Archive for December, 2008

Bail-out medicine: golf balls, pebbles and sand

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

I’m not one for motivational posters, e.g. ‘we soar high when we stretch our wings’ blather.’ This anecdote appeals to me. Maybe it’s the time of year. Heaven knows we need some reminder of the fundamentals.

The Mayonnaise Jar and 2 Beers
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes’.

The professor then produced two beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar20effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else—the small stuff.

‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

‘Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf ball first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.’

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend. gets a DJ on WXDU

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

I am interested in helping promote the wealth of science-related entities in our Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, aka Research Triangle Park. has info about our efforts.

Our intent is to create a business model that does not depend upon hand-outs or grants from others to sustain this effort as such an approach only carves the pie into yet another piece. More in the future on what I’ve learned so far.

To show another side of science, I’ve qualified as a DJ on Duke University Radio, WXDU (88.7 fm). The only way to really hear it is on iTunes via the link on the station’s site. Hats off to Duke for permitting members of the community to be part of the station. I hope and plan in the spring to offer a program entitled, what else?!, Science in the Triangle where I will interview a member of the local scientific community about their work and their favorite & influential types of music.

Over the holidays, I’m on air:

12/24 noon to 2 ——— 12/25 8pm to 10
12/26 3pm to 6 ——— 12/27 7am to 9
12/29 7am to 9 ——– 12/30 7am to 9
12/31 10pm to 1201

1/2/09 3 to 4:30

If you have requests, please telephone 919-684-8870 or 919-684-8871 while I’m on air.

This is worse for my teenaged sons than my Facebook page.

Reducing international long distance call from $3 to 6 cents per minute

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Last month a conference call with a European customer required a last minute change from toll free to my calling him. Bill arrived this week with fees of nearly $3 per minute!! Yikes, like the old days when a long-distance call sent the household scurrying to the phone for a brief hello. Motivated by this stunning fee, I looked into the iPhone Web Apps Store for a VoIP solution. Found TruPhone which finds local wireless connection and costs six cents per minute for international. Domestic can be as low as 1.5 cents per minute. Connection speed and clarity are terrific.

Of course, at the same time I purchased Nitro Kart, a racing game using the iPhone’s motion sensing capabilities. Fun way to kill time and to meet people standing in-line at the airport.

Paintball and Bail-out Economics

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Yesterday was the annual birthday paintball outing. 9th year in row as each son preferred this kind of celebration. Lovely weather after several days of rain resulting in more guests than planned. Rented 15 guns with 500 paintballs each – 7,500 paintballs. Was certain that this number of shots would last us 2 hours. And I instructed each player that

‘this is your bag of 500 paintballs. Please make them last as when you are out of ammo, there will be no resupply.’

In the past, each player received 200 paintballs and I purchased an extra case of 2,000 that I would dispense throughout the play, a maximum of 5,000 paintballs. We never used more than this number.

As you might imagine from this saga, we went through the 7,500 in less than 2 hours, maybe 90 minutes. How?! I wondered aloud. Because players did not manage their own allotments, but rather chose to use a bag of 500 to fill as many guns as possible, then open another. On the surface, seems like a generous way of allocating materials. No so fast. If we all have all of the ammunition, why the need for conservation of resources. In the spirit of community ownership, we used 50% more resources in less time than in the previous 8 years.

I wonder how the unintentional consequence of wasting by sharing might characterize the bailout and financial stimulus plans approved by banks and soon, when Obama assumes office, for the economy as a whole.

‘This is yours for you to manage’

seems to be the more efficient and conservative (of resources) method more than the perspective of:

‘this is ours and we are responsible for replenishment.’

Another famous naval saying

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Reading about the bankruptcy of Chicago Tribune, the bailout of the Detroit 3… just the bad news which begets more bad news recalls the thinking of our Chief Gunner’s Mate:

When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream & shout.

