.45 with Milla Jovovich

.45 (watch trailer) has a definite feel of an indie movie. Milla played her role very well, and I think all the other actors did too. The problem with the movie though: too much talking and character-building for a whole lot of nothing in the end.

The film fizzled out with a semi-surprise ending that was not really much of a surprise if you stayed awake and paid attention, but that's not its main problem. I can usually live with a disappointing ending if the rest of the movie was good.

The problem with .45 is that it features a whole lot of women with agency and brains, yet for some reason requires the old and tired "woman uses womanly viles to get what she wants" formula, and worse, frames that as empowerment.

Milla plays a battered woman who is too scared to leave her abusive boyfriend Big Al, and too weak to break the unhealthy dependence that feeds the broken relationship. When the abuse has her fearing for her life, she resorts to having lots and lots of hot sex (after all, it's Milla) with people she tries to manipulate into killing Big Al -- all behind his back, knowing full well that his jealousy may get her battered again, or possibly killed.

And that somehow is "empowerment" -- not offing him herself, not running off alone, not even the most boring option of pressing battery charges and putting him away for that. No, it's using "lips, hips, tits, all woman" that gets her "strong" and puts her "in charge."

Quite disappointing indeed.


About Facebook

I am a social media professional, and I don't use Facebook.

I maintain an account so that I can manage my employer's page, and occasionally like or comment on my friends posts. Since August 2012, I have not posted any original content on Facebook, and deleted most of the photos that had been uploaded since I joined in early 2009.

This morning I logged on to discover that Facebook included my account in the limited rollout of their new paid messaging program. What this means for me is that my existing privacy setting have been "retired." Starting today, I can no longer choose who can send me messages. Anyone can now message me, instead of just my friends. Attached is a screenshot I took this morning, edited for privacy.

Transcript: "New: The old "Who can send you Facebook messages" setting is being retired. Now anyone can message you, but you choose how messages are filtered.
Right now, you mostly see stuff from friends in your inbox. To review your filtering options, click Other > Edit Preferences.
Button: Okay, I Understand"

Now, I am a private person, but by nature of my work, I interact with hundreds, even thousands of people, many of them online. I like to separate my personal life and friendships from my professional relationships and work contacts. Since everybody and their brother uses Facebook, I have instituted a simple policy: unless you are an actual friend of mine (i.e. someone I am not paid to interact with, but rather someone whose company I seek out voluntarily), I will not connect with you on Facebook. Also, if you are not a direct connection of mine, you were until today unable to message me, text me, or otherwise bug me on Facebook. You could not even find me there unless you had a common connection.

Not anymore. Now if you are a recruiter, reporter, or some other party interested in getting your message to me, you can ignore all the official channels and simply pay a buck to drop me a message in my personal Facebook inbox. And it will place it there, because otherwise it could not charge you that dollar.

Behold the new "filter" choices, which really aren't:

Transcript: "Basic Filtering · Recommended
Mostly see messages from friends or people you may know.
Strict Filtering
Mostly see messages from friends. Messages from people you want to hear from may go to your Other folder.

Note that neither option is deterministic because of the weasel word "mostly," and how they recommend the laxer filtering setting.

Anyways, this only means that I will be further reducing my exposure to Facebook, and that if you want to message me, you better drop me an email. Because if you know me, you probably know one of my email addresses.


Iron cheffing it

So while we're settling into the new home, there are some challenges of infrastructural nature. Case in point: cooking without a cooktop.

Our kitchen is mostly there, but the cooktop has not been installed yet, pending installation of the backsplash tile. However, all is not lost, as we have purchased a spiff convection steam oven for our kitchen; and so for the past seven days, I have been finding new and creative ways to cook things in it. I prepared chicken, fish, pork, even quinoa and brown & wild rice in there. Steam totally rules.

This evening, we've turned it up to eleven.

J. was working from home, and I drove into the office. On the way home, I called him, so that he could get a protein of his choice from the freezer to thaw while I drove. We have beef, pork, and chicken in the freezer, so you can imagine that I was surprised to find some ground beef happily thawing in a baggie on the counter.

What do you do with it in the oven? Meatloaf? Meatballs? Meh!

To the Googles!

I happened to have three summer squashes, yams, regular potatoes, onions, and chard waiting to be cooked. So I typed in "ground meat oven chard squash" into the googly search, and soon saw a recipe for acorn squash filled with white beans or some such. While I had neither, I was suddenly overcome with inspiration to stuff the summer squash with ground meat and finely chopped onions and chard. As a side dish, I baked some finely cubed taters, yams, and chard, with a dash of olive oil.

Here's what came out of the oven 40 minutes later:

The top rack has the side dish of baked potatoes, yams, and chard, and the bottom rack has the stuffed summer squash. The top dish went in 15 minutes earlier than the bottom and cooked for 40 mins. The bottom dish only cooked for the last 25 minutes.

It is rare that I surprise myself with good food, seeing how I am the cook and all. This was one of the nice surprises. I did not have very high hopes for the dinner, considering that I basically scrounged up what veggies I had and minced them, then mixed with either each other or the meat based on a recipe that I have not even read beyond what search results showed.

This was very good, if I say so myself. Total prep time was maybe 70 minutes, the last 25 being just me waiting for the food to bake. So I guess 45 minutes of work, and 25 minutes of enjoying a local Pinot Noir. Not bad for an iron chef-like challenge.

