Month: February 2014

James Altucher & The Crap I Carried

About nine months ago I took James Altucher up on his bet. I paid for his book “Choose Yourself” with the guarantee that if I wasn’t completely satisfied, I could return it and get my money back. Altucher asked that I at least read the book, before deciding. No problem, I’m a satisfied customer. I’ve started a number of changes in my life based on what Altucher has “discovered” and in my case, it has had interesting consequences. I haven’t suddenly turned into a millionaire, I haven’t written the great American non-fiction book (still doing research), but I have discovered some interesting things about myself and about life that I now think are worth sharing.

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The Crap I Carried

The photo above is the pile of stuff that is literally stopping me from doing what I want to do. I call it “The Crap I Carried”. I’ve been staring at this pile for longer than I care to admit. But, in some ways, that’s a good thing. Today, it dawned on me why I haven’t gotten into Tony Robbins’ 4th quartile — or whatever it’s called — you know, the productive work you love. That’s where I want to be. This pile of stuff, is not anywhere near there.

Normally, my desk is a neat, tidy, work area. It doesn’t usually look like this. But, in the past, I’ve always been willing to jump on: every new demand of my time, every new request for my services, every new volunteer organization that needs my help, etc. I hope you get the picture. I’m a normal adult. I’ve always been glad to help, but in so doing, I’ve always pushed my projects to the background. So, I haven’t learned to: play the trombone, or dance like Fred Astaire, or develop an App to allow Twitter users to use 140 words instead of just 140 characters. I haven’t been doing the stuff I want to do. I’ve been doing the stuff the world assigned me.

This is probably why good students fail — yes, I was a good student — because we are always willing to take on the next assignment. We are always willing to do the work for the whole group (not because we like the group, we hate the group, but because we want the good grade more than anyone else does). Life, takes good students and just keeps giving and giving and giving: more assignments, more projects and more crap that the real smart people don’t want to do. You will notice: wealth, self fulfillment, and personal happiness are not in that list.

This morning, it dawned on me why I have this pile of stuff on my desk. I’ve been struggling to get to some of the projects I really want to do — the things that I’ve been interested in since I can remember. At Thanksgiving dinner, I mentioned to my family how most people don’t understand the Gettysburg campaign and how it shaped the Civil War. The “universe” didn’t respond with some enlightenment. Instead, my sister responded at Christmas with a book on the Gettysburg campaign. So, some of the time that in the past would have been devoted to “the pile of stuff” went into reading an hour everyday about the battles from Brandy Station to Lee’s recrossing of the Potomac. But, I’m interested in a lot of things right now. So, the pile has grown as I’ve rediscovered my enthusiasm for my own life.

Life, takes good students and just keeps giving and giving and giving: more assignments, more projects and more crap that the real smart people don’t want to do.

But, now I realize something. It’s impossible to fly with a two ton weight around my neck. I need to take a step back and solve the issues that are causing the pile of stuff to build up separating me from my real goals. I need to cut through the stuff and address the distractions that they represent. Basically, I need to say “No.” to a lot more stuff in my life. And trust me, in the last nine months I’ve said no to a lot of stuff already. I cut back on Cable TV: it costs too much and wastes my time. I cut back on a couple beers a night: to a beer with friends on special occasions (bonus with that one, my sleep improved dramatically). I cut back on my volunteer work, and organizations where I was worrying about issues that honestly have almost no impact on my life. I cleaned out the old books in the basement and gave away clothes.

But, I still have a long ways to go. So, it’s back to the pile of stuff to whittle it down and ask myself harder questions about why I think I need so much stuff in my life. Do I need Olympic bobsledding in my life? It sure seemed like it this weekend… My goal right now is to minimize that stuff in my life, by saying no to pointless distractions. Amazingly, saying “No.” opens up a lot more opportunities than saying “Yes.” ever did. But, to get to those opportunities, I’ve got to do even less. Wish me luck.

BTW: This blog post was inspired by James Altucher’s “Ten Good Ideas List”. I jot down a list every time I make myself coffee in the break room at work. Today’s morning list was titled: The Crap I Carried.


The Nurburgring Bernie Ecclestone Solution: Six Pence None the Richer

Bernie Ecclestone, as we all know, is in some legal difficulty in Germany. The Nurburgring, as we all know, is in some financial difficulty in Germany. Why not, combine the two problems into one elegant solution? Instead of paying back the money he is alleged to owe German banks who backed a scheme to takeover F1, Ecclestone should be allowed to use the money to buy the Nurburgring and turn it back over to the local German government that owned it before the whole Disney-Nurburgring fiasco.

This elegantly solves at least two problems. One, it forces Ecclestone to pay back his alleged ill-gotten gains, something he will undoubtedly do anyway to prevent the case going to court. Second, it solves the problem of the German government, or any entity of government in Germany, paying directly for the buyout. Apparently, a direct government buyout of a distressed asset like the Nurburgring is not allowed under current EU rules.

Simple, clean, effective: a Solomonesque decision for the benefit of the racing community worldwide, the local economy around the Nurburgring specifically, a fair punishment (if necessary) for Ecclestone’s alleged bribery, and the banks end up six pence none the richer. I’m sure Ecclestone would love to see his money going to support an iconic race circuit, rather than former business partners who perhaps should have read their contracts a bit more closely.

