Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hab-py Anniversary Canadiens!

I am a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Cut me (preferably somewhere on the face, with a sharp hockey stick blade) and I'll bleed blue and white.

It's true that I am also a San Jose Sharks season ticket holder, but that's only because I lived in the Bay Area when they got their franchise, and couldn't resist sending in money when tickets were available. Because the season tickets are not transferable, my name remains on the block of 4 excellent seats (21st row, just inside the blue line) that are shared by a group that presumably still includes some of my buddies. But when I returned to Toronto 15 years ago, my allegiance immediately swung back to the buds.

That said, I was moved to tears by Friday night's 100th anniversary ceremony for the Canadiens in Montreal. That team really knows how to act with class.

The ceremony started with their trainer of many years dumping a couple of buckets of pucks onto the ice. Then players wearing white Hab sweaters started to skate onto the ice for a warm-up. At first I thought it was a little strange that the team would come out to warm up with the game still an hour and a half away after the ceremony. Then I looked closer and saw that this wasn't the current Habs team, it was a collection of their former players, many of them from when I was a kid (and that's a long time ago!). I recognized Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden (now my MP). Frank Mahovlich, and many others. There was no commentary, no hype, just a bunch of former stars skating around, shooting the puck, and having a great time. It was so simple, and so profound at the same time. The crowd loved it, and so did I.

The rest of the ceremony was more conventional. The skaters and many more were brought back out one by one with an introduction. The last 3 players got more elaborate introductions. Serge Savard introduced Patrick Roy, reveling in his return to Montreal in style. Viggo Mortensen showed mastery of both official languages in introducing Guy Lafleur. [I have a personal memory of Lafleur's greatness. When I was living in Ottawa many years ago, I went to Montreal for a game. Lafleur had taken a penalty, and just as he left the penalty box, he received a pass heading into the offensive zone. The crowd sensed something was going to happen, and you could feel the electricity in the air as he flew in towards the net and scored. It was one of the most exciting things I've ever seen. Lafleur owned that crowd.] Finally Gordie Howe (carrying a #9 sweater representing the great Rocket Richard) introduced Jean Beliveau.

The current Habs team came out to stand with the legends, and then the numbers of the two longest surviving Canadiens players, Elmer Lach, 91, #16 and Emile Bouchard, 90, #3, were retired and banners raised to the rafters. I especially liked the moment when Habs defenseman Ryan O'Byrne, skated over to Bouchard and took off his #3 sweater, revealing his new number 20 underneath.

All in all just a really classy event, similar to when they moved out of the Montreal Forum. That night Bouchard had handed a torch down a line of former Habs captains.

I will always be a Leafs fan, and a part of that means hating the Montreal Canadiens. Friday night reminded me that part of why I hate them is because they have for many years been a classier organization than the Leafs.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

20 Years Ago, The Earth Moved

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake in northern California. It's probably best remembered as the "World Series earthquake", since it struck just before game time of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's.

I was at that ball game at Candlestick Park. My buddy Ken Fishkin and I had gotten tickets somehow, and we were sitting high up in the outfield stands. When the quake started, we thought it was just the stands shaking from the crowd stamping their feet to cheer on the Giants. As the shaking got stronger, I started thinking about those soccer stadium collapses I had heard about in Europe. Somewhere along the way I gradually realized that this wasn't just a stadium being rocked by the crowd, it was an earthquake, and a big one. Looking up, I could see pieces of the concrete lip of the stadium jiggling around over my head. When the shaking stopped, the crowd cheered loudly. They had had a good ride, and it was clear that - in the stadium at least - no one had been hurt. Someone held up a sign that read "That was nothing; wait until the Giants come to bat!".

I had been through several small earthquakes before, having lived in California for a couple of years in grad school, and then again since starting my job at PDI in early 1989. They were generally in the 4-5 range on the Richter scale, strong enough to feel and make things shake a bit, but not really very frightening. The Loma Prieta quake was a big one, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, and it was scary.

My friend Ken had brought a portable TV along to the game, and we turned it on to find out what was going on. All the channels were off the air immediately after the quake, but the signals were restored soon after, and we began to see images of the fires in the Marina district, the broken upper deck of the Bay Bridge roadway, and the collapsed upper section of the Cypress Street Viaduct, where 42 people were crushed in their cars. I had driven under that section of freeway 2 days earlier during a visit to Berkeley. So we quickly realized that while all was well in the stadium, the earthquake had taken a toll elsewhere in the Bay Area.

While the stadium had moved a lot during the quake, it was behaving as it had been designed, articulating to release the stresses, and cracking at the the stairways, but staying pretty much intact. On our way out, I grabbed a small fragment of concrete that had broken off a stairway, to keep as a souvenir.

After we realized the game wasn't going to proceed, we started trying to find our way home. What was normally a half-hour drive down the peninsula to Palo Alto became a 4 hour journey, as traffic was disrupted by crowds of people trying to get home, and some overpasses were blocked off until they could be inspected. Phone lines were jammed as well. My family knew I had been at the World Series game, and quickly learned that everyone at the ballpark was OK, but I wasn't able to talk to them for hours afterward.

The house I was renting was undamaged; a bookcase in the garage tipped over, breaking some jars of jam, but that was the only impact. I was in escrow on a house in Redwood City, and had it reinspected before deciding whether to proceed with the sale. There were a few minor cracks, but it had held up just fine.