Pearl Harbor +67, pt II: remembering the USS Nevada, BB 36

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

I was stationed in Pearl Harbor reporting aboard DDG-16 in December of 1975. Having finally established myself in San Francisco (apartment, girlfriend, roommate), I transferred with 2 weeks notice and 2 weeks for weapons school in San Diego. Being the newest junior officer, I had the weekend duty on Sunday December 7th, the day that President Gerald Ford visited the USS Arizona Memorial.

We were tied-up across the harbor and in full view of Ford’s Island where lies the sunken USS Arizona with its splendid memorial. Across this small island, really a battleship parking lot, lies the sunken USS Utah with hardly a visitor (she wasn’t much of a warship when sunk; the Arizona was then the flagship of Admiral Kidd who was lost in the attack). The Arizona has an aura befitting its sacrifice and representation; oil still bleeds from its tanks into Pearl Harbor.

When I think of Pearl Harbor, I recall the USS Nevada. Also moored on Ford’s Island, she managed to raise steam and to get underway even though torpedoed and bombed prior to doing so. On a ship stocked with senior officers, not aboard on this Sunday morning, the Nevada got underway under the command of a lieutenant, a lieutenant commander and a chief quartermaster. Winding her way through the lengthy channel of the harbor, she became a high priority target for Japanese fighter-bombers.
As she approached the mouth of the channel and now aware of the Japanese intent to sink her there to block the harbor, the Nevada drove itself ashore at Hospital Point.

Over the next two years, our own ship came in and out of Pearl on numerous occasions. For one year I served as navigator of our ship, the USS Joseph Strauss. Every time, in day or night, entering or leaving, that we passed this actual landmark, I thought of the young and brave men who sailed the same channel under incredible duress and marveled at their bravery, leadership and presence of mind.

Lieutenant Commander Francis Thomas, a naval reservist, was an engineering officer and the senior officer aboard at the time of the attack. He got Nevada underway and ordered her beached. He passed on in 2005 at the age of 100. He commented that “he was the only man in the Navy ever to receive a medal (Navy Cross) for running his ship aground.”

Pearl Harbor + 67, pt 1: all leaders one step forward

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

I watched the Army-Navy game yesterday from a pub in Chapel Hill owned by a grad of West Point. I wasn’t much of a naval officer and probably less of a mid. I wanted so much more from those situations and realize that being in the service is more about service than personal benefit which comes and has come to me much later. Ironic is that I am now the VP of the local alumni association. Enjoyed thoroughly the exaggerated behavior of the some 200 West Point and US Naval Academy fans. Even though Navy favored and proved to be too much for the cadet team, a satisfying time was had by all as we are connected by so much more than an athletic rivalry. I wonder if America at large felt this way before; we could sure benefit now from such a sense of respected connection despite our selected differences.

Curious to me that Pearl Harbor was not mentioned yesterday. Iraq, yes; the country’s injection into WW II, no. Perhaps the parade of catastrophes from 9/11 to Katrina to Iraq to the Mortagage & Banking crises have us so reeling that 67 years ago, regardless of how our reaction to that event shaped our destiny for the next 50 years, may as well be 1767. Our mettle is being tested again. I hope that many of those Academy types are available to lead the way.

Willa Cather, Alfred Sloan, Charles Kettering & the Detroit 3

Friday, December 5th, 2008

“All life is lived in that interval between memory and desire.”

Stayed-up to watch replay of the Senate hearings for the automotive bailout. I cheered for the candor of Ron Gettlefinger, President of the Auto Workers Union. The CEOs of Ford, Detroit and Chrysler projected the credibility of, well, used-car salesmen. A sad and saddening spectacle of the once proud engines of our economy, now with a combined market capitalization equal to about 25% of the cash that Apple has on hand, politely threatening the country with a contribution to the financial mess unless we provide $30 billion in hand-outs to forestall briefly their inevitable demise. A long way from the business model innovations of Alfred Sloan and the technical innovations of Charles Kettering.