11/27/2016

Own It

My second installment expanding on D7's Somewhat Cryptic Advice for Better Living is really a statement about personal accountability and commitment. The advice is two words:

Own It

My day job is in product management. Product managers are responsible for strategy, delivery, and planning around products that companies sell in the market. Figuring out what the products are, what features they should have, who to sell them to, what they should cost, etc. - those are all responsibilities of a product manager.

As a product manager it's easy to develop a mental and emotional detachment from your product. Somebody else may have invented it, somebody else is fronting the money to take it to market, and company politics may mean that somebody else has a bigger role in determining its future You might not have much on the line, so it's easy to think of yourself as just another employee. But in my experience, product managers are most successful when they act like the product is their baby and their own money is on the line - even if it's not. These are the product managers that genuinely stake a claim in the success of their products. These product managers have a sense of passion and urgency that tends to inspire and influence others, gets things done, and bring about success in the market for their products. They're compelling evangelists for their products. They sweet-talk, fight, and cajole others to ensure the right things get done. They take it personally when a competitor beats them.

If you have children and you're a decent parent, then you probably get this. When it comes to your kids, you take a very active and passionate role in their success. You defend them, you think deeply about what's best for them, you make plans, and you execute for their future. There's very little you wouldn't do for them because you have a genuine mental and emotional investment in their success.

That's owning it. and it's an attitude that should be taken with anything you claim to really care about.

There's another aspect to owning it: Commitment.

Have you ever seen Justin Timberlake on SNL? I'm not a Timberlake fan and kind of considered him one of these disposable pop stars with a pretty face and very little talent. So I was blown away when I saw how genuinely funny he was on SNL. (Which actually got me to listen seriously to his music and you know what - I was kind of wrong about that too.)

He's funny because he's all-in. He holds nothing back. He leaves it all on the field, as they say in football. You have to be that way in comedy. Heck you have to be that way in all artistic endeavors. Not being completely committed to the moment and becoming detached, analytical, or self-conscious kills authenticity and utterly destroys art. Timberlake know this and when he does a skit he's all-in and he's hysterically funny.

But it's not just art, commitment applies across the board. That same all-in attitude applied to Michael Jordan, Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, and the engineers and physicist who put men on the moon. They were intense, totally committed, all-in.

To own it is to hold yourself personally accountable for, and to be all-in in the pursuit of, its success. Whatever "it" is doesn't matter so much. It's the commitment that matters.

11/26/2016

Fishing Report - 11/26/2016

Probably the last decent-sized channel cat of the season. Looks like she was fattening up for the winter.
It looks like the catfish in my area have headed for deeper waters. It's been slowing down for the last few weeks while the weather is getting colder and the last couple weekends have been just short of dead. Without a boat or locating some bank area close to deep creek channels, I'm probably done for the season. Well, a period of unseasonable sunny warmth could draw them out to the flats temporarily until the weather turns cold again - and I'll try to take advantage of any of those that I get - but I think it's mostly done until the spring.

