Reduce Friction to Win


Here’s another lesson from basketball, that applies to business (and life). Winning emerges from harmony. That means that high-EI people, who actually try to get along with one another, are critical to any team (or organization).

A post on Bruin Nation, reflecting on the career of coach Larry Brown, says:

I would also point to his ability to reduce the inherent friction between individuals in a team game.  Phil Jackson was a coach who had great insight into how to do this. When constructing a team he would find veterans who could fill certain roles on the team that would not conflict with the stars.  Younger players wanting to prove themselves and  playing for big contracts would– even though more talented than role-player veterans–take shots and touches from the more talented stars, hence leading to a less efficient team.

And I think Brown has those same type of friction-reducing skills.

A day earlier, Ailene Voisin published a column about internal discord in the Sacramento Kings front office. Coach George Karl said:

I think organizations are a little bit like basketball teams,” he said. “They have to play together, work together. Where the responsibilities fall, what the opinions are, behind closed doors we’re allowed to have fights, heated discussions. But Bill Walsh told me when I first started coaching that “‘organizations that aren’t together don’t win.”

And before last night’s Warriors game, coach Steve Kerr said:

I think comedy plays a huge role in sports. You have to have guys who are funny, who keep the locker room loose.

Yes, the universe is sending me a message. I get it.

The photo, “WD-40” is copyright (c) 2014 by Mike Mozart and made available under a Attribution 2.0 license.

Add swap to your Digital Ocean Droplet

I have one of the small droplets on Digital Ocean, which works fine for serving web sites. And also learning about linux.

It turns out that linux does not automatically come with swap space. That’s obviously in keeping with the unix philosophy of:

  1. doing the minimum
  2. assumes you know what you are doing

It is easy enough to set up a swapfile. Instructions vary slightly based on your linux flavor. For example, I run centos 6, so these instructions work for me. Google as needed.

After setting up a swapfile, npm installs work flawlessly. Highly recommended.

Translate placeholders with Google Translate widget

The Google Translate widget does not translate placeholder text in form fields. A regrettable oversight. This code corrects that.

Re-setting the mysql root password

DB corruption, or hacking? Either way, I’ve had my WordPress DB wedged twice in the last 3 years.The solution is to reset the root password. Instructions are here, but repeated below:

/etc/init.d/mysqld stop
mysqld_safe --skip-grant-tables &
mysql -u root
use mysql;
update user set password=PASSWORD("mynewpassword") where User='root';
flush privileges;
/etc/init.d/mysql stop
/etc/init.d/mysql start


Jim Harbaugh’s last lesson

I was really, really late to the Harbaugh party. He was loopy and successful at Stanford, but I’m not a Stanford alum or fan — I only paid attention when he played USC or UCLA. And the 49ers were bad for so long, I didn’t expect them to bounce up so high just because of a coach. Plus, there was a lockout, which limited my interest in football that first season. And then I wondered if the 49ers weren’t just a little lucky, a flash-in-the-pan.

I finally embraced the Harbaugh 49ers two years ago.  I started reading everything about Harbaugh, and I came to understand that he is a really interesting, unique, effective person. As most great coaches are.

Harbaugh is always teaching us new lessons (which is funny, because Jed York says he wants his next coach to be a “teacher”). We all expected Harbaugh to diva his way to another NFL team, cash in huge, and stick it to York. But that’s not what he did.

Instead, he went back to college coaching. And sure, there are extenuating circumstances. He is coaching his alma mater, a historically famous football school, heir to a legendary coach. And they are paying him an NFL-level salary (although less than he could command on the open market).

Why did he choose that path? I think he came to understand that success is not happiness, and happiness is not counted in championship rings. This is different from Jed York’s (and many other NFL owners) understanding of the world. A few years ago, when Jerry Sloan retired, I wrote this:

Michael Jordan and  Kobe Bryant from the player side, along with Pat Riley on the coaching side, have turned a psychotic need to win into one of the most prized attributes of any coach or player. Jerry Sloan never suffered from that. He wanted to win, and tried very hard to do so. But for Sloan, winning was a by-product of playing your hardest and executing perfectly. If you played hard and executed well, you could walk away from any game with your head held high.

