Friday, January 23, 2015

What's in the Ronda Rousey Basket?

If you go to church events even a little bit you are probably familiar with the baskets that are raffled or auctioned off.

If you don't ever go to church then not only are you missing out on church (duh) but you are also lacking in cultural knowledge such as this.

Basically, whoever is organizing the event calls up various people and asks if you can get together a basket of something around a theme. A movie night basket might have popcorn, movie passes and big boxes of candy. A relaxation basket might have candles, bath salts and a pass for a spa.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church is having a Casino Night on January 24, 2015 (yes, Saturday as in tomorrow) from 6 - 11 pm.
3883 Baldwin Park Blvd.
Baldwin Park, CA 91706

There is also a silent auction and raffle. It costs $30 and that includes card games, all you can eat and drink and brownie points with God thrown in free.

In case you are interested in going and bidding, here is what is in the Ronda Rousey basket. You can see the items picture above.

Autographed items
Large autographed poster
Medium autographed poster
8x 10" autographed photo
Autographed copy of Winning on the Ground
Autographed UFC  shirt

Non-autographed items
I will arm bar your soul t-shirt
2 Ronda Rousey American Beauty patches

Here is the link for more information on the Casino Extravaganza  - yes, the church has a Facebook page.

I won't be there, unfortunately, because I'm flying out to North Dakota on Friday night for the roll out of our latest game.

If you're in the area, though, drop in. You can probably pick up the basket for a much lower bid than something like this on ebay and Catholic churches in LA usually have amazing Mexican and Filipino food. Let me warn you, though, be CAREFUL with the margaritas. Those 80-year-old Mexican abuelitas can drink you under the table. I speak from painful experience.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I have no real problems

Here are my biggest problems today:

  1. I had to turn down a couple of paying gigs to concentrate on building games. Our latest game, Fish Lake, is coming out next week and we have already started working on the next one. However, people don't pay you for the games that are "coming soon", so I turned down work that would for sure pay for work that I hope pays off.
  2. I have annual passes to both Disneyland and the Aquarium of the Pacific, but since Dennis is working so hard on finishing the very last (ha!) bug in Fish Lake, I felt too guilty to take the day off work, even though I've worked the last 9 days straight. So, I stayed in and worked.
  3. We only have Angry Orchard hard cider. I kind of liked that Twisted Pretzel beer and Shockolate Wheat we had at Christmas and now we are all out of both. There probably won't be pumpkin beer again until October. (The title of this post IS, I have no real problems.)
  4. I have to be up by 10 am at the latest tomorrow to meet someone at the office and then I dress somewhat respectably because I have another meeting at 3:30, need to drive across LA in rush hour to be at the Santa Monica New Tech Reunion by 6:30. So, yes, I have to talk for one minute and have free beer and pizza (I told you I have no real problems).
My point is that we all get stressed out about things when, at least at the moment, we have no real problems.

Yes, if we don't sell enough games, then we won't be able to continue making them, we will have to lay people off and either Dennis or I might have to take a job that involves getting up before 10 a.m. EVERY day, driving into traffic EVERY day and  get dressed more or less respectably EVERY day  - or at least five days a week.

But wait, you might say, if you were still with me here, that is a REALLY HUGE problem, having to lay people off, etc. etc.

Well, yes, if it actually happens but we don't have any particular indication that it will. In fact, Fish Lake is going into six schools in five school districts the week it comes out and then we have another school scheduled for the following week, in a sixth district.

My point is that like most people, what I have are problems that fall into the three unreal varieties:

1. POTENTIAL problems. Maybe at some point we won't sell enough games. Or maybe we will, and we will make ONE TRILLION DOLLARS, everything will succeed exactly as planned and better and we will all be kings! Hurray! Either way, right now what I have is not a real problem but a potential problem if this happens and that happens and some other thing happens. Really what I worry about much of the time is things that could possibly happen - and they usually don't.

2. Problems that we choose to have. We live in Santa Monica. There are a great many places in the world where we could move that have a vastly lower cost of living. We could go live in a trailer in central Florida and pay $200 a month rent, live off of our retirement funds and never work again. That may seem like an extreme example, but the truth is many of us think we have problems because we have a certain material standard of living we insist on having. Having a choice isn't a problem. It's a privilege.

3. Problems that are actually minor inconveniences. I got a parking ticket because I forgot to move the car and Julia's car was parked in the garage downstairs. We are out of my favorite kind of beer. I have to get up earlier than I would like. I can't find a flash drive. My candy stash is low.

