Thursday, December 27, 2018

How to Have a Merry Christmas

I'm sitting here drinking peppermint mimosas with my lovely Julia and ruminating on how good life is. Christmas has almost always been a very happy time of year for me. There have been a couple of sad Christmases - the first one after my divorce, the first one after Ron died - but usually the holidays are the best time of the year.

Peppermint Mimosas - Look better than they taste, but still okay

I know that a lot of people have a hard time at Christmas. They don't get along with their families. Their families don't accept them because they are gay, married outside their religion/ race,  cut off all contact with an abusive relative or a million other stupid reasons.

How to have a Merry Christmas

Let go of the expectations. People are who they are. It is what it is. Either change your thinking or change your situation and then let it go. Ronda has the organizational skills of a hyperactive squirrel. She is generous, smart, funny and kind but she probably just remembered on Monday that the 25th was Christmas. Maria had already finished shopping on the day after Thanksgiving and I suspect Jennifer already has her calendar planned out through December 25, 2019. Julia is cleaning her room now so that it will be ready for her grandmother when she arrives in six hours. You may think six hours is ample time but that only means that you have never seen Julia's room.

I'm not particularly the warm and cuddly type.  I do hug people and tell them I love them, but not every other sentence, like some friends of mine do. Jenn was shocked to hear that I actually baked cookies yesterday, which I found a little insulting.

I could go on but my point is this - everyone has foibles, flaws and failings. Many family gatherings fall apart because you find it so inconsiderate that cousin Tina is 45 minutes late for the eleventh year in a row or that your dad never listens to you and bought you a sweater with a camel instead of a cashmere sweater. 

You know that prayer about accepting things you cannot change and changing the things you can? My secret to enjoying the holidays and life in general is something like that.

Let it go or let them go

The unhappiest people I know CHOOSE to be unhappy. Yes, you do. I could get offended by off-hand remarks but it's a waste of energy.

I'm Catholic. I have friends and family members who are atheist. Every now and then they will make remarks like, "I can't believe that you go to mass." Well, I do.Yes, I am aware of the child abuse that has gone on for decades, probably centuries, and it disturbs me greatly.  We actually had a reasonable discussion about this at Christmas. I don't take it as a personal affront that people don't believe what I do. I listen to their ideas and keep drinking my peppermint mimosa.

We have a very good rule in our family -

"If it happened over a year ago, you can't bring it up in an argument."  

This is a rule my children have used against me on occasion, but it's still a good rule. I see married couples, parents and adult children, adult siblings all arguing about that party someone wasn't invited to in 1998 or the graduation someone didn't attend five years ago.

If you catch yourself saying,

"But don't you think parents SHOULD attend their child's graduation/baptism/ bar mitzvah/ wedding and don't you think they SHOULD feel bad and apologize?"

I don't know anything about your situation but since you are the person reading my blog, I am going to side with you and say yes, you are correct. So what? seriously, the point is, they didn't do whatever it was and they didn't apologize and buy you a gift and a doughnut to make it up to you.

Speaking of doughnuts ...

Fish Lake is an adventure game that teaches about fractions.  You can canoe rapids, solve math problems and if you need help learning, there are activities explaining fractions using turtle eggs, riding between camps and yes, even chocolate doughnuts used as an illustration of mixed numbers. Buy it and support my day job! Runs on Mac and Windows computers.

 So, you didn't get the apology or the doughnut. You felt undervalued and underappreciated. Let it go. That person maybe is not going to be as close to you or understand you as well as you had expected. Maybe you are adding now, fuming,

"As much as I had a RIGHT to expect!" 

So what? They are probably not going to change so you can decide to let it go or not.

The other option is to just not spend time around people who make you so unhappy. There are (former)  friends and relatives I don't see any more.  I had a friend who made a series of bad career choices, in my opinion. Every time I saw her she railed against President Obama's policies and how he was ruining the country and that is why she had financial problems. The last time I saw her, you'd think she'd be happy but no, she still couldn't get a job because "They are only hiring black people. I'm too white to get a job."

That's the point where I decided I was done. Probably stupidity isn't contagious but why take that chance?

If you have a racist/ misogynist / homophobic uncle, you don't have to sit and listen to that person. If some relative gives you the creepy vibe and you don't feel comfortable with that person around your children, don't go anywhere they happen to be.

Guess what else? YOU get to decide. If you have a relative who is always putting you down, telling you that you don't make enough money, you are too fat, you should be married by now or whatever it is that makes you feel bad, don't see them. Are they at the same gathering as your grandparents who you really want to see? Then call up your grandparents and ask if you can come visit on a random weekend in February. Flights will be cheaper and your grandparents will be thrilled to have their grandchildren think of them more than one season of the year.

Problem solved.

Much of the family happiness comes about because we really wanted our past to be different. Some of it is because there are people in our lives at present that we need to cross off the Christmas card list.

Let it go or let them go.

It's never too late to start living your happily ever after.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What I Learned about Business at Judo Con, Part 2

Several times during his presentation, James Wall of confidently stated,

“We are the best at what we do.”

If you really, truly are the best at what you do and are confident about that, you should be able to sign up customers. Not surprisingly, Wall to Wall Martial Arts is quite successful.

You may not have heard of James Wall. He’s a credible, competent judo player, a legit fifth-degree black belt. He was never on an Olympic team. He hasn’t coached any world team members .

You may have heard of James Wall if you are interested in judo games for teaching young students , because he’s fairly well known nationally for that .

If you are somewhat impressed with yourself and asking,

“Who is James to say he’s the best? I’ve won X, Y and Z.”

Good, I hope you are happy with yourself. However what James does is provide a friendly, fun atmosphere for children to learn martial arts and be healthier and better disciplined in the process. He offers a comfortable environment for women to get some exercise and learn self-defense. He, and his fellow instructors, provide a collegial training environment where people who didn’t have to just Google the meaning of the word “collegial” can get in better shape, learn some judo and compete in regional tournaments.

That’s what Wall to Wall Martial Arts DOES. If you are in their area of Louisiana, no one does it better. Hypothetically, there may be a better school in Delaware, but seriously , if you live in Dedham Springs you are not taking your nine-year-old thousands of miles away to a judo class.

James truly is the best at what he does and he’s perfectly fine with that .
This made me think about my business. I know our software is good. Will it teach your preschooler to count or prepare your high school student for the SAT?

No, we focus on grades 3 to 8. If your child needs to learn multiplication, division, factors, how to solve those pesky time-rate-distance problems, find a mean or median, we’re awesome for that .

Rather than trying to teach every subject at every grade level, what I think we need to do is reach the parents and teachers of kids who need to learn what we are teaching.


Have an Android device? No problem.  Making Camp premium for Android has you covered.

People in startups often say they are in the “fintech space” or the “medtech space” which I have always found a kind of pretentious way of saying you are in finance or medical technology.

However, both James Wall and Lester Martell, from High Impact Martial Arts in New Jersey, were very clear on what their space was. It was the city and county where they are located and probably no more than a 30-minute drive from their location.

If you’re a teacher and you have kids in your class who speak Spanish, we have videos, games , PowerPoint presentations, everything you need, even if your Spanish is limited to “Adios” and “Dos cervezas, por favor.”

If you teach Native American students and you’d like to include some of their history and culture in the curriculum but you didn’t really learn any of that in school ( because who did?) , we have games that include those stories. You want to include cultural content without skimping on the math and language arts standards? We have that covered, too.

What I learned at Judo Con was to focus on what we are best at rather than worrying about all of the parts of the market we don’t cover. That’s not our thing , just like training Olympians isn’t James’ thing . And that’s okay.

I’ll be honest. I went to Judo Con for a personal reason . Steve and Becky (Rebecca) Scott and I have been friends for over 40 years . It isn’t coincidence that this girl is named Julia Rebecca De Mars.

So, when I heard they were organizing this event , even though I was literally on the other side of the world , I bought a ticket . I did think about it, for about a minute , but then I concluded, “Fuck it! These are two of my best friends.”

Even though I went for personal reasons, as I’ve said previously, it was definitely worthwhile from a business insight perspective. I’ll definitely be going again.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Judo in Chile and the World Judo Federation

Not that anyone asked me, but since that has never stopped me before, I’m going to give you my opinion on judo in Chile and the World Judo Federation. Keep in mind that this is based on one tournament - the Chilean national championships, which I watched today .

First, the good impressions:

1.The competitors get major points from me for attitude. I saw lots of attacks, lots of ippons both throws and pins and only saw 2 stalling penalties out of all of the matches.

2. There were a lot more counters than you'd normally see in tournaments in the U.S. You don't see a lot of counters at U.S. tournaments and at this one in Chile I saw a few successful counters and quite a few more attempts.

3. There were quite a few throws for ippon.

4. People were generally quite nice, both competitors and referees. I was just some random old lady off the street who didn't speak terribly good Spanish and they didn't know me from Adam. Still, everyone I asked was perfectly polite and willing to take their time to answer my questions.

What I think could be improved

I saw no grip fighting, literally, zero.  

Nobody blocks a high grip- which might be related to the counters, since if you have a high grip and come in off balance you are more likely to be countered. However, if you have a high grip and can bend your opponent that prevents him or her entering a lot of throws.

Matwork is rudimentary.

Not only didn’t I see a single choke or arm bar, I didn't even see a single attempt. I actually asked one of the black belts waiting to compete if chokes and arm bars were not allowed at this tournament. He said, no, they were allowed and maybe I would see some. I didn't.

While there were some turnovers, and more turnover attempts into pins, they were not very deliberate. If you've read Winning on the Ground (what do you mean, you haven't?) , you know I'm usually the one for hitting hard and fast when the situation presents itself, as opposed to Jimmy's 47-step moves, so for me to say the matwork needs more deliberation is really saying something.

There were no matwork combinations. I didn't see anyone try a half-nelson. No one tried to do matwork from the guard, either as offense or defense.  The only defense was to pancake out.

On the other hand, generally both players tried to attack when on the ground, instead of one just laying there and trying to wait it out until the referee stood them up, so that was good.

World Judo Federation

As for the World Judo Federation, I don't know exactly what their rules are but there certainly were far less penalties called than in the typical judo tournament. That's a good thing. They let the players compete without stopping the match a lot to tell them they couldn't grab here or don't touch the leg.

I did see one player grab the leg and nothing happened. I asked a competitor who told me that was legal.

From watching, it reminded me of Freestyle Judo. I went to the freestyle nationals a few times and there were very few penalties called and the players were a lot more aggressive, in a good way, with less vying for grips and more attacking than the typical judo tournament. I'm not being a hypocrite here when I just criticized the Chilean players for not grip fighting. I think you can overdo it.

My recommendation would be if you are into freestyle judo you might want to check out their Panamerican Judo Championships next year and give it a go. Probably USA Judo would have a cow but if you are doing freestyle judo, USA Judo obviously isn't dictating your life.

You know what would help you if you went to South America? Spanish! AzTech Games can help you brush up on that high school Spanish you forgot.

Truth: Our games were developed for teaching kids math and some are bilingual to so kids who English is their second language can play, too, but about 10% of our users are people wanting to improve their Spanish - including me.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Positive Lessons from Judo Con

I learned a lot at Judo Con in Kansas City last week. It was a really positive event, with 54 people from 12 states and Chile (me) in attendance. The limit was supposed to be 50 attendees, with a focus on club leaders interested in improving technical skills, growing their martial arts programs in both size and quality (shameless plug, for example, by focusing on academics as well as athletics). However, there were a few young blue and purple belts who wanted to come and how can you say no to kids who want to do judo, so they slipped in for the technical sessions.

I learned a lot about marketing and social media from the sessions James Wall and Lester Martell did on how to recruit martial arts students. One lesson that really stuck with me was this quote from James,

"Every new white belt I get is a precious little nugget. I take care of them, polish them up like gold. Do you know how much time, effort and money it takes me to get a new student into my school? Take care of those new students! Don't take them for granted."

He's really correct, not just for judo, but for business in general. How much do we take care of our new customers versus just going back out there looking for more? I could go on quite a bit but you could listen to the Judo Chop Suey podcast for a lot of detail.

The biggest takeaway for me, though, was a personal one. Several times during the weekend and thought,

"I am surrounded by good people."

Usually, when I go to a judo event there are mostly good people there but some who are complete assholes or plain out frauds. We all know them, the people who have an eighth-degree black belt and flat don't know much judo.

At this event, every single person was either someone I had known for many years and knew was a hard-working, intelligent, honest person doing the very best he or she could to make the world a better place in their own way.

This is your reward for being a good, honest person - you get to be around people like yourself.

If you're all about pretending to be a ninth-degree black belt, you aren't going to get on the mat and actually roll around doing arm bars with us. No one on the mat was there to impress people. We were having fun. I grabbed Caitlyn, Madelyn, Sandi and Julie at various times and said, "Hey, let me try this move on you."

It's not often that I've been in a group of this size and thought to myself, "I can see being friends with every single person in here. These are the people that help their neighbor with a flat tire, take the time to talk to a kid who is having a bad day. They are also people who, regardless of age, keep learning."

I felt very privileged to be there.

This is my day job. I make games that teach math, history and English. Get it for under two bucks!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

I’m that kind of person : Another business lesson from judo

Many years ago I met a teenage girl who said she wanted to go to the Olympics . I had visited her club a few times, practiced with her and gave her a few tips about competing and training.

One day, when I took off my judo gi after practice she said,

“Ew! Look at your arms! You look like a man!”

I was surprised by her reaction, and told her that it was normal to put on a lot of muscle mass if you were weightlifting and doing judo. I explained that being stronger than my opponents had often been the deciding factor in matches and since it was something over which I had control, unlike, for example, the availability of training partners, that I highly recommended strength training .

She made a face and said,
“No thanks! I’m not that kind of person ! If I have to look like you to be a world champion, I don’t want it!”

I was kind of amused that she didn’t realize how insulting that was. Since I wasn’t really concerned about the opinions of random teenage girls about my looks, I took a shower, got dressed and drove home without giving her another thought . As you might expect, this girl never went on to win anything of note .

What, you might ask, does this have to do with business?

To find the answer and the rest of the story, click here

Get your kids a head start on middle school with Aztech: The Story Begins

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

How Judo Taught Me to Avoid Startup Burnout

One thing I gained from judo was the importance of persistence. There are no doubt a lot of people who have better technique than me. They had better instructors who came from famous clubs, maybe even the Kodokan. I started at the Alton YMCA.

There are probably lots of people who have more natural athletic talent than me. I was never particularly fast. I'm also very near-sighted, so I couldn't see the scoreboard or time clock for most of the years I was competing, until I finally got contacts. I injured my knee really badly when I was a teenager and couldn't do any technique that required putting all my weight on my right leg.

Despite many disadvantages, I won anyway, over and over.

What I did learn was to be persevere.

(This might be why Forgotten Trail is my favorite game, because we dropped a lesson on perseverance in there.)

Get Forgotten Trail

How did learning perseverance help me run a startup?

Face facts, winning a world championships is one hard slog. In my day, you had to win the state championships to qualify for nationals. After that, you had to be good enough to make it into at least the top five to get points toward the national team. There were several tournaments each year that earned points toward the world or Panamerican team. When the trials came around, the top 8 people were invited to compete.

So, there were a lot of times each year I had to be ready to win. After the World Trials, of course, there were still tournaments in Europe and then the world championships. There isn't a lot of time to just relax and decompress because each time after I'd win the next tournament was going to be at an even higher level of competition.

Running a startup is kind of like that. First, you need to make a prototype, which maybe you can do by yourself or with your one or two co-founders. Then, you need to get some customers. To scale, you probably need to bring in employees and the amount of money you require increases. You need to go out and get your first investors.

Our company is over five years old now. We've survived where many startups have run out of money, failed to gain customers, couldn't build the desired features. At each step, it gets harder. Now we have more products that need updates, to put on more devices. We have customers who have questions. More employees means we need more sales, more investor funds.

So, that is one place that judo helped. I have learned that success isn't just a matter of working hard but working hard over a very long period of time.

Many competitors I knew worked just as hard as me, or even harder, at a single practice or a single training camp, but the next time or the next month or year, they weren't there.

Judo also taught me successful strategies to keep moving forward.

Sometimes, I was just tired of fighting the same people over and over. I worked full time as an engineer in San Diego so I didn't often have the option of traveling all over for training. Manny Gamburyan described it well when he was talking about doing judo with Karo Parisyan,

"I've fought him so many times, it's like fighting myself."

My usual day was to come in, do 25 or 50 throws on the crash pad, a few rounds of matwork, randori (sparring), and finish off with newaza uchikomi (matwork drills). There would be days when I just was not feeling it. Maybe it had been a long week at work. Maybe I was sore or mentally tired.

Instead of not going to practice, I would mix it up. I might just come in and do 500 throws that day. Maybe I'd do all matwork.

That's what I'm doing at this very minute. It's been a pretty exhausting month, flying to conferences, talking to people about our educational software.

Hey! Don't tune out just because I said educational software. It is completely awesome and some of it is even completely bilingual. You can learn math, history and even a second language all at the same time. Don't be such a wimp. Check it out!

Get Aztech: The Story Begins

 So, I'm writing a blog post and while I'm at it telling you to get our games.

Judo also taught me to be honest about how effective my work was

I knew someone who lost at a major tournament and, crying, turned to me and said she could not have trained any harder.  She was working out 6-8 hours a day. She worked at a health club and said she taught aerobics classes, ran on the treadmill 45 minutes every day, did at least a half-hour a day of weightlifting, taught spin cycling classes.

I tried pointing out that none of that was judo and she responded, "But I work SO HARD!"

I realize that writing a post like this probably won't get more than a few if you to check out our games, any more than just doing throws on the crash pad is an effective way to train for competition. Still, it is something and it helps.

I also realize that some things, like those endless tech meetups I'm invited to where people pitch their idea for electric underwear or something equally useless are a complete waste of my time, because I'm past that point, just like the woman doing the cycling classes was past the point of those being useful for her. That's a post for another day, though and now that I am less burned out, I'm going to go back to answering those emails.

Did I mention that Maria and I wrote a parenting book? You can get it here for only $1.99

Buy it here

Monday, September 17, 2018

Supporting Judo by Making It Okay to Quit, Part 2

When I was in my teens and twenties, I realized there would be a day when I couldn’t compete any more and I expected that none of the rest of my life could possibly be as good as my competitive years. Other people competed to a much later age than I did but my knee was hanging together by a thread. I finally had a total knee replacement when I was 51 and my doctor said I could not put it off any longer.

So, I was done with competition after several knee surgeries, with many more in my future, after three national championships, three US Open gold medals, one world championships and some other stuff (as Lanny Clark would affectionately say, “you’re the bitch who would consider winning the Panamerican Games as some other stuff you did”).

Contrary to my expectations, life without judo was fine most of the time. I married a man I loved, had two more kids, got a Ph.D., had a good career, a few good careers, actually, but that’s another post. I taught judo here and there - class at the college where I was a professor, a class at the local YMCA, a clinic at one of my friends’ clubs.

When we moved back to Los Angeles after my husband died, I married another good husband, had another baby, started a business, taught at a few different clubs, some of them for several years each. I held several offices in state and national organizations. I spent A LOT of time on the mat and on the road with Ronda helping her develop into a great judo player.

Unlike some of my friends to whom judo is like a religion - some even jokingly refer to going to judo tournaments on the weekend as “attending church” - I’ve kind of dropped in and out of judo my whole life.

Currently, I’m splitting my time between the US where I run a company that makes educational games (you should check one out) and Chile where I’ve just opened a company that makes educational games.
 Cajon del Maipo, Chile

I know plenty of people for who Judo is their exercise, their social life, their family time and their community volunteer efforts all in one. I’m not one of them. 

I could write a lot of posts - and I have - about all of the benefits I have gotten from judo and trying to give other kids those benefits is why I’ve taught fro so many years in so many different cities and states throughout my life.

Even holding all of those volunteer positions taught me a lot. I think I’m a much better manager thanks to the practice I got running things as a volunteer. ( I got to screw up some for free and now I make fewer mistakes with our investors' money.)

If you are one of those people that judo is your whole life and you’re happy with that, then I’m happy for you.

For some people, they have an abusive coach, unfair treatment by officials, a club full of cliques or other negative experiences and quit judo.

Most people quit judo to do something else, and that’s okay

Cerro de los condores, Chile

For me, though , and I think most people, it’s a matter of opportunity cost. In the last few years I’ve gone hiking in the Atacama desert, climbed a mountain and had condors fly within a few feet of me, gone horseback riding in Belize with a Maya guide as flocks of parrots flew overhead. You get the idea.
Sully's Hill, North Dakota

Doing research in Belize, on a pyramid for Meet the Maya

Then, there is also the writing software and making one educational game after another , publishing scientific articles. Of course, that’s not just me. I know some people who were really good judo players and are now really good physicians or scientists.

I make games that teach math, in Spanish and English
I bring all of this up because I often hear people brag about having been doing judo for 30 or 40 years straight as if that somehow makes them better than other people. Not really the best idea if you want to get those former judo players who are the scientists or the business owners to give money to judo and bring their kids to learn judo if they get the attitude you think they are “quitters” and just not as good or tough as you.

One thing I’ve found in business is you’ll have more success if you honestly respect your customers, and potential customers.

I wonder if we treated quitting judo more like no longer playing for your college basketball team and less like no longer being a member of a church if we’d see more former judo players referring their friends and family.

I wonder , do many judo clubs have reunions? I’ve heard of one or two but it seems to be really rare.

To be honest , I probably wouldn’t go because I’d be in Santiago or Albuquerque or Grand Forks or somewhere when it happened but I still think it’s a good idea.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

It’s Okay for Kids to Quit Judo

Paradoxically, one of the reasons we may have fewer people doing judo is that we make them feel like such losers and traitors when they quit. A second reason, that perhaps has not been discussed enough, is our devaluation of recreational players, but that’s a post for another day.

I was listening to the first cut of the More Than Ordinary podcast where my daughter, Julia, was giving advice to her niece on middle school. She said something like,

“You should do sports. I did judo when I was little and then I quit but it really helped me in soccer because I had some athletic skills.”

Some of what she said ended up on the cutting room floor, but that's not the point.

Julia is in Texas right now for a soccer game with her university team.

Julia practiced judo for 7 years, from age 4 to 11. During that time, her sister Ronda was on two Olympic teams and won several national and international championships. Everyone but my husband and I thought we should force Julia to stay in judo. I made her continue practicing and competing for a year after she said she wanted to quit and play soccer because a) I think you don’t simply quit something because you are having a bad week or so and b) I was hoping she’d change her mind.

She didn’t change her mind and for the past 7 years, through middle school, high school and college, she has played soccer.

At the same age, many of her friends were forced to continue judo because,

 “In the ( insert family name here) family, we don’t quit things. My kids are staying in judo until they get their black belts.”

Some of those kids will go on and put their own kids in judo classes but others NEVER will. Instead of looking back on their judo experience as a net positive, like Julia does, they tell me about all of the things they didn’t get to do because of judo, from hanging out with their friends to trying other sports.

Now, some of those things, it might be just as well they didn’t get to do - I’ve seen some of those friends. On the other hand, they were forced to do a sport that is physically hard and even harder if you are not that good at it. Yes, there are lessons to be learned from judo but not too many that can’t also be learned from running track or being in the band.

As for me, I’m not doing much judo these days, I’m going hiking a lot and opening a new office of 7 Generation Games in Santiago, Chile.  So, you’ll just have to wait for my next post to hear why I think it is okay if adults quit judo.

While you're waiting, check out Making Camp Premium. You can get it for just $1.99. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Just who the fuck do I think I am ?

I may as well start with the swearing in the title because there is going to be  a lot of it in this post.

Recently, a friend of mine overheard a few people talking about my attitude. What terrible thing did I do? I said that I wasn't going to participate in  a bunch of pitch competitions and hackathons coming up because I could make more money doing work on the contracts I already have, so it wasn't worth my time.

One of the haters fumed,

"Just who the fuck does AnnMaria think she is?"

Another awful thing I had done, according to them,  was turn down three opportunities to speak at events. The fact is, I'm running a company, hiring people, meeting with customers, reviewing contracts, and yes, speaking at a lot of events. Hater number 2, chimed in with,

"Can you believe it? She said she gets asked to speak at 2 or 3 events a week? If people are still asking her to talk at her age, she should be grateful! Seriously, who does she think she is?"

My friend was appalled, but when I heard about this, and more, I found it highly amusing. First of all, I haven't met any of these people more than a couple of times and hadn't thought about them for a combined total of 30 minutes in my life. Second, everything they were complaining that I had said was true and in response to questions I had been asked. If you don't want me to give you a true answer, don't ask me. It's not like I'm on Reddit or on a street corner with a sign that says "Ask me anything."

The thing that makes it worth discussing, to me, is the apparent confusion between entitlement, gratitude and appreciation.

For example, if you are putting on a hackathon or a conference, if you run a start-up accelerator or anything else that is very hard work, I can appreciate that, defined by Webster as "to grasp the nature, worth, quality, or significance of".  Good for you, not spending all your money on cheap hookers and expensive whiskey. 

If someone is GRATEFUL on the other hand, they are "appreciative of benefits received".  Let me be clear, if I see your conference/ hackathon / accelerator / coffee-hair salon- ad agency or whatever it is as having exactly jackshit in terms of benefits to me, then, again, according to Webster,  I don't need to be grateful for it.

Yes, it's good you're not wasting your life, but if you want gratitude, to quote a friend of mine,

 "Call your mama, she probably still loves you."

I get offers all of the time from people who want me to fly to East Nowhere and think I should be grateful they are offering to let me attend the Lemon Festival for free, "and we can't afford to pay your plane fare but we'll put you up in a Motel 6".

You're not entitled to other people's time

 Entitlement: belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges 
Yes, I do get invited to speak at a lot of events. Sometimes, I'm grateful, because I know I will learn a lot, or it's in a lovely place I want to go or I expect to spend time with fascinating people, or all of the above. 

However, every two weeks, I need to make a payroll so that our artists, developers and administrators at 7 Generation Games keep coming to work. That means that I need to consider the schools and customers who are giving us money first, reaching them and providing services to them.

That's not the point, though. Even if I am not doing anything productive, if I'm just laying in bed drinking coffee and reading a book, that's perfectly fine.  You're not entitled to other people's time. 

I am, however, entitled to my own opinion and preferences. I'll be sixty next week. I've worked full-time for 45 years and taught judo as a volunteer for 47 years. I think I've done my fair share of contributing to society.  If you don't agree, oh well. If you get angry because you think I'm not appreciative enough of your event / program/ whatever to participate, oh well.

One thing I have learned for damn sure after all of these years is that time is not infinite. I have to make decisions and set priorities, and they will be my priorities, not yours, because I'll have to live with the consequences.

Here's why I think I really piss some people off

I have a sense of my own value and what I have earned,  defined as "to receive as return for effort and especially for work done or services rendered".  So, if you want me to come to your event, I'm not staying in a motel without heat and having ramen for breakfast because I don't want to do that any more and I have options to work with other people who don't expect me to do that.

I know that I am very good at a lot of things - software design, statistics, programming - and people will pay me well to do those things because there is a value to them, so I don't feel bad at all about refusing to do things that pay less. 

This, however, is the one thing that I think really, really makes people angry, and I find that very funny because I think it is one of the major keys to a happier life:

I refuse to be defined by other people's expectations.


Maybe you think I should not be doing another start-up in a new country at sixty years old. Maybe you think I should stay home and learn to knit. Maybe you think I should be grateful for the opportunity to spend 60 hours completing an application for $4,000 in funding that I may or may not get depending on some unpublished criteria. Maybe you think I should be more modest, quieter, less loud and proud about any accomplishments. You're entitled to your opinion. Just don't be surprised when I completely ignore it, because I've got shit to do.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

The thing about moving is you bring yourself with you

Therapists have a name for it, "Going geographic".

That is, the tendency of some people to change locations to solve their problems.

The problem is, wherever you go, you take yourself with you.

and, as my friend Steve Scott, adds,

Sometimes that's the worst guy to bring.

I'll be honest. I moved half-way around the world, learned a new language and I'm still doing pretty much the same thing. Or, as I can hear my other friend (yes, I have more than one), Dr. Jake Flores saying,

"What? You mean you didn't turn into an entirely different person?"

Way too much of my day still involves answering email and, despite that, I still have thousands of unread emails, and that's not spam but people that I think I should get back to.

I still spend way more time than I would like in meetings and much less time than I'd like on coding and data analysis.

My best times are hiking in the woods and hanging out with my family, and I spend far less time doing either than I would like. A wise psychologist once told me,

The only time changing places solves your problems is when your problems are because of that place

So, if you are unemployed because you live in a town of 120 people with no jobs, then moving might solve your problem. If you are unemployed because you drink too much, miss work, have a fourth-grade reading level, can't get up early enough to get to work on time and fight with your coworkers, no matter where you go, you'll probably end up unemployed.

People don't change all at once, but "going geographic" has caused a change in trajectory for me 

 Looking back, I can see that I've changed in 4 ways as a result of living in Chile.

1. I take Saturdays off - I realize most people take Saturday AND Sunday off, but I never have. I'm often asked how I get so much done and one answer is I work 7 days a week, 9 or 10 hours a day.  When Ronda was visiting she asked me what I'd do if I retired. I told her that I had no idea because all I do is work. So, I've started taking a day off once a week. What do I do? Usually, I go hiking for an hour or two. When my children and grandchildren were here, I hung out with them and did stuff like go to the playground.
In the Santiago metro station
It's still weird to me to wake up and have nothing scheduled for that day, other than, say, meeting a friend for coffee. I've actually kept to my Saturday off schedule for over a month. When Dennis comes to visit, I'm planning on taking a couple of extra days off one week.  This is a big change for me.

2. I'm 5% less likely to tell people to fuck off, an impact of Chilean culture. People here don't get upset if there is no non-fat soy milk for their latte or if someone cuts them off in traffic or they have to wait an hour for an answer until someone gets back from lunch. In the U.S., it's common to hear people say,

"But I have a RIGHT to be upset if I come in three days in a row and they don't have the product advertised on the sign."

You may have the right but you also have the choice. Chileans choose not to be easily bothered. Maybe Bob is a terrible manager, but if you don't work with Bob, you don't really have to tell him that. Being more willing to let things ride can be a good thing, until it isn't. As I said, I'm only 5% more likely to let things go. If you are interested in the opinions Maria and I have on our travels and life in the window seat, you can read our Startup Diaries blog.

3. I appreciate every day things more now. I like good coffee and central heating, both of which are hard to find in Chile. I miss having my own office. I can read and write very well with relatively effort, in English. I never appreciated that before having to do business in Spanish. I miss libraries and bookstores that are full of books I can read easily. Oh my God, I miss living some place that doesn't have winter! Santiago isn't Sioux Falls or Fargo by any means but it has actual winter where it gets below 50 degrees for weeks on end. I hadn't lived somewhere with winter for 21 years and I don't intend to do it again after this. I didn't realize how much of a drag it was on me until the last two days when it was finally in the 70s. Ronda has been talking to me about building a tiny house for retirement. I was intrigued by the idea but now I know for sure that if it's anywhere that has winter, I'm out. Maybe a tiny summer house.

4. Really starting to re-evaluate the time I spend on things I don't want to do. I've been saying for 30 years I want to do more research. Yet, no matter whether I'm in Santa Monica or Santiago, my time gets eaten up by answering a thousand emails a week, meetings, presentations. Yes, I know that our games are helping students learn. I know that our teacher resources are a godsend for many teachers. However, I've been working 45 years. I started working full-time when I was 15 and I'll be 60 next week. I've taught judo as a volunteer for almost as long. I've given so many guest lectures and conference presentations and seminars that I've totally lost track. So, I've decided that if I want to take an hour off and go walk in the park, that's fine. I'm starting to evaluate my success based on the number of times I say, "No" to opportunities that would take up my time.

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Don’t turn a bad five minutes into a bad day

Years ago, I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Albert Bandura. He is the most famous living psychologist and for good reason . If you’ve ever talked about a sports or entertainment figure being a bad role model, you’re referring to Bandura, whether you know it or not.

He said that the happiest people have “an absence of self-ruminative thoughts”. Unhappy people, on the other hand, are constantly thinking over and over of how they look, that the guy at the coffee shop called the person in front of them ‘sir’ but just said to them,’here you go, guys’.

If you’re more the podcast type, you can hear Eva and I discuss mango popsicles and the secrets to happiness on the More Than Ordinary podcast. We’re back with a new co-host.

Somehow, I gradually slipped into the habit of being really bad about this. I would have a meeting where I completely disagreed with some policy and be mad all day about it. I’d be walking through the park and instead of noticing all of the really beautiful and interesting sights, I'd be ruminating about how unfair it was that my travel expenses did not get approved because I did not keep my boarding pass to show I actually went (really, dude?).

Solve two problems at once. Quit thinking and do something

I read something on instagram (yes, really) that snapped me out of it. I can't remember if it was Louis Velasquez or Alejandro Peraza, they both post a lot of interesting stuff, anyway, (whichever) he said,

Don't turn a bad five minutes into a bad day

I realized that's what I was doing. I would get notified we received a grant, we'd have a new game published in the app store and Google Play, we'd have another school district adopt our games and I'd be thinking all day about that expense reimbursement that got declined instead of doing the happy dance because business was going so great.

Here's what else I realized, I was ruminating about those things that made me unhappy instead of doing something about them.

Do you feel as if someone is continually dismissing your ideas and treating you as if you are a moron because you are a woman/ young/ black/ Hispanic / whatever ? Don't work with that person any more. Seriously. There are billions of people on this planet. Don't work with people who ruin your day every day. That's just silly. Find a new lawyer/ accountant/ agent. (Note to gossip-mongers: This is just an example. I like my lawyer and accountant fine and I don't have an agent.)

Decide and move on

There are two decisions you can make. One is that this behavior is unacceptable and you need to take action to stop it. Then, you do. Many times, I've found the paperwork  required to get funds for a grant or contract, whether for judo or my business, takes so much time that if I just did consulting work and billed for those hours, I'd come out ahead financially and could spend the money however I wanted. If you are continually mad about how your time is being wasted, stop and think about it in terms of how you could address that.

The second decision you can make is that it is not worth getting too upset about. Some family member I was talking to on the phone cut me off and said, "I have to go", like they had more important things to do than talk to me. Maybe they did. Honestly, I just called to check in to let them know I was thinking about them and, mission accomplished, so on with my day.




Sunday, July 15, 2018

Yes, You DO Have Time for It

There are several things in my life I don’t feel as if I have enough time to do:
  • Learning more about programming
  • Improving my Spanish
  • Hiking
  • Strategic planning for our company rather than putting out the latest fire
  • Teaching judo
  • Keeping up with people - answering email, returning phone calls, just checking in
  • Data analysis and research

I’ll bet you have your own list. There might be some times, temporarily, when you have to put everything else on hold, but be careful of letting it become your lifestyle.

My guess is, if you are reading this blog, you and I may have a little bit in common. Speaking for myself, one of the tendencies I have is to go all in. That can be good. It led to a world championships, a Ph.D., a published book, a few companies founded. That can also be a bad thing.

I’m not one of those people who hate on Facebook. In fact, my friends’ list is regularly curated so I only see what I want, which is how my friends and family are doing and people who post interesting (to me) stuff. I admire those people who manage to always have time for their family and hobbies while simultaneously holding down a job that supports said families and hobbies .

However, I’m not talking about those people, I’m talking about me and the last few months have been simultaneously a disaster and an amazing success. The success part is that we hit a lot of deadlines with very good results for our company. I pitched at 3 Ed Tech events, including 2 in Spanish, which takes me seven times as long to write and practice because it’s my second language.

Me, at my day job

 I  did three presentations in Spanish, two live and one streamed to over 7,000 people. One of those live presentations was hosted by a ‘district’ seven hours south of Santiago, where I also visited two schools and discussed our latest games. I could go on, but you get the idea.

No greater success than seeing kids' interest in our games

Have you ever been like that? You have so much going on with your job or your sport that you exclude everything else?

Well, stop it. Like so many things else in life, my base in judo is helpful here. I won a whole bunch of gold medals while going to college, going to graduate school and working full time as an engineer. I also had a baby/ toddler the last two years. So, I know from personal experience you don’t have to spend 100% of your time on one goal to be a success. Maybe you do TEMPORARILY, like the two months leave I took from my job to compete and train in Europe and focus on my training in the US. However, if that two months turns into six,  you might want to start questioning how temporary this is.

So, what’s my answer? Well, you are reading it. Those deadlines I had to meet were really important but one thing I have finally managed to understand is that not everything is equally important. Event at U.S. Embassy with 20 very knowledgeable people on education in Chile - extremely important and can’t be put off.  Someone want to meet with me and talk about using our software in our schools on Monday - if they called me Friday afternoon, I DON’T have to spend all weekend preparing for it. In fact, if they are the kind of person who thinks I should jump at the opportunity to meet them at the last minute, maybe I don’t want to work with them.