Ken and I returned to Candlestick Park 10 days later for the resumption of the World Series, and bought our "I Survived Game 3" T shirts.

For months after the quake I had occasional dreams about earthquakes, some of them a little scary. And some behaviours were changed; for a long time I was wary of being stopped under an overpass while driving, and would often wait until there was enough clearance to get through without being caught underneath.

So this all happened 20 years ago today, but the memories remain strong.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Everything is Just Gym Dandy!

Things are really starting to happen with the new climbing gym, and it feels good. On Monday I was interviewed by the Climbing Hold Review web site; you can read that here. And next week the designer from Eldorado Climbing Walls will be in town for a site visit, and to get the design for the walls close to done. We'll be having a little open house at the site next Thursday evening, September 10th, starting at 7pm. Here are the details. Really it's just a chance to see the big ugly empty space before we start construction, and check out the location. Please do let me know if you plan to come, so I know how many to expect.

Today I rode my new bicycle to work for the first time. It's about 6km each way, which is short enough that I think I will actually do it fairly often. Sheppard Avenue wasn't quite as frightening as I expected (though there are a few rough spots at the edge of the road), and I've found a route that avoids it for most of the way. And after I got home I went out and bought a mirror, light, repair kit and tire pump!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tories Lose Weighty Funding Opportunity

It's been 20 weeks, and I've lost 20 pounds without missing any of my weekly targets. No money for Mr Harper! I intend to keep going (another 5 or 10 pounds?), because there is still some belly fat that needs to go away. We'll see if the threat of paying the Tories was the only thing keeping me on track.

Monday, August 24, 2009

John Gross Inc. Quarterly Report, Q2 2009:

Changing Gears: The CG guy becomes, um, a CG guy!

"We don't stop playing because we grow old;
we grow old because we stop playing."
- George Bernard Shaw

I've been very quiet on this blog for the past couple of months. That's not an indication that things have been quiet in my life - in fact the opposite is true. I've been going through a huge life change, and just wanted to wait until I was sure everything was really on track before sharing the details widely. Now I'm ready.

For the past 25 years my career has been focused on the world of CG: Computer Graphics. I got a Masters degree based on that, and worked at 3 jobs (in 3 different cities) in the computer animation industry.

After I was freed from the last of those in January, I pursued two different options in parallel:
  1. Same-old, same-old: another job in the computer software industry
  2. Throw it all away and start over doing something different, that I love

I've chosen door #2!
I'm going to open a new indoor rock climbing gym in Toronto early next year.

I've been a climbing for the past 5 1/2 years. I got hooked immediately after I first tried it, and have gathered a bunch of climbing friends around me so I always have someone to climb with. I've built a couple of home walls, first on the outside of my previous house, and then a cool cave in the basement of my current home. These have never been used enough to really justify building them, because I'm a "social climber" (I don't really want to climb alone), but I'm still glad I built them.

3 1/2 years ago I looked into buying into an existing gym, but could not find the right price to satisfy both me and the owner of the gym. I let that drop, but owning a climbing gym remained in the back of my mind.

When I found myself forced to find a new future in January, I worked hard at networking within the computer software industry, but at the same time I also started getting to know people in the climbing industry. I spoke to owners of climbing gyms (who were generally very friendly and supportive) to learn how they got started, and whom else I ought to talk to in order to learn more about the business.

At the end of April I attended the Climbing Wall Association's annual Summit conference in Boulder, Colorado. This was a gathering of over 200 people from the indoor climbing industry, from around the world. The attendees were mostly owners or managers of climbing gyms, with some vendors and others as well. I learned a great deal that week, but mainly:
  • this industry is doing very well, even during the recession
  • there is a trend towards larger climbing gyms that serve a broad market (not just hard-core climbers), and those gyms are making money
  • there are a lot of people and companies who can help me build a gym, and to learn what I need to learn to succeed in this business
  • the climbing community as a whole is very friendly and welcoming, much like the computer graphics community I spent so much time among (no, really!)
I returned home from Boulder very excited about this opportunity, and moved quickly to get started on it. I took a look at the Downsview Park Sports Centre (which I had thought for a few years would be a good place for a new gym), and realized it's a great place, and had suitable space available at a reasonable price. And I bought the initial consulting package from a leading climbing wall building company, which helped me put together a business plan and financial model very quickly.

It's now more than 3 months since I returned from the conference. I've signed a lease on the space, and have obtained the loan I need from the bank. I've hired a lawyer, accountant, architect and a company to build my climbing walls. I've had a logo designed and set up the start of a web site (with its own blog!). The real work starts new, as we begin the design of what's going into the space.

So the CG (Computer Graphics) guy has become a CG (Climbing Gym) guy. I'm having a blast, learning a lot, and sleeping a lot less (partly because of the excitement, and partly because I now owe the bank a lot of money!).

