Monday, October 27, 2014

If you're serious about getting it right . . .

To consistently achieve excellent results, test your work or process in a way as completely different from the original thinking as possible – ideally with no two points in common other than the beginning and the outcome.

When we review our work with no change, we often repeat our mistakes – no matter how careful we are. Our minds are tricky that way.

Some examples of successful (and not-so-successful) processes:

Cross-check. Years ago, bookkeepers learned to check the accuracy of spreadsheets by cross-footing. (Yes, there were spreadsheets before VisiCalc. We used an archaic technology called pencil and paper.) First, we added all the numbers in each column, then each row. Having done this, we added the column totals and finally the row totals. Tedious, yes. But if both sums agreed, it was very likely that the individual row and column totals were also correct.

Personal computers add and subtract faster and more accurately then we ever could. But they offer new ways to screw up. A good test in the above example is to highlight the big rectangular area with all the entries. The total of these selected cells will be displayed somewhere at the bottom of the window. Does it agree with the total on the spreadsheet? Be sure to also check the sum of row and column totals the same way.

A favorite error of mine is to enter a number into a cell that has a formula. It starts out OK, but the number never updates.

Measure twice, cut once. If you're measuring a room, measure each door and wall segment, then measure the total and compare the results. If you measured from the south wall the first time, start at the north wall the second. Do you reach the same conclusion? If so, it's "OK to cut."

Another dumb Lyle mistake: Measure a complicated piece . . . measure it again . . . cut it carefully . . . discover I have a perfect mirror image of what I need.

Listen to your instincts. One often overlooked test is our "gut" reaction. The subconscious is a powerful computer. It uses everything we've ever learned. In fact, many (including me) believe that we are connected beyond our own personal experience – in ways that we can't even imagine. If a conclusion doesn't feel right, it's a good bet that it isn't.

DIRTFT.  Do It Right The First Time. You may have noticed that some people achieve accurate results quickly – even though they appear to be slow. But they only do it once. Not a race to the finish followed by troubleshooting and a do-over to get it right – maybe more than once.

Slowing down to get it done faster has a surprising outcome. Not only do we achieve the desired results faster at the get-go, but with a little practice we get faster. Just remember the priority: Right is most important, fast will follow.

Marie and I have very different approaches to math. She's highly creative in her approach. As a mathematician I'm baffled by her process but her results are uncannily accurate. If we agree, it's almost certain that the result is on target. If we disagree . . . well, let's not go there.

Make the most of the mountaintop.

More than a decade ago, I had the good fortune to hike up a mountain. A mountaintop experience, you could say! The uphill trek was arduous. I didn't even know whether or not I’d be able to make it. Going up took four times as long as the downhill return.

Some stretches on the way up actually went down. Though it was a relief from relentlessly placing one foot in front of the other (always uphill), we knew the price of every one of those easy downward steps.

Fall Color at Bennett Springs SP, near Lebanon, MO
Last night while pursuing fall color, I found myself motoring GrandpaLyle’s Ark up a hill at 15 mph. That was not the speed limit, mind you – that was as fast as she would go on one particularly challenging quarter mile climb to the campsite. 

Today I was planning on hiking down to the creek and dining hall for lunch, but after that ride I started taking a closer look at what was left in the refrigerator. Do I really want to hike down to the dining hall for lunch, AND back up?

This would be the reverse of the mountain hike . . . I’d be going downhill while I’m fresh then shuffling along the arduous ascent when I’m nearly finished. 

Brace yourself, GrandpaLyle! You can do it.

Today as I easily strolled down the gentle first leg, I savored the fall magnificence painted with a color palate that only the Master could provide. How blessed I am to be here and now. 

Trout fishing in Bennett Springs SP
As I carefully walked down the steep quarter mile at the bottom (most of the hurt to legs and feet happens during a steep descent), I thought of the uphill return trip that would greet me after lunch.

The only thing noteworthy about lunch is my order: a reuben sandwich – the fourth one in the past two weeks. What do they contain that suddenly makes them so appealing?