More recently, Carmelo Anthony said this:

You can’t control winning. It’s out of your control. You can control what you do. You can control your work ethic and your mind-set. When it comes down to winning, everything has to be synchronized, from ownership all the way down to the staff. Everything has to be in sync.

I don’t have any quotes handy, but at the beginning of this NBA season, Kobe was asked why he returned, and why he returned with the Lakers. And his answers were a little mysterious, but he talked about “going through the process,” and “honoring the process.” I think Kobe (like Carmelo, and Jerry Sloan, and now Jim Harbaugh) has come to understand that happiness does not come from achievement, it comes from striving for achievement. From hope for future success, not reflection on past success. It’s more important to play to win, than to actually win. Here’s a bit from Harbaugh’s farewell press conference:

-Q: You’ve said playing for a Super Bowl title is the ultimate prize and you don’t have one yet. Is that still a goal for you?

-HARBAUGH: We played for it and that’s the way we look at it. Every time we took the field it’s been a tremendous thrill, one of the great thrills of my life and am forever proud of what we accomplished.

By leaving the NFL, and going to Michigan, Harbaugh is also telling us that love and acceptance and trust are really important. Those are the things that have to be synchronized, as Carmelo says. Those things, and the freedom to pursue happiness, are more important than money or trophies.



James Garner died

NOTE: this was started last summer. Then noodled on for several months. Then I hit “publish”.) 

James Gamer died last Saturday. He was 86.

I have a ton of affection for Garner, but mostly based on his “Jim Rockford” character. “The Rockford Files” were on in my house every week during it’s initial run. Then every day in re-runs. The Gamon’s were unabashed Rockford fans.

This is a notice, not a lament. Garner did everything I cared about by 1980. I enjoyed his subsequent work, but I don’t get misty-eyed about it.

He was, frankly, an underachiever. Tall, handsome, charming: he should have been the heir to Cary Grant and Rock Hudson. But he wasn’t “actor” enough to escape his true nature. That nature was on display in “Maverick,” “The Great Escape”, and “The Rockford Files.” Garner enjoyed playing the role of the smooth-talking, ethically-flexible, reluctant hero. Rockford, in particular, had a hidden line he would not cross. That’s when he flipped into a hero. Rockford also had an interesting twist on manly pride: You could overpower him in various ways. He accepted that pragmatically. But if you fooled Rockford, he became a relentless foe.

I think Hour of the Gun was Garner’s only effort at a darker role. He fails, in my opinion. But Jason Robards is an outstanding Doc Holiday. And the affection between Garner’s Wyatt Earp and Robards’ Holiday seems authentic.

As usual with old celebrities, I don’t really miss or mourn James Garner. But I’m glad he was around.


windows delete path too long

One problem with nodejs programming is that npm modules can produce deeply nested folders. So deep, Windows will throw “path too long” errors if you try to delete them.

Path too long errors are really hard to get around. Consider this MS Support page. Skim down to “Cause 4, Resolution 5″: “Use a tool that can traverse deep paths.” Gee, thanks Microsoft.

There are a bunch of commercial tools, starting at $20, that will delete anything for you. However, I don’t think I should have to pay extra to delete files. Call me crazy.

Luckily, there is a free solution: 7-Zip. You should install this anyway, because it is the best Windows zip file system. And totally free.

It turns out 7-Zip has a file manager, like Windows Explorer. Use the 7-Zip file manager to locate the file or folder that you want to delete. Click to select. Then, using the keyboard, press shift+delete. Voila! All gone.


Chromebooks: good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, I like ‘em

I bought a chromebook earlier this year. This exact model, for $300, to be precise. I was curious about two things:

  1. Would I miss desktop software?
  2. Would a seemingly underpowered computer frustrate me?

The answers are no, and no.

