Thursday, December 26, 2013

be better

i have been a grumpy bastard for much of 2013.  not every day, not all the time, but enough that i am sick of myself on a semi-regular basis.  i realized this morning how close i am to the end of the year, and that this is a good chance to do something about the self-loathing.  i need to make myself some promises for the coming year.  next week a new year begins and i need a framework to work towards my goal.

some points to note.  i almost never make new years resolutions.  they seem forced and fake, picking something to do to change yourself ... yeah right.   if you wanted to be that way, wouldn't you be already?

people choose things that they have always wanted to do and have never done.  "write a novel" ... when you have no history of writing is a pretty big jump.  they have no idea of the time and effort the resolution would take because they have never done anything like that... any resolution you make while blind to the effort it takes is destined to fail.  rule #1, nothing you haven't done before.

people also choose things they don't really enjoy.  a smoker who has smoked for 20 years should not be thinking about giving up smoking; unless there is something else they want even more ... like living after their second heart attack and signs of lung cancer ... then again, if they really love to smoke, leave them alone, they love it, and have been looking at the pictures on the pack for long enough to have thought about what their lungs look like ...  rule #2, pick things you actually enjoy (or have strongly enjoyed in the past).

what about having failed at it in the past ... i have an issue here, i have decided to lose weight before, last year in fact, not at new years -- it wasn't a resolution, it was a plan... and i failed, miserably ... self-delusion is the driver for too many when they make their resolutions, they just don't appreciate the limits of their ability to change.  rule # 3, try to not make the same resolutions you have made and failed at the past.  if you do repeat, find a way to change them to make them achievable.

the other thing people do is take on too much at one time.  the ability to get through something difficult is both the strength of conviction, and the level of strain someone is under.  get someone stressed, or tired, and will goes out the window.  comfort behavior kicks in, and the bad comes on like a warm blanket ... so, don't take on too much.  allow yourself rest and reward between stressful events ... rule #4, don't over due your commitment.

sounds good right?  i have clearly given this thought and do know how to set reasonable goals... i need to find things i really enjoy, i have been successful with before, focus on the ones that will really make me happy and make them achievable both in number and scale...

and in that vein i have decided to go with 10 changes, the first two are elements of the same goal of getting my fat-irish-ass back to a shape other than round.  the others support other themes.
  1. exercise almost every day (run a 10K by the end of 2014)
  2. eat to live, instead of live to eat  (lose 50 lbs in 35 weeks)
  3. use kanban to plan work and home
  4. use moleskine to-do to track days
  5. actively code
  6. call all three kids 3 times a month
  7. call mom once a month
  8. motorcycle at least once a week
  9. travel to focus on sanity
  10. be sociable, delay the misanthrope tendencies
you don't like that, you think that is too many things to focus on?  maybe i need to be more selective and find achievable goals.  these are too tactical for you, huh?  hmmmm, lets summarize these up into their themes.
  • get fit
  • be a better manager
  • be a better father/son
  • relax and enjoy life
yeah, i didn't go with a list like this in the first place because of the lack of SMART goals.  this is the middle of review season, and goals are due in a week or two, how can i go with a summarized list that doesn't give me a structure to measure against ... the original list of 10 each had fine grained steps below them, steps that were suppressed for brevity ... that was a good thing right ...

you want more brevity?  now that we are summarized to themes you don't really care about any details ... these themes are all about one thing; driving the grumpy bastard down the road. 

if you don't care about the details at all, you just want a single simple goal.  how can i boil this down to something concise... 

okay, here this is it:
  • be better 

that is a goal we could all embrace for 2014.  you do your part, i'll do mine and we can get together at the end of the year and see how we have done.