I've learned some more things that last few weeks:
  • My initial goal was really modest: I wanted to be able to catch channel catfish reliably in my neighborhood lake. I can definitely do that now. But ironically, after pulling in much bigger fish in other lakes, fishing in my neighborhood lake doesn't hold the same appeal that it when I set that goal. I'm a little worried that if I target and have any success with blue or flathead catfish, I may never go back to channels. But for now anyway, I'm delighted with 2.5-10 lb channel cats, but less so with the sub-1 lb to 2 lb cats that are in my original lake
  • I'm not slaying it by any means, but I think I can catch enough sunfish for live or cut bait going forward. I started getting better at it just at the time when those fish are heading for deeper waters too, but I think I'll be alright come spring.
  • I often call the sunfish I'm catching "bluegill" but in reality, the most common sunfish at my current favorite lake is the redear sunfish. I've probably caught more of those than anything else. It's a pretty fish and almost a shame to turn around and use them as bait.
  • My experiment with frozen bait didn't go well at all. No bites. Unfortunately, I didn't also use punch bait so I didn't have a control group for my experiment and I don't know if it was the frozen bait or if they just weren't biting at all. I may do some more experimenting with it again next year. But a better idea is to get one of those insulated live bait wells with the battery powered aerator (Frabill makes one). That would keep the bait fish alive long enough for me to fish with, perhaps even overnight.
  • On the other hand, I've come to the conclusion I don't really need to catch bait fish unless I start targeting blues and flatheads. The punch bait works great for channel cats and it's a lot less work to obtain.
  • But who am I kidding? I will go after the blues and flatheads sooner or later. It's just a matter of time and resources. 
  • The biggest resource I lack currently is a boat. I see these huge 10,000 acre reservoir lakes and I can only fish a few hundred feet of them because bank access is so limited here in NC. I'm literally confined to less than 1% of the lake! A boat would also allow me to get out to deeper waters so I wouldn't be so limited by season.
  • But I don't really want a full-size boat again. Too much hassle and expense to operate and maintain. I'm thinking a kayak would open up a wealth of fishing opportunity and would be good fun and exercise to boot.  I'd really like to get one (or two) in the spring. We'll see.

11/23/2016

Every Song Has a Perfect Tempo

A few years ago, I wrote a post that had 3 simple pieces of advice for living. The trouble is, the advice was given as short, pithy, metaphorical phrases and I purposely didn't bother to explain them. They were open to interpretation and I thought it might be interesting to leave them that way. But now I think it's a good time to explain what I mean.

First, I should say, I'm no particular expert on living well and one could well argue that I have no business giving advice to others on the topic. But I have found these 3 things proven true over and over in my life and therefore have been useful to me. Maybe they'll be useful to you.

So I'll start with the first.

Every song has a perfect tempo.

I used to play in a band with a guy who said this all the time. He was a very interesting guy. A completely self-made dot-com millionaire. He was wicked smart (MIT engineering grad) and also happened to be a decent, kind, and approachable person. As near as I could tell, he did three things with his considerable wealth: 1) play poker, 2) play music, and 3) give away money through his charitable foundation. For a guy of his means, he lived in a relatively modest home, drove a Ford Explorer, and with a couple of notable exceptions wasn't prone to ostentatious display of money. His poker playing was much higher stakes than I could afford, but it didn't even register a dent in his wealth. He had a nice setup for music at his home, but considering he could afford a Prince-like studio, it was pretty low-key. And his foundation gave money to education-oriented projects and charities. Like I said, really nice guy. And a pretty darn good keyboard player.

Anyway, this guy used to always say, "Every song has a perfect tempo." He believed that every song had an ideal tempo such that any slower or faster than the perfect tempo would have a detrimental effect on the song. And he was adamant about finding the perfect tempo for each song and nailing it every time we played the song.

Now, he was only talking about music. But that phrase stuck with me and I've found it to be widely applicable to life. For everything in which you control the amount, there is almost always a perfect amount.

There's a perfect amount of salt you can put on a steak. Too little and it's bland; too much and it's, well, salty. There's the perfect amount of contrast for a photo. There's a perfect allocation of funds for your 401K. There's a perfect placement for your car in the garage. There's a perfect amount of stuff to put in your backpack. There a perfect balance of rod to reel. There's a perfect amount of overdrive from any given amp. There's a perfect balance of boss, mentor, and friend for your manager.

You might say, "Well, the perfect amount is highly subjective!" And you'd be right. It varies from person-to-person and is almost always situational. But within all of us, there are countless perfect amounts for everything and every situation, and there is tremendous contentment to be found in taking the time to consider something well enough to figure out the perfect amount. If you're prone to "more is better" type of behavior, you'll be happier if you slow down and think about what you're doing, what you're really trying to achieve, and how much is really necessary. If you tend to be too conservative (I'm talking resource utilization, not politics), overcoming your natural tendencies to conserve and thinking about how much is really required to accomplish your goals will greatly improve your odds of achieving them.

There is a perfect amount. Any more is too much. Any less is too little.

