Do every act

Do every act of your life as if it were your last. – Marcus Aurelius

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People love chopping wood.

People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results. – Albert Einstein

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NASCAR is not a blood sport

Safety advances since Dale Earnhardt’s death have made us forget the dangerous nature of auto racing and encourage us to act in dangerous and callous ways in our daily lives.

On May 13th, I saw something I had never seen—NASCAR safety officials at Kansas Speedway cutting the roof off a car to pull Aric Almirola out. I think the last time this happened in NASCAR’s top series was to extract Dale Earnhardt’s body from his wrecked car in 2001. At any moment, we’re just a lap away from seeing a driver die. I’ve seen too many cases where the cameras pull back, a sure sign something terrible is unfolding before our eyes. And yet we cheer and encourage risky behavior as if death is inconsequential.

NASCAR_Crash_Header

Photo credit: FOX Sports

Lessons from death

Earnhardt’s death shocked the world and led to a massive improvement in driver safety in NASCAR. NASCAR mandated a head and neck restraint be used and in 2005 required drivers use the HANS (Head and Neck Support; a shoulder harness with tethers attached to each side of the driver’s helmet). In 2002, NASCAR began using Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers at all its tracks. The barriers add flexible steel tubing and energy-absorbing foam blocks in front of the older concrete walls to lessen the shock of collisions with the wall. In 2013, NASCAR introduced the Generation 6 car design that featured an enlarged and reinforced driver cockpit. The design moved the driver closer to the center of the car and reinforced the doors with steel plates and foam to protect against side collisions. New rules limit when drivers can exit their cars and approach the track. NASCAR has reduced the number of officials standing on pit road and even the flag personnel now wear head protection.

Thanks to these changes, there has not been a NASCAR fatality since Earnhardt’s death. The number and severity of injuries is also much lower than before.

Wrecking as entertainment

Bristol Motor Speedway

Crowds cheer wrecks. Some people admit to coming to see wrecks. Others are happy to witness justice being served on the track as a driver gets even with another driver for past altercations. Or the fans are just expressing schadenfreude, pleased their nemesis has had a bad day. The fan reactions are to the carnage to the cars and ignore the potential carnage to the humans inside.

In the roughly ten years I’ve been following NASCAR, I have seen stunning sights. Cars barrel-rolling down the track. Vehicles airborne and thrown into the catch fences. Cars sliding on their roofs down the track. Violent collisions tearing the engine from the frame, engine block and car carcass sliding side by side in a shower of sparks. Flames engulfing the car.

And through it all, people are cheering.

Danger as spectacle has always drawn audiences. That’s what makes audiences hold their collective breaths while performers risk death on a high wire with no net below.

I know the feeling. In 2015, I was glued to the television watching the IndyCar race at Fontana. Someone was going to die. I was sure of it, but I couldn’t look away. IndyCar officials had mandated an aero package that encouraged pack racing, cars four and five wide at speeds well over 200 mph. This went on lap after lap, throughout the race, as none of the cars could break away from the rest. IndyCar insisted on running the car package over the complaints of the drivers and team owners. Drivers feared a repeat of the 2011 Las Vegas race when Dan Wheldon died in similar circumstances. But entertainment trumped safety.

Perhaps this would be okay if our attraction to danger stayed at the track. The drivers and promoters work to put on a show, which includes on-track banging, pit road fisticuffs, and wrecks. If we could view it all as therapy that it might be okay.

But we don’t leave our emotions behind when we exit the track or turn off the television. Just the opposite. We carry our aggression into our everyday lives. When driving, we emulate the behavior we see on track and assume the drivers’ charmed safety applies to us.

We’re mistaken, of course.

False sense of safety

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No one died, or was even injured, in the IndyCar Fontana race. Aric Almirola is today walking about the track as his broken back heals. The near weekly spectacular wrecks in NASCAR seem to underscore the safety of auto sports. Events like Almirola’s wreck are noteworthy because of their rarity. The last NASCAR injury of significance was Kyle Busch’s 2015 wreck at Daytona that left him with a broken right leg and left foot. But he came back. He even won the championship the same year. So everything’s okay. Right?

