13 February 2006

Top Ten Update

Managed to tick off a Top Ten goal this afternoon with a 5:56, 400 IM, long course.

Turns out that the training was tougher than the swim. Splits were 1:20/1:36/1:39/1:21 -- happy days. M was there as were Glenn and Roly. The whole crew!

Glad that's out of the way. Of course, I now see how I can get under 5:45.

For the record, M let me know that her LCM PB is 4:54.

12 February 2006

Sources of Influence

I've been reading a lot of books lately and it is interesting how the various ideas end up shuffled, combined and constructed once they are inside my head.

Like all of us, I'm prone to external influence whether I accept it or not. So in times when I find myself a little melancholy, I step back and ask myself if my sources of influence are heading me in the right direction.

What are the main sources of influence that we experience in our current lives?

Print Media

There are probably more. Before considering some ideas on the above -- think about how much time you spend being influenced, in your current life, by the above. Many of us spend more time with the TV (or keyboard) then our wife or kids. One of the great things about my life is the large amount of time that I get to spend with M. Constant exposure to a person with high self-esteem is great for the soul.

I've been pretty shelled the last week. The fatigue has been from my business trip that started at the end of my big training camp. Two weeks of massive training, cross 13 time zones in two days; have a two week business trip; then cross 13 time zones in a day.

Perhaps I was being unreasonable to expect myself to sleep-in one morning then resume normal life. It's taken me a full week to sort myself out through sleeping 10-12 hours per night. Right now it is a bit after midnight -- the first time that I've made it past 10 in a week. So perhaps I am turning the corner. We'll see. Fatigue is a bit like injury. Even when we are healed there is a period of time where we need to rebuild confidence in ourselves.

Back to the books. Fooled By Randomness -- in that the author rips into the media. I thought that I would experiment and trim my exposure. So I've been down to the top screen (of the home page) for the FT, WSJ and CNN. I figure if anything major goes down then I'll read about it there. Not that there is much that I could do if anything major happens.

As for magazines, I have an electronic subscription to The Economist and that is quite a good way to stay on top of the large events happening around the world as well as searching for economic info when I need it.

So far my experiment has been a success. I'm still in the loop, as much as I need to be, and I've freed up additional time for writing and reading.

TV has been pretty much eliminated. I say pretty much because M busted me brain-dead, exhausted, surfing channels the other day and announced "you don't watch TV, turn that off". So now I try to turn the TV off, rather than changing the channel. There is something strangely hypnotic about that flickering screen.

Internet -- very tricky I find! As much as the media exist to entertain, rather than inform... the internet is a swirling mass of noise. How best to deal with all that noise? Well, I'm still working on that. Here's what I've come up with so far...

On the boards -- I asked myself what I was seeking to get out of the interaction. The main thing that I enjoy from the internet is writing and helping folks. Writing as it calms my mind. Helping folks as there is a clear positive feedback loop and we all like-to-be-liked.

Paradoxically, my site has always helped me learn to tolerate not being liked. There are a lot of unhappy folks out there that can't quite shed their persistent negativity. It is a trade-off between infecting my mind and learning to let their noise flow through me. Some days I do better than others!

So, I'm trying to stick with the threads that let me either help folks or write. Seems to be going OK. On the other threads, I've been around long enough to spot the ones that might develop into something interesting or simply aren't worth bothering. So I limit myself to a single view per day (and that's taking discipline, let me tell you!). I've even managed to avoid some altogether -- such as a recent one that appears to be speculating on my life expectancy (I don't want to know, but thanks for caring).

In chopping down the above there are a few things that I am seeking to limit.

#1 -- Exposure to advertising -- it is simply an unfair battle.

Allow me to share a story. In the 80s, folks in China didn't consider dandruff an issue. I know the people that were responsible for changing that in the 90s. The good folks that sell shampoo and my pals in the HK advertising industry, put together a plan to make a few (hundred?) million people uneasy about something that they never cared about before. They had a stack of cash and they got the job done.

