Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why I'm Not Allowed to Be a UFC Commentator

When Ronda fought Sara McMann, my friend, Tina came to watch. Tina happens to be blind and the very nice security people felt so sorry for her having to listen to me give the play by play that they came up and offered to hook her up to a microphone to listen to Joe Rogan.

At the most recent fight, this was the discussion between Maria and I as we watched the fight:

Me: Why did they stop it and give the other guy a chance to rest?

 Random Guy next to us: Because his opponent hit him in the balls.

Me: That can't be legal, can it? Don't they get a penalty or something?

Random Guy: Not on the first one.

Maria: That can't be right. I don't believe everyone gets one free shot at the balls. Because, if that was the case, every fighter would take his one gratuitous ball shot. In every fight, it would start out with each fighter kneeing the other one in the balls, and once that was over they would start from there.

Random Guy: Well, if the referee thinks it's intentional, he can get a penalty on the first one.

Me: How do they know it's intentional? Is that when the fighter says, "Hey, ref, look at this- " and then, whammo, kicks the guy right in the nuts?

At this point, security came and chased away Random Guy because he was actually sitting in the wrong seat and some baseball player named Alex Rodriguez was actually supposed to be sitting there. I found this out only because I asked Maria why people kept coming up and asking the guy next to me to take pictures with them. I had heard of him. He was much larger in real life than I had expected, and also very quiet so I do not know his opinions on people getting kicked in the balls in MMA but I am just going to assume that he is against it.

And this is why they do not allow me to be a sports commentator.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Family, Friends and Acquaintances

(Here is how busy it's been - I wrote this on the ride back from Las Vegas and just got around to posting it.)

Been a busy week or two and just had a bit of time to blog sitting in traffic on the way back from Las Vegas. (Don’t worry, I’m not driving. No laws were broken in the making of this blog.)

Between Jenn getting married and Ronda’s fight, it has been a lot of time with family and friends.  Here is one of my pet peeves – few things irritate me more than when people say,

“Oh, your daughter is just like family to me.”

Funny coincidence here, they only say this about my daughter who is getting rich and famous, not my other equally wonderful daughters. Oh, and by the way,  Ronda had a lot less “family” when she was working as a bartender.

As the official word-definer of this blog, let me tell you what family means:

These are the people who are around your whole life. You don’t always have to like them, but you have to love them. Relationships with your family are a two-way street. Sometimes you make sacrifices for them and sometimes they do things for you.

For example, when Jenn finished elementary school, she was accepted at two high schools, one much more expensive than the other. I told her that between Maria at NYU, Julia’s nanny and Ronda’s travel for competition, there was not a lot of spare money. If she chose Marymount, we wouldn’t be having a lot of trips to Disneyland, dinners out or vacations for the next four years. Jenn said she did not want to go that badly. (Of course, for the next ten years she brought up how it was all my fault – until she got her masters from USC at 24 and decided perhaps she was not so academically stunted after all.)

If Ronda had been an only child, I could have traveled around the world with her to her judo camps and competitions, but because I had three other children to support by running a business, that was not feasible and she ended up moving to Boston at 16.

Shared sacrifice. People in your family are with you through good times and bad. Sometimes you have to give up what you want to help them and other times it’s their turn.

These people who popped up in the past couple of years who are “oh so willing to help” – what kind of help are they, picking up her tickets for some premiere so they can all go hang out and get their pictures taken?

It was the same thing when Ronda was in judo. So many people told my husband, “She’s just like a daughter to me,” that he asked me if I thought any of them would be willing to pay the insurance bill.

A big part of being family is a shared history.  People who claim to be family say, “I would do anything for your daughter.” People who aren’t family don’t say what they would do because they already have done.

While it is true that family will love you no matter what, it is also true that your family are the people who will tell you that you are an unmitigated ass when the situation warrants. (For the record, none of my children are currently behaving like an ass, this is just noted for past -  and future –reference.)

As I said, that whole claiming to be family thing really pisses me off. As Shakespeare said, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

Or, as I say, “I’ll bet Wayne Gretzky doesn’t go around telling people he’s a good hockey player.”

Another part of a family is that you are always on the same side. Jim Pedro, Sr. used to tell me that he would back whoever was right, even if it was against his own son and I would tell him that I knew that I would not. No matter what one of my children did, I would side with them.

It’s funny because the girls used to joke that I was so biased that if they punched someone in the face I would say,

“The nerve of them, hurting your hand with their face.”