Next time you find yourself stressing about not finding a parking space, being late to a meeting or out of your favorite kind of beer, just remind yourself,

"I have no real problems."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

When You Think of South Los Angeles, Think of Gompers Judo

When most people think of south Los Angeles, I don't think this is the picture that comes to mind, but here it is, a great photo of our new judo room. There are some great kids in south LA and I am so privileged to have them on our mats.

We got a room!

Ever since the judo program at Gompers Middle School was started we have been limited by the mat size. My sister donated money in my mom's name for her 80th birthday (my mom was turning 80, not my sister). She reasoned that after 80 years, you've probably bought whatever you wanted. 

We added more kids then, but shortly we had outgrown the mat area again. Well, a generous donation enabled us to buy some additional mats. Then, an even more generous donation from Dollamur Mats we were able to DOUBLE the mat area.

It gets better - with all these mats, we needed somewhere to store them. Well, the school moved us to a different building from the old gym where we had been practicing and now we have a PERMANENT JUDO ROOM AT THE SCHOOL!

How awesome is this?

Just let me brag a minute, too. Let's focus in on these pictures some. 

Because we had more mat area, we were able to allow another six students to join the program. I put each of them in with a group of two experienced players who had been doing judo six months or more.

Look at the picture above. One of the young men has been in judo at Gompers for 2 1/2 years. When he first started, I asked Jose Gonzalez, the teacher who sponsors the program,

Are you sure he can talk?

He said,

Yes,  I'm pretty sure he can but I've never heard him talk.

Now, here he is explaining to a new student how to do ippon seoi nage.

The picture below shows a couple of the young women teaching a new student. They could not be more different from the "mean girl" stereotype of middle school.

 You can also see another new girl being taught some of the finer points by Jimmy Sanchez, another school staff member who assists with instruction.

One reason we need an adequate mat size is we have a 4:1 student-teacher ratio, with usually four adult instructors on the mat for 16 students.

There wasn't any point to this blog post today except that I am super-happy about our new facility and equipment. I just wanted to share these pictures with you all and thank everyone who made it happen, from the bottom of my heart.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Sometimes You Need to Move On

Somebody can be the best coach in the world but that still doesn't mean that they are the best coach for you. Somebody can be the best coach for you now, but that doesn't mean they will be the best coach for you forever.

That was brought home to me today watching Ronda at practice.

Ronda has gotten noticeably better.

When she left Boston and started training in mixed martial arts, I suggested that she should still ask Jim Pedro, Sr. if he would coach her in judo. Jim is plain one of the best coaches in the world, and he also is a good person. Ronda agreed with that assessment and that he and his son, Jimmy, Jr. had taught her a lot of judo. However, she said that she thought it would be better just to train with the people in Los Angeles. Watching her train today, I was convinced that she made the right decision.

She has gotten better not just at mixed martial arts but also at applying her judo. If she had stayed in Boston, she would have been doing judo the way Jim has his players train, and why not? They have been the most successful judo program in the country for a decade. 

Sometimes, though, success is not your friend. I have seen this in judo at all levels, from the kid who has won the junior national championships three years in a row to the one who made the world team. I've seen it in mathematics, in business. When a suggestion is made for improvement, the answer is always,

We must be doing something right. We have won 25 junior national medals/ put 4 people on the Olympic team/ aced high school Calculus/ made a $100,000 profit.
Maybe you want to do something else , though.

What I noted watching Ronda today is she is in the driver's seat much more in her training. That is working for her. She has 17 years of experience competing in combat sports, eleven of those years at the highest possible level, in Olympics and mixed martial arts.

If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always gotten. Is that enough?

For some people it is. They like exactly where they are. For others, it's not.

The point many people miss is that moving on is not a bad thing. How many of you are at your first job, with your first boyfriend/ girlfriend? Many of you probably aren't even in your first career or first marriage.

That doesn't mean that those other jobs or people were horrible. It doesn't mean that those positions or people wouldn't be a wonderful fit for someone else. It just means that a time came when you thought the best thing to do was move on.

After I earned my Ph.D., I left the University of California and moved several states away for a job as assistant professor. No one at UCR said,

That ungrateful bitch! How could she do that after we taught her so much and supported her on fellowships for years?

On the contrary, they were all very happy for me and proud that I was doing well.

In martial arts, too often, when someone moves, we treat it like they abandoned their family, when we ought to be looking at it more like they graduated from college or got a new job.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What I learned this year

Today is a good day to reflect on what I have learned over the past year.

To admire people who admit they are wrong. 

