December 13, 2013

Health can't be measured by a bathroom scale

About eight weeks ago I sprained my MCL, and I haven't been able to play soccer since. And ever since summer, I've skipped my early morning gym time, choosing instead to work on the third novel in my Semper - Forsada - To-be-titled series.

This means I haven't seriously exercised in a long, long time. But I know I'm still in great shape because the bathroom scale says I've only gained a pound or two in all those months. Right?

Actually, that's a pretty stupid conclusion. It would be like saying the economy is strong because the stock market is high.

Truth is, I am still reasonably fit, and if I only look at one indicator (the bathroom scale), then I think things are going great. But to judge my real health, I have to look at many other indicators and all the things that go into health--diet, activity, stress, etc. Same thing with the health of any complex system. I've blogged about this in my day job. You can't take one indicator, as important as it may be, and understand the full health of a complex system like a human body, a workforce, an educational system, a government, or an economy.

In the USA, we have a addiction to primary indicators. By that I mean we obsess over the one magical number we can use to grade everyone and everything. We see it in our obsession with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which leads every business news report but really doesn't tell us very much about the health of the economy overall. We see it in standardized test scores like the SAT, which determines so much about a student's college admission but really doesn't test education or ability; it only grades whether the child has the prepared to take the SAT. We see it in consumption, where price alone drives so many of our purchases.

Take, for example, the omnipresent fast food "meal deal." Most places offer options to upsize your meal, and the price delta is minuscule compared to the base price. Pay $6 for the regular, $6.70 for the medium, or $7.15 for the large. Or, "add chips and a drink" for just two bucks. Notice they call it a "meal," not "the healthy addition."

The American psyche looks at that and quickly calculates that the price per increase is negligible compared to the initial buy-in. Virtually no thought is given to how hungry the person is; the only indicator that matters is price. So naturally, most people size up. Best decision? Probably not, even though it might seem to make economic sense to get a lot more of something for just a little extra spent.

Because that makes it really hard to keep the bathroom scale steady.

December 9, 2013

Sometimes my son hates having a writer for a parent.

Out at dinner the other night, my younger son finally got fed up.

"Sometimes I hate having a writer for a parent," he grumbled.

"Only sometimes?" I asked. I got all warm and fuzzy. Not just because I succeeded (again) in ruining my children's life, but also because he recognized and appreciated the word-nerd sarcasm I had just unleashed in a teachable moment disguised as humor.

See, I love to call out two ambiguities in particular, and he had just stumbled into one of them.

One is the misplaced modifier, as in

Ugly and ineffective, teachers shun corporal punishment as a disciplinary tool.
Okay, I admit the above sentence is actually unambiguous. But how often does the speaker really intend to call teachers ugly and ineffective, do you think? (Hmm. Maybe I should have used a different example.) Anyway, I usually just enjoy these gems quietly, without comment.

The other one I love is more than/less than, as in what my son had just said:
I like bread more than my brother.
Even within the context of our conversation, the ambiguity of this sentence gave me pause. Did he like bread more than he liked his brother? Or did he like bread more than his brother liked bread? This was a toss-up, so I asked him, and we got into a lengthy discussion of the possibilities of this construction.

A particular pet peeve of mine is the frequent misuse of "more than me" when "more than I" is intended. Take a simple example such as
You like fish more than me.
While it may be true that the listener prefers the company of fish to spending time with the speaker, usually the speaker means that the listener enjoys fish more than the speaker does. If that's the case, the speaker should have said
You like fish more than I.
(Kids especially hate this because it sounds awkward and stilted, so they think it's wrong.)

The simple test here is whether the sentence holds its proper meaning if you add the verb phrase at the end. As in:
You like fish more than I like fish.
If, however, you really mean that the listener prefers fish to you, then go ahead and use the object "me" here. And of course, You like fish more than me like fish makes no sense.

Besides providing a way to titillate grammarians, this rule can also come in handy when ambiguity is what you're looking for. For example, if you wish to tell someone who doesn't like cheese that you find them distasteful, you could say something like this:
I like cheese more than you.
The listener will heartily agree, thinking that you meant to recognize their dislike of cheese. But you and I both know you meant something different. And who could blame you? I also like cheese more than people who don't appreciate this grammatical concept.

And no, I never did find out whether my son liked bread more than he liked his brother.

And finally, because I had no photos of fish or cheese handy, here are some kittens I've shown before:

December 6, 2013

how to waste a lot of money self-publishing a book

PAID FOR, biatch.
Last night I updated my spreadsheet totting up sales and downloads of Semper and Forsada. It never takes me too long; these are not big numbers. But each book earns enough profit to pay my whiskey and Starbucks bills while I write the next book. And that makes me happy enough, for now.

Between the two titles, my name adorns over 16,000 books out in the wild. I'll gladly admit that more than 15,000 of those were free downloads. Which proves that you don't need to sell a lot of books to make a profit when you self-publish. (My publishing goals are modest; I'm sure I could sell far more if I invested in promotion, but my life is focused elsewhere right now.)

