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.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sometimes the best time to make a difference is now

Maybe it is running a start-up gaming company, which can feel like it is consuming my life, but I often find myself feeling like I am wasting time when I am not working - coding, marketing, meeting with artists, preparing pitches for funding, testing.

This weekend I spent two days with the students from Gompers Middle School judo program, from south Los Angeles. Yesterday, Ronda was on the mat teaching, along with Richard Elizalde from New Breed Jiujitsu and UCLA Judo, Josh Rodriguez from Mojica Judo and Mark Hidalgo.
Today, Victor Ortiz (the judo one, not the boxing one) and I were teaching.

When I start thinking I don't have time for this, I ask myself why I am so committed to making 7 Generation Games a success. I suppose venture capitalists want to hear that we want to make A LOT of money. (Our Chief Marketing Officer tells me, yes, we want to make A LOT of money.) Why, though? I'm not that into stuff.

For me, making a lot of money is necessary so that we can make more games, better games, that help people learn, and not just little kids, either. Millions of people are held back in this country because they are not good enough at math, reading or writing to get a job, or get a better job. You can't affect millions of people around the country on $312.86 .

Still, it's worth stopping some days and looking at the people right in front of me. Weekends like these, which we try to do two or three times a year, are an advantage for our Gompers kids, whether they realize it or not.

They get to just be kids for a few days and not worry about anything.

They get to meet people from lots of different clubs from all over Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, or, at some events, from all over the U.S.

We keep the program purposely small - currently 17 of 16 available spots are filled. Yes, the math does not work out, but José Gonzalez, our teacher supervisor from the school is a social studies teacher (-;  Thank you to generous support from Dollamur Mats and Universal Studios, we have just been able to buy 10 more mats, which will let us expand to 22 of 20 spots.

Often, the "good kids" that are quiet, do their school work and stay out of trouble are overlooked while teachers deal with the students who are disruptive or failing.  With a program like our judo class, there are usually four adults on the mat, giving us a ratio of 4 teachers to each student. Similarly, at the away events, we have a chaperone for every 3-4 students.

This gives each student a load of time to talk about what is going on in school, get nagged by me about any grade less than an A, get advised on charter or magnet high schools where they can apply, complain about anything that is on their minds.

While the budget is always being supplemented by me personally (that is where my book royalties are going) and by Ronda, between that and generous donations we are able to provide each student good experiences like a team dinner at Rainforest Cafe, a plane ticket to Kansas City. Of course, not every student can participate in everything, but keeping the program small provides more resources for each student.

It's like with parenting. You can talk all you want about quality time but what kids really benefit from is great, big heaps of quantity time. If a student goes to every practice and event during the year, they will spend over 200 hours with us.

As I have said before, the purpose of the Gompers Judo program is not to run through hundreds of kids so we can find one or two with a shot at the Olympic team. It is to give every kid in the room a better shot at life.

Speaking of games, if you are in a giving or learning spirit, for every game you buy this month, 7 Generation Games will donate one to a school. Or, you can donate two if you are feeling particularly generous. I'd suggest you download and play the game yourself, though. It's fun. It will give you a taste for what our next game coming out next month is like - it's three times as cool.

Or, if you want to buy Winning on the Ground, not only do the royalties go toward our team dinner every year, but you can also learn some matwork and get some good training ideas.
The photo above is from one of our first drafts of Winning on the Ground when our models were goofing off. If you look closely you can see how hard Crystal is trying not to bust out laughing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why I Don't "Just Ask My Daughter"

I run a company that makes games to teach math. They are also really fun. You can try a demo here, but trust me, the ones that are in the works are even better in every way.

Whenever we are doing a Kickstarter campaign, looking for people to donate games for schools (or food for the world food programme, for that matter), or

 just running a Christmas special on our site, it doesn't matter, someone is sure to ask, whether sneering or seriously,

Why don't you just ask your daughter for money? Isn't she making lots of money?

Here are two cautionary tales for you:

Tyron Smith, a football player, reportedly had over $1 million taken by his family  through a financial advisor they recommended. That is in dispute. What is not disputed is that he bought his mom a Range Rover, paid off all of his parents debts and was in the process of buying them a house when he finally said, "Enough".