Wildlife in the mountains

Unsurprisingly, the hills are alive with all kinds of critters. So I have been photographing the ones that stay put long enough for me to get out the phone and snap a picture. That's why there are more shots of reptiles, snails, and trees than birds or mammals.

The salamanders we've been rescuing from the pool seem to not mind a bath in ozonated water and crawl away when set on a pile of wet leaves.

Over the past weeks, we've seen (and heard!) a pack of coyotes, many deer, a hawk in the middle of swooping for something on the ground, and countless birds. I will keep adding to the album.

If you'd rather see it in larger size, here's a link to the Picasa album.


Settling in at our Mountain Lair

Our driveway on the moving day
It's been exactly a week since we moved into the new house. Some areas are more done than others, but all in all, the house is operational.
The kitchen is as good as complete, only missing a dishwasher, cooktop, and the ventilation hood. And the backsplash tile on the wall. With a little luck, all of this will be done in the coming week.
Roomba robot has been working overtime, picking up construction dust, making the floors barefoot-compatible.
My race car Wasabi has moved in with us, in the garage. As it happens, she's the first of our cars to actually stay in the garage here, because most of it is still being used as workshop space by the contractors. She's small enough to only need a little room, and I don't care if she gets a bit dusty.
We've been diligently unpacking our household every day, and are at the point where no more unpacking can be done until more progress is made with the house, such as the master closet being complete, so we can put our clothes in there.
Regardless of the little inconveniences, we're already feeling quite at home in the new house. We've returned the keys to the rental on Sunday, and never looked back.
Size aside, the biggest change from the old place has been the privacy and the quiet. While in our suburban home in San Jose, we never experienced silence, even at night. Dogs barking, children crying, people setting off fireworks in the street at night all year round. Look out the window, and you'd be peering into your neighbors' bedroom. Here in the mountains, there's only trees and hills to see looking out the windows on three sides of the house. Front windows overlook the road, and we can see the driveway and the gate of the house across the street. And more hills and trees.
The air here is incredible. I don't think my sinuses have been ever this clear in San Jose, what with its traffic and industrial dust and smoke.
And the best part of all this is, that we don't have to miss the perks of civilization. We've got blazing-fast internet service (50+ mbps down and almost 20 up), UPS and mail trucks are making its way up our hill during the week, garbage pickup truck comes right by our gate, and they even pick up recycling and yard trimmings for free.
We've driven to the famous Summit Store, which is only five or so miles away, on the other side of Highway 17. That's a nice store, I tell you. Kind of like a nicer, friendlier, family-owned version of Whole Foods. About as pricy, too, but open seven days each week and has all kinds of esoteric foods and spices. A whole shelf rack dedicated to vinegars and oils. Oh, and if you ever stand in the aisle with a bewildered expression for more than 30 seconds (as I am wont to do), a very friendly employee will swoop down in a "no pressure, just checking on ya" kind of way and actually help. Not bad for what basically is an evolved general store on the side of a mountain.
Oh, and we have lemons, apples, plums (?), grapes, persimmons, and who knows what other fruit growing on the property. All of the trees need love, and I will be consulting a professional soon about restoring them to good health. It is too early to say what else we'll do with three acres of awesomeness that came with the house, but we've been thinking about more fruit trees or maybe some grape vines.
Maybe I will learn to make wine.


More blogging, less preaching

I use social media for a living. And most days, also as a hobby. But there are more and more days on which I don't really want to touch social media after my day at work. Not because I am all socialed-out, but because a growing number of the folks I am connected with use social media to shove their political agenda down everyone else's throats.

Day after day, all I hear is: "See? Told you so! My way is the right way!"

I had screen shots of some of the examples of such posts that I saw today, but I decided not to use them to respect people's privacy, and not to single out some of my acquaintances and friends when most everyone I know engages in this behaviour.

What bothers me is that I don't see dialogue, I don't see even an attempt at reconciliation, or even empathy.

It does not matter whether I agree or disagree with the statement. I am tired of the social media campaigning and the dramatic language that's evoking the extreme emotions of fear, hate, and disgust.

I have quit Facebook in August. I only maintain an account there so I can manage my company's presence.

I only use Twitter professionally, and to share links to my blog posts.

As of right now, I am also on the verge of quitting Plus.

Yes, I know the world won't notice, and the social-sphere won't even bat an eyelash, much less miss me. This is not meant as a "cry for help."

But this is my blog, and a place I like to share my thoughts, and this is what I am doing.

When I first scaled up my personal use of social media in 2009, the blog saw fewer updates, as I created most of my new content elsewhere. I think it's time to go back to my roots, and reverse that trend.


Finding my way with Dyscalculia

More than two years ago I have first realized that I was born with dyscalculia, which manifests itself primarily through difficulty dealing with numbers. That part of it has not given me much trouble in my adult years, as I have developed many strategies to compensate for what my brain cannot reliably do, such as: arithmetic, recalling numbers of any length, converting non-metric units, etc. I have a smartphone and the internets to help me with that, wherever I am, and my quality of life does not suffer much from it.

Except when it's time to file taxes.

However, I have found a very friendly and understanding tax professional who does all the number-processing for me, and I am very grateful for his help.