So the perfect tempo is not really about music. It's about thoughtful consideration. It's about taking the time when you're doing something to consider how to do it really, really well. It's about defining what "really, really well" is! If you believe that things worth doing are worth doing well, then find the perfect tempo for everything that you do.

11/20/2016

Charlie Strong and the Road Forward

I write this the day after Kansas beat Texas 24-21. As everybody knows, this marks the end of Charlie Strong's tenure at Texas. It's all just a formality at this point.

Several thoughts:

  • The last time I wrote about the 'Horns, I praised their heart this year. Boy was I wrong on that one. Never judge a team based on their performance against preseason cupcakes. Of course, at the time nobody knew Notre Dame was a cupcake; everybody thought they were a top-10 team. 
  • What Texas really didn't need was a controversial coach firing. And with the Kansas game we thankfully don't have one. Going into the game, Kansas was 1-9, had lost 19 consecutive Big 12 games, hadn't beaten an FBS team since 2014, and hadn't beaten Texas since 1938. Yes, 1938. It was truly an historic loss and getting beat by Kansas tipped the scales unambiguously. That is one good thing to come of this loss - it's made the firing decision obvious and unarguable to rational people.
  • I've been a Charlie Strong supporter from the beginning. I like many aspects of the way he runs the program, especially off-field. But I mentally detached from him after the Oklahoma State game. We'd just lost to Cal. In that game, the offense was clicking but Cal exposed our weaknesses on defense. However, I figured Strong would fix it because he's a defense-minded coach and we had an extra bye week to work on it. I thought the next game, Oklahoma State, would be telling. They're a prototypical, pass-heavy Big 12 team. I thought the game would be a good indicator of whether he could fix our defense as well as how the season would play out in general. Well, it was in fact a great litmus test. We lost 49-31, the Cowboys put up 555 yards on us, and 2016 has been a replay of the same miserable season we've had the last several years. But the worst part of that game was this: We made zero progress on the obvious problem areas. Our issues were laid bare, so what the hell had they been doing for two weeks (not to mention the entire off-season)? At that point I disengaged from the Strong camp. I didn't necessarily want him to get fired, but I wasn't going to argue that he shouldn't any more. 
  • I think Strong leaves the program in better shape than he found it talent-wise. Somehow, despite the mounting losses, he pulled in terrific recruiting classes. Which is a big part of why the losses and lack of progress are so frustrating and ultimately unacceptable. The next coach has a lot to work with and it wouldn't surprise me if he looks like a freaking genius very quickly due primarily to inherited player talent. On the other hand, with a few notable exceptions, it's talent that has largely under-delivered. It's probably more accurate to call it "potential" than talent, and "potential" is of course a loaded word. 
  • I hope the AD and the Board of Regents don't fuck up the hiring process. They made an absolute goat rope of the baseball coaching hire, although they did get nice raises for the country's best college baseball coaches. They run a leaky and undisciplined ship over at Belmont and frankly, I think Mike Perrin is in over his head. I'm praying they learned something from that debacle.  [11/23/2016 Update - Not off to a good start. If they already intend to fire Strong, by not doing it immediately following the Kansas game, they set up a messy PR situation if the Longhorns beat TCU and get a bowl game.]
  • And it won't be easy. There are no sure-fire candidates that we actually have a chance to land out there. Tom Herman, the presumptive top candidate, has only been a head coach two years and his success is in no small measure thanks to players recruited by somebody else. Nobody knows if he can build a program of sustained success. And he's had mixed results (losing to SMU is almost as bad as losing to Kansas!) in 2016 - a year in which Houston had legit playoff aspirations. Despite the hype, there's a lot of risk in going with him, as there is with any candidate that we have an actual chance of getting. [11/23/2016 Update - I just read a journalist who believed that a bidding war for Herman could go to $8M-$9M per year. That's Harbaugh territory and significantly more than Saban - for a person with all of 2 years head coaching experience and one AAC championship. He did win a national championship as OC at tOSU under Urban Meyer, but still he has a paper thin resume compared to other coaches making anywhere near that amount of money.  These are crazy times.]
  • I also hope the big-moneyed, always-meddling boosters don't fuck this up. They certainly did in Strong's case; the guy wasn't even on campus before McCombs and company started sowing the seeds of discontent. That shit is not helpful. Unfortunately with no can't-miss candidates, it's probable that there will be dissension over whoever we hire.
  • Finally, I hope the fans don't fuck this up. When Strong was hired, the level of fan scrutiny over the process was downright obsessive. The major Longhorns blogs were publishing all manner of rumor, innuendo, conjecture, pontification, and out-right bullshit about what was going on and the major players involved. It got to the point where people were tracking charter airplane flights into Austin to speculate about who was interviewing and what it meant. It was undoubtedly detrimental to the hiring process. And unfortunately I got sucked in and followed it way too closely. This time around, I know better.
We're still lost in the desert pulling a flaming dumpster, but as always, Hook 'em!

