The Idiots Guide to the Universe It's a big weird world, best to be snarky!

30May/110

The Idiocy I Saw at Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is, to put it simply, awesome. It is an area so beautiful that it essentially inspired our National Park system. I went went with my family to Yosemite National Park for a bit of site seeing and backpacking for Memorial Day Weekend 2011. My kids saw things that blew their minds. They have seen waterfalls before on other trips, but there are few waterfalls that can be quite as awe inspiring as the falls in Yosemite during the Spring season. There are few places where in their daily lives where they come around a corner and come face to face with a mule dear, grazing from a tree.

My desire to hit up Yosemite started months ago. I have discovered that visiting locations like this are like a recharge, or a hitting of the reset button for me. The day to day stresses of life just simply melt away in a place like Yosemite. I could sit here and wax philosophically about it, but a far better man than I has put it into better words than I could ever hope to do. I will let John Muir do the waxing for me.

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." — from Our National Parks (1901)

"We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun,—a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal." — from My First Summer in the Sierra (1911)

The restorative capability of nature is something that I have been the recipient of on several occasions, and find myself needing it far more often as time goes on. So when after a week of delayed and cancelled flights, I found myself on a plane from Sacramento, CA to Ontario, CA looking out the window towards the East. I was able to see, at a distance but still clearly the three icons of Yosemite seen above. El Capitan, Half-Dome, and Bridal Veil Falls. The need was brought to life, and it needed to be quenched. So the family and I made plans to do a quick weekend turn around trip to Yosemite. My wife and kids had never been, and I had not been in several years. It certainly didn't hurt that the falls were flowing more than they have in quite some time.

After seeking a little solitude by getting away from the considerable crowds in Yosemite Valley by hitting a few of the trails we decided to hit a few of the more frequently visited locations in Yosemite Valley on Sunday. Our first stop was Bridal Veil falls. Now this is an easy few minute paved walk up to an excellent vantage point. In this short distance you will experience a weather change caused by the increased moisture from the falls, and ultimately if you continue to the top you be soaked by the spray from the falls. Both of my kids picked this moment as one of their highlights of the trip. After making our ascent, I saw something that just shook me to my core.

A Disgusting Person

What did I see? I saw the muppet you see on the left. You have to understand, here I was immediately after the high of standing at the base of Bridal Veil Falls, discussing the experience with my 10 year old son. During which I watch this man take a lit cigarette butt and toss it off of a walking bridge into the waters of Bridal Veil Creek.

Okay sure, you may be thinking that doesn't sound so bad. First off, I know that people throw the cigarette butts pretty much wherever they want, that doesn't make it okay. But the fact that this worthless waste of space would just toss that butt as if he had no regard for the sheer beauty that surrounded him is not just shocking, it is criminal. Litterally. Littering is illegal. Having smoked before myself, I know of the challenges there can sometimes be in finding an ash tray. So what, that doesn't excuse this muppet.

So did I say anything to him? I really really wanted to. The words were on the tip of my toungue. Every fiber of my being wanted to say loudly enough to create a scene "Sir I think it is disgusting that you are so selfish and stupid that you think it is okay to just toss your cigarette butt down into the water, much less anywhere." But I had both my sons standing right next to me, and my wife's voice which always admonishes me for creating confrontation in situations like this.

So instead I snapped a picture of him, and decided on the spot that I would do what I am doing right now. I would call him on it, and call for his public humiliation. So I am here-by saying it. To whoever it is in the photo, "you sir are a foul individual, I sincerely hope that you never are able to smoke without someone sticking around to ensure that your butt ends up in a proper receptacle for as long as you live. I hope that one decision changes your life forever."

So here is my  little Internet campaign. On top of this blog post I am also publishing the following two photos. Please take these photos, and publish them on twitter, publish them far and wide. Encourage others to retweet the image. Put these images on your facebook page and encourage others to share the image with their friends.

The National Parks were created for the enjoyment of the world, so this guy owes the planet an apology.  So my call for public scorn stays active until I hear that this guy has gone to Yosemite and donated 2 full days of his time picking up trash. Surely there will be photographic or video evidence of this. At that time I will edit this posting to say that the campaign is ended. I will also write a blog post about his redemption. Until then, he remains deserving of public scorn. So publish these photos far and wide.