To even the playing field, I'm trimming (as much as possible) my exposure to advertising. Should do wonders for my self-esteem. I'm going to have to count on my wife to salvage my appearance as I age!

M's kicking in with her attempt to reduce their grasp on her. She's been working her way through a book called Mean Genes and enjoying it.

As for interactions with people, those have been cut down quite a bit. I have a tendancy to hide-out when I get shelled. I ventured out on Saturday. We walked down to Sumner and watched the end of the Coast-to-Coast race. I had a Swedish buddy racing and I hadn't seen him for a few years. I managed to track him down -- he was totally shelled (it is a big day out, that race). Given that he isn't talkative at the best of times, I managed a handshake and an intro to Monica.

M noted that perhaps my hiding was ending, we'll see. I'm off on a two week vacation starting February 19th and I'm going to experiment with pulling the plug on the internet for two weeks. When I shared that with M this evening, she flashed me a wry smile. The addiction to connectivity runs pretty deep.

While I accept that completely hiding out might not be an effective long term strategy. I am struck by thinking back to the periods of my life which were the most satisfying. They all have a few things in common:

  • High workload towards a challenging goal;
  • Close interaction with a limited number of people that I respect; and
  • Limited exposure to any person or topic that didn't fit with the two points above.

...or I was in love.

Friends, family, clients, co-workers -- I'm fortunate in that while I create complexity with my travel and living arrangements -- my circle(s) in Bermuda, Scotland, London, Christchurch, Hong Kong and Boulder are pretty small. So life is, relatively, simple once I get somewhere.

More on that when I ponder Expectations and Simplification in the future.


10 February 2006

Consumption 2

Mulling over the comments that I posted, as well as some others that rolled in, triggered some additional ideas.

I think that my original point was missed, perhaps by me as well.

Step back from whether consumption is "good", "bad", "desirable", "undesirable"; "statemenlike" or "economically beneficial".

Step back from whether there are political costs and benefits to others.

Step back from the ironies of writing that piece from business class burning jet fuel across Asia.

Step back from allowing your mind to take issue and debate a small detail of what was written.

The central question that I was asking myself was... Does consumption in, and of itself, derive personal satisfaction and meaning? Specifically, would consuming more increase my level of personal satisfaction? Are the actions and compromises required for me to consume at this current level actually deriving me any benefits? If not, then could it be that the most rapid way to improve my satisfaction and reduce stress levels be achieved by reducing my consumption and, thereby, freeing myself from certain obligations? Why then do I spend so much energy enhancing my ability to consume?

I spent years kicking those around while living in Hong Kong.

Although binary situations hold intrinsic appeal to me, the choice isn't between gung-ho consumption and living in a cave, as one entertaining letter suggested. We can have a far greater impact on the world by staying engaged than cutting ourselves off (witness one man's impact on the fringe sport of long course triathlon training). The most interesting part of Friedman's argument was his observation that appropriate leadership could have an exceptionally large long-term beneficial impact on entire societies.

So my main point was to ask myself about the sources of long-term satisfaction in my life and consider if my consuption choices were based on any rational footing.

Mostly they aren't. So I've also been working on strategies to reduce sources of irrational influence on my choices. More on that when I get the chance.


09 February 2006

Consumption Feedback

Three posts received in the Mail Bag...

I found the President's state of the union strangely similar to much of what
Friedman had to say in his Flat World book. IMHO that book should be
required reading for all econ students at a minimum, for undergraduates as a
whole would be even better. I actually gave that book to Justin D. last
fall, as well as a copy of "the Worldly Philosophers" by Heilbroner....and I
think he actually read 'em! Econ doesn't have to be drudgery. Of course, I
read plenty of other stuff as wel, but. I have a voracious appetite for that
type of info.

I'm curious about a couple of comments you've made recently. I would like
for you to elaborate on your sentiments regarding the dinner conversations
you over heard in Colorado and how your globalized perspective filtered
them. If you don't wanna make them public I understand.


