I love the word “epic”. As a noun it portrays an image that some thing is so monumental that it is once in a lifetime, that it impacts history in a way that it adjusts the fabric of history itself. We’re talking about really major changes to society or to your view of the world.  “Dude that jump you just took was epic”

Ok so we use it as an exaggeration just a little bit. But the spirit is to convey your opinion that the scenario is really a big deal. 

As an adjective we use it in the same context to describe a noun of similar characteristics. “That is an epic piece of code you just wrote”

Everything we do, when we sit down to plan it out, should be epic. And why not?  Shoot for the moon on everything you do. Even if you don’t achieve epic stature you still gave it your all and probably created something pretty awesome. 

These two words have become kind of a life-philosophy for me. Give it your all. Do more. Don’t ever ring the bell. Be Epic

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Broken to Hopin’

Nothing actually happens instantly.  You just realize that it happens in an instant.  I broke last night, but I didn’t realize that I had been breaking for a while now.  The guy who always thought he could build anything, fix anything, save the world and foster peace and understanding had become the guy who sees everything incomplete, unrepairable, civilization that was dying and only killing itself with evil. The guy who wanted to suck the marrow out of every experience in life, who never wanted to specialize because it might mean passing up on some other new experience, had become the cautious, timid, cheap, recluse who just complained.   I even joked that I had become the “get off my grass” guy.   It made me sad and I leaked that sadness and negativity onto everyone around me.  With the last vestiges of thinking that I was still that old guy clinging to the belief that I was a visionary, I finally broke.

And I rolled around on the floor in a ball, a giant singularity of a hole in my heart, crying uncontrollably.  No that is not a metaphor.  Because that’s what it is to break.  I had failed me.  I lost to myself.  I don’t care who you are, think back over your life and if you say you haven’t come face to face with this wall then one of two things is true.  1) You are lying to save face or 2) You haven’t put yourself out there to embrace life.  I’m all done with the lying part.

Coach Divine talks about recognizing our negative emotions, interdicting and turning them into positive ones, which I wrote about on my birthday a few months ago.  It seems that I should have been doing this well before 44.  This chapter in my life is no exception and as coach says, I need to build this as a habit, which was definitely not the case before.  That ends today.

I didn’t sleep much last night, and don’t think I didn’t recognize the poetic irony of waking up to the pouring rain (and not just because the bus isn’t waterproof…yet).  But this morning I got my wits back and realized the “broken” part.  After some deep breathing I came up with the opposite target mind-state which is “hope”.  And paging through my notes I found a few corollary positive statements…

“One life in one day”

“Find a way or make one”

So I am putting everyone in my life on notice.  I am not drifting back to the way I was.  That is not me, and I am not letting you poison who I am and what I believe with your negativity.  I don’t want to hear about Hillary did this, or Obama is destroying that, or Trump is a xxxxx.  I didn’t watch the debate and I don’t care who said what.  I’m done with the politics of hate.  Let this be a guide about the cynicism of your social graph too, I will block it.  Write something positive.  Stop sharing stupid fake crap that someone else handed you.  Be your own mind, be original and make it productive or at least positive.

I’ve lost enough succumbing to my own pessimism, and while I started this process at 20X and my birthday, the ship was turning too slowly.  Today is a new day.  Hooyah

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Brand Recognition

There has been a lot of talk at work in the past year or so about personal brand. I have always used this blog as a mechanism to convey my brand, enabling a reader to see who I am. As part of her switching roles, my friend Anita sent me a note that she figured out what her brand is. In 4 words she boiled it down to a succinct statement that fit perfectly. If personal brand is a marketing concept, why not come up with your own tag line? It’s the one sentence statement you should use when selling yourself.

Extraordinarily Creative Solutions to Complex Challenges

That’s me. And in thinking through this statement, it has made a lot of sense why I have done well or poorly at the jobs I have held over the years. In general, I make a poor grunt. While I could do fund accounting, I was not good at doing a job where maintaining the status quo each day was paramount. Consulting at colleges was the same thing, they really didn’t want to be great; they just want things to work. The roles I have held at Fido have worked so much better when I am free to be creative in designing systems that balance customer need, process flexibility, future growth and rules driven code. There are a few really great examples of this.

While a role by definition can help bring out the best parts of your brand, a manager can just as quickly squash that. I have seen my share of this. The flip side is also possible. Regina C.B. gave me very broad authority to radically rethink how we did A/R at a college.  And so we were always way ahead of other departments in our system implementation. That’s what led to my national conference presentations and eventually being a senior consultant at age 27.