 


16May/110

The Death Defying Adventures of Business Travel

Flight delays happen. Whether it's an equipment failure, weather, an undersold plane, or a pilot that doesn't wake up on time. It is just simply a fact of business travel. I used to get upset about it, but I found that it did not do a whole lot of good, so now I just accept it and move on. But today was different. Today was dangerous.

I started my day at a far too early 4AM. Went through my normal routine, then finished packing my bag to head to my favorite of the Southern California airports, ONT (Ontario International Airport.) I checked in and headed to the gate for my 7:40AM American Airlines flight to DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.) Now it is important to point out that I am an American Airlines guy. If I can fly American I will, they have treated me well and I have some status with them which can make flying a lot more pleasant. I do fly other airlines and I have been delayed by just about every major and minor airline in the US. The difference with American is that they are good to me since I have status with them. But I digress.

At the gate, just as boarding time has slipped by about five minutes, I take note of the fact that the bags have not been loaded into the plane. Being a frequent traveler this sent up a red flag for me. The airlines are usually a pretty well oiled machine, the bag is checked, the bag is conveyed, the bag may be checked by TSA, the bag is put on a cart, the bag is put on a plane. The routine had stopped, the center did not hold. I took out my i-Phone and started looking at the flight status to see if a delay was listed, nothing was listed. See there was a method to my madness. The gate staff usually spend a bit of time preparing themselves for the onslaught of customers that are about to berate, abuse, yell at, and in some cases question the parentage of them before alerting the passengers to a delay. Not sure what exactly they are doing, but if it was me, it would be several very stiff drinks, probably of the whiskey variety.

A few minutes later it all went wrong. The gate agent announced that the flight was delayed because there was a computer problem on the plane, and that this particular problem dealt with the auto-pilot and landing systems. Now, I happen to be a big fan of my planes having an auto-pilot that, you know, works! I am an even bigger fan of my planes landing in an intended manner. It is usually the unintended landings that cause the biggest problems. So in my eyes, the delay is justified. The gate agent then informs us that they are waiting on a call from local area airports to see if they have a part or spare aircraft available. At this point I know it's going to be a very long day. It's now that the frequent traveler in me kicks into gear.

I get on the phone and call American Airlines to see about the next flight to DFW at 10:45, sold out. How about 3PM? Sold Out. For some reason a lot of people want to go to Dallas today. Okay I am stuck with the herd at this point. But I immediately begin my maneuvering to get ahead of the herd. I move towards the back of the herd and await the inevitable announcement. When it finally comes that the flight has been cancelled and we should all head back downstairs for rebooking, I am already ahead, or so I thought.

I get downstairs and there is already a line, a really long one. Apparently I wasn't as on top of things as I thought. But then I see my saving grace, the First Class/Status line and no one is in it. Awesome. The crowd in the line right next door begins to grumble that I am cutting the line. One of the desk agents comes over and asks if I am First Class, I show her my frequent flyer card and she says "I will help you right over here." A particularly surly woman in the line says "How do you rate?" I stopped, turned, looked her dead in the eye and said "pretty damn good." I then gave her a wink, turned and headed to be rebooked.

"I can put you on the same flight tomorrow." says the hopeful desk agent.

"That would work if I didn't have to be in Oklahoma City tomorrow morning." I replied.

"Ah yes I see, and you are also flying to Kansas City tomorrow."

"I am"

"And you are.... well you are on a different American flight every day this week until Friday."

"I am."

"Well then we need to get you to Oklahoma City."

"M'am, I couldn't agree more."

"Everything going out of Ontario is sold out, would you mind another airport or airline?"

"So long as you can get me there without me driving my car, my return flight comes back here."

Famous last words.

I was rebooked on a flight from LAX (Los Angeles International) to ORD (Chicago-O'Hare International) with a 3 hour lay over in ORD. I was to take a SuperShuttle ride from ONT to LAX. Little did I know, it would be one of the most terrifying rides of my life.

Don't get me wrong, I have taken SuperShuttle a lot of times and have not had many problems, and the problems I have had have been minor in nature, so this is not representative of SuperShuttle. None-the-less the story must be told.

