Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Life on the Carrier: Big and Small

Vinson Embark, Day 2 Pics (18)We heard on more than one occasion that the USS Carl Vinson represents “4.5 acres of sovereign US” that can go pretty much anywhere in the world.

I think I heard someone also say that it’s “4.5 acres of ‘second thought,’” meaning if there’s a US carrier in the neighborhood, a foreign government or non-state actor will think twice before doing something.

The ship is immense, holding 5,000 people (or more) when the Air Wing is aboard and hundreds of aircraft.

From the outside, you see just how large it is, the flight deck being the obvious reason.Vinson Embark Shots (19)

And, when you are on the inside, you spend a huge amount of time doing two things. Walking…and climbing. There are combination stairs/ladders (just steep) and I have no idea how many decks (but a lot of them). You are moving in and out of the sections, lifting your legs over the so-called “knee knockers” which I believe are there for watertight/security reasons.

I didn’t work out on the ship, but frankly, I didn’t have to. We just spend so much time walking around, it was a workout in and of itself. Though, if I had, I would have gone to the best workout room I’ve ever seen…the one that was open air wall in front and looking out over the ocean.

It’s Also Really Small

At the same time, though, it is really small. Imagine being in one of these things with 5,000 other people for 6 months. Every day, you are eating in a large mess hall (unless you’re an officer-and yes, there are privileges). It’s not glamorous.

Vinson Photos (2)

Add to that, the berths for the enlisted men/women are 3 beds high and anywhere from 20 to 150 people in the same area.

And it’s not like you have a ton of space for your stuff. You get a locker and then your bed lifts up to reveal a few compartments where you keep all of your worldly possessions on the ship.

Vinson Embark Shots (20)

These guys do not have it easy.

Throw in one other angle…you’re put into a true melting pot (possibly literally if you are stationed in the Persian Gulf) of people from all walks of life and culture.

Things are bound to get heated. They do, of course, but the Navy has a way of dealing with it and, we’re told, most of the time, they get resolved.

Still, it gives you pause.

Not only are these sailors doing their jobs for 12-14-16 hours a day, but it’s not like they have that much space to call their own. Yet, they do it.

That’s the kind of thing that makes you really appreciate the idea of “doing your duty.”

To get a sense of what it’s like walking through the carrier, here’s one video for you.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Life on the Carrier-“It’s about the sailors”

One of the refrains we heard often from the commanders on the USS Carl Vinson was “it’s about the sailors.”Vinson Embark, Day 2 Pics (25) (here’s the XO-Executive Officer, Capt. Slaughter saying as much in his welcoming remarks)

After 24 hours on the ship, you start to see what they mean.

Here are 19 and 20 year olds with REAL responsibility and REAL accountability.

I asked the CO, Capt. Whalen if the Navy was different today than 30 years ago. You know, with all of the talk about Millenials and lack of responsibility. Also about Facebook/Social Media.

He said that when he first took command, he was against permitting Facebook access on the ship, but was persuaded otherwise and changed his mind. He believes it has been good for morale.

Overall, though, he finds that those who do join the Navy-the overwhelming majority, at least-do respond-to the challenge and own up to the demands and expectations of them.Vinson Photos (7)

I found this to be both true and inspiring.Vinson Photos (3)

I met one Gunner’s Mate, G2 (I think) from East Los Angeles who grew up in a gang-ridden area. He had been kicked out of high school. Friends back in the ‘hood who are “on the wrong path.”

Somehow, through a bit of luck (he had an intervening aunt) and some strength of character, he ends up in the Navy and decides to take control of his life.

Now, he’s in charge of keeping the machine guns on the ship operational, he’s well-spoken, confident, and optimistic about his future.

I found this to be the case over and over and over again.Vinson Embark Shots (24)

Whether it was the Culinary Specialists who served us dinner, the chef who went to the same high school as my dad in San Antonio, TX, the medical personnel…the stories and the sailors made the ship special.

You often hear the Armed Forces promote themselves as a pathway for people to raise their standing in life and, being the marketer I am, you know there’s some truth but that there may be a bit too much polish at times.

Obviously, it’s not always the case and there are people who decide after a while that “they don’t want to be in the Navy,” but I couldn’t help feel pride and excitement about how these young people are doing something about their station in life.Vinson Embark, Day 2 Pics (4)

It makes you think about things like welfare and the meme that is making its way around many circles of “the challenges of managing millenials.”

