Personal Best

I mentioned in my previous post, that I caught a "personal best" catfish, so I figured I should post a picture. I didn't measure and weigh him, but I'd estimate about 25" and 5 or 6 pounds. Now, I know this is not very big by channel cat standards, but it's big for me and I was delighted to catch him!

The past two weeks I've been fishing with my and my friends' children and my goal has been to make sure they caught fish, so I'd selected a nice little stocked pond in a nearby park. The channel cats in that pond are dinky (less than 1 lb), but there are a lot of them and the bites are plentiful. So everybody caught a lot of fish and the kids had a really good time. However, the pond sits near a big impounded lake so on Sunday afternoon, I returned alone to try my luck at landing some bigger cats.

It was shaping up to be a total bust – I went 2 hours without even a nibble! I tossed out what I intended to be my final cast and finally got one. It was worth the wait. As soon as I set the hook I knew he was the biggest fish I'd caught to date. He gave up a great fight. I released him back into the water after the all-important photo, hoping he'd give somebody else a thrill one day. Then I packed up and went home with a nice memory, a photo, and a big dumb smile on my face.


Happy Accidents

Today, I caught a "personal best" catfish. I asked a couple who happened to be near me to get a photo which they kindly did. My iPhone was still in camera mode when they handed it back to me and in all the excitement, I accidentally took several more blurry photos of various unidentifiable things. This one is actually kind of compelling to me, so I kept it.


Catfishing in Sparta

Minimalism really appeals to me, although you'd never know it by paying attention to certain aspects of my life. For instance, I'm a huge believer in traveling light. And when I'm playing in a band, I like to assemble a "minimum viable rig" for the music were doing. More than anything I hate expending extra energy dealing with stuff that goes unused. But I also just like the aesthetic of having exactly what is required and no more. 

For fishing at my neighborhood lake, I've put together my minimalist channel catfish tackle kit. It consists of:
  • A hydration pack to hold the tackle and drinking water
  • A tackle tray to organize the small things
  • #6 treble hooks
  • #6 sponge hooks
  • 7/0 circle hooks
  • Bobber stops
  • Ball bearing swivels
  • Plastic bead bumpers
  • Egg, split shot, and no roll sinkers
  • Slip floats
  • Fish stringer
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Sunglasses
  • Filet knife
  • Lip grip
  • Punch bait
Before a fishing trip, I also throw in a clean hand towel and table knife (to dip hooks into the punch bait) as well. With my little pack, a rod, and a 5 gallon paint bucket to hold fish when driving home, I have everything I need. And very little more. Stripping down to the essentials is wonderfully liberating because if I'm at home and the fishing urge hits me, I can be casting out onto the lake literally within 5 minutes. And still have on hand the tackle necessary to assemble any fishing rig I need for channel cats.

There are a couple refinements I have in mind. One, I'm going to start pre-assembling rigs to save time and effort when fishing, especially when I'm bring the family because they tend to lose rigs a lot. Also, I may start leaving the lip grip at home unless I'm targeting bigger fish with cut bait. The fish I catch on punch bait aren't big enough to warrant one. (On the other hand, if I'm using cut bait the tackle has to change up a bit anyway. In that case, I'm packing a small cutting board, a digital scale/tape measure, the lip grip, and of course the bait which I carry in a very small cooler. All of that will fit into the hydration pack, except for the cooler.)


Sneak Peak

I'm in Portland, ME for a trade show and getting in some photography while I'm here. Got up early this morning to catch the sunrise at the Portland Head Light. This is a quick post-process I put together just to see what I had. I think I got some nice shots and I'll be posting some over the next few weeks.