You can follow the progress of True North Climbing at our web site, and the associated blog: Tales of the True North. If things go according to plan, the doors of the new climbing gym should be open early in 2010.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Stephen Harper Diet Update

I'm 80% of the way through my 20-week Stephen Harper Diet plan, and still on track. I've lost 16 pounds in 16 weeks. That sounds pretty good, unless you recall that after 8 weeks I had lost 11 pounds. That means I've barely been staying on target the past 8 weeks, and my rate of weight loss has dropped to half what it was in the early stretch. It's certainly a bit tougher to take off the pounds now, and there have been some significant distractions (like my trip to California and last weekend's annual Rib O Rama festivities). Anyway the important thing is that I haven't had to give Mr Harper any money, and oh yeah, I've lost 16 pounds!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fat Update

Quick update on my weight-loss campaign: I've lost 11 pounds after 8 weeks, a few pounds ahead of the pound-a-week pace I need to maintain to keep my money out of Stephen Harper's hands. I'm feeling good, and was able to move to the 4th notch on my belt yesterday! Alison brought a 5 pound bag of potatoes out of the kitchen, dropped it on my stomach and said "you've lost 2 of these!". I had been thinking of it more in terms of having lost about 1 cat...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Watching the Odometer Turn

One of the cool things I've been learning about as I've set up this blog is all the data you can collect using Google Analytics. And today was the day that couple of interesting milestones were reached, so I thought it's a good time to blog a bit about who is reading this stuff.

Today this blog surpassed 1,000 visits, as well as 500 unique visitors. That's counting from February 5th, when I hooked up Google Analytics to start measuring the traffic. There were probably only a handful of visitors before then to see the first 2 posts.

Google Analytics provides the following data about my visitors:
  • 1002 visits (that works out to 9.1 visits per day since I started, or 59 visits per posting)
  • 572 unique visitors
  • Average time spent on this site per visit: 1 minute, 33 seconds
  • 45% of the traffic is direct, 25% comes from Facebook (following links when I post there that I have blogged here), 11% via searches, and the rest comes via links that my friends have put up on their sites or twitter feeds (thank you Chris & Anita, Mike, and most recently Michiel!)
  • Readers come from 28 countries! Sounds pretty impressive, until you dig down and find that all the visits from 18 of those countries spent 0 seconds at the site, meaning those were accidental visits of some sort. The real traffic is from Canada (63%), the US (28%) the UK (4%) and whatever country Chris & Anita happen to have their boat docked at (2%)
  • 51% of visitors used Firefox as their web browser, 27% Internet Explorer, 13% Safari and 7% Chrome
  • 73% used Windows, 17% Macintosh, 7% Linux and 3% iPhone
I don't know if any of that data actually means anything, but I find it cool that it's so easy to track, and thought it was worth sharing.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I'm the Ambassador to Technistan (With a Theme Song!)

I'm looking for a job, as most of you know. There are a few jobs advertised (very few) that would be a good fit for me, and I'm applying to them as I find them. For the most part though, my job search requires me to work my network, uncover opportunities before they get advertised, and persuade someone to create or alter a position to match my talents. And part of doing that requires getting noticed, and standing out. This is not a time to be shy.

A few weeks ago, I read this post at my buddy Hardcory Mogkenstein’s Blog. He took offense (well, just a little) at the suggestion that "some guy in his basement" might not be able to produce high-quality music. I was intrigued by the thought of getting a jingle or theme song for myself, and decided to take advantage of their offer of a free demo. I filled out the web form, explaining that I'm looking for a position as a software manager, and a theme song could help me get noticed.

The next day I had a phone call from John Schulte and Chuck Lindo in Los Angeles, the musical talents behind Jingle This. They had just come off a tough job, and the idea of writing a jingle for me seemed like a lot of fun to them. We spoke for a while, and they asked me a bunch of questions to understand the key skills I want to get across to employers, and get to know me a little. I warned them that my "marketing budget" was really small (like $zero), but they said they would do it anyway. I didn't hear from them for a bit (a few paying gigs took priority over my pro bono job, which is fair enough), until today, when they sent me the finished product. I think it's pretty cool, and I'm excited to have my own theme song. Here are the lyrics:
John, John Gross
He's the most talented software manager
John, John Gross
does the most to bridge your teams together

He sees high-tech through a manager's eye
He's way more than a computer guy

He's John, John Gross
He can, he's the ambassador to Technistan
John Gross, he can
'cause he's your ambassador to Technistan
and you can hear it here (open it in a new tab or window if you want to see the lyrics while it plays). I think the boys at Jingle This did a great job, and I figure the least I can do is recommend their services to anyone who needs a jingle or theme song. Nice guys, and I'm thrilled with what they did for me. I always wanted to be an ambassador...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I'm a Loser (and Happy About It!)

It has now been two weeks since I made my commitment to lose some weight, and so far the progress has been pretty good. I've lost 5 pounds, well ahead of the pound-a-week pace I need to stickk to. I know it won't likely be this easy for the rest of the weight, but I'm quite pleased. I've been exercising a lot more than I had been, adding a few times a week on my elliptical machine, and a few long walks each week to my rock climbing sessions. And I've been cutting back on the desserts and junk food. Nothing too extreme, which means these are changes I'm likely to be able to sustain after I reach my goal of 20 pounds lost over 20 weeks.

Brain teaser: Boys vs Girls

Quick little question: from a fairly typical load of laundry at my house, which pile is my son's, and which is my daughter's?:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Another Reason to Love the Banks

I somehow neglected to pay my January MasterCard bill. I guess I missed it in the flurry of activity after the reduction in force at Autodesk that week. When my February bill arrived, I noticed the error, swore at myself for making such a stupid mistake (I always pay my bills on time!), and paid the full balance immediately. Of course that included a hefty interest charge (over $100; ouch).

