Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Penny WIse & Pound Foolish

We usually put a lot of effort into our trips: hours of research into destinations, flights, hotels, etc. Packing tons of stuff to make the most of the trip: kitesurfing gear, board games, musical instruments, computers, books, movies, clothing... Then of course there is the expense. We try to save money where we can, and spend it where we have to. Yet sometimes we screw up and miss something important - or spend a lot on something that turns out not to be worthwhile. I was thinking about this over the Thanksgiving weekend because I put a lot of effort into having all the gear I might need in the event that the wind cooperated and we could kite. I ended up packing seven kites and two boards (not counting the two kites and board we took for my brother in law). Excesive? Maybe, but imagine going through all the trouble of this trip to Florida (hours on planes, hours in the car, etc., etc) and not be able to kite because the wind is light and I didn't bring a large kite? Sometime the little things can get you. For example, not bothering to pack the wetsuit (who needs one in Florida anyway) but then there is a cold front and you are miserable.

I realize this topic is only tangentially related to the title, but the pennies and pounds refer not just to money, but to effort as well. Besides, I almost left the boards behind to eliminate the risk of having to pay for excess luggage (I didn't). But that would have been penny wise and pound foolish: save a hundred bucks on what might deliver tons of pleasure while spending thousands the rest of the trip (air, hotel).

So kids, remember to look at the big picture: don't skip on the little things that might end up making a big difference. Don't sweat the larger expenses if they are necessary, e.g., airfares, but don't go crazy on the stuff that is unlikely to matter much...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Trou Du Cul

This summer the kids learned a French card game while at summer camp. It is called President and it has the particular characteristics that, after each round, the person who came in last in the previous round, the Trou Du Cul, must give his two best cards to the person who came in first, the President. In return he gets the President's two worst cards. The person who came in second-to-last, the Vice Trou Du Cul, gives his best card to the Vice President, in exchange he gets the VP's worst card.

We were playing this game over Thanksgiving break and I told the kids the game reminds me of many situations in life in which those who get ahead have an easier time staying ahead, while those who fall behind have a harder time catching up. Some examples? Almost in any profession, if you are involved with a successful project you are more likely to have the opportunity to work on good projects in the future - even if you just happened to be lucky about being involved with the initial successful project. Or take school: do well during the first day of the year and the teachers will assume you are a good student and cut you some slack in the future. On the flip side, do poorly and they might asume the contrary... And one a more personal (and physical) example, start a sailboat race ahead and you block the wind from the boats behind. You can stay ahead even with a slightly slower boat.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Pain to Pleasure Ratio

I recently spent many hours in planes, airports and cars to go kite for a couple of days. I've been thinking about the ratio of "travel time" to "fun time". So I asked the kids this morning for their opinions: how many hours and how much effort is justified for a few hours of fun?

No easy answers but a good discussion... We concluded that it depends on how special the fun is. For example, some people will train for months and spend millions of dollars to go to space for a few hours. But going into space is obviously VERY special. The other factor is the nature of the effort. For example, C trained for months to climb Mount Whitney (a 16 hour ordeal). But the months of training were part of the experience, a net positive, as opposed to being stuck in planes and airports, which is obviously a huge pain.

We also spoke about the risk that all the effort might be wasted, such as when there is no wind in a kiting trip or bad weather in a climbing expedition. The same principle applies: if the end goal is really worthwhile it is worth the risk.

I asked the boys to think of something special they would be willing to spend a lot of time on planes to do. N said going to Yosemite. Then Cabarete. P said snowboarding. A said doing an awesome free climb.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Shades of Grey

P was upset because we allowed N to do something then didn't allow him to do the "exact same thing". The reality was that the circumstances were very different, but he was only looking at the similarities. I encouraged them to look at all the factors and circumstances when comparing situations. For example, N recently played his favorite song of the moment on the home stereo. P complained he was sick and tired of hearing that song and asked N to change it. Because we had already heard that song several times that day, and it is a song that can indeed be annoying (So Long and Thanks for All the Fish from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Soundtrack) I sided with P and changed the song. However, when A played a song and N asked him to change it I sided with A because it was not a song we had heard recently and it was not a particularly long or annoying song.

Another example: a complaint from one of the kid's teachers might result in the loss of computer privileges if it follows poor grades or other complaints. A similar complaint might not have consequences if it is isolated. Similar complaints, different circumstances.