11/14/2016

Source Audio Orbital Modulator



I've owned the Source Audio Orbital Modulator for over a year now and during that time I've played a lot with it, jamming at home, rehearsing with my band, and playing at gigs. Here are my collected thoughts:

Pluses

  • Audio quality - The DSP in this thing is 56-bit and it has a very good-sounding buffer that can be true-bypassed. This is about as good as it gets in pedals.
  • Covers a lot of ground - With chorus, flanger, resonator, phaser, univibe, and tremolo all built in, the OM can replace a lot of other pedals. This is probably my favorite aspect of the OM. For me, modulation effects are something I use infrequently, so the idea of having individual pedals for effects that I might use once at a gig is not at all attractive.
  • Great algorithms - A versatile pedal isn't really so versatile if a number of the effects don't sound very good. Every single effect in the OM sounds terrific.
  • Two presets - Out of the box, you get two "slots" for saving your own control settings and the presets can be recalled using a footswitch dedicated to each . It's like having two pedals dialed up and ready to go. And it's essential for a pedal that covers so much ground.
  • Highly tweakable - The OM has all the expected controls, plus a few that are unexpected. You won't be suffering for lack of control!
  • Lots of options for real-time control - While you play, you can adjust parameters in real time using an expression pedal, MIDI continuous controllers, or the Source Audio's Hot Hand motion sensor.
  • Well made - Very heavy duty.
  • Compact -  The OM is smaller than the size of two Boss pedals, which is quite compact considering how many pedals this thing can replace.
  • Easy to get your sound - Once you understand what the controls do, it's easy to dial in the sound you want.

Minuses

  • Not intuitive - For the basic controls and functions, the OM is actually easy to use. But between some of the more esoteric controls unique to the OM (lo retain; mod source; control input) and several hidden parameters (control reset; true bypass/buffered output; tap tempo), there's no getting around having to read the manual. And unless you use it a lot you're likely to forget how to use some of the more obscure controls work, so you'll be referring to the manual even after you've initially learned it. I need to make a laminated cheat sheet with the hidden controls that I can stuff into my pedalboard.
  • Only two presets in stock configuration - I listed "two presets" as a plus. But presets are so essential and the pedal is capable of so many different effects, that I find myself wishing it had one or two more! On the other hand, that would increase the size of the pedal and I very much appreciate the OM's compact size. I suppose Source Audio's answer is the right one: The OM can be expanded with the Neuro Hub which allows you to store 128 presets for multiple Source Audio pedals, and adds more real-time control options.
  • Not stereo - I suppose you could argue that it makes some sense for a stompbox, but having the gorgeous OM sound engine limited to mono seems like an unnecessary handicap.
  • Multi-function knob - Fitting all that parameter control into such a compact pedal requires a compromise. In this case, the "option" knob controls 6 different parameters depending on the setting of a parameter selection button that cycles through the 6 choices. That means you can't see all your settings at once, and it's really cumbersome to do detailed editing where you might go back and forth between parameters many times.
  • Won't take a regular expression pedal without an extra cost add-on - The real-time control possibilities of the OM are very intriguing. Unfortunately, you can't get to them without spending more money! If only they'd included a standard TRS expression pedal jack...
  • Could use a tone control - For me, the one control missing is a simple tone control. Sometimes I'd like to dial down the digital perfection and get a less high fidelity sound. A tone control would be a really simple way to do that. Now, I could add an EQ pedal, but that would defeat the compact advantage of the OM and I'm not willing to do that.
I have almost as many minuses as pluses, but really the complaints that I have are somewhat minor. On balance, I feel like the Orbital Modulator is one of the best multi-function modulation pedals currently on the market, and at $170 street, it's really a no-brainer.

