Monday, September 27, 2010

Should I Have the Conversation? by Darius and Bryan

Here is a piece I coauthored with Darius C, a successful friend of mine, on when to have a difficult conversation versus letting it go. Hopefully there will be more tag team posts to come!

Imagine during one night, you and your friend are out drinking. You’re talking and then he says that there was something about the girl you’re dating that he didn’t like. He’s usually observant but perhaps he had a little too much to drink tonight. You want to say something, but are getting an uneasy feeling about it. Have you ever felt this way before?

This is a tough decision point. I would be I bring it up with them? Do I let it go? If I bring it up, how do I keep things smooth? On this post, we (Bryan and Darius) thought we’d would share some thoughts and questions that race through our heads and how we’ve seen our skilled friends smooth things out with us.

“I don’t want to appear as too cool or indifferent”
“How do I preserve the relationship, get details I want, and not appear nitpicking or indifferent?”
“Whatever, maybe he’ll feel different tomorrow”
“Did he really mean to say it like that?”
“I’m not sure we’re going to agree on this anyways”

So why are we spending time on this? Because we feel that now, relationships feel transactional and it’s too easy to disconnect with people close to you, causing unnecessary stress. We do feel the good news is that dealing with difficult topics as they arise, is a matter of skill, rather than personality. Which means that we can learn how to handle social issues well and hopefully receive good treatment too.

Frequency and intensity can be clear signs. Is this the first time you’ve heard this or do friends often bring it up? Does the person look in your eyes and raise their voice when they say this or do they look away and speak softly. We’ve noticed higher intensity or frequency of these indicate the issue probably needs addressing while lower amounts indicate that the issue is either minor or the speaker is scared to bring it up.

To put yourself back in the moment, imagine the situation fast forwarded one week. Would it still bother you? If you look at this picture, do you feel it likely that it would happen again? How much does it bother you? What sensations are you getting? If you feel angry, excited, dismayed or any feelings you wouldn’t want to experience for more than a few moments, it’s probably worth considering raising the issue. Question is, how will you bring it up? This isn’t easy stuff, but below are some approaches that we try to stick to, when sober.

“I can’t help but get the feeling that you’re upset with me. Here are a few things that I saw. Did I pay attention to the wrong details?” In this approach, I’m acknowledging that I’m feeling less than well, I haven’t come to a conclusion, that my observations are open to adjustment. Can you help square me away? Can I make you feel comfortable enough that we can talk about the issues, rather than just the observations? If I saw things incorrectly will you just let things go? A comfortable way we find to raise the topic, is to try to gain understanding, rather than find facts, or draw conclusions.

Sometimes not bringing something up is the right decision and that’s a skill too. Focusing on the positive aspects of a situation or relationship can help you move on from a minor issue and keep it from gnawing at you. We’ve found that the goal of balancing the stability of a relationship with clarity in where each stands is key. Another justification for not bringing up an issue is the fact that research has shown that people seem to need a ratio around 4:1 of positive comments to critical interactions.

In some studies, it shows you have to have at least 80% positive feedback and 20% negative, so make sure you use the 20% you have for the most important things and back off when your positive % drops below 80! Below are some questions that go through our heads when we think about bringing up an issue.

What clarity do I need? How can the other person help?
Are their actions something that may repeat itself and too difficult to reinterpret?
What is the path of least resistance?
Am I concerned with being right, or what is right?
How do you accept what’s happened?

Think of all the great things about the relationship, all the times you do agree and support each other and realize that every relationship has minor disagreements. Try to reinterpret the issue. It’s almost like googling something before going to ask about it. The key we feel is to not come to a conclusion before reaching out to them. Your observations need to be confirmed first. And if they aren’t accurate, then it may not have even been an issue. But if it is, choose to bring it up, after you’ve looked at a few angles and need some help understanding it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Working Through a Recipe - Wider Meaning

I wanted to spend some time and talk about working through a recipe, or really, being successful with cooking off someone else's instructions. I'll also tie it back to more general topics and to their sources. And I'll incorporate this into a narrative on the dinner party I hosted last night. On the menu were oysters, wild boar, sea urchin, salmon etc. Now wild boar isn't something I've cooked before. Another issue is that this was real wild boar, which means that they were free roaming feral hogs, that were harvested. I got a leg of one fedexed in from Broken Arrow Ranch. Check em out. Now I do know that wild boar tends to be leaner than the "wild boar" that is sold in markets in the area which are probably more fenced in pigs than anything else. Having no shortage of recipes via Google, I wanted a classic American preparation and not try to do some asian-y rendition of it.

