April 29, 2013

Backpacking at Henry B. Coe State Park

This past weekend, three dads and six boys from Walnut Creek went backpacking in the Henry W. Coe State Park, just a little southeast of the San Francisco Bay.

We left early Saturday morning and arrived at the park headquarters about 9:30 a.m., just as the beautiful morning was heating up. The campsite we'd originally picked out was already full, so we settled on a bit of a longer hike to a place ominously named Poverty Flat.

The orange line on the map below is our loop. Park headquarters is on the left. The hike in took us up along Fish Trail to the ridge trail, a total of a little over five miles to the campsite. This route has a lot of up and down, but mostly down, so it was a quick five miles even though we stopped for many water breaks since the temperature climbed pretty quickly to over 80 degrees.

The route out was faster and more direct, a ranger access road that was pretty vertical. It's about a 1500 foot ascent from Poverty Flat to the intersection with Manzanita Pt. Rd., and... well, remember that scene from Lord of the Rings where Gollum leads Frodo and Sam up the steps of Mordor? Well, okay, it wasn't quite like that, but 1500 feet vertical climb in about 2 miles is a lot of uphill.

We saw only a tiny corner of the park, which is huge. What we saw was beautiful, but it was already drying out by late April. It was hot and dry; I can't imagine how unbearable it must be in the dead of summer when all the creeks dry up. As it was, Little Coyote Creek was nearly dry although the other fork ran with enough water to refill our bottles and make our dinner. (Yes of course we brought filters.)

I don't know that I care to return to this park. Earlier in the spring might be nice, but away from the creek the heat was oppressive, and near the creek the mosquitoes were aggressive. Still, the ridge trail was beautiful, with a variety of flora and a combination of forest hiking and sweeping vistas. Some of the trails allow bikes, which was not a problem for us. In fact, we saw very few people going either direction, which I was very happy about.

I am told that nearby China Hole is a very neat place to visit, with a swimming hole. I didn't make it that far, so I can't say.

Anyway, without going on and on, here are some of my favorite photos from the trip.

Ready to set off at the trailhead.

Since I was sweep on the hike in, I got a
lot of pictures of people's backs along the trail.

See what I mean? The trail swept across meadows like this
and also wound up and down through wooded canyons.

Very near our campsite. The creek was running swiftly,
just not with a lot of water.

Also very near our campsite.

Disturbingly near our campsite. If this sight doesn't
make you keep your tent zipped tight, I don't know
what will. (It is not a rattler, by the way.)

Mosquito city. Actually, when we arrived there were tens of
thousands of ladybugs flying all over the place.

There was lots of sitting on rocks with our feet in the cool
water, which really wasn't that cool to be honest.

More feet in the water.

Our campsite. Notice my Buddhist prayer flags which I
always hang on my tent. They're actually from Nepal.

Get out here and help make dinner!

Ethan during a water break.

April 24, 2013

If driving advice were written by cops like writing advice is written by lit agents

I really should have learned by now. Every day I see a tweet or facebook post about great writing advice, and I click through it. Nine times out of ten, my time would have been better served by viewing funny crap posted by my friends on facebook. The tenth time is that very worst of the worst, "writing advice from literary agents."

I've been reading these blogs and articles for more than a decade. But hope springs eternal, right? Positivity is one of my top five strengths, so I always believe there will be something useful in the next article. Something that will help my writing.

Writing advice from agents, however, tends toward the patently obvious, delivered with the knowing smile of the inside joke. "Don't have the main character die at the end of page one," they'll say, or "Starting with describing the sunrise for sixty-seven pages can sometimes turn me off." Or maybe, "I'm not fond of serial killer rapists with no redeeming characteristics as the hero of a novel. That can be a difficult one to sell."

Honestly, if you need this advice, then maybe you should consider another line of work.