A less-known, but much more vexing symptom of dyscalculia is lack of sense of direction. This is something for which I have yet to learn to fully compensate with other means.

I have chosen this still image from Inception movie because it closely reflects my experience of physical space: constantly morphing, unfamiliar, and confusing. It takes me weeks, and sometimes months, to learn a new route whenever I move or change jobs, and should I stop paying close attention to where I am going, I am still liable to get lost. As soon as I am off the memorized route, all bets are off. Should I find the familiar route again, but come at it from an unusual angle, I am just as likely to pick the wrong direction as the correct one.

Add to this "normal" people's ridicule, however mild, or complete lack of understanding ("Just learn to navigate!"), plus the ever-present possibility that a nav device failure may get me completely stranded with no direction home (happened), and you will begin to comprehend the level of anxiety that is coupled with what most of you take for granted: getting from A to B.

However, I lack no spatial awareness and can create working mental models of 3D objects in my mind. I do well on mental rotation tests and have a real knack for assembling Ikea furniture. As a child, I loved creating increasingly complex polyhedron nets. So 3D and spatial thinking are definitely not a problem here.

Given a map or a floor plan, I can quickly find my way, but don't ask me to retrace my steps to a restaurant or a landmark. Given that, I have come to the conclusion that the problem lies in some sort of a disconnect in my brain preventing translation of my physical experience into a working mental map.

So I went on a bit of a research spree, to see what strategies, exercises, and technologies exist to help people like me find their way. Aside from navigation devices and generic advice to "pay attention" the search was coming up empty at first, but after a few serendipitous clicks, I stumbled upon a mention of a haptic compass. That is a North-sensing device, such as a belt or an ankle bracelet, which has a number of little vibrating motors in it, and the one closest to North vibrates, so that you always know which way is North.

There is a theory that people from cultures that don't use egocentric coordinates are much better at navigating the world and are never lost. Whether or not it is true, it definitely would not hurt to know your geographic orientation at all times.

Initially it seemed like each of the haptic compasses, be it a belt or a hat, were DIY projects that would require me to deal with math (impossible!) to build. But with a little more research I found a device called the NorthPaw which you can buy as a kit or preassembled, and promptly bought it.

By adding a new input I may be able to bridge the disconnect in my brain and allow it to create a useful model of the space around me. Because I have a good ability to memorize and recall maps, I have high hopes for this gadget to help me figure out my position and which way my destination is.

I will post about my experience when the device arrives.

It would be nice not to be lost all the damn time for once.


Driving mad

Will it kill us all?
Whenever self-driving cars come up in a conversation, there seem to be two camps: one side very enthusiastic about the new technology, and the other quite pessimistic about its ability not to crash.

As I am a performance driving instructor and an opinionated person myself, I could not pass up an opportunity to make my views on self-driving cars known to the reading public.

While most people believe that they are good or even above-average drivers, the reality is that most people don't have the reaction and instinct required to respond to an emergency with correct inputs and in time. My personal driving holy text "Inner Speed Secrets" summarizes it like this:

Of the tens of thousands of drivers we have instructed in skid control techniques, everyone would fit into one of three groups. When trying to control a skidding vehicle, they either:
  • Naturally steered in the correct direction and avoided a crash;
  • Steered in the wrong direction (most likely confused by the steer into the skid advice) and crashed; or
  • Panicked, did absolutely nothing (well, maybe screamed!), and crashed.
That means that about two-thirds of all drivers respond inappropriately in a skid situation. Believe us, it's true.

While I haven't yet instructed even a thousand drivers, I have observed the same tendencies among my students. A sizable majority of drivers will respond poorly in a bind, and they have already self-selected for having an interest in driving well!

What about those who don't even want to improve? They will still get in their cars and go to work in the morning, cup of coffee in one hand, and a bagel in another, talking on the phone, hands-free if we're lucky.

Were we to replace these drivers with computers at the wheel, I guarantee that we would see fewer accidents than we do today. Further, even the drivers who pay attention but aren't trained to respond to emergency situations correctly, will benefit from having a computerized chauffeur, as the car will deliver the programmed response consistently each time, and do it quicker than a human driver could.

The only problematic area would be situations that people writing the programs for the car will not foresee, in which case the car will turn into the equivalent of a driver from the Speed Secrets book, who does absolutely nothing and crashes. However, artificial intelligence and learning systems may help resolve that.

All in all, I anticipate the impact of self-driving cars going mainstream to be overwhelmingly positive.


Comrade Manager

Apparently, I am writing a book now. About community management.

I started writing it as a blog, and every entry will eventually become a chapter. All of it focuses on different aspects of running a community of use for an organization, from starting the forums and recruiting moderators to more fundamental areas such as why community management isn't.

Here's what's already published:

  • If you love them, set them free
  • The Importance of Reputation in Online Communities
  • Moderation, in spades
  • Starting from scratch
  • Why community management isn’t
  • Orgcharts are stupid
  • New: Well-forgotten (and renamed) old
  • Community is not about you

  • I have about another fifteen or so chapters outlined, and when they've all been written, I will take the whole thing, and edit it together into a nice little e-book.

    If you care to take a gander at it, it's at comrademanager.com. It's been slow going, with just two posts each month, but I figure, it will be done when it's done.