Not a wheelbarrow
My point is that you don't need a wheelbarrow full of cash to self publish a book, and I get really frustrated when I hear people spending thousands of dollars to do something I did for a couple hundred.

A writers group I know of, for example, expects to spend $10,000 to publish an anthology. They're not paying the authors; just the opposite: they're asking friends and family to chip in. It appears, from what I can discern, that the majority of this huge wheelbarrow of cash is going to the consultants who are helping the group self-publish their anthology.

Granted, they definitely need an editor. And they certainly need a cover designed. And they probably need a layout tech. I'm just having trouble adding that up to get to $10,000. Maybe they're planning one hell of a launch party.

Anyway, if you want to waste a ton of money self-publishing, just hire a consultant without understanding what, exactly, they're producing. Anyone who tells you that self-publishing is hard is probably trying to overcharge you, and anyone that tells you they can make your book successful for some fee is probably lying. There is no need to spend a bunch of money on consultants.

Meanwhile, I'm raking in the profits like the guy who cleans coins out of the fountain at the Motel 6 in Soledad. Admit it. You wish you were me.

Not sold out. Copies still available.
The third book will be out in the first half of 2014.
I have an email list. Sign up for it. In six months, I've sent exactly zero emails to this list. But I have two books coming out in the next six months, and you might miss them if you don't sign up. So go sign up now. Before you forget and stuff.

November 26, 2013

Empowering others to their own self-empowerment

Yesterday a friend pointed me to a link with seven awesome affirmations, reasons to "stop proving yourself to everyone else." There are great points there for everyone to remind themselves of from time to time, especially in the Internet era.

But as I read it, I thought about how these lists are like Twinkies for the psyche--good for the sugar rush and quick calories for one's confidence, but not enough to overcome true self esteem difficulties if the environment around you pushes you down all the time. It's easy to tell yourself to be who you really are, find your own path, own your happiness... but if those closest to you don't give you the space and support you need, you'll keep getting dragged down.

As a parent, youth coach, former scout leader, and manager in the workplace, I am constantly focusing on empowering others. I believe in all seven points in the article and use my own version of them to guide me in coaching, managing, raising my kids, talking with friends--everywhere I interact with people. Maybe that's just my positivity strength, but everyone is capable of being a force for empowerment.

With that in mind, here are seven points for those of us who want to empower others to grow, to accomplish all they can, to be happier, to suffer less stress.

1. Don't compare them to someone else.

Being compared to someone else sucks, especially if you're the one that falls short. Celebrating the abilities and accomplishments of others is wonderful, and we should do that. Saying that Susan's husband is a great cook, however, is different from saying, "I wish you could cook like Susan's husband." Being happy your son's friend got straight A's is different from saying, "I guess you're just not smart like he is."

We all have different talents, strengths, likes, and dislikes. The girl that can't spell might be a dynamite poet. The boy struggling in Chemistry might be a whiz at Physics. Instead of pointing out where you think they're falling short, focus on what they do well. Recognize their talents. Don't get mat at your kid if he'd rather socialize than bury his head in a book; chances are, the parents of the bookworm wish their kid would be more outgoing and social. Love them for who they are, acknowledge and understand their strengths, and guide them in a way that will help them harness those strengths.

2. Understand, then embrace, their dreams.

Popular culture is full of stories of parents forcing their kids into certain careers or molds. Sometimes it works out, but come on. If you were forced into a career you hated, how happy would you be?

People perform better and live happier if they can pursue what they love. What they love, not what you want them to love. Maybe you think you see them being successful in a particular path if they'd only commit themselves to it. But they never commit, even if they've tried it. Frustrating, right? Forget it. Their dreams are not about you. Their dreams are about them. They won't commit to your ideas because they're your ideas, not necessarily their ideas. Instead of trying to fit them into roles, help them figure out for themselves what they love. Then, embrace it. Support it.

3. Illuminate their path, but don't walk it for them

We all know the term "micromanage" as a bad word. For good reason. Not only does a micromanager frustrate the people they're controlling, but they're also creating stress and stifling growth. This is true both with leading teens and managing the workplace, where we strive to develop and grow talent while simultaneously accomplishing the work that needs to get done.

The manager's job is to set up the tasks, then provide the tools and materials for the worker to get the job done. Get out of the way and let them do it. Maybe they'll do it a different way from your way, and that's okay. If they seek help, give it. Shine a light on the path so they know where to go, but don't control every step of the way. People perform far better if you let them unleash their own creativity, and they take far greater pride when they know they've accomplished something on their own.

Micromanaging says I don't trust you to do it right. Handing them the keys and giving them a map says I know you can do it. Which is more empowering?

4. Make sure they stop looking up for a bit.

We're all under such pressure to reach a consumerism-defined version of "success." It's so easy to look at those who have more than we do and think we're not as successful as we should be. Nicer cars, bigger houses, brighter jewelry, fancier clothes. Don't feed that monster. It's just one more way that society makes us feel less than we are. If you think about it, advertising exists to make us think our life sucks, and to make us compare ourselves to some consumeristic ideal that, when you look at it, is all veneer and no structure.