As usual in life, your mileage may vary. But I found it really easy to transition to browser computing. Most of the things I do on the computer have browser-based alternatives. And I find that living in the cloud gives me an incredible lightness of being. I never install or update software. I don’t get malware. If my chromebook falls in a well, I can just buy another one (they’re cheap, and easy to find), and be right back in business. Heck, I could borrow a browser and be right back in business.

Predictably, I use Google Docs in place of office tools, though I am not a heavy user. Microsoft has ported real Office to the web now, so you could always pay for that if you don’t love Google’s 80% solution.

I’ve ripped my last cd, I think. I subscribed to Google’s music service a couple of years ago. There is so much to listen to, I think I can just live without whatever is missing.

Actually, that’s pretty much the dividing line. Some people are complete-ists. They want every single thing, just in case. They may never use pivot tables, but if your spreadsheet doesn’t support it, they’ll reject it. Those people won’t buy chromebooks. I shed no tears for them.

You can make music, edit video, draw pictures, and even program from inside a browser. You’ll sacrifice some features (for now), but you won’t be blocked from accomplishing your mission.

A few delightful things that I didn’t expect to be a big deal, but they are:

Instant on. Open the lid, and chromebook is up and moving. It’s shocking how useful that is.

Really long battery life. Mac people already know about this superpower, but I’m a Windows refugee. Going hours and hours without plugging in is also really useful.

No malware. Mac people used to know what this is like, until they didn’t. But it was just an accident on the Mac. ChromeOS is military-grade secure by design. I can visit any website, open any attachment, plug in usb sticks of unknown provenance. ChromeOS has my back.

ChromeOS keyboard. At first, I thought it was funky. But the more I used my chromebook, the more I grew to appreciate the thoughtfulness of the special keys. I wish my Windows computers had this keyboard.

What about offline use? Well…

I spend the lion’s share of my time at home, my office, Starbucks, and McDonalds. Lack of internet is not a problem that I actually have. If I were still riding trains on my commute, I might feel differently.

There are, in fact, many things you can do offline with your chromebook. The same things, mostly, that you can do offline on regular computers. But you need to plan ahead. When you own a chromebook, you get used to just streaming everything off the cloud. To do offline stuff, you have to remember to save files to local storage. Then you can access them offline. You can read Kindle books, watch movies, play music, look at pictures, and work on office docs.

A few notes on the hardware:

There probably are no bad chromebooks, but I think you’ll be happiest with an Intel Haswell processor. Benchmarks show the Haswell outperforming the other chromebook chips, and anecdotal reports on the internet say the other chips sometimes lag. There is no price premium ($200 for the Acer C720), so prefer the Haswell.

I, personally, love the 11″ screen form factor. It’s the right size for couch-surfing, and makes an unobtrusive companion around town. But there are 13″ and 14″ inch screens too.

Surprisingly, 2GB of ram is fine. I guess 4GB would be even better, but I really haven’t felt any pain.

My chromebook has a touch screen. I don’t use it a ton, but I’m glad it’s there.

Some chromebooks come with 16GB of storage. Others, like mine, come with 32GB. It never hurts to have more, but I wouldn’t notice if someone stole half my storage. Everything is stored on Google Drive.


Traveller, part 2, Enhanced Classic Traveller

In 1977, GDW published a set of rules for a science-fiction-role-playing game. That set of rules is known as Classic Traveller. Ten years later, there was a re-boot called MegaTraveller. In between, there were a raft of supplements and expansions. Classic Traveller + some number of supplements and expansions is what I call Enhanced Classic Traveller (ECT).

The obvious problem with ECT is, what precise set of supplementary material forms the canon? For me, it was Books 1-6, Azhanti High Lightning (AHL), and Stryker. This evolved over time, of course. Let me give you some flavor.