My fear of the return trek was as unfounded as most fears. Of course it was arduous. I expected that. But all it took was an extra ten minutes . . . and a lot of huffing and puffing.

The payoff: I get to spend the rest of the evening at the mountaintop!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Oak Ridge Boys

Traveling alone as I do sometimes has advantages. Like when you want a last minute ticket to a show there’s often one available in the center of the fourth row. Woohoo! 

In only a couple hours the Oak Ridge Boys made me feel like we were friends having a great evening together. These dudes – all contemporaries – had a couple thousand of us clapping and singing along to their big hits like we were at a rock concert decades ago. Pure energy. 

The second set had to be delayed because, rather than opening the act with a bang, they casually returned to the stage like they were walking into your living room. Each star took time to personally greet and shake hands with anyone who came down – no exceptions.

Finally, Joe Bonsall announced that it was time to sing Elvira, which brought everyone to their feet. Of course we all joined in, singing "giddy up ba-oom papa oom papa mow mow.”

Realizing that I was witnessing a performance by veterans of the stage, at intermission I looked up their bios. Yes, they’re all about my age (three of them are younger), but the real treat was discovering that I share a birthday with Richard Sterban of "oom papa" fame. 

Funny thing about birthday twins – I immediately felt a certain kinship with Richard. Hmmm, I wonder if they’ll still be performing in a year and a half when I turn 75? What fun that would be.

How does one explain a quartet of seniors, who never need to lift another finger, performing night after night for a crowd of people they may never see again? I can’t. But I’m certainly glad they do.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Situational Awareness

A dear friend and operator of a top quality flight school posed this question in a lesson. Although he was teaching aspiring pilots, the lesson applies to driving as well as a host of other life situations:
"You are driving down a 4 Lane Divided Hwy. There are high curbs on either side of the narrow northbound lanes. You are in the right lane, and there is a motorcycle to your left somewhere in your blind spot. A tandem gravel truck is tailgating you uncomfortably close. Everyone is speeding in the 45 mile per hour zone. Suddenly, a squirrel jumps from the tall curb and scampers into your lane. You must make a split second decision.  What would you do?”
As painful as it might seem, the obvious choice is thump, splat – poor squirrel.

But remember, you have only a fraction of a second to make that decision. There’s no time to look around for a better alternative. If you don’t already know the situation – maybe you’ve been distracted by a snack or the phone or GPS – you might react differently:

You might swerve left. Oops. Sorry, biker

Or you could slam on the brakes. The accident will no doubt make the evening news.

Only if you maintain Situational Awareness will you be able to react with the painful, but life-saving response.

Thanks to Skip Goss, president of Skill Aviation at Waukegan Regional Airport.

btw – If the squirrel had situational awareness, it wouldn’t have run onto the highway.

Is stubbornness a bad thing?

One of the features I dreamed of in GrandpaLyle’s Ark was truly modern technology. All of my iGadgets talking to each other and displaying on a flat-screen TV with surround sound and a power sub-woofer. Cool, eh?

All it would take was a trip to the toy store to pick out the components and have Scotty’s team install them in their special style. Still cool.

The first trip out, I fired up this fabulous new electronic suite and . . . nothing. All of the boxes lit up but no two worked together. My lack of homework reared its ugly head.

Google has the answer to all questions, right? Unfortunately, every answer I found started by telling me to connect the boxes to the internet. Good luck! The Ark can generate electricity, freeze water and make coffee, but plug into the internet in the boondocks? I didn't have a thousand-mile-long cable or rolling hotspot. I was in a hole and still digging.

But I have a stubborn streak and it wouldn’t let me give up. No problem is a match for a mule willing to spend hours searching the internet and testing the ideas found there. And I was right. As I write this I’m listening to music from my iTunes library in surround sound while pictures from my iPhoto album are flashing across the big screen. Woohoo!

Who says stubbornness is a bad thing?

Monday, October 20, 2014

The gauntlet is down.