The reason I am spending time thinking about this is that I think it helps rationalize my approach to tailgate boxes. I have spent an absolutely obnoxious amount of time over the years, not only on the act of tailgating, but on building stuff to make that experience better. It’s who I am and the tailgate boxes are a metaphor for my brand.

Version 1 was all about eliminating the bins and the annoyance of having to pack up and remember all the crap we needed to bring in the back of the trucks. But each year new learnings and requirements spawned upgrades, like the extra speakers, second tv, and front fold down rack.

Temp pic 1

We soon realized that we ‘needed’ bigger/more tvs, louder sound, better weather-proofing, quicker set-up & break-down time, a bar, and much more storage. In addition, neighbors started to hang out with us. Bigger seemed the order of the day. Version 2 solved all of those problems.

Temp pic 2

But I soon realized that I wanted my truck back, we needed still more space and easier access, an inside space for changing and warming, I wanted to multi-use the vehicle for horse-shows and soccer tournaments, and set-up and break-down still needed some help. Hence: The Bus.

With each iteration, I role out MVP for the first game and then migrate point releases each week. Each season gets a major version upgrade. I am acting as community liaison and product manager talking to a number of fans who stop by to take pictures each week.  Most importantly, my boss empowers me to leverage my brand (and he’s devilishly handsome).

But the biggest takeaway, is that the tailgate box is a product that would only be created by someone with an end-state vision of a customer experience that not only exceeds expectations, but delights and incentivizes that customer to come back for more. I have a vision for what tailgating should be, involving food, drink, games, music, debate, video, and camaraderie. Building the box was certainly an over-the-top expression of solving that challenge and enabling people to share that experience. It’s ingrained in who I am and I definitely got it from my parents. Every time I called for advice on audio or how to wire something, my dad would talk me through the issues and mom would send more than we had discussed, because more is better. Now that we are all working on the bus together, there are details that will defy a rational approach to the simple act of tailgating.

Who I am, my brand, is about using all of that upbringing to assemble a team of experts to help me fulfill my vision. Spence and Sam have been there to push back on me when I lose focus on the in-person experience. Jen M had an awesome idea for stenciling the graphics. Haley came up with the design for her horse images. Mom long ago gave me a sense for esthetics perfection. You see that in what she did for balancing the colors on the changing room curtain and in my attention to detail on color, trim and ease of use. Dad taught me the need for execution perfection: I mean come on, we had been “rewiring it” long before Tool Time hit the air. How he was able to rewire the accessory panel is truly brilliant.

I am really proud of where the tailgate bus is going. It’s more than just a labor of love for me. This time I assembled a team and we nailed my vision perfectly. If you are thinking of me and how I might approach any sort of endeavor, think of the TAILG8R bus.

Watch the Safety Video

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The Shooting Arts

Today I participated in my first IDPA  (International Defensive Pistol Association) event.  It was a long day, longer than I expected, but a lot of fun.  It was really nice to make some new friends, be around people with similar interests and learn new skills.  Some takeaways…

  • I need a shotgun.  While IDPA is a pistol only discipline, the club usually sets up the patterns for multi-gun.  I shot under the IDPA rules/config.  But I could have borrowed someone’s shotgun, the guys are very generous and offered numerous times.  I just figured I would stay with a handgun for my first event
  • Shooting clay pigeons at 20 yards with a bullet is HARD.  I hit about 1/3
  • 2 magazines is definitely not enough for an event like this
  • I really like shooting my 45
  • Moving and engaging different targets is a lot of fun.  It’s like playing a driving video game with a steering wheel instead of a thumb controller: You are doing the same thing, but it’s so much more realistic
  • I need to practice speed on target and changing magazines from the hip
  • I shoot moving targets pretty well
  • Shooting from cover, to the left of an object is much harder than it looks (if done correctly)

After experiencing an organized match, juxtaposed to all the commentary around gun-control lately, I thought I would take a few minutes to address issues with specifics, that people never really understand in detail.

Why does anyone need more than one gun?  There are more guns in the US than age-eligible owners.

