Cutting Stuff Up

I don’t think I’m that unique in being rather bad at delegating. I was proud of myself for finally asking Jen (I couldn’t do it) to call a plumber (when I was in Santa Cruz) to fix the clog in the sink (and not tell me). I had tried for several weeks with different approaches. Finally borrowing a friend’s plumbers snake and ramming that thing 20 feet into the pipe without successfully unblocking it. Other than that I haven’t hired anyone for any part of the house remodel. (not me, stock photo. Toolbelts are for tools)

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At our large “Wesselpalooza” campout I traditionally make dinner for everyone there. That’s ranged from 30 to 70 people. We go in on Saturday to Leavenworth to buy everything and then cook it up. One year I made individual portions of Phad Thai in a great big wok named (by the manufacturer, not me), the “King Kooker”. That was a lot of work.

Last year it was 64 people for steak and chicken kabobs and several side dishes. This was already a compromise from my original plan of Argentine Churrasco – steak on swords grilled over a fire (yes, coming next year!). I was frantically working and rather stressed out. People kept asking if they could help and I kept saying no. All I needed to do was work faster, better, and get it done. I was madly cutting up red peppers when Tracey Dayton came over and said “I see you’re cutting stuff up. Would you like me to cut stuff up?”. It was brilliant in so many ways and a lesson I still remember.

“How can I help?” is a hard question. Effectively “hey, why don’t you stop what you’re doing, sit back, take a deep breath, acknowledge that you aren’t going to succeed on your own, and instead of clearly moving forward, take the time to figure out how to clearly divide work and offer it to others”. That’s hard. With some insight and clarity, Tracey eliminated all that complication and posed a simple yes/no question. Answer: “Yes, please yes, cut this stuff up”. After that everything else unlocked and it was an easy and collaborative dinner and the usual evening of Fireball and dancing round the campfire.

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I’m writing this at the end of a 12-hour day mostly because I need to apply it, right now.

And… It’s unlikely, but you might still wonder how the pipe was still blocked? It turns out shortly after entering the wall the pipe splits. One part goes up to vent to the roof. Another goes down to the drain. I’m pretty sure my snake was slithering all over the roof rather than down in the plumbing doing the real work.

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There’s no real insight there that I can think of. And I have no idea how you convince your plumbers snake to head up or down at a given junction with only a coiled, smelly, slippery spring to work with. But the point I guess is to step back for a moment, stop trying to push that snake into the pipe and figure out how to align the world around you with what you want to achieve. Otherwise you have to deal with a giant hairball like this.

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Apple Uncare

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It’s interesting to watch great companies slip. As an Apple II and Mac developer I watched Apple implode the first time. It’s happening again.

MacBook power supplies are notoriously unreliable. I’ve had four go bad. Bad in general, worse when they’re $80. The saving grace was their customer service. Several years ago I walked in with two that were broken. One had frayed and literally started to burn. The first person I met when I walked in said “oh that’s terrible, took me to the back, and handed me two replacements to walk out with. In and out in two minutes. No transaction whatsoever.

I wrote up that transaction too. The beautiful thing was not just great service, but that a key corporate value had been embedded deeply all the way to this guy in the store. His #1 priority was to make my experience great. Everything else was secondary. And he was empowered to do anything within that general guideline.

Today is different. I’m here in the store now and have lots of time on my hands so I’m transcribing live…

Greeting person: Hi welcome to Apple!

Hi, my power supply is broken

Is it still under warranty?

I have no idea.

Ok, well come with me. Now wait here for the guy with red phone cover.

Wait as he talks to others. Frees up in a few minutes

Hi, I’m so and so, how can I help you?

Hi, I need a new power supply

Do you have an appointment?

Nope.

Well, we are appointment driven, that’s our process.

I had the same problem two years ago and the process was that you walk over there and get me a new power supply.

Well, if I do that now I’d be in violation of our process. Come with me over to the genius bar.

… Wait a few minutes for genius to free up. I test a power cable there and it works, so I get on WiFi, check email, and start this. Originally it was just going to be a Facebook post but then it got way to long!

Hi, my name is Grace, how can I help you?

I just need a new power supply.

Do you have an appointment?

Nope.

Ok then, please register here and select an appointment time. Hands me iPad

Fortunately one was available in 5 minutes…

5 minutes go by and she comes over.

Is it under warranty?

No idea.

Ok, I’ll check the serial number, figures it out…

Great, you have 54 days of warranty remaining! Lets get you fixed up. Usually it’s just this part (the power brick)

Yep, cord’s don’t fail much

Detaches the cord from the brick

I’ll check stock… wait… wait….

Tracy yells across the store – “anyone else having trouble with mobile genius?”

I laugh a bit.

Tracy is not amused.

Another genius helps her figure it out.

Looks like I’m out of stock on that but I can order you one.

That doesn’t work, I need this for work. You have power supplies right over there. Could I get one of those?

Well, we have “full power supplies, with the cord that you can buy.

You can’t just give me one?

Let me check on this

Wanders off and talks to another customer. 7 minutes pass. The conversation is rich with the words “not under warranty” and “have to charge you”. Also, she explains many times to the table how she’s sorry you all have to wait, but she has to multitask with all the people at the table.

The table fills with three more customers. More time passes. Many more discussions of warranties and people leaving very unhappy.

Normally by this time I would have become rather grumpy and asked Tracy what was up, but I was entertained writing this up. I also walked over to the wall and got a replacement power supply.

Finally, Nate appears from the back room. Nate has a different tone and is clearly sent in to address the problem customers. He double checks my serial number and warranty, and tells me he can order one.