Then, there is Jack Johnson, the hockey player whose parents shockingly not only spent all of his millions he earned but also borrowed against his future earning.

I don't know what the hell these families were thinking. Maybe they were too greedy or stupid to realize that professional athletes usually make that money for a very short window of time.

Maybe they don't realize that over a third of that money goes out the door in taxes as soon as it comes in.

People who ask me that question seriously either don't have children or just asked without giving it much thought. As a parent, you don't want to use your children for your own benefit, you want to guide them in the direction that benefits them.

Ronda gets pitched to invest every time she turns around. Because I do have a business background, her accountant and I team up to nag her to pay her taxes early, put money in a retirement account and don't go crazy spending money. She lives in a nice, two-bedroom house. Because both professional sports and acting are uncertain professions, she's much better off being conservative.

Maria, the oldest daughter, spent a decade reporting on sports. She's written enough stories about bankrupt athletes to add her own note of caution. It doesn't last forever.

As for the family, we all pay our own debts and the only car anyone has gotten is the 2005 Honda Accord that Ronda gave Julia for her 16th birthday this year. We all know that was because Ronda was too sentimental to sell it, but Julia is pleased to have a car to terrorize the Santa Monica residents as she practices driving. I even pay my own way to the fights (although I do get a free ticket).

I think 7 Generation Games is a good company with potential to be amazingly successful in the next few years and who knows, maybe Ronda will be so rich down the line that a few hundred thousand will be pocket change and we'll take an investment from her.

I rather doubt it, though, and here is the main reason why ... because if is ever necessary I can say with a clear conscience,

"You shouldn't buy that $5 million house."


"Don't give money to your friend Luigi to invest in a Mario Brothers themed porn shop. It's a bad idea."

without having her come back with,

"Oh, but it was okay when I gave money for YOUR company."

My point, which you no doubt have despaired of me having, is that it's important for there to be at least one person without an ulterior motive to call it as she sees it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to work.

----------Shameless Plug --------
Great Christmas Gift - Winning on the Ground

Also on Amazon

Friday, November 28, 2014

What can I do to help that doesn't require much effort?

That title may sound like I'm putting people down but I am not. Often people say things like,

"You're doing so much good work, what can I do to help?"

However, I understand what people really mean, because I'm very far from perfect when it comes to helping a good cause. When I say,

"Sure, I will help you raise money to save endangered turtles."

or whatever it is you are doing, what I really mean is,

I'll help you out as long as it's not too much of a pain in the ass.

Seriously, I don't expect anyone to fly out to California and stuff gift boxes we send to the schools, code our next level of Myths and Math for free or send us $300,000 to invest in our company (however, if you happen to have an extra $300K lying around, I'd be happy to meet up with you and talk business).

Really, I get it. People are busy. They have limited funds. Christmas is coming up and you need to travel, buy presents. If you'd be willing to contribute 15 or 20 minutes of your time, though, there is something you could do to help.

I just uploaded our latest demo version for Spirit Lake: The Game. It's free. Anyone can download it and play it. Before I put it up on our main website, if you could go here, download it and test it, that would be awesome.

The sandbox is a new thing we're working on that we'll roll out early next year, that will have all kinds of good free stuff for parents, teachers and motivated kids. We'll be putting stuff up there from time to time to play with.

So, that is what you can do to help - play with our works in progress and let us know what you think.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Family Time and Mental Health

We had a baby shower at my house today for Maria and baby-to-be Ortiz. All of the sisters came, as well as the two cousins who live in southern California, a couple of the neighbors who knew Maria growing up and a few friends my daughters have known for a decade or more.

There was Marina, who Ronda met at some junior training camp when they were 14 or so. Stacy was there, a friend Maria met at St. Monica’s High School back in 1997. Deborah and Kiah came. They moved in when Kiah (Deborah’s daughter) and Julia were both under six months old.

It was typical baby shower games, courtesy of Jennifer who was assigned to come up with them. We played “Pin the egg on the sperm”. However, since we had small children present also we told them that it was pin the balloon on the balloon receptacle. Jennifer even wrote “Balloon receptacle” on  the large circle on the wall to insure that the two- and three-year-old children present would be appropriately fooled. Each sperm had a name written on it and, theoretically, the baby would be named whatever was on that sperm.