Last night, Ronda was in a fight where she punched Alexis Davis so hard so many times that she busted up her hand and needed nine stitches in it. When the doctors were checking it, Maria and I were both upset said,

“That girl hurt Ronda’s hand, let’s go get her and beat her up.”

Maria wisely pointed out, though, that Ronda already had (and Alexis actually seems to be a very nice person).

Monday, July 7, 2014

Who Wants to Be a World Champion?

Since everyone and their brother was talking about Ronda’s fight this weekend, I thought I’d talk about something else.

Driving back from Las Vegas, we got to talking about athletes who take steroids and Eric, my son-in-law, suggested that athletes take steroids because they want people to like them. Even if an athlete has outstanding performance, they think they can do better with drugs, and they will perform even better so the fans, team owners, sponsors will like them better.

When I was competing, I had friends who justified taking performance enhancing drugs because “everyone is doing it”.

I was never the least bit tempted to use steroids. Maybe it would have helped me win, but that wouldn’t have been winning, it would have been cheating. If I had shot each of my opponents in the face with a bazooka, I would have been the one standing at the end of the match, too, but it would be hard to argue I won a judo tournament.

What I have concluded is this:

  • Some people want to be the best in the world, they really believe they can do it and don’t care all that much whether anyone else knows how good they are or not. It’s BEING the best that is important to them. Those people don’t use steroids.
  • Then there are people who want to be thought the best in the world but really don’t believe they can do it. Those people might use steroids because what matters to them isn’t actually being the best but having other people THINK they are.

So, basically, we are talking about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Eric suggested that people in the second category are more common than the first. That may be true, but I am certain that by far the most common are people in a third category.
  • People who want to be best in the world if it doesn’t require too much effort.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Priorities change

You wouldn't guess that McDonald's would be a likely site for an epiphany, but this week, you would be wrong.

I was in San Diego for two days, taking a class on text mining, and stopped on the way home in San Clemente to get a cup of coffee at the exit that just happens to be half-way between San Diego and Los Angeles. I had stopped at that same McDonald's hundreds of times in my twenties, as I drove back and forth between San Diego, where I lived and had a job as an industrial engineer, and Los Angeles, where I trained at Tenri Dojo and Orange County Kodokan all weekend.

Thirty years ago, those drives were the most important thing in my life, because I got most of my total mat time in on those three days. We had practice Friday night, twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday. Winning the world judo championships topped everything, except for my baby, Maria, who usually was ready for a bottle, just as  I pulled into the McDonald's and ordered a coffee for me and a carton of milk to pour into the bottle for her.

Since school is out and I'm not teaching at Gompers, I hadn't thought about judo in weeks. It's funny, because back in my competition days, it is what I thought about ALL of the time. Even if I was sitting in a meeting or writing a program, still, "I have to win, I have to win" was running through my mind in the background.

As I pulled out of the McDonald's, I was wondering, did it really matter. Was it really worth it? I poured so much of my life into judo, and unlike many competitors, whose life continues to be dominated by their sport, I came back from the world championships and immediately veered in a different direction. I had four children, earned two more degrees, started a few companies, wrote some scientific articles, made some games.

Even if weeks go by now without me thinking of judo at all, no, it wasn't a waste of time. The self-confidence, health and discipline I got from judo have been major factors in my success in other areas. People I met in judo have been a network for everything from mentors on starting a business to advice on parenting to consulting opportunities. I was able to teach my daughters judo and one went all the way to two Olympics and then transitioned to world champion in mixed martial arts.

The next question, which I've pondered for decades, is whether it would have mattered if I lost. What if I'd come in second at the worlds? Lynn Roethke was a silver medalist in the Olympics and, after crying for a few days, she went on to have a successful life. Ronda got a silver in the worlds and bronze in the Olympics.

If I'd lost at the end, would I have been even more driven to succeed, to make up for it (hard to imagine what THAT would look like, isn't it?). Or would I have gone back to UC Riverside and jumped off the bell tower? I really don't know.

What I do know, is that you can't judge a situation when you're in the middle of it.

I was talking to Josh Hadley this week, when I was being interviewed for the Hart Attack podcast. Josh's wife suffered a severe injury that left her disabled and he is now at risk of losing his home. You can contribute to his gofundme here.  I told him that I had times that felt like the end of the world - when I lost a tournament or didn't get a job I thought would be perfect for me, it seemed like a tragedy. Then my husband died and it really was a tragedy. Other things happened that I thought I would never get over.

