Wednesday, August 23, 2006

School district promotes guns and hillbilly lifestyle!


A school with a logo of a gun-toting hillbilly touts on it's web site: "If you chose to continue, remember "Hillbilly Pride Runs Deep" So expect to see non-stop hillbilly spirit throughout every part of our school's site!If you think that there is too much pride here...you're not a hillbilly!" Interesting in these Post-Columbine times.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

To dope or not to dope...that is the question


I am, in a "devil's advocate" kind of way, torn on the whole doping issue. I have known many people who have used performance enhancing drugs in one way or another, and the only reason that I did not was because it was illegal and was afraid that I would get tested and banned. Despite that, I never really considered those guys cheaters...because "I could if I wanted to"...it was my choice. So when I consider those who are up in arms about the current situation in cycling, baseball, or track, I often think that they really do not know how easy it can be to get these drugs (as easy as any of the recreationals..), and it is really a "personal choice" to use or not to use, and that there are also those athletes who CAN'T use some perfectly legal medicines out there out of fear of "triggering" a false positive. Many also do not realize that some of the "cherished" records or traditions in their sport of choice were literally dripping with drugs and other supplements...but it was not until Lyle Alzado died that anyone seemed to care, pay attention, much less test for them....it was "part of the game".

On one hand I understand that these drugs (especially the ones used in the 80's) can cause some potentially severe physical side effects and abberrent behavior, can create a "unfair" advantage for those who use them over those who do not, or have been "overdosed" without their knowledge by trainers and coaching staffs.

On the other hand, however, smoking and alcohol are regularily abused by athletes (not to mention MILLIONS of others worldwide) have some potentially severe physical side effects and can cause abberrent behavior, yet we consider it a personal "choice" to use these drugs (in a responsible manner). I have never heard of someone being unable to drive a car properly when on EPO, and am not sure that anyone has ever died from "second hand" HGH, so the effect on innocent bystanders is limited. And if the issue is "unfair" advantage, how can that be if it is so widespread, accessible and the rules and tests are easily circumvented ? Isn't it an even playing field if everyone is doing it? Couldn't they make it a "athlete's choice", educate them on the risks, and monitor dosages? Take away the "cloak and daggar" tactics necessary for the athletes, coaches, and doctors to gain access to these drugs, and then it might provide some level of control, reporting, and regulation to these drugs. This would help eliminate a great amount of the secrecy that teams, doctors, and coaches use to "protect" players while dosing or even over dosing the athletes...(plausible deniablity Mr. Bonds?). Medical records can then be kept, and more accurate and honest sharing of data can be had to learn more about the long term effects of use...(just like we have enormous amounts of data on smoking).

The bottom line is that I think that as long as the $$$ exist in sports, and as long as there will be doctors and pharmaceutical companies who can make the drugs accessible to them...they will be abused by those who would do anything and take incredible chances to "make it" in their sport. Let us do away with the thought that it is cheating, manage it and remove the cloud of secrecy...then we will learn how big of a problem it really is.

I do want to add that I may be taking an unpopular position, but that it only comes from the perspective that no testing, no penalty, no public scorn will make the elite level of sports completely clean...what it will do is:

It will make us suspicious of anyone who is successful.
It will make the athletes more prone to avoid proper medical attention, either by skipping meds that may trigger false positives, or will not disclose important information to doctors who treat them.
It will make the playing field even more unbalanced.

Okay...now I am ready to get beat up on my position...LOL

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Two Big Tires and One Single Gear


Now that I have recounted, in short, my efforts to get back into the realm of bike racing, I thought that I would share my reasons and experience with choosing the Gary Fisher 29er Rig as my bike of choice.

I guess it really all started with Charlie Lamb. I met Charlie at Buck Hill on my first night racing there. First of all, he did really well that night and I enjoyed how he and some of the other guys were willing to share some of their tips, tricks, and experience with me. What really had my head spinning, however was when I saw that Charlie only had ONE gear! Now, I had ridden and experienced single riding before...like when I was 10...but I could not imagine what it would be like to ride that course with access to only one gear, but he had not only done it, but he had done very, very well. It was intriguing to think about and I began to watch him and the other single speed riders with great interest.

I wanted to learn how they managed the course and tried to understand what inherent advantages and disadvantages they would have on various trails, and then compared it to what I believed is my own preferred riding style. I learned that especially on the tight, rolling singletrack that is home to much of the riding and racing in the Midwest, a single speed bike is often not a bad choice, and it compliments my riding style very well.

Good single track riding is often a matter of not only excellent bike and body handling skills, but also a solid mix of acceleration and fine speed control. I saw that in the singletrack, I rarely shifted up OR down, and simply found my ideal gear, only considering shifting on climbs or downhills. I began to ride my bike as if it only had a single gear, in training and in races, to learn and see how I would manage a course within that limitation, and later that week, I placed 3rd in my division at the Dirt Spanker. I began to realize that when I was "freed" from the idea of shifting, it made me consider the course and my line through it a lot more carefully, instead of seeing a incline or rock pile and shifting in an lazy attempt to make it easier. With only one gear as an option, I realized that I had to "power" my way through obstacles and quick uphills...that momentum was my friend and brakes were meant to only moderate my speed, not eliminate it. It suddenly made sense to me and I saw myself carrying more speed through courses.

Of course, long climbs and long downhills or flats are not a strong suit for a singlespeed, but climbs can be still cleared with good momentum management and strong legs, and downhills/flats can be "spun". You will use more energy climbing a long hill, but you will also be going faster than the "granny spinners" and be better prepared at the top. (since you do not have to shift. You will also use more energy on the downhills/flats, but even if you are a big guy like me, you were not likely getting a long enough downhill to be spin out a big gear.

So I had made up my mind...I wanted to ride a single speed and see what it was like. Then I learn about the "other" debate...26 vs 29!

I had been hearing about the 29ers since the day that I began going to Buck, and had even had a few guys tell me that I should consider it due to my size (6'4''). They told me that a 29" wheel would provide me with an easier time handling rocks, trees, etc without raising my center of gravity. This was attractive to me and I began researching the 29'ers and trying to see, again, what type of advantages and disadvantages that wheel size would have for me. Boy, was I confused quickly. There is so much contradicting information out there pertaining to the advantages/disadvantages of 29ers, especially when I compared to 26" bikes. I learned that the information on the web was one part "fan propaganda", one part marketing propaganda, and one part hater propaganda...so very little honest, informed, and critical analysis.

The real problem was that everyone was so intent on "proving their point" that they, for the most part, forgot to acknowledge the fact that so much of a bike's performance is based on the trail that is ridden and the rider's ability and talent to take advantage of the differences between two bikes. They would forget that when you are used to riding a 26'' bike on a particular trail, that a major change like going to 29'' wheels (including the geometry changes) was going to feel "different". One ride would not likely give any rider a complete bead on how the handling characteristics have changed, or how to be efficient with those changes. Looking back, how I have shifted to a 29er myself, I learn something new about how to handle the bike every time I ride it, so really, the more telling information would come from those who allow themselves to ride a 29er for an extended period of time before making their analysis.

So, being frustrated at not being able to find any reliable information regarding the actual advantages/disadvantages of a 29'' wheel, I decided to take it upon myself and just ride one and see what it felt like. I went down to Penn and test rode a Gary Fisher 29er geared bike down there and I was INSTANTLY amazed at how it handled! I was very pleased that I did not feel any higher on the bike, yet the tires "felt" bigger on some of the rocks and logs that I found on my little trail by my house. Convinced that a 29er would ultimately be the wheel size that I would enjoy the most, I decided to begin looking at 29ers that were also single speeds...and that led me to the Rig.

I quickly realized that I did not have the money to purchase this bike brand new ($1299), so I began scouring Craigslist for options, and found some one in Fairbault selling an '06 Rig for $800.00 with only 30 miles on it, and the stem, bars, seatpost, and wheels upgraded to Race Lite! I quickly pulled the trigger on the deal and bought it. I was going to race at Buck Hill the next day, so I got my shoes for the clipless pedals (another new thing) and had took it for a quick "get to know you" spin....I was very happy with how it responded, climbed, and handled. I knew almost immediately that I had made the right choice.

That next night at Buck, I took a crash course (literally) on the finer points of racing with a singlespeed bike, 29" tires, and clipless pedals. I felt great on the first lap, climbing the front and back climbs well and making a fairly smooth transition from sitting and spinning on the hills, to jumping out of the saddle and "cranking" up the hill. The second lap, however, began to get a little sketchy as I began to tire, and the Advanced guys began to lap me.

I always get a little nervous when the Advanced guys are coming through, mainly because I do not want to be in their way, or cause an accident. So when poor Sam O. caught up to me, I had already jumped aside for Moore and Fisher, but I was still getting used to getting out of my pedals (they were set too tight) and so when I called out and I went to the side to stop, I panicked when my right foot didn't come loose and it kicked my rear wheel out...wiping out Sam! He was a bit miffed at me, and I was embarrassed, but in the end he was okay, and I caught up to him after the race to check on him and apologize. He was very nice and I was glad to see that no lasting grudge would be kept. Anyhow, I learned that I needed to get my proficiency with clipless pedals back fast, and learn how to better manage my momentum...but after the race I knew that I had found the bike for me.

Okay...Let's get caught up

Well I have done it. I have decided to change the focus of my blog from the more "intellectual" pursuit of management ideals to that of the more physical nature...my not so triumphant return to the world of bicycle racing.

In May, my fiance, Becky suggested that I look into riding again since it was such a huge part of my life when I was younger, and I was in need for some type of exercise for both the mind and body. Her initial suggestion was for me to buy a mountain bike and perhaps even ride it in a race or two. Little did she know at that time how this would all turn out!

So she scoured Craigslist, and finally found a bike that we could afford (we were dead broke at the time) and purchased it for me. It was a steel Schwinn mountain bike that some guy had been using as a commuter bike for the last couple of years. Decent enough bike for my first "ride" in 12 years, but it was still far below current "race ready" standards. Still, I took to it eagerly and dreamed of racing again.

I learned that Penn Cycle held weekly races at Buck Hill on Thursday nights, and while I was still not in shape yet, I was convinced that it would not take me long to get back into the swing of things...oh my how wrong I was!

10 days after I got back on a bike for the first time in 12 years, I was lined up for a race for the first time in 14 years. I was nervous, and excited...I felt the butterflies as I knew that I was going to get smoked, but it was more just about getting back out on a bike and feeling the pressure of competition again. Becky (who is a lot smarter than I am) began to realize that I miss that competitive outlet and physical challenge, so she was a great encouragement to get me out on Buck Hill on that cold May evening.

Needless to say, I SUFFERED through the whole race. I finished, which I was happy with, but I was redlined about 50 feet from the start line, and felt like I was on the edge of death the whole way. The only thing that kept me going was my stubborn pride and a promise that I made to Becky that would not quit. After I finished DFL, I was a little down, but it did nothing to dampen my hunger for what I felt a couple of time out on the course...especially at those moments when the "big dogs" from the Expert started lapping me. I felt the chase at my back and for a little while I could almost feel what it was like again to be leading a race, and with guys "gunning" for you. Of course, that illusion was short lived once I actually got lapped, but the desire to ACTUALLY be in that position again was something that longed for and missed. Also, racing has CHANGED. When I was doing NORBA point series races in the late 80's/early 90's anything single track was the "technical section" of the course and was a very small part, while fire roads, double track ski trails, and even some paved roads made up the bulk of every course. Essentially, every race was similar to the Cheq 40...only shorter. NOW, every race that I have been to this year has been 90% single track and technical...a great challenge to my rusty bike handling skills.

Over the next few weeks, I kept riding and racing in both the Buck Hill and MNSCS series races, steadily improving, despite a lack of consistent training and riding a substandard (for racing) bike. It was also during this time that I began wearing a Superman t-shirt during my races. The mountain bike racing world really is a like a small tribe or cult, everyone knows everyone...and nicknames are the norm and add to the almost tribal feeling at the events: Hollywood, RichZilla, Pele, etc...Well in my haughty wearing of the Superman shirt despite my less than "super" performances, I quickly became a recognized "regular" out on the course by those watching, and those racing. I got encouragement and praise as others began to see my improvement, and it helped keep me at it. It also had the side effect of making it so that whenever I did not wear the shirt, people would have a hard time recognizing me, and if they did, the first thing they would ask is why I was not wearing "my shirt".

I also began to meet and befriend a few of the guys the rode several of the races. On my first night out at Buck Hill, I met Eddie, Rich, Jimmy, Mike, and Charlie. They were friendly and helped me learn a little about the others out on the course, and help me feel like I was not so much of an outsider! (Thanks guys!) Being experienced and excellent riders, they also gave me someone to "shoot for" and I knew that the closer that I got to these guys in the standings...the better I was doing.

Now, after about 3 months of racing, I am doing better every day, and now have a new bike: a Gary Fisher 29'er Rig...yup a single speed. The decision to move to a single speed will be the topic of my next post. Thank you again to all those who have helped me get back in the saddle again...especially Becky: all of my joy, excitement, and happiness that I receive out of my riding would be so meaningless without you to share it with.

And, for the guys (Eddie, Rich, Jimmy, Mike, Charlie, and more) thank you for helping me relearn the ropes...and watch out, because here I come!!! HA HA!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A World of Pyramids

The last couple of weeks have been quite busy for me, but I am happy to say that I have now returned to continue what I have started.

During my first post "The 'Why' of it all..." I discussed the concept of "The Care and Feeding of Bosses" and very briefly laid out some of the dynamics that are at the center of this concept. I also indicated that in my next post, I would discuss this concept from the perspective of a supervisor...of course which did not happen, and it has been over a week.

So, for those of you who are ready to email me with a complaint or to discuss my need for regularity or consistency, please reread that post. For it is in that post that you will find my response to your comments. Now that I have offended and likely lost my entire readership of 4 people, I will probably write something that I wish a million people would have read. Oh well, such is the life of a frustrated writer...but I digress.

In "The 'Why' of It All"I was discussing the merits of a balanced and equal organizational environment. While just about everyone would agree that this ideal makes sense, it is surely not practiced on a wide level by organizations in the United States. We like our pyramidal organizational structure, and are very protective of it. All of us that live and work in the corporate world desire to be the "next level up", to be the supervisor, or even the CEO, to be the one who "calls the shots".
The bottom line is that especially in the United States, we are confronted with the daily propaganda promoting the "strength" and "integrity" of the pyramidal organizational hierarchy.

And while the very dynamics of a democratic system would point toward the merits of a "linear organizational environment", we continue to treat it and lionize it as a pyramidal structure...especially in today's political climate. (Oh, what fertile ground we have there for discussion...but another time)


It must be said at this point that I really have nothing against the pyramid form of organizational hierarchy, and neither does my grandfather. The triangle is the strongest geometrical form, and without the intelligent application and use of triangles, and pyramid is impossible. So the ideal of the pyramid (which we all know is really four triangles), would represent a picture of strength and stability. This is the reason why it is used so often as a symbol (or part of one) in many religions, and even graces the back of our currency. (we will discuss the Freemason's later, okay conspiracy theorists?)

In fact, a pyramid structure not only makes sense but it also can develop a solid chain of command and create areas of both delegation and duty for all members of that organization...in its purest form, that is. The problems come when you add to the mix human ego, corporate politics, professional ethics, and even sex.

I believe that my grandfather, in the 70's, saw the beginnings of a big mess coming for the corporate world living within the comfy confines of this pyramid. The corporate world was at that time undergoing the beginnings of a paradigm shift. The "boys club" of golf meetings, martini lunches, and power suits were getting challenged by the influx of women and minorities into their playground. The carefully placed blocks of the "pyramid" suddenly were being threatened by what many considered to be "inferior" blocks.

The pyramid then began to take a different dimension.
In the ultimate grab at power and to ultimately over-develop the power structure of a pyramid, glass ceilings were erected, skirts were chased, Affirmative Action and Equal Pay became catch-phrases, and ethics in general were eschewed. The power structure began to feel safe again, for the now they all stood now on the shoulders of those who did not yet know their power.

With the added elements that began to develop in the corporate world in the 70's, those in both the lower and higher ranks in an organization forgot one of the basic elements of the pyramid: The higher levels are supported by and stabilized by the lower ones. The lower blocks do not exist to create the higher blocks, but rather the higher blocks exist because the lower ones do.

(to be continued...)





Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Blind Devotion

I know that I said that I was going to write more about the "Care and Feeding of Bosses" in my next post, but I had an experience this morning that I would like to discuss. Not only does it have a lesson that fits well into the topic of communication, but also was a little jarring for me, so I hope that this segway is forgiven.

Have you ever had a moment that vividly teaches you something, yet you did not learn it until after it would have been useful. I think that is why we have a popular saying that works well in business and life that "hindsight is 20-20".

This morning, on my way to dropping off my much loved fiancee', Becky, I was rear ended by a truck as
I was stopped on a side street. The damage was minor, and nobody was hurt, but let me just say that I learned an important lesson in the area of leadership and relationship management in about 30 seconds.

We were running a little late this morning, and Becky was pretty sure that she was going to have a pop quiz in her morning's class, so we were in a bit of a hurry. Becky was also interested in stopping at a coffee shop nearby the campus, making time even tighter.

So, time is tight, and the love of my life is nervous about making class on time, there was a possibility for an quiz she did not feel prepared for, and I wanted to make sure that she got her coffee, and make it to class on time...so I was in "GO" mode. The only thing on my mind was making Becky happy, and accomplish these very quick tasks.

I turned the corner by the coffee shop so I could let Becky out and she could see if there was a line. Before she could get out...we were rear-ended by a small truck that was turning that same corner, apparently thinking that were not stopping. The second that the truck hit my car, an explosion of a curse issued from my mouth. All at the same time, I had visions of Becky hurt, me hurt, police reports, being late for Becky's class, missing her quiz, and just a big mess. I wanted to hurry and see what the damage was, and knowing that we were hit fairly mildly, determine quickly if my schedule was going to be ruined.

OH, for the beauty of a calm woman. If Becky had not put her hand on my arm, and told me to calm down, I would have been inspecting the bumper before the other guy even had a chance to realize what had occurred. She succeeded in slowing me down, but I was "still" trying to salvage the moment and get moving on my agenda again.

After realizing that there was not damage to his car, and mine would require only a little superglue to fix (hey, ANYTHING can be fixed with super glue, right?) the crack in my bumper, the young man and I shook hands and parted ways.

When I entered the car, I saw that Becky looked shocked and a little sad, so I told her "everything is okay, why do you go see quick if you can get your coffee". I was so proud of myself for putting on my brave face for the one I love in that situation. I calmed down while I watched her carefully cross the road and look into the coffee shop, only to turn around and come back. Apparently there was a line for the coffee, and she did not want to be late.

As we drove the couple of blocks to her class, I still kept trying to reassure her, because she did not look very happy. Finally, she said: "I just was wondering if you are going to ask me if I am alright." Those words chilled me to the bone. In the midst of all my haste and anxiety, I had lost sight of what really, truly mattered to me...her. Becky had been in several accidents in the past, and had already been having some problems with her neck. So while the heavy bump the truck gave my car was hardly felt by me, it had irritated Becky's already sensitive neck. And all I appeared to her that I had worried about was if the car was okay and we could make it to class on time. Lesson learned.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that relationships in business can suffer in that way too. So often we get caught up in the "rat race" of work, deadlines, schedules, appointments, quotas, and putting out the daily "emergencies" that we forget that we spend almost one-third of our lives with our co-workers.

Devotion to a goal or cause is not the problem...allowing yourself to become blinded to the most important things around just because you decided to "focus" on them is something that all leaders, and subordinates need to learn. Sometimes it is important to stop, slow down, and ask about each other...it doesn't have to be "personal", it just has to show that you care. Care about their opinions, feelings, ideas, and dreams. It is during those moments we are not blind, but truly care in both business and life that we make the types of bonds that last forever.

At your service,

James

written in St. Paul, during lunch break

Monday, February 20, 2006

The "Why" of it all...

When I considered the possibility of starting my own blog, I had to ask myself a few questions.

1) Do I have anything to say that would matter at all to anyone but myself? Better yet, am I writing this for myself or for others?

2) Can I write in a fashion that might be mildly entertaining, informative, or even provocative?

3) Can I maintain a fairly consistient ledger of entries, or will the "newness" of it all wear off, and it will become yet another of a long list of "responsibilities" that I wish I could shed?

4) What title would I use?

Well, of course, the last question was already determined the minute that I looked into the possibility of writing a blog. "The Care and Feeding of Bosses" is a title of an idea concerning mid-level managers that my beloved grandfather wrote about and used in his consulting many years ago. The title always amused and intrigued me...almost as much so as the concept he developed. I'll get back to that in a second.

The third question was the one that was really the most troubling. I did not want this to be another of an ever increasing list of things that I started so valiantly, yet ultimately not completely fulfill...or worse, begin to loathe as I struggle to keep up with so many other things in my life. Despite being a part-time web designer, and a sales person, I dislike deadlines, quotas, plants, or anything that amounts to a timed requirement that requires constant tending. Can I do it? Sure, I have ever since I was first assigned "homework" in the first grade, but I do not love it in any way. A great way to start a blog, huh? Exactly. I want to be informative, maybe interesting, and perhaps even funny...but I did not want to dread the effort and responsibility to be that way.

So I learned about blogging, and read some blogs, and learned some more from some associates of mine who blog. What I discovered ended up not only making me secure with my descision to start this blog, but was also the answer to question number 1. I am and will continue to be writing only for myself.

Yes, the very reason that it is a "blog" is so that others that might have an interest can partake in and perhaps comment on my musings and ramblings if they wish. That was the secret that I learned. That I am not twisting (very many) anyone's arm to read my posts. While my potential readers will be the reason that I try to use grammer and spelling above an elementary level, the topics, frequency, and quality of the posts will be to appease my desire to say something, reveal something, or discuss something. Blogging, in its most true form, is the ultimate show of one's ego, of which I have no lack.

My grandfather, a great man who has taught me a great number of things, once told me that the truest form of an ego is installed in the aspiring writer. His best advice to me was that when I write, not to let allow anyone that I love to read my material. It is a desperate exercise in which either you will think too much about your ability (if it is liked), or be devestated (if they think that it is crap). He then told me that if I wanted to write, I needed to do so for myself, not for editors, friends, family, or anyone else. That would free me from the devestation of rejection letters, negative reviews, or even the red marks of an proofreader.

That all made profound sense to me, because I know that am not going to be the next Ernest Hemmingway, or even Snoopy. But I do have the ego of (insert your "favorite" high ranking politician's name here). So I was in true jeopardy of the very problem that my grandfather warned me about.

So I decided at that moment that whether I was writing a novel, in my journal, in this blog, or even a love letter to my fiancee', I would be writing to fulfill the desire I had and by my own reasons and agendas, not someone else's. It has been a freeing experience, and while I may not be the most technically sound writer in the world, I feel more creative, and happier in the results.

So what is "The Care and Feeding of Bosses" about? Well my grandfather used to teach that many people misunderstood the dynamics of a supervisor/subordinate relationship. He described the proper dynamic containing an equal amount of support, communication, and feedback given in each direction...both up and down the corprate ladder.

Too often, he taught, the relationship was dominated with the subordinates constantly requesting or requiring feedback from their supervisors, and supervisors constantly requesting or requiring support from their subordinates. The imbalance in this important relationship can lead to many different, yet common problems in the standard, napoleonic structured workplace.

Supervisors, he surmised, in an uneven environment, would be more likely to abuse their power, stop listening to the suggestions and ideas from below, and are often more weary and dissatisfied with their jobs. Subordinates, on the other hand, feel less appreciated, trust their supervisors and co-workers less, and tend to be less creative in their environment. To resolve these issues, there must be an open, even flow of support, communication, and feedback provided between both sides. Yes, not exactly rocket science, nor even shocking news, but it happens very rarely in today's modern organization.

In my next post, I will discuss more about this concept, first from the side of the supervisor (many of whom are subordinates), and then from the perspective of the subordinate (many of whom are, or will be supervisors). While there are many concepts that require the supervisors to recognize and make changes in the way they interact with their subordinates, the compelling factor describes subordinates "tending" to the supervisors needs, hence: The Care and Feeding of Bosses.

Oh, and as far as to the answer to my second question? Only you can answer that particular question, because, if you remember, I write for myself! (not that acerbic reviews, constructive criticism, or glossy praise is not welcome of course!)

At your service,

James

written: in St. Paul, MN on the couch, watching Reservoir Dogs and Forrest Gump