I boarded SuperShuttle van 997 with 8 other hapless souls, all transfering to LAX, all for the same reason. I took a seat on the passenger side in the last row and strapped on my seat-belt. The van departed ONT and we made our way to I10 West. As we got onto I10 West I noticed that our driver is on his cell phone (yes it is held up to his ear), this is not only an incredibly stupid thing to do, it is illegal in California. I also notice that the driver seems to be having a bit of trouble keeping the van in the lanes he is attempting to drive in. He is bouncing from lane depature warning bumps on the passenger side, to the same bumps on the driver side. So we are treated to a swaying motion punctuated by the PBLPBLPBL sound every time he hits the edge of the lane. At this point I speak up from the back, seeing in addition to working planes that land, I am also a big fan of being in a vehicle that stays in it's lane. It's not the lane departures that scare me, it's the other vehicles in the other lanes that do that.

So I say loudly from the back "Perhaps it would be a good idea to put down the phone and put both hands on the wheel."

"Sir, could you please get off the phone"

"Seriously, that's not a joke, hang up the phone."

"DUDE, GET OFF THE DAMN PHONE AND DRIVE THE F@#$ING VAN!!!!!"

"Yeah" and other mumblings of agreement came from my van mates.

At this point he puts the phone down, and proceeds to give me 'the eye' in the rear view mirror. This of course didn't help his driving skills.

He still managed to bounce back and forth from one side of the lane to the other. It is such a back and forth swaying motion that I note to myself that there is a really good chance someone on this van is going to throw-up from motion sickness. This goes on for miles. Then the swaying doesn't stop but the sound of the lane departure warnings go away. This is because the guy is literally driving in two lanes. He does this for over a half mile. He picks up his cell to answer a call and makes his way into one of the lanes, still swaying from one side of the lane to the other.

"PUT - DOWN - THE -PHONE!"

He does. Then just as we are making our way from the left lanes of the I10 to the I710 South the first near miss happens. I hear the horn blaring right next to me, my heads snaps to look out the window, there is a car a mere 6 inches from the passenger side of the van. It appears our driver never learned that one should insure the lane is empty before merging into it. We then continue our back and forth sway down the I710 South. The gentlemen seated directly in front of me says "Dude, if you keep making the van go back and forth like that I am going to throw-up."

The driver looks at him in the rear view mirror and says nothing. I calmly suggest that if he does have to throw up, he should do so in the driver's lap. This is met with general agreement by everyone in the van except the driver who give me the eye again. The van continues down I710 South towards I105 West

Then I make an observation that brings nervous chuckles from my van mates, "You know whats interesting about the 105, the lanes are not as wide on the 105." I hate being right.

As we made our way down I105 towards LAX, the van was not swaying within our lane, it was entering into the lanes next to it. That's what caused near miss number two when we swerved unexpectedly partially into the lane to our right. The driver occupying that space was most displeased and let the driver know how he felt about it by blaring his horn and showing the driver 'tallman." (Go through your chuildrens song repretoire until you get to Here is Thumbkin, you'll get it.)

The third and scariest close call came just moments later on I105 when a motorcyclist was cutting lanes between the carpool lane and the main line. Our swerve nearly ended his life, thankfully he was able to accelerate past and to safety.

Then we got to LAX. As we were headed to out terminal driving along the C-Shaped terminal drive at LAX, a "Parking Spot" van had the audacity to signal, and get over quickly in front of our SuperShuttle. Our driver honked at him. I lost it, I couldn't hold it in anymore. "SERIOUSLY? You are going to get indignant about THAT! AT LEAST HIS LANE CHANGE WAS INTENDED!"

We got to the airport, noone threw-up but the gentleman who mentioned feeling sick looked worse for wear.

The driver didn't even get out to unload our bags. He knew there were no tips coming.

So is my adventure over?

Not yet. I currently sit in the Admirals Club at ORD awaiting my connection to OKC. I am supposed to get there at midnight, central time. 18 hours after I woke up, and 17 hours after I departed my home.

All to go to Oklahoma City, maybe I am the crazy one... But then I am crazy enough to think that I deserve an upgrade to first class on the remainder of my flights this week.