    The house

    Let's start with an excuse, because I got a great one: I abandoned you all, O my faithful readers, because I bought a house together with my boyfriend J.

    It was a short sale, meaning that nothing was short about it. We found it back in February, made an offer in March, and it took until August to actually purchase it.

    To continue with the theme of shortness or lack thereof, we still have not moved into it, because the house is being thoroughly remodeled as we speak.

    When we got it, there were a few certainties. One, it was most definitely a house. And two, it needed love. Lots of love. At this point in time, I think the only room untouched by the remodel is the little downstairs bathroom. And even it needs a new toilet.


    When I am able to take a step back from this mega-project, this is shaping up to be awesome. The hose is located in Los Gatos mountains. Mere 20 minutes from Santa Cruz, and about 35 minutes from Mountain View, but when you're there, it feels like you are days away from civilization.

    All you can see from there is mountains and trees.

    At night, it gets truly dark. The kind of dark that a city kid (me) has not encountered before. When the moon shines, things cast shadows in the moonlight. Like you'd know from a game or a movie. Only in real life.

    And the moon is HUGE.

    There is also wildlife in great numbers. We had a brief encounter with a wrenn who flew into the house and knocked himself out on a window glass. I picked him up carefully with a towel and brought him out onto the deck, where he sat, still groggy from the impact, until recovered enough to fly away.

    We saw deer, quails (?), coyotes, and all sorts of other birds we could not identify. There are also supposed to be mountain lions in the area, but so far there were no sightings of them. Maybe it's for the best.


    My life in pens

    I have always had a special relationship with lines, my art being one way of expressing it, as well as my love of sleek designs, and passion for fine writing instruments.

    Ever since my grandfather gave me one of his old fountain pens when I was still a kid, I have been writing with nibs and ink almost exclusively. I made my share of ink-spilling messes, smears, and tore and scratched a bunch of paper before mastering the skill of writing with a fountain pen. By the time I was in high school, I switched away from ballpoints for good.

    A red Sheaffer Viewpoint with a broad nib served me until graduation, and I kept using it on almost daily basis until 2009, when I lost it somewhere, never to be seen again. Even though Sheaffer has a proprietary cartridge and converter system, I used it with the good old "international" cartridges that are so popular in Germany. Because it was not a fancy pen, I don't have a picture of it anywhere, and had to avail myself of the photos in the internets.

    That pen was very generous with the ink, and could easily go through a whole cartridge in one day. I used to enjoy the beautiful dark lines it made, along with the smooth feel of the tip gliding over the paper with ease.

    For my high school graduation, my parents bought me my first fancy pen, a Parker 75 Cisele in sterling silver, with a medium-fine nib. That was a troubled piece of kit from get-go, leaked all over the place, and also really not my style with its light and almost diminutive design and nearly baroque appearance. It was too fragile (and expensive) to take to college every day, plus it kept staining my fingers, so it was archived for better days. Eventually, years after I was done with college, it got repaired and has been trouble-free since, but it remains its dainty self, and sees very little use, despite being a fine pen indeed. I have it to this day, and use it occasionally, mostly out of sense of duty.

    Over the years, my mom acquired a matching mechanical pencil for me, and a ballpoint pen for herself, which she has promised to bequeath to me. Maybe I should give her the pencil and the pen, and have them reunite without a solemn occasion. They will look nice together, and besides, she likes dainty things.

    When I was done with my "Vorstudium," which I would say is an approximate equivalent of a Bachelor's degree, and marks the first half of the studies required to get your Master's, I bought myself a Rotring 600 in silver finish, with a broad nib. Machined out of solid brass, the body of that pen exuded an air of industrial quality and heft that I have yet to find in another pen. It served me well through the end of my degree, but due to my silly experimentation with inks that were not designed for fountain pens, the inner seals degraded, and the pen started to leak over time. I abandoned it, and went back to using the Viewpoint as my workhorse.

    An attempt to repair the 600 was made a few years back, but the service shop did not have the parts and returned it, along with a consolation prize in form of a refurbished Rotring Newton in black with medium nib. Lighter, more diminutive, and lacking all the knurled detail, that pen never was able to fill in the void left by the 600. To add insult to injury, it had constant ink flow problems, which resulted in very light-colored line, and frequent need to shake the pen to get the ink to the tip. Needless to say, we did not become friends quickly, but given the Newton's similarity to its heavyweight predecessor, I got used to it over time. It was fine for writing about half a page's worth, so it saw some use until I got frustrated and archived it together with the 600. In their separate Rotring gift coffins--err, I mean boxes--they lay for a couple years.

    Meanwhile, after losing my beloved Sheaffer Viewpoint, I decided to replace it with something that had a similarly free ink flow. The Sheaffer Prelude in nickel trim with a broad nib was the answer, and has been serving me faithfully for the past three years. It is a neat pen, nearly indestructible with its stainless steel body and nib, and certainly has some character and heft, but lately I have been longing for my 600, with its Bauhaus lines and industrial feel.

    While it does everything you'd expect from a good fountain pen, the Prelude offers little in the refinement and uniqueness department. In an act of desperation, I sent my two dead Rotrings to the official Parker-Waterman-Rotring service center, and after examining them they said that nothing can be done for these poor relics that have been out of production for a number of years by now.