Wrong. Consider these driver deaths in just the past five years: Bryan Clauson, Justin Wilson, Jules Bianchi, Kevin Ward, Jr. (struck on track and killed by Tony Stewart), Jason Leffler, Dan Wheldon. In the US alone, over 520 drivers have died in the past 25 years, mostly at smaller short tracks that have not implemented the safety lessons since Earnhardt’s death in 2001. NASCAR’s top level has seen 28 driver deaths over the course of its history, with Earnhardt being the last. And this says nothing about injuries, including hidden injuries like concussions. In the macho world of auto racing, drivers suck it up and soldier on when they’ve “had their bell rung.” Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made news when he sat out the final 12 races of 2016 because of recurring concussion symptoms. Perhaps no one else could have raised awareness about concussion dangers like Earnhardt, Jr. did.

NASCAR Is Not A Blood Sport

Auto sports are dangerous. Drivers risk death and injury every time they show up for work. NASCAR deserves credit for the safety improvements it has made. But fans are wrong to forget the inherent danger.

By Jean-Léon Gérôme – phxart.org, commons.wikimedia.org

We are wrong when we think we can drive like NASCAR drivers and get away with it. We are not highly skilled and trained drivers. We are not performing on tracks surrounded with safety barriers. And we are not driving custom-built cars loaded with safety features. We are just poor, dumb sons of bitches in broken down jalopies driving like jackasses.

We are wrong to cheer wrecks and aggressive behavior by drivers. Bristol Motor Speedway bills itself as the Last Great Colosseum, but this is marketing hype. In the Roman Colosseum, gladiators fought to the death for entertainment.

We are advanced beyond that now. We do not seek our entertainment in blood sport.

Enjoy the spectacle of auto racing. But don’t forget that we are watching human lives streak past us each lap. Don’t carry emotions and false expectations with us as we take to the roads. And don’t allow our souls to become calloused as we watch drivers risk their lives for our entertainment.

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Vision without action

Vision without action is daydream. Action without vision is nightmare. – Japanese proverb

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NASCAR: They’re making another left turn!

NASCAR is the most competitive motorsport series because of what they did to the track.

Sweet Daddy Dee, one of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s cast, gave his take on NASCAR. “What kind of three-and-a-half hours is this? Look, they’re making a left turn! Oh, they’re making another left turn! Oh, they’re making another left turn! I wonder what’s gonna happen next?”

Most of my friends express surprise when they learn I follow NASCAR (which I take as a compliment). Then they echo Sweet Daddy Dee’s comments: “How can you watch a bunch of guys driving in circles? Isn’t it just a bunch of left turns?”

Yes, NASCAR is a bunch of left turns. And that makes it the most competitive top tier motorsport series, more than Formula 1, Indycar, or IMSA.

Left turns at 200 mph

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A left turn in NASCAR is wild. Have you turned left at 200 mph recently? NASCAR drivers enter corners at speeds ranging from 200 to 220 mph at Michigan International Speedway, one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks. Even at Martinsville, NASCAR’s shortest track at a half mile, corner entry speed is typically 115 mph.

At these speeds turning the car is unlike your drive to the corner market for your late night Rocky Road ice cream blitz. To maximize their speed, NASCAR drivers push tires to the edge of their traction limit, so close that a single bump or gust of wind can push the tires beyond that limit. What is beyond the traction limit? You know, if you’ve ever driven on ice.

Cars in NASCAR are on the verge of wrecking on every turn. Imagine turning the steering wheel at 150 mph, not knowing if the car will turn or, instead, drive straight into the wall. If the front tires slip the car won’t turn. Your instinct as a driver is to keep turning the wheel and slowing down, hoping the tires will grip again. When the tires finally grab the track, the front of car turns hard left and the tail snaps around. You’re dangerously close to a spin. Now you have to turn right, toward the wall(!), to stop the spin.

Once you regain control of the car, it’s time to exit the corner. You ease on the gas, hoping the rear wheels won’t lose traction and cause the car to spin out. All of this assumes your right front tire, the tire that handles the biggest loads on an oval, will not blow out under stress. When that happens hang on tight. You’re along for the ride, straight into the wall.

And that’s one turn. NASCAR drivers do this hundreds of times in a race.

Full contact racing

Photo Credit: Getty Images
NASCAR.com

As if that were not enough, NASCAR is a full contact motor sport. While trying to survive the turn, drivers also have to contend with competitors who are not always cooperative. Other auto racing series have penalties for things like blocking faster cars from passing and “avoidable contact,” a euphemism for “you don’t play well with others.”  NASCAR is a self-policing sport embodied in the phrases “Boys, have at it,” and “Rubbin’ is racing.”