I ask one more time if I can just have this one here?

He says it’s impossible because it’s in inventory. The look in his eyes clearly indicates that he’s frustrated and sorry. Nate’s a good guy. His hands are tied by policy and rules.

I decide to just pay.

We fill out forms on his iPad to get me a replacement cable ordered. They won’t ship it to me, I have to pick it up. I enter my email address and phone number for notification.

Then when I pay for my charger ($84) I fill out my email address again, on his phone this time in some other system.

Then, one more signature on the iPad on another form to acknowledge the $100 of labor that they gifted me for the privilege of being shuffled around the store, and I’m done.

50 minutes, $84, and I have to go back next week to pick up my replacement power supply. Times have changed.

What’s amazing is how quickly a different corporate value has been pushed through the organization. Bureaucracy and cost cutting. Truly stunning reversal.

Jeff Bezos and The Lean Startup

I just finished “The Everything Store” about Jeff Bezos and the fascinating rise of Amazon. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos… All known for their visionary yet autocratic rule that creates huge leaps forward but often with organizational strife, politics, and an inability to scale.

I’m also a fan of the book “The Lean Startup”. The term “Lean” in the book is unfortunate because it gives the impression that it’s about doing more with less. The actual idea is different and much more interesting.

In short… Start with the customer. Don’t just ask them what they want and then go build it. Produce the minimal viable product you can give them to see whether they actually like it. Not minimum as in “it works and 80% of the features are there but it’s beta quality”. But minimum like a web page that describes it with a “buy now” button. Put it out there and pay Google to get it in front of 10,000 people. If 1000 people click you have one problem to solve. If 3 do then you have another. Either way you learn.

These two approaches appear to be in conflict, but they actually work great together. Bezos provides plenty of leadership, but coupled with the philosophy that the data wins. And Lean Startup techniques are a great way to get the required data.

An important part of Amazon is writing product descriptions. In the beginning this was done by a large editorial team. In time, the algorithm team developed an automated alternative. And there was much debate and political wrangling. Bezos dictated not which to choose, but how to resolve the debate. It was resolved Lean Startup style with customer testing. Use both on the same products and see who buys more. The algorithm won and the decision was made.

The two extremes taken together seem like a winning combination. Leadership for things that really matter. Serious Lean product development for the rest.

Middle roads are problematic. Microsoft pushed the style of Gates and Ballmer down through the organization in a vast hierarchy of management. All of them working to emulate their leaders and be little visionaries. This grows rigid and political as the thousands of visionary leaders battle each other for dominance. Distributing and delegating the work of the leader by driving that style down through the organization ordains internal political battles.

In theory that leadership could be cleanly distributed. The sales leader says what customers want. Product management combines that with the overall market and owns the product plan. Engineering has the last word in how it’s done. In reality that’s challenging. Mobile devices always need to be lighter and have a longer battery life. Sales reiterates the obvious the need to do both. Product management tries to figure out the balance based on experience and abstract data, aka personal opinion. And engineering influences with technical reality mixed in with their own beliefs. Is it really not possible to do both at the same time? Or is engineering just not trying, interested, or competent? Meetings, politics, dysfunction.

Similarly, customer-focus without going all the way to Lean Startup ideas leads to product mediocrity and organizational bureaucracy. Lots of middle management and politics. With a little coaxing, customers will say they want all kinds of things. Especially if they are tortured by hours of powerpoint presentations and then asked “so, are you interested in that? Is that where we should be heading”. I don’t remember any customer ever saying to me “oh no, that’s a terrible idea”. That “customer input” is then taken back to the product management organization where it is mixed with executive vision, competing priorities, new product development, engineering capabilities, and much more. Add in countless meetings with all the managers for all the different parts of the organization to gain and keep consensus. And slowly a plan develops, which is then diligently executed and delivered a year later.

Asking customers in 2004 if they wanted a phone with a touch-screen and no buttons would not have worked. That required a visionary leader. Or Amazon choosing low prices vs targeted pricing based on analytics. Those decisions take years to fully play out.

Deciding on the shape of the bevel of the glass? A visionary leader can also answer that question, but customer trial is what scales. Delegating it to a middle management team of industrial design, engineering, and manufacturing needs to be done with guidance for how decisions are made. Management certainly needs to have expertise and lead – you can’t try out every alternative. But for the significant, hotly debated decisions, ask the customer. If you still can’t figure it out, ask your leader.

Services Causing Overstatement of GDP Growth

I know enough economics to get into things, but generally am far from complete understanding. So I’m writing this about something I’ve been thinking about and hope for comments from people more knowledgeable. In my Googling around I can’t find this brought up anywhere, so I’m assuming I’m wrong. That or it’s really interesting.

Say you and 999 of your friends live in a nice little country called Libertania. Everyone is gainfully employed and the 1000 people earn $5/hour, $10k per year producing a GDP of $10 million.

People in Libertania are naturally quite self-sufficient. I spend 40 hours a year fixing my own car, and 35 hours mowing my lawn – 75 hours total. You are more efficient at both, requiring only 30 hours to fix a car, and 32 hours for lawn mowing – 62 hours total.

One day we each read a book on the theory of comparative advantage. Following the recommendation, we decide to specialize. You fix both our cars. This takes you a total of 60 hours, saving you 2 hours or $10. I mow both our lawns, taking a total of 70 hours, saving me five hours or $25. Granted, it would probably get more equitable in time but it doesn’t really matter.

Win-win! Together we saved seven hours in time, worth $35! Even though you are better at both things, we can both benefit by specializing in what we do best.