    The letter from the service center included an offer to sell any of the pens from the current lineup at a steep discount. Which got me thinking. Do I want to go and buy a used (or maybe even mint) 600, or spend about the same amount of money and get... (drumroll) THIS?

    Meet Parker Premier Black.

    Let me geek out for a second. The body is finished in vertically brushed metal, coated in nickel-palladium alloy, and overlaid with black ceramic for more scratch and dent resistance. The nib is made of springy gold and coated in ruthenium for the black color.

    As if all the unusual materials weren't enough, ruthenium derives its name from Rus' -- the ancient name for the region and peoples inhabiting current Ukraine and western Russia. Symbolism galore!

    The only downsides to this pen are its price, which may not be that much more than buying a mint 600, and the fact that they do not offer the Black series with broad nibs.

    Anyways, here I am thinking whether I should make a step back or forward.


    Happy Friday to me, OR: Thanks for reminding me why I love my job

    For the past three weeks, ever since the applications closed on March 15th, I have been reviewing the vExpert entries for this year. We got close to 600 of those this year, and I took it upon myself to personally review every single one, in addition to getting each one also looked at by at least one other person. Usually more like three more people. But I digress.

    The key to this is that this week I have been spending five hours or more each day reviewing the entries: visiting people's blogs, checking their references, and thanking ze Google for Chrome integrating with Translate, so that I can actually evaluate content in any language our awesome community members use.

    At 5pm on Friday, I am getting slightly blasé from staring at the intartubes for so long, when this gem crosses my screen and wakes me up:

    • Name: FCoTR User Group
    • Twitter handle: @FCoTRUserGroup
    • Have you been a vExpert before? Not yet
    • Please list your blogging activities: All of my blogs are readily available on Prodigy and CompuServe. They were on Geocities, too, but I can't remember where.
    • Please list your other writing contributions: I wrote a Wikipedia article. It must have been very popular, because people were very quick to "flag" it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/FCoTR
    • Did you make any multimedia contributions? I've got T-shirts: http://www.cafepress.com/weathershenker, License plates from the same state that brought you J.R. Ewing: http://fcotr.org/2011/10/07/fcotr-vehicular-awesomeness/; and, of course, my button [not TSA approved for domestic travel]: http://theshiningrayofdarkness.com/2011/08/13/fcotr-takes-on-tsa/
    • Please list any events and speaking gigs: Thanks to the likes of Steve Foskett and Bob Plankers, I was all over this year -- VMworld (US, Europe, and Antarctica), Interop, the East St. Louis Left Handed Barber Extravaganza '2011, and at least one other place. I once nearly saw Wil Wheaton, too. So I should get bonus points for that.
    • Have you made any contributions to online communities? To be honest, I've never visited the "web". I only use fibre channel over token ring equipment. Networking vendors have thus far refused to build the necessary bridging gear to allow me online. I did watch the movie "The Net" with Sandra Bullock. That's not very good promotional material for the Internet, let me tell you.
    • Did you publish any tools and resources? http://fcotr.org/

    Well, thanks for the treat guys!

    I am even creating a new tag for this post: "awesomeness."


    The Fast and the Misogynist

    It opens with a crash and an explosion, a race, and a kidnapping. It has a female race driver. It is called "The Fast and the Furious." And it has no drifting in it. Because you know, drifting did not exist as a sport in 1955.

    The other night, I watched the original "The Fast and the Furious" which shares little with the newer films in the sense of the plot, but the passion for driving and cars.

    While I was watching the movie, I was torn between admiring the female protagonist "Connie Adair" and being annoyed by the overt sexism of the 1950s culture.

    Formally, the film passes the Bechdel test to the T. It has more than one named female character, and when Connie speaks with them, they talk about cars, racing, the goings on in the racing community, and the news of the escaped murder suspect "Frank Webster." Frank also happens to be the man who kidnaps Connie and plans to use her race car to cross the border to Mexico as part of the international race which has a course running through the two neighboring countries.

    The movie wins great props from me for:

    • Realistic depiction of the racing community
      The car enthusiasts, racers, crews, and officials could all have walked right off the silver screen and into an SCCA or NASA race day paddock, and found themselves right at home there. The conversations they have, and the general sense of community in the paddock and on-track were making me chuckle with recognition.
    • Good racing scenes
      I would say, if it actually had a plot revolving solely around racing, this movie would be now in the annals of the car fandom for its awesome race scenes and great stunts. It captures the moment quite well, and they have a large number of race cars shown on competing on course. Damn, even the people talking about cars sound like they know what they are talking about!
    • Strong female protagonist
      Connie Adair is a lady after my own heart, a true racer, and an awesomely strong woman. At the beginning of the movie she is shown competing in a race, alone in the cockpit, no male crew or navigator chaperoning her. She travels on her own to the site of the big international race, and is entered to compete in it--until the officials deem the course "too dangerous for ladies" and ban her along with all other women from participation. She is visibly upset, and not at all demure when she gets the news, so unlike the mid-century ideal lady! When her kidnapper enters to run her car, and goes on a reconnaissance lap, she can't help herself and starts instructing Frank in cornering technique when he struggles with the car. THAT's true racing passion!
      Throughout the movie, she remains independent, strong, and not in need of any man's help to get where she wants to be. She challenges Frank and makes several attempts to escape or have him captured.