From what I saw on the Vinson, with some structure, guidance, training, and commanders who genuinely care (more on that later), there is at least some group of people who are taking ownership and pride in their work (notice the guy whose job it is to repaint the seal of the ship).

Are they perfect? Of course not. They’re human, after all.Vinson Camera Phone images (5)

However, the commanders were right:

It’s about the sailors.

And if you’d like to hear Capt. Slaughter for yourself, here’s the video

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why does it make sense that civilians go on an aircraft carrier overnight?

Vinson Embark, Day 2 Pics (14)

One of the questions I get asked (and which I asked) is:

Why does it make sense for the Navy to have a Distinguished Visitor’s program?

If you think about it, the Navy is really concentrated in only a few areas and most of the work that the Navy does is out of sight (literally).

So, the Navy believes that it is worth it for them to invest in relationships with unbiased observers.

I’m not a Naval officer nor am I a congressman with a Navy base in my district. Just a taxpayer (too much, but that’s a different story Winking smile) I don’t really have a dog in the proverbial fight. Vinson Camera Phone images (14)

So, like any organization, it makes sense to attempt to cultivate ambassadors who can effectively and in an unbiased fashion speak about the efforts of the Navy.

Companies do this and the Navy does the same. I’m fine with it.

Plus, when I think about the cost, it’s really not that much. I paid for myself to get to San Diego. We also each paid $50 on board the ship to cover the cost of our food. So, after that, you’re looking at our flights to/from the ship (but my understanding is that these flights go anyway, bringing supplies, mail, etc. so we just took a few seats).

Once on the ship, there are some marginal costs I suppose (the opportunity cost of the sailors we met perhaps, but judging how efficiently they run their jobs, it’s not like we really slowed them down), but theyVinson Embark, Day 2 Pics (30) are pretty marginal.

Now, to be clear, I’m under no obligation to do anything for the Navy. Not even this blog post. They just believe that the program is worth it.

Frankly, it’s difficult for me to see how one can go through the DV program and not be impressed, so it’s not accidental, but they believe that if you have the opportunity to experience life on a US Navy vessel, you will ultimately have a deeper appreciation for their work and that will only pay positive dividends. 

Here they are moving an F18 inside the hangar bay.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Life on an Aircraft Carrier, Part 1

If there was one word to describe my reaction to the privilege of having the experience to spend 24 hours aboard the USS Carl Vinson as part of the Navy Distinguished Visitor program, iIMG_20140122_131138[1]t would be GRATITUDE.

I’m generally very pro-military in my outlook and have, on occasion, met military personnel in various situations and said “Thank you for your service.”

Now, however, I have a much greater sense of appreciation for the sacrifices they make on a daily basis to do their jobs.

It’s not really possible, no matter how many words I use, to do it justice…but that won’t stop me from trying.

Gratitude for…

I overheard a German tourist in NYC a few weeks ago saying to his son that “America was the world’s policeman” with a sense of mild scorn. Well, you know what? I’m grateful that we are.  When you think about 95% of world commerce going over oceans and the communication links between nations that run under them, I’m appreciative that the US Navy is on the front lines keeping it safe.  Not like I trust anyone else to do it better.

 

The mission is critical, of course, but the stories I heard of people being away from loved ones for key life milestones and for months and months at a time, you realize that this isn’t a job that is 9-5 and it’s not even like a job where people ‘travel a lot” for work, it’s all-encompassing and all-consuming. I met one female officer who had given birth 4 months before and now is looking at a possible 10 montIMG_20140122_195119[1]h deployment without seeing her first child.

And this is true all the way from the top (that’s Capt. Kent Whalen (call sign of “Torch”) who briefed us when we first arrived to the C.S. (Culinary Specialist team) that prepared and served a meal in one of the Officers’ Messes. And everyone in between.

 

The promise of the military to give people a leg up.  I met so many young people who had come from challenging environments. A guy from East LA who had been expelled from high school for fighting, bounced around, and could easily have ended up dead, as he said. Instead, with a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, he’s manning part of the ordnance/munitions department.

 

The engineers and scientists who figured out how to keep a moving city of 5,000 people within a self-contained vessel and even give them the chance to not just function and survive, but thrive.  The systems and forethought that have to go into something like Vinson Photos (2)this….honestly, I can’t get my head around it. Maybe not now….maybe not ever.

These men and women work very hard. Long hours (12-14 per day) in fairly cramped conditions. Not only that, but they need to then eat, sleep, play, workout, etc. with all of the same people and while, I was told, tempers do flare, for the most part, it works.