Five Things I'm Diggin' – 9/14/16

  1. NATO Straps - As usual I'm late to the party, but I've been really digging NATO and Zulu watch straps! They come in countless colors and are really great for dressing up an old watch. I like that they are highly reliable (they will still hold your watch in the event of a strap pin failure) and the way they're designed means they can be attached and removed easily without tools. They're also rugged, don't scratch or scuff, and stand up to water really well. And best of all they're inexpensive. So you can have several and switch them out depending on your mood. 
  1. Texas LonghornsAnybody who knows me knows I'm a big Longhorn fan. I have been for quite a while, including the 6-year 2010's drought the football team has been in. It's been tough. People who have been following the team closely thought we'd turn the corner this year and in fact, 2 games into the 2016 season, they are looking radically improved. I don't know if they're really deserving of their current #11 AP poll ranking, but there's little doubt they're a very different team and should be competitive in every game on the schedule. But beyond all that, I just like the team this year. I like their team-first attitude, I love the new offensive scheme, I like their new confidence, and I really love their grittiness (so far, any way). They play with heart and passion. I don't think they have enough experience to run the table this year. But when you think about how many freshmen and sophomores they're playing, it's extremely exciting to think about how good they could be in 2017 and 2018.
  1. Catfishing - Bass Lake is about 2 minutes from the house. I decided to learn to fish cats since the lake is right there, I can fish for catfish no matter where I travel, and there is a chance to catch a real monster every once in awhile (or more if you really want to make it happen). I didn't have much luck at first and had to learn a lot and buy some more appropriate tackle. I also had to experiment with a lot of different bait. But I had a very successful fishing session this last weekend. Caught the creel limit in about 3 hours, including some 18-20 inch fish which seems pretty good for this lake. I'm still a neophyte, but the hook has been set.
  1. My Rod & Reel - Part of the catfishing ramp up was researching and buying new tackle. My other fishing gear is more oriented for small trout and panfish. Of course the fish don't care what tackle you use, but my old gear couldn't cast out far enough into the lake to get to where the catfish are. And if I did get a bite from a big catfish, the rod and the reel in particular were iffy for being able to bring it in. So after a lot of research I ended up getting a pair of  7'6" medium-heavy Whisker Seeker Chad Ferguson model rods, and Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 6500-C3 reels. It was a wildly successful purchase! I was able to get out to the deep part of the lake immediately and that had big impact in the number of bites I got. In fact the first time I used my new tackle is when I caught my limit at the lake. I love how smooth the reel is; everything it works with a fluidity and precision that is wonderful. Those Swedes know a little something about fishing! The 6500-C3 is my first baitcasting reel and I backlashed it several times, but I got the hang of it in about a half hour and the combo can get a lot of casting distance very easily. The Whisker Seeker rod is surprisingly light for its size and it seems very sensitive in terms of being able to tell what the fish is doing. So far I'm totally delighted with this purchase.
  1. Apple iPad Mini - My old Android tablet was a freebie that Verizon gave me if I upgraded my data plan. It was okay, but slow and under-spec'd in terms of memory. Then after 3 years it stopped booting. Now I have an iPad that Verizon was offering a special on. Still not state of the art since it's a 2nd generation model, but it's fine for my purposes and a big step up from my old tablet. When it comes to small computing devices, all things considered, I'm an Apple convert. I'm not a fan boy about it by any stretch, but mostly shit just works on iOS.


Complex Problems

I define a "simple problem" as a problem for which logical reason can be used to find a solution that eliminates or reduces all symptoms of the problem. For example, if Joe is running low on gas, Joe can go to closest gas station and fill up the tank. Dust off hands, problem solved.

But what if the problem is that Joe is habitually running low on gas? And when the problem is examined, we find that there are several contributing factors:

  • Joe has a gas guzzler car
  • His job doesn't pay very much
  • He is paid once a month and towards the end of pay cycle he starts running low on cash making it impossible to fill up
  • He doesn't live close work so he has to drive a lot
  • He has a family and needs to take care of his children in the evenings so his wife can study for her college classes
  • He lives in a city without many employment options, so he's lucky to have the job that he does

Now a perfect solution is harder to come by. If Joe gets a new fuel efficient car, he might not be able to afford the payments. If Joe decides to walk or ride a bicycle, his commute time is going to go way up and it will impact his wife's ability to continue to go to college (which if completed will help Joe with his income situation). A higher paying job would fix a lot of things, but one may simply not be available in his city and moving may not be financially feasible. It seems like any potential solution that resolves some aspect of Joe's problem leaves others unaffected, or even worsened.

That's a complex problem: a problem for which an ideal solution that addresses all symptoms or aspects of the problem is not possible.

