Teaching Our Son to Drive – Part One

In mid-August, our 15-year-old son got his learner’s permit.  So, between then and next July, it is Mrs. Spidey’s and my responsibility to teach him drive.

I remembered my brave mother, who took me for my license on my birthday and, that very day, allowed me to drive to school.  So, wanting to be similarly brave, we took him out to practice without hesitation within days of getting his permit.  Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  1. Pressing the imaginary brake in the passenger’s seat doesn’t slow the car down.
  2. It is necessary to repeat instructions not once, not twice, but three times – your voice increasing in volume each time.
  3. The radio is a massive distraction, especially when you can read the songs in the windshield through GMC’s “heads-up display.”

To be fair, our son has done well in the amount of time he’s been behind the wheel.  I think that the difficulties he’s facing are normal for someone driving for the first time.  The hardest thing is understanding how hard or soft he needs to push on the brake or the gas to achieve the desired result.  This means he accelerates too slow and stops too slow.  I reference point #2 above.  If there was a tape of discussion in the car, it would show my tendency to say “Stop.  Stop!!  STOP!!!” with some regularity.

He has tended to put himself and not the car in the middle of the lane, resulting in some near misses with the mailboxes in our neighborhood.  He has tended to accelerate into turns, despite us reminding him to decelerate into turns and accelerate out of them.  He also doesn’t turn the wheel until the last minute on turns.  All of this, of course, is correctable.

For me, the most humorous moment was when I noticed that the radio station was changing very fast.  In our car, the driver can change the station on the steering wheel.  So, I figured that our son accidentally had his hand on the button.  I asked, “Did you know you are changing the radio station?”  He said, “Yes, I’m trying to find something good.”  ARGGGGH.  “Focus on driving!!” I said with some emphasis.  Instead of focusing on the road and other cars, he was reading the songs on a display we have in the windshield which should be used as a speedometer.

Mrs. Spidey had the pleasure of letting our son drive with her parents in the back seat.  Do I need to say more?  “I didn’t sign up for this,” said my father-in-law.  “You wanted a ride,” said my wife.

More to come on a semi-regular basis here.  It’s already an experience and no doubt will continue to be so.

Week 4 – 193.4lbs. On Track, But Challenges Ahead

Writing from Beijing on an eight-day business trip.  On the Friday morning before I left, I was at 193.6 pounds.  That’s four pounds in four weeks.  I am right on pace at one pound per week.

Unfortunately, this week brings two challenges that many people deal with in the course of their diet.  Both are outside forces that are only partially under our control.

The Business Trip

I don’t care how diligent you are and how much willpower you have.  Business trips suck for diets.  Often, the food that you eat is selected for you or, at best, limited by the restaurants and hotels you frequent.  It takes an awful lot of willpower not to join the rest of your team in hearty meals and alcohol.  It takes a lot of willpower to make those good decisions when you have the chance.

Generic Cereal for Breakfast - They Get Soggy Quickly, But Are Better than the Buffet

My approach on business trips is one of moderation combined with exercise.  I eat well when I can, and moderate when I cannot.  For example, I take advantage of having a corporate apartment here in Beijing to avoid the breakfast buffet at the adjacent hotel in favor of generic Cheerios and milk in the apartment.  I buy fruit at the local supermarket and carry it with me to the office.  If I remember (and I didn’t this trip), I bring Zone Bars with me from the US for snacks.  In lieu of Zone Bars, I chew gum to get the sweetness and calm the hunger pains.  I also make sure that I exercise every single day without fail.  I burn about 550 calories exercising, and that goes a long way towards making up for some of the bad eating.

Reality is, however, that I’m not always in a place where dieting is an option.  For example, yesterday the team went for lunch at a buffet at a nearby western hotel.  I didn’t deprive myself by pecking at salad.  I stuck to sushi and some seafood salad, with one or two pot stickers, but I enjoyed the variety.  I passed by the desert table and more caloric Indian food.  Later, at dinner, I found myself eating bar food with cocktails.  We ordered some ahi tuna spring rolls to balance the french fries, and I also didn’t eat a thing later.


I don’t need to cite scientific studies to suggest that stress and dieting are not a good mix.  While I’m not one who uses food to soothe aggravations or frustrations, I am at risk for making bad decisions because of stress.  I may decide to eat more french fries or ice cream “because I’ve had a bad day.”  I simply lose the focus.

Knowing stress can be a problem is half the battle.  I try to be constantly vigilant, but that’s tough when I’m stressed.  It’s even tougher when my stress is combined with team stress.  Joining your team on a night to “blow off steam” isn’t a positive thing for a diet.  You don’t want to excuse yourself, but you don’t want to spend the night worrying.  You have to find the balance.