 

When we first boarded, the Public Affairs team who served as our liaison (and reinforced by the Captain) kept reminding us that it is the people who make the ship work.

 

That’s obviously true, but I did enjoy seeing (and granted it was my little porthole onto their lives) the high degree of professionalism and respect that was evident for everyone’s contribution to the cause.

 

There’s MUCH more to come, but the first post had to be about that.

So, now I can say with a full and authentic heart (or even more so than in the past) to our military personnel…THANK YOU for your service.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

my upcoming visit to an aircraft carrier

I get to spend 24 hours on an aircraft carrier next week.

For more, see this post.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Marketing Suicide Prevention

Honored that my passion for marketing is going to have an opportunity to really make a difference (hopefully).

I’ll be joining Commander Captain Aaron Werbel (USN) in presenting at the annual conference of the American Association of Suicidology on April 9, 2014.

See page 16, workshop 11 to see how it all comes together.

Kudos to Commander  Captain Werbel for seeing the opportunity and connecting the dots.

Further proof that marketing is relevant in many, many ways.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Story of God Bless America

Thanks to my mom for sending this great story over.

Frank Sinatra considered Kate Smith the best singer of her time, and said that when he and a million other guys first heard her sing "God Bless America" on the radio, they all pretended to have dust in their eyes as they wiped away a tear or two.

Here are the facts... 

The link at the bottom will take you to a video showing the very first public singing of "GOD BLESS AMERICA".  But before you watch it, you should also know the story behind the first public showing of the song. 

The time was 1940. America was still in a terrible economic depression. Hitler was taking over Europe and Americans were afraid we'd have to go to war. It was a time of hardship and worry for most Americans.

This was the era just before TV, when radio shows were HUGE, and American families sat around their radios in the evenings, listening to their favorite entertainers, and no entertainer of that era was bigger than Kate Smith.

Kate was also large; plus size, as we now say, and the popular phrase still used today is in deference to her, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings". Kate Smith might not have made it big in the age of TV, but with her voice coming over the radio, she was the biggest star of her time. 

Kate was also patriotic.    It hurt her to see Americans so depressed and afraid of what the next day would bring. She had hope for America, and faith in her fellow Americans. She wanted to do something to cheer them up, so she went to the famous American song-writer, Irving Berlin (who also wrote "White Christmas") and asked him to write a song that would make Americans feel good again about their country.  When she described what she was looking for, he said he had just the song for her.

He went to his files and found a song that he had written, but never published, 22 years before - way back in 1917. He gave it to her and she worked on it with her studio orchestra.  She and Irving Berlin were not sure how the song would be received by the public, but both agreed they would not take any profits from God Bless America. Any profits would go to the Boy Scouts of America. Over the years, the Boy Scouts have received millions of dollars in royalties from this song.

This video starts out with Kate Smith coming into the radio studio with the orchestra and an audience. She introduces the new song for the very first time, and starts singing. After the first couple verses, with her voice in the background still singing, scenes are shown from the 1940 movie, "You're In The Army Now."  At the 4:20 mark of the video you see a young actor in the movie, sitting in an office, reading a paper; it's Ronald Reagan.

To this day, God Bless America stirs our patriotic feelings and pride in our country.  Back in 1940, when Kate Smith went looking for a song to raise the spirits of her fellow Americans, I doubt whether she realized just how successful the results would be for her fellow Americans during those years of hardship and worry..... and for many generations of Americans to follow.  Now that you know the story of the song, I hope you'll enjoy it and treasure it even more.

Many people don't know there's a lead in to the song since it usually starts with "God Bless America....." So here's the entire song as originally sung.

Humbled by my son…

On Sunday, Paco and I decided that we would go on an outing together.

I would run. He would bike.

We had ambitious of a long one. I was hoping for 9 miles.

Early on, we ran into some issues. The backpack he chose wasn’t so comfortable, so I had to fix that.

Still, it kept interfering.

Then, he elected to ride across the ford in the creek, which made his shoes slippery.

His feet were wet and at one point, he slid off the bike.

He started to cry and said his leg was really hurting. We were nearly 3 miles from home, the NFO was out, and we didn’t really have anyone to call to come pick us up.  From a close examination, I didn’t see any external signs of injury.

At this point, I was torn. I really felt the need for a long run. Yes, call me selfish and I was concerned that he wasn’t being “tough enough.”

I asked if we could go farther and he said yes.