Monday, December 23, 2013

gibbs rules

i watch NCIS ... it's not my favorite show, but it is on the comfort list.  i have other shows i definitely like more; mostly with protagonists who are more moody or clearly broken than this show.  this is a feel good, team work, do the right thing, what ever it takes kind of american show.  at the center of it is leroy jethro gibbs and the set of rules that have become known as gibbs rules.

gibbs rules are not unique, most american kids grew up hearing some subset of these from our fathers, coaches, uncles and grand fathers.  some of them come directly from john wayne who taught us to "never apologize mister, it's a sign of weakness", stays on the list of most men; although the better of them break this rule when needed.

having a personal set of rules is part of getting older.  it's a sign of maturity that you have learned so many lessons you need to write them down, or are willing to share them with others.  a personal list may have come with hard lessons, but the lessons are not shared, just the rules.  everyone needs to learn their own lessons, but when they do that's when they might remember someone saying words they didn't really understand at the time.  rules are just words until you have the context to put them in.  some people might be able to follow rules without the lesson, but i need to feel the bruises before i learn the lesson.

in an effort to remember and share, here is my personal list of rules:
  1. family first
  2. secrets are not secret if anyone knows
  3. everybody lies
  4. balance requires flexibility
  5. to remember it, write it down
  6. don't assume, check; then confirm
  7. listen, hear, think then talk
  8. when in doubt; don't
  9. never go anywhere without a knife
  10. make a mess, clean it up
  11. do what you are, use your strenghts
  12. team, corp, god, country
  13. it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission
  14. bend rules, don't break them
  15. swim across a riptide
  16. don't apologize; it's a sign of weakness
  17. when you are sorry, fix it 
  18. if it doesn't hurt, it's not worth the effort
  19. you want it, you carry it
  20. wanting it is not needing it
  21. you need less than you packed
  22. carry on, or be left behind
  23. slow is smooth, smooth is fast
  24. you don't need to to outrun the bear, just the other guy
  25. when the map doesn't match the mountain, believe the mountain
  26. never swim alone
  27. lead, follow or get out of the way
  28. promises made are promises kept
  29. what is measured improves
  30. delegate, trust, then monitor
  31. hire, train and get out of the way
  32. see one, do one, teach one
  33. elegance is engineering without extras
  34. nothing lasts forever, enjoy it while it does
  35. always be ready to walk away
  36. when the ride ends, get off
  37. shake hands when the game is over
  38. there is always someone better, work harder
  39. easy is boring, hard almost never is
  40. just good enough usually isn't
  41. bad things happen, wear a helmet
  42. if paying for it takes longer than the enjoyment, its probably not worth it
  43. you don't know enough, keep learning
  44. you are going to be wrong, get over it
  45. when you're wrong, don't be the last to realize it
  46. when you see a contradiction, check your assumptions
  47. simple is best, correct is better
  48. fear helps you focus, keep moving
  49. happiness comes from inside
  50. its all about the love
this list is neither complete or finished.  i am hoping to keep learning my lessons and growing the list when new bumps teach me things.  some of these lessons go back to a very early age, some are newer... all are part of me now.  i own the rules, because i have the memories, the scars or bruises, that back them up.

as i type this i am thinking about standing in the kitchen and holding e back from the stove.  i was taking bread out and he wanted to help.  i told him it was hot ... he didn't listen... i stood back and watched him reach out to the door again... the shocked look on his face said it all, he had just learned to not touch the hot stove.  his eyes accused me of burning him and is said, "i told you not to do it, did you learn a lesson?" ... i don't think he even remembers this moment of my sideways parenting.  i wonder if he has a rule that applies?

i mentioned that gibbs is not my favorite character, but a number of my rules are close to his.  one of mine is a direct copy, including the number.  after quoting it to angel too many times to remember, she has just begun to remember it.  now is not the time to change it.

gibbs rules are part of his teaching of staff.  i am not sure how many of my rules any my staff have picked up over the years.  what is more important is that they have rules of their own.  everyone's rules are their own, or should be if they are going to be actually appreciated.