Traveller was published as a set of three 36-page rulebooks. But since the book pages were about half the size of a letter-sized page, you could say that Classic Traveller had just 54 pages of rules. Classic Traveller was published in 1977. It was an overnight hit.

GDW published Mayday the following year. Mayday expanded lightly on the ship combat rules, adding Newtonian movement. We embraced it immediately.

Snapshot followed the next year. You’ll recall from the previous post that my gaming group did not discover Traveller until the back half of 1979, so Snapshot was available to us. As soon as we discovered it, we adopted it. Snapshot introduced Traveller’s famous square scale (15mm=1.5m), and the action point combat system. Basically, it turned Traveller combat into a wargame. As converted wargamers, this was familiar and safe to us.

Snapshot, however, was swiftly superseded bay AZH. AZH rationalized the action point system, while retaining the the core combat system.

My friends introduced me to Book 4 – Mercenary, and Book 5 – High Guard. These books radically changed the character generation system, for the better. Book 4 also added a lot of new personal combat gear. Book 5 also introduced a whole new starship design and combat system.

Book 5′s ship design and combat system grew into a game unto itself. GDW held annual tournaments to see who could build the best Trillion Credit Squadron.

The last piece of the puzzle was a system for designing vehicles and weapons.  Striker, in 1981, filled that gap. We never adopted the Striker combat rules, sticking instead to AHL.

Book 6 – Scouts, in 1983, finally turned scouts into a first-class character. It also had a detailed solar-system generation system that cried out to be converted to a computer program. Many people did so. Including me.

There was a wealth of other supplementary material, both official and otherwise. Dragon magazine published an alternate character generation system that I admired. It used no dice, and had players allocating points for attributes and skills.

By 1983, it was obvious that no two gaming groups were playing the same game of Traveller. This was a problem for the brand, though not for me. My core gaming years skidded gently to a halt after that year. For me, and probably for the rest of my life, ECT, as I defined it above, is the pinnacle of gaming.

Traveller, part 1

Traveller is a role playing game. I had a relationship with it. This is my story.


My story begins in the summer of 1979, when I was 14 years old. I was already a nascent wargamer.

I was obsessed with a pulp-fiction book series called The Executioner, by Don Pendleton. The Executioner series was not high art. But, like Edgar Rice Burroughs before him, Pendleton wrote intelligently. His “Mack Bolan” character was believable, given that this was pulp-fiction. Before the Great Purge of 1988, I owned almost every one of the original 38 books.

However, this is not a post about the The Executioner series. It is about Traveller.

I’m not sure when I bought Traveller. I know that I bought a game called Top Secret early that summer. Back then, the internet did not exist. There were exactly three places for a 14-year-old boy to buy a modern wargame: Toys R Us, Tower Records, and  my Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS).  I spotted Top Secret at Toys R Us.

Top Secret, according to the back cover, had complete rules for personal combat. This was exactly what I needed to for my imagined Executioner game! It was also a “role playing game”, which I did not understand at all.

So I bought this game and shut myself up for a few days. I ginned up an Executioner scenario, using the as-advertised personal combat rules. Life was good.

At some point, I let on to my friend Rick that I had this game. Rick was a year older than me. Although he was one of my closest friends at the time, he also had a wider network of friend his own age. Bottom line: he knew what a “role playing game” was. He grabbed my rules, and the sample mission. Before long, he was GM-ing a game of Top Secret, with me and my friend Tom as players. It was one of the most wonderful weeks of my life.

Once we exhausted the sample mission in Top Secret, we resumed our normal schedule of wargames. At some point, before the end of the summer, someone introduced Traveller. I don’t think it was me. But by the time I went to high school at the end of August, I owned a copy. I remember reading the rules in the original 3 Books during the first weeks of my freshman year.

I know that, during that freshman semester, we played a good bit of classic, Classic Traveller. The meaning of the of the double “classic” will become clear in later posts. I’m not sure when we ascended from Classic Traveller to Enhanced Classic Traveller. And if you think that I am splitting a hair… Stay tuned….