Tuesday, September 29, 2009

First Quarter Review of the Aggies

The Aggies are through three games of the season. In my preview I stressed the importance of getting big leads to enable the team to have flexibility to get guys reps and to give some flexibility to explore the offense. The team delivered beating their first three opponents by a combined score of 135-55. Many of the opponent’s points came at the end of games while defensive subs were playing. As an A&M fan I don’t think that you can ask for a better first three games. The Aggies did what they needed to do and blew out all three teams.

The Offense
Going into this weekend A&M is sporting the number one offense in the country. This is miraculous given the fact that A&M’s best receiver Jeff Fuller is out with a cracked fibula for 1.5 of those games and Ryan Tannehill, the Ag’s second best receiver, is getting limited reps as he is also the back up quarterback. The best part about the receiving corp is that A&M doesn’t just have one go to guy. The Aggies have thrown to thirteen different receivers. Six of them have scored touchdowns in a game. Additionally, six receivers have over 50 yards receiving. Jerrod Johnson is doing a great job of leading the offense. His accuracy on mid range balls is questionable at times, but he tends to miss away from the defender and has zero interceptions through the first quarter of the schedule. If he threw crossing routes in stride then A&M would have a few more break out plays. Sherman (one who rarely compliments) came out and said how well Johnson is audibling at the line of scrimmage. Obviously as a fan those are things I can’t know one way or the other. The fact that Sherman comes out and says it in a press conference shows the level of confidence he has in Johnson’s ability. Johnson is averaging 320.3 yards 3 touchdowns per game passing; and 65.3 yards 1.3 touchdowns per game rushing. As mentioned above Johnson has zero interceptions and zero turnovers through three games. An overlooked unsung hero has been Jamie McCoy who is the teams second leading receiver at tight end. He's blocking extremely well and is even playing fullback to confuse the personel assignments for the defense. A&M is also moving the ball on the ground averaging 244 yards per game. Christine Michael the freshman running back is truly special and through two games has averaged 93.5 yards per game. In both he played about three quarters. Michael could be the best back A&M has had since Leeland McElroy. Cyrus Gray the incumbent starter doesn’t have all of Michael’s tools, but is a great back who fights for every yard. Gray is currently averaging 67 yards per game and is the workhorse of the group. Our weakest unit on offense is the offensive line. Pass protection has been good and at times great, but I’m not sure if it will hold up to some of the more salty defensive lines in the big 12. The run blocking has been serviceable but not great. The interior guard play is decent and a lot of our break out runs are through the middle, but the tackle spot has been slow to develop. Stephen Barrera has just moved into the left tackle spot as of last game and scored out well. I’m curious to see how he and the rest of the line does against a more formidable opponent this weekend.

The Defense
If you could say one thing about this defense compared to last years it’s that they are capable of making big plays. You couldn’t say that last year. I still don’t believe it as I type it, but A&M leads the nation in sacks. Last year the Aggies had 16 sacks all year and through three games the 2009 total is already at 14. Leading the way is the national sack leader Von Miller with 8 through three games or 2.67 sacks per game. Miller is fast, plays with his pads low, and strong as an ox. He’s the real deal and the best pass rusher I’ve seen since I’ve been watching the Aggies religiously (2001 season). Featherston is also a suitable back up at the position and makes plays of his own with 1 sack and 3 tackles for a loss. The defensive interior line is the weakest unit on the field for the Aggies in my opinion. Tony Jerod-Eddie is starting to make some plays up the middle during passing downs, but the run defense is questionable for those guys. It’s rare to see them move the line of scrimmage backwards. I’m concerned about getting gashed up the middle by some of the bigger offensive lines starting with this weekend. The linebacker spot is easily the most improved unit on the defensive side of the ball. It’s great to see linebackers shedding blocks and running to the ball. The unit has about 70 tackles on the season or about 30% of the team total. Two of our top three tacklers are linebackers Kyle Mangan and Garrick Williams. As we move ahead this year I want these guys to overtake Trent Hunter as the leading tackler on the team and continue to perform against the more aggressive offensive lines of the big 12.