    Now to the parts that are less awesome:

    • Throughout the movie women are dismissed and belittled by men
      That is very much in line with the misogynist culture of 1950s, and I cannot hold it too much against the makers of this film. I mean, they DID make Connie a strong character, and all other females but one are nothing like your stereotypical "It's a Great Life" housewives in aprons. I am not even sure there is a single child in the film.
    • Abuse and violence against women is trivialized
      As Frank kidnaps Connie, he uses differing levels of physical violence to force her to comply, including a forced kiss to assert his power over her. He throws her on the ground, he grabs and shakes her, he verbally abuses her on a running basis. He yanks her by the arm and continuously interrupts her when talking to her racing friends, yet nobody seems to feel it necessary to say a word in her defense. While they roll their eyes at how rude he is, they don't seem to think that anything worthy of intervention is going on here.
    • Connie falls in love with her kidnapper
      When I put myself in Connie's shoes, kidnapped, physically and emotionally abused, forced on a long trip without as much as food and water, I imagine my reaction would be that of terror, hate, maybe ultimately resignation. However, over the course of the movie she is showing more and more compassion and confesses that she loves him towards the end! The script written by men who believe that women just play hard to get when they say No, spoiled the rest of the movie for me.

    Watch full movie (may not work outside the United States).


    Hacking the brain for happiness

    This was on my to-do list for a while and finally today, I started with the exercise of writing down three things that I am grateful for every day. I intend to fill one small notebook with the lists of good things in my life, one day per page.

    No, I do not plan on spamming my readership with the daily lists, but I wanted to share with you the reason for my starting the exercise.

    Happiness, as you may already know, requires work, and not the kind that conventional wisdom may lead you to believe. You don't buy that car/house/purse you've always coveted and become happy for the eternity. You experience a peak of happiness and then it wears off. Evolution made our brains in such a way that we never settle for what we have, and every goal we reach only raises the bar for the next happy high that little bit higher.

    Now, compared to our ancestors roaming the prehistoric savannah scavenging for food, our lives are astronomically better. Uh-uh, you don't get to complain. You are reading this on a computer or a web-enabled mobile device. Your life rocks. At least in aggregate.

    So how do you make the brain pay more attention to the good stuff, and snap out of the bad habit of constantly looking for the next big thing, ignoring the "bird in hand?"

    There was a flutter of articles about it all over the web, but here's one that I read most recently, talking about increasing your happiness and thus your performance in all areas of life.

    I read it and thought, I should try this. So here are my three things for today:

    • Grippy new tires to keep me safe in the rain
    • Cafeteria had a dish that I liked that was also Paleo-compliant (for my permissive version of Paleo)
    • Pandora playing one of my recently favourite songs, Heart of the Country by Paul McCartney

    Our brains are programmable, and I am going to hack the shit out of mine.


    A lot of firsts

    This past Saturday was a remarkable day at the track for me, and I find it symbolic that of all the local tracks, Thunderhill Raceway was again the stage for a big step forward for me.

    Thunderhill is like my racing home. It was the track where I took my very first driving school, with a car that I had just bought and did not even have a chance to drive yet. It was the site of my first race after getting my rookie license, and two days ago, it witnessed my first race where I did not qualify last, passed another driver, and kept him behind me until the end of the race.

    The day started with the realization that my car was different than before. The new cage made the car push in fast corners, and the seat position was not ideal. I did my best to get comfortable inside the car and get used to its new handling, but the whole day I just felt like I was not doing as well as I could.

    Given my struggles, I was surprised to find that I did not qualify last when I pulled up to the grid. Once we were on track, rolling towards the start-finish line waiting for the green flag to fall, I completely forgot about my discomfort. It was as if I was truly fused with the car as I was vying for a good position in the controlled chaos that is race start.

    I was so glad to see that I haven't lost my position once we made our way through the first corner. Now was the time to go to work, and drive my best, with the car that I had. I did not spend much time looking in my mirrors, and focused on driving as fast as my understeering car would allow.

    The driver in front of me was losing ground, and I realized that I could get him. Our cars were about evenly matched on power, and I was still struggling with the new handling, but I stayed on his bumper turn after turn, while he was defending his position. Finally, he overshot Turn 10 and I almost squeezed by him to Turn 11, but he got there just early enough to not let me by. In his attempt to pull away, he underbraked, and his car got a bit sideways. By the time he had it steadied, I was side-by-side with him, coming out of Turn 13. I did my best to ace Turn 14/15 and pulled away on the main straight.

    For the remainder of the race, he stayed close, and time after time I had to defend my position. We both got passed by a more experienced driver who started from the back because he did not qualify, so I ended up finishing in the same position I started.

    But not last.

    To make my happiness even more complete, looking at the data together with J. that night we discovered that I have improved a number of my sector times that day, and even drove my personal best lap time, running over the cyclone.



    Practicing what I preach

    You see me talk a lot about safety. But if you saw my car a few weeks ago you'd be right to ask why haven't I done more to keep myself safe?

    No, I was not racing in a garden chair taped to the floor boards, but to be honest, there was a lot left to be desired in the safety area.

    Not any longer.

    As of today, my car is proudly sporting a Sparco Circuit composite seat and a strong TC Design roll cage.