11/08/2016

Everything Good Happens Before 8AM

If you look closely, you can see my bobber floating in the water...


Although the weekend wasn't a total success for fishing, getting up early did yield a few nice photos. I didn't bring a real camera - this was taken with my iPhone. Not bad at all, although I doubt it would make a great large print.

Here are some tips for getting decent photos from your phone:

  • More than anything else, take advantage of good light, especially golden hour. The image sensor in a phone is tiny and noisy, and artificial light usually isn't practical with a phone, so good natural light is critically important. It makes a huge difference! Golden hour light is bright enough to work with the sensor, but still has softer, side-casting shadows and a lovely warm hue. These are all usually very good things in a photo. So when you're out and about around sunrise or sunset, take advantage of the opportunity and get some photos.
  • Clean the lens! Or more accurately, the glass window on your phone that protects the lens. It's terrible about accumulating dust, fingerprints, and general schmutz, and that is degrading your sharpness and contrast. Ideally, you'd use some lens cleaner and a good microfiber cloth, but who carries that shit around with them? I certainly don't. If I were going to bother with that, I'd carry a real camera. I just exhale some hot breath on it and wipe it off with a cotton shirt. Even that helps tremendously.
  • Hold the camera still. Use both hands, tuck your elbows against your torso, exhale, and slowly but deliberately press the shutter without jostling the camera. Or if you really want to go to town, use the timer function, place the camera on something (a rock, a bench, etc.) and take the photo that way. But I almost always just handhold it for a phone photo because I'm usually busy doing something else.
  • For a landscape, choose your focus point to optimize exposure. This is a little bit technical to explain, but it's really easy to do in practice and it can turn an okay photo into a terrific one. The standard camera app on an iPhone doesn't allow you to manually set exposure (how light or dark the photo is). Instead, it automatically sets exposure for whatever is in the focus square (that little square overlay on the screen that the camera uses to select what it's going to focus on). You can move the focus square by tapping on the screen. Now, in a landscape photo (and in many other types of photos actually because the sensor is so dinky), what you focus on doesn't really matter much because the phone camera optics will make everything in the scene in focus. So place the focus square instead to get the best exposure. Is the sky showing up as white and blown-out? Then tap on something light colored in the scene, perhaps the sky itself, and the phone will darken the exposure - there, now the colors in the sky are back. Is the scene too dark? Then tap on something dark and the camera will lighten everything up. So it's really simple: Experiment by tapping on various things in the scene until you get an overall exposure that either matches what you're seeing with your eyes, or just looks nice to you. One great thing about a camera phone is that what you see on the screen is what you'll get in the photo, so you can see the exposure before actually taking the picture.
  • Get an image editor app. This is optional, but very worthwhile. Consider it extra credit. An image editor app will let you tweak the photo afterwards to compensate for the inadequacies of the phone's image sensor and processing firmware. For example, with a landscape I might place my focus square to get the exposure of the sky right (in order to capture the colors in a sunset) but that will cause everything in the foreground to be a silhouette. I'll use an image editor app to lighten up the shadows (i.e. the foreground) so it matches what I actually saw. Best of all, you don't have to be a Photoshop expert to use these apps; they're highly simplified so that a normal person can figure them out. My favorite is Snapseed, which is excellent.