Last November, shortly after the Intruder was downgraded to the In-Turd-er, a crazy idea came to me. Rather than simply tooling around the USA in a motorhome, why not fix this one up. Make it colorful. Make it uniquely mine. GrandpaLyle's Ark. Then, as I travel, share my experiences and insights.

Anyone who knows me also knows that I have plenty to say – some might say more than plenty. What most don’t know, and don't believe when I say it, is that I’m shy. Ironically, I’ll happily hide behind a microphone in front of a roomful of people. But if I have to walk into a room filled with those same people and introduce myself one by one, I turn to jelly. I quickly grab an adult beverage then race to the farthest corner hoping I’ll see a friendly face with whom I can hide for the duration.

And when it comes to putting my ideas down on paper (electrons in this computer age), I’d rather clean closets. Someone might actually read what I've written and comment. And OMG, he or she might disagree!

Marie Clapper, producer of Saturday Morning Meeting
Thirty-eight years ago I was blessed with a new colleague, then friend and ultimately soulmate – Marie. To her a roomful of strangers is a roomful of friends she’s about to meet. Not only that, she’s a gifted writer – one who has been regularly published for decades. 

The only reason Marie has been able to tolerate my do-nothing behavior is that she’s been immersed in her own new career. However, after waiting nearly a year for me to begin posting to the empty blog, she could stand it no longer. Marie threw down the gauntlet. She dared me to get going.

I’ve picked up the gauntlet. This is my third day. Writing is still very difficult but getting easier, and I no longer shake when I click publish

Marie is a kind and supportive editor. Thanks to you, Marie, I’m doing what I really wanted to do all along.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

They won't know unless you put it out there.

It's a beautiful fall day at Ha Ha Tonka State Park in central Missouri. Fall colors are nearly perfect. I'm on a hike with two friends, one I met yesterday and one I've known most of my life. They each have a camera with a 12" lens that takes 30 frames per second while I'm taking pictures with an iPhone.  In a few days they'll go home and share incredible images from the trip with their colleagues at the camera club. And I'll have a couple shots on my phone that might not even make it to my computer . . . to say nothing of Instagram.

Why am I not more like Pete and Bill? I've taken my share of photos over the years. I've had pictures published in national magazines. I have an SLR camera (in a bag at home). Years ago I even processed my own film and had a ball enlarging an image a hundred times just to see if that dot at the end of the pier was a person. 

Yet here I am shooting with an iPhone wishing I were more like them. Every time I get home with a bunch of "beautiful" shots, I dread the task of separating keepers from outtakes, then adding the right tags so they can be found a year later when I've forgotten where I was or with whom I was hiking. The idea of posting them for others to see intimidates me so badly I want to lock the phone's memory so they can't possibly escape. So there they stay. I'm even wondering if I should take any more.

Hold on a minute, GrandpaLyle! There's little doubt that others are taking wonderful pictures. There's no chance that iPhone images can compete with those captured on cameras that cost thousands. Yet you're not chopped liver. What you see and record has value ‑ perhaps only to family and friends  but you'll never know if you don't put it out there. 

So here's a photo I took at Lake of the Ozarks. It represents a moment in my life that's worth remembering. Putting it out there for y'all to see may be an even bigger moment for me. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

The ghost of the In-turd-er rides again!

Just how much adventure is enough?

Grandpalyle’s Ark’s maiden voyage was a big hit. Heads turned wherever we went. Annie and Matt brought baby Hazel Marie, diapers and all. The weather was perfect. Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin is a beautiful state park with well spaced sylvan sites. 

Dozens of visitors at the park stopped to ogle Grandpalyle’s Ark, take pictures and ask all about it. All was going beautifully . . .

Disappointed fire-fighters can't even find smoke.
. . . right up to the point when the engine caught fire. Well maybe not actually on fire. Just so much smoke that we pulled off the road thinking that the engine had blown up.