>A few random thoughts:
> 1. Fossil fuels are an incredibly efficient source of energy for moving
> things. For example, it takes less than a gallon of gasoline to move my
> car 20 miles in as little as 15 minutes. Takes about the same amount of
> water and gatorade for me to run 20 miles in about 3 hours. Suspect that
> the Taurus weighs more than ten times as much as I do. Depending on where
> I buy the water, the combination of water and gatorade might cost more
> than the gasoline too.
> 2. Small cars are great. I used to drive a Plymouth Colt that could get
> over 40 MPG on the highway. But, they aren't real practical when you have
> a family. We could barely fit everything we needed for me, my wife and
> our three year old son to go on a week long vacation into our Taurus
> sedan. In fact, we couldn't take my bike with us. If you have two kids,
> then it's just about impossible to car pool to school or sporting events
> or whatever if you just have a sedan. So, families just end needing
> larger vehicles than small cars.
> 3. US Government regulations on average gas mileage for the fleets of
> cars sold by automakers effectively outlawed the larger family station
> wagons. SUVs and mini-vans aren't calculated in that average. So, we
> drive larger vehicles with worse gas mileage than station wagons to
> increase the average fuel economy of the car fleet.
> 4. I don't think a lot of gasoline consumption in the US is related to
> the pleasure of driving. Most of it is related to the perceived value of
> having a certain size of house or property, which are often cheaper the
> farther they are from urban centers. So, many people drive more not so
> much for the sake of driving as they drive for the sake of living in a
> particular place. I'm lucky to be able to live less than 20 minutes from
> a place where I can do work that I enjoy.
> 5. You are correct that we send lots of money to regimes that are
> repressive and some that sponsor terrorism. But, we also buy lots of oil
> from Great Britain and Canada, and it's hard to do the second without
> doing the first. Also, buying lots of oil from Russia is probably not
> a bad thing to do, even if Russia is not exactly what we would call a
> democracy, if it helps keep that country muddling along toward the 20th
> century.


I would enjoy hearing more of your thoughts on consumption because this is of real interest to me. I had the same "uneasy" feelings you had once after watching a large garbage truck haul away the leftovers from a week's cruise. The garbage (particularly the amount of food) thrown away was disturbing to my wife and me.

We have always been on the "low end" of the consumption chain (we commute 100% by bike, no longer own a car, do not use our A-C in our hot summers, keep our heat low) etc. There is of course, more we can do but we also don't want to go on a campaign to make a statement or be activists. We feel the best we can do is live the way we feel is best for us, and hopefully, by example and not coercion, encourage others to do the same.

My wife lived for 2 years in a run down room while serving in the Peace Corp and I have lived and travelled in a number of third world countries so it may be easier (at least less of an adjustment) for us than many. but it is an important lesson and thank you for bringing it up.

I also enjoyed your comment about stopping to assess if you are doing things to make you happy, or just going through the motions. I know your blog is just a medium to express yourself but often they are what other people think about also so thanks for sharing.


Coaches & Athletes

A few ideas that have been rolling through my head this week.

All coaches have biases, insecurities and blind spots. When your needs as an athlete bump up against one (or more) of these; that’s when errors of judgment occur.

The toughest and most important part of athletic success is getting out of bed every morning, on time, for many years. When we take actions that risk our ability to back-it-up (even if physiologically beneficial) we are gambling with the big picture of what it takes to succeed.

Be wary of coaches living out their athletic dreams (and managing personal insecurities) through pushing their athletes over the edge.

Is the coach seeking to control the program or the athlete? My most effective coaching relationships are more like conversations than prophesies.

Having had the opportunity of five years of world class coaching – where I went wrong is when I took advice and added to it. The most counterproductive (and common) change was going harder, for longer, than instructed – I’ve completely ended my season twice.

Don’t spend any time with a coach with weak ethics. Life is about a lot more than athletic results. Repeated exposure to a man of weak character can impair you for years.