You are free to block in NASCAR. Once, maybe twice. Then the guy getting blocked will wreck you. Problem solved. As for avoidable contact, NASCAR uses tactics built upon contact. Consider, for example, the bump draft used on super speedways. One car deliberately bumps the car in front of him (while going 200 mph). Done right, the result is an increase in speed for both cars. Done wrong, the result is The Big One, caps and all, a spectacularly terrifying multicar crash. You won’t see that on a road course.

Where’s the best place for NASCAR-style avoidable contact? The corners.

The impossibility of passing on a road course

Photo Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
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Don’t get me wrong. I love road course racing. Besides NASCAR, I follow Formula 1, Indycar, and IMSA sports cars which race mostly or only on road courses. I also drive on iRacing.com, an online, highly realistic virtual racing simulator in which you race cars on tracks of your choice against other online drivers. I race exclusively road courses on iRacing.

But there’s a major drawback to road racing. On a road course, passing depends on the corners. I know you’ve seen a fast car draft up on a slower one on a straight and blow his doors off. That in-your-face maneuver began in the last corner.

For equal cars, there are only two ways to pass on a road course. You either outbrake the other guy going into the corner, sliding under him to pass, or you get on the gas sooner than he does exiting the corner, allowing you to close up on the straights. That’s it. There’s nothing magical taking place.

Most road courses have only a few passing corners. Some tracks, like the venerable Lime Rock track, have only one good passing opportunity per lap. Road racing thus amounts to a bunch of cars driving around in single file, lap after lap, while they size each other up for that one passing opportunity. If they fail on the pass, they have to fall back and try again. Exciting, huh?

With the highly aerodynamic cars used in Formula 1 and Indycar, even corners are not enough to permit passing. Cars with front wings are so dependent on airflow that driving behind another driver can upset your car so that passing is not possible. This leads to boring parade events like Indycar’s recent “desert debacle”  at Phoenix in which virtually no passing took place. (And that was on the NASCAR oval.)

To overcome these limitations, Indycar and Formula 1 resort to gimmicks to enable passing. Indycar has a Push to Pass system that temporarily gives drivers an extra horsepower boost. Formula 1 uses a Drag Reduction System (DRS), a flap on the back wing that temporarily opens in passing situations. Despite these “fixes” passing is still difficult, especially in Formula 1 where winning the pole position in qualifying is tantamount to winning the race.

By the way, NASCAR does race on road courses. The top level series races on two iconic road courses, Watkins Glen and Sonoma. NASCAR just announced  that the playoff tracks in 2018 will include a road course. The lower tiers run as many as five road tracks each season. NASCAR making right turns is loads of fun to see, in part because most of the drivers have limited road course experience. More important, the cars aren’t designed for these tracks. Following big, heavy stock cars swaying from side to side is like watching UPS trucks racing side by side. It’s a blast.

Its all about the corners

wheresmyseat.net

A race is a spectacle, entertainment for a large audience. A three-ring circus, but louder and faster. Imagine going to a circus, looking forward to such a three-ring spectacle, but finding you can only see the red-headed clown with the big shoes standing just in front of you. Everything else is out of sight. Welcome to a road course race.

On a road course, you typically see only the portion of the track directly before you, a corner or a straight. To see the rest of the race you are dependent on large-screen displays trucked in for the day. You’ve just paid good money to sit in the sun and watch TV. Too bad you are not at a NASCAR oval race. The entire track, and the forty or so cars on track, are in full view.

 

What NASCAR has done is to create tracks that are all corners, maximizing passing opportunities and the excitement of side by side racing. I’ll admit I don’t have the stats to back me up, but I’m convinced you will see more competitive passes for position in a NASCAR race than in any other top tier motor sport race. Add to that the full-contact, always-edge-of-wrecking style that is NASCAR and you have an unparalleled entertainment spectacle unfolding in full view of the paying customers in the seats.

Yeah, they’re making another left turn. That’s what it’s all about.

What do you think? Do you know where I could get lap by lap stats to compare the number of competitive passes per race for the NASCAR, Formula 1, Indycar, and IMSA?

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Effort

Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit. – Napoleon Hill

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The False Promise of Trello

Every year, like swallows returning to Capistrano, I return to Trello. Entranced by its clean interface and enticed by positive reviews, I embrace Trello as the perfect personal productivity tool. Inevitably, after a few hours to days, I turn my back on the app, disenchanted as ever.