A good samaritan in a county truck called the fire department. Although we were just outside the middle of nowhere, they arrived in force. First the ambulance, then the pumper. Just when we thought there couldn’t possibly be more equipment in Nowhere, USA, the hook and ladder truck rode up – lights and siren blazing. 

Unfortunately by the time they arrived the “fire” was out. No flames (there never were any), no smoke . . . it wasn’t even hot any more.

By now a crowd had gathered. But unlike gawkers in the city, these onlookers – at least a dozen of them – were all wearing full dress emergency gear. I bet these poor smoke-eaters don’t get to dress up more than once a month. And the party was over before they got there. 

What a downer. No fancy fire. Just a dead motorhome by the side of the road. I feared our fate was to watch Grandpalyle’s Ark be towed away again, this time to have its fried engine replaced. 

What would we do with the left over food? How was I going to get a houseful of stuff home? How would I explain to the other grandchildren that their fabulous camping trips were cancelled? How was I going to explain to Marie that Grandpalyle’s Ark was the In-turd-er all over again?

Second ambulance on the scene
Good Sam to the rescue . . . this time even better. In about an hour another ambulance arrived. No lights, no sirens, just something that looked like it was no longer useable in Central America. 

Fortunately for us, the technician driving it was as experienced as his truck. He found a broken hose . . . down under fourteen other hoses . . . down under the “doghouse” engine cover next to the driver’s seat . . . down in parts of the engine that I really didn’t need to see. 

He fixed the hose, added some coolant and sent us on our way before dark. The only gratuity he would accept was the extra burrito Matt had thoughtfully picked up in nearby Sauk City.

Disaster or adventure?
Impromptu roadside picnic
while technician repairs Grandpalyle's Ark
  • Instead of stuck at the side of the road in an old wrecked In-turd-er, we were parked in Grandpalyle’s Ark, a beautiful updated land yacht.
  • Rather than aborting a trip we had looked forward to for weeks, we were on our way home after a wonderful outing.
  • We weren’t stranded. Matt and Annie were right behind me . . . and they had their own wheels.
  • The motorhome wasn’t filled with food that was about to spoil. We were on our way home and it was all gone. Matt and Annie had to drive into Sauk City for dinner when we got hungry.
  • We weren’t sad. We were celebrating the end of a wonderful vacation. 
We were on the road again . . . again. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Delivery and trial run in Grandpalyle’s Ark.

Taking delivery of Grandpalyle's Ark
The plan was simple. Friday morning I’d head to Scotty’s RV. After getting a thorough rundown on the workings of all the new gadgets, I would drive it home, park it in our driveway, reload all the stuff that had been sitting in the back of the garage since Christmas, head out for a one night shake down trip to a nearby location.

Sounds simple, right? 

Let’s go home and get ready for the adventure. A little more than a year ago, I brought a used Damon Intruder motorhome. On day one I mashed it into the roof of the house – the beginning of a downhill slide from Intruder to In-turd-er. Eight months work and way too many dollars later, it's now Grandpalyle’s Ark. This time I was more careful. 

Safely parked, I proceeded to plug it in. Using “shore power” meant I wouldn’t have to run the noisy, smelly generator to take advantage of all the luxuries found in this fabulous land yacht. Crackle. Spark. POP. That’s the sound a long extension cord makes when plugged in with a refrigerator, two air-conditioners and sundry other appliances attached . . . all trying to go on at once. Lucy and Desi were my role models.

Scotty's RV team
Saturday morning started fresh with adjusting rear view mirrors. Sounds simple, doesn’t it. In a car, it might have been, but these mirrors are out of reach of the driver. Too proud to ask for help, I sat in the driver’s seat, guessed what adjustment was needed, walked 50 feet around the RV, tweaked the mirrors, walked back to see what it looked like to the driver only to discover that I had to do it again. About 10 times! 

This was all happening on the longest day of the year. The Arkansas summer sun was high in the sky, the temperature was soaring and I was about cooked. And I was foolishly trying to have everything in perfect order before the first trip. 