Soon thereafter, I noticed another problem. His bike tires weren’t properly inflated, making the ride all the more difficult for him.

After a while, he said he couldn’t bike anymore.

Though I did  my best to hide it, I am sure he picked up on my frustration at having the “vision” of the outing ruined. Not really the outing, more like my exercise routine.

He offered to run next to me, but I knew that wouldn’t work, so I stopped.

We started walking in silence. I was wheeling the bike.

Both of us were just trying to deal with our emotions.

It was a really nice day (albeit a bit windy), but we were stewing in our own feelings.

At one point, he turns to me and says, “Abba [Hebrew for dad], I am sorry.”

My heart melted and I felt smaller than my 8 year old.

I immediately turned to him and said, “Paco, you don’t need to apologize for anything. I am the one who should be saying I am sorry. You’re more important than any run and I didn’t make you feel that way.”

From there on, we had a great time, talking about things that we never would have had he been biking and I been running. We both were able to look on the proverbial bright side.

I think every Father wants his Son to grow up to be better than he is.

I am glad that it my boy is on that path.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Is Solar Worth It? The Not So Conclusive 2 Year Report

So, I’m about 2 years in with my solar panels and the burning question is: Was it worth it?

The answer: It depends on how you look at it.image

I sent the raw data to my friend, Pesy Hollander, who did the analysis for me.

FINANCIAL
From a pure FINANCIAL perspective, it seems like I am slightly behind (by about $100). Pesy had discovered a $210 delta, but I did get a check from Solar City last year to make up for underperformance (and, for all I know, I’ll get one this year, so perhaps I should wait, but well, I’m here now).

Also, a part of that is because the panels had a small technical issue upfront and it could be a function of the number of sunny days and/or an increase in consumption.

ENVIRONMENTAL
From a GREEN perspective, I am ahead. Way ahead. It’s a great feeling on a sunny day to know that I am doing a small, bit part for the environment. I am willing to pay $25 a year for that feeling. Plus, the offset of mature trees in CO2 helps. clip_image002

TECHNOLOGY
From a TECHNOLOGY perspective, I am also ahead. I like having them on the roof, seeing the inverter, monitoring the output via the wi-fi/mobile apps and marveling at how it all comes together. I’ll also paid $25/year for that experience (heck, I do that all the time).

I’m ok with this, for now. I suspect I’m willing to pay the $25/year “green” tax well into the future (if I have to.). Think about it…Prius owners do it anyway, right?

As for the tech tax, I would hope that goes away.

I invested with the Long Game in mind, so I’m fine where we are.

If you are interested, you should use my referral code (and get a saving yourself). That would help my costs as well Winking smile

Let me know via the comments if you have any quetsions.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

If you’re not on this phone plan, you’re an….

Screenshot_2014-01-05-12-08-42

I can’t say this any more softly than I am about to.

If you are on a contract plan for your phone with less than 5 months to go OR are out of contact but with one of the major carriers, well then, you are making a huge mistake.

Why?

  1. Buy a Google Nexus 4 or 5 (unlocked) for $200-$400 (depending on what you want)
  2. get a monthly plan (all you can eat-data/phone/text) from Straight Talk for $45

That’s it.

What do you get?

  1. the most advanced phone operating system around (Android 4.4). Yes, it’s better than iOS.
  2. arguably the best phone around. If not number 1, then pretty darn close
  3. LTE speeds (see screenshot)

The era of contract phones is over. Even the big carriers have realized this.

May as well make the move and reap the benefits.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Kids in New York City

The mythic appeal of New York City begins at an early age.

Our kids were fascinated by it and, despite some of their other travels, had never made it into Manhattan.

We decided to rectify that by doing a short weekend visit to the Big Apple.

As always, the kid travel philosophy is to shoot for one major activity per day.

Day 1-Midtown Stimuli

The NFO had secured tickets to the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building, but since no time wa1483351_10152129735329669_1966649690_ns specified and it was “first come, first serve,” we decided to make it our first destination of the day.

Originally, we were thinking of taking public transport in, by my brother-in-law, with whom we were staying in Teaneck assured us that traffic was insignificant. And he was right. We were in the city in about 25 minutes, but I erred in the selection of the best parking garage and ended up with a $48 bill for about 5 hours. Ouch. Including the “minivan surcharge.”

Anyway, it ended up being the right call…if only judging by the lines going out the door in frigid NYC weather when we exited. Fortunately, our wait which was about 1 hour or so it seemed, was all inside.