This makes sense only if you walk into a thought with the mindset that something is unnecessary.  I own 4 vehicles.  To someone living in NYC this makes no sense.  But one is for Taylor, one is for me, I need a truck for house projects and the bus is for football.  There is a reason and specific purpose for each.  Why do baseball players need multiple gloves and bats.  Taylor has 4 pairs of cleats.  Horse people have multiple saddles/bridles, bits, halters, crops, etc.  I own at least 10 hockey sticks.  I have 5 shovels and at least 5 rakes.  I own 3 cameras.  I could ask why you need more than 1 pet, or more than 1 kid.  Take this last one, if your definition of the purpose of having children is procreation, well then certainly 1 is enough.  Is that not preposterous?

Consider for a second that your definition of purpose might not be universal.  I own 4 firearms and each has a different purpose.  Honestly, I want 3 more to fill gaps in things I can’t do.  The guys on the range today all owned more than me.  One guy brought 2 shotguns and they were completely different for different scenarios.  He wasn’t sure what the competition set-up would focus on, so he brought both.  My 22 is great for leagues and practice, but it won’t knock down a steel plate target, and those are fun.  It’s the same fun you get from throwing horseshoes, bocce, cornhole or darts.  It’s an individual challenge of skill and accuracy with instant feedback.  The theory is no different.

Guns are unsafe and so we need to take them off the street, regardless of whether you are responsible or not.

Let me describe the safety process at the range.  A trained range safety officer (RSO) inspects each weapon in a metal 3 sided box with the owner, ensuring it is safe and secure.  He inspects the magazine slot, makes sure the chamber is empty, slide is closed and dry fired (de-cocks the hammer), safety engaged, then holstered.  No one touches their weapon until they are on the firing line.  We are 100% serious about this.  Everyone polices the waiting area and line. When their turn comes, all weapons are pointed down range (a dirt wall 20′ high on 3 sides), inspected again by the RSO.  They take their turn shooting while being watched by at least 2 people for etiquette and technique (I got some useful feedback from the scorekeeper).  When finished, the RSO goes through the same procedure.  Magazine out, slide back, chamber clear, cycle weapon, chamber clear, slide closed, dry fire, safety, holster.  Anyone who has ever gone to a range, knows the process.  We are those “law-abiding citizens” that you hear about but don’t believe exist.  We take it seriously.  We are responsible.  Remember when Plaxico Burress shot himself in the thigh?  Not responsible handling of a weapon.  Just like some asshole drunk driver is not a responsible vehicle operator.

Gun laws do not place a burden on people who follow laws.

The problem with gun laws is that they include language like “at the discretion of “.  That is when we are troubled.  What that means is that we have no liberty and a “bureaucrat” has control over our rights and freedom.  If Obamacare had language like “care facilities can apply treatment for cancer at the discretion of the hospital’s CFO…” people would go insane.  Why is this different?  When I applied for my license to carry in Massachusetts, I took the required safety class, filled out paperwork, and got 3 letters of recommendation: One of which was from the city police detective who was in charge of processing and investigating the applications.  But it took the state 4 months to process and send me a 3×5 piece of paper.  That sounds like an awful lot of “discretion” no?

You don’t need an assault weapon for self defense.

At this very second, no I do not need a firearm for self-defense.  But if you can accurately predict the future with 100% certainty, then PLEASE, do something useful like manage my 401k or tell me who is going to win the SuperBowl, or tell the military where ISIS is going to strike next.  Until then, SHUT UP.  Did anyone predict that Putin would invade Crimea?  Or that Hitler would invade Russia?  You do not know what my self defense requirements will be under any future timeline.  So while you may conclude that a 6 minute response time from the police is ok for your family’s safety, I prefer that I have the capability to try to actually keep mine safe for those 6 minutes.

There is no such thing as an “assault weapon”.  There are weapons, and there are people that assault.  No weapon is inherently more “assaulty” than another.  When you use an adjective, it must have a reason for being used to describe the noun.  If the adjective has no meaning in adding to the description of the noun, it makes no sense.  If you don’t understand the difference between an AR15 and a semi-automatic rifle that fires Winchester 223, then you are ignorant (those words describe essentially the same thing).  That is the same ignorance I display when I pronounce that a first baseman or catcher doesn’t need a special catching glove.  It catches a baseball.  Why is one ‘special’?

If anyone wants to come to the range with me and learn how seriously law-abiding gun owners take their responsibility in handling a weapon, I would love to take you.  Target shooting is an art.  It is enjoyable, it is something you practice, it is something that takes skill.  I wish I had more time to enjoy it and I wish more people would give it a try before unilaterally berating it for no rational reason.