Balance is one key to solving both the business trip and stress challenges.  You can’t make yourself miserable and punish yourself for every slip up.  Do you best, but then make sure you exercise and make sure that, where you can control your eating, you do.  Avoid the cookies in the business meetings.  Drink lots of water.  Ensure you order things like those spring rolls instead of the nachos.  Hang in there until you get back home or the stress subsides.

Three Quick Observations About Sports in Beijing

I write this on a Monday morning in Beijing, just as the United States is settling in for what’s bound to be a long night watching the Emmy Awards.  This is my seventh trip to China in the past year, although it’s my first since March.

I’m afraid that I can’t go into a deep analysis of sporting life in China.  That is likely a topic of a PhD dissertation somewhere.  Instead, let me make a few observations about sports here.

Sports is More Global Than Local

Beijing Guoan F.C. - Did Anyone Notice They Won the Championship?

On an earlier trip in March, the local Beijing soccer team, Beijing Guoan F.C., played for and won the championship of the Chinese Super League.  If the buzz in cities is said to be “palpable” for big events, then the buzz in Beijing at the time was, well, “unpalpable.”  There was no talk of it among our Chinese colleagues and little mention in the English-language newspaper, China Daily.  Imagine Manchester United or Olympic Marseilles or even Real Salt Lake winning a championship and no one noticing.  Can’t happen.

There is a local channel, CCTV 5, which is dedicated to sports.  It shows mostly international fare, from what I can tell.  I watched USA-Croatia live in the basketball world championships Saturday night. As I write, it’s showing a replay of China-Germany from the 2008 Olympics.  (The cynic in me says that China wins, but I’ll have to wait and see.)   Back in February, this channel broadcast the Super Bowl with Chinese announcers.  They returned late from halftime, and we missed the onside kick by the Saints, but that was the only glitch.

There was a buzz last spring when Stephon Marbury came over to play basketball in Shanxi in the Chinese Basketball Association, but that died down after a while.  I think that’s the way it is with local sports leagues here.  The interest rises with news and then dies out.

The expat communities in major cities, however, keep the buzz going about English football, American basketball and other sports with regular gatherings to watch the games at local watering holes.

ESPN is not ESPN

Satellite television available in western hotels and in western apartments has a channel called ESPN.  This is not your mother’s ESPN.  The goal of ESPN is not to push American sports on the rest of the world, but is to bring the model of sports broadcasting outside the US.  Thus, it broadcasts mostly sports of relevance to Europe and Asia:  soccer, auto racing, and motocross.   This morning, ESPN ran a 20 minutes loop of “ESPNews” showing soccer, golf and auto racing over and over and over.  I did get to watch Yankees-White Sox on Sunday morning (Saturday night), but those games aren’t regular, except for the weekly Sunday night game.  Right now, ESPN is showing a tape of a Little League World Series game between Hawaii and Texas.

If you want to catch highlights of your favorite MLB, NHL, NBA or NFL teams, your best bet remains, by far, the Web.  If you are going to be over here for an extended period, you may want to consider either a) subscribing to one of the league’s online broadcast packages; b) getting a Slingbox to connect from home;  or c) getting knowledgeable about free online broadcast feeds.

Expats – Have Sports Will Travel

The cover story of September issue of The Beijinger, the local journal for expat activities, is about sports.  Always good at covering the city’s restaurant and bar scene, the Beijinger showcases the breadth of sports available to expats, from cricket to softball to Australian rules football to croquet.  I know from searching before, that there are some local pick-up ice hockey games.

As some of you may know, when you put a bunch of expats in one spot, sports leagues are bound to start up.  The global phenomenon that is the Hash House Harriers is a great example.  Back in the early 1990’s, Mrs. Spidey and I lived in Moscow and played in the broomball league, a full contact version of that game you played in college, played on flooded tennis courts at the foreign embassies in frigid Moscow.  Expats, as you know, can’t exist without sports leagues, and I’m ecstatic that br00mball is alive and well in Moscow.

At the same time, perhaps as part of Beijing’s continued emergence as a global city, I see health clubs sprouting up and more and more joggers out in the pollution.  There is a Beijing Marathon and a Beijing Triathlon.  In The Beijinger, they highlighted “The Great Wall Charity Challenge.”  This team event involves sailing 40KM, running 12KM and then “scrambling” up the Great Wall for 2KM.  Sounds intriguing to me – except for that sailing part.

Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 8

We’re on to Part 8 of this series.  Last week I wrote in Part 7 about being patient.  One of the reasons I urge patience is because of this week’s topic.

8. You aren’t as good as you think you are

This was a tough learning for me and is one that many younger employees and employees new to their current company don’t realize early enough.   This learning is important to consider for three reasons.  First, it helps you calibrate the timing of your advancement.  Second, it focuses you on constant improvement.  Third, it keeps you humble.