Fortunately, Marie made me take a sanity break. Setting up an RV is a lot like moving into a new home, she said, and I was trying to have it all done in one day. The reason for the trip was not to start the rest of my life in the Ark – it was simply to see if there were any things that Scotty should tweak before I left town.

Sunday. Time for the big trip. Not so big actually, Scotty suggested Rocky Branch. It’s only about a 30 minute drive and is in a beautiful location on Beaver Lake.

They still had a site that was reasonably level – the jacks should finish the job. Or they would if they worked. Flipped the switch and watched nothing happen. Ugh. Maybe the fuse. Pulled it out, checked it and it was fine. Put it back and everything worked – this could make me crazy.

Time to make some ice. Oops! There’s no water pressure. Ugh. Fortunately there’s a potable water source less than 50’ away and a potty a few feet from there. UN-fortunately, the water tastes terrible and the potty smells worse. Back to the Ark. Let’s see if we can trouble shoot. The third valve I twisted did the trick – life is good again. And the double filtered water tastes great.

I'm thrilled. The In-turd-er really has become Grandpalyle’s Ark. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Grandpalyle's Ark has been wrapped

The design is no longer just a pretty picture on a computer screen -- these are actual photos of the real thing. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The new Intruder

Last November, the 95 Damon Intruder motorhome I'd been driving for less than a year gave a sigh and died on an on-ramp. This knockout punch was landed less than a week after I made a typo naming it the Inturder. Though we laughed heartily, no one expected that to be a prophecy. Recovering from the downer, I came up with the idea of restoring its status to that of the Intruder.

Maybe one day, I'll put the whole story down. Right now I'm too excited about the new look to hold back any more. After some very creative work on the part of Sara Lim, a budding Chicago artist, and several exchanges back and forth, the design for the new Intruder is ready to go to Sign Artists. In just a few weeks, I hope to post pictures of the real thing.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Don't give up too easily

Some days it pays to get up. And to get going. And some days it pays to keep going even after you screw up.

This morning was one of those. My day was perfectly planned: Work out, garbage out, breakfast, etc. By step two I was screwed. 

Normally trash would have gone out yesterday, but this week was special. Monday was Presidents' Day . . . a government holiday . . .  trash pick-up would be delayed a day for the rest of the week. It was to go out today instead. 

NOT! Here in Northwest Arkansas not everyone closes up shop just because some lawmakers vote themselves what they are convinced is a well-earned day of rest. Monday was NOT a trash holiday. The truck was at the curb on Thursday as usual. 

But our cans were not.

Today is Friday. I was feeling so smug when I carried everything out to the curb at the crack of dawn this morning. It did seem odd that none of our neighbors were as clever as I. But they weren't. Not one.

More than once I have been sure that I was right and the rest of the world wrong. I can't recall that it was ever true. This was no exception. Back to the computer. Monday was indeed a federal and city holiday. So there! Wait . . . what's this? City hall was closed but the workers serving us were on the job as usual. The truck had come and gone. Yesterday.

Now what? Two very full cans of trash, recyclables and dirty diapers sit at the curb awaiting a truck that won't be here for another week. And that week will produce enough garbage to make our yard look like Manhattan when city workers are on strike.

My kids (the ones who are supposed to learn everything they know from me!) say, "Don't give up just because you encounter a bump in the road." 

With trepidation, I called Allied Waste. BJ, a very courteous customer service representative, immediately informed me that I was SOL (Sure Out of Luck). Then, with no prompting, she asked me to hold. After only a couple seconds BJ came back on the line and said, "Leave the cans out. The dispatcher will try to reach a driver in the area and have them make a special stop." Then she repeated emphatically, "Leave the cans out." 

Life is good. All I did was make a phone call, ask for help . . . and leave the cans out! Good folks in the world responded. 

Making the mistake was foolish. Giving up would have been ridiculous. Admitting that I could learn from my kids was painful . . . but wise.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Life and lessons

Life is a hard teacher: you get the tests first, then the lessons.