I’m not sure how this season will end up. Most importantly though this team, which is playing 30 underclassmen, is playing above its individual talent level. I haven’t seen that in a really long time. I’m not sure that we beat Arkansas this weekend, but I know that this team won’t quit and will give 110% on Saturday. For that reason I love this team and what they are capable of. My prediction for the season still stands at 7-5; if we pull out Arkansas or Oklahoma State then 8 wins becomes something worth talking about.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Team Do Stuff

Doing stuff is fun. Really through happenstance I have had an eventful two weeks; because of that it’s been a great two weeks. I’ve had 3 parties/get togethers at my house, played softball, attended A&M games, played football, taught Sunday school, done salsa lessons, started documenting my dreams, and done Crossfit. This weekend I’m going rock climbing, A&M game, Sunday School, and going to try and ride a motorcycle.

I find it enjoyable to try out activities and meet new people. I enjoy gaining a new experience and it’s interesting meeting the different kinds of people that do different activities. In fact I would say another one of my hobbies is understanding what makes people tick. I also hope that through my adventures that I will find something I am truly passionate about. Part of me though is starting to think that my passion is new experiences. I enjoy Crossfit because it allows me to be prepared to do any type of physical activity. I enjoy feeling in shape. Toastmaster’s develops a skill that serves me both personally and professionally. The activities I stick with tend to benefit me in multiple ways and better enable me to get good at multiple things.

Obviously, the advantage to this is that I get to meet lots of different people. Just this fact alone has dramatically changed who I am. We grow up with a certain understanding of how things work. You don’t even realize what you believe until you see that someone does something else differently than you do. And it’s an amazing experience to break down barriers that don’t really exist. It also strengthens for you the things that do matter. I also find that in today’s society the people that do best are those that can relate to the most people. That comes through experience.

The biggest disadvantage I have noted is that I don’t become truly excellent at anything. I enjoy rock climbing, but it’s not something I want to do 5 or 6 times a week. Which is what it takes to become excellent, I’m up to the 5.9 or 5.10 range in difficulty, but my learning curve has flattened out. Steady improvement is going to come, but I don’t forsee myself getting to 5.12 or above any time soon. Is that so bad? For me it’s not. I think it’s important to give your all in the moment, but some people also want to hone a particular skill. My grandfather is an excellent carpenter because he’s put in countless hours doing it. I can’t achieve that without focus.

So I still haven’t found out what I’m passionate about, but perhaps I’m passionate about variety. Maybe what I find most exciting is meeting new people and doing new things. I’m not sure, but if you have a great activity you think I would enjoy then let me know. I’m always open to ideas.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New 30 Day Experiment: Lucid Dreaming

I haven’t done a 30 day experiment in awhile because I haven’t found anything that is both enticing and requires a daily action. I’ve started doing salsa lessons once a week (let me know if you want to go), I still rock climb when I can, teach Sunday school, Toastmasters etc. So I’ve been implementing new activities, but starting tonight I have now found my next 30 day experiment.

I first read about lucid dreaming from Steve Pavlina a guru on self development. He is one of the more eccentric individuals that I currently read and explores a lot of extremes. He documents his results and rates them based on feeling and experience from the activity. Tim Ferriss writes primarily about life hacking, and uses a scientific method approach in discovering what works best. I am most attracted to Ferriss’s approach and tend to pay attention to his results. I didn’t realize that he studied at Stanford primarily to learn more on lucid dreaming by one of the top experts on the subject. His blog today documents his experiences with lucid dreaming.

So What is Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreaming is the ability of having active consciousness during dreaming. Essentially you are in complete control of your dreaming state. Think the matrix. You can fly, hang out with famous people, create entire worlds, review study material; whatever you can imagine is possible. The benefits that have been noted are reductions in stress, fun, review of material for tests the next day, training with your favorite athlete, creating athletic performance success to develop confidence and recall; essentially you get your mind back for an additional 8 hours a day.

I’m curious to try out lucid dreaming and document my results. The first step is to immediately record my dreams upon waking up. This process can take one week or more to achieve the desired level of recall. I’ll post on this topic when I feel that I have significantly made progress in this area and document results as well as step 2.