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Tomorrow is my birthday.  And before you say “Happy Birthday” or post on FB or some other silliness, instead I would ask you to take 5 minutes, read one of my blog posts, and give me critical feedback on it…in the comments section.  That would make me much happier.  I honestly could care less about you reminding me of something I already know.  Might as well just post “The sun is up!” tomorrow morning.  Yeah I am a little punchy today, and I know I am an asshole, no need to remind me of that too.

As I drove in this morning I was listening to MTP and the nightmare that is the current GOP nominee.  I felt sad for the country.  I felt depressed that I contribute nothing to making it better.  I felt incomplete that another year has passed without any major goals accomplished.  As I grabbed my bags out of the back seat, I realized that I had not recited Invictus today, which is my new daily ritual.  Depending on how I feel, I emphasize different lines.  “…my unconquerable soul…the menace of the years…it matters not how strait the gate…” and I always finish with an emphatic “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”  I started feeling a little better.

I have tried to explain SealFit and Unbeatable Mind to people and why I have become such a fan.  I think my whole life I’ve been looking for a holistic mind:body training regimen that actually has practical applications and strategies.  In the book, Coach Divine talks a lot about negative emotions and strategies to interdict.  Some of it involves pre-work that I haven’t gotten to yet.  But this morning I made some progress.

Coach’s process goes like this

  1. Identify that you are having a negative emotional experience
  2. Based on your self exploration of these negative emotional states you should know the true underlying cause (aka the pre-work), and are thus able to quickly recognize the opposite emotional state to combat that negative one
  3. Re-orient yourself to the corollary positive emotional state
  4. Reinforce the positive state with self talk and mantras that solidify how you want to live

So for me, depression and sadness at my lot in life is really caused by a sense of disappointment in myself and what I have accomplished (lack thereof) exacerbated by the annual reminder of my birthday.  “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario”** and so I refuse to accept where I am, or to look at the bright side of what I have accomplished.  The glass may be half full, but just looking at it that way, doesn’t negate the fact that it IS half empty.  You are deluding yourself if you think you can look past the stark reality of the emptiness of the glass.

So the opposite of disappointment for me, is determination.  Determination in accomplishing my goals, kicking ass until I get there and never quitting.  The whole purpose of 20X was a realization that the human spirit can take 20 times more pain and punishment than you think before it truly breaks.  What seem like breaking points are just temporary and fictional surrenders to minor challenges that are easily overcome with grit.

I remind myself over and over:

  • Know that you will reach your goals: Focus, Drive, Determination
  • I AM the master of my fate.
  • The only easy day was yesterday.
  • Don’t ever ring the bell.

These thoughts awaken my kokoro spirit and get me focused on doing what is important.  Hooyah 44, bring it on.


**If you don’t know this quote, well I can’t help you, watch the damn movie!

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Spheres of Intellect

When Taylor was an infant, she was not a good baby.  You’d never know it by her sleeping habits now, but she did not sleep for long stretches at all.  Megan and I had a system during her maternity leave; she would cover the day, and then when I got home I would cover the night until about 5 am.  That was a painful time

Tay would cry a lot and nothing could calm her to the point that she could go to sleep, except me walking around the house holding her.  I did this figure 8 loop around the dining table and then back into the living room around the coffee table.  Back then late night TV was limited and there was no DVR.  There might have been YouTube, but not like now.  At 2 am all the news shows started looping and even ESPN started repeating the prime time coverage.  I watched a lot of cooking shows and CSPAN.  I love CSPAN.

I’ve had this theory for a long time that I call “Spheres of Intellect”.  Basically each person has a pool of knowledge that surrounds them and sometimes overlaps with other people’s spheres.  But no matter what, no two spheres are identical.  There is always something you know that someone else doesn’t and more importantly, that applies vice versa.  

I have long held Spheres of Intellect as a self motivator that no matter how much I admire and respect a person, I know something they don’t.  I am a huge Bill Gates fan and I have always held to the fact that there is a part of my sphere that includes car care and home maintenance that his probably does not.   And that makes me feel better about his success and my lack thereof.  

One night in 1999, I was watching CSPAN and Warren Buffett was giving an interview and he spoke about his Circles of Competence theory.  I have since learned this term first appeared in a 1996 Berkshire annual report letter.   I was so excited that one of my heroes had the same theory as me.  But more importantly it meant that someone of his character and caliber recognized that there was something he didn’t know, and no matter the income or educational background of the person he was talking to, that person might know more about a given subject.  How amazing is that?  I could talk to Warren Buffett and he would acknowledge that I know more about… say building a tailgate box, and listen to me intently and respectfully.  This seems such an obvious concept and yet in this world of following-news-on-only-the-social-channels-I-agree-with world, it is now dead.

