our guide Chris had done some research and found that there was an aquatic center nearby with a steam bath, sauna & hot tub. I was in no condition to ride, so while the rest of the group went for a ride, I stayed at the aquatic center, hoping it would make me feel a bit better. I went straight for the steam bath and within 20 minutes it was like magic: my back was almost normal. When they came to pick me up two hours later they couldn't believe their eyes: I had slowly limped into the center yet came out walking normally. The steam bath had cured me! I skipped that afternoon session, but by the next day was as good as new - and got to fully enjoy the last two days.

Takeaways?

- My theory that when my back locks remaining physically active heals it faster seems to be correct. I believe the "locking" of my back is a defense mechanism, not an injury. I need to convince my back that it is OK to relax.

- A steam bath might be a magical cure for some back problems.

- A good guide makes all the difference


Friday, May 30, 2014

At our best during our worst moments

During last week's kite race I accidentally crashed my kite into another competitor's kite, wrecking his kite (mine suffered no damage). It was entirely my fault and I felt terrible. I could have simply "left the scene of the accident". But I felt really bad and wanted to do all I could to help the other racer. For a short while I simply stayed floating close to him waiting for the rescue boat to pick him up. Then I realized that we had identical kites, so I could give him my kite and take his. This would allow him to compete in the following race and avoid the ordeal of a rescue. We did that and I got rescued with his kite. Afterwards I told him that we should swap kites permanently. He would keep my kite, which was in perfect shape, and I would keep his broken kite and fix it.

The other kiter really appreciated my behavior and told me that last time he had a similar incident the racer who was at fault didn't do anything to help him with his situation or broken gear. He simply apologized and moved on. I didn't feel that I was doing anything particularly special. I had caused an incident and felt that it was my responsibility to do everything within my power to correct the situation. Why should the other kiter deal with the cost and hassle of repairing a kite that I had broken? Yet, as we all know, not everyone always does the "right thing". This bad situation that I caused gave me the opportunity to show that I am one of those people who does try to do the right thing. And the people who witnessed that appreciated it.

I am obviously not suggesting that we intentionally put ourselves in bad situations to show we behave well in them :-). Just that we remember that our worst moments sometimes give us the opportunity to be at our best. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Financial Leverage 101

Told the boys about financial leverage. Used the example of buying a house with 100% of your own money versus a 20% downpayment and 80% mortgage. When you sell the house, your return can be a lot better if you have the leverage of the mortgage. Of course, you need to factor the cost of the mortgage, i.e., the interest, and the risk that if the value of your investment goes down you might end up owing more money to the bank than your investment is worth.

Sometimes people use leverage because they have no choice. They simply don't have the money to buy the asset without borrowing. Sometimes they do it for the better expected financial return - if they think they can invest the rest of their money in something else that will give a better return than the cost of the loan.

A bit of leverage can be good, and sometimes represent's "free money". For example, interest expenses on home mortgages are tax deductible. That tax deduction is an incentive from the government towards home ownership and is, in essence, free money. Of course, even with that benefit sometimes you are better off not borrowing, say, if the interests are too high, or not buying, say if renting is a better route. So it is important to always keep the big picture in mind.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Beware of First Impressions

A few years ago I met a couple of people around the same time. One was more extroverted and charismatic, call him Bob, the other more serious and quiet, call him Jim. I initially became closer with Bob. He was much easier to talk to. I was a bit intimidated by Jim. Yet over the years I had the opportunity to interact many times with both and realized that I didn't really like Bob very much. Sure, at first he seemed nice & fun, but it turned out underneath he was a bit mean and didn't share any of my values. Jim, on the other hand, turned out to be the nicest guy. Sure, he is a quiet guy, but after talking with him enough times I realized we got along very well and had many shared values and beliefs.

I thought this was a timely anecdote to share with the boys as Paco is about to go to a new school for high school. He will meet dozens of classmates and might decide who to befriend based on first impressions... The good news if that in a situation such as high school, Paco will have plenty of time to get to know most (if not all) of his classmates - and thus move beyond first impressions. Most situations in life are not like that. So what to do? At least one should be aware of the imperfect nature of first impression judgements. Be careful about "superficial" traits that might make someone likeable, e.g., charisma, and those traits that might make other people harder to relate to, e.g., seriousness, shyness. Figure out what is it that you really care about in people and assess that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

We see and hear what we expect to see and hear

Ale was giving Paco a hard time about being late when Nico jumped in saying he wasn't late. Ale clarified he was referring to Paco only but Nico insisted Ale had also referred to him. Truth is Ale had been super specific about Paco, even saying that while Paco got up first, he was often last to the car. I believe that Nico had heard what he expected to hear, i.e., his older brother giving him a hard time. And our memories are so unreliable that I am sure Nico remembered Ale saying his name. We construct our memories based on our expectations.

A related situation that I often see is people who believe they can "interpret" others expressions and intonations. "It is not what you said but how you said it". Maybe. But a more accurate saying might sometimes be "It is not what you said but what I expected you to say". So, think hard before jumping to conclusions. Don't try to read too much between the lines, as more often than not, it is you who is writing there, not the person speaking.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Junkie Takes Desperate Measures

I am a kite junkie. After a day or two without kiting I start to get pretty desperate. I need my kitesurfing fix to remain sane. I joke that I now understand drug addicts better. I can relate to the feeling of needing something to which you are addicted - and doing whatever it takes to get it.

Last week I injured my wrist. For a couple of days I wasn't sure how serious it was and how long I might need to stay out of the water. Needless to say I was VERY concerned. The idea of not being able to kite for weeks, or even months, (specially now in the middle of the kite racing season) was devastating. In short, I was desperate. And desperate people do desperate things. What did I do? Fortunately, nothing too radical ;-). A few weeks earlier my mother had been in town and brought some Peyote cream. She said it had done wonders for her knee. At the time I was pretty dismissive. Peyote? Isn't that what some native americans smoke (or chew?) to hallucinate? At least that is what I remembered from Carlos Castaneda... Yet when my ability to kite was at stake, I was willing to try anything. Where is that Peyote cream?

The incident got me thinking about the crazy things that people do when they are really desperate - and the many people that try to take advantage of them. Need to recover a loved one? Need to lose weight? Need a job? Any route that offers hope is worth exploring - even if under normal circumstances we know it would be silly.

What is the take-away? Be on the lookout for crazy things we (or our loved ones) might do in desperate situations. Pay attention to the downside. Most times there isn't much downside: the cream doesn't help, the psychic doesn't change things, we waste a bit of money. But other times we might make matters significantly worst...

As to my wrist, I am glad to report that immobilizing it with a brace is making it better. And I can even kite with the brace :-). The Peyote cream, on the other hand, didn't seem to help.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bait and Switch

A few days ago I got an email with the subject "Speaker Invitation". The organizer of a conference about start-ups and entrepreneurship was asking me if I would be interested in participating in the event. I enjoy speaking at these kinds of events - as I usually get great feedback from the participants - so I gave him a tentative yes, but asked for more details about my participation and the agenda. At this point someone else from the organization took over the conversation and suggested that I help judge a start-up competition. Looking into the details I realized though that, given the number of judges and start-ups, my contribution would be pretty minimal. The event was not going to be in San Francisco and I concluded that it would not be worthwhile for me to go to the event unless I could contribute more significantly. I told them as much at which point they apologized and said the speaking slots where all full. The whole things felt like a "bait and switch". Like a car dealership that showcases an amazing deal on the window only to tell prospective buyers that that car had been sold, but they had another one available... My message to the boys: don't engage in this kind of behavior and be on the lookout for those who try to pull a bait and switch on you.