If law enforcement and emergency personnel were to offer driving and safety advice of the same caliber, we might see something like this:

On Driving
"I really think it's best not to drive up the exit ramp at full speed into oncoming traffic." -- officer Chip Chipster

"Try not to fall asleep on the highway. That rarely ends up well." -- ambulance driver A. Sisting

"Some new drivers think they can just speed right through the middle of a hazmat spill. I'm telling you, flaming oil or fresh nuclear waste or raw sewage is really not good for your tires, and it can throw your whole trip off right from the beginning." -- officer Chase N. Ketchum

"When driving in town, it's best to avoid running into trees and other fixed, stationary objects." -- officer Kaman Getme

On Home Safety
"I recommend not hanging your clean laundry over an open flame like your gas stovetop or a hot barbecue." -- fireman Blaze Douser

"I really hate it when people try to dry their wet pets in the microwave. You'd be shocked at how often this happens." -- contractor Bill D. Haus

"I'd recommend not throwing ten thousand thumbtacks on the floor next to your bed before you go to sleep. Really, even five thousand is a bad idea." -- homeowner Ken U. Diggit

"Everyone should put their money in the bank. It's not that great an idea to pile all your cash on the front porch." -- financial advisor Linda Dollar

"I know it's tempting to just have one easy-to-remember password, but really you shouldn't have it be 'password.' That's just asking for trouble." -- information security consultant Ida Hakdit

"Cleaning out the electrical outlets with metal tweezers is not advised." -- electrician Lotta Watts

Why do they do it?
Every time--I mean EVERY TIME--I read an article or see a panel of several literary agents each asked to provide a nugget of advice to writers, the advice is of that quality. What shocks me is how many people share the article over social media as if it were some collection of revolutionary ideas in literature.

I know many of these agents. I've heard them give great presentations, seen them give terrific critiques. They know the business, and they know the craft. Why do they insist on these cheesy, useless puffballs instead of something actually useful?

April 22, 2013

Roundup of my #workplacegiving and #employee #volunteerism blogs

For some reason, people seem to want to know what I think. (No, not you, of course. I mean people in the business of workplace giving and volunteerism. My Day Job.)

I am fortunate to run the nation's largest workplace giving campaign (fourth year in a row with the top honor) and one of the nation's largest employee volunteer programs (over 1.5 million hours recorded by our employees in 2013). Much of the growth of these programs occurred on my watch, and I'll even take credit for some of it.

This year I've been honored with a few opportunities to tell people what I think about all this, what I've learned. And I think I came up with some good stuff. See for yourself.

On April 17, I spoke on a webinar about workplace giving put on by the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society. Although the audio is faint and I sound like a frog, the content is actually really solid, from all three presenters. You can enjoy the recorded webinar and see for yourself. (No idea if it expires at some date.)

Blog Posts
As a member of the advisory council for the Charities @Work conference in both 2012 and 2013, I was asked to write a few blog posts about employee community involvement.
And finally, I was credited with a blog post about the success of my programs on the Wells Fargo blog, though really I only edited what a communications guy composed for me. A lot like those quotes in press releases, I guess. (It's really weird being an author and having someone ghost write a blog post for you. On the one hand, I'm mortified that I didn't write it myself; on the other, it's pretty cool to be important enough that Corp Comm writes something with your name on it.)

And a little fun, too
One of the programs I manage, our volunteerism, has a pretty awesome brand. I have brought my Wells Fargo Volunteers water bottle to some pretty cool places. Like these:
Half Dome in Yosemite

Swayambhunath (the Monkey Temple) in Kathmandu

Looking at Machhapuchhre, the "holy mountain" in the Annapurna range in Nepal

April 21, 2013

Boy Scouts: Going from wrong to still just as wrong

Me when I used
to wear the uniform
of a Scout leader.
On Friday an email from Diversity, Inc hit my inbox with an exciting subject line. Because of my display settings, the ending was cut off, so I saw this:

BREAKING NEWS: Boy Scouts to End Gay Ban for...

Even though I was already a couple minutes late to a lunch meeting, in excitement I opened the email, only to find the rest of the sentence:

... Members, Not Leaders

Essentially, gay boys can participate in Boy Scouts, but gay and lesbian adults cannot. (The Board of BSA still needs to vote on this new change.) This makes no sense. None whatsoever. Go ahead, I dare you to try to make a rational argument that convinces me this makes sense from any perspective. Any perspective at all.