I just looked at my April statement, which appeared online yesterday, and noticed a small interest charge. Looking back at the March statement, it also included interest. I called BMO Mastercard to ask why, and learned that when you miss a payment, they continue charging you interest for the next two months. This is mentioned in fine print on the back of the paper statement: avoid paying interest on new Purchases, you must pay your New Balance in full by the payment due date for two consecutive months.
This condition does not appear on the online version of the statement, nor could I find it elsewhere on the BMO Mosaic MasterCard web site.

I also noticed that the amounts of interest charged for March and April were wildly different (about $55 and $5 respectively). It turns out that is based on the number of days between the issuing of the statement and my full payment, even though my full payment was made before the due date each time.

The good news is that my phone call to inquire about this was answered quickly by a human, who promptly transferred me to her supervisor when I said I wanted to dispute what I considered outrageously unreasonable interest charges. The supervisor explained their policy clearly, understood my displeasure, and immediately agreed to refund the last two interest charges because I was not aware of the policy. Now I am, and so are you. If you have another credit card, you may want to check if they have a similar deal.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

And Now a Message From our Sponsor-ee

I'm doing today's quick little post to try to help Alison raise money for Serve!, the non-profit organization she joined recently:
Hi there! As you all know I've changed jobs and am now working for Serve! an organization dedicated to assisting high risk youth who are in transition. I am enjoying it immensely and am very impressed with the dedication and hard work that goes into making this program successful.

This year's Experience This! participants have all overcome incredible challenges with very little familial support. One youth was a child soldier from Africa. Another started the program living in bus shelter. They deal with issues of mental illness, addiction, and low self-esteem. Yet the transformation in these youth after just 6 months at Serve! is truly remarkable and speaks to the need for this type of programming. All of this year's Experience This! graduates are moving on to college, university and finding jobs.

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE I am going to participate in the Toronto Challenge walk-a-thon for Serve! on Sunday June 14th. I am emailing everyone I know to see if you'll be kind enough to sponsor me. Serve! is funded completely by special events, individual donors, foundation and corporate grants. By supporting Serve!, you're making an investment that helps young people discover the good that they can do. They overcome their obstacles and achieve their goals. It's a long-term investment that pays off as youth make positive choices and become better citizens.

And my sponsoring me, you help me save face as the Newbie on the block!

THANKS! If you'd like to know more about Serve! check out

To sponsor Alison, you can:
  1. Make a donation Serve!'s website at - just remember to note that it is sponsorship for Alison Caird's walk-a-thon.
  2. Write & mail a cheque payable to: Serve! Canada at 543 Queen Street East, Toronto M5A 1V1
  3. Give cash/cheque (made out to Serve! Canada) to Alison or me directly the next time we see you.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

NHL Rules Can Give a Team a Good Reason to Score on Themselves

The NHL’s rules for breaking ties in the standings contain a major flaw that provides clear incentive for a team to put the puck into their own net late in a close game at the end of the season.

This didn’t happen this season, but consider the following scenario that demonstrates how possible it is:

First we need to change history just slightly, involving these 2 games:
Oct 10th: St Louis Blues 5, Nashville Predators 2 becomes Blues 3, Predators 2, in OT
Nov 22: St Louis Blues 2, Minnesota Wild 1 becomes Wild 2, Blues 1

That gives the Predators 1 additional point, and gives 2 of the Blues’ points in the standings to the Wild. That slightly tightens up an already close race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western conference. We can easily imagine things unfolding such that on Friday April 10th, the Blues could have been in 8th place, a point ahead of the Wild, and 2 points up on the Predators.

That night, Nashville was in Minnesota for their final game of the season (the Wild still had a game to play after that). Late in the 3rd period, Nashville leads 2-1. Coach Barry Trotz calls a time out with less than a minute left. The commentators are wondering why, since the extra break allows Minnesota’s top line to get a bit of extra rest as they pull their goalie for the extra attacker. After the time out, the faceoff is in the Nashville end. The Predators’ captain, Jason Arnott, wins the faceoff, and pulls the puck back towards his own goal. Goaltender Pekka Rinne steps aside, deliberately letting the puck go in the net. What the hell is going on?

Coach Trotz has figured out that in order to make the playoffs, the Predators must beat the Wild in overtime, not regulation time. The reasoning for this surprising conclusion follows.

A regulation win would tie the Predators with the Blues for the last playoff spot. The first tie-breaker is wins, and both teams have 40. The second tie-breaker is points earned in head-to-head games, and the Blues would win that tie-breaker, 8 points to 7 based on the results of games between them:

Oct 10th Nashville 4 @ St Louis 5 (OT)*
*this is a result we changed from the actual result
Nov 25th St Louis 1 @ Nashville 0 (OT)
Dec 8th Nashville 3 @ St Louis 6
Feb 12th St Louis 3 @ Nashville 4
Feb 19th St Louis 2 @ Nashville 1 (OT)
Feb 21st Nashville 2 @ St Louis 0

Total points of 12 possible:
Nashville: 7 points
St Louis: 8 points

So a 2-way tie between the Blues and Predators would result in the Blues advancing to
the playoffs. But if that April 10th game goes to overtime before the Predators win, the
Wild pick up a point, and now it’s a 3-way tie for 8th place. The NHL rules (from say:

If two or more clubs are tied in points during the regular season, the standing of the
clubs is determined in the following order:
  1. The fewer number of games played (i.e., superior points percentage). {this is always equal at the end of the season}
  2. The greater number of games won.
  3. The greater number of points earned in games between the tied clubs. If two clubs are tied, and have not played an equal number of home games against each other, points earned in the first game played in the city that had the extra game shall not be included. If more than two clubs are tied, the higher percentage of available points earned in games among those clubs, and not including any "odd" games, shall be used to determine the standing.
  4. The greater differential between goals for and against for the entire regular season.