If you decide to try it as well let me know so we can discuss our results together. See the links throughout the article for more information.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What's Your Scar?

Charles McMillan is the youngest coach on the A&M staff and apparently one of the most talented. Many believe that if our current defensive coordinator were to retire that McMillan would take his spot. The thing is that McMillan doesn’t want any part of that.

He has a goal and it’s to be a head football coach/AD for a highschool. For those of you who don’t know that is a huge paycut 50% or more. The thing is McMillan doesn’t coach for the money; McMillan loves kids. He wants to change lives.
When you delve into his past you find that McMillan is the oldest of seven children. He was a sophomore in highschool when his mother murdered his father and was given a 25 year prison sentence. Then McMillan was described as a role model student who was a father to his siblings and always carried a smile on his face. Today he takes the most painful part of his childhood and uses it to help kids. It’s truly inspiring.

We all have painful trials and we will all go through more as we move through life. These scars hurt, but eventually we find a way to get past it and heal. We learn something. We now have a gift; we have a painful experience and some tools to deal with the situation. And an ability to empathize with those who are struggling through the same trial. It’s why McMillan does what he does. He has turned his pain into a gift.

My parents divorce was a painful time for me; it was right before my sixth grade year. I moved to a new part of town and was running low on self confidence. Football and band were my outlets as I went through those junior high years. It was real tough. I remember feeling lonely and abandoned at times. That scarred me and I healed from that. I now teach Sixth Grade Sunday School because I know there are kids there going through the same thing. They want someone who understands. Because of my pain I can be that guy.

What’s your scar? How can you turn it into a blessing? All of us are unique and have different ways we can relate to people. McMillan went through a terrible time and has created a career and a passion.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Glad to Be A Guy

I don’t consider myself a person who dresses poorly at work. I would say that I am above average even. I could raise that bar as well if I dropped a little cash into my wardrobe (about $500 or so). That’s actually the plan in the near future. Apparently, how you look correlates to business success. People that are attractive tend to do better in the workplace.

Thinking about this fact gave me a higher level of appreciation for what women have to go through. There is a bar that is set for men and really it’s not that high. You can be above average by working out, eating decently well, and dressing crisply. Girls on the other hand have mounds of products, creams, makeup, heels, fashion etc. The man’s wardrobe is a dress shirt and slacks, and at least in my career anything too extreme would be considered faux paus. On the other hand girls have all kinds of clothing options I don’t even know the names for, tons of different shoes, etc. The pressure to maintain a nice figure is much higher than it is with men. I don’t envy the fairer sex by any stretch of the imagination. As females get older they seem to do more to preserve or create their looks. I’m starting to notice the level of care women put into their appearance on a daily basis.

On the extreme end of that is the modeling world. I have only met and know very few of them, and from what I have seen the industry is very cut throat. The thing about beauty is that it isn’t static and lots of people have it. Additionally, it’s hard to sell well. You can’t pander yourself as attractive; you either are or you aren’t. In the modeling world you can be hot one minute and replaced by the girl a few years younger/ slightly better looking than you in a minute. There aren’t really long term job commitments. You have to fight for every single job. That’s not how the business world works. Generally, once you are hired it’s long term unless you royally suck or drastic changes in the economy happen. There are some days where you are just not “on” I mean everyone has them. If you have to re-apply every time you need a job you have got to look your best every day. Do we really need to ask ourselves why our ozone is being depleted? It’s from the hairspray.

I debate growing out my hair because I hate paying for the cost and spending the time fixing it everyday. It could be MUCH worse. So as I ponder how many new dress shirts I should buy, or what color slacks I should add to my wardrobe; believe me I know it could be much worse.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Outliers My Thoughts

I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers last night. It was a good book and a real quick read (think Freakanomics only shorter). The basic premise of the book is that luck, particularly timing and opportunity, play a key role in success.

There are many examples of how fortunate circumstances that create these outliers in the book, and it’s an interesting premise. For example, if you look at the richest people of all time many of them are Americans born in a five year span during the Industrial revolution. As Gladwell points out, it would be hard to believe that individuals born within this five year span are immensely more talented. Instead the circumstances existed for individuals, such as Andrew Carnegie, to create large business monopolies and grow immense fortunes.