So, I saw suggestions on using a classic pan dripping, onions, carrots, mushrooms sauce and felt that would do it right. How do you select a recipe? Well if you have more than one recipe, odds are that they're different for different reasons, and they all worked for a test kitchen at some point. So they're all right to a degree. Will it be right for you? I'll try to walk through how I think when I approach a dish that I haven't done before.

First, what is the focus of the dish? In this case, it's the wild boar. Everything else needs to support this. I make this distinction because most American feedlot steaks have very little flavor on their own. Which is why people sauce the hell out of it. And I don't blame the general public. I would do the same thing too if I were to make it palatable. If I were to serve something at a dinner party, it needs to stand on its own with perhaps a touch of salt and pepper. It needs it's own innate flavors. So buying good stuff is key.

So we have the boar, the focus of the dish, and the sauce that goes along with it. Next or at the same time, I consider the end result. How are my guests going to enjoy this? Individual plating? A single plate with that and other items? Family style? I chose family style because I was working solo and wanted to do individual plating for the oyster shooters, so this was left for convenience and to not make it a fussy dish. I also left this towards the end of the menu because the flavors were more intense; a good trailer for sashimi and more delicate bites. What I came up with, was pre sliced, bite sized pieces of the boar, in a long plate, with sauce covering the top. It was intended for a minimum amount of fuss for the guests.

The boar was originally intended to be roasted which would probably have been great too, however because I can cook sous-vide with the Polyscience, which allows for superior moisture retention, I chose that. So choose the method of preparation well. Play to your strengths when friends are coming, and to your weaknesses when you cook for yourself. Don't follow recipes to the T unless you're baking. If you get a sense that amounts are critical, use a kitchen scale. Don't even mess around trying to guess amounts. Usually the recipe will say if amounts are critical. Knowing how you're going to cook the dish is important, but knowing what tools you have available is even more important. Which is why if I teach a friend how to cook, we focus on individual techniques. My goal is not to show them how to work a recipe, but to give them tools so they aren't glued to a recipe.

Now for the sauce, I had to consider whether I could get all the ingredients. None of them were hard to source, but what if they were? Look at each ingredient and ask yourself what they contribute. This is really important because it's rare for me to be able to get all the ingredients for a recipe. Look at each ingredient in it's generic form. Does it contribute saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, sourness? If you miss one, what are you going to do? Cancel dinner? =). Shit no, you're going to ball it up and crush things.

Within the sauce, I had guidance for varying amounts. And remember, it's worked for someone before, but ask why it WON'T work for you this time? That's important because natural ingredients are all different, contributing different amounts of flavor. Take salt for example. If I want to put in bacon, which I did, I have to consider how much saltiness that's also contributing. So, I have to hold off on any additional salt till the end when you would adjust before sending the plate out. Red wine was also another ingredient, which I felt was important, but the amount is incredibly variable. Wine in this sauce would contribute liquid volume, as well as lots of other flavors. Rule of thumb is to add it slowly, taste, and stop when you get the right taste. If you don't have enough volume, add a neutral broth like chicken broth (without added salt).

Some recipes will call for thickening of the sauce. To reduce risk, I like to isolate steps and thickening is a good example. If I know I will serve immediately, I'll just use a quick aggressive thickener like arrowroot starch. If it needs a glossy texture, I use tapioca starch. When the sauce's taste is pretty much to your desire, and you're close to serving time, do the thickening. The point I'm making is that you want to highlight each process in the recipe see what it's trying to accomplish. Do you have the skills to do so? If you don't, can you replace it with something? Is learning it something you can do right now?

Now for what I call "connected flavors," a real easy way to make sure your sauce supports the main dish, is to use the drippings from the cooked primary ingredient in your sauce. You can get technical and look up the "Flavor Bible" which is an outstanding reference. But just use the drippings in your sauce. Taste the drippings first to get a sense of how intense that flavor is. If you need more support, which I did, use some concentrated stock. If you need more savoriness which is tossed around with the term "Umami," know your heavy hitters. Mushrooms, anchovies, parmesan cheese, and others. These can be used in small amounts to increase the presence of glutamates. Savoriness was important here, because this dish was intended to be comfortable/homestyle, which I know I'm making it sound like it's not, but I have to break down the process for you.