11/07/2016

Fishing Report - 11/6/2016

I did a lot of fishing this weekend, but it was mixed in terms of results. On Friday evening, the whole family went to the lake. The kids and I got skunked, but my wife caught one medium sized fish. We only had a couple of hours, and with the kids it wasn't high quality fishing time. It was very high quality family time though! I spent most of it trying to help everybody else catch fish.

On Saturday, I got to the lake at 8AM. I went to the location that's been very successful for me. Fished for an hour and got a couple of bites. I didn't set my hook well enough on the first one and the fish coughed it up before I could get him to shore. I caught the second bite - a small fish, a couple pounds or so. I released him since we're well stocked on catfish.

A couple of other people showed up and that upset my flow because the bank and foliage is arranged in such a way that I can't cast into my preferred spot without casting across the entire fishable bank. This spot is a little cove with reeds, and fallen and overhanging trees, which is a perfect catfish sanctuary. These folks set up camp between me and that spot so I would have had to cast across them which would have been very uncool. So instead I cast out to where I figured it would be slow, and it in fact was. But it's not like I own the lake and they were very nice people. I could have moved, so I can't complain. Actually I should have moved but I didn't have enough time to find a new spot by exploring so I just shared the location with my new friends. You see, finding open bank on lakes in NC can be challenging because there is so much forest that goes right up to the water, making it impossible to cast very far. It saves a lot of time and frustration to get on Google Maps and use the satellite view to find open bank before you get to the lake.  But the lesson for me was that fishing on Sunday is better since most respectable folks are at church! And I guess I should have a longer list of suitable bank fishing locations on the lake in case my first choices don't work out.

About an hour after that, my wife arrived. She wanted to sleep in, and since I was not having a whole lot of luck, it seems like a great idea in retrospect. Anyway, she arrived and within minutes she caught a fish, which she reluctantly released. (As a relative newbie, I can say with some authority that it's emotionally hard to release a fish when you're new to it; you're not confident that you'll catch more and you want to keep 'em all!) Then, about 20 minutes later, she lands her personal best fish, a 5.25 lb channel cat. From what I've seen so far, that's pretty big for this lake. I've only caught one that was bigger.

I on the other hand, continued my string of bad luck. I got hung up not once, but twice and lost a couple of expensive floats. (Note to self: Find a cheap source of weighted floats!) That was karma: I'd been feeling a little smug and put out about how often my wife and kids get hung up and lose their rigs. Apparently the gods of fishing are nothing if not ironic. I caught no more fish that day. It was a bust. My wife however caught a couple more that she released, including one she caught on a live bluegill given to her by the folks that we were sharing the bank with (they were throwing the bluegill back in). She had the Midas touch and I was really happy for her because she'd been skunked a lot in the recent past and hadn't caught a big one yet. So it was awesome to see her get her day.

We kept her big fish. She wanted to show it to the kids and although we didn't really need it, it's not like we were going to let it go to waste. I made a catfish gumbo that night with her fish using a recipe I got from this video. It was delicious. Highly recommended! And I was mightily impressed that one fish fed a family of four and we had plenty leftover. By the way, that video also showed me that I was leaving a lot of meat on the catfish by simply filleting the sides with a knife and chucking the rest. On my wife's fish, I took the time to cut the meat from the bottom of the fish (there's a lot there on a big fish!) and to take any small pieces of meat that were missed in the filleting process. I stopped short of scraping the sides the way the guy does in the video, but I managed to get an additional 25% to 30% more meat!

I decided to devote Sunday morning to advancing my ability to catch bluegill for use as cut bait. The lake nearest my house reopened after Hurricane Matthew and I've had some luck in the past catching bluegill there, so I decided to go there. I also wanted to test out some Berkley Gulp Alive Crickets as bait. Gulp crickets are soft rubber crickets impregnated with a scent attractant. There are a lot of positive reviews for them on the 'net. We've had some luck with actual live crickets but they're a pain for me to procure and deal with, so I was hoping the Gulp crickets would be a good substitute. I'll cut to the chase on that: For this trip, they didn't do very well. I fished with a rubber cricket for an hour and a half and caught a small catfish with it, and had several nibbles. But it seemed like the bluegill, who are very cautious and like to peck at bait a lot before they actually hit it, lost interest in it after a couple of swipes. I ended up buying red worms from the lake store and using that instead. I'm not totally giving up on Gulp crickets yet, but first impression was not positive. Next time I'll start with worms and confirm that the fish are biting first, then try out the Gulp crickets.