With our savings, we could now either relax and enjoy more leisure time, or use that time to work more and earn an additional $35. But for now lets ignore that.

Other citizens of Libertania notice us relaxing with our extra time and want in on this deal. Bartering services becomes rather tedious to keep track of so we all switch to just paying each other. Keeping it simple, fixing a car for a year costs $200, and a year of lawn mowing costs $200. The system works so well that all citizens now specialize in one or the other.

The government of Libertania (a small one…) is a modern economy and interested in knowing GDP – roughly, the total goods and services produced by the economy. Before this specialization trend the GDP was $10 million. Now, each citizen pays another $200 a year for one of the two tasks, a total of $200,000 changing hands. The GDP increases to $10,200,000, and the government marvels at it’s success in raising GDP 2% over the prior year.

But remember, what we actually saved was 7 hours in time between us, for a national savings of 3500 hours annually. At our average wage of $5/hour, that’s worth $17,500. Still good, but it’s hardly the $200,000 increase that the GDP showed. $182,500 of that increase is due simply to a transaction taking place. It didn’t add any actual value to anything – nothing was produced. It appears to be 91% overstated.

The more we specialize and exchange services the more we grow GDP. That’s good. But the actual value to the citizens is overstated in the GDP growth. They didn’t get 2% better off. They got 0.175% better.

I don’t know what the actual gap between true comparative-advantage savings, and the transaction amount is. But I’m confident that it’s significant. To be the same would require the savings for each of us to equal the price of the service, which is absurd. We would have had to have saved 40 hours each in the deal to justify the full $200 in GDP. You can play with the numbers but I can’t see any way to make it close to accurate.

But you say, remember the 7 hours in savings. We’re hard-working Libertanians and would spend that time working and making more money to make our lives better. So in addition to the transaction, we work an additional 7 hours, or a total of 3500 hours for the entire country, for a total of $17,500 in true, new, value and income (depending on how you’re measuring GDP)

But, the true value did not go up. I traded my newly-freed-up leisure time for money, which is a net zero.

So now, that income is added to reported GDP growth to make it $217,500, with a true increase remaining $17,500. That actually makes the overstatement worse at 92%.

That seems like a big deal. Services are roughly 68% of the US GDP

Almost any conceivable number would indicate that GDP growth has been significantly overstated.

Thoughts?

Next up, tax implications…

The tax rate at which the original transaction becomes a net loss for us is equal to 1 minus the overstatement – or 9%.

Travel Guide: NYC

First off, I’m far from an expert. I’ve never lived there and don’t visit that often. I’m just posting my favorites here and will probably expand in the future as I know more.

I’ll put events first since they might go away.

You absolutely, positively, must go see, no, experience Sleep No More. Best if you’ve read MacBeth, or at least the Cliff notes, prior. Wear some comfortable shoes and plan on spending a few hours. Do as they say and split off on your own if you’re with a group. And take some time to just pause and enjoy the experience. It is more than it appears. I’m going tonight for a second time. Have an absinthe at the hotel’s rooftop garden oasis Gallow Green before or after.

Two tips after my second visit. First, go early. They wrap it up around 10:30 and you really need three hours, so get in by 7. Second, they say to follow the actors, but there are enough people there that I felt like a lemming. The acting was ok, but the spaces are surreal. If you don’t follow the actors you can often be completely alone and just enjoy the environment.

Fuerza Bruta was fun, though only playing in the summer. Kind of Cirque de Sole crossed with a rave. Hard to explain, watch the video. The giant overhead transparent slip-n-slide was an engineering marvel, and the slip-n-sliders weren’t bad either.

On to places…

The High Line is an urban planning coup. Walk or run from one end of the other on what was an elevated railway. Fantastic!

The High Line runs through Chelsea which is a very nice neighborhood to stay in. Hotels suck, AirBnB rocks. TiaPol has good tapas, but the restaurants are endless.

The Standard High Line Hotel anchors the south end of the elevated walkway. Head to the Le Bain rooftop bar and experience the epic Marco Brambilla Civilization video that plays in the elevator on the way up. The video has played on my ceiling at many a party.

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The first floor of the rooftop bar is enclosed and has a hot tub! And on hot days it’s a cool tub. Either way, win! They have towels, bag check, and changing rooms so bring your suit. The individual bathrooms have floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking an incredible view. And locks on the door too, just sayin’… Use your own judgement there. Walk upstairs for an astro-turfed wonderland overlooking the Hudson.

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Just blocks away is another exceptional rooftop spot. As with the Standard enter the Hotel Gansevoort and take the elevator to the top.

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To the right is a a nice, enclosed, room for cooler days. Straight ahead is the bar. Get yerself a drink and tip well (details later). There’s a door to an indulgent wraparound deck with comfy couches. But on hot days, the gem is to the left. There is a changing room with non-locked lockers, so you don’t have to wear you suit through the lobby looking all suspicious and not at all like a hotel guest. And then the pool.

There is a very small “hotel guests only” sign, but have you ever been asked if you were a guest? I haven’t. Especially not when ordering $20 drinks and tipping another $10. The pool is a glorious escape from a hot Manhattan day. Open a tab and spend a few hours. I sat in the big round lounger with my Mac and free wifi preparing for a conference presentation. (that’s my leg there, recovering after way too much walking after break/surgery) Oh, and they bring you cups with frozen grapes, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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The Hudson River Park is a great escape. If the High Line is not enough then continue on to the Staten Island Ferry. Or get a CitiBike and ride it.