I take my guests preferences very seriously and this is why I spend a lot of time thinking through each dish. While I love the fact that guests come to hang out with me, I want to make sure that I respect their prime real estate on their calendars, Friday or Sat evening. My way of doing so, is to build something that respects their sensibilities but places it's execution in my hands. And it's got to be done in a way that's friendly, and also demonstrates personality with it.

So as a review, I'll give you a few questions I ask myself when I cook:
What's your focus? What's the main ingredient?
Who's coming?
Have I tasted everything? Have I checked all components?
What's google say about it? Who are the pro's that are working with this? Can I find out how they think?
Is this fashionable? If so, are you really doing this for the right reasons?
What's my end result look like? Will I know when I get there?
Am I lacking in skills, equipment, ingredients? Do I really have to do things that way?
What can I do to use assets I already have?
Am I doing this with heart? Will friends look at what I've done and know it's unmistakably MY work, but with their guidance?
Will I screw up royally and love the fact that I tried?

Funny enough, while I write this, trying to wait out the effects of overindulgence while sitting by my window, I realize once again, the above has less to do with cooking, and more to do with general approach to doing stuff. And so my way of saying thanks for the guidance is to reveal those who have helped me. Who knows if it will change next year. I hope it does and I hope someone takes the time to correct me.

Focus comes from my executive coach, Michael Ker, asking me what my purpose is. Ingredients came from the Master Chef, Jason at Okoze who taught me the importance of the plate and the customer.

The audience comes from working in sales and the sales professionals I love working for.

Checking all items comes from practical pistol. Did I double, triple check that my gun was unloaded before putting it in the safe? Did I double, triple check that a round was in the chamber when I wanted it loaded? Did I have to think about this? If so, it's not second nature and it may need to be.

Studying the pros comes from hanging out at the archery store when I was small, never really having a formal coach, being forced to imitate. Doing things for the right reasons. Funny this comes from wearing cologne. Wear what smells good on you, not what's the latest. I love Bulgari Blue.

Recognizing a win comes from working in various jobs. If we don't know a win when we see it, is it even worth doing? The skills inventory comes from being forced to learn new stuff all the time from awesome, unorthodox internships I had in school.

Doing things with heart comes from violin teacher Lee Snyder. Someone else obviously wrote the piece, but are you playing passionately like it were yours?

And the last, screwing up royally but still loving yourself comes from girls I've dated and are still fantastic friends =). I'm just that jackass sometimes.

One of the things I find most important and satisfying is finding out how people that do things and act the way that I like, think for themselves, and from where they got their help. And so, by sharing how I think and got these questions, I'm hoping that this will humbly of course, be useful to someone.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Planning My Competitions for 2011

I thought I would put together a writeup on how I'll build myself an interesting year of competitions. Instead of just diving headfirst and losing, I figure I'd do my due diligence which hopefully will lead to mild domination =). I'm also excited to share this with readers for feedback.


To compete in practical precision rifle on a national level and devise a training program for practical rifle shooters with an athletic emphasis. To set a positive example for both shooters and to the general public for safe and enjoyable marksmanship.

A little background:
Practical precision rifle requires shooters to shoot distances from 100 yards to 1000 yards and past. The practical aspect of this dictates that not all targets will be same. In fact some will not be marked with distances and others may even move. Handguns are often used for short distances which stresses the versatility of the shooter and requires training on multiple platforms. Because the terrain and environment are often challenging, this requires shooters to have excellent mental focus, and expert knowledge of their equipment in adverse conditions.

Compete at club rifle matches, and selected national matches. Combine this with sprint and olympic distance triathlons for the fitness component. Maintain competency with handgun at local action pistol matches as pistol shooting is important at some multi-gun matches. Select equipment that fits me exactly and maximizes value at its price point.

My Reasons:
I have not competed at a national level since my archery days in high school and I miss that, as marksmanship is something I'm innately good at. I seem to have half-assed shooting for the last 7 or so years. Showing up to matches, doing decently only because of talent, not practice. Now that I have the resources, I want to compete at a high level for a year. Why one year? It's manageable as a plan, and if I develop other commitments in the future, I may have lost my chance to do this now. I will leverage my instinctive shooting abilities and combine it with solid practice. I will also take any opportunity to coach new shooters in safe and enjoyable shooting. I owe it to myself and my sport to perform, and serve as an ambassador to the general public.