these are mine, if you want your own, remember rule #5.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

splitting lanes

i just had a really good morning.  i have been sleeping well; but not last night.  i have been feeling more alive and awake.  i have been more connected, engaged and aware of my surroundings.  the level of frustration and anticipation have both broken and settled to a much lower level.  life is really good, better than it has ever been maybe.  i am happy.  but happy people are boring in most ways.  they are just going about their lives being happy, so why write about that... no one wants to hear how happy you are.  no one wants to hear that you had fun this morning, that you burned off a little stress.  drama and comedy both come from tragedy, never from contentment.  contentment is boring and you should keep it to yourself.

i got my honda cb 650 back from hungryghost last week.  the paint job is exactly what i wanted, vermilion was perfect for a bike named nakal.  the build striped a bunch of weight from the bike.  its faster, feels like it has more torque off the mark and snaps to a new line when you push it over.  it's well worth the cost, and i an really happy i argued that i needed another bike.  i can't wait to get it out into the hills and explore.  this bike is all about sharing and having fun.  you can feel the good karma as you walk up to it.

but this morning was a quick hop to antip-TT.  i needed to go to kampung pandan yet again.  the frame is back ... and the wheels are on.  there is no sign of the engine and no one was able to give me an estimate ... wait, there is that frustration.  there is the drama, the urge to take matters into my own hands and elicit a response ... but i talked with some people about this earlier this week, and saw shock and possibly suppressed fear bubble out when i did, so i am going to put that aside for now and focus on the good. i will remember the advice i saw along with the fear, i will "hug it out" and suppress the urge.

one of the great things about riding is KL is the fact that splitting lanes is legal ... well, much like the majority of life here, i am not sure if it is legal but it is common.  it's one of the things that got me riding again.  i would be sitting in traffic and watching the people on little scooters slip by between the lanes.  friends back in the states, especially those in winter climates have no idea that asia runs on small low powered motorcycles.  it is not uncommon to see a family of 4 riding down the roads of asia on what in the US would be seen as a bicycle with an tiny engine.  think moped without peddles, but with 4 or more passengers, and you get the idea.

but KL is also a modern city with congested highways.  the middle class here love their cars, and because of government cronyism pay three times more than US prices for them.  they are status symbols more than transportation.  the model and year of your car sends a strong message to the community on who you are.  when you spend more than 60,000 USD for a mini-cooper, you are driving a hipster mobile that rather than saying "i am a recent college graduate" as it does in the US, says "i ... or my parents ... am successful".  can you imagine the pride the mercedes driver feels knowing they could afford 1500,000 USD for the luxury name plate?

the government has been defending the outrageous cost of cars here by pointing out that if prices were to drop more people would have cars and traffic would be worse.  this doesn't seem to motivate the poor who ride with their children tucked between the parents on the mini-cycles to vote for new government.  and the middle class don't seem to mind sitting in the traffic jams that they already suffer.  they suffer not because of the number of cars on the road, but because the highways are a mish-mash of crony-company owned toll roads that were never designed to be used as a unified or logical system of transportation.  the toll roads are designed first to collect money, and much less so to move people around the city.

which gets me to why i am riding again.  i am so sick of sitting in traffic that i have elected to join the working poor and embrace the only logical mode of transportation in this city.  i can now zip past the chronically trapped cars, sometimes in a special lane only for motorcycles.  i am not paying tolls, because toll roads are free for motorcycles.  i am exposed to the rains, but this month is the dry season, and i am getting better and better at timing the showers.  i also have met people in the motorcycle community and get waves and smiles all the time from others around me.  KL is much more pleasant when you are not trapped inside your car waiting.  the feeling of the wind on your face, the sound of the engine, the pull of the throttle as you move off the line, these are just added positives to the ability to avoid the pain of "the jam".