Here are the results of the other games among these 3 teams:

Dec 6th Minnesota 0 @ Nashville 1
Feb 6th Nashville 2 @ Minnesota 1
April 10th Nashville 3 @ Minnesota 2 (OT)

Total points of 4 possible
Nashville: 4 points
Minnesota: 1 point
(The February 6th result is ignored, as it is the “extra” home game for the Wild.)

Nov 22 St Louis 1 @ Minnesota 2*
*this is a result we changed from the actual result
Dec 3rd St Louis 0 @ Minnesota 4
Dec 20th Minnesota 2 @ St Louis 4
Mar 15th Minnesota 3 @ St Louis 5

Total points of 8 possible
St Louis: 4 points
Minnesota: 4 points

Here’s how the 3-way tie gets resolved (taking into account the 2 game results we had to
change from what actually happened to get this scenario to play out):

Nashville vs St Louis: 7 points out of a possible 12
Nashville vs Minnesota: 4 points out of a possible 4.
Total: 11 points out of a possible 16, for a winning percentage of .6875

St Louis vs Nashville: 8 points out of a possible 12
St Louis vs Minnesota: 4 points out of a possible 8
Total: 12 points out of a possible 20, for a winning percentage of .6000

Minnesota vs St Louis: 4 points out of a possible 8
Minnesota vs Nashville: 1 point out of a possible 4
Total: 5 points out of a possible 12, for a winning percentage of .4167

So the result in a 3-way tie is that Nashville emerges with the best winning percentage in evenly-balanced games among the 3 tied teams, and advances to the playoffs (assuming that both Minnesota and St Louis lose in regulation time in their final games of the season on April 12th). Nashville therefore has a clear incentive to tie the game and force overtime, in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.

We could propose a better method of breaking ties in the standings that might avoid this problem, but the real reason this flaw exists is that the NHL rules for allotting points in the standings do not make an NHL game a zero-sum game. That is, you can give your opponent a point in the standings by going to overtime, without necessarily giving anything up. The solution is simple: change the rules to give teams 3 points for a regulation win, 2 for an overtime/shootout win, 1 for an overtime/shootout loss, and 0 for a regulation loss. Now any point earned by your opponent is a point your team did not get, and there can be no incentive to give points away. To preserve the integrity of the game, the NHL should make this rule change for the 2009/2010 season.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Neat Way to StikK to Your Commitments?

I came across a book that looked interesting this morning: Nudge, a book by a couple of behavioural scientists about how we make choices, and how we can be nudged to make better choices by well-designed "choice architectures". An extract is available here. I've ordered the book and look forward to reading it. The extract, which presents a dozen examples of good nudges, introduced me to Stikk, a website that offers a way to follow through on commitments that we often have trouble, well, sticking to.

The basic idea is that you announce your commitment publicly (through their web site), set a time frame for doing it, and (optionally) make things more interesting by adding a financial incentive, such as a donation to charity or even a cause you strongly oppose, in the event that you do not meet your commitment. I used a similar approach years ago when I wanted to travel to Central & South America after I finished university, but was a little nervous about going. I told all my friends & family I was going, and then had to follow through because I didn't want to lose face.

I think this web site is pretty cool, and I've decided to try it out. I've needed to lose some weight for quite a while. I've had plenty of reasons to do so:
  • to improve my health
  • to look & feel better
  • to improve my climbing
  • (and most recently) to perhaps stop me from snoring (advice from the doctor I met with after the sleep study I had done in March)
and yet I still haven't really done anything about it. So this morning I signed up at, and entered a commitment to lose 20 pounds over 20 weeks. If you want to sign up and become one of my supporters, I'd welcome that. I've chosen to wager $10/week on my commitment. The money will go to the Conservative Party of Canada if I fail (I checked "Charity" on their web form, because they only listed American organizations in their list of "Anti-Charities"). I really do not want to give money to the Tories, so hopefully that will be added incentive.

I hope that when Nudge arrives and I read it, I'll understand better why the spectre of donating money to Stephen Harper's team may be more effective incentive to lose weight than the clear knowledge that doing so is important to my health.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

John Gross Inc, Quarterly Report, Q1, 2009

I have figured out some good stuff in the 8 weeks since I was freed from my last job, and I wanted to share it here for a few reasons:
  • Some of you may be interested in what I've been up to
  • There may be useful info or ideas here for others in my position
  • My full-time job now is to find my next gig, and I see this as a good way to help accomplish that.
In other words, this is one way to market John Gross Inc.