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27Apr/110

The Madness of Being Indoors

Me at Mastadon Peak - Joshua Tree National Park

I am developing a severe case of wanderlust. I usually have a slight case of wanderlust at any given time. Who doesn't want to get out and hit the road? But this spring it is much worse than ever for me. This probably has something to do with the fact that I took a rare Spring season vacation. During this vacation I headed to Colorado. On the way back to my home in Southern California I stopped in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. After spending a period of time hiking in both parks I had quickly surmised that they were each worth a longer visit which included some back country hiking. For those that are uninitiated, the front country is the part of a National Park that most tourists see, the short trail to a waterfall from a crowded parking lot is a good example. The back county consists of miles of trails where the only items available to you are those things you carry in with you (and carry out, all of it.)

I have also found myself becoming more and more interested in some of the longer "thru-hike" trails like the Pacific Crest Trail, The Appalachian Trail and the John Muir Trail. The idea of spending a month, or several months hiking one of these trails appeals to something in me. It's like a primal calling that is going unfulfilled. See there are responsibilities. I have a wife (whom I adore and am extremely lucky to have) and three kids, two pre-teens and a toddler, that are the joy of my existence. These people require more than my love, they require food and shelter, which my 6AM-6PM job provides. Don't get me wrong, I actually enjoy most of what I do for a living, but damn if I wouldn't enjoy hiking from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney over a period of a month.

Now the two older kids are getting into being outdoors. Both of them being excellent soccer players, they are in fantastic shape. So the last couple of multiple mile hikes I have taken them on didn't even phase them. My old body moaned and groaned about it. Taking the two year old on a day hike is pretty much the limit. I have one of the excellent Kelty carriers for him. But as with any two year old, after a few hours in the backpack, he is ready to do anything else. This usually means walking. Now I am thrilled that he wants to get down and walk the trail. But his pace is quite a bit slower than the rest of us. His idea of where we should be going is always diametrically opposed to mine. I think we should stay on the trail and follow it to the logical conclusion. He thinks we should walk over to that cool looking rock, try to pick up that big rock, then sit on the big rock, followed by standing on the big rock, standing on the big rock is a must. Once we can stand on the big rock, we absolutely most jump off of it, and we must jump off of it not once, but several times. Now I consider myself a good father, and I want my kids to learn to enjoy the outdoors and I think that allowing them to engage with the outdoors is the best way for my kids to develop a love for being in the outdoors. So the last thing I want to do is drag the two year old off the rock and force him to hike the trail 'my way.'

But see now you've forgotten, I have pre-teens, a boy and a girl. So things are a bit different for them. I do have one rule, cellphones/ipods etc. are not for the trail. You can bring them for emergency, but they remain unused unless there is an emergency. So now I have two very vocal people making a logical argument that we should move on, as the trail goes "that way' and all of this standing around is 'boring.'  I try suggesting that they enjoy jumping off of the rock, the two year old seems to be enjoying this activity. They both look at me as if I have suggested that they reach into my armpits and extract something unpleasant to put on a sandwich.

The wife of course has an excellent approach to all of this, 'can you all be quiet, you are making too much noise.'

So while a hike with the family is something that I would do every single day if I could, the distance traveled would be something akin to getting just as far as where everyone else is. When I hike I want to get way from everyone else. In order to do that, we have to split the family up. This past weekend, I took the pre-teens to Joshua Tree National Park. We did a nice day-long loop hike that included a 75ft. rock climb to a peak. The wife stayed home with the two-year old where I presume he spent the day climbing onto, and jumping off of, various items around the house. He of course did this quietly, for the wife's sake.

My Daughter at Mastadon Peak

During this Joshua Tree hike I got to do several things I never get to do with my kids. First, I saw what my daughter looks like without those white buds with wires attached to them sticking out of her ear, I was really happy to discover that those weren't permanently embedded in her body. I also discovered that her hands could do something other than not touch a soccer ball (the hands aren't supposed to touch the ball in soccer, remember) send an inordinate number of text messages over a cellular network, or sit firmly on her hips in a pose that demonstrates to me just how 'out of touch' and 'lame' I am. Her hands did things like dangle loosely at her side, occasionally coming up to make a gesture which was meant to illustrate an important point she was talking about. That was the big thing, she talked to me. We talked about boys (turns out we are pretty dumb as a gender) her friends (like her father she prefers a smaller number of tight knit friends to being the social butterfly) and the fact that (much to my disappointment) she will not be continuing her musical classes next year. I also saw a confidence in her that I had not seen before.