this is some of the reason i am happier.  but, even this comes with a caveat ... although splitting lanes is common, and fully legal, there are some that seem to want it to stop.  i don't think it's the lane splitting per se.  i think it's the fact that others are getting ahead while they are stuck.  you know who you are, the drivers who put your tires as close to the centerline as you can.  at times you go further and just move over the line an sit in traffic half way over.  you are not merging, you are blocking.  you do not stay in line, or have the courtesy to move over and make space for the poor people who are on bikes.  its either to block the way fully, or make the job of squeezing through the jam that much harder.  you know you are doing it, i can tell by the way you stare straight ahead, ignoring the plight of others.

splitting lanes is a system of sharing the roads and making way for the smaller bikes to move between the cars.  asian's should be proud of the spirit of cooperation that it takes.  only one state in the US, california, allows splitting lanes.  americans see it as dangerous, but numerous studies show it is not when it's allowed and expected.  although, it can be down right scary when you are on a bigger bike and some dumb ass in a mercedes moves to the middle as you come up on them.  the locals on the little bikes are amazingly talented at slipping between cars, with acrobatic moves to avoid such active agressive tactics, but anything over 400cc takes more space to get through.

have a little generosity of the soul, sharing is good for you.  just because you felt special in your overly expensive car, but lost that when poor people on the cheapest vehicles around started to pass you.  why don't you listen to some music, sit back in your leather seats and relax.  the jam will open up and you will get home, just not as fast as the smart people on motorcycles.

if you can't share, why don't you get out of your car and buy a bike.  stop needing the status symbol of your car to give you a sense of worth.  feel better by getting out and enjoying getting around.  begin to connect with the people around you again.  maybe someone will smile at you, hell you might smile back and wave like a human being, rather than staring forward to avoid eye contact while you are being a jerk.

i feel better.  i got this off my chest and i get to go out and ride again.  i am fully aware you are not going to change, you are going to keep doing this... but lets be clear... you are running a risk.  if you merge into the wrong person, maybe one who is not a local, is not constrained by asian shame and culturally false-courtesy, maybe one returning from a quick trip to check on the project that has slipped into a black-hole of delays, lies and missed deadlines, that person may very well exercise a generous portion of directed anger upon you.  it could be enough to show you that pretending not to notice is not going to work.  american road rage is something you do not want to experience.

if this happens, we will not be able to "hug it out, bitch".


honestly, that might make me more happy than i already am.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

market segmentation

having been in malaysia for 7 years, i have been through the stages of expat experience.  i have gone from disoriented wandering, to sponge-like learning, to stabilized living in the rut the foreigner lifestyle.  i am now at the point where i can give directions as good or better than locals, discuss food using native names only, and have begun to notice how things have changed rather than how they are different from home.  this week led me through an adventure of malaysia in the state of change.  i am seeing a culture shift happen right in front of me, and like what i am seeing.

last week i saw an ad for a suzuki gs550, which is the former standard for 1980s malaysian police motorcycles.  the bike in the ad still had the paint job and gear of a police moto.  the inner voice sitting next to me hated how it looked, but imagine the chips theme song going off in my head.  it could be possible that i spent a few moments considering the use of the bike's police lights in KL traffic and i might have re-imagined a pre-teen fantasy of helping ponch and john during a chase.  

given there are few in country who could recognize the chips fantasy ride in action, i thought i was safe from an immediate need to modify the bike, but the desire to do it was still there.  so if i wanted to do this the next step was to find a builder who would be able to help me get it to the modernized cafe vision.  there is a emerging cafe racer community, and there are custom builders beginning to pop up, supporting conversions and rallys. 

the first place i dropped into was is an american chopper boutique in bangsar.  they sell harleys as the primary business, but allegedly also do service.  their website promised full service maintenance and rebuilds.  the shop is on a street i slip down a few times a week, but i have never seen any activity.  the place normally looks closed; i have only seen people moving around outside once or twice.  but i decided to start here, they are the most convenient location and being in bangsar i assumed would be expat easy.