Pok Pok Brooklyn  is the New York version of Andy Ricker’s famous Portland Thai restaurant. Awesome food! And they serve it in the bar across the street as well if it’s crowded. The cookbook is amazing too. Brooklyn seems kind of far away, but it’s only 20 minutes on the subway.

Barbes Brooklyn has an amazing and eclectic lineup almost every night. See my Spotify playlist of the same name for some of the bands. The calendar is online so even if you don’t go, check out the bands and the music. Seriously unique!

One of the few gems in midtown, the balcony of the Bookmarks bar on the 14’th floor of the Library Hotel is surprisingly unknown and often not crowded. Yes, it’s really as romantic as it looks.

Bookmarks balcony

Further north, up in Harlem, is the restaurant of Marcus Samuelsson – Red Rooster. We read his book, Yes Chef, for book club and then visited the restaurant. He even came and talked to us while we had dinner.

CitiBike is a fun option for getting around – a cross between Amsterdam and Mad Max. There are bike lanes on many streets, use them. Left turners are a serious problem, you’ll see. Swerve right when they stop for pedestrians then sharp left before a taxi takes you out. And beware the Prius taxis – ” silent killers” as they’re known. And dark. After a few drinks the video-game-like rush of bombing down Broadway between taxis without a helmet is very real. But so is death. So, don’t be like me.IMG_5147

Of course, Central Park is incredible.

Uncle Boons thai was just ok. Get the mango salad and leave.

Poi Poi looks promising but the oppressive flood from the theater district overwhelmed my desire to try it.

Buvette is a beautiful, simple breakfast. But at $36, it’s not that practical. Instead, buy a pound of lox, a dozen eggs, and good bread, and make breakfast for a week!

That’s all for now.

The Myth of Happiness

What is happiness? Most emotions seem easier to identify: angry, anxious, grumpy, frightened, surprised, bored… For being widely considered to be the big one, the meaning of life and all that, it seems elusively vague.

How to be happier is certainly not a unique topic. There is actually a book with the exact same title as this post. And I’ve read lots of others. I’ve even written a couple of posts here before on the subject. Yet I haven’t found a satisfying answer.

There are many things people want to change in their life:

  1. Lose weight
  2. Have more money
  3. Be happier

These are compelling goals, but they generally aren’t actionable. You can’t do much directly to achieve these goals that isn’t fraught with issues:

  1. Get liposuction
  2. Rob a bank
  3. Do heroin

But there are things you can do that in turn, are likely to move you towards these goals:

  1. Eat healthier and exercise more
  2. Learn a valuable skill
  3. ???

If I commit to one of these, create a plan, and stick to the program, I’m very confident that I will at least move towards the goal.

But happiness is a complex one. A common question is “what makes you happy?”. Many things seem correlated to some degree with happiness – going biking, good times with friends, doing something cool and meaningful at work, etc. But it’s not a direct correlation. If I bike more I will get better at biking, at least up to some physical limit. But biking even more doesn’t make me even happier. Biking a few times a week seems optimal, and then doing something else. Work often makes me happy, but working more usually doesn’t make me even happier. Friends are great, but I also want time by myself.

Beyond that, anyone into “advanced” happiness knows that pinning your happiness on something external is troublesome. What matters a whole lot, maybe completely, is your mental attitude – waking up with a positive attitude and appreciating the little things.  There are many stories of people blissfuly happy while in prison, or while doing nothing but meditating all day in a room. There is definitely a lot to this, but taking it to the extreme of just sitting in a room and being happy doesn’t do it for me.

Then there’s the “Flow” crowd. About being engaged at that threshold between being competent and challenged. Being good at something, but pushing it to a level where it becomes challenging but not impossible. I get that, but it’s also not the whole picture. Sometimes I’m very happy just having a nice day.

I think that the challenge is that happiness is the net result of many different, often competing things.

It seems a bit like money. Not that money is happiness. But similar in that the way to get a lot of money has very little to do with directly trying to get money. Robbing a bank might be analogous to heroin here – yes you can simply go somewhere that has a bunch of money and take it, but that course generally has repercussions. Heroin might make you briefly very happy, but downsides exist.

A more common and less risky path to making money is more complicated. Know yourself, you skills, and what you love to do. Pursue your passions. But for best results do try to align those passions with some skills that someone actually wants. Preferably skills that are scarce. Make meaningful friendships and professional connections. Get into situations and companies that are successful and growing. All this and much more is required to have a successful career that in turn, in the end, is likely to result in reasonable amounts of money. 

For all practical purposes, unless you’re the federal reserve it’s impossible to just get more money. You need to do a bunch of things that, when combined, probably ultimately result in money. Ironically, it’s generally the most direct “get rich quick” ideas that are the least likely to work.

I think happiness is similar. And asking “what will make me happy?” is like asking “what will make me a lot of money?”. It’s not actionable. And any straightforward prescription for happiness is likely to be a flawed as Internet popup ads to “make money fast!”

So what are the components that create the recipe for happiness? Like many things, I think it’s like Thai food. Contrasting and even conflicting flavors that, when combined perfectly, result in an amazing, balanced, and delicious tension.

I think “contentment” is one ingredient. The umami in the recipe. This is the  “just be happy” dimension, and Webster’s even lists “happiness” as a synonym. But I don’t think it is. It’s important, but umami alone is also boring.

Another component seems to be something between “interesting” and “exciting”. The spice. The proverb/curse of “may you live in interesting times” is appropriate. This is all about challenges, and often unpleasantness. But it’s interesting. I really dislike hearing the alarm clock go off at 5 to get up early to go fly somewhere. Or to go to Alpental for powder before the pass closes. But, I never regret it. Tim Ferriss has some good arguments for excitement being equal to happiness, but for me, that’s also not the complete picture.