If you know someone perpetually feeling stressed about their wealth or feeling inferior to those who have more things, help them stop looking up the economic ladder for a bit. Help them look down and see how high they really are. (With 1.6 billion people living without electricity, if they can read this blog post they're already in pretty good shape.) Then, go a step further and help them understand that they should not define themselves by the things they possess. And prove it by caring about them, not about their things. Be a good friend.

5. Be patient.

Not everyone develops at the same pace, so be patient. I see parents getting so frustrated with their children because things seem so much easier to adults than to kids. The kid has only 15 years of life experience instead of the 40 or 50 the parent has, after all. The kid isn't going to automatically know or be able to do things adults take for granted. It starts early, with new parents fretting that their baby isn't walking as early as those other babies... give it a rest. All kids grow up. Parenting is a constant exercise in seeing the world from the kid's perspective and helping them grow up. Same thing is true with adults. We are all growing and developing every day, facing new challenges and trying to learn new things. Don't get frustrated that they're not expert in everything right now.

6. Let them fall... but be ready with the first aid kit.

We've all seen the graphics going around the internet that success can't be reached by a straight path. Success is reached through a multitude of missteps, learning with each one. Parents and micromanagers have difficulty seeing their children and workers fail. It could be because they think the failure would reflect badly on them as the parent or manager. Or it could be that they don't want the task to go undone or be done incorrectly. Or, they might just be uncomfortable seeing their kid or worker feel bad at falling short of the goal.

But if you do everything for them, they'll never grow. They'll never feel the sting of losing or the elation of achievement because it will always be dampened by the knowledge that someone was there to fix it and make it all right. Sometimes, you have to be there to catch them before they get hurt. Other times, though, it's more important to stand by and watch, then pick them up and apply the first aid afterwards. Either way, you have to let go and allow them to grow. But let them know you're nearby.

7. Don't try to make it all about you.

It isn't about you. So don't try to make it about you. When they're telling you something, don't hijack their story and tell your own. When they're telling you what they want out of life, don't compare it to what you want out of life. When they're working out a problem, don't try to make them do it your way. So what if they want to load the silverware into the dishwasher upside-down? So what if they want to drive the back streets when you would take the highway? It's not about you, and you can't successfully make it about you. When you try, all you do is make people feel that you care only about yourself and don't care about them.

And maybe that's really the case. But it doesn't have to be.

November 15, 2013

How I thought I got into UC Berkeley but later found I was wrong

More than a quarter century ago, when call waiting was still cutting edge technology, I was a senior in high school on the east coast, and I wanted to go to college far away. I visited my high school guidance counselor and told her I was thinking of computer science.

"Great field," she said. "What colleges are you thinking of?"

"Stanford or UC Berkeley," I said.

"Ha ha ha HA HA HA HAHAHA >snort<," she said.

At this point in the story, you expect me to say I took that as a challenge. That I dedicated myself to proving her wrong. But I'm not a liar, so I won't say that. I basically just went back to whatever I was doing. (But I also picked a sure thing as my break-glass-in-case-of-emergency school. On the off chance she actually was good at her job.)

I applied early admissions to UC Berkeley. I boasted pretty good credentials--over a 4.0 at a good high school, some respectable if not astonishing SAT scores, participation several clubs, varsity letter in four events on the track team. And Berkeley let me in.

For years and years, because of that meeting with my guidance counselor, I thought what really got me into Cal was the essay I submitted with my application.

That is, until I stumbled across it in a box of old papers the other day. And I read it. Now, I can't really tell you what got me in. Luck, probably. Clerical error, maybe. Or maybe they thought I'd make all the other students look good by comparison.

Whatever it was, I don't think it was the essay itself, unless they were impressed by my 24-pin dot matrix printout. They probably saw that and said, "This kid knows computers."

But you be the judge. I give you, at the risk of losing the last tiny bit of respect you might have had for me, the full text. (Typos have likely been introduced during transcription.)