Maria told us she didn’t care that Samantha won, no way was she naming her baby John Calvin Hobbes Ortiz.

Ronda, who hates to lose at anything, protested that the other people should be disqualified on the grounds of suckitude.

Neither my team nor Ronda’s won in the second game either, Childbirth or Porn. Each group got 16 photos of women’s faces and had to guess whether it came from a childbirth site or porn site. Maria’s in-laws won. Maria’s mother-in-law got on my good side by mentioning the news she had seen about schools serving Native American children and how useful our games could be for those schools. I was so pleasantly surprised that she had heard of 7 Generation Games that I did not comment on her apparent in-depth knowledge of porn.

We played the game where you are blind-folded, someone feeds you baby food and you have to guess what it is supposed to be. The first guinea pig was Julia and her first comment was,

I don’t know what that is but, Maria, you shouldn’t feed it to your baby.

Adrianna and Marina tied in that game.

Eva was put out because Emilia got on Aunt Ronda’s lap first to make the ugly Christmas sweater cookies. I think Aunt Julia stepped in to be Eva’s assistant though, so she was happy with that.

After a while, Kiah and Julia, being sixteen, decided we were all boring and went next door to Kiah’s house.

So, that was the baby shower - silly games, small children, small talk, cookies. I had beer and wine available but no one wanted anything but juice, coffee, tea and milk. We had all of that, too.

People who actually meet her (as opposed to see some edited for TV version) always exclaim about how nice of a person Ronda is. Part of it, I think, is that we have a boringly normal family. When we have a party there are no strippers, drugs or domestic violence calls to the police.

We don’t really see the public version of Ronda very often. When she’s in front of the cameras she’s done the whole hair, make up, designer clothes thing or working out, punching a heavy bag. When we see her, she’s usually exhausted from all of that and lying on the couch in sweats.

My concern for Ronda has always been that she would turn out like so many professional athletes and entertainers who seem to self-destruct. I think it is really healthy for her to be around people who don’t want anything from her and to not be the center of attention.

Balance in life is good for you. Also really important is realizing that major parts of your life will stay the same no matter what. I hope Ronda wins every fight for the rest of her life, and I expect she will. I hope her movies coming out in 2015 are extremely successful.  I know nothing about movies and have no idea if they will be or not. What I do know is that regardless of all of that, Eva, Emilia and the new baby will fight over who gets to sit on her lap and she and Maria will have discussions on such philosophical matters as which family member could most easily become a serial killer and murder us all in our sleep. (Jennifer, in case you are wondering.)

The two youngest guests, seconds before they started fighting with each other.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Judo in Whose Best Interest

At Gompers Middle School, we're so tough we don't even need light to practice. Electricity is for wimps.

I guess it is a cost-cutting thing that the lights don't get turned on until after 5 pm. So, with daylight savings time, we are now practicing in semi-darkness. It doesn't stop us.

We have a great group of kids at Gompers and I know the judo class is good for them.

This experience has also been an insight into some of the adults in judo. Many times, the suggestions people make for our judo students seem to be much more in the best interests of the adults making the suggestions than for our students.

For example, several people have suggested that middle school programs like ours are a great opportunity for judo organizations to grow their membership.

Keep in mind that we practice at a school, during the after-school program, so we are already covered by insurance. If I were to pay $50 per student to join some organization, that's $1,000 for twenty kids. That money could pay for the team dinner AND our team t-shirts. Since the money for this program is raised by me and my family, that is $1,000 more we'd have to raise, and none of us are exactly sitting around wondering what to do with our spare time.

Our students take a test to get promoted and they receive ranks. I record their tests. Sometimes I post them on youtube. There are always at least two black belts with a rank of fourth degree or higher that watch the tests. I think that's adequate to get promoted to green belt.