My post on Friday touched briefly on this idea. Identify what your passion is and then how the world is changing around you. What is an untapped technology or area for development? In 1999 it was the idea of the internet startup. Many people born ten years before me became rich off the internet gold rush. These “bubbles” are where we find outliers. It’s obviously very hard to predict where the next bubble will occur. In my opinion it will be internet driven technology. I’m really interested in Google’s internet based operating system. It’s a phenomenal idea and Google has a track record of excellent execution. If it starts to gain steam you will see a lot of ideas branch off this technology. I’m sure there are several wealthy individuals who have taken advantage of Apple’s iphone apps.

Even if the circumstances are ripe with opportunity not everyone in any given generation will be the next Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. It takes dedication. Gladwell mentions several studies stating that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to excel at something. Bill Gates for example had access to a computer before most people in the US. Back when they were only owned by very large corporations and several large universities. Therefore he was able to get in key training time that put him ahead of the curve. He also was supremely fascinated by the computer and would often sleep in the computing center constantly trying his programs. By the time he wrote MS-DOS Gates had an estimated 15-20K time programming. This is why it is necessary to pursue your passion; because success is directly correlated to time spent doing a task. Could you spend 10,000 hours doing something you hate?

If this seems like an interesting topic then pick up the book, it’s a really short read and entertaining. I’m currently reading The Tipping Point by Gladwell and expect to finish that in a week or two. If you’ve read it let me know your thoughts.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Quick Thoughts The New Business Atmosphere

An interesting shift has started in the online world. We are starting to see a movement to uncopywriting or the free flowing of ideas. Seth Godin has mentioned this phenomenon in much of his writing and sold it through his Tribes book.

The premise is that now what gives people power or success is voice. The more people you can reach the more value you create, and thus eventually the more money you make. Creating niche communities is where we see people shifting. Apple and Google have both done a great job of defining their consumer. It’s more of a marketing focus then selling their product. On a smaller scale, each of us now has the right to have a voice. My blog is my voice, my facebook is my voice. Even though it’s small it has an effect. Each consumer is now more powerful than ever.
We all are our own brand. Because I have a blog I’m conveying something about myself every time I write a post. I hope to eventually find a something that I am so interested in; that I can a blog about a particular subject and develop my own tribe. Right now though my blog has the purpose of developing my writing talent and materializing my thoughts, but still each post I make develops my voice.

I’m strongly considering getting a video camera for my trip to Europe and starting to do some video blogs. It’s a larger upfront cost, but it’s a medium that is just now being explored. Plus some of the things I enjoy doing such as food reviews and event reviews around Houston would be more enjoyable I believe in a video format. I thought it would be cool if you could see the vibe of different locations for yourself before attending. I know if someone else did it I'd watch.

If you’ve read Outliers much of one’s success is opportunity, is this not the next big thing? I think that it definitely could be. I hope some of you find a way to take advantage of this new horizon. It’s coming whether we like it or not.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Just Smile

A big part of my job is client interaction. I deal with people as low on the totem pole as first year accounting clerks and as high as CFOs. I’ve met probably 100 or so professionals in my 2 years at my job. One thing I’ve noticed is that the people at the top smile a lot more.

I consider client interaction one of my strong points. I am not great at it by any means and have a long way to go in terms of becoming excellent at it. How to Win Friends and Influence Others has gone a long way in improving my communication as well as organizations where I have been allowed to speak such as Toastmasters. When you carry a positive attitude with you it carries over to the people you interact with. I make it a point to say hello to people and pop in even when I don’t have a request. This allows me to develop a relationship with someone.

Probably my number 1 pet peeve is the pursed lip smile. I mostly see it in passing as I walk by. It is the closed lip smirk that conveys “I hate being here, and you probably do too… we’re in this together”. My thought is always if that is how you feel why are you still working here? If you catch yourself doing this then stop immediately! You aren’t tricking anyone into smiling.