Peter J. Dudley

Everyone says that high school is “the best four years of your life”. I’ve found this to be true. At least, so far it is.
It is interesting that I should be writing this essay now, for I just saw a production of the play “Is There Life After High School?” It dealt with the problems of high school graduates and their memories of their school years.
I like to think of what I may be doing twenty years from now. I like to think that I will be successful and still handsome. I also like to think that I will still like the same things I like today.
One of the things I will always enjoy is traveling. I am among the fortunate few that travel all over the world when they are young. I not only have been around my state, but I have been to North Carolina and all over the southwestern United States. Two of my friends and I are planning to ride our bycicles across the country to California.
Not only have I explored the U.S., but I have also made one short excursion to Mexico, where I used my eight years of Spanish to speak with the other bilingual tourists. I have also been to southeastern Canada. I have also gone to England on a tour with a group of other students during April of 1983. A few years ago, I went with my family to Austria to visit my sister, who was studying at the University in Salzburg. While we were there, I was fortunate enough to ski on two European mountains.
Skiing is one of my favorite pasttimes. Although it may get expensive at times, I still like it more than any other sport. I like the thrill of speeding down a thin trail with the peril of trees all around me. This also gives me a chance to be alone with just a beautiful view and infinite space for my mind to expand.
I also like to hike into the mountains of New Hampshire. I have done this with my brother and my father. Each time we camped overnight under the stars. It is really beautiful country. Besides skiing and hiking, I enjoy other sports.
I have been on the track team for four years. I don’t run much, however—I pole vault. I also like to do the triple jump. I prefer the
technique sports, because they offer me a greater challenge. I like to be challenged. Competition is very important in my life.
I like to compete for things. Competition helps me to try harder at nearly everything. However, some people carry competitiveness to an extreme. All they want to do is win, win, win.
This is not a good attitude. In most things, I compete for fun. If competition gets hostile or causes arguments, I usually will be the first to give in a little. However, in some things which I deem important, I will not slack off in my attempts to win. When I do, it is out of courtesy.
Courtesy is also very important to me. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a “gentleman”. Some extreme people people might call this sexist, but I believe that men should be courteous to ladies. This includes holding doors, taking coats, and other actions of chivalry.
Some people are offended by this conduct, but more people enjoy it. It is a good way to meet people or make new friends.
Making new friends seems to be the theme of my senior year. I have become much more social, even with people I rarely talked to before this year. I also have joined many new clubs, including Spanish club, American Field Services, International Relations, and As Schools Match Wits. I used to be very shy, but now I am learning to be more forward. But, given time, I can easily make friends. Some of my good friends say i should be a politician because of my skill in diplomacy and making friends.
My skill with words is reflected in my poetry. I am fairly good with writing creative poetry. I also like to write creative prose, but I am not as talented wit that as I am with poetry. I mostly like to write science fiction or adventure stories. My biggest problem is that I don’t have enough time to write long stories. Time is one luxury I would love to have more of.
I usually type instead of write my stories, because I can type faster than write. I also use my word processor on my Apple ][+ computer. I also like to program my computer. I have a fluent knowledge of BASIC, and I know a little PASCAL. When I have some extra time, I either try to teach myself PASCAL or just play games. I like the fast-moving games as well as the strategy games. After all, who doesn’t?
While I play these games, I like to listen to my tapes. My favorite music includes the groups Adam Ant, Queen, and the Stray Cats. Music plays a great role in my life. I also like “Rockabilly” music. I mostly like fast music because I like to dance.
When I’m not dancing, writing, or making new friends, I like to relax. Sometimes while I’m watching television, I like to analyze the commercials and look at the advertising techniques. I also like to look at politicians like this.
During the recent election, I liked to watch the candidates over a long period of time and see if they changed at all. I also liked to watch the way they spoke to the public. “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’” This is what politics means to me.
Whatever I happen to be doing, I also happen to be having a good time. There is almost nothing that can’t be made fun. Even so, I always look forward to doing something else, for I can rarely keep in one place. I like to be doing something all the time, even if it is just daydreaming.
I daydream quite a bit. I fantasize about being successful in everything I do. Sometimes I wish that I was a world class skier. Other times I think of all the things I could do with large sums of money. These fantasies provide an escape from the everyday grind that we all must go through.
Other forms of escape I use are fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. I like to tak eon another character and be that character once in a while. It’s a sort of “alter ego”. It’s strange how most of my characters are crafty, clever, intelligent people who like to get into trouble. I guess I like to play myself—all except the “get into trouble” part. I try to avoid trouble at all times.
I do this because there is really no one hovering over me protecting me. I have no real “safety net” if I should fall. My mother lives in Las Vegas, and my father and my stepmother have just moved to San Diego. I stayed in Glastonbury to finish my senior year among my friends and classmates. Over the past three months, I have developed a strong sense of independence. Occasionally my father sends me some money for necessary things such as education and doctor’s fees. However, I have been working and spending my own money on frivolous pleasures such as lunch and clothing.
I am living with my step-grandmother, but she is very active and rarely home. Much of my time is spent out with my friends. During vacations, my college friends come home, and I spend much of my time with them. Sometimes we discuss what we’ve been doing and what we would like to do in the future.
My goals in life all seem to point to the ancient Greek “Golden Mean”. I would like, as I suspect most people would, to be my best physically, intellectually, and emotionally.
However, I also have lesser goals. For example, I want to clear eleven feet in the pole vault this year. I also want to muster enough courage to ski Starr (an expert-only trail on Mount Mansfield in Vermont).
I also have more distant goals. For example, I want to have a good job working with computers and robots after I graduate from college with perhaps a Master’s degree. But, perhaps strongest of all, I want to remember the “best four years of my life.”

Still here? Cool. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Or where you went to (or will go to) college. Or whether you can read. Or if you did any of the things I did, or whether you think I was right about anything in the essay.

And the obligatory PROM PHOTO! Since it was high school, y'all.

September 30, 2013

The uniform goes back on, but not for the reason you might think.