Eric and I were talking the other night about how we can fundamentally disagree on issues and yet we both respect each other’s opinions about how to interpret facts and that when we do this, I recognized a few things about the very notion of intelligent discourse.

  1. Each of us is a good person with a good heart who loves this country and its people and wants it to be a great place to live and raise the future generations
  2. Just because we disagree on the mechanism to get us to a better place, doesn’t mean that one of the two opposing ideas is intentionally aiming to “ruin”, “destroy” or be a “disaster” for the country
  3. [This comes from a college class I took in philosophy] Opinions must be based on facts.  There can be two differing opinions about the same set of facts.  As you debate the merits of each, what you are actually doing is debating how rational the reaction and opinion is to one or multiple facts, assigning weighting factors to each and leveraging them cohesively to form an argument about the validity of your opinion

Eric and I noted with dismay that the act of rational and calm debate has completely disappeared.  We got to talking about the idea of creating a podcast or YouTube channel that would attempt to find decency in political debate in what is sure to be an insane political season.  But since that medium is now unviable as platform, I recognize that I would need to do something new and different.  Since we spoke, I have an idea and I am actually excited about trying to put this together.

Everyone has different circles.  Respecting that doesn’t make you weak.  It actually makes the humbleness of your own self respect portray you as much stronger.  Playing to that reality I think could be a winning formula.  When you make an argument, the first thing you must do is to agree to a set of facts, and if your disagree, the basis of your argument has to be rooted in a fact.  This is done by introducing new facts that come with mutual agreements.  I’m going to create structure around this, I think it will be cool.  More to come.  

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Student Loan Woes

A few weeks ago Senator Jeanne Shaheen came to Merrimack to participate in a town hall meeting at Fido.  The company had started a program about a year ago to help pay back employees’ student debt.  Many participate and this event was used as an opportunity to showcase what we were doing and discuss the issue of debt.

Yes I think the cost of higher ed is too high.  Unlike many Silicon Valley types who doubt the value of college education, I think the act of immersing yourself in a 4 year exploration of thought is a good thing to mature young minds before they enter the workforce.  I don’t think the curricula match the needs of the modern workforce or industry needs, but that is another topic.

I also think that students need to be rational about their financial footing when they make choices about college.  Not everyone can or should afford $50k per year.  And if you decide that you must have that costly education, you either need to not complain after you make that decision or get creative in the way it is financed.  I know this isn’t fair in the Bernie Sanders world but it is reality and you better get used to it.  I don’t drive my dream car or live in my dream house, but I live within my means and I get all the same benefits (transportation and shelter).  This is a lesson kids need to learn earlier in life.  There are lower cost options.

At the base of the conversation about student debt, everything came back to educating students on paying debt, refinancing, managing money, etc.  The panel kept talking about how kids don’t understand the financial implications of their choices.  I found this to be obnoxiously ironic.

When I worked in the Bursar’s office at NECC, we were constantly in contact with the Financial Aid office.  All they ever talked about were federal regulations on what they could and could not do in order to maintain our eligibility as a school that could award aid to students.  So the government can stipulate rules for the office, accreditation for the school, and which majors are eligible, but not requirements for basic student knowledge to receive that taxpayer paid funding?  I asked the question of the Senator; why not make a basic finance course a requirement of receiving aid?  If the problem is education, isn’t it irresponsible to finance a life at an educational institution that doesn’t educate on the most basic of needs to understand that financing just received?  I can’t believe how stupid it was to even ask the question.  More amazing is that the panel, including Senator Shaheen, enthusiastically agreed.  Yet I doubt this will ever become real legislation.

The default rates on student loans are nearly 10 times higher than mortgage default rates, 5x higher than credit cards.  We are talking about a subsidized interest rate with zero capital backing.  The government passes new and onerous regulations all the time, but we can’t require that students actually understand the financial implications of their debt?

College education is important.  And I do believe a much higher percentage of Americans should be college educated to prepare for the jobs of the future.  But I have to say that Bernie’s free college for all is not the solution.  Students need to understand, appreciate and value that education.  The first step is to understand that all this free stuff we give them, isn’t really free.  Isn’t that a crazy thought, woa.

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