But I did. What I've come to conclude is that Nanny was right when she always said, "God knows what he's doing even when you don't."

At the end of the day, there's another day. If you work hard, never give up and try your best to be a good person, those days eventually get better and better. Not right away, and sometimes it takes a really long time, much longer than you hoped for, but it all works out for the better in the end, even if the end is much, much different than you had expected in the beginning.

------------ Speaking of judo ...

I wrote this book. You should buy it. People besides me think it's good.
And I have a real job, too. I make games that teach math where you can kill things and get smarter at the same time, kind of like judo if they let you kill your opponents and eat them - and your opponents were buffaloes.

Monday, June 16, 2014

You're never too old to start anew

  I've got a surefire idea of how to fund our next round of development. I'm going to charge $10 to everyone who asks me one of these four questions:
    1. What made you decide to start an educational gaming company?
    2. Didn't you run into a lot of skepticism when you first started?
    3. Are you sure you will succeed?
    4. But aren't you a little old to be doing a start-up?
If you ask all four questions, I'm charging $50. Then, are you ready, here is where the real money maker comes in - anyone who follows up with:
"But, if all venture capitalists are funding only younger entrepreneurs, they can't all be wrong, can they?"
Or if they ask anything else that suggests that anyone needs permission to follow an unconventional path in life they are getting fined an extra $1,000 per question. At the current rate, I anticipate raising our next seed round by the end of the year.

Truth is, I wanted to make a computer game to teach math for 40 years - ever since I was a 15-year-old high school student writing a program to draw Mickey Mouse.

 When I applied to graduate school, I wanted to do my dissertation on computer-aided instruction, using a math game. That was in 1985, games were text-based and the Internet was for university researchers. I wrote a few simple games but then went in a different direction doing research in psychometrics, teaching statistics and had three children. When I was 36, my husband died and I veered in a different direction. Perhaps leaving a position as associate professor to start a consulting company on an American Indian reservation was not the type of safe, secure career choice expected of a widow with three small children. Funny, I only thought of that in retrospect. At the time, it seemed to offer a better life, so I went with it. Now the children are not so small and technology has evolved to make the games I envisioned 30 years ago a possibility. daughters 

There is a lot of attention paid to twenty-something entrepreneurs who can work crazy hours on a start-up for months with no salary because they don't have to worry about making enough money to pay a mortgage or picking the baby up from day care. You know who else can do that? People whose children are grown and have paid off their mortgage. In fact, I suspect with the rate student loan debt has grown, people over 50 are more likely to be in the position to work on a start-up.

 There is definitely a bias investors have toward younger entrepreneurs, but that hasn't slowed me at all. We're doing work at 7 Generation Games that is important, building a company that is a good place to work, learning a lot and enjoying life. I shudder to think how my life would have turned out if I hadn't been good at math. Being good in math got me a college scholarship, jobs as an engineer, programmer and statistician. More than that, because I made enough money, it gave me choices - to move across the country, to send my children to better schools.


 Math matters, and, yet, statistically, by one year old, my granddaughter was already several times more likely to be proficient in math than children in south central Los Angeles or East St. Louis. Which is why we, after raising well over a half-million dollars from federal grants plus a kick starter campaign,  topped it off with our own funds. We are going all in.  Making a game that encourages children to learn math is one way to level the playing field.

Now that I have the opportunity to do that, I'm not going to let a little thing like age - or anything else - stop me.

  Fish Lake Poster==============================

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Less is More: Coaching Elite Athletes

I was talking to someone about coaching yesterday and I mentioned something I learned from Jim Pedro, Sr. many years ago, although he said it in a funny, Boston accent.

He was always saying,

"Mo-ah is not always bett-ah."

When asked how much coaching I do of Ronda these days, I was reminded of this remark, because I rarely tell her anything. When I do, I tell her once. She heard me the first time, so if she doesn't do it, then there is no point of telling her again.

Now, this does not apply at all to teaching kids, and not as much to teaching novices, but for elite athletes, there is a good deal of truth to the assertion that less is more.

We were at a camp with dozens of athletes, several of them national competitors. Watching many coaches who were not as effective, they were non-stop telling athletes what grip to get, how to place their feet, what direction and how hard to pull, what technique to try next or quit trying.

Jim probably made 20% of the comments of these other coaches, but when he did talk, the athletes generally listened very closely.