In reality, there are not many simple problems or, more accurately, simple problems don't last long in the world. People tend to fix them quickly since the solution is easily identified and implemented. As a result, most problems are of the complex and intractable variety, especially if the problem has been around for awhile. I scoff at people when they talk about how simple it would be to fix some complicated government problem like, well take your pick: high crime rates, the national debt, abortion, trade deficit, terrorism. "I'll tell you how we improve crime rates, we just need to throw these guys in jail!" Sure, right. Because that's worked so well in the past, and there's so much available room in prisons, and prisons are so cost-effective. High crime rates, like the other problems, is not a simple problem with a simple answer. It's one outcome of a series of interdependent factors, causes, and downstream effects. Solutions that resolve or adequately address all aspects of the "problem" most likely do not exist.

My day job is primarily concerned with addressing complex problems. The stakes of the problems I deal with aren't as high as with political problems, but the intractable nature of the problems is the same. And in their own way, the problems I work on have political angles as well, although much less toxic and polarizing than in government. I have a way I've developed of working on these problems. It hinges on the idea that a perfect solution that resolves everything does not exist, so you have to decide what you're going to fix and what you're going to let slide. In other words, it forces you to make hard choices, and more importantly, it forces stakeholders in the problem to make those hard choices with you. Another thing I like about this approach is that it is very rational and minimizes emotion from the process as much as possible. Here are the steps:

  1. Situation Analysis. First, you need to understand and describe the problem and its contributing factors and effects in total and in detail: A good situation analysis should describe the problem and its history. It should define all the factors that are contributing; the issues that have resulted; and the interactions and dependencies between the factors. You may be the person responsible for the situation analysis, but the analysis should be the result of conversations with all  the major stakeholders. Everybody affected by the problem should be represented to make sure the analysis is comprehensive. This shouldn't be an overly contentious step since all you're doing is describing the various facets of the problem and everybody should be getting ample airtime.
  2. Prioritization of Objectives. Second, you must set a stake in the ground regarding the most crucial things that a solution must achieve. You also need to define what objectives are less important and acceptable to not resolve so long as you fix the crucial ones. This will be the basis of how to decide which objectives should prevail when they conflict with other objectives, which they always do in a complex problem. There are a number of ways to do this, but in all cases you want to articulate all reasonable objectives and provide a way of comparing their relative importance by either ranking them or categorizing them (e.g. must-do, should-do, would-be-nice-to-do, etc.). This could be the most vigorously debated part of the process. If you're presenting this to stakeholders, you want them to be engaged in the prioritization scheme and implementation because ultimately they must accept the final prioritization. Approval for the prioritization depends on the organization. It could be a single person (the CEO, for example), or it could be a handful of selected stakeholders, or it could be a simple majority of all stakeholders (rare). The one thing you want to avoid is requiring a large number of people to all agree. Somebody, or some limited number of somebodies, has to have authority to make a decision in the event that universal agreement on priorities is not possible. Requiring everybody to sign off is a recipe for gridlock. Regardless of how the prioritization is ratified, in the end all stakeholders must accept the prioritization decision and be accountable to making it successful, whether they agree with it or not. That's just the way teams have to work.
  3. Solution Alternatives. If you've done the first two steps well, this step is usually surprisingly easy. You propose and describe potential solutions to the problem. By this point in the process, you will probably have received a number of potential solutions already from your stakeholders. Presenting more than one is usually preferred for both pragmatic and political reasons. A "solution" may be a set of actions that individually address multiple aspects of the problem; or it may be a strategy or policy that can be applied to various decisions to be made in managing the problem day-to-day; or it may be a high-level project plan. In any case, each potential solution should be assessed by how well it achieves the prioritized objectives in step 2. In most cases, you'll have a "recommended solution" which is the one that best achieves the prioritized objectives. If you've truly gotten buy-in on the prioritization, then the presentation of potential solutions should lead inevitably to your recommended solution – in other words, the best solution will usually be self-evident once you have defined what you're trying to achieve. If somebody gets wrapped around the axle about how the recommended solution doesn't address one aspect or another, you take them back to the prioritized objectives and point out that their objective wasn't as high priority as the ones you optimized the solution for, and that the prioritization that you used is the agreed-upon model. In some cases that can lead to a re-prioritization, but in most cases it leads to that stakeholder accepting that a solves-everything solution is not possible and that this is as good as can be crafted.
  4. Risks and Mitigations. We've already established that with complex problems, every solution is flawed in some way. Therefore, for each potential solution you should list the ways in which things can go wrong. Because, you know, shit happens. You should have a description of the risk; it's likelihood of occurring; its impact (how it will make things worse); and a mitigation strategy. The mitigation strategy is simply the actions that need to be taken to avoid, eliminate, minimize, or manage the risk identified. In many cases, the best you'll be able to do is manage the risk, which is to say that the risk is almost certainly going to play out and you just have to contain or deal with its impact. The mitigation in this case is how you plan to deal with it.
Since the nature of complex problems is that every solution is flawed, over time there is a strong possibility that the lower-priority factors that the selected solution didn't address grow worse and may need addressing. It is perfectly fine – expected even – to have to solve the problem over again, this time with a different situation to be analyzed and a new set of prioritized objectives. That's just the nature of the beast. Complex problems are usually not resolved conclusively.