You may recall that a year ago, I stopped executing any duties I had as an Assistant Scout Master. While I continue to think the scouting program has an amazing list of incredibly great things to offer youth and their parents, I cannot represent the organization in an official capacity as long as BSA professes a policy of discrimination.

Turns out, there's one exception to that. Tonight I'll put the uniform back on for one final duty. No, actually, it's not a duty--it's a privilege.

Most people experience Boy Scouts through media and popular culture. To many people, scouting looks like a playground for bigoted, chauvinistic, he-men to parade their sons around in manly fashion. In my experience, it's exactly the opposite. In my experience, scouting has been about regular little boys being given an opportunity to learn responsibility and leadership as they grow through their teen years. It's been about families supporting each other through incredibly difficult times. It's been about personal responsibility, community involvement, and life skills.

One of the boys in our troop has completed all his requirements to reach the Eagle rank. You should see this kid's school course load--smartest kid I've known, probably. To have accomplished what he has, self-directed with only mild coaching from the adults around him, is a great achievement. And tonight I get the privilege of meeting with him as his Assistant Scout Master before he takes the final steps toward the Eagle rank.

I know it seems I'm being inconsistent. But it doesn't feel inconsistent to me. I'm not putting on the uniform to show how great I think Boy Scouts is, or how great I think I am for being a trained BSA leader. I'll be wearing it to show respect for this young man and his achievement and dedication. I'm not the authority figure; I'm the witness.

And when our meeting is over, the uniform goes back on its hangar. I don't expect to wear it again, though I suppose it's possible.

September 27, 2013

How I write my books, FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY, and what's is all about anyway?

I'll always remember my firsts with my first book. The first free download period (it's free today, too), my first sale, my first Amazon review, my first Amazon review from someone I didn't already know who lived in a different country, my first signed copy sale, my first author reading, the first high school book report about my book, my first one-star Goodreads rating, my first book blogger review (with the old cover!).

Today, another first: My first online author interview.

Michael was kind enough to download Semper during its most recent free run at Amazon, and to ask me to answer a few questions to be posted to his site. Questions about Semper, my writing process, etc. Questions I haven't really answered online before.

I'd be honored if you'd hop over to the interview, give it a quick read, and drop a comment.

While you're there, enter the rafflecopter for a free, signed copy of Semper.

September 16, 2013

Free kindle downloads this week - YA scifi and adventure, and why they're free

Free September 17-18
Get it here!
I don't promote my books much even though they are, in fact, awesome. I don't write for a living. I make my living raising hundreds of millions of dollars for charity. (Hey, it pays the bills. Don't judge me.)

So when I give my books away for free, it's not because I'm hoping to leverage some discoverability bump into a higher sales ranking. It's because I genuinely want people to read and enjoy them.

Why charge anything at all, you ask? Why not just post a PDF on my web site and make it always free for everyone all the time? Great question. I have two reasons, though others exist:

First, I have costs to recoup. Cover design was the biggest. Factor in my Starbucks and whiskey bills, and all the red pens I emptied in revisions, and pretty soon you're talking real money. (Especially the whiskey.) My day job pays me well, but not so well that budget be damned.

Free September 19-20
Get it here!
Second, I insist that my work has value. Even though I don't care much about the money, I do care deeply about the value. So I assign a price that I think reflects that value from the consumer's perspective. People then buy the book, or they don't. And, from time to time, I give it away without asking for any payment.

Some people and publishers think of free downloads as lost sales, or as a cost of marketing. Me? I look at them as donations to people who like to read good stories. I hope you will download these books and read them. And I really, really hope you enjoy them.

If you do, consider the value you received without needing to pay anything. And if you feel so inclined, head back to Amazon and/or Goodreads and give the book an honest rating. Because really, that's my secret reason for giving these away. Nothing makes me happier than a new rating.

September 14, 2013

I'm not one for rules, but...

Here is a new rule for the blog. Please pay attention and get to know all the rules.

If you visit my wife's blog, you will see a similar but slightly different rule. On her blog, the rule is "Unnecessary conversation gladly given, but safety requires avoiding the giving of information."

August 24, 2013

If you're gonna read it, comment on it

In this world of "favorite" and "like" buttons, we can easily click once on twitter or facebook to let the author know we saw what they wrote. It's so easy, often we "like" something we see without even reading it. How lame is that?

Blog posts, however, have more words. Some have pictures. They take way more effort to read than a tweet. Yet people come here and read the posts, then wander off without letting me know they did. My last post about my admiration for the US Women's soccer team had 30 page views the day I posted it, yet it still has zero comments.

I try to comment on every blog post I actually read. Yes, it takes a few more seconds to say something other than "great post," but what I say is less important than the fact that I say something. I want to get credit for reading your 3,200 word rant about the subtle disrespect that turnips get in the Utah Thanksgiving celebration.

And I would love to know that you saw my post about Jocko the Walrus or my 13 favorite Disneyland memories. Or this one.

Ethan says, "Great post, Dad!"

August 20, 2013

I left my wife and kids for the US women's national team #the99ers #NineforIX

I just finished watching the awesome documentary Nine for IX: the 99ers. While I adore our current national team and totally support our resident Golden Bear, that 1999 team was something truly special.