Then there are the people who suggest I should bring all of our students to a tournament at $50 a piece (after I pay the $50 fee for some organization). I should do that many times a year, they say, because it would be good for them. Again, taking 10 students to two tournaments would be $1,300 - $1,500 if the tournaments were local. That is counting the fees to join some organization and two entry fees. That is also assuming that there was no issue with not all of their judo gis being regulation.

Or, there are the people who suggest that we fund one or two of the more gifted students to attend tournaments and compete nationally, maybe even internationally. We have a couple of students who have that kind of talent. It would probably cost $10,000 each to get them the training they need, not counting having a coach or parent travel with them. I don't have the time to do it and their parents need to work.

Here is the real clincher - if I raised $10,000 for one of these students, I would spend it on summer science camp, weekend SAT classes, music lessons for Ryan (who is really into playing the trumpet).

One thing I am really proud of is the number of students from Gompers Judo who are now attending magnet schools.

Steve Seck isn't just an Olympic judo player, he is also a teacher at King Drew Medical Magnet High School, who has come as a guest instructor at Gompers, and has encouraged our students to apply. Two of them are at King Drew now. One brought his report card in on Friday - he has a 3.8 GPA. Two other students are at USC Hybrid High. Two others are at charter schools in the area. Over two-thirds of our students have gotten into high schools other than the local school, and they continue to do well.

Patty Chirino isn't just the mother of a very gifted judo player, she is also fluent in Spanish. She has volunteered to help students and their parents in completing applications for charter and magnet schools.

I understand how having a couple more talented kids at a judo camp may benefit some adults, but I don't see it as the best use of limited resources to help our kids.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What a long, strange trip it's been

Thirty years ago today, I became the first American to win the world judo championships. For 14 years - more than half of my life, up to that time - I had been training and competing in judo. Winning the world championships occupied pretty much every waking moment for the last few years. I'm sure that had something to do with my divorce. Judo was more important than EVERYTHING (until I had my daughter, Maria). The only time I wasn't thinking about judo was when I was with Maria or when I was at work because programming does require some attention.

So, I won the world championships, went back to that job, earned a Ph.D., started a company, had three more children, then started another company.

Last night, I went to see my youngest daughter inducted into the National Honor Society. This morning, I took her to practice, fixed a few bugs in the next game our company is coming out with, Fish Lake. I drove back from Ojai - actually, I rode in the car and fixed a few more bugs while my husband drove. I got home, answered a few questions from students on data analysis and spent a lot of time on financial projections for a business plan we're submitting to an angel investor group.

Sometime in there, I saw a tweet from @judoinside

I said to my husband,

Oh, that's right, I did win the world championships 30 years ago.

It just struck me as very odd that I could have forgotten about something that was the center of my life for so long. When I was competing, I couldn't imagine what my life would be like without competition. If you've never been an elite athlete, maybe it's hard to imagine. For one thing, it's simpler.

When I was competing, all I needed to know to make any decision was - "Will this help me win, or not?"

My life now is different. Balancing the responsibilities of being a CEO, a parent, a judo instructor, a wife, statistics professor and board president, I'm constantly having to make decisions on what I should be doing next. Being CEO alone takes a lot of juggling. I'm one-third of the software development team in our company, plus the person who writes the grants and the financial sections of our business plans - along with several dozen other responsibilities, right down to feeding the office chinchilla.

What's life like when you aren't competing any more. For me, it's good. Complicated, but good.

I make games to teach math. Some day I'll write about why I chose to do that, but for now, I need to get some sleep so I can get up earlier tomorrow and get some exercise in. Funny how what used to be my first priority has slipped down the list ...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Something I learned as a grown-up: More than one way is right

It's been 17 years since I lived in North Dakota, so when I go back there these days, it's often like a high school or college reunion. Well, I assume so, anyway, not having ever attended a reunion.
People I knew as small children are now running programs, writing articles I read in the newspaper, parents of five children - or, in prison or drug rehab.

It's funny how much they remind me of myself at that age, and that is an embarrassing admission.

When I was younger, I was so-o sure that I was right about everything. Hell-bent on telling you so, too, and making you see things my way because, God damn it, my way was RIGHT! I was just convinced I was the smartest person in any room, and determined to make sure that everyone else knew it, too, because everyone would benefit from knowing the right answer and doing the right thing. Right?