What’s exciting, as a hacker, about both of these is that they’re are eminently actionable. I have lots of ideas for increasing my contentment. Make my environment nice and uncluttered. Engage with friends and family. Meditate. Feed the woodpeckers in the back yard. Enjoy a glass of wine.

I can also increase the excitement. This is a bit more of a challenge as interesting and exciting things often also can be rather unpleasant at times. Get up early to go snowboarding. Go for a run, even if it’s raining out. At work – take on speaking opportunities, learn new things, take on project you aren’t sure you can do. Tackle the difficult issues no one else wants.

Travel is an interesting subset of life. Travel can be about contentment. Take a nice flight somewhere posh, relax, have good food. That’s nice, but it really doesn’t work for me. I need a solid dose of excitement too: Go somewhere without a plan. Explore something new. Use AirBNB instead of hotels and meet new people. Do things that are physically challenging. 

Like great Thai food, it is challenging because these the different forces are in conflict. Lime juice, sugar, and fish sauce all pull in different directions and must be balanced. If it needs more tangy lime juice add some. But then you also need to balance the other flavors as well.

Italian food is great but simpler – say some tasty pasta. Start with some tomato sauce. Add garlic, spices, some cheese. Put it on pasta. Each component adds to the whole. If it doesn’t have enough oregano, then add some more. You can overdo it, but oregano does not directly counteract the garlic. Most books on happiness are simple like this. Do xyz, be happier. I think that works but only to a certain level, or for some people. I truly envy the Italian food people with a less contemplative view of the world.  But for me it gets more complicated.

This isn’t earth shattering but I think it is fairly unique. I certainly have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to be happier. I can’t complain, but I’ve always felt less effective than in some other areas of my life.

I’m looking forward to focusing on the components. Instead of asking what will make me happy this weekend, I’ll consider whether I want more contentment, or excitement. And how I want to adjust that balance in different aspects of my life – work, travel, relationships. I can work that!

What are your happiness flavors? And how do you combine them?

Travel Guide: Kauai

Several years ago I was fortunate to get a three-month sabbatical. And by sabbatical, I really mean time off. My first thought was a round-the-world trip to warmer climates in the middle of winter. But with the kids in school that would be challenging. And, more practically, three months of rigorous travel with kids 9 and 12 would be challenging. We decided instead to pick somewhere great and live there to really experience the culture and the way of life. That place was Hanalei. We rented a little house near Tunnels and settled in to the north-shore cadence. A fresh dawn after the rains in the night. A sunny morning and mid-day on the beach or hiking. Settling in somewhere for a few hours during the afternoon rain. Then back to sun for the evening.

After a couple of weeks I also got island fever really bad. It’s really small! I realized, as nice as it is, I could never settle down in paradise. To keep busy I started kiteboarding, and also exploring the island. Hiked to Kalalau with Jasper, explored every jungle trail and more around Ke’e, and the drier secret beaches past Mahaulepu.

A friend recently said she is going there for two weeks so I wrote her these notes – starting in Princeville where she is staying, and expanding out.

Bali-hi – the bar at the Hanalei Bay Resort is an epic view, great for sunsets. The St. Regis is nice too. There’s a nice trail from Hanalei Bay Resort to the beach/pool at the St. Regis. And they don’t mind you using the pool if you buy drinks.

My favorite Princeville beach is Hideaways. The trail is unmarked and starts along the outside of the chain-link fence at the road entrance to the St Regis hotel. Parking is minimal but you can also park somewhere else and walk over there. The trail is steep but short. You can walk around the point to the west (right as you enter the beach) to even more secluded beaches. The snorkeling is very good when the tide is right. You can also swim all the way to the St Regis to the east – about 20 minutes (no rest stops).

Hideaways Beach

On snorkeling:

  • Rule number one is, don’t walk on the reef. It hurts the reef, and it will probably hurt you. Urchins are bad. “Reef shoes” should be banned.
  • Look for the right tides. Tides in Hawaii vary by only a couple of feet. Reefs grow only a little beyond the low-tide line. So the water depth goes from zero, with the reef exposed a few inches, to around a foot and a half deep. All you need is enough to slither over between deeper parts – maybe a foot or so. In the picture above you can see the sandy channels between reef parts. Generally stay in those, with occasional trips over the flat reef part.
  • It’s ok to go outside the reef if you feel comfortable. The fish are bigger and cool over there, and the turtles (Honu) tend to be on that side. And the precipitous drop to the abyss at places like Ke’e is wild.
  • Significant waves make it all more challenging. They stir up the water. They slosh you around. But most importantly and subtly , they create rip currents.
  • If you get in waves near rocks, stay in the water. You can be in incredibly scary looking places with waves crashing against big rocks and be just fine. The waves move you up, then down. What you want to avoid is a wave on one side of you and the rocks in the other. If a wave is coming at you, dip down a few feet and even a big one will go right over you. Then swim until the next one, dip, repeat.