The best training partner is one that gets you out the door, supplies a few laughs and keeps you from inadvertently nuking yourself. A lot of great athletes have benefited from a training partnership with “weaker” athletes.

The key benefit of athletics is providing us with a forum through which we can overcome ourselves. Ultimately, that is the only thing that a race, or a competitor can offer us.

Athletes that miss this point spend their entire lives chasing a finish line that never satisfies.

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07 February 2006

London -- Then & Now

I spent this past weekend in London and had a great time visiting with friends (new and old) as well as combining a good whack of training with a little bit of business.

Who knew that London was a winter training Mecca? I’m fortunate in that the Epic-Network is extending its global reach and I’m able to get a training fix in my main business centers.

I caught the Thursday afternoon flight down from Edinburgh. Flying into Heathrow late in the day is often subject to delays but it was smooth sailing and less than 45 minutes after touch down I met up with Michael at Ealing Broadway.

I lived in London from 1990 to 1993. In the “old” days, we had a standing booking at the Thai restaurant at the Churchill Arms on Kensington Church Street. Every week, for close to two years, at 7pm. Back then, if I was free early on the Thursday then I would have headed to the pub a bit early and called Stu to sneak off for a few early beers. The standard night was four or five pints and a big night would see us into the high single figures. The nice thing about closing time back then was that it happened bang on 11pm so I could be asleep by 11:30 and, while feeling slow, I’d be able to bluff my way through Friday.

This past Thursday was quite a bit different and the contrast, as always, made me smile on the inside. Michael took me to a pool somewhere in West London. He had a couple of mates that worked at the club. They were Ironman guys and keen to meet me. I find a growing amount of goodwill around the world when I travel. There is a lot of kindness reflected back upon me and I enjoy playing a role in that virtuous cycle.

After the swim we headed off to a local pub/restaurant for dinner and I gave a chat to the Serpentine Tri Club. Man-o-man can I talk! Thankfully, it was well received. Two hours passed and if I wasn’t a half hour late for my homestay then I just might have kept talking. It was a great group of people, who reminded me that one of the best things about living in a truly international city is the caliber of the people you are constantly exposed to.

I have lived and worked in two of the largest business hubs in the world – London & Hong Kong. While they present some unique challenges to my current quality of life, I don’t know any other cities that can compete when it comes to quality of work opportunities. London for the volume of business, real-world educational opportunities and depth of experience. Hong Kong for the upward mobility created when rapid growth meets a shortage of work experience in the home market.

So that was Thursday. Friday was a day off training for me. A morning meeting down at Canary Wharf and lunch time spent writing an update report for a key investor. I was really tired on Friday and made the tactical error of a nap late in the day. As a result, I didn’t sleep much. The one bit of upside was that I had a chance to chat with M in the middle of my night.

Saturday was an entertaining ride. The lads equipped me with a very upscale commuter bike, shoes, clothes, helmet, gloves – the only things that were mine on the ride were my wedding ring and a pair of undershorts.

I had a pre-ride flat so we were underway slightly late. I followed my pre-ride flat with another about a half hour in. Already, I was the “new guy” holding the group back.

After my flat, we headed into the hills and I was working seriously hard to stay with the lads. Oh No! I’d been on these kill-the-pro rides before. However, this one was different, the entire group was rolling forward and I was going straight out the back.

Sweat was pouring off me and I was putting in a big effort. Still, I kept falling behind. The lactate refusing to clear from my legs even going downhill. Even sitting in, I wasn’t getting any draft and had to work extremely hard. It was really strange to be that shelled.

After 30 minutes of getting dropped, I could tell that there was a quiet discussion going on up the road. I was at a total loss. It was a shame to have been invited as a guest rider only to hold the entire pack up. They couldn’t even leave me for dead as I didn’t know where I was (and they were English). The Poms have a great sense of fair play. They’ll only shellac you within reason.