What I failed to do (just like many of them), was consider anyone else's point of view.  Since, like a lot of the young people now, I was well-qualified for the work I did, worked really hard and tried my best to do what was in the best interests of the organizations where I worked, I couldn't see how anyone could disagree with me unless they were either a) stupid or b) a bad person. Sometimes, that is true. Sometimes, but not always.

Several years ago, I was arguing with Chuck Jefferson, someone I respect a lot as a person, as well as a judo player, and he said to me,

I don't agree with you. I know you believe very passionately in what you say, but that doesn't make it true.

Everyone is wrong sometimes. I don't know whether or not I was wrong on that particular occasion, but the point was worth remembering. No matter how sincere and competent a person may be, that doesn't make them right.

Recently, I observed a young, extremely intelligent, hard-working, super-qualified professional telling people over and over, "I want to do this for you" and "I want to do that for you" and very frustrated at the lack of support.

If I could go back to myself at that age, doing the exact same thing, I would suggest,

Ask those people what they want done for them. Maybe they want something completely different. Maybe all they want is to be left alone.

The danger for young people who go to the best schools and are always at the top of their class is that they go out into the world convinced that they know best and - they don't always. Sometimes, they are just plain wrong, and there is no shame in that, as long as you don't make a habit of it.

That is the flip side of being always right. When I was young, I could never be wrong because - well, I'm not sure why. 

It is the same thing I see with many young people, now, though. If you suggest they might have made a mistake, it is like an argument before the Supreme Court, all of the reasons why what they did was justifiable and even if it wasn't, it was not their fault. This is so much the norm that I was extremely impressed when I brought something up to one young person and got the response,

That was a mistake and it was my fault. I take full responsibility. I should have been more careful in that case and I wasn't. I have no excuse.

How could I be so impressed by someone who admitted making a mistake as opposed to all of those other people? Mostly because I'm pretty sure that person won't do it again. People who won't face their mistakes are more likely to repeat them.

Here is the other thing I have learned over the years, and seeing people decades later, just reinforces it - there is not just one "right".

I truly believe what my grandmother always told me, that every talent you have is a gift from God and you should do as much as you can with it to make the world a better place, because it's not like you have anything God needs to pay back that gift. I work really hard to make games that teach math because I believe that kids fall out of the school system when they start to believe it is too hard for them, they will never succeed. In 90% of the cases, that's not true, they just need support. Maybe they missed some step, say, didn't quite get the concept of decimals. If we could back up, fill that in, and go forward, they'd be fine. ( Shameless plug: You can learn about our games, buy a game here or donate it to a school. )

On the other hand, there are people who chose different lives and, twenty years on, they are satisfied with their choices. They chose to be a teacher, a nurse, a farmer. They were faithful spouses, good parents, honest citizens and are now good grandparents. They worked 9-5, came home, cooked dinner and watched TV.  They never traveled more than 50 miles from the place they were born and now that the mortgage is paid off they are retired and watching TV in that same house.

I wasn't right and they were wrong. We were both right.

That is one of the things that I have learned as a grown-up.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Start-up reality: Silicon Snowbanks

Contrary to appearances, this is not an abandoned blog. For the past couple of days, I was at a hotel where the only wireless was dial-up speed and cell phone reception was too poor to use my personal hotspot. Yes, I know, first-world problems.

Many people have wondered how products would differ if start-ups weren't run by twenty-year-olds living in the Bay area. Would we get fewer apps to get dinner reservations and more that address the needs of people who are older, less urban, with less discretionary income and more children?

I can tell you that our very atypical start-up, 7 Generation Games, makes games that teach math - a concern of 30- and 40-year-old parents everywhere. With a theme centered on Native American history, you are more likely to find me on an American Indian reservation driving through the snow, than driving on a golf range or drinking martinis with venture capitalists.

(If you are a venture capitalist reading this, though, call me!)