I got off to a good start after getting the news on January 15th, because I was ready for it. For a couple of years before that, I had been growing more and more unhappy at work. I started networking quietly with friends last spring, showing them the list I had drawn up of all the things I really liked and really hated about my job. Both sides of the list were long! Many of my friends said I should stay where I was, because there were so many good things I liked. I wasn't convinced, but I also wasn't ready to quit without having another job lined up. I updated my resume last fall, and the networking continued, and broadened. So by the time I found out that I was looking for a new place to work, (and that my old employer was happy to pay me to do that for several months), I was ready to get going on that.

That's not to say that I wasn't surprised & shocked by what happened. (and especially by the number of people who joined me out the door that week!). And I was sad to be leaving some really good people, and a product that I had poured 14 years of my life into. So there was still a short period of mourning and dealing with a bunch of very mixed-up feelings.

My first project was to expand my network, primarily using LinkedIn. I probably spent half my time the first 2 weeks sending out LinkedIn invitations, and scouring the contact list of each new connection for more people I knew that I ought to connect to. Along the way I collected a good set of recommendations from my former colleagues, many of them unsolicited. The growing network and the nice words were good medicine to help heal the wounds.

My former employer set me up with a good outplacement service (Knightsbridge), and I attended several of the seminars they offer to brush up on my job-hunting skills. I refreshed my knowledge of Behavioural Interviewing, and did my homework to identify my main competencies, with 10 or so "STAR stories" as examples of how I have demonstrated each of them in the past. Another seminar called "The Persuasion Factor" built on that, showing how to connect those demonstrable skills to what an employer needs, and how to translate some hard questions one might face in an interview into an opportunity to paint that "your need/my skill/here's an example" picture. Seminars on Networking and Research Strategies provided some useful information on how to reach more people, and learn about the companies I'm interested in and the people who work there (the goal being to figure out what their needs are in advance of getting an interview). Another series of 3 seminars explored entrepreneurship, which is a direction I'm considering. Over the past 8 weeks, one full week has gone to these seminars, and it's been time very well spent.

So here's what I've figured out so far:

1) My key competencies that I want to get across to potential employers or partners include:
  • Managing complex logistics to deliver products/projects on time
  • Bringing people/teams together across geographic & cultural distances
  • Engaging customers/partners to make sure they know what we're doing, and to be able to meet their needs and expectations
These are all transferable skills I could bring to different roles than the one I left. Somewhere in there is the "brand identity" for John Gross Inc, though I have not yet distilled it down to a catchy little slogan.

2) My next gig needs to offer most or all of these things:
  • It needs to be a "cool" company or product. "Cool" is a little hard to define, but it includes being innovative in some way. The customers served, and the problems being solved have to interest me and matter to me. There ought to be a certain level of schwag (like cool T shirts).
  • It needs to stand out from the crowd, and be different/unique in some way.
  • The company needs to be a "good" company, in terms of how it treats people and the planet. If the actual work contributes to solving the world's problems in some way, even better.
  • I need to work with smart people I can learn from, whom I enjoy spending time with.
  • I need to respect and believe in the leadership, and know that their values align well with mine.
  • I won't be moving, so the opportunity needs to either be in the Toronto area, or allow me to telecommute with a reasonable amount of travel to do the work.
3) I've identified a few potential opportunities that fit well with everything above, and I've moved to the next level of networking to pursue them. I'm doing that in two ways:
  • Start with people I know and ask them who they know who can help me get where I'm going.
  • Figure out whom I need to reach in a company I'm interested in, and use LinkedIn to work backwards to find people I know who can either introduce me to my target, or get me one step closer. This has been easier than I expected. LinkedIn is very powerful!

So after 8 weeks I have a clear sense of what I do well that should be attractive to an employer or potential business partner. I'm able to articulate those skills and give examples of how I've used them to achieve results in the past. I've got a solid network to help me sniff out opportunities, and help me reach the people I want to sell myself to. And I have a few ideas of opportunities I'm interested in.

That said, I still expect it to take a while longer to land somewhere. The opportunities I'm pursuing aren't advertised jobs; they're roles I need to convince people to create for me. So I'm looking for more opportunities that match my criteria, and that need someone with my skills. If you think of something that would be a good fit, please let me know! If you're not yet LinkedIn to me, now is a good time! And if you feel like adding a recommendation, they're still welcome! As you can see, I've overcome my shyness...

But this stuff goes both ways. So if you are looking for something new and think I can give you a hand, by reviewing your resume or LinkedIn profile, working up your list of competencies and examples, or putting you in touch with someone I know who could help you, just ask.

This quarterly report has not been audited. It contains forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Smoking Mad

I spent last weekend in Las Vegas with Alison. We had a great time, saw a couple of good shows (Cirque de Soleil’s Zoomanity and some decent stand-up comedy at the Riviera) and we ate too much. I lost less at blackjack than I had budgeted for. And Alison got to see the spectacle that is Las Vegas for the first time. All in all a great little trip. But it also brought me closer to what I have the least tolerance for: smokers.

In Las Vegas, smoking is allowed inside the casinos. It’s been a while (hmm, I guess 14 months, since my last trip to Vegas…) since I've been exposed to smoke indoors. So we were breathing foul air much of the time we were there.

Look, I understand how wonderful smoking is, how good it makes them feel, how it helps them keep off the weight, and look glamourous. Those aspects are all clear to me. I just don’t like having their excretion blown in my face. And that’s what it is: excretion. We have designated, private rooms for people to deposit their solid and liquid forms of excretion, so why isn’t the gaseous form treated the same way?

