Vision without action

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

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Success is getting what you want

Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get. – Dale Carnegie

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Do the hard jobs first

Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves. – Dale Carnegie

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A man is as wretched as he has convinced himself that he is. – Seneca

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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

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

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

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, 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

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 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


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


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


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.


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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Success is not to be pursued

Success is not to be pursued; it is to be attracted by the person we become. – Jim Rohn

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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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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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