In 1995, still flush from the thrill of attending men's World Cup games at Stanford Stadium, I caught every moment I could of the US women's national team on TV as they made a great showing and finished in third place in the second ever women's World Cup. I was 28, a new homeowner, married five years, and only just beginning to think about having kids.

I fell so in love with the women's game, and with the US team in particular (not a fan of Norway's super physical style but loved the flow, precision, vision, teamwork, and heart of the US squad) that I began hoping our first child would be a girl so I could teach her soccer and somehow take part in this movement I felt growing all around us. (A year later, our first son was born, and even though he doesn't like to play soccer, I still love him.)

Fast forward four years to 1999, when the US women's team was charging into the World Cup with incredible talent and experience. The team even featured a local girl, Tiffany Roberts. As the final approached, a friend I played pickup with suggested heading to the finals in Pasadena.

So I left my three-year-old and three-month-old with my wife and jumped in the car with my buddy and another guy. We drove all night, arrived a few hours before the third place game, and slept in the car in the parking lot for a couple hours before the early game.

The atmosphere was fantastic. Kids everywhere, especially teen and preteen girls with their parents. Unlike the rough reputation of men's championships overseas, this was exactly what sport should be. I don't remember much of the game itself. What I remember best is the walk into the stadium and the feeling that this was a pivotal moment in the growth of soccer in the US. (A year later I watched Eric Wynalda take over the inaugural MLS game with a beautiful goal that announced soccer's permanence in the US. But I don't think that goal would have meant as much without the magic of this women's team in 1999 and the dramatic world cup win over very, very good competition.)

More than a decade later, I found myself sitting across a dinner table from two of the members of that team, Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm. And, for the first time in my life I was star-struck. I'd met some pretty famous people before, had given presentations to some powerful people. I tend not to be that awed by fame. But this was different.

These women didn't have million dollar contracts. They didn't play full time in a professional league. They didn't have the infrastructure, financial support, or TV coverage of other athletes. Those weren't their reasons for playing and winning. What they accomplished was not just win a few games, but inspire an entire generation of kids, who now are growing up and having kids of their own. Without downplaying the importance of the men's team and the efforts of MLS, I think it was the 1999 women's team that was the spark that kindled the fire of soccer passion in the US.

If you haven't watched the documentary, try to check it out. Maybe it means more to those of us who were electrified by the team at the time, or maybe its effects are universal. Either way, I think it's a great inside look at the team and their reflections today.

August 19, 2013

Nine years of blogging

Let's set the wayback machine for 2004.

Like John McCain would do eight years later, John Kerry was in the middle of blowing what his party thought was a sure victory against a vile, evil, incompetent opponent driving the country to ruin.

Cal football was ranked #4 in the country yet denied a Rose Bowl bid because Mack Brown whined and begged on TV like a spoiled little girl, convincing voters (just like another Texas governor) to pick him instead of doing what was right.

My children were 8 and 5 years old, and I had been with my current employer only about two years. And I composed my first blog post on August 19.

Of the 32 posts I published that year, 12 were about college football and nearly all the others were about the Bush v Kerry election.

Since then, it looks like in most years I average about one post a week, peaking in 2008 with four posts a week, or more than one every other day.

So much has happened in that time. That 8 year old can now drive. We've been to England, France, Nepal, Hawaii, and several other states and national parks. I signed up and later resigned as a Boy Scout leader. Several friends and family have passed away. I published my two novels and several short stories, worked at six writers conferences, made countless online friends. Twitter and Facebook came to be. The iPhone was invented.

I wish I had more time today to reflect on all that's happened in the last nine years. I know I won't be rereading all my old posts, at least not any of the political rants. But maybe I'll take a break from work later today and browse through some of them. Especially the ones with pictures of the kids.

August 12, 2013

If it's on the #internet, it really IS #forever

I'm always suspicious when I receive a "magazine" that I don't subscribe to.

Saturday's mail contained a copy of Editor & Publisher. Thin and glossy, it had the feel of an advertisement masquerading as a legitimate publication, or a pilot issue unlikely to be continued. When I worked in high tech, I got a lot of those. Sporting an $8.95 cover price and "Established in 1884," it had enough gravitas to make me look it up. I won't be subscribing.

What caught my eye was the mailing label. It had my address, of course, but instead of my name it was sent to "Break Away Press." To understand this reference, let's step into the Wayback Machine. Way, way back nearly 20 years.

The year was 1994. The Mosaic web browser had just been released, Netscape was but a glint in Marc Andreessen's eye, and domain names were free. I taught myself HTML and set up my own web site. I was young and idealistic and had vague dreams of using this new "internet" thing for publishing and web development, so on my personal web site and in my domain name registration I used a fake business name. Break Away Press. Of course I was just playing around, with no real intention of forming a business from it. So a few years later, I thought I had successfully wiped away all vestiges of that name. (Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of the original logo I drew up, which I kind of liked.)

How naive was I? Once something is on the internet, it will live forever.