the shop was dead quiet when i walked in.  it was clean, spacious and well polished, with 6 or 8 new harleys parked around the show room in a dark and calming environment that was more art gallery than motorcycle shop.  there were guys hidden in back, we had a good conversation and they know their stuff about motorcycles.  but they have no history of building a custom bike.  there were no cafe bikes in the shop and none of them ride one.  they knew the theory behind the project, but were focused on explaining to me that "sometimes shit happens".  this was clearly a warning that the project could be longer and more expensive than the estimate.  malaysian pace meets expat target, i learned these lessons years ago when i built the office. i fully understood the between the lines reality.

the process they suggested was that once i purchased a bike we would make sure it runs and from there the conversion would be 3 - 4 months with a rough-estimate cost of 15 thousand RM.  when i challenged the time, i was told that once we have all the parts together it would be at least a month to put them together and maybe some work following that to shake things out.  i left the gallery with a mental picture of 4 - 6 months and 20 - 30K RM as the cost.  added to the cost of the bike, my expat easy gallery would deliver me a ride in time for merdeka with a probable cost of 40K RM (13K USD).

the next option was to try to dip into the more localized solutions.  rather than going expat easy, i would need to move toward a malaysian solution.  a similar cultural revolution that drove the british cafe racer culture in the 1960s is happening in malaysia now.  people are embracing the freedoms of speed and individuality.   middle-class locals cannot afford triumphs that cost 3 times what they do in the US.  the desire to ride something more than the average 125cc scooters is there, and old bikes rebuilt and customized for individuality is the solution.  even if i can afford the higher price, i am not going to pay it.  this is what has driven me in the this direction, so it must be time to go there.

google maps and a sense of direction led me into an area of KL i have never been.  kampung pandan is behind embassy land but not quite as far as ampang.  finding the shop was surprisingly easy, maybe i am just getting better at working with less than complete information.  the hardest part of the adventure was squeezing my car down the road in front of the shoplots.  seconds after smashing my side mirror against another cars with a loud shock of attention, i saw the shop with greasy guys lingering outside.

the rest was amazing easy.  the shop was jammed with people and bikes.  it is considerably less polished than the bangsar art gallery; clearly a work space rather than show room.  i counted at least 9 project bikes in various states of construction.  bikes of all shapes and sizes in the process of conversion to cafe trim.  custom seats and bars being fabricated in the open proved that there is a culture of conversion in the shop.  the owner is a former lawyer who clearly loves cafe, he pointed to his personal ride that had a new seat being bolted on.  he was open that he is not a mechanic, but introduced me to the american kid he has working for him to assist with the build process.  if the bangsar shop was a motorcycle version of datin louis vuitton shop, this shop was more borneo ink with metal.

i felt at home almost immediately.  sam and i chatted about what they do, and how they work.  he told me he had a stream of bikes to source from.  if i wanted i could put half down and in a week he would have a bike for me.  if i wanted that one i could sign up and we could begin the build, otherwise the shop would keep it and he would find another.  he shared that his standard customer is very price conscious, so some of the things i was asking for could be done but for a price above the 1.5K RM he would normally charge.  all in i am estimating 15K for the bike and the build, he said one month, i am fine with two if that's where we end up.  anything short of 4 will be a major victory.

both of these shops have only been around for only a few years.  the one in bangsar is old malaysia; they are focused on expats and upper class older riders.  the kampung shop is new malaysia; focused on the younger crowds who are in the process of moving upwards. they have to build because we can not buy.  the crazy import fees need to be avoided, they can get former police motorcycles and convert them to something fun and cool, rather than just purchasing something, to be shown like a branded hand bag, they are building something unique and personal.  welcome to the rocker culture.

i rode the brat over to kampung this morning to give them the downpayment on the project bike.  i should be able to go back next weekend and see the bike.  the process has begun.  i am happy to support this business and the cultural shift it represents.  i know what i will be doing on weekends for the next couple of months.  i will balik kampung to help the guys create my vintage motorcycle.  i know exactly what i want.  i can picture it, and can't wait to do a ton.

vintage hip, cafe cool; rocker culture over louis vuitton for sure.