Toby dropped back and (ever so nicely) enquired how the bike was. I pointed out that the bike was doing great. The problem appeared to be the rider!

At 45 minutes we passed a massive peacock on the road and Michael dropped back for a chat. I must have been quite the sight – by this stage, I was white as a sheet, totally soaked in sweat and beyond speaking. The guys were rolling easy at conversational pace. I couldn’t figure it out.

I started to check the rear brake… not rubbing
Feel for friction in the pedals… a little sticky
Sense the hubs… perhaps a bit of friction in there

At one level I was scared to stop because if there wasn’t a bike problem then this was going to be highly embarrassing… “he sucked so bad that he even checked the bike…”

Then I simply had to stop, I was totally whipped. So I pulled over and tried to spin the rear wheel… nothing… not a bit of movement. I looked at the tire and I had just about worn through the sidewall from friction…


Needless-to-say my mood improved markedly from that point onwards. However, my legs never really were the same!

So it ended up being five hours of rolling hills around Southern England. Why do they call them “downs” if you’re always riding up? I don’t know. Suppose that they invented the language so I should just accept it like a good colonial.

The pacing on the ride continued as per standard age-group-global-protocol… i.e. the strongest guy on the ride smacks each assent. However, there was plenty of regrouping, lots of small talk and the delays due to the g-man were socially acceptable.

One of the lads on the ride (Lawrence, one of my favourite English names) – is a 51 minute TT guy. He was telling me that he really likes the training protocols of AC. Not sure if I pointed out, or merely thought, that it was rather logical that he’d fine common ground with a cyclist with similar skills. I pointed out that lifting his FT might be fun but, given that he’s already riding faster than most of the pro field, he should consider swimming and running a bit more.

The best protocol not always being the best protocol – thanks to Dr. T.

Towards the end of the ride Michael got a bit tired. He waits until his A races to leave his training pals shaking their heads. I probably take more pride in being the fastest “slow guy” than Michael but we share a lot of common ground.

Saturday ended with a drive back into London, a chat with Monica and early to bed. Sunday had more fun planned.

I woke up before six on Sunday morning. I had another back-in-the day moment when I realised that I would have only been asleep for a couple of hours (if at all) had this been the old days. One of our most popular weekend events in the 90s was a dinner party at my place in Hammersmith. There would be eight to twelve of us, in the basement, candle chandelier, eating around an old pine table. Dinner would typically include a case of wine. Dessert would be a large bottle of vodka and/or Cuervo Gold passed around the table. We wouldn’t head out clubbing until 1 or 2 am.

My brain wouldn’t re-engage until Tuesday morning.

So this Sunday morning was a little different and we hit the pool at 7:30am – they even had a “fast” freestyle only lane! Any pool where I am the fastest swimmer is alright with me.

The Tour de Parcs started at 9am – like my last run in London, we hit the Thames River trail, Richmond Park, Wimbledon Common and Putney Common. Perhaps a few other places, I wasn’t really sure.

Russ-the-dentist (uber-50 year old – fast guys are everywhere) and I… well, we hit it a bit at the end. Michael started giving us directions and, when I do that, it normally means that it’s time to head off. So Russell and I trotted down the Thames trail at a fair old rate and he got to see my definition of Iron-speedwork. I was a bit fired up when we arrived at Chiswick Bridge so he was also subjected to a few minutes of run form, training protocol and main set tips.

The run rounded my weekend out to about 8.5 hours of training. Not bad and, aside from the wheel rubbing incident, I think that I’m OK following Epic.

After all the training, I met up with a friend and her family. She has the unique position of being my only “peer” that I’ve been in continuous contact with for twenty years. I was only 17 when I met her. I think that her kids are 9/8/7 now and it was a lot of fun to have lunch with the entire crew. It had been five years since I last saw the kids.

It seems so long ago now but that day ended by getting on this plane and starting my five week trip to the Southern Hemisphere. Visiting with M and a two week vacation in Tasmania. I’m looking forward to a bit of training.