Whether you believe it or not, experience counts.  Wine gets better with age.  Cheese gets better with age.  Employees get better with age.  Notice I didn’t write “smarter.”  I wrote “better.”  Many employees are smarter than their bosses and even their boss’s boss.  But being smarter, doesn’t mean better.  I ask, how many really smart people do you know that don’t cut it in your company?  Probably quite a few.

Smartness, however, doesn’t account for experiential knowledge.  The longer you work, at one or multiple companies, the more you experience and re-experience the same types of problems, situations, people, and processes.  The book-smart way to do something may not be the best.  A less experienced employee will gain a lot of points by asking the “older guys” how things are done and, with that understanding, proceeding down his or her own path.

There is reason that the only time you see very young CEO’s is when they founded the company and, even then, the founders often bring in the “gray hairs” to take over at a certain point.  Yahoo did that.  Google did that.  Take a look at a list of Fortune 500 CEOs when you get a chance.  Most are over 50 with many years of experience in the business world.  I’m sure they approach problems differently than you do, and, from time to time, you think they do things wrong.  Without their experience, however, you don’t know what you don’t know — and you realize that you aren’t as good as you think you are.

Even when you get up to a position of responsibility and authority, you can’t forget this learning.  You need to maintain humility and a focus on constant improvement.  More often that not, you aren’t as good as you think you are, and understanding that opens the door for improvement.  Your President or CEO isn’t as good as he or she thinks she is and, hopefully, understands that.

The concern I have in writing this is that many younger folks in the workplace don’t believe this advice.  They think, “Spidey – you weren’t as good as you thought you were, but I am as good as I think I am.”  They think that, once they get a chance, they could easily do jobs above them in the org chart and do it well.

For these people I have news.  At some point in your life, you’ll realize that half the music you listened to in college really sucked, that 9o% of the stuff your mom & dad told you is right, and that in the early days of your career, you really weren’t as good as you thought you were.  I promise all three will occur.

In Praise of Sports Club Stats

Sports Club Stats is one of the neatest sites for sports fans to monitor the ongoing success of their sports teams as they progress towards qualifying for their league’s playoffs.  Once I found this site, I can say honestly that I visited every day during the last NHL season to watch the progress of the Washington Capitals towards the playoffs and towards capturing the President’s Trophy for the NHL’s best record.

Sports Club Stats keep track of leagues from the first game to the last and tracks the probability of each team making the playoffs and the probability of finishing in a particular spot in the league.  It does this by replaying the rest of the season over and over and over – as in 10 million times each day for major league baseball now.  It replays the season two different ways:

  • “Weighted” – which considers records and home field advantage to predict each game’s likely winner
  • “50/50” – which gives each opponent an equal chance at winning every game

As I monitored the Caps, “weighted” in mind was a more optimistic view and “50/50” was a conservative view.  If the Caps looked good under the 50/50, then they were in good shape.  Because Sports Club Stats also shows which games that day have the most impact, fans can determine exactly whom to root for and whom to root against to help their team the most.

The site is fascinating because, by replaying the season and calculating the probable records, it automatically takes all the games and the specific opponents.  This means that teams are both eliminated from consideration and clinch playoff spots on Sports Club Stats long before they “officially” clinch in media outlets.  This also leads to some intriguing information (from this morning’s “weighted” scenario):

Sports Club Stats Says the Yankees Have a 95.5% Chance of Making the 2010 Playoffs

  • The Padres and the Rangers are the most likely teams to make the playoffs at 98.4%, higher than the Rays (97.5%) and Yankees (95.5%), which both have better records than the Padres and Rangers.
  • Because of the Rays’ and Yankees’ records, the Red Sox only have a 6.7% chance of making the playoffs.
  • Even though the Rays and Yankees have the best records, the Rays have a 20% greater likelihood of finishing first than the Yankees.  This may reflect an easier schedule and more home games for the Rays going forward.
  • The Cardinals can go 15-23 the rest of the way and still make the Wild Card in one scenario and can go 30-8 in another scenario and miss out on the playoffs entirely.

Sports Club Stats cover the major college and pro leagues in the US and soccer leagues from around the world.  (For what it’s worth, Chelsea, Blackpool, Manchester United, Aston Villa and Blackburn all have over a 9% chance of wining the Premier League title in England, but it is early days.)  Unfortunately for some, it looks like their auto racing tracking has lapsed a bit.  You can also can give the site with the league structure and schedule of your fantasy league, and the site will run projected finishes.

There is a lot more detail than I can possibly explain here.  If you like over analyzing your team’s chances and knowing exactly where they stand, you will enjoy the site as much as I do.

For example, I know that the Cardinals chances at the playoffs drop from 52% to 45% if they lose to the Nationals tonight.  If the Cards win, the likelihood increases to 56.4%.   As I write, the game is 10-10 in the 12th.