"A step in the right direction?" I guess. But this paragraph in the above linked article gives me pause:
In making its announcement, Boy Scouts spokesperson Deron Smith said the decision would be that “no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference.” The choice of language alone indicates the cultural disconnect of the Boy Scouts: The term “preference” is anathema to the LGBT community, since it indicates that being LGBT is a choice, which it is not. Even mainstream media organizations like the Associated Press and the New York Times no longer use the term “preference” in relation to orientation.
I wonder how "equal" a gay boy's membership will be in many troops. Also, it's unclear whether individual troops will have the ability to keep a boy out, simply shunting him over to a different troop.

But yes, a step in the right direction. At least BSA is no longer saying that being gay is inherently morally wrong.

Oh, wait, yes, they are.

Still hiking, camping,
and all that as a dad but
not as an ASM.
By keeping gay and lesbian adults from participating as scout leaders, BSA is perpetuating their paranoid bigotry. The message is that a gay adult is somehow a danger to the boys in the troop. How could a gay father or a lesbian mother be a danger to boys in the troop? Being gay does not make someone a pedophile. Gay people don't try to recruit children into being gay. Being gay does not mean you have a harder time with camping, tying knots, building fires, or any other activity I've been trained to do as an Assistant Scoutmaster.

This compromise makes no logical sense. I don't see how the religious conservatives will be okay with it. And I don't see how anti-discrimination groups will be okay with it. I certainly am not.

From a funding standpoint, BSA must have cleared this with the Mormon and Catholic churches. They can't afford to lose that revenue without gaining corporate donations, and I can't imagine any corporation that currently does not give to Boy Scouts changing their policy based on this.

BSA is still discriminating. They're still wrong.

And I'm still not wearing the uniform.

April 19, 2013

Only seven spots remaining, claim yours now (plus free books)

Forty-three out of 50 spots have been filled already. Only seven remain, so hurry to claim yours now.

Of course I'm talking about how many Amazon reviews my book has. Didn't you know I'm pitifully begging people to post a review at Amazon, pathetically trying to reach 50 reviews before June 26? (That's my birthday, in case you haven't started shopping yet.)

Oh please?
You didn't? Why not? Don't you love me anymore?

Ok. You say you do, but how much do you love me? Five stars? Four stars? I mean, all I want is an honest answer. Surely you can give me that. No, of course you don't owe it to me, and I should know it without you having to say it. But don't you agree that it needs to be said out loud once in a while?


What, you haven't even read it yet? I see. No, of course, I know how busy you've been. And yes, there's been a lot of bad weather. And I know the dog won't walk itself. But what fun is life if you don't take time to read?

What's that? You don't have my books yet? No problem!

You can download both my books--Semper and its sequel, Forsada--for free between May 2nd and May 6. These are Kindle downloads. I know you don't have a Kindle. Neither do I. But I read Kindle books on my iPad, and you can get a Kindle reader for really almost any platform...

Ok, ok. I know. I'm pushing the line. But really, if you really loved me, you'd do just this one little thing for me.

Just click here to write your review now.

April 16, 2013

Kudos to @SJEarthquakes and @MLS for zero tolerance on anti-gay slurs (blog post)

This is not a pro-gay-rights blog post, though I support equal rights for all. Nor is it about soccer, although it involves my favorite team.

I read in today's paper that a San Jose Earthquakes player hurled an anti-gay slur at an opponent in the heat of a tight, physical game on Sunday. Afterwards, the player apologized publicly, and I believe he's sincere in his regret. The club's president also issued a statement saying he's appalled by the incident and will redouble the club's efforts to be a diverse and inclusive organization the fans can be proud of.

It's pretty certain the player will be suspended three games, in accordance with MLS policies. Apparently, MLS has been the most strict about this kind of thing among the major sports leagues in the US. And that's the right thing.