I think this is a good generic approach to "complex" problems that have to be addressed by groups of people. Now, while I think it would work just fine theoretically in government, the fact that you're "showing your hand" in terms of which aspects of the problem you're not going to address would be giving political adversaries a lot of ammunition to use against you. So I don't think this would work so well in highly polarized and toxic political environments. But what does?


Live or Memorex

The beauty of recorded music is that you get to hear the music as the artist and/or producer envisioned it. ["Envision" is a odd word to apply to music, but I digress.] Or at least as close as they were capable of delivering at the time.

The beauty of live music is in the unpredictability. You're hoping for, and you might get, a transcendent performance, elevated by the merged inspiration of the artist and the audience. Or you might get a complete trainwreck. In that sense, it's like a sporting event – the outcome isn't 100% predictable and you're hoping for a magic moment as it unfolds before you.


The Killer Instinct

After 26 straight victories in Olympic beach volleyball, Kerri Walsh Jennings finally lost one yesterday. She was a model of class and sportsmanship, complimenting her opponents and taking responsibility for the loss, which is more than I can say for a lot of other American athletes at this year's Summer Olympics.

Apparently, the other teams had figured out that Walsh Jennings wasn't passing the ball well so they targeted her very aggressively when serving, leading to an inordinate number of aces against her. In other words, they victimized her.

"As well they should," she said, "I wasn't passing the ball. You see weakness, you go after it."

When I was young I played little league basketball. I remember playing one team and noticing that they always took the ball down the court the same way. Their front court would run ahead and get in position around the basket. Then their two guards would come down the court, one on each side. At the top of the key, the guard with the ball would always pass it to the guard on the other side. Like clockwork, every time. Being little league ball, that pass was a slow, arcing lob. I was playing center and was supposed to stay near the basket, but I realized that a steal would be so easy. Wait for that lofted pass, run up, intercept it, and dribble across court for an easy layup. So I tried it. And it worked. So I tried it again. 2 more points. I eventually scored 10 off this move.

Then I did something dumb.

I started feeling guilty for taking advantage of this weakness and I stopped doing it.

My coach should have pulled me and said, "Hey Campbell, that thing you were doing? More please."

Whether you're talking beach volleyball, basketball, ping pong, chess, tic-tac-toe, business, or politics, if the object is to win, then you must exploit any legal advantage you have until your opponent finally gets tired of it and takes the advantage away from you. That's why football offensive coordinators isolate and target weak defensive backs. That's why chess players seek control of the center squares. That's why a sales person targets customers that require something the competitive products don't have or don't do well. So long as the advantage is legal according to the rules and (perhaps) the spirit of the game, it's not only fair, it's the core concept behind any winning strategy.


High Noon

Why do so many youtube reviews of amps and effects always begin with all the controls at noon? I wonder if people actually set their gear up that way. Electronically, there's usually nothing special about noon (i.e. it's usually not "flat") and the device rarely sounds its best dialed that way. I don't do video reviews but if I did, I'd dial up the best sounds that it was capable of. And maybe the worst as well.


Small Day

"So, do you have a big day planned?"

"Nope. I have a small day planned. As small as I can make it."

So went my exchange with the hair stylist this morning. I decided to go out and get a haircut on Father's Day.

It was a productive weekend. I assembled a hitch cargo carrier which I'd been reminding myself to buy every camping trip for the last 3 years when I'd stuff the SUV to the brim with crap. It's funny. The wife and I used to camp for 3 or 4 days and carry everything in two backpacks. I used to do crazy stuff like cut half the handle off my toothbrush to save weight and space in my pack! But with kids, we require an entire SUV, and now a cargo carrier. Anyway, I also rigged a place in the garage to hang the carrier when it's not being used.

After my haircut, I spent the day removing grout from our master bathroom shower with Chris Isaak, King's X, and The Beat keeping me company (apparently I was in an '80s kind of mood). Removing grout is a tedious and tiring job. But now it's done and I just need to re-grout it.

I wrapped up at about 5PM, then took a shower. For dinner, I grilled some ribeyes. Overshot the cooking time a little (medium rather than medium-rare), but they were still quite tasty. The wife (God bless her) made chocolate souffl├ęs for dessert.

Small-ball Father's Days are the best.


Dumeril's Ruby Slippers

Ridin' the storm out
I've had a fear/fascination with tornadoes since I was a child. To this day, I still have dreams about them occasionally. But after 25 years of living in Texas, I'd grown to accept them as part of the deal with living there. During my time in Texas, I spent a few evenings in the closet under the stairway waiting out a tornado warning. I watched from a high rise office building as the storm that produced the F5 that obliterated Jerrell came roiling into downtown Austin. My boss and I foolishly drove into a really nasty looking cumulonimbus while driving a rental car to Austin after our flight was diverted to Abilene due to storms. Within a minute of driving into that black cloud, all hell broke loose but at least there wasn't a tornado although that storm produced several that day. I finally got to see a tornado with my own eyes north of Austin about 16 years ago.

Here's my latest tornado tale. It happened yesterday while trying to return to Raleigh from Kansas City.

If you've been paying attention to the Weather Channel the last few days you know that the Midwest is currently getting pummeled with storms. My flight was scheduled for 6PM but I arrived at the airport early at about 3:30. It was already looking pretty ominous when I returned my rental car and I'd mentally accepted the possibility that my flight might get delayed or canceled. I went through the security line, bought some snacks, then settled into a seat to work on my laptop.

About 30 minutes later, the emergency sirens went off. A person on the airport intercom announced that a tornado in Platte county triggered the sirens, but it wasn't close to the airport and that everything was okay for the time being.

I watched the storm through the big terminal windows. It was coming down in sheets by that time. Fierce wind. A few minutes later, they came back on the intercom to tell us what we were to do if we did need to evacuate - exit the gate area, proceed to the ticketing area, and go down the stairs to the tunnel hallway that leads to the lower level parking garage.

Another 10 minutes and we got to put those contingency instructions to use. They announced that a tornado had been sighted near the airport and we were to evacuate to the storm shelter.

People were remarkably calm. I guess living in Kansas will do that to you. No pushing, no panicking. People calmly but efficiently proceeded to the ticketing area and down the staircase. A lot of people stopped at the foot of the stairs and kind of block progress for a little while (not realizing how many people were going to be coming down those stairs) but an admonition from security cleared that up quickly. They piled about 400 people into that tunnel. I went most of the way to the end of the tunnel where there were glass doors leading to the parking garage. I didn't get too close to the doors because, you know, glass. But I could see through them to the area beyond where you could see the effects of the storm. It was clearly a violent storm, with tons of rain blowing sideways.

I chatted up some people near me and saw a guy wearing a T-shirt advertising a Harley dealer in Las Cruces. It's not often that I see fellow New Mexicans, but I didn't get a chance to talk with him.

After about a half hour, the storm settled down a bit and they let us go back upstairs. So we didn't get blown to Oz.

Unfortunately everybody had to go through security again, which really sucked. I stood in a line with several hundred people and TSA didn't ease up on their screening process in order to expedite things. It took awhile, but I made it.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, my flight ended up being canceled. There was yet another huge line at ticketing to re-book flights, so I decided to just check into a hotel and re-book from there over the phone.

So I write this from my room at the Four Points Marriott near the airport in Kansas City. It things go to plan, and it's not clear they will, I'll get on the same flight 24 hours later to get back home. Wish me luck!