It started a year or so ago when I ran across Tavis Smiley's book, Fail Up, in the public library. I'd never paid the slightest attention to him or his show, but the book was thought-provoking. Here was someone who talked about his most embarrassing failures.

I have run across a couple of columnists writing about what they got wrong in 2014, for example, this one on political predictions from fivethirtyeight.

 Many people grow up in environments where every mistake is attacked, taken as a sign of weakness or stupidity. As adults, they're less likely to admit to being wrong because they have equated making a mistake with being inferior and they have a giant need to prove themselves.

Being able to admit that you made a mistake takes maturity and self-confidence. Sometimes it takes overcoming your childhood.

That if I find myself repeatedly thinking, "I should ...." then whatever it is, I should just buckle down and do it.

Three examples of MANY
  1. I bought a bike. I've been thinking for years of buying a bike. Now I bike into the office 2 or 3 days a week, do my banking and other errands around town on my bike. It helps me keep in shape, and being outside getting exercise puts me in a better mood whenever I get to wherever I'm going. I can't believe I didn't do this before. 
  2. I cut back on other consulting and teaching so I could focus more on making games. I love my life and am shaking my head that I did not make this shift a year ago.
  3. I replaced the carpet downstairs with wood floors. I had been meaning to do this for years. It looks much better and is so much easier to keep clean. I've probably saved half of what I spent on it already on carpet cleaning bills I didn't have to pay. I can't believe I didn't do this sooner.
To be grateful every day.

I read a good book with the title, Help, Thanks, Wow - the main point was that these were the only three prayers most people need. When I was young, there was a lot of, "Help!"  Now that I'm older, it's mostly, "Thanks."

I'm thankful for the good weather, even if it is a freezing 46 degrees right now, I remember living in North Dakota when it would not get above zero for six weeks or more. So, I'm grateful I live in Santa Monica.

I'm grateful that I'm as rich as I can possibly be in material terms because I have that most elusive of all possessions - enough. 

Jenn got married this year, in Las Vegas. The same place Dennis and I got married 17 years ago, with our friends secretly betting it wouldn't last five years. Now, we have a 16-year-old daughter who just got her driver's license. My family is wonderful, and I am grateful.

The importance of continuing to learn

Years ago, I had a department chair who put down on his faculty development plan form,

At my age, I figure not going backwards is an accomplishment. I figure I'm as developed as I'm going to get.

Back then, I thought he was funny.

Now that I am the same age, I disagree. This year, I learned more about javascript, css, specialized search engines, multivariate statistics, Ojibwe legends and books written by literary prize winners (mostly learned that I don't like those books).

I can't wait for what I will learn in 2015.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How to be better at anything

Ronda stopped by today and just talking about life and random people we know, I said,

Too many people in this world wish that it was easier when they should be wishing that they were better.

She said,

That should be your next blog post AND I'm stealing that line, too.

So, kiddo, here you go ...

How to be better #1. Follow the advice in my last post where  I talked about the importance of perseverance.

The quote below is from a post I wrote 6 1/2 years ago on judo blogs.  Maybe those other bloggers were better writers than me, smarter than me. We won't know because only one of those blogs still exists and it hasn't been updated in six months.

Within the next month, my blog will hit 1,000,000 page views. This is not as much as my business/statistics blog, but still, it is a million times someone came and read whatever I had rambled on about that day. Crazy, huh? Perseverance.

How to be better #2: Surround yourself with people who expect more of you.
If you ARE a player, look for someone who tells you that you can be better, who pushes you outside of your comfort zone. Don't settle for an environment where everyone tells you how great you are. Search out people who will push you to be better than you think you could be. Sometimes those people are right on your own mat, but they aren't going to push through the crowd to help you. Lose the idea that anyone owes you anything. You'll be a better player and a better person.

 Whether it is judo, academics or business, I continually see people who get in groups and complain about how there is no place to train, the coach is mean, the professor is boring, there are no opportunities. If you are not winning, whether it be in business or judo, you will find plenty of people who will commiserate with you about how none of it is your fault and you are awesome. Stay away from those people.

People who don't expect more of you can also be well-meaning. When Ronda was 16 years old, she won a silver medal in the U.S. Open. She lost a really close match to Sarah Clark of Great Britain. Near the end of the match, Ronda had Sarah in a pin. She escaped and won the match on points.

Everyone was telling her how amazing it was that she had made the finals of an international tournament at 16.

How to be better #3: Expect more of yourself.

Ronda went outside and threw her silver medal down the stairs. I don't remember if we ever went back and got it.