I wonder: when I move, will Break Away Press follow me? Or will the new residents be puzzled by the mail they receive?

July 1, 2013

I now have a new regret. RIP Chris.

The clever and dashing Richard Levangie recently invited me to answer 25 questions (no, it's not yet posted because I haven't finished yet). One of those questions was, "What is your greatest regret?"

Don't worry, no spoilers here; you'll have to wait for the surprise and delight when the 25 questions piece is eventually posted.

But today I learned some news that gave me a new answer to that question.

We've all heard the story (legend?) of the young man who, one evening in San Francisco, was so depressed that he decided to end his life. Before walking the few miles from his hotel to the Golden Gate Bridge, he made a pact with himself that if one person--just one person--smiled at him, he would not jump. Long story short, he jumped. Different tellings of this story result in the young man surviving the fall or not, but that's never the point. The point is that we all have a hidden superpower: the ability to save or change someone's life with simple kindness. In this case, a smile that dozens of people failed to give.

A little less than a decade ago I began making new friends all over the world through blogging, then facebook, then twitter. I credit four online writing blogs for most of these ongoing and surprisingly close friendships: Miss Snark, Nathan Bransford, Clarity of Night, and Evil Editor. A few of these friends I've met in person, but many remain, like Mante Te'o's girlfriend, elusively ethereal.

Some of these friends and I see each other online every day. With others, I cross paths somewhat like the Earth crosses paths with certain comets, tangentially but very close during those brief times. About four years ago I had one of those brief encounters with an online writer friend. I was in Alexandria, Virginia for work, and she lived in Maryland, so we were hoping to meet in DC for coffee one morning. At the last minute her schedule changed, and we couldn't make it work. But we talked on the phone for a half hour that morning, the one and only time we communicated by voice. During that call, she shared some personal issues she was facing, and she asked if I knew anyone who could help. Unfortunately, I didn't, at least not directly. We agreed to follow up in the ensuing weeks, and now I can't remember if that ever happened.

And that's my new regret.

Because after today's news, I feel that somehow, in some way, I should have paid more attention. I should have been more aggressive in looking for ways I could have helped her. She needed so much more than just a smile to save her, and maybe I could have done nothing to prevent her eventual suicide. But maybe I could have. Even though today's news is nearly a year old, it's new to me and it crushes my heart to know she was hurting so deeply for so long.

I am so sorry, Chris.

June 26, 2013

You got me all wrong. See? I have an earring. (blog post)

Today is my birthday, and I am very disappointed in you all. I only wanted one thing for my birthday. Just one thing. And you couldn't find it within yourself to do that one little thing? Just look:

See that? It says 44 reviews. All I wanted was 50 reviews by my birthday. Was that so hard to do? I gave you more than two months. But I won't hold it against you. I know you're busy. It's the thought that counts, right? I'll just keep telling myself that.

OK, sorry. Maybe I'm just cranky because I reluctantly joined a new demographic today. No, it has nothing to do with the Supreme Court's smack-down of DOMA and Prop 8... I'm still married to my wife of 23 years. Instead, it has to do with turning 46 years old. Most surveys that ask your age, I've noticed, use these categories: under 25, 26-35, 36-45, and "really old." I might have to stop taking online surveys.

Yes, recently I started wearing a diamond stud in my left ear after letting it sit in a drawer for 20 years. (The earring, I mean, not the ear.) I am here to tell you that my new old earring is not a response to a midlife crisis. Some people might think that I'm desperately trying to recreate my past in a pathetic attempt to stay young. While this may be true, it is not a midlife crisis. It's a statement of individuality.

How long are you going to make me wait before you stop laughing?

Seriously. This one little thing might make someone question their first impression of me. Balding, middle aged, straight, white male working for a Big Bank and wearing a pinstripe suit to a city department board meeting. Any guesses what that guy's political leanings are?

Now add an earring. See? It makes all the difference, doesn't it? Okay, maybe not, but at least now you're wondering if the guy is gay because you can't remember if left ear means "gay" or "behind the times." (But of course he's not gay because look at those awful shoes.)

So really it's all about breaking down stereotypes and disassociating myself from what is coming to be the common portrayal of my demographic: misogynistic, homophobic, racist, aristocratic hypocrites. I mean that's the portrayal these days. It's not my actual demographic. I'm none of those things, and I hate that people who don't know me might assume it.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

And because I feel like including a few links:
Still mad as hell
Also, a vampire.

And just in case you feel like giving me a nice birthday present after all:
Just click here to write your review now.

May 28, 2013

The non-poet poet's best friend

Today I took a break from work and revisited not only the light verse on this blog but also the 60 or so poems I put on a private blog a couple years back. I expected to find a collection of amateurish, embarrassingly lame attempts. What I encountered, however, was a delightful olio of wit, cleverness, and wordplay, spiced up with a few dashes of powerful imagery.

At first, I loved what I was reading. I wrote that! I remember that! Ha ha, yeah, brilliant!

Then, I got real sad. Why? Because I haven't written more than two or three poems in two years. And reading those tickled me so much that I think it's a shame I stopped.