Why (and I’m back in Toronto now – the Las Vegas bit was just the hook to introduce the smoking thing) do I have to run the gauntlet of smoke when I enter a place of business, with smokers huddled near its front doors?

Why is it considered acceptable for smokers to toss their butts on the sidewalk? It’s spring now here, the snow has melted, and the piles of cigarette butts rival the revealed dog shit for how disgusting they are (excretion, I say!).

Why is it considered normal behavior for smokers to drive with their window half open, flicking their ashes out to be blown back into the car behind them?

OK, not all smokers are as rude as all this, but a lot of them are. It’s just not OK. And it makes me mad.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Was Really Wired Last Night!

I snore. I've been told that on occasion by people I have shared rooms with (my kids, colleagues on business trips), and more importantly, by Alison. So now I have an important reason to do something about it. I talked to my doctor, who said that she would refer me to a specialist to consider what we might do about it (she even mentioned a minor surgical procedure as a possibility). The next thing I know, I have a phone call from a sleep clinic telling me I have an appointment to spend the night with them to monitor my sleep. So last night I spent the night at a sleep clinic.

I arrived around 9pm with my favourite pillow, and my book and a magazine to read. They hooked me up to a box of electronics the size of a brick, with 17 wires connected. There were contacts on my head, face (including one on my chin to detect grinding/clenching of my teeth), neck and legs, straps around my chest and abdomen, and two sensors stuck up my nostrils to measure my breathing. It was not a pretty sight:

Once I was all wired up, and lying in bed, they had me do several actions to calibrate the sensors and make sure they were all working:
  • close my eyes for 30 seconds
  • open my eyes for 30 seconds
  • look left and right without moving my head
  • look up and down without moving my head
  • hold my breath for 10 seconds
  • take 3 deep breaths
  • push my stomach in and out
  • cough (I did not have to turn my head!)
  • flex each foot up and down
When I was ready to go to sleep, they came to turn the light off for me (I was tethered to the bed and couldn't get up without help!). I asked for ear plugs because I could hear someone in the next room snoring (imagine that), and they were prepared for that.

I actually slept fairly well, apart from waking up 10-12 times because of all the weird shit attached to me. They woke me at 6am, stripped off all the wires, and sent me home. I have a follow-up appointment with one of their doctors in a few weeks, at which I expect to be told "Gee, you really snore!".

So I can check that experience off my list now.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Nymonym Controversy

I guess I should know better than to claim to have come up with something original without first Googling it. Though I thought of my meaning for nymonym many years ago, there's another version out there competing with mine. Let's hope we can keep the lawyers out of this dispute.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Valentine's/President's/Family Day in Chicago!

Alison and I had a great weekend in Chicago. We had decided to go because it seemed like the best way to use the $100 United vouchers that we got when United lost our luggage for 3 or 4 days during our otherwise wonderful vacation to New Mexico last year. I had enough Aeroplan miles to get the hotel room for 2 nights, so it was a very inexpensive trip.

I had been to Chicago twice before. The first time was when I was returning home after graduate school in Berkeley. I had a drive-away car from San Francisco to Detroit (an arrangement where I move someone's car where they want it, and get where I'm going for the cost of the gas). I was driving along the I-80, listening to the radio, and landed on the first game of a Cubs doubleheader at Wrigley Field. I looked at the map and the clock and realized I could make it for the second game, so I pulled off the freeway, parked near Wrigley, saw the game, and then hit the road again afterwards. That was before they had lights at Wrigley field, and all the games had to be played in the daytime. That's all I saw of Chicago my first visit. My second visit was for the annual SIGGRAPH conference. I saw a few things near the conference center, and I think we went out for dinner one night on North Wells, but that's about it. So this third time was really the charm.

After landing at O'Hare (and being told that if we looked out the left-side windows we could see Air Force One), we bought 3-day transit passes, and took the train downtown. Do you still call it the "El" even when it's running underground like a subway? I loved how close the neighbouring buildings were to the passing trains, and how the old lines cut through the town, in some places blocking out the sun from the street below. Not beautiful, and noisy as hell, but it's cool.

We arrived at our hotel around lunchtime Saturday, and decided to start off with the classic Chicago food: deep-dish pizza. Our hotel steered us to a popular touristy place a short bus ride away: Gino's East. There was a huge lineup, but it was worth the wait (while we ate salad & breadsticks, which were probably a mistake) and the touristy atmopsphere. The pizza was great, and we ate the entire small thing, which stuffed us so much that we didn't really have dinner that night.

To atone for the gluttony of lunch, we walked around downtown Chicago for the rest of the afternoon. It's a beautiful city, combining nice buildings (old and new), great public spaces, and some cool art.

Saturday night we went to see a comedy show. We expected a lot, because it was a Second City show, called "HORSE!". Too bad it wasn't funny.

Sunday we had breakfast at a great place called Yolk right around the corner from our hotel. It was so good we went back Monday morning! We spent the next while at the Art Institute of Chicago. The highlight for me was the exhibit of Yousuf Karsh portraits; the Edvard Munch exhibit was also pretty good. The rest of the day was spent doing some shopping and checking out cool Chicago neighbourhoods.