Leagues look at this behavior as a risk from a business standpoint. They analyze audience sentiments and demographics and calculate how much revenue they might lose by allowing such bad behavior. And that's a shame. They should put equal emphasis on how such behavior shows up on the training fields of our thousands of youth leagues around the country.

I've been coaching youth soccer for eight years, following my son's age group. He'll be in U15 this year, the first time he'll be playing club soccer with high school kids. (He's going into 8th grade.) I've always managed a clean, fun team. We don't win all our games, but my boys always have lots of fun and improve their skills, and I never have attendance problems at the end of the season. From time to time, I'll hear a little bad language during practice, when they think I'm not listening. I've never punished a player for it, though I always call them out. Fortunately, I've never heard an insult toward another player from one of my boys. It's always been typical middle school playground randomly and somewhat arbitrarily used f-words.

I have been told by my boys, however, that they've been called pussy or fag by opponents. One 11-year old boy told one of my players a few years back, "You're my bitch." The offenders are clever about saying it when adults aren't nearby--in the middle of the field, when the ref is far away. Some kids are coached this way, but most of the coaches I know would be appalled by that. If I heard my players saying it, they'd be pulled out without hesitation.

As a coach, I have some influence over the boys. I can create the right environment, model good sportsmanship. I can lay down the law and demand certain behaviors within my rules. But those things are so much easier when the professionals--leagues, teams, and players--are all modeling the right behavior as well.

Youth sport should be a safe place for children to learn valuable life skills and attitudes. I applaud MLS' zero tolerance policy and the Earthquakes' quick and unambiguous indictment of the player's action. I applaud his immediate apology, and I hope he is sincere. And I hope soccer coaches at all levels around the US take note and make sure they are training up their youth players the right way.

If coaches in high school or club level see a lack of respect and discipline in the pros, they'll feel free to foster that same attitude among the youth. Soccer is a global game, an inclusive game. We need to respect that and use it with our youth. Sport can be such a great learning opportunity. It's sad when a professional league looks the other way and makes it so much harder for coaches.

So thank you, MLS.

April 15, 2013

Being in charge is not the same as being a leader. Don't be a jerk. k thx (blog post)

I haven't worked on my novel in a month because I've spent all my discretionary non-family time on work. It's been a busy, frustrating period in my job for a number of reasons. My backlog is building every day. I haven't been able to make time to exercise or play soccer. It's been that kind of two-month period. (I know, I know... poor me. The awful problems of a white male upper middle class executive. Just bear with me, okay?)

Last Friday I vowed to reclaim some personal time starting this morning. I believe people can't be effective at work if they aren't balanced in their life--physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Even so, I worked several hours over the weekend to meet a deadline.

Then this morning I received an email that was so disrespectful to me, my team, and our product that I just can't let it go. It came from a senior "leader." He had a good point or two buried among the insulting language, and we'll work with those as we plan future product improvements. But that doesn't excuse the disrespectful language.

This has me incensed for two reasons. First, I do take it personally. How can I not? I'm a professional and will use the actual feedback he provided, but I'm also an individual who deserves to be treated professionally and with respect. That is, I'm a person with feelings. So yeah, it hurts and makes me mad.

Second, I am sick and tired of people who use aggressive language and bullying to get their way. The email I received isn't abusive per se, but it's one of those "if you disagree then you're just as stupid as they are" tones.

I am not an easily bullied person. I once lost a job because I refused to fire a good employee; my boss needed someone to take the fall for his mistakes... when I refused, my boss decided to fire us both. I lost my job, but I kept my integrity. I would do the same thing again. I'm no rebel, but I also won't cowtow to petulance and disrespect just because that person holds a powerful position.

People, say it with me:


You can often get people to do what you want in the short term by being a jerk. But I believe that you get far more from people by respecting them, supporting them, and giving them room to challenge themselves. Frequently they will outperform your expectations.

About the boss that wanted his underlings to take the fall for his mistakes... that startup company was out of business a year later. I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere.