Tag Archives: life

The Social Catalyst

Last weekend I spent 4 1/2 days riding about 1,200 miles with about 80 motorcycle friends with Backroads motorcycle magazine.

I say 80 friends because at the end of each day everyone would congregate at the hotel, have a drink and swap stories and it always amazes me how easy it is to talk to anyone in this crowd.  Stick out your hand in introduction and you’ll be chatting like long lost buddies within minutes.

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As something of a social observer this was an excellent opportunity to watch a lot of different interactions in a very short space of time, and I started to see a pattern I had never seen before.

Certain people (who I won’t name to avoid embarrassment) have the amazing ability to liven up almost any conversation whenever they join a group.  Within minutes the level of laughter and energy will move up a notch, and the effect lasts long after they have left too.

The characteristics of these social catalysts seem to be equal part a great sense of humor, broad knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, keen observation skills which they use to tease people with, and a certain amount of irreverence where they will happily delve into subjects that polite conversation might steer clear of.

Having noticed it, it was hard not to notice, even when they joined a conversation I was in.

Sadly I don’t count myself as one of these social unicorns.  But maybe I can use these observations to help improve my future social interactions.  Either that or I’m going to end up with a bloody nose.

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Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Life - or something like it

Who’s Grass is Greener?

Some time ago I was talking with a friend who was pretty fed up with her job.

grass_is_greenerDespite the fact that her work was intellectually engaging, provided interaction with interesting people, and the autonomy to do things the way she wanted to do them, there were some niggling chronic issues that were bothering her.

She was starting to become disengaged or, as she put it, “The grass elsewhere is looking pretty green these days.”

That reminded me of a quote and so I told her “Your grass would be just as green if you would water it once in a while.”

She looked at me with a mix of shock and surprise, then laughed and said “You know…you’re right!”

She’s still at the same place and every so often I get a ping from her saying “Still watering that grass!”

If you’re starting to feel like a change, look around you.  Is the situation really that bad that you can’t fix it with some care and feeding?  Would the change elsewhere be better than the change you can make in your own back yard?

Keep watering that grass and see what you can grow!

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Filed under Career, Life - or something like it

900 Miles on a Motorcycle – It’s All Dolphins!

I have just spent the past few days enjoying the best scenery and back roads that the Catskills and Adirondacks have to offer with the wonderful folks from Backroads magazine.  

It’s hard to put into words how great this trip was.  The weather was perfect and the ride pace set by my good friend MB was spot on – fast enough to enjoy the roads to the full but without being a hero.  We rode through spectacular scenery and little towns with architecture straight out of a fairy tale.  I spent a good deal of time checking out the beautiful old stone churches with tall spires and thinking how great they would look photographed from the air – my current obsession.

While on the trip I finally came to realize that the bike I bought new in 2001 is now the old girl of the group. Despite that she still rides great and, even though at least 50hp down on most of the bikes we were riding with, can hold her own.  After 15 years the old girl can still fly. 

MB and I were joined by Jeff, an honest to goodness private detective sadly minus the obligatory fedora.  Hanging out with Jeff and MB was a blast.  Their irrepressible charm and quick wit turned even the mundane items such as ordering lunch into a laugh fest for all concerned.  My cheeks ached from laughing so much.

Over lunch on Friday we talked about how sad it is that so many people are afraid to enjoy life.  When I told people I was going away for several days of motorcycle riding many assumed the worse.  As Jeff put it “People are afraid to go in the water because of the one in a million possibility of being eaten by a Great White when they are far more likely to encounter Dolphins.”

This led to the catch phrase “It’s all dolphins” being used for the rest of the trip.  This caused a few raised eyebrows with the wait staff:

  • “How was dinner guys?”
  • “It’s all dolphins!”
  • “?”

Backroads motorcycle magazine

On Backroads rides most of the riding is done in your own group, and at your own pace, with everyone meeting up at the end of the day for some lively chat and a few drinks.

If this is your first time with Backroads the first thing you will notice is just how friendly people are.  Everyone is family. People will walk up to you, shake hands and start chatting as though you have known each other for years.  Brian and Shira somehow know everyone personally and have great stories of their own but, as hosts, are in much demand.

Sadly our little troop all had things to do and couldn’t stay so we headed home early on Saturday morning.  I followed MB down as far as Lake George where we ate breakfast and then went our separate ways, with him blasting home on the highways while I took a more meandering route down through the Catskills and Bear Mountain.

I arrived home mid afternoon on Saturday after about 900 miles of amazing back-road riding in near perfect weather.  My BMW performed flawlessly and now needs to be rewarded with a service and a new rear tire, which is completely shot.

It’s a shame that many people will never experience something like this because of fear of the unknown.  Yes, things can go wrong.  But more often things go right and, personally, some of the most amazing times I have started out as a disaster and ended with the making of life long friends and memories.

I once heard the quote “Everyone dies, but not everyone lives” and that resonates with me personally.  Don’t be afraid!  Get out there and enjoy life.  It’s all dolphins!

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Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Life - or something like it, Travel

Doing the right thing…even when you’re scared!

When I was in second grade we lived in a little street in Plumstead, East London.  It was the sort of place where the houses were all joined together and everyone knew everyone else’s business.  For the most part everyone was in the same boat with little money to go around.

Across the street lived a chap named Clem.  Clem was one of the few people that we considered successful since he ran a construction business and owned both a van and a Jaguar when most people had neither.

Clem was well regarded and generally considered a decent sort. His wife was a permanent fixture hanging out of the upstairs window and surveying the street.  Nothing much escaped her eyes.

catapaultWith limited resources improvisation was the name of the game and one day I found a large piece of elastic and used it to fashion a simple catapult.  To say it wasn’t accurate was a huge understatement, but what it lacked in directional ability it more than made up for in power.  

I spent a happy few hours dropping stones into the little cup I had and flinging them up the street with gay abandon.

But then I pushed my luck a little too far with the size of one of the rocks.  It was a little large to fit in the cup and was quite a snug fit.  I figured with sufficient power it would easily fly out and, as I had done dozens for times before, aimed up the street and let fly.

Smashed-windowsUnfortunately in this case the rock did not immediately fly out, instead staying in the cup just long enough to fling around sideways and exit at a very acute angle, right into the side window of Clems van.  There was a pop and the window was immediately transformed into a million small fractures, rendering it almost opaque.  

I did what any self respecting 7 year old would do.  I ran!  I shot into our house, ran up to our bedroom at the back of the house and sat on my bed in a panic. What should I do?  Did anyone see me?  Could I get away with this?

Knowing that we didn’t have the kind of money available to repair a window like this I was sick with worry.

But, as I sat there, it slowly dawned on me what I had to do.  It took a while, probably 20 minutes or so, but I eventually found myself walking across the street and knocking on Clem’s door.

Clem answered and I slowly stammered out.  “I’m really sorry, but I was playing with my catapult and I broke your van window.”

I waited for the anger, the righteous indignation, and the demands for reparations that neither I nor my Mother had any means of paying.  In those days a good whooping wouldn’t have been out of the question either, and when my Mum found out I’d get the same from her.

Instead he just looked at me and said “I know.  Don’t worry about it.”  And, without another word, he went back inside and closed the door.  He never told my Mother and it was never mentioned again.  A few days later the window was repaired and life went on as though nothing had ever happened.

I often wonder what would have happened if I had not come forth.  Would the result have been the same?  Would I have been the same?  I don’t know, but I do know that i felt an enormous sense of relief and gratitude at how things turned out.

I never expressed my gratitude to Clem for the kindness he showed that day, so I’ll say it now.

Thank you Clem, you were a real gentleman.

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Filed under Children, Life - or something like it

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Let’s face it – we are not as smart as we would like to think.  How many times have we tried to fix one thing and end up breaking something else instead? This is a scenario commonly known as The Law of Unintended Consequences.

Ironically, this seems to be especially true when we introduce new safety measures.

Here are just a couple of examples which have produced a bullet in the toe of society:

1.  Protecting Children from Sex Offenders.

Here in the U.S. each state is required to keep a registry of sex offenders.  People convicted of “sex crimes” are put on this list, and often remain on that list for life.

Being on that list includes:

  • Having your name, address and photo published onilne
  • Severe restrictions on where you can live (e.g. distances from schools or “where children may congregate”)
  • The need to tell employers you are on the list (good luck getting a job with that on your résumé).

But that’s good right?  We need to keep these rapists and child molesters away from our children.

I’d say yes if it were not for the fact that a recent study in Georgia concluding that the majority of the people on the list are not actually dangerous.  The types of activity that can land you on that list (for life remember) includes things such as consensual sex between a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old, visiting a prostitute, streaking, and even (in 13 states) urinating in public!

Imagine that!  You decide to do the responsible thing and walk (not drive) to a bar, get caught ‘short’ on the way home and pee against a tree.  The next thing you know, you’ve been arrested, lost your job (along with any chance of getting one again), are forced to move, and have your name and face plastered all over the web as a sex offender.  You could lose your family too, unless they are particularly strong-willed and supportive.

Because of the wide variety of offenses that will land you on that list, America now has well over 600,000 people registered.

I’m all for making things safer for people – especially children – but we are throwing the baby out with the bath water when our net drags in frisky teenagers and people with weak bladders.

2.  Efforts to Protect People from Terrorism

Since 911 Americas have watched as their personal freedoms be systematically eroded in the name of safety. 

But mixed in with these big-ticket items such as illegal wiretaps and torture are ridiculous limitations on toiletries allowed on planes and, more recently, the introduction of full body scanners.  I bet interest in joining the TSA went up when those babies were introduced – probably by the small percentage of people who actually should be on the list in item 1.

Look – this is very simple.  Terrorists don’t want to beat you – they want to destroy your way of life.  And if your lives have been significantly altered by an act of terrorism (and any traveler will tell you it has) then they have won. 

If people really want to be protected, then maybe the free market can take care of it.  Imagine this scenario:  People who are willing to swap speed and privacy for a modicum of safety (and don’t kid yourself how effective the TSA are) can travel on “Safe Airlines Inc.”, while the rest of us, accept the risk and go about our daily business of traveling unmolested.

Or, to quote my wise friend Ben Franklin, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

3.  Efforts to Limit Insider Trading.

In an effort to stop insider trading wrecking the markets, regulators imposed rules requiring all firms to keep records of all electronic communications for 7 years (or more).

Because of the immense cost involved in capturing, monitoring and  storing all of this data, most companies simply opt to block employees’ access to internet tools such as chat, forums, and social media. 

Effective use of these tools can greatly enhance efficiency and job performance, but they are now denied to most American financial institutions.  Meanwhile, companies in other countries are free to reap enormous benefits from those same restricted sources.

Do these rules stop illegal activities?  Of course not!  Anyone dumb enough to use a company  email system to discuss their illegal activites when they have a personal smartphone in their pocket deserves to be caught.  Nothing is being gained by this – unless you happen to own shares in Iron Mountain.

Who gets punished?

Like so many ill conceived laws and regulations, the people affected are the ones who actually follow the rules. Criminals are hardly likely to read FINRA 10-06 and conclude that they shouldn’t continue with their fraud because it would be wrong.

We need to stop this madness.

  • We need to stop being so black and white.  Life just isn’t like that.
  • We need to provide principals and guidelines that everyone instinctively understands, not rules and regulations that need armies of lawyers to interpret them.
  • We need to start putting the human back into the equation so that when people do stupid stuff (and we all do), common sense (and not black and white rules) can prevail.
  • And we need some sort of “do-over” clause built into laws which says a law can be overturned or amended by simple majority voting of the people when we finally figure out that, once again, we’ve screwed things up.

Because the saddest thing about unintended consequences…is that they are still consequences.

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Filed under Children, Life - or something like it, The Human Condition, Travel

The Secrets of Women and Motorcycles

Since the beginning of time (I assume) men have a hard time understanding the way women think, particularly when it came to more ‘intimate’ matters.

But I read something recently which finally put things into terms that I could understand and allowed me a peek into the strange world of women’s desires, and here it is…

Men view sex as a goal – a destination to be reached as quickly as possible and by the shortest route.  Women, however, see sex as a journey – a set of experiences to be savored along the way.  The destination is nice, but it is the journey that counts.

As an avid motorcyclist this was something I could totally relate to.  Motorcycling is all about the journey.  The destination (be it great ribs or a classic bike show) is, more often than not, just an excuse to get out and ride.

The same split can be seen in other activities too – take shopping as an example.  Women will happily spend hours at the mall, completely immersing themselves in the entire retail experience.  Men, on the other hand, “hunt shoes” – grabbing the first pair that fit the need, and heading home triumphant.

Sadly the introduction of children often makes it difficult to spend sufficient time on the journey – which no-doubt explains why many mothers find themselves in a state of low libido, and their husbands in a state of frustration.

But the first step to solving a problem is knowing what the problem is.  Now that I finally get it I will be trying harder to focus on the journey, and I would suggest that you do the same too.

“Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey.”~Unknown

Enjoy the journey!

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Filed under Children, Life - or something like it, The Human Condition, Travel

Turning Negatives into Positives

Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you deal with it.

Sometimes that means just staying positive, or keeping a sense of humor when things go wrong.  But occasionally it’s possible to flip things on their head and actually turn a negative into a positive.  Hard to imagine?  Here a couple of quick examples:

1. Shooting the cat.

When my wife brought home a cat I was quite happy…right up to the point when he started using the furniture as a scratching post.  The little bugger would happily saw away at the arm of the sofa while staring directly at me.  It didn’t matter how much I shouted and waved my arms, he wouldn’t stop until I stood up – at which point he would take off only to return only a few minutes later to taunt me again.

After about a week of this, he started his game again but this time found his fun cut short by a powerful jet of water to the neck.  Yes, the tide had turned – now I actually wanted him to attack the sofa so that I could use the super-soaker I had just purchased.  Sadly my fun was short-lived as he quickly realized he was out-gunned (literally) and the scratching stopped.  But, for a short time, I had a lot of fun turning this negative into a positive!

2. Junk mail revenge

Junk mail is a sad fact of life these days.  Each day our mail men and women break their backs delivering paper goods that go straight from our mailbox to the recycling. Clearly someone is buying things from this or they wouldn’t send it, but I find wading through the pile offers and begging letters to find the ‘real mail’ to be a little irritating.

Fortunately Scott Adams provided the answer in his book, The Dilbert Principal.  Some of these companies offer pre-paid envelopes in their junk.  Should you find one of these gold mines, there is an opportunity to release some of the negative energy by stuffing their envelope with your other junk mail, along with a note saying “Please throw this in the garbage for me”. You can then chuckle to yourself as you slip that into the outgoing mail in the full knowledge that the company will now have to pay postage on your junk. Another negative turned into a positive!

3. Spam purveyors of bloatware

A recent update of Adobe Reader installed not only the expected update, but also a copy of McAfee Security Scan Plus.  I never asked for this, and certainly didn’t want it.  If these companies actually believed you wanted their bloatware, they would not feel the need to hide the opt-out check box in obscure parts of the screen. I was very irritated by this and decided to vent to the customer complaints department of Adobe but, alas, their website doesn’t have any such link – perhaps shut down due to excessive call volume?

Instead I found the Facebook page for Adobe Systems and flagged them as spam. The Internet can be self-healing (Wikipedia is proof of that) so, perhaps, if enough people take this sort of action when a company installs unwanted software, they will get the message.  If nothing else, it gave me a little tingle of satisfaction and turned a negative into a positive!

So what are you waiting for?  Get out there and take control of your life – there’s fun to be had everywhere if you know where to look, so start looking!

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Filed under Life - or something like it, Technology, The Human Condition