Despite what it does well, Trello fails to deliver in three key areas.

Lack of export

Pixabay

Trello can import multiple spreadsheet cells into individual cards. Paste all the cell content into a single card, and you can then create multiple cards. There is, however, no corresponding export capability. Trello can export data, but only to the obscure JSON format. Unless you write your own translation code, the JSON format is not usable, especially with spreadsheets.

There is a Business Class (paid) option that allows export to familiar CSV format, but that costs $120 a year. By comparison, the entry level pricing for Evernote is $35 per year. By any measure, even the free version of Evernote is much more useful than any version of Trello. Paying $120 for data export available standard in most other applications is excessive.

Why is export so important? First, the lack of analysis or visualization capabilities in Trello means you must export data to another application to perform these functions. Second, export provides a backup capability. Without an easy backup mechanism, you must trust Trello to safeguard project content. Sorry, team Blue, but I prefer to look after my own material. Also, the lack of an export capability means it is not possible to easily move my content to another application. Perhaps I’m a cynic, but I suspect this is Trello’s main rationale for handcuffing their users.

Lack of easy deletion

Pixabay

Trello’s approach to deleting content is unconventional, almost bizarre. In early versions of the tool, you could not delete content. You could archive cards, lists, and boards, but you could not remove them. They were permanent.

The latest versions of Trello now allow deletions, but you pay a price. Trello buries the delete command in unlikely places that require multiple mouse clicks to use. The price in lost productivity from navigating unnecessary menu options is a steep price to pay, especially in light of the lack of batch operations.

Lack of batch operations

Pixabay

As a test, I imported cells from a spreadsheet into a Trello list, appending the new cards behind existing cards. Then I realized I had put the cards in the wrong list. No problem, right? Delete the new cards and start over. Or copy the cards to the correct list. Or hit ‘CTRL-Z’ to reverse the action.

Wrong.

Trello doesn’t allow operations on multiple cards. You can copy, archive, or delete a list, but must handle cards one at a time. This is insane. I can’t even conceive of a productivity tool that doesn’t allow operations on multiple items at once. To force users to touch every item is… unproductive.

Use spreadsheets instead

So, disillusioned, I turn my back on Trello yet again. I return to the one tool that has never failed me: spreadsheets.

At its most basic, Trello is little more than a fancy interface wrapped around a spreadsheet. Compare the two.  Trello has boards made up of lists that contain cards.  Spreadsheets have workbook tabs (boards) made up of columns (lists) that contain cells (cards).

Trello makes it easier to move and reorder cells, true. Other than that, however, spreadsheets outperform Trello:

  • Easy import and export
  • Easy deletion
  • Easy batch operations, including sorting
  • Easy analysis and visualization

The main reason I annually migrate back to Trello is my desire for a cloud-based tool for productivity management. The best cloud alternative to the flagship Microsoft Excel is Google Sheets. Unfortunately, Sheets is a pale copy of Excel.

Next year I will try Trello again. For a few days, until the delusion passes.

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One small anchor

Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope. – Epictetus

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Addiction

Let me check my email…

Our electronic devices are tools. Like any other tool, they should be applied to the task at hand and then be put away. Constantly checking our devices indicates near-addictive behavior to electronic stimulation. These symptoms can be addressed through mindfulness of our actions. However, an ultimate cure requires replacing our shallow activities with more mindful pursuits.

In Melbourne, Australia a woman was so engrossed in checking her Facebook page that she walked off the end of St Kilda’s pier and fell in to Port Phillip Bay.  She couldn’t swim, but managed to hold onto her phone until she was rescued. Presumably she would have posted a selfie just before expiring if her phone were waterproof.

According to a government report  pedestrian fatalities are on the rise, in part due to “petextrians” — people who text while walking. Pedestrian fatalities have risen by 15 percent to about one pedestrian death every two hours.

“[T]he percentage of pedestrians killed while using cell phones has risen, from less than 1 percent in 2004 to more than 3.5 percent in 2010, according to a study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University, cited by the GHSA report. And the number of pedestrians injured while on their cells has more than doubled since 2005….” — ABC News.

It’s not just pedestrians, of course.  We all know from daily experience the idiocy associated with distracted drivers. Looking in your rear view mirror to see the driver behind you looking steadily down as you approach a traffic light is a particularly helpless feeling.