Something New and Frustrating From an Air Canada Flight Attendant

Writing tonight from Toronto on a quick trip from St. Louis.   After meetings tomorrow, I’ll be back in S t. Louis by dinner time.

After an unexpected experience on my flight tonight, I was reminded that airline service is 100% correlated to the people, not to the airline itself.  There are good people on bad airlines and bad people on good ones.  Tonight, I had the latter.

Tonight I heard something from a flight attendant I have never heard before.

Air Canada's CRJ - My Plane from St. Louis to Toronto

The flight up was on Jazz, Air Canada’s regional airline.  It was a CRJ, direct from St. Louis to Toronto.  This CRJ has two seats on either side of the aisle and 13 rows.  It’s a squeeze for most people and relatively uncomfortable.

I was seated in row 2 on the aisle, and the window seat next to me was occupied.  The man seemed nice enough, but I could tell by the placement of his arm on the center armrest, that he was not going to move it for the length of the flight.  His elbow was well into my space.  Already squeezed, I felt even more so.  However, the two seats across the aisle were empty.  Score!

When boarding ended, the guy next to me politely asked whether I would want to move across the aisle.  Of course I did.  However, I had heard the flight attendant tell another passenger that he couldn’t move until we were in the air and the seat belt signed was turned off.  That was very odd.  Very odd.

Wanting to respect the flight attendant, I asked if I could move across the aisle.  The FA said no.  He said gave me the same answer I had overheard.  The conversation then went something like this:

Me:  “I’ve never heard that before.  People move all the time before take off to get more comfortable.”

FA:  “You need to wait until the seat belt sign is off after take-off.”

Me:  “Ok, but I don’t understand why.  I’ve never heard that before.”

FA:  “It’s for weight distribution.  This is a small plane.”

Me:  “You’re kidding.”

FA:  “Do you want to go talk to the pilot?  I’ll go get the pilot.  He can explain it to you.”

Here’s the thing — the flight was 2/3 full, and there was no way that me moving from one aisle seat across to another aisle seat was going to throw the plane out of balance.  If he had just said it was Air Canada or Jazz policy, I would have bought that.  He acted as if our seats were assigned based on weight distribution.  Of course that’s ridiculous.

About two minutes later, the FA gets on the speaker and announces that he needs two people from the front rows to move to the rear of the plane “for weight distribution.”  He is staring right at me as he says this.  He says we can’t leave until someone moves.  By this point, I was frustrated, and I got snippy.

Me:  “I don’t want to move to the back.  I want to move across the aisle.”

FA:  Row 11, 12 or 13. (Still staring through me.)

So – I moved and we left.  My luck – this FA will be on my return flight tomorrow.

Dropping Me Off at College 26 Years Ago

In life we all have moments that we’d like to take back and do over.

I’m not thinking about redoing a missed free throw at the end of a basketball game or retaking a test you should have aced.  I’m thinking about doing over a moment where you made a poor decision.  Maybe you yelled at someone when a softer approach would do.  Maybe you were late to an event where someone counted on you to attend.  Maybe you took things too fast or too slow on a date, ending a relationship that could have been something.

This week, as a few of my colleagues left to drive their children to college to begin their freshman year, I was reminded of a moment in my life I’d like to take back.  It occurred just about 26 years ago, give or take a few weeks.

Now that I have a 15-year-old, I can see this drop-off day coming for me.  Three years from now, God willing, Mrs. Spidey and I will be delivering our oldest to his first year of college.  I now know something I didn’t know back in 1984, when my parents took me to Williams College for my freshman year.

I now know that this delivery or visit or drop-off or whatever you call it is more significant for the parents, more emotional for the parents, more trying for the parents that it is for the child.

My Freshman Dorm at Williams. My room is first floor, 4th window from the far right.

Back in 1984, I didn’t realize that, and I’d like a do-over.  I’d like a do-over, because after my parents and I found my dorm room in the freshman quad, after we unloaded the car, after we picked up my linens (those were the days!), I basically pushed my parents back into the car to go home.  My mother wanted to help me set up my room.  She wanted to help me make my bed.  I assume, because I am her oldest and was the first going away to college, that she wanted to make sure that I was comfortable and had what I needed.  Unfortunately, I all but yelled at her to stop making the bed.  I wanted to do it myself and move on with my life.

I’m not going to claim I know exactly what happened after that, but I’m sure it involved my parents leaving and me moving on with my life.  I now know that it also involved my parents moving on with their life, but from a much different perspective.

There’s no preachy ending to this post, no admonishment to the incoming frosh and no words of preparation for their parents.  This is just a reflection on a moment 26 years ago for which I want a do-over and a note to myself on how to prepare for August 2013, when I’ll be the one my oldest dropping-off.