Here is what I noticed:

  • When you are correcting 14 different things an athlete does, it is difficult for him or her to identify which is the most important to focus on.
  • Constantly correcting an athlete can reduce confidence. If my coach tells me I need to fix 14 different things, I must really suck. 
  • When you don't speak up very often, the times you do make suggestions athletes tend to listen. They are more likely to believe you have given some thought to what you are saying, because it doesn't come after 20 more ideas you spouted off the top of your head.
  • Conversely, when you are constantly correcting an athlete, it loses its effectiveness. After a while, you just fade into the background noise.

SO, it seems to be true, less is more. Or, if you live in Boston, mo-ah.

Friday, June 13, 2014

How Not to Suck at Work

I've been thinking about this post for a while, and since we have hired three new people who start next week, I wanted to do it now so no one thinks I am writing about them.

There are a few things that drive me crazy about employees and co-workers, and having heard enough other people complain over the years, I know I am not alone in these. As a public service, here are some tips on how not to suck at work.

1. Understand that you were hired to do your entire job. Yes, even the parts that don't interest you personally. Even if there are parts of your job that require you to do things you don't want to do, like getting up early, commuting in rush hour traffic, wearing a suit. You were hired for a whole job. Even if you are a part-time employee, they still expect you to do your whole job, and yet the world is FULL of people who want to pick and choose the parts of the job they will do.

Recently, I knew someone looking for an assistant. Countless people said things like,

"I want the job, but I can't do the part that involves traveling."

"I could do the traveling but I could not do the part that involves driving around town to pick up and drop off things."

"I could only work until 3 p.m. "

Then you don't want the job, because all of those things are part of it. There are people who will take a position and then just not do the parts that don't appeal to them personally or do a really shitty job on those parts, with the excuse "I needed the money."

Those people are assholes.

Let me explain how not to be them.  If you are not the sole employee, it is likely that there are people who like the exact part of the job that you hate. If your boss approves, make a deal with them. For example, I hate getting up early. Most places where I have worked, there is at least one person who gets up at 5:30 a.m. and would love to teach the 8 a.m. class, take the shift that begins at 7 a.m. Instead of dragging in at 9:30 for my 7 a.m. shift (suck), I trade hours so that they always get to leave at 3 p.m, I don't have to come in until 10 a.m. when I am somewhat functional, and everyone is happy.

2. Don't miss work, come in late, miss an appointment or fail to get an assignment done using the excuse, "I was too busy." This just drives me nuts. YOU were too busy?  So I'm supposed to complete the report, write the program, pick up the mail or whatever it is that you were too busy to do? Because I'm just sitting here doing nothing? Presumably, your coworkers are also busy people. Now they are busy people who think you are an asshole.

3. Don't use not knowing how to do something as an excuse not to do your job. Let me explain how all of the other people in the world who did not exit the birth canal with a knowledge of Google apps and software development kits figured it out:

  • They read these paper things with black squiggles. We call them "books".
  • I have heard that you can find lots of information on the Internet. If what you seek is not on wikipedia, don't despair. There are other websites.
  • AFTER having tried to figure it out for themselves, they talked to other people.
If your employer has their act together, they should have some type of training for you and even, hopefully, a mentor system set up. If someone says to you, "Feel free to ask me if you have any questions" then you should feel free to ask them if you have any questions.

Don't abuse the privilege, however, or you may find your email answered with something like this.

How do you know when to ask for help and when to do it yourself? Here is a good flowchart for making that decision:

  • Figure out how long it will take YOU to find the answer.
  • Figure out how long it will take the person you ask to find the answer.

If the two numbers are equal, do it yourself, for God's sake. Otherwise, you are just asking the person to do your job.


  • Divide your salary into your estimation of the other person's salary.
  •  If it would take you twice as along to do it, but he or she makes twice as much money as you, figure it out yourself. 

The net gain to the organization in dollars will be zero and you will take the other person away from their work. They are probably doing this calculation in their head and figuring it costs the company the same for them to figure it out as you but now they are doing it instead of their own work and they think you suck.

If it will take me half an hour to modify the code to show a message when a student gives the incorrect answer, then I don't want you spending 40 hours figuring it out. Even if I am somewhat irritated to have my own work interrupted, I can calculate the benefit to the organization of me taking the time to answer the question.

Hopefully, these three tips will bring you a little bit in the not sucking direction.

If you yourself do not suck at work and have additional advice to proffer, please do include it in the comments.

================ SHAMELESS PLUG ======

This is what I do as a job, games to teach math.
You can buy one. It will make you smarter. If you are already maximally smart, give it to a dumb person you know.