On rip currents:

  • First, in all my ocean fun I’ve never had any problems or been even close to caught. But, good to be aware and careful. It’s all about where the water comes in via waves, and where it goes out.
  • For sandy beaches with no reef, if the beach is straight then waves go in and water goes straight back out where it came from. That’s an undertow (or toad…) – scary for kids but not dangerous. But for waves hitting the beach at an angle, or a curved beach, waves come in, bounce of the beach, and then go out a different direction. That’s a current. In a symmetric, curved beach, the waves reflect into the middle and a rip current will tend to form down the middle. From above, you can often see a highway of sand dragged out to sea. Take a little time to observe and think about where the water is going.
  • For beaches with a reef it’s more complicated. If it’s low tide and little water is coming over the reef then the inner area will be a bathtub. If the waves are coming over the reef then think of that as pouring water into the area inside the reef. It’s going to go out somewhere. Again, from above, you will often see one or more channels cut between the reef that make it fairly obvious. Ke’e is a great example, water comes in over the reef and exits left through one large, deep channel. As you swim near a channel, float for a minute and notice what happens. If you’re zipping along somewhere you probably want to think about that.
  • Bigger waves, bigger currents…

Anyway, back to the beaches. You can see the main (bigger) Hideaways beach, and the smaller less visited one on the left here

Hidden hideaways on the left

Sea Lodge beach is also there – slightly longer hike but less steep and nice snorkeling. It has a nice wild feeling.

http://www.kauaibeachscoop.com/north-shore/sea-lodge-beach#scoop!

Queens bath is really cool – you can snorkel in a rock pool that is filled in high tide – like a big aquarium. It can be dangerous but not as much as everyone says.

A drive to the west, Secret beach is huge. Swimming is very dangerous here – shore break, no reef. But the long walk down the sand is fun.  http://www.kauaibeachscoop.com/north-shore/secret-kauapea-beach#scoop!

Hanalei bay in town is the spot for surfing. Lots of great food too. Hanalei wake-up cafe is a local favorite. Tahiti Nui is party-central – fun music and crowd.

The farmers markets are crazy good – though usually open just for a few hours once or twice a week. Ask at the natural food store in Hanalei.

From Hanalei it’s about 8 miles more to the end of the road. Be considerate on the bridges, and give ’em a hang-loose when they let you by.

Lumahai is the first great beach after town – the parking is just after you crest a hill on a headland. Walk down the trail to the curved beach at the west end. The big broad part is ok and closer to the road but not the same.

Lumahai!

The left, curved one is the deal. The trail enters from the very bottom of the picture. The rocks there can be fun to jump off if the waves aren’t too crazy.  The middle beach can be nicely private.

Tunnels is really nice. Park at the campground and walk back west towards Hanalei to great snorkeling.

Tunnels beach and reef

Our house was behind the beach there. Notice the massive reef and drainage channel to the right. It’s bigger than it looks here – swimming across the channel to the outer reef is an adventure.

Ke’e at the end is my favorite. Good snorkeling when the tide is right and surf is down. Lots of turtles on the outer part of the reef if you can get out there (when there’s about a foot of water over the reef. Incredible sunsets.

Ke’e! My favorite beach.

The trail to Hanakapa’i and the falls begins here.

Explore the headland at the east-end of Ke’e. Either walk the rocks to the west along the beach cove to the point and then head up, or take the old road between the hiking trail and the beach and go through the fence with the no-trespassing sign and past the abandoned house. There’s are multiple rock structures (platforms)- parts of an old Hawaiian village/temple. More stuff in the jungle if you look around. Being up on the upper site (Ke Ahu a Laka) at sunset is quite a deal.

http://www.kaimi.org/heiau.htm

The hike to Hanakapi’ai is a must! It’s a two mile rather strenuous hike from Ke’e. The views from even the first 10 minutes are incredible! The trail winds up and over the headland, and down to the beautiful isolated beach. Check out the ferrel cats that roam around, and the sea caves to the east (yes it does go through, keep crawling). But, they mean it about the drownings – don’t go in the water.

hanakapaai

Almost to Hanakapi’ai!

From Hanakapi’ai beach you need a permit to hike the 9 miles further down the coast to Kalalau. I highly recommend that but it’s a serious undertaking. You start and end at sea level, but there is over 5000 feet of elevation changes as you go from valley to ridge over and over.

But you can hike two miles inland to the falls. The guava trees and bamboo forests on the way are really cool. Just follow the creek. Oh, and bring lots of water!

Here’s a nice view from afar that shows both the beach and the falls up there in the valley. You hike in from the left.

Hanakapi’ai beach, valley, and falls

On the south side of the island, the best thing by far is Mahaulepu. Drive past the Hyatt, onto gated (but public) dirt roads, and park at Gillins. Then walk east out to the rocky point (Mahaulepu) The rock formations are incredible. The sandy beach on the far east side is remote and awesome. Trespassing around the fence past there leads to an incredible beach where you’ll either be all alone, or possibly surrounded by angry Hawaiians. And more beaches beyond that over headlands…

Mahaulepu pearch.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahaulepu_Beach

Waimea canyon is a long drive but cool *if* it’s clear. If it’s not, it’s nothing. From the top, the sandy beach you see below is Kalalau where Jasper and I camped.

That’s should do it! Highlights are Hideaways, Ke’e, and Mahaulepu.

Tasty Curry-Based Sauce

I’m not sure exactly what this is. If you remove the onions, roasted chilies, and bell peppers, it’s basically Thai curry. You can stop then and be done. I find it’s harder to make normal, broth-like curry that’s also very rich and tasty so I like this. Add an onion, green chilies, bell peppers, and it has more substance. It’s then more of a chunky-style sauce than a bowl of curry. This serves around 4-6.

You can put this on lots of things. Last night I made it for 50 served  over cubed root vegetables – yams and white sweet potatoes. Peel them, cut them into half-inch or a little bigger pieces, rub them with a bit of oil, bake at 375 for 45 min or so on a baking tray (cover with greased foil to make life easier). Move them around now and then. For the quantity below I’d use about 4-6 people to eat. For this I make it a little sweeter.