This week I :
  • Flew from Los Angeles to Grand Forks, North Dakota then drove 90 miles west to Fort Totten,
  • In one day, did a game demonstration and spoke with students in the middle school, elementary school and after school program on the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation,  had dinner with a consultant on Dakota language, then gave a lecture on confidence intervals for the online course I teach on biostatistics,
  • Spent an entire day conducting a site visit for program evaluation, had dinner with staff from the elementary school, middle school and our Dakota culture consultant then drove 90 miles north to Turtle Mountain,
  • Made a new game install that fixed bugs discovered WHILE I was traveling. Went to Turtle Mountain Elementary, talked to classroom of students, then met with two teachers,
  • Met with staff at Ojibwa Indian School to do game demonstration , then drove 90 miles south back to Spirit Lake for continuation of site visit. Then gave a two-hour lecture on hypothesis testing.

... and it's only Thursday!

Testing with actual people in actual classrooms is crucial to making  games that are both fun to play and really (not fake) educational.

I am not complaining. I believe the work we are doing has great potential to change the world AND become a huge enterprise. Children in America who can't do math have far fewer opportunities in life - by fourth-grade, many children are already falling off the college track. We are working to put them back on it. 

I went into this with both eyes wide open and knew that making games that are used by children on American Indian reservations and in urban schools would involve Belcourt, North Dakota more than Beijing or Berlin.

That's my point, not all start-ups are in Silicon Valley. Some are in Silicon snowbanks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Professor Badass: Math, Start-up Life and Ass-whippings

I was at a conference last week to give a talk on "Diversity in the Tech Industry" and received a text message this morning from a former student.

"Everyone loved, loved, loved your crazy hyper-intelligent self. I am so proud to have been a student of Professor Badass."

Interestingly, this was a former doctoral student who took a class from me on Advanced Quantitative Data Analysis.

This lead me to a podcast I have been thinking about. I know that the games my company makes are really good, and yet not as many people know about us as I would like.

 Since we don't have the funds to advertise during half-time at the Super Bowl, I was considering other means of getting information out about our company. The question is, what would the podcast be about, what would we call it and what would be the format.

Ronda called today and when I brought this up, she said right away,

"That's what you should call it ! Professor Badass! It could be on math and ass whippings. You could talk about the math part and at the end we could discuss who most deserved an ass whipping this week! Let's do it!"

I am giving this some serious thought. I'll explain why in a few posts, if I get some free time. In short, I think there are a whole lot of parents out there who love their kids and would do anything to help them out in life, but they are not into the making cupcakes for the PTA meeting. Maybe we could do a podcast aimed at them.

There are also people interested in succeeding in business, maybe starting a company, but they don't summer in the Hamptons next door to Buffy and Biff (or whatever the yuppie names are these days). In fact, they don't even know what the Hamptons are.

The Hamptons are a where, not a what, by the way.

In fact, I think that could be the topic of one of the podcasts: Things pretentious assholes know.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What I Learned About Relationships from Judo

Last time, I wrote about what I learned about business from judo and how the 10,000 plus hours I spent on the mat were not wasted.

Tonight, I wanted to get in the subject of what I learned about relationships from judo.

It can be summed up as,

"There sure are a lot of douche bags out there."

Since that would make a really short post, though, I will elaborate.

  1. You can only know someone is your friend when they have nothing to gain from you. Having had a good measure of success as a competitor and then a daughter who had a successful run as well, there were people who were very friendly to me for years on end, so I mistook them for friends. When the time came that I was of no use to them, I never heard from them again. I have taken this lesson into business, and though there are people I have worked with for many years and I appreciate them as clients or colleagues, I do not mistake them for friends.
  2. Judge people not only by how they treat you but by how they treat other people. Hayward Nishioka gave me this advice years ago, and he was right. If someone is an ass to their students, their interns or the receptionist, they will be an ass to you as soon as you aren't in a position to benefit them or aren't around to keep an eye on them. Find someone else to work with.
  3. Hire for character. Everything else is secondary.  Bruce Toups, another judo guy and a successful businessman, gave me this advice. Whether it is a coach or a software developer, if you can't trust someone with your wallet on the table in your office or to pitch to your most important customer, don't hire that person. If your teammates are the type that will go tell your weaknesses to other people because they are jealous you're winning, it doesn't matter if they are the same weight as you and a good match in practice. Go elsewhere.
  4. You don't have to be best friends to work together. I've had teammates and coaches that I wouldn't want to hang out with, just because we had no common interests outside of judo and very different views on life. If you think women should stay home and raise the children and it's a man's job to work, you have every right to your opinion. I'm happy to work out with you and help you train for whatever tournament as long as you do the same for me. Just don't expect me to show up at your home bible study after practice.
  5. Don't trust people who have sketchy friends.  Jim Pedro, Sr. had a saying, "If you lie down with the dogs you get up with fleas." I know people who seem like good guys who hang around with some of the most dishonest dirt bags I have ever met. I don't know why they do it, but I have never trusted those people very far. So far, nothing has ever made me regret that decision.
  6. Appreciate your real friends. Over the past few years, I've headed out to Kansas City twice to visit Steve and Becky Scott, up to Sioux City to see Karen Mackey. Lanny Clark just sent me a text that he'd be in Las Vegas for Ronda's next fight. Now that I realize how rare true friends really are, I try to keep in touch with the ones I have. I may not have quantity but I have quality and for that I am truly grateful.
True story: When Ronda was 11 and had just started judo, I was coaching players at the high school nationals. I ran into Jim Pedro, Sr. and I wanted to ask him some advice about coaching, since I had heard his son was doing well and even at 11 I could tell, Ronda had potential. I started out by saying,

"Mr. Pedro, I'm sure you don't remember me ...."

He interrupted and said,

"Of course I remember you. You're AnnMaria Burns. You won the world championships. That's the thing about judo. You meet people and you know them your whole life. I hate half of those assholes."


Monday, October 20, 2014

Judo as preparation for life at a start-up

Sometimes people suggest I wasted that 10,000 hours I spent in judo classes and tournaments, since what has that go to do with what I do now. Fourteen years is a lot of your life to devote to something, especially something as frivolous as a sport, even more especially one where you stand to make no money and often get treated like dirt by the powers-that-be. Was it worth it?

I've given it some thought and came to the conclusion that yes, yes it is. What I've learned from judo has benefited me as an entrepreneur, as a student, in relationships and even cleaning my house. How so, you ask?

In case you are new to this blog, you might not know that my day job is running a group of technology companies. One of these is 7 Generation Games, adventure games that teach math.

Like any start-up, it's a marathon, not a sprint, and it occurred to me lately that is one of the things I learned from judo - persistence.

I started competing when I was 12 years old and won the world championships 14 years later.  Here are some lessons I learned that still help me today.

  1. Hard work pays off. I trained twice a day, sometimes three times, for years on end. If I look at the big difference between me and my competition, it's that I worked more hours and harder. 
  2. It matters what you do in the hours you put in. I was never one to back down from randori, no matter how big, skillful or tough the opponent. As my college track coach told me, "Champions always do more." The same is true in the office. I start my day with a list of what needs to get done. The most important tasks get done first. (In fact, in the middle of this list, I remembered something I needed to do for work, went and did it. Okay, I'm back.)
  3. You have to be in it for the long haul. There were tournaments I didn't win, injuries. There are always going to be setbacks. You have to learn from them and keep working even harder.
  4. Learn from your mistakes. Bruce Toups, who was Director of Development back when I competed, said to me, "After you won our first gold medal, I went back and watched every video I could find of you competing. I saw matches that you lost, but I never saw you lose the same way twice." There's a tendency to try to forget about things that went wrong. Resist it.
  5. Select people who are good at their job. Your coach and teammates don't have to be your best friends. They just have to be people who can help you to reach your goals.
  6. Character matters. Everything else is secondary. Even though your coach doesn't  have to be your best friend, he can't be a sociopath either. 
  7. There is more than one way to win. People often stay at a dojo where  they are miserable because they are convinced that only that coach, those teammates can help them win gold medals. It's not true. Even if that coach is the only really good coach in the country (doubtful), guess what, there are other countries in the world. You always have options.
Tune in next time for how what I learned from judo helped me clean my house.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Who Else is Going to Ronda's After- After Party ?

So, you might wonder, just who else is going to Ronda's after-after party?

Marina Shafir told me today that she is coming, and so did Gene Lebell.