Of course certain situations are "Black & White". And we sometimes establish some very clear rules. But it seem more often than not, there are shades of Grey to consider...

Thursday, November 18, 2010


A recently decided to sell his ipad. He put an add on Craigslist and got a few inquiries. Initially he replied to all and had some serious potential buyers. He thought that a particular buyer was going to work out but when the buyer backed out, A did nothing for days. The other potential buyers cooled off. He lost his "momentum"...

I spoke to the kids about the importance of maintaining momentum. Be it in a negotiation, a tennis match, a painting, a homework or a relationship. If things are going your way don't lose your momentum. It is often just like in the physical world: once you get that heavy object moving it is much easier to keep it moving than it would be to get it moving from a standstill. I told them that the formula for momentum was weight times speed. So, the heavier the object (or the bigger the task) the harder to change its velocity, and the more important it is to take advantage of any momentum we might have.

The flip side is that when things are not going our way, e.g., losing a sports match, a pause might help, as it might eliminate the momentum against us.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Deal with difficult issues right away

I told the kids about a recent situation in one of the companies I work with. Several months ago a board member asked the CEO to do something that the CEO didn't want to do. The CEO didn't want to argue either, so he made a compelling case for postponing that action for a month. After the month went by, the board member asked again. The CEO made another (different) compelling argument for waiting another month. Now two months have gone by and the board member has no more patience. The CEO calls me and tells me the bottom line is he doesn't want to do what the board member is asking for. Yet the CEO is in a very bad position. He had already agreed, twice, to do what the board member wanted. He had just asked for a delay. If he now says he doesn't want to do it he comes across as disingenuous - like he didn't really meant it when he argued for delays. Like he was just looking for excuses. He would have been in a much better position to make his case for not doing the action when it was first brought up.

We are often tempted to find easy excuses for not doing things we don't want to do - instead of confronting people. "I can't go because I don't have an umbrella"... "Don't worry about it. I have an extra umbrella". Much better to "bite the bullet" early on, be truthful and deal with the situation before we have gotten ourselves into a corner.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Speedy Boarding

I recently flew on EasyJet. One of EasyJet's options is to pay an extra $10 to get on the plane before other passengers (thus pick a better seat). I find this offer very appealing and am surprised so few people take advantage of it. On this particular flight we had to board using a bus that would drive us to the tarmac in front of the plane. When they called the "Speedy Boarding" passengers to the bus (maybe 15 of us) I thought "great! I get to board the bus before other passengers but that wont do me much good getting on the plane before them". Yet EasyJet did something very clever: after the 15 of us boarded the bus the driver came and told us which gate he would use to let passengers into the plane. "Get close to this gate and you'll be the first ones onto the plane". A very low tech solution but one that worked :-).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dead Fish

I told the boys about a speech I once heard from a pioneer of the PC industry (Fred Gibbons, the developer of the first desktop publishing software for PCs). A very humble individual Fred said that he succeeded simply because he was sailing in a fast rising tide, i.e., the early days of the PC industry. He said, "when the tide rises, even dead fish go up with it". I am sure there was more to it to his success, yet his point is a good one. When deciding what to do, and this is not just professional, it can be about a sport, a hobby, music, politics, etc, picking a "rising tide" can be a huge advantage.

It is not always obvious which tides are rising and which sinking, particularly early on. It usually pays off to wait a bit to be relatively sure. You might miss the benefits of being super early, but big tides often go up for a while.

Of course the top priority should be to do whatever we enjoy and believe in. I don't subscribe to the philosophy of picking the fastest riding tide regardless of how we fill about it. But often we can sail the boat we like in many oceans, so we might as well pick a rising one...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Delivery Crabs

I had the funniest dream ever! We had ordered chinese food and it was delivered to us by specially trained crabs. Yes, big & Red crabs! They came with the white boxes of food hanging from their claws. They then waited patiently for me to pay them (cash only). As I was sorting our the cash I dropped several bills to the floor and the crab picked them up. "No, no. That is not it. I don't even know how much money there is there. Please give them back". The crab dropped the bills on the floor and expectantly waited again for the money. Whifff...

Has to be the funniest dream I've ever had.

Note: Sorry to C for waking her up to tell her my dream. Wanted to make sure I didn't forget it.