(Proof I take my own advice, I'm back to doing the More Than Ordinary podcast with a new co-host)

Here’s a key point ... you’re making yourself crazy

Most likely, if I tell that Head of School, “Could we meet the next week instead? Here are three times that work for me, are you available any of those?”  They will be perfectly willing to meet with me later. They just threw out the first time that was available. (Go back and read my other post on not giving it more attention than it deserves.)

Now that I’ve gotten through the immutable deadlines, that’s what I’m doing. Because I’m me, it would be easy to get back into the same rat race of waking up, taking 10 minutes to shower, dress and dash out the door, a frantic day of meetings, then more work until I fall into bed, drink a glass of wine while reading my email and go to sleep exhausted.

What I have decided NOT to do is go back to this schedule by trying to do everything every day.

What I have been doing is started working on a couple of items on my list every day. In the morning, I just work on learning more Spanish or programming , sometimes both. That’s what I do the first hour that I’m up. More, if it’s a weekend . I started going to bed earlier,getting up an hour earlier and doing what I most wanted to catch up on first.

I turned the international plan back on for my phone and I’ve started calling a couple off people a day just to catch up.

One of those calls was to James Wall who mentioned the JudoCon in Kansas City, November 2nd and 3rd. I had thought of presenting at that and concluded I could not spend an extra week or so in the U.S. Again, it occurred to me, hey, if the people I am working with can’t accept that I’m going to be gone a few extra days, perhaps those aren’t the right people to be working with. I mean, it’s not as if I’m a slacker.

So, yeah, I’ll be in Kansas City in November, head home to southern Cal in time to vote and then, most likely, head back to Chile after doing my civic duty.

There’s your answer then - make the time. Start work an hour later. Take a vacation . The people around you most likely will be totally fine with that. If not, find new people .

AzTech: The Story Begins - Mr. Gonzalez history class loses an average of 2 students per year. What happens to them?  Find the answer while learning fractions, statistics and Latin American history .

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Friday, July 13, 2018

I Need to Take My Own Advice, Or Stupid Things I Do and Maybe You Do, Too

Like Alice in Wonderland, I often give myself good advice but very seldom follow it. I've decided to get back to blogging and make this into a series: advice of my own I should take. Who says you can only make resolutions on New Year's? No one asked me about those rules.

I've decided to make July resolutions that will lead to me being happier, and you, too, if you follow along.

Don't give it more attention than it deserves.

I stole this line from Gary Butts and it's very good advice. Do you ever catch yourself worrying about something over and over? There was a misspelled word on my slide in that presentation. That person corrected me in a meeting and,  in fact, their correction was wrong, how disrespectful!

I left my keys in the office and had to go back for them. Is that an early sign of Alzheimer's?  I am getting old, after all.

The fact is that even things that seem SUPER-IMPORTANT at the time really aren't that big of a deal in the overall scheme of things. I like Facebook for seeing what kids I knew when they were in judo are doing now. That kid who was just devastated not to win the junior nationals at age11 and beat herself/ himself up about it is now a speech pathologist, married, with two kids and just bought a house. Really, was it that important that you got caught by a foot sweep?

I know I am a big hypocrite because I was always upset when I lost. Even today, if a sale to a school district doesn't go through or we don't get a grant funded or an investor decides to take a pass on us, I feel like a big failure. It's silly, I know, but I'm working on it.

At the end of the day - there's another day, because that's how time works.

There's a really big world out there
I've always been kind of like this my whole life, blowing things out of proportion. I think it comes from wanting to do everything perfectly, which sounds good on the surface but no one is perfect and trying to be is the key to always feeling like a failure.

When I look at people I know who are usually happy, they all have this in common
... they don't get upset by things that aren't all that important. For example, I went to pay the notary -everything in Chile requires a notary and you have to pay in cash ( - if you are interested in my life in Chile, check out the Start-up Diaries over on the 7 Generation Games site) and she said my 20,000 peso bill was fake. I tried to give her another and she said that was fake, too. If you don't have the Chilean peso exchange rate memorized it's about 20,000 pesos = $67.  I was pretty pissed off.  I had gotten that money from the ATM at the bank and you'd think that wouldn't give you fake money.

I thought of some of the happiest people I know, and channeled my inner Alice, asking:

"Is $68 really going to cause you to go bankrupt? Is it worth ruining your day over?"

The answer was,


I went to Santa Lucia Park, ate fresh strawberries I bought from a fruit stand on the street and wrote this blog sitting next to this giant piece of pre-Columbian art

Here are my next four or five posts in this series, coming up  (I say four  or five because I'll probably end up putting a couple together....
  1. Your success in life and value as a human being are not decided on just one day (no, not even if it's the world championships or Olympics - maybe especially not then, since you must have done a hell of a lot to get to that point. )
  2. Don't talk about other people. In fact, don't even think gossip about other people
  3. You decide how happy you are
  4. The secret to happiness: The absence of self-ruminative thoughts. 
  5. Yes, you do so have time for it (see, that's why I'm back to writing this blog).
  6. The other secret to  happiness: Focus on the good
  7. Yet another secret to happiness: You don't need to be perfect and you don't have to know everything (yes, really)
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