Why this specific discipline:
Shooting long distance rifle while solving shooting problems under both time and athletic pressure is a test of my skill, practice regimen, equipment, and discipline. Because these events combine rifle, handgun, and some degree of movement as well as problem solving, it's a shooting discipline that has kept me interested.

Why I feel I'll do well:
  • My friends/family understand the demanding nature of my training and will encourage me to succeed
  • I love what I do professionally which gives me mental energy to come home and focus on practice
  • I am detail oriented, which lends itself to a math intensive activity like precision rifle
  • I have a history at high level shooting competitions, with solid mental control
  • I can perform athletically which will give me an advantage during multi-day rugged terrain events
  • I have selected the best equipment there is and am confident in it's precision and reliability
  • My comfort with technology will allow me to use laser rangefinders, ipads to quickly build firing solutions
  • I have dexterity probably coming from violin and sushi chef-ing, and this will allow me to quickly manipulate equipment under time pressure

What challenges I may face:
  • My professional career is still my primary focus, and this will come first at any time
  • If I'm in a relationship, she will also come first
  • No access to local long distance range (1000 yards), 120 miles to closest range
  • Live fire limited to weekends when I can get to a range
  • Handgun magazine capacity limited to 10 rounds, per CA regulations
  • Possible injury from athletic events
  • I am not as strong as larger competitors, and may struggle to carry heavy gear
  • Ammunition shortages
  • Getting cracked on by friends and encouraged to pick a more socially acceptable sport =)

How I'll overcome them:
  • Work efficiently in the office, work with my executive coach to improve my productivity
  • Communicate openly with significant other and skip a practice here and there to spend time with her
  • When I'm in Sacramento, I'll go to the range, stay at a hotel and use the downtime for triathlon training
  • Use airsoft gun simulators where I can for handgun, to practice safely indoors
  • Spend money on ultralight equipment
  • Deal with lower magazine capacities and relocate magazines onto chest rig for easier access
  • Reload ammunition or have it custom made. I selected the 6.5 Creedmoor round for factory availability

How I know I've succeeded:
  • Place in top 10 consistently at club level matches
  • Place in top 30 at national level competitions
  • Build a training plan to be shared with other shooters

And my match schedule for 2011 (subject to change of course):

Athletic Races:
Oct 2010 Tough Mudder
May 15, 2011 Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon
June 12, 2011 Silicon Valley International Triathlon
-more to be selected

National Level Rifle Matches:
Dec 9-10 2010 Shooters Bash, Kingsville, TX
Feb 10-11 2011 Phoenix, AZ, Tactical Precision Rifle Challenge
March 2011 - Snipers Hide Cup, Kingsville, TX
May 27-29 2011 Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge, Folsom, CA (Invite Only)
June 2011 Steel Safari (If I get in)
August 2011 International Tactical Rifleman's Challenge, Gillette, WY (If I can find a teammate)

Handgun Matches:
Oct 24 2010 - Bay Bridge Charity Classic

NCPPRC Club Matches:
Jan 1-2 - 1k
Feb 5-6 - 1k
Feb 20 - Steel
March 5-6 -1k
April 2-3 - 1k
April 17 - Steel
May 1 (match only)
(Can't, Steel Safari) June 4-5 - 1k
June 19 - Steel
July 2-3 - 1k
Aug 6-7 - 1k
Aug 21 - Steel
Sept 3-4 - 1k
Oct 1-2 - 1k
Oct 16 - Steel
Nov 5-6 - 1k
Dec 3-4 - 1k
Dec 18 - Steel

NRA Certified Instructor
Richmond Rod and Gun Club Member
Northern California Practical Precision Rifle Club Member

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How the Triathlon Went Down

Thought I'd detail out what was going through my head during this weekend's olympic distance triathlon in Pacific Grove, CA, and some items that I felt helped me out during the training and race periods.

When the horn gave us the go signal, I started running, mid pack in my wetsuit down the sand and dove into the water. The water was quite cold and I immediately felt its chill on my feet. My goal for the swim was to maintain impeccable form and save my energy for the run/bike. I remembered what my instructors at Total Immersion swim clinics told us. High elbow, spear the water. Use your opposite foot to initiate the thrust of your hand into the water. Front quadrant hand positioning. Truthfully I wasn't really thinking that, I was just doing. I had updated my swim practice to be less about fitness, and more about form by doing drills nonstop. This paid off as I finished the 