When dealing with Bernard Ecclestone, after all, one must always read between the lines.

Drones: The Future of Race Coverage

For a look at how photo journalists used to cover racing, see this photo from the the website http://www.f1history/ Image

The modern eye, naturally notices on the left side of the photo: a man, standing inches away from the speeding Formula 1 Ferrari of British legend Mike Hawthorn. Do you see him? He’s the slightly blurry figure wearing a light blue sweater and brown trousers. Now, I’m sure you can see him.

That looks dangerous.

We would never suggest or even allow, photographers to get so close to the action today. But technology has developed innovations to allow similar if not better, photos and video to be taken during races. I’m thinking of in ground embedded cameras, the swinging gantries that allow a camera to sweep through a corner following the action or even the camera on a wire as employed by NASCAR and American football.

A new technology promises to blow current systems out of the water. In one word: drones. Pilotless remote control multicopters (usually named for the number of rotors on board) with gimballed cameras are being used increasingly in documentaries and news programs. They provide dramatic otherwise unobtainable footage. They can hover near ground level, then almost instantaneously zoom hundreds of feet in the air.

Watch this amazingly disorienting yet wonderfully flowing video taken by The Flying Camera Company (link to their website) to promote their endeavors. Fortunately, on first glance, it looks like they might have some interest in motor related subjects.

The Flying Camera Company is a new video production group focusing on this paradigm shift in airborne camera work. I was able to ask them some questions about the technology and what applications they see in the future for motorsport. While the technology itself is exciting. And the video results are impressive. Regulatory concerns mean that there are ways the flying cameras can and cannot be deployed.

First, the best thing about this new technology is just the type of shot it can get. It is unlike any other technology and comes at a fraction of the cost of traditional helicopter mounted cameras. When you’ve got something like that, you’ve got to believe F1 is going to want it. The Flying camera Company explains:

“The great thing about multi rotors is that you can do moves that no other piece of equipment can so you usually want to show that off with some movement, perhaps starting beside the track at ground level then developing to a higher wide shot drifting over the track as the cars came underneath. Also with aerial filming your usually on a fairly wide lens as your trying to achieve those big, epic shots but most things are achievable with them with the right equipment and planning.”

The Flying Camera Company is currently using octocopters, or UAV’s — Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — with eight rotors. I believe they prefer the term UAV to “drones”.  Drones come with immediate negative connotations, but UAV’s should begin to change that. These aren’t by any means the type of missile shaped armament carrying drones of the U.S. military. The octocopters use high tech navigation and hefty construction to withstand the rigors of their work environment. Since the UAV’s use GPS for navigation, they can basically be parked at a set location and film from there. So, a first possibility would be to have them used in areas where crowds are prohibited and it would be too difficult to get a film crew or helicopter into location. One hovering UAV could be “parked” for example, above the unused section of Interlagos and film cars as the come out of turns one and two, up through the back straight and into corners four and five.

Interlagos UAV Fly Zone

A possible UAV fly zone (click on image to enlarge) marked in white with red borders at Interlagos.

For that matter, they could be used extensively in rallying, greatly reducing the cost of helicopter flights while providing wider and more diverse coverage. Instead of sweeping over the snow covered forests of Sweden, imagine sweeping through them!

As helicopter type vehicles they are not fast in a straight line. The Flying Camera Company estimates maximum straight line speeds of around 30 mph. But, covering a curving section of a road course or rally stage they could sweep over areas in a straight line providing unique coverage as the cars navigate the twisty bits on the ground. Again, the limiting factor here is safety, as no one right now wants to risk a malfunction causing spectator injury or a possible collision with a race car.  The possibility of physical tethering could provide additional safety.

The heft of the camera and motors means that the octocopter used by the Flying Camera Company weighs in at about 30lbs. I asked if there is any problem with aero wash from vehicles being filmed and they haven’t experienced any problems filming in close proximity to speeding Ferraris and Paganis on a closed course. Initially, as the technology proves itself, the UAV’s will undoubtedly be used more for promotional work on closed courses where safety concerns are minimal. Eliminate the crowd and most of the cars and the safety aspects become much easier to control. I would predict some spectacular shots in the upcoming F1 season of team cars being shot during private video sessions.

The big thing to expect from UAV cameras in the future is probably not shots from right next to the track like the brave old F1 photographers, but rather a totally new way to see the race tracks and races. Maybe sooner than later, we will get track previews provided by UAV’s sweeping around the track and zooming in from high to low, and from a broad field to a narrow field to highlight certain corners and features. My guess is, my imagination can’t fathom the amazing shots these little robotic flyers will soon be providing.

The pilots who control these vehicles need to be licensed and they must have permission to carry out aerial work from local flight control authorities like the CAA. The onboard GPS navigation systems help a lot when learning to fly and stabilizing the camera, but like any aircraft, the best pilots know how to take manual control of any situation. And, like any aircraft control comes with hours of flying. The only other restriction is flight time, which is currently limited to just under a quarter hour. That’s a lot less than a helicopter, but multiple teams could be used to cover the same event providing overlapping coverage.

Motorsport fans are drawn to F1 because it has traditionally been on the cutting edge of technology. With a new era in coverage opening up, it will be interesting to see who takes the lead in promoting and developing this exciting new technology.