     NOTE: Pictured is another TC Design customer's car, because I did not have the presence of mind to take a picture when I was there for seat fitting at 7:30 am this morning
    The seat has nice and deep hip, rib, and shoulder protection, and comfy halos that I can lean the head on in high-G turns, and which will also protect my head in an impact.

    My harness had just aged out, so I got myself a nice HANS-compatible Schroth Profi II, which will be basically just like the one that I had before, only with narrower shoulder belts to accommodate the HANS.

    While we were in there, I asked Tony at TC Design to also update my rear view mirror from Wink to a panoramic Longacre one, and remove the passenger seat and harness.

    That's right, no more passengers in Wasabi. While I am a bit sad about not being able to give rides to friends anymore, this step also is an important symbolic milestone on my way to becoming primarily a racer, and not a TT or HPDE driver.

    As I have been progressing on my journey back to racing, I knew that I would need a better seat and cage before I compete in a wheel-to-wheel event again. Now that I have reached my lap time goals to make racing fun again, it is not unlike a snake's shedding of an old, smaller, and tighter skin. I have to shed the old constraints so I can grow further.

    I will be putting my new skill level to the test this Saturday at Thunderhill. Wish me luck.


    This is why you can't have a puppy

    You know the story all too well. A marketing manager for one of the many products in the company will request a blog for their team. The blog gets dutifully delivered and the group posts their inaugural post. Then maybe a few more, with diminishing frequency. Then--silence.

    The blog becomes a checkmark on somebody's quarterly report: "Blog created."

    Why are you so upset about it?, you may ask, O my faithful reader, and you'd be right to ask. It's not like a dormant blog is actually suffering, or causing harm to anyone. Or is it?

    A blog, just like your Twitter account, or your Facebook or Google+ page is not a one-time thing, it's a commitment. Much like you commit to walk a dog and clean up after it, you commit to run your social media channel. It's not something you GET, it's something you GET INTO, and have to take care of continuously.

    A dormant blog, should your audience stumble upon it by accident, well after you have all but forgotten it existed, will harm you by making you look like you are not doing your job. Which quite honestly, you aren't. If the last post on your blog was made half a year ago, and your Twitter account has three tweets in it, all from more than last month, your social media presence looks kind of like this:

    And this sort of thing does not impress your audience. And if you forget, the "audience" are those potential customers who you as a marketing professional are supposed to impress.

    So next time you want to go all "social-media" on your audience, think. Do you have the resources and the commitment to take care of these new outlets in addition to all the other stuff that you do?

    If the answer is no, figure out whether these new channels will be more effective than something you are currently doing, which you can now drop in favour of your social media involvement.

    Go stalk someone who's successfully using social channels. Maybe they work in a different department, or even at a different company. Spend a few hours to click around and see just how much social media output they are producing. Can you match that effort? Can you do at least half that?

    If the answer is no, go see if you can hire an intern. No, in all likelihood they won't create anything as effective and powerful as a full-time professional who is well-fed and has some level of relevant industry experience. But this is the absolute least you should do if you are dying to get into social media.

    If you can't even afford a starving student to tweet for you part-time, and you don't want to do it yourself, drop it.

    Put that idea on the ground slowly, and back away. No sudden moves.

    Now, just. Walk. Away.


    Лучше меньше, да лучше

    It's a good time to be me and have my job.

    Earlier today, I had a good conversation with my boss, and he liked my ideas, and said he would fund them within reason. I can't share them publicly just yet, because a lot of it is still in the exploration stage and may shape up to be very different from what I think now. But if it all goes well, I may well do something truly cool in the area of corporate communities of use.

    In (un)related news I had an interesting moment today where I told a coworker that I may walk away from supporting their event, because I felt that the result was going to be decidedly "not awesome."

    While I can upload the videos, we may want to seriously revise the social media plan for this event. Contrary to my suggestions, nothing has happened on the blog and Facebook front. Having me there without the org and marketing buy-in really may not bring the results we hope for. If we don't build up going into [eventX], the effect of all the social media activity in the world will be diminished if all we do is shout our messages out from there, and promptly fall asleep again. Social media engagement is a commitment, and if the org is not ready, I agree, my participation may not be necessary.

    This actually felt very good. I think I will do more of that. Walk away from not awesome, focus on fewer awesome things.

    Sadly, I am afraid my message did not make my coworker feel as empowered as it did me, because it's been several hours, and there still was no response, where it usually takes 30 seconds.


    So you think you're safer with that 4-point?

    It's not the speed that kills you, it's the sudden deceleration that does.

    That's why those of us who like to drive our cars fast spend a lot of money on safety equipment. However, all too often I see how well-intentioned modifications to the car's safety systems end up making the vehicle less safe for the driver and the passengers.

    Before I get into all the ways to go wrong, let me start with an example of a correct race car safety system.

    These days, a closed-wheel race car will most likely have a roll cage, a containment seat, and driver restraints such as the 5- or 6-point harness, a helmet, and a HANS device. There are more things to it, like window and center nets, and hand tethers, but I will only concentrate on the essentials here.

    The roll cage does what its name promises, namely prevents the roof and the sides of the car from collapsing if the car rolls over. It also adds stiffness in case of collision with other vehicles. The cage is rigidly bolted or ideally welded to the car's frame.