Now, the boy talked to me too. His hands could do a lot of things that didn't involve a video game controller manipulating some fantastic creature into doing some form of destruction on another creature. He also overcame a fear. That 75ft rock climb up to the top was not a technical climb, most of it consisting of a simple scramble. But when you are afraid of heights, it can seem debilitating. For him, this was the case. But a bit of logic was able to get through to him. I am really glad I didn't go with my first approach to try to encourage him up the rocks. I am not sure that telling him "If Lego Indiana Jones needs to climb up to the top, is he afraid?" would have cut it in this situation. Sure I would have been speaking his language, but the content was lacking any substance (much like that video game.) So I went with the approach of "You walked all those miles to get all the way up here, are you going to let a little bit of fear keep you from going the last 75 feet?" His fear was quickly squashed under a puff of logic and he scrambled to the top.

So a balance can be found. While I can't abandon everything and go on a multi-month hike, I have talked to my two older kids about taking our first multiple day hike together, and they are in. So now I am driving myself crazy thinking about it. I want to go now. While I know it would not offer the same life altering experience that a 6 month hike from the Mexican border to the Canadian border would provide, I know that it will deepen my relationship with my kids. That's the kind of life changing activity I can really get into. I haven't decided where we are going yet. We may do the San Bernardino Mountain section of the Pacific Crest Trail, or we may do a portion of the John Muir Trail. I just don't know yet. But to give you an idea to how much I have been thinking about this, here is what I am taking with me:

My Pack - Osprey Aether

 

I have decided on Osprey for all of our packs. We already have an Osprey Aura for Sarah's pack. Steven will be wearing an Osprey Sprint Jib. My pack will be the voluminous Osprey Aether. I chose Osprey because of their reputation of quality. I have also owned the Aura 50 that Sarah will be using for a while. It is an excellent pack.

As far as out lodging goes it will be the REI Half Dome 4 tent. This tent is lightweight, easy to setup, and will keep the rain out if necessary. Why a 4 man tent instead of a 3 man tent. Because it is a well know fact that if you need to sleep 3 people you really need a four person tent. If you want to sleep 2 people, a three person tent will be needed. Another reason for the REI Half-Dome is the reliability of the tent. Reading reviews online says that people have had great experiences.

Cooking will be handled by the Soto OD-1R. This stove has a micro-regulator that insures that the flame stays constant, even in wind. So as  pots and pans go, I haven't settled that yet. I also have yet to do my research on a water filtration system.

The plan is to cover 10-15 miles a day. That means that over 5 days we could easily cover 75 or more miles.

So what about this madness, well I am thinking about this hiking trip constantly. I need to get it scheduled for my own sanity.

 

Filed under: hiking, life No Comments
18Apr/110

The Idiocy of Excercise

Excercise is Boring.

I am overweight. There is no way of avoiding it. As I have gotten older, the beer and burgers have caught up with me. There is a really good reason for this. I hate exercise, period.  I own, or have owned treadmills, ellipticals, weight machines, punching bags, excercise video games, store bought workout videos, and workout videos purchased online due to infomercials. I have enjoyed none of them. Cardio, no thanks. Weightlifting, meh. Muscle confusion, why bother? Running, I just can't shut my brain off for that long.

I can do the exercise, I just can't do it for a long period of time and find any enjoyment out of it. It is a form of torture for me.

I enjoy refereeing and playing soccer both activities that require a lot of running. But the key thing is, I enjoy these activities, immensely. According to GPS data I cover over 5 miles while center refereeing, and over 2 miles while being an assistant referee. Neither distance is anything to sneeze at. On a Saturday I will referee 2 to 4 matches. When possible I will play soccer anytime that I can find a pickup match to play in, usually with friends or co-workers, which usually ends up being 2 to 3 times per month. The point is, not enough to constitute a workout program.

I enjoy hiking a lot as well. Getting outside and getting away from people, cars, cellphones, and the rat race to enjoy nature. There is very little that is more enjoyable. A bike ride, another thing that is enjoyable, so long as it is on a bike trail away from traffic. Due to the amount of prep involved, the amount of time these activities take, and the amount of time spent commuting to and from work, work itself (a desk job), the amount of time spent on family activities (not complaining, but these activities take a lot of time), and  the less than 8 hours of sleep I get a night, finding time for a hike or a bike ride is not easy to do, much less a daily soccer game.

So why not go for a run? I enjoy soccer, and that is running, right? No! Running is putting one foot in front of the other until the pain sets in. Whether it is on the street, sidewalk or a treadmill, it just flat sucks. First it is boring as hell. Second my brain needs something to do, so it focuses on the pain, the discomfort and the absolute futility of the fact that I am just running for no other reason than to run. I will finish the time I set out for running, but I am miserably focused on the pain and discomfort the entire time. Conversely, when I am on the soccer field I can easily cover several miles without a second thought given to the pain that I am feeling. Later on that day after finishing several matches, I will feel the pain. But during the match I feel nothing because my mind is so steadfastly focused on the match. So running is torture, largely due to the fact that I just cannot run without being constantly focused on the futility of the pain I am putting myself through.

Yard work, small construction or household projects, or moving a friend is something that requires lifting, pulling, hoisting and other activities that are simulated by lifting weights. These are all things that I don't particularly enjoy, but that I can do for a day, or over an entire weekend if necessary. However, put me in a gym lifting weights and I am miserable. Once again I am fighting my brain. While lifting weights I focus, once again, on the idiocy of performing this act and the pain it causes. So I can do 200 reps of lifting a heavy item up the stairs, but getting through 3-5 sets of lifting a weight, is a herculean effort for me. It is literally a fight between what I know is good for me and the logical part of my brain that is pointing out the idiocy of what I am doing.

I hear about runners that have found a 'high' from running. I have never experienced this. I have felt the very mild euphoria after some activities, but it hardly outweighs the pain of the activity. Now with the activities I enjoy, the exercise is not the focus the focus is on the activity. Whether it is the game, or the scenery, that is what I am enjoying. The exercise level of activity is just means to an end, the end being the game or the scenery.

This has been the crux of my problem. If I had friends for a pick-up basketball game, I would enjoy the activity. Doing runs from baseline to baseline, not so much. Refereeing a soccer match, hell yes. A 5 mile run, hell no!

This is a fight that will wage within me for the rest of my life I presume. It's 9:30PM, I have to go torture myself on the treadmill.

Filed under: life, Rant No Comments
1Apr/110

The Idiocy of Indecision

To not make a decision, is to decide to fail.

 

Decisions. Some are easy, some are hard. But they have to be made.

 

Or do they?

 

Well According to some people I have met in my life, making a decision is not something they feel they have to do, ever. Every time I encounter these people it is always the same thing holding them back, fear. Sometimes it is fear of being the one responsible for making an incorrect decision. Sometimes it is fear of living with the decision.

The problem with indecision is that you are still making a decision whether you meant to or not. By choosing not to decide, you are choosing to let fate carry you and you are putting that critical decision into either the hands of someone else, or nature.

Imagine for a minute that you are in the middle of the Mississippi River, floating along in a southward direction. You have several choices:

  1. You can get out of the river, whether by swimming to the side or summoning help etc.
  2. You can choose to stay in the river and have the river carry you out into the ocean and certain death.
  3. You can decide to swim against the current ultimately wearing yourself out (turns out the Mississippi can flow for longer than you can swim.).
  4. You can chose to not make a decision

In this scenario, if you choose to not make a decision, you have inadvertently chosen certain death.

I see it in conference rooms, board rooms, sports, and personal lives. Fear of making a decision. Yet it seems that there are so many people that are happy to just float along and see what life brings them.

So next time you are faced with a decision, grab a hold of that decision, weigh your options, and make a damn decision.

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31Mar/110

Effective Product Management

Let your customers lead you to success.

If you want to be an effective product manager there is one thing that you desperately need to understand. See, most product managers come from either marketing, or the sales engineering parts of an organization. Frankly this does not give you the tools necessary to become an effective product manager. It gives you product understanding, but not the whole picture.