It’s also great on fish, my favorite is halibut cheeks. Instead of rice I like to put a bed of spinach on each plate – maybe with some kale mixed in. Put some very hot sauce on that which will cook it just right by the time it’s on the table. Then fish on that, with a little more sauce. For this I add plenty of tarragon, and I would leave out the roasted chilies.

This isn’t so much a recipe as a way to make a whole bunch of good things.

In general for Thai ingredients the brands are Mae Ploy or Golden Boy. This matters a lot.

Ingredients:

  • Red Curry Paste: They vary a whole lot and most are bad. Mae Ploy is my favorite.
  • Fish Sauce: Golden Boy is good
  • Garlic – about four cloves but up to you.
  • One bunch of Cilantro
  • One 12-oz can of coconut Milk – again, Mae Ploy is good. Don’t do “Lite”
  • Cilantro
  • A good sized onion, generally I use a yellow one
  • Kaffir lime leaves if you have them. These are the magic secret smell and taste that’s almost always missing. You can do it without them and it’s still good, but.
  • Tarragon – fresh great, dried is fine. Maybe 4-6 fresh sprigs, or a tablespoon dried.
  • Basil – about the same amount as the Tarragon. Thai basil is best. Fresh is much better than dried. You can also get basil cubes which are easy and a middle ground.
  • Green chilies – Anaheim or similar. These are optional.
  • Thai chilies if you want it spicier.
  • About 3 fresh limes, you can use lime juice.
  • Bell peppers – Optional again – but good tossed in at the end.
  • Sugar. I get palm sugar which comes in little cakes but normal is ok too.
  • Some oil

For the bare minimum you could do yams, curry paste, a can of coconut milk, a little sugar, a lime or two, fish sauce, and hopefully kaffir lime leaves.

The plan:

The not-very-hot green chilies are optional but are tasty. I roast them on the BBQ Arizona-style and then peel off most of the skin. It’s a bit time consuming but you really don’t have to get it all for most chilies – taste and see if it’s ok. Then remove the stem and seeds and cut up. Do this first and add them when you add the onion to the curry if you want to include this. It’s a smoky addition that’s not right for many variations.

Bell peppers are also completely optional. Toss in one or two cut up if you want at the end.

Cut up the onion. Wash the cilantro keeping the bunch together. Shake it. Cut off the very bottom of the stems and discard. Cut the rest of the stems small (1/4″ or less) until it gets more leafy then stem. Put these in one bowl – they go in the sauce. If you’re really fancy you can cut up cilantro/coriander root, but it’s very hard to find. Then chop the rest loosely and put in another bowl (these go on top at the end). If you have fresh herbs, remove the larger part of the stem and also cut those up loosely.

Heat a little oil and lightly cook the onion and garlic. I garlic-press in the garlic but you can chop it too. Don’t burn or even brown it much, especially the garlic. It goes from tasty to bitter. This takes about 5 minutes or so. If you know you want it spicy add some chopped, with seeds, Thai chilies here. If the pan gets dry I usually add some water instead of more oil. Empty this into a bowl.

Heat a little more oil and put in about two to three tablespoons of the curry paste. Heat gently for a couple of minutes while you mash it around. You’ll smell it as it opens up.

Add a couple of spoons of the more solid part of the coconut milk (what’s on top). If you just dump it all it can separate. Mix it in. I add the cilantro stems here.

Add the rest slowly, keeping it hot while you do. If you’re new it’s good to taste it now and each time you add something to understand what each ingredient does. It doesn’t taste too good now – like curry and coconut milk as you’d expect but kind of insipid.

Add maybe two teaspoons of fish sauce, stir, and taste. This usually makes it taste worse, not better. This isn’t linear-additive, it’s a balancing act, and you just tipped the scale.

Add the juice of one lime. You can do this with a fork – cut it in half, stab it in the middle, work it back and forth as you squeeze, and then use the fork to scrape off some pulp as you hold it closed. The advantage of this way is that you get a bit of the lime pulp, but you can do it how you want.

Taste again. It probably just got worse – salty, tangy…

Sugar is the key to bringing it together. But be careful as it changes really fast from great to cloyingly sweet. Error now on the side of less sweet – the onions and other things will add depth and sweetness too. But it needs to be brought roughly in line here. The flavors from the coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, and lime are all in tension. Sugar pulls them together. Too little and it’s all tension and dissonance. Too much and it’s boringly singular.

So add about a teaspoon and taste. It’s almost like magic how just a little sugar brings it together. If you’re adding the onion and all, or meat, it might be better to wait to add sugar until all the ingredients are added. Yeah, that’s probably the safest route.  If it ends up tasty but a little boring, try less sugar. Ok, enough with the sugar.

It’s really good to experiment here – adding some of each of the four ingredients so far to see what happens. I always edit at this point, and you’ll get better over time. I can’t find a repeatable way to do this. Sometimes it’s better than others. It’s strange how small changes make big differences. If it’s not working you can go for the peanut butter option below. In general, fish sauce and lime are the heavy-hitters in the tension area – add them both to make it more interesting.

Add the Kaffir lime leaves if you could get them. I add them whole and tell people not to eat them (which is pretty obvious). You’ll immediately smell the magic – taste it!

You can also add Thai chilies here if you want it spicier without changing the balance of flavors. Or more curry paste will also make it spicier and richer but you’ll have to adjust the other three ingredients as well.

At this point you have basic red curry. You can add some meat, veggies, or whatever, and serve it up. You can cook the meat in the curry itself, or grill it or whatever. You can also add the onion here and still have a pretty normal curry.