It took a couple of hours before I started catching any bluegill. That might be weather related since it was notably colder than usual on Sunday. I was only planning to fish for 2 or 3 hours, but I didn't start getting any bites until that far into it, so I ended up staying at the lake for 6 hours! I really wanted to get some bluegill! In the end, I caught 6 bluegill, one pumpkinseed (which was cool because they're pretty and I'd never caught one before), and one crappie. One of the bluegill was really big - about the size of my whole hand (and I've got big hands). The others were small to medium. That evening I did some research online to make sure it was legal to use crappie as bait. It is. And in the lake I'll be fishing with it, there are no size or creel limits either.

Unfortunately, I knew I wouldn't be able to use the bait fish right away. So I intended to freeze them for use next week or at some time in the future. I did some research to find the best way to do this. I brought a cooler 2/3 full with ice, rock salt, and water to put the fish into immediately after catching. The idea is to keep them as cold as possible until you can get them into the freezer. When I got home, I got them into a zip lock bag as quickly as possible and laid them flat in the freezer so they'd freeze quickly. I have no idea if this will actually be effective or not, but the theory seems solid.

Eight fish are enough for my next catfishing expedition, but for 6 hours of work, that's pretty pitiful. I put more effort into catching the bait than I will into catching my actual target fish! I'm going to have to get a lot more efficient to make this worthwhile. At some point I've got to get fast enough at this that I can catch the bluegill right before fishing so I can use them live. So I'll be doing a lot of research on targeting bluegill for next few weeks...

10/31/2016

Fishing Report - 10/30/2016



Last weekend, I caught a personal best catfish at a lake I hadn't fished before. It was the only fish I caught in two hours, but the size of it was so much bigger than what I've caught at my usual lakes that I decided I really need to try again. So on Sunday morning I went back.

My second trip was even better. I caught 5 channel cats in about two and a half hours, weighing 4-6 pounds each. I actually brought my digital scale this time and measured some of them. Last week's fish was bigger (in fact, I'd raise my estimate of it a little now), but not by too much. The 5 fish I caught are probably 3 meals for my family of 2 adults and 2 children.

I learned several things on this fishing trip:

On the day before, Saturday, I went fishing for bluegill to use as bait, but I got skunked. One problem was that the worms I bought the night before were dead! So I had to fall back to Slim Jim's, which I've seen work very effectively on YouTube, but so far I've had no luck with myself. The other problem was that the pond I fished was an unknown quantity for bluegill. I mean, it must have some kind of feeder fish since it's stocked with catfish and they have to be eating something. But I haven't seen with my own eyes anyone pull bluegill out of this pond, so I don't know for sure. In any case, I need to find a lake that is a known bluegill producer. And apparently I need to check the pulse of worms before I purchase them!

I wanted bluegill for two reasons: One, to target bigger fish with cut bait, and two, to get more experience using circle hooks. Since bluegill were out, I decided to buy some raw frozen shrimp and try that. Now, I've read mixed things about frozen shrimp. The general consensus is that it works with small channel cats but isn't very effective for bigger fish. (Before you write to tell me about the monster you caught on frozen shrimp, let me just say: I'm not saying it never works. I'm just saying there are baits like, say, bluegill, that are known to be far more effective!) But hey, I still wanted to practice with circle hooks so I bought some shrimp. I defrosted 8 of them and sprayed them with some Dead Red Blood Spray to add more scent. Then I put them in the fridge overnight before my catfishing trip.