    A good racing seat will fit the driver snugly and support and protect her head, shoulders, ribcage, back, and legs. Ideally, the seat will be also firmly mounted to the car's frame.

    Once these two things are in place, you strap in the driver with a racing harness, which is hooked up to the car's frame at the bottom and the roll cage at the shoulders.

    Noticing a pattern there? Everything is somehow attached to the car's frame.

    This means, that when the car stops abruptly (by say, hitting a tire barrier or a wall), everything that is firmly attached to the frame will stop as well. That includes our driver.

    This is where the HANS device becomes important. HANS stands for Head And Neck Support, and what it does is keep the driver's head from continuing to move (and snapping off) when the rest of the body has come to an abrupt stop when the car hit that wall.

    I find it ironic that it does not take a breakneck speed to break your neck. In a head-on impact against a wall, as little as 30 mph may kill you just like that.

    To see what I mean, check out this video showing how much a HANS device restricts the forward motion of the head in a frontal impact at 50 kph (31 mph).

    Having seen this, imagine for a moment what adding a racing harness to a stock car would do. Unless you pick the DOT-approved 4-point, which has a seam in one shoulder belt that is designed to expand, allowing for your body to twist and move forward in an impact, you have just made your car not safer, but more dangerous than it was with the factory 3-point belts.

    Adding a harness to a street car is a popular modification in the import tuner scene, but this one is not as harmless as body kits, neon, and loud exhausts.

    The 3-point restraints that you know from your daily driver are asymmetrical, and allow your body to lean forward and to twist, preventing spine and neck injury that would happen if you were rigidly strapped to your car (such as with a 6-point). An improper 4-point belt will also squish your internal organs, to make matters more entertaining for you.

    Now while I am on a roll, let me say that same goes for putting roll bars in cars where your unprotected head may come in contact with the bar in a crash. This is why I always advise people against aftermarket bars unless they are either a) too short to ever reach it, even if the seat collapses in a rear-end collision, or b) will wear a helmet at all times while the car is in motion.


    Customer retention done right

    Usually, when you call to cancel a service, the person on the phone will transfer you to the customer retention department. There, they will try to bribe you into staying with discounts, free month of service, and the like. But if you do customer retention right, you start much, much earlier!

    Instead of waiting until your dissatisfied customer calls to tell you they are leaving, you can foster a relationship with them while they still like you. Case in point: a gift that I just received from my online store provider, Volusion.

    I don't particularly care for the little gift, and the cuteness of the title "My Big Ideas" is totally lost on me. However what worked was the note.

    It fell out of the envelope when I was taking out the little notebook, and I missed it at first. When I picked it up and saw the "personal note" printed on the envelope, I rolled my eyes internally.

    "Riiiight," my internal dialogue went. "A personal note. Of course."

    But my curiosity won over my cynicism and I opened the envelope to reveal a -- GASP! -- hand-written note. A bona-fide hand-written note.

    I have seen these before also, and know that they can be just as impersonal as a mass email, but this one revealed that the author actually took the 30 seconds to load my page and pick out one thing they liked about it.

    I doubt they spent hours rapt in awe, admiring my storefront. But they actually took the time to visit it, that is certain.

    And I can dig that.


    In my mirrors: 2011

    2012 is off to a good start as I am writing this on a comfy couch in a sun-drenched living room, while J is sleeping upstairs. It's a great time to look back and recap the year that just ended. Please indulge me while I do so.

    As it is quickly disappearing in my rear view mirrors, the 2011 is looking pretty good. It was a busy year to be sure, and one that demanded a lot of me.

    It was a year of personal growth, and a year of achievement for me. A year which ended up so much better than its beginning promised.

    I rang in 2011 on my own, in my apartment, with a glass of champagne and my blog. I was still in the darkest period of my depression caused by my breakup all the way back in 2009. In early 2011 I finally have gathered enough strength to fight back.

    I started with yoga, and did a 40-day intensive program with my teacher Maralle. The work we did together helped me shake off the remaining attachment to the broken relationship and start looking ahead instead of backward.

    In racing, it's called driving the mirrors, and as an instructor, I can always tell when my student does it: They lose focus and every upcoming turn surprises them, because they spend most of their attention on what's behind them. That's no way to drive, and surely no way to live either.

    Looking ahead, and accepting the change allowed me to enjoy my life and my friendships so much more, as well as open my heart to a new relationship. Quite unsurprisingly, I have known J ever since I moved out to California, but only after I stopped driving my mirrors was I able to see what a great friend he has been all this time. I am grateful to have him in my life, and all my friends who have helped me through the dark time. I cannot name you all here, but you know who you are.

    2011 was also a year I started instructing with NASA, Hooked on Driving, and BMW CCA, got my competition license, and ran my first nine races. The instructing gig proved to be great! It allowed me to go to so many more driving events, and to improve my driving so much faster. I took a hiatus from racing to work on my lap times, and the decision paid off. In the upcoming year, I intend to return to racing mid-season, after I have had a chance to solidify my progress.

    In other news, I have attended a stunt driving school, launched a Cafepress shop for my art, and started a racing numbers business. Interestingly, I have sold exactly zero art t-shirts, yet my numbers business may have actually made a profit!

    All in all, 2011 was a good year, and a great foundation for an awesome 2012. Here's to looking ahead.