If you’re stopping here, one fun option is to add around a quarter cup, maybe more, of peanut butter and go for Panang style. This is always an instant crowd-pleaser. It’s also an easy out if you can’t get the thing balanced right. If it’s still not good you can add sugar. Sweet and peanut buttery is always tasty and no one really minds that you’ve left the path.

From here it leaves the beaten path of traditional Thai.

If you have dried tarragon and basil, add about around two teaspoons of each. Or maybe one of each, taste, and decide. Usually I end up with about 3 . You can use much more fresh in which case I add about half now, half at the very end with the leafy cilantro. You can use a lot. This makes it kind of french-Thai. You can also skip the herbs but keep the other stuff. Whatever you like!

Dump in everything else – onion, roasted chilies if you made them, and bell peppers. Taste some more. It’s usually fairly tame so I often add more lime juice here at the end to make it more interesting. Or pull it together with sugar.

If you’re serving in a bowl like with the root vegetables, put it all together, stir in the leafy cilantro and optionally fresh basil and tarragon, and you’re done. Or layer it on greens, or whatever you want. If you did it right you can’t really go wrong however you serve it.

Have fun!

It’s Complicated…

Everyone loves the certainty of a simple answer – you can see them on the front of most magazines. The winning investment strategy. What makes Apple great. How to fix the economy, lose weight, find happiness… All in a few pages of magazine article. Politics is even worse – “fix the deficit”, “balance the budget”, Republican or democrat.

But the words I find myself saying more and more is “It’s complicated”.

One of the most popular business books was published in 1982 – Tom Peters’ “In Search of Excellence”. My dad had it. It looked at the companies that his buddies at McKinsey (oy,  trouble…) identified as dominant and “genuinely getting it”. Then they identified the common things they shared that led to their success. And the recipe for your own success was to replicate those factors. Seems like a solid plan. Unfortunately, even just a few years later it was clear that many of the star companies were not exactly outperforming – NCR, Wang, Xerox… How could that be? The success factors look about right, even today. The countless other business books creating recipes for success regurgitate similar themes. If they aren’t wrong, what is it?

Maybe it’s about the leader? The countless books on how to succeed by CEOs at their peak would seem to suggest that’s the key. Yet many companies buck the trend and persevere and thrive over time through drastic leadership changes – GE, IBM. While others rise and fall under the same leadership – Microsoft, Cisco.

Apple and Steve Jobs is an interesting study. Apple rose with Jobs but was well down the path to ruin while Jobs was still on duty. Then Jobs came back in 1998 to introduce the, drumroll, iMac! In pretty colors. For 3 years that was it. Then they hit on the iPod thing and it got better from there. Now he’s gone again and it’s not clear whether what was working will live on. So far so good. The obvious lesson learned is something like “make insanely great products that people love and they’ll buy lots of them”. But that’s like saying the way to lose weight is to… lose weight. The interesting part is how to do that.

In general, it’s clear that individuals can inspire and lead. But if this is a key attribute of an organization’s success then that inherently creates an organization dependent upon them. If the individual spirit can be transmitted to the organization as a whole and it can live on without them, then the key attribute is really the organizational culture.

I’m taking a mini-MBA class next week and as pre-work they talked about Net Present Value. It’s a great way to take a really complicated opportunity and boil it down to one number – the dollar value in today’s dollars. But the numbers on which it’s based involve a whole lot of assumptions that are often subject to major change. The calculation takes that reality and complexity, buries it deep, and presents an impressive facade of plain numbers. The math replace the truly meaningful attributes with simplifications all the way down to a single dollar value. Easy to understand, actionable, just completely disconnected from what’s actually going on.

I think the only general rule is “any general rule is wrong”. If there were any formulas everyone would converge and do that. Look at investing strategies. Countless books and magazines herald the best way to pick investments, even as an amateur investor. Yet the most sophisticated banks and hedge funds in the world have yet to beat the market consistently over time.

In contrast to this kind of analysis is intuition.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is now largely an odd footnote of history. At the time I was inspired by their passion, yet completely disdainful of their almost complete lack of tangible vision or execution. The plan began and ended with “camp in parks and talk about what bothers us”. It ended up being ineffective, but they got something right. The intuition that something needed to change, and that involved wresting control from the big banks. In many ways this is more valuable than the opposite – an effective plan without the right intuition. Heartless. The occupy movement was all heart and no brains, but at least they nailed something. The challenge is how to turn intuition into tangible change.

Intuition is powerful and certainly a key part of success. That part of us that seems to know what to do even when we don’t understand. Part of the solution must be to channel that intuition – create the conditions that allow it to thrive and speak. Meditation comes in here. But the other part is to pair that intuition with the right amount of analysis, due diligence, and practical execution. My summary of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink is that intuition is incredibly perceptive and powerful, except when it’s just the opposite and you’re just being racist, sexist, or just stuck in your old ways. Knowing which intuition to trust and which to ignore is key, which of course, makes it…  complicated.

Which is the semi-unsatisfying point at which I attempt to end this mostly wandering post still searching for the take-away.

Clearly doing the right things is important, and the right things are generally fairly well known. Do them, it’s better than doing the wrong thing, but it’s also no guarantee.

Intuition is really useful. Feed it and listen, but also know when to question it.

Leadership is important but is not everything.

Great people are key but can still mess things up badly.

And so on down the long list of good ideas that fill countless books.

But in the end the answer is that there is no answer. Instead of looking for the answer, embrace the complexity and explore what works. In the words of my good friend Barak: “Notice, Get Curious, Play”.