Now the concept I am going to discuss is not original, and it is the main focus of the Product Management classes taught by Pragmatic Marketing. If you are looking for a Product Management class I can't recommend their classes highly enough. Some of it is just good common sense, but the rest of it is just pure gold. So much so that I am of the opinion that it should be a required class for all executives, whether they are in product management or not, because the class really teaches how to make sound business decisions.

Now the concept of product management is simple and elegant, yet ends up being made far too complex by most. The sole job of a product manager is to 'own' the product from a business stand point. This means that the life cycle decisions on the product belong solely to the product manager. In some organizations the product management can be handled by a team, looking at things from an inbound (dealing with product developers) and outbound (dealing with customers, sales, analysts etc.) perspective. In general this methodology is usually not the most effective. This is because of that oh so important thing.... as a product manager you need to understand that "your opinion, all though interesting, is irrelevant." This is also true of the executives, sales staff, and everyone else 'inside' the organization. Frankly, the answer for what's best for your product does not lie within your organization, it lays outside the organization.

Now I am not saying that there shouldn't be inside an outside product managers. What I am saying is that the decision should be made by one person, and that person needs to be as close to the customers as possible.

The concept here is really simple, the product manager simply must get to know the customers. The product manager needs to walk in the customers shoes as much as possible. Dropping in on your whale customer to do a road map presentation doesn't count. How can a product manager learn and understand how the customer uses the product if all they do is present slides to the customer and listen to minor gripes.

The effective product manager understands that he/she can hear "opinions" about the product. But the true product manager sits down and watches the customer use the product as part of their daily life for hours, a day or several days if you can manage it. It is only then that you can truly see that perhaps there are too many clicks in your UI, or the ergonomic design that you spent $4 Million developing gets in the way of it's most common use. Quite simply, the customer can't tell you what you product needs, they have to show you. Remember, your product has to effectively solve a problem for people to want to spend money on it. For them to keep using it, it has to continue solving the problem without frustrating them in the process. This means understanding the developing needs if your customer over time.

So now you know, the salesman's opinion doesn't matter, the executives opinion doesn't matter, the product managers opinion doesn't matter. The facts that you learn from the customer are what matters. But how does the product manager tell the CEO that his opinion is irrelevant. Quite simply, with facts. Instead of saying "Well I think that...." the product manager should say "On my visit to 5 customers I learned that..." Just the facts. A product manager should never say "I think that..." See by visiting the customers and getting to know how the customers live with your product, you as a product manager know the facts about how your customer uses your product. How is any executive going to argue with facts like that. Facts can limit (and hopefully eliminate) executive meddling in your products.

Lastly, fear the committee. Product decisions should never be made by a committee. It is okay for the product manger to have an internal product advisory committee, and to take feedback from other product managers. But ultimately there should be a single product manager making the decisions about the product. The product manager that spends the majority of their time interacting DIRECTLY with the customers. That product manager will, of course be making those decisions based upon knowing how the customers use the product. Knowing what the customers need from the product. Solving the customers problems. Because ultimately sales (and the entire organization) is successful when the product manager listens to, and understands the customer, not their own opinion.

30Mar/110

Acknowledge Your Limits

There is nothing more frustrating than encountering someone who holds a job/title/position that is outside of their capabilities, and then doesn't acknowledge their limitations.

Listen, I get it, good for you, you are making the big bucks, or at least bigger bucks than you would be. But when you have to work with other people that are relying on you to be able to do your job, just come clean and tell them that you are struggling or that you don't know how to handle the situation.

By shrouding the fact that you are limited, you are doing 3 things

  • You are making everyone's job harder
  • You are losing credibility with the people you are working with
  • You are missing out on an excellent opportunity to learn

That last one is really the key point isn't it. No one is going to bother to teach you the stuff you need to learn if you never acknowledge the fact that you need help. In most cases it is simply a case of saying "Hey I am a little confused on what I should be doing here, it's a litle outside my expertise. Can you help me with it?"

 

Filed under: life, Rant, work No Comments
29Mar/110

Hello world!

It is 8:36PM Pacific on 3/29/2011. I am entering my first blog entry. All things considered this is rather uninteresting. I do intend to do something interesting with it. But that will be later, much later. I do have comments currently disabled, will enable them in the future.

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