Some might call that bad sportsmanship. I disagree. It's not like she threw it at somebody. There was no one around. Ronda was disappointed in herself and I thought she had a right to be.

Remembering that day, Ronda said,

"I didn't need anybody to tell me that I could have done better because I already knew it."

She went on to win the U.S. Open several times.

How to be better #4: Quit expecting it to be easy. 

 I work on making better computer games every day. Sometimes life intervenes and I don't get much work done until 9 or 10 pm. If that's the case, I will work until 2 am just to make sure that I got SOMETHING productive done that day. Then, I'll try to put in 10 or 12 hours the next day so it averages out.

When I was competing, I won some matches on sheer determination alone. My body pays for it every day. My knee has been replaced with titanium and plastic. My back hurts. My hands hurt. There is a picture in the hallway of the final match in the world championships. In it, you can see that my right hand is bandaged because I had injured my thumb in France a month or so before. That thumb still hurts and some days I have it bandaged so I don't inadvertently use it. Since I write code for a living, it's pretty inconvenient only having nine fingers, but hey, whatever.

The things for which people pay you a lot of money, the things that change people's lives - really, nothing worth having comes easy.


Shameless plug - games that make you smarter and are fun to play.
This is my company. Buy Spirit Lake today and you'll get 50% off Fish Lake next month.  Runs on Mac or Windows

Shameless plug on matwork:
I wrote Winning on the Ground with Jim Pedro,Sr. It's good. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

1 and 1/2 secrets of Success

Three different people asked me this week what was the secret to my success. I found that peculiar because I'm not feeling particularly successful this week.

They pointed out that I have a Ph.D., teach multivariate statistics, run a couple of companies, have four wonderful daughters, won a world championships.

But, I protested - and this was not being humble but how I really feel


There are so many projects I have under way.

I just this minute downloaded the latest version of Fish Lake, our game set to debut in a few weeks. Maybe sooner.

This week, I started on our first web app, that we are now having daily meetings on design. This is a new direction for us and I am focused on getting everything right from the very beginning, using all that we have learned in the past three years.

I am SUPER-excited because I am getting closer and closer to working full-time on the games. I've gone from 50% time, to 100% most days. I should be to 100% every day by June.

We are also doing our first mobile game, for iPhones and iPads. That started a little while ago but we are ramping up development now, getting the artwork done, dropping in the math challenges.

While students or other young people are asking me how to get to where I am, I am thinking about how to get to where I want to be next.

I don't feel like I'm a success yet.  I was going to quote Lanny Clark, yet again, that "Life goes to the slowest winner", and I searched this blog for that quote.

I came across a post I wrote 6 1/2 years ago.

His point is that it matters far less who is the high school football hero at 17 or who won the junior nationals at 11 or who got the highest score on the AP Chemistry test than who is president of Microsoft at 40, who wins the Olympics at 21 or who receives the Nobel Prize for Medicine at 62.

Where were we then vs now?

Jenn, at 22, had "a college degree and a job but not quite a career yet..."
-- She has her masters from USC now, and has been a history teacher for several years in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Ronda, at 21, had a bad day and it was one of the rare times she did not place in a competition...
-- She went on to win several more international tournaments, an Olympic medal and is now UFC world champion

Maria, at 26,  was  a sportswriter, and had just moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Connecticut
-- She now lives in Santa Monica, is co-founder of 7 Generation Games and just finished writing a book with Ronda that is coming out in a few months.

As for me, I am gradually winding down the consulting and teaching to focus on making games. The job that I had six years ago that paid less than I was accustomed also offered free tuition for my kids and covered my knee replacement. In the ensuing years, I have published conference papers, another article in a scientific journal, written a book on judo and grants funded for over $3 million.

The secret is exactly what I said then

.... it is best not to make yourself too crazy worrying, because the odds are, if you work really hard and do the right thing, it will work out.You'll make yourself less crazy if you take a long-term view. Life changes from day to day.

Persevere. That's it. Just keep working. Every day, you get a little better until one day your book is finished, your game is on the market, you are champion of the world.

If today you don't win, your program crashes, you don't get the job you want, your editor hates what you wrote, well, you try again tomorrow.

The other half a secret is this - persevere at the right thing. Ronda did not go to a third Olympics. Jenn went back to school and got a masters degree. I'm no longer working at USC. Maria isn't working for ESPN any more.

All of the things we were working on in 2008 led to where we are now.

So, that is the secret. Keep working to improve but don't be so focused on one goal that you refuse to recognize opportunities that may be even better for you.

Don't stop - and be willing to go in any direction but backward.