Our electronic devices (phones, computers, TVs, etc) are tools, just like hammers, compasses or chainsaws. As with all tools, they should be applied to the task at hand and then be put away.  How would you feel about someone who carried a chainsaw about all the time? Every few minutes she would start it up, rev it a few times and look about wild-eyed for something that needed cutting.

Scary thought? Whipping out a tool just on the off chance it might be needed? Replace the chainsaw with an iPhone and you have a picture of modern society.

Constantly checking your phone is a sign of addiction, electronic addiction.  No, I’m not prepared to discuss the definition of clinical addiction.  I’m not a psychologist, but I’m not blind, either. I can tell when people cannot control themselves, when they must serve their electronic masters at all costs. Whether it is meth or Facebook, the signs are the same.

This addiction can also be seen at our computers, where we surf constantly–not to find information–but to be distracted.  It’s also seen with television, where we flip channels endlessly before finally watching something we don’t like because there’s nothing good on. Hitting the power button never occurs to us.

How can we break this addiction?

  • First, be mindful. Pay attention to how often you use your electronic devices. Think of their use as an addiction, as debilitating as any other addiction.
  • Second, be purposeful. Remind yourself that these are tools, to be taken out for a particular task and then put away. Schedule TV time. Limit phone time. Use your computer for a purpose, beyond mere distraction, and then walk away.
  • Finally, fill your life with meaningful activities against which mere electronic distraction loses its attraction. Life is short. Can anything on Twitter compare?

Put down the phone. Put it down now and no one will get hurt. Otherwise my friend here with the chainsaw may get unpleasant. She’s been waiting for days for something to cut. You’ll do as well as any dead tree. After all there’s not much difference between you and dead wood if you spend your days worshiping a tiny screen.

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The power of being unimportant

Blows from life teach us humility and force us to focus on the priority of our life. Despite its unpleasantness, being taken down a peg or two can have unexpected benefits. In fact, being unimportant can be an empowering role.

The universe has conspired recently to remind me how unimportant I am. Just before Thanksgiving I was laid off from my job. (My employer had a compassionate tradition of not conducting layoffs during the holiday season. As a consequence, the blood flowed thick in early November.) This was just the latest in a series of heavy-handed thumps on the head to put me in my place. My mother passed a little over a year ago. My father-in-law dove deep into dementia before passing six months ago. We’ve had legal issues with both estates. I got another job, where I now work harder for less pay, perks and self-determination. I could be forgiven, perhaps, for believing Someone Up There has it in for me.

This is just life, of course. I tried to take it with philosophical detachment. Seasons, ashes to ashes, that sort of stuff. I’ve grieved, I’ve sighed, I’ve paid more attention to my own life as it flashed by. The layoff, though, was particularly galling, not the least because it was an understandable action. I would have fired me sooner and give my employer credit for giving me the chances it did.

But now, everything is topsy-turvy with my career. In fact, I don’t really have a career any longer. I’m doing the intellectual equivalent of sweeping floors and taking out trash. I take orders from the head man, tip my hat respectfully and trudge off to my drudgery. Given where I came from, I should be pissed. And I am, at least a little bit. But, surprisingly, I’m having trouble working up an appropriate level of indignation. In fact, I’m almost content.

What the hell is going on?

I’ve discovered an unexpected benefit from my recent demotion. Since I am not important, I don’t have to worry about running the world. I didn’t realize it, but I had gradually been promoted to Head Shouldmaster, responsible for keeping everything running as it should. Now that I’m just a peon, and a junior one to boot, I don’t have to worry about the world anymore.

The role of Head Shouldmaster was a difficult, thankless job, but I took it seriously. I constantly scanned everything about me and compared what I saw against my measure of how it should be. Whoever was in charge obviously was not taking his role seriously. Just look around–everything is off the rails. Consequently, I was constantly stressed, annoyed and upset, especially since I knew what everyone should be doing.

I’m happy to say I don’t feel that way anymore. It’s not my job now. Since I’m unimportant, I’m not responsible for everything else.

It’s a great feeling.

I don’t remember applying for the job of Head Shouldmaster. I suspect none of us do. But it creeps on us on the sly. There’s nothing wrong with having an ideal to live up to. It’s okay as long as it’s confined to your life. Your life is under your control. You are responsible for what you do. The rest of the universe, though, is off limits. You can’t control what everyone else does. And they have their own ideals. You can’t impose yours on them.

The world bumbled on pretty well before I came along.  I suspect it will continue to do so without my constant oversight.  I guess that’s the way it should be.

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