Everyone has days when they find it hard to smile. So how do you create a good smile even when it’s not necessarily your natural reaction? First and foremost always smile with your mouth slightly open and show your teeth. This is actually something primates do as well and subconsciously lets the other person know that you mean them no harm and are willing to help them if necessary. Making eye contact conveys confidence and genuineness.

As I advance in the professional environment I’ve learned that it’s really the details such as smiling that make a big difference in how far you go professionally. Make it a point to mind the little things and over your career you will see big results.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sunday School Class 1

“Mr. Kevin is going to tell us a verse right now and the first one to turn to it wins the prize.”

This was unexpected, but I knew just the one.

“1 Timothy 4:12”

Last Sunday was my first real day as a Sunday school teacher. The introductory class was over. I had prepared a lot for the job. I read various parts of the Bible, the book Do Hard Things, and read several blog posts on unschooling and children. Several people warned me how wild and crazy sixth graders were and how I wouldn’t be able to control them, but I ignored that and instead listened to my friend Matt. He had done childcare for the better part of six years and I asked him his secret.

“Treat them like adults”
“That’s it?”
“Ya, it’s super easy”

I took it with a grain of salt until I read the book Do Hard Things. The book is written by a couple of teenage guys who have done some amazing things. Their message, break out of societies ideology that teens aren’t capable and go out and do something great.

I expected a brief discussion on what to talk about in small groups, but I was just sent some kids. It was somewhat intimidating as it was my first experience. I just decided to go with it though.

So as the kids sat down I busted out the lesson plan, but I didn’t follow it. I identified the theme and the important verses and instead started asking for volunteers for roles and gave them options for what they wanted to do. The kids became engaging and excited. They got to decide what happened next? Everyday of their lives they are being told what to do and what not to do. All of a sudden these six kids that I had seen slouching and looking around were staring straight at me. I asked questions and I received better insight from sixth graders then I have gotten from some adults. As we continued talking I asked how many of them have ever felt like an adult doesn’t give them enough credit for what they can accomplish. Every single one raised their hands.

I then explained to them the idea of a sphere of influence. I asked them to guess how many people I see at work everyday. The general consensus was around 20. I informed them it was in fact 6. I asked them how many people they saw a day; for most it was around 25-30. We then talked about how they could positively affect the lives of those around them. I explained to them how much more they were capable of doing to help their friends, classmates, and school.

I’m excited for next Sunday, because I’m the one who is learning the most. As young teens they are constantly cultivating their ideas, cores, and belief. I’m just blessed to be able to have the opportunity to direct them. I can only hope as the year goes on I am able to have a greater impact; they’ve already changed me. O yea, and the verse:

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.
1 Timothy 4:12

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Where Did All the Money Go

I have been using quicken since about January 1st of this year. At first I was opposed to it and didn’t update it regularly, but now it’s become part of my routine. One of the features of Quicken is that you can track your spending by category. So today I sat down and took a look at where my money has gone over the last 8 months. Here is the breakdown by percentage:

1) Rent, Utilities, Cable, Internet, etc. 29.16%
2) Roth IRA 15.56%
3) Schwab Investment 11.95%
4) 401K 6%
5) Entertainment 4.92%
6) Vacation 4.88%
7) Health and Fitness 4.85%
8) Dining 3.66%
9) Groceries 3.39%
10) Household 3.09%
11) Charity 2.88%
12) Auto 2.63%

I am very pleased with my financial allocation right now. My number 1 cost is rent, utilities, internet, etc. The recommended rate is 30% max of your income for rent alone. Starting in July my rent actually decreased by a small margin so I expect this number to decline slightly over the next four months. My location is really convenient for work and participating in the activities I enjoy; therefore, I have no complaints paying what I do and am content with this allocation.

Items 2-4 are all the money I have currently saved not including a savings account where I currently have saved roughly one months salary. The savings plan isn’t factored in because it’s not considered an allocation of assets by quicken. I didn’t even realize I was saving this much. I am very pleased with the percentage of income I am stowing away. I have some big things coming up later in life such as marriage, children, etc. that I want to save for. Additionally, each dollar represents freedom to me. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis http://www.bea.gov/briefrm/saving.htm the average person saves about 5% of their income. So I am well above average in that regard. That said I think I could create slightly more efficiency and add another percentage or two. Additionally, I’m expecting a promotion raise and possible (though very small) bonus which will go straight into savings.