On Sunday, I arrived at the lake at around 9AM. Since I have two catfish rods, I decided to use them both to compare the efficacy of punch bait versus shrimp. One rod was set up with a Santee rig and a circle hook for the shrimp. The other was set up for punch bait with a slip float rig using a #4 treble hook. I used a #4 instead of my usual #6 because that cat last week was really aggressive and swallowed the hook deeply. Bottom line: The score was 4-1 punch bait. One trip isn't enough testing to be thoroughly convincing, but so far it looks like I'm better off fishing with punch bait and eating the shrimp myself.

The one fish I did catch on shrimp was the smallest of the lot – about 2.5 lbs. I had the rod with punch bait in my hands, but I kept an eye on the shrimp rod which I had on a holder. I saw the end of the shrimp rod dip a couple times, but it looked more like a fish was just nipping at it since it was dipping momentarily and not very deeply (due undoubtedly to the size of the fish). After a couple times of this, I decided I should check to make sure I still had bait and by golly, there was a fish on the end of the line! So the circle hook worked as advertised and self-set with a nice, clean hook-set in the corner of the mouth that was very easy to remove. Much easier than the treble hooks! I got one other nibble on the shrimp, but that time the fish didn't take it.

I wanted to practice with a circle hook because in my general newbieness, I sometimes get overly eager with my hook-set, try to set too soon, and end up loosing the fish. So I wanted to make sure I had the patience to just let the circle hook do its thing, and self-set the fish. As it turned out, it's a lot easier than a "normal" hook. You just keep the line tight and wait until the rod tells you you have a fish, then you simply reel it in. In a way, it's anti-climactic because you don't get the thrill of the set. But man, getting that nice, clean, easy-to-remove hook-set in the corner of the mouth sure is nice. Especially if you're going to catch and release.

The punch bait did well as usual. The bite was plentiful and I only missed the hook-set on a couple of them. These wild (as opposed to stocked) channel cats were more aggressive and fought a lot harder! One of the bigger fish did a nice aerial after he was hooked. And another one peeled drag (which had been set to about 5 lbs) and positively thrashed when I got him near the bank. I played them all in order to tire them out before they got to shore, but this one was particularly feisty. Now, I know in the wide world of catfishing what I'm doing is child's play compared to landing a monster blue or flathead, but it's all still really exciting to me!

I mentioned that I rigged my punch bait rod with a #4 treble hook. I still deep-hooked the first fish with the #4. At that point it was obvious that I really needed to set my hook sooner so I worked on that the rest of the way and didn't have any more issues with swallowed hooks. My second fish was hooked nicely in the mouth, but I bent the crap out of the hook while removing it and effectively destroyed it. This was because I didn't have time to pre-order the #4 hooks from Amazon, so I had to go with what the local Bass Pro had in stock, which were standard strength trebles. It's very clear why Chad Ferguson recommends always getting 4X strength trebles. The standard strength hooks are a bit too flimsy for catfish.

One fish did something that I'd read about but hadn't actually seen yet: as it got near the bank and I was reaching down with the lip grips to pull it out of the water, it went into a "death roll", turning over and over like an alligator with a deer. It made it really clear why putting a swivel on the line is a good idea! After I got him on the stringer he rolled some more and had twisted the stringer up into a knotted mess by the time I was ready to go home.

Filleting big fish took longer and was messier than with small fish, but it was easier because of the size of the fillets. On the other hand, the residual odor after cleaning the fish was a lot stronger. I'm not sure if it's because they're bigger and have more surface area to smear their scent around, or if being wild gives them a more pungent smell. I suspect it's the latter. But in any case, the smell was more lingering than the other catfish I've caught and I cleaned up after myself very thoroughly.

My freezer now has enough catfish to last us for awhile and I'm not one to stockpile just because I can. So I'm going 100% catch and release for awhile. Given that, I'm thinking about experimenting with using punch bait on a circle hook (using a sponge to keep the bait on the hook) in order to get cleaner hook-sets.

10/24/2016

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.

10/23/2016

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.

10/18/2016

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 dead weight – stuff that takes more energy to deal with than value received. 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.)

9/17/2016

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.

9/14/2016

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.

8/29/2016

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?

8/22/2016

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.

8/17/2016

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.