06 February 2006

Consumption & Utility

I am back on the plane and it is exactly one month from my last monster-long-haul trip. This time I don’t have my sweetie with me – so it isn’t quite as much fun. I do enjoy airplanes, though. These long flights are quite enjoyable as well because I get to drink coffee all day – staying awake is part of my time zone management strategy. I also enjoy a few glasses of red wine and the food up here. I wonder why I enjoy airplane food? High sodium levels?

As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, I have been reading a lot more books. I enjoy having the freedom to read when traveling. I only have about four hours of power on my laptop and I haven’t upgraded my power supply to be airplane-friendly. That forces me to be a bit creative on the plane.

Consumption – it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that knows a wide range of people that personal wealth has a weak link to personal satisfaction. There is a well-known (in certain circles) research analyst that’s put out some interesting articles on just what leads to personal satisfaction. Experiences, rather than physical things.

To me, a life with meaning isn’t really about happiness – in fact, to be satisfied with myself, I most often choose the path with the least short-term happiness. Perhaps, I am too wary of the easy way, the temptations of false gods and the trap of chasing fleeting pleasures – I might write about those points but they are well documented through the ages (see prophets as diverse as Buddha to Covey).

Taking a tangent for a moment (if I might before dinner is served)…

Something that I probably need to watch in myself – because I see it in all of my close friends and hear about it from M – is the tendency to take the “hard” way from fear of being slack or a crazed desire for immediate decisions/results/performance. Zealous, moderate, dedication… I wrote about commitment versus attachment somewhere in the archives.

OK, back to this consumption point. As part of my annual self-review, I question myself on whether I am spending my energy towards personal satisfaction, or merely keeping myself busy. I think that it is a very worth while activity and that it probably why I mention it so much in my writing.

A chapter at the end of The World is Flat talked about the need for global leadership on the Western World’s energy policy. It is something that really hit home to me. Here’s how I interpreted it…

Consider for a moment the sources of personal satisfaction in your life – family, friends, love, cycling, nature, travel, reading, writing, cooking, finding old books, football… whatever they may be.

Consider how you spend/consume your “energy” – money, time, fossil fuels.

Consider the countries that most benefit from a high level of fossil consumption.

Cross reference that list with the governments that are most repressive to their people and most supportive of those that seek to deprive you of your ability to enjoy your sources of personal satisfaction.

Now I haven’t fully tracked through the money chain but it is a compelling argument on the surface for a couple of points that keep popping up in my head.

First, due to oil, there is a massive wealth transfer happening from America (and elsewhere) to some of the least attractive governments in the world.

Second, if one accepts that point then shouldn’t we really divert a good chunk of public expenditure towards cleaner energy?

Third, it certainly puts an F-350 and a Hummer in a different light when you track the gas money back to the governments that most those drivers oppose.

Think it through. If that vehicle isn’t a source of lasting utility and it just might be providing an indirect, constant dividend for exactly the people that your tax dollars are paying to kill. This is an interesting situation where I find unity in the views of left & right – for completely different reasons.

Friedman does a great job of laying this out. I’ll merely add the observation that the bulk of our energy consumption fails to derive much utility.

As I get older, the dilemma of consumption comes up more and more. Watching us fill bags of garbage (hourly) at Epic Camp really hit me for some reason. Those feelings started back in 2004 when I was riding across the US and thought about leaving a trail of trash bags through every community we visited.

A final thought, somewhat unrelated but it has also been on my mind. Recently, I saw an advert for a ‘fitness’ calendar. The advert left me with a similar internal uneasiness. I haven’t quite been able to pin down the source but, perhaps, it is because I was seeing beyond the black and white image to the eating disorders, bone loss and lack of self-esteem that lives in a society that puts an unnaturally thin model on a pedestal.

Connecting the dots until they lead back to the source is not always comfortable. But what can we do?

So far I’ve come up with drive a Subaru, ride my bike more and love my wife.

I’m still working on the garbage.