Items five and six are entertainment and vacation at about 5% each. I try to spend money on experiences and really enjoy myself. Most of my vacation costs are buying the plane ticket as and preliminary gear for my Europe trip spit2010.blogspot.com. My next largest expense is Texas A&M season tickets which I wouldn’t trade for the world. Additionally, there are some costs for going to Dallas and Austin a couple of times. I am more than content with this number and 5% is right where I want to be.

Health and fitness is roughly 5% of my income. I take my health very seriously and want to continue to involve myself in activities that make me a healthier individual. Hovering around 5% is just where I would like to be with this cost. The cost is primarily related to cycling, rock climbing, and crossfit. I would be comfortable with this number increasing to as high as 10%. I really would never want to make cuts to save in this area.

Dining is definitely something I could curb. I have been fairly good about bringing my lunch to work, but some weeks I slack off (like this week). If I could I would like to lower my dining down to 2.5 or 3% of my expenses and replace it with more groceries and savings. I wouldn’t give up dinners with friends though because this has benefits that go beyond the meal to me. I believe a 1.5% decrease would only increase my groceries by about .5% or so.

Item 10 is some household costs I have including decorative items I purchased at the beginning of the year, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent etc. This number will continue to go down throughout the year as I don’t foresee any major additional costs.

Item 11 is charity and is the item that I most disappointed with and I expect to change the most. Charity includes tithing as well as donations I have made to causes supported by friends and family. I want this number to be 10% by the end of the year. I am currently doubling my giving rate to even out the discrepancy. If still have not reached my goal by year end then I plan on making a lump donation.

Item 12 is the final expense with my car costs. Ol Dixie (my 2000 CRV) serves me well and has been a great car for me. I have very little maintenance and most of these costs are gas related. I am extremely pleased with this number. This is an area where I will sacrifice for other areas. If I’m going to Australia in a year or two why do I need a new car anyway.

My net worth has increased approximately 128% in the last 9 months due to savings as well as some bonuses I received for work related accomplishments. I can’t complain about that. With the power of compounding my investments should grow substantially over the next 40 years. Getting in as much as you can early is the key to taking care of your future.

This is an example to me of how to prioritize the things that matter. I don’t want a fancy car so I am able to spend a little more in entertainment and dining. I’m able to do things that matter to me (sports, crossfit, rock climbing, Europe, etc.) and still save more than a third of my income. I highly recommend quicken as it allows you to chart your progress as you try and meet your savings goals. If you have any questions post them and I will answer them as best as I can.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Just Four More Days!

In four days the football season officially begins. I am so excited about it. I’m what you would call a big fan. I’ve missed one A&M home game in 8 years. That’s a solid streak. The only game I missed was the 2002 Oklahoma game where A&M knocked off number 1 Oklahoma. Perhaps the biggest game in A&M history and definitely the biggest win while I was in school. I guess as a conciliation prize I was on the first Aggie team to place in mock trial and made the national video (hooray?).

It’s hard to verbalize how much or why I love Aggie Football so much, but a lot of it has to do with how much I love A&M. Both my parents went there and ever since I had a concept of college I wanted to attend A&M. I recall watching A&M take on Texas every Thanksgiving. Football is the embodiment of your schools spirit and fight going against another team. To be part of an 80,000 capacity stadium screaming for your team. There’s something special about that. For four hours you get to be part of something bigger than yourself. I understand completely why people who went to smaller schools don’t care as much. They aren’t watching their team. They have no inherent connection. I hate to see the Aggies lose, but even when we have a losing season the experience is so much more than that. Just seeing guys out there giving their all is enough for me. Win or lose I’ll be there. In fact, one of my main concerns with working abroad would be breaking my streak. I would do it, but I wouldn’t be happy for it and would definitely fly back for a New Year’s day bowl or better.

Aggie Football will always represent the bond shared with fellow aggies, my parents, and those early years when I sat there with my dad supporting a team I always dreamed of being a part of. For those of you who share the passion good luck to your respective teams unless you’re playing the Aggies.