After a siesta, we went for dinner at Adobo; we had a great meal, with delicious food & excellent service. Alison had a couple of excellent margaritas, the salsa verde was the best I've ever had, and my lomitos - pork tenderloin in a dark mole sauce - were wonderful. So I guess we disagree with most of the reviews in the link above!

We did a bit more shopping Monday morning on our way back to the airport. It was a short trip, but we had a blast, and left with a really great feeling about Chicago.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I came up with the concept of nymonyms many years ago. Homonyms are words that sound alike, and synonyms are words that have the same meaning. Nymonyms are words that sound as if they have something to do with each other, but don't. M&Ms and nymonyms are nymonyms. Non-ominous and anonymous are nymonyms. Use the word.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Bad Start to the Day**

I now know the answer to two fundamental questions about myself:
1) If I were near death in the intensive care unit, would I pray?
2) If I spilled my coffee beans on the floor, would I try to salvage the beans that had been on the floor for my morning cup of coffee?

The answer to both questions is "No"*. The first was answered in May of 1980, after my car accident. The second answer came this morning, after I fumbled the transfer of the coffee canister from the freezer to the counter. Here is the scene, with coffee beans and shards of broken canister lid decorating my kitchen floor.

And such a nice canister too, part of a deal from Gevalia Kaffe to try their coffee. I think I got it when I was in grad school in the early 80s. Their deal has gotten better with time; now you get a programmable coffee maker with your first order.

It was bound to happen some day. I am a very clumsy person at the best of times, and almost every time my sleepy paws grabbed the slippery canister from the freezer, my caffeine-starved brain would consider the odds of dropping it. I have already taken down the Elmer the Safety Elephant flag that had been flying over my house for so long.

*Well, while I did not use any of the beans that had been on the floor, I did salvage those that were still inside the unbroken part of the canister. Good coffee (not Gevalia).

**And only now, after posting this, do I notice that today is Friday the 13th. Ominous music.

Monday, February 9, 2009

New Routes in the Cave!

As I mentioned in the previous post, I had invited the climbing gang over on Saturday to set new routes in my basement cave. The response was almost overwhelming, as 7 of my friends showed up! It was a little hectic, as you can see by the time-lapse video below that my friend John Schrag put together, taking a shot every 30 seconds over a period of about 3 hours.

(time-lapse video by John Schrag)

We took turns staying out of each other's way, and everyone got to put up a route or two. We wound up with about a dozen routes in all, including (in no particular order):
  • Lean to the Left: all side pulls
  • Handmatchers Tale
  • Light up my Smile: uses all the lightbulb holds (So Ill's Electrophobia set) and ends on the happy face hold
  • Hands use only roof holds
  • Wooden holds + green-taped footholds
  • The Low Route: good handholds, all mounted on the bottom half of the wall (works the abs!)
  • The Undercling Route: all underclings, all the time!
  • Matt's Route: Up the left overhang starting with a sit start at the Cra (the first half of the crack hold pair), and up the arete with several crimpy holds, then a big stem across to the right overhang without using any feet on the end wall, and back down that arete to a controlled finish back on your butt. Elegant!
  • Peter's Route: Green pockets and sandstone slopers
We didn't really finish setting a proper route on the roof, so we'll need to come back to that. But we had a lot of fun, put up some nice routes, and it will take a while for them to get stale (at which point we just do it all over again!). The official event photographer (John Grieman) took a lot of shots, and when he gets those up on Flickr I'll add a link to those, and perhaps post a few of the best here as well.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tearing down the cave

I have a climbing cave in my basement (doesn't everyone?). It's half of the ping-pong room, and the room quickly converts between climbing and ping-pong by folding up the ping-pong table and unfolding the crash mats or vice-versa. It's actually the second climbing wall I've built; the first was on the outside wall of my previous house. I built the cave (with the help of a contractor who made sure it was solidly supported) after I moved, reusing some of the panels from the first wall, and adding two overhanging sections, and also covering the ceiling with panels filled with T-nuts to accept holds.

Here's a video of my friend Matt doing the first traverse of the roof:

It's been a while since I redid all the routes, so on Saturday a bunch of my climbing buddies are coming over to help do that. To prepare for that, I've taken down most of the bolt-on handholds, leaving only the footholds and screw-on features. Well, by "only", it turns out I really mean about 145 holds, or almost half of the total number I have. Here's what the cave looks like stripped down. We may still move a few of the larger screw-on features, such as the 3 long rails, or the crack in the center wall.

And here are the holds we'll be rearranging. I've got them sorted into the milk crates by type: rings & roof jugs, smaller jugs, other positive holds, slopers and "novelty" holds (like the skull, brain, animal shapes...). On the floor in front are the larger "features".

Monday, February 2, 2009

Too much time on my hands?

Since Autodesk reduced its staff by 10% (including my position) on January 15th, I've been pretty busy. I had a lot to do during the first week to disengage (salvaging personal email and photos, cleaning out my office, getting legal & tax advice...). I've been taking advantage of the outplacement services provided to me. And I've been working hard at expanding my professional network, mainly via Linked In.

After 2 1/2 weeks, things are starting to settle down a bit, and I find myself wanting to experiment with this blog thing everyone's talking about. I think it may be a neat way to keep in touch with friends, share some photos of recent trips, and do a little writing, which I enjoy, but have not done much of in a long while.

So here goes nothin'...