I used to carry a rhyming dictionary to and from work every day. Once or twice a week, I'd take it out on the train and use it to kick-start some goofball poem. Over the years, my old rhyming dictionary became so tattered and brittle that it eventually fell apart, so I replaced it with this pocket one (pictured).

But after a year or so, I stopped carrying that. I got caught up in writing my novels. I lost touch with the playful poet that I so much enjoyed reading today.

Just now, I dug the rhyming dictionary out from behind some Dave Barry and Bloom County books on our bookshelf. I'm moving it to my work bag next to my journal. And when I get a couple dozen more poems together, I'll clean them all up into an anthology.

After that, I might revisit my Unlucky 26 (a non-published POD version pictured here). The children of Marrow Moor really deserve to have their stories shared with the world so other children won't suffer the same gruesome fates.

When I pick up that rhyming dictionary, I feel like I'm reconnecting with an old friend. The kind that, when you go out for coffee, just sits and listens to your stories, and when you get stuck, he comes up with exactly the right word that sends you spinning off onto a whole set of new stories.

May 21, 2013

Nerds and Nepal, a mini travelogue of two weekend fairs (blog)

Last weekend was "fair weekend" for us. Saturday we visited the Maker Faire in San Mateo for the first time, and Sunday we dragged the boys to the Himalayan Fair in Berkeley. I would love to live in the neighborhood where the Himalayan Fair took place, but I doubt I'll bother going back to Maker Faire.

Maker Faire
I had high hopes for this after looking at the web site and hearing rave reviews from more than one friend. We expected crowds and were prepared for an all-day affair, but frankly I left feeling that it had all the charm of Comdex with all the discomforts of Disneyland. That is to say, it was devilishly crowded, terribly expensive, and frequently felt as much like an extended sales pitch as a demonstration of wicked coolness.

We started the day arriving at the remote parking lot which had nearly nonexistent signage (which led to many people parking in the wrong lot and getting expensive tickets), then waiting in line 45 minutes for the shuttle bus, which took about 20 minutes to get us to the drop-off point, which was a 10 minute walk from the main gate. All this time, for the price of admission, my expectations were building. This many people must mean it was going to be truly awesome.

The Faire had some pretty awesome things. Watching the Coke & Mentos guys do their fountain was fun, but to see the three minutes of action we listened to a 20 minute lecture we could barely hear, along with 400 of our sweatiest friends. The stage was raised so almost everyone could see, but throughout the day it became apparent that if you really wanted to see a demonstration or show, you had to get there 30 minutes early (or more) and wait. With seating nearly nonexistent throughout the grounds, it gets tough not only on an old guy like me but also on teenagers.

I especially liked the life sized Mousetrap game board. Clever and quirky, and as a feat of raw ridiculousness it really raised the bar to epic heights.

I never did see a 3D printer in action, and the robot competition area was fun but chaotic (it seemed to be a VEX-like competition, but it was unclear where the teams came from). We missed but the flying drones exhibit because we got tired of waiting for it to start, and the main exhibit hall was so crowded between the booths that even if you could get close enough to see an exhibitor's stuff you were constantly jostled and pressed by people trying to get through.

Overall, had we planned it better we may have had a better experience, but for $30 a person for a day pass, and then an overpriced lunch and drinks ($3 for a bottle of water!), I don't see any point in going back next year. Or ever, really.

Waiting in line for the shuttle builds skepticism.

STILL waiting in line for the shuttle.

Go Bears! The Cal version of a solar car.

Life sized Mousetrap. Cool.

More Mousetrap. Still cool.

Exterminate! Exterminate!

Himalayan Fair
The next day was a totally different experience. We found parking in Berkeley relatively easily, walked four blocks through a cute little neighborhood to a lovely, well shaded park, to be greeted by festive music, bright colors, and free admission.

Granted, our expectations were lower than for Maker Faire, but the payoff was far greater. The beautiful day was made more beautiful by the colorful strings of prayer flags and the stream running through the park. The food was very good (though we were hoping for Nepali or Tibetan options to go with the Indian), and the people were terribly friendly. It had an air of community to it. Even in the hot, crowded booths it still seemed happy and pleasant.

The entertainment was hit or miss. One group of drumming guys who I think might have been warming up for their dance demonstration, displayed a charming lack of rhythm. And the guy pouring free tea (for a donation with all funds going to a charity) was unclear on whether he was pouring Chai (as we suspected) or Chia (as his sign said).

Gotta love parking on YOLO street.

Shady goodness, photo taken from where we sat and ate our lunch.

Sam found a cool spot to sit while Mom shopped.

Festive colors!

More festive colors!

Music on the Big Stage.

Sam, caught in a not terribly flattering candid moment, examining the posters of the Himalayan range.

Ethan doing a quick sketch while waiting for the momos to arrive.
All in all, I would return to the Himalayan Fair every year but not bother with Maker Faire again. Maybe that's because I would love to relive our wonderful week in Nepal, but I have no desire to pay for a semi-pro version of Comdex.