After a lot of moving, hustling, and bustling, we made it along with tourists from pretty much every other country on the planet, to the top. Not a crystal clear day, but enough that the kids got the “WOW” element for which we were looking and we were able to lay out the geography of the island and surrounding areas.

And, of course, we enjoyed their newfound perspective on height and relativity.

We grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant and took it to the Sprinklr offices (which are 1 block away from Empire State Building) so we not only had a touchdown location, but they could see where I spend a nice chunk of my time.

Afterwards we walked up 5th Avenue so they could see of the Xmas decorations (they also had seen Macy’s windows on the way in), culminating with a visit to the tree and ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center.1476714_10152133621309669_1580936005_n

Then, we took them through Times Square on the way back to our car.Transformative Moments Require Transformative Leaders

Bottom line: Mission accomplished. They got a sense for the hustle, bustle, and energy of New York.

Day 2-Bits of NYC History

Waking up to pouring rain, we knew we would have a challenging time, but we were determined to visit the 9/11 Memorial and the Tenement Museum.

The NFO had secured the “free” tickets beforehand for 11am and paid the “convenience” fee as well. We drove in, I dropped them off, and went off in the na├»ve belief that I could find parking for free, since I was still smarting from the $48 hit on Friday.

Good news: I was successful.

Bad news: I had to run for about 15 minutes through the chilly rain, only to get to the memorial and not be able to reunite with my family because of the snaking lines and security.

I ended up waiting in line for about 20 minutes, during which I was sandwiched between 2 German families, one of which was giving their kids a version of semi-revisionist history about American hegemony…in German.

I debated for a long time about whether I should interject and, surprisingly, I chose not to. I’m not sure why.

Anyway, as I neared the final checkpoint, the NFO called and said that the kids were very cold, the memorial wasn’t really open (save for two reflecting pools designed to inspire introspection) and that it was time to go.

I jumped out of line and ran all the way back to the car, so I could intersect with them and minimize their outside time.

Bottom line: I had a 30 minute run through the lower Manhattan rain to/from the Memorial. Oh well, another time.

The beneficial part is that the kids had a chance to see it and the NFO are pretty good partners w1472958_10152133721474669_844094767_nhen it comes to providing the perspective/education/background on things of this magnitude (granted, there aren’t that many), but the overarching important thing of having them have a sense of history was delivered.

We drove from the Financial District to the Lower East Side and stopped for lunch at the Shalom Chai Pizzeria and then to pick up bagels and bialys at Kossar’s.

Once the center of Jewish life in NYC (and, America), most of the Jewish landmarks are now gone…a sign of the times, I suppose, and judging from what we saw about life in the early 20th century via the “Sweatshop” tour of the Tenement Museum, it’s probably for the better.

Cramped, crowded, poor lighting and sanitation, really difficult working conditions, you really get an appreciation for the type of sacrifice that so many immigrants have made over the years in pursuit of a better life for themselves and their children.

Speaking of appreciation, my hope for our kids is that they not only appreciate what their ancestors have done for them to get them where they are, but also a better sense of appreciation of what they have. We’ll see.

The tour itself (and the very knowledgeable tour guide) were really first rate, perhaps my favorite thing on our NYC trip, even though the tickets were quite expensive. Yes, I know it’s NYC and everything is expensive.

Either way…well worth it.

It took a while to get out of Manhattan, with pouring rain and traffic, but we eventually made it to our heated-pool equipped hotel in Elkton, MD.

Day 3—Potato Chips and More

We also love CCI12302013_00000seeing how things are made, particularly when there is machinery, scale, and automation involved (oh yeah, free food samples never hurt either), so we stopped by the Herr’s Snack Factory tour on our way back.

We want the kids to get a sense of appreciation for entrepreneurship and overcoming adversity (the founders), marketing (hey, what can I say), production, and where things come from.

Plus, fresh potato chips that literally are coming right off the production line never hurts.

Highly recommend it if you are in the area.

Headed for Home

Another trip in the books (and when you think about the fact that in 1 month, we’ve hit Israel and NYC as a family, I’d say we’re doing ok) and I like how our team is coming together. For the most part, we travel well. Like others, we have our moments and 3 iPads certainly doesn’t hurt, but seeing them ask questions and get excited about new things is why we do it.

Plus, with mobile connectivity, though one argument is “you aren’t focused on your kids,” the other argument is “it’s easier to take time out and do things with your kids.”

Balance, as always, is never simple, but I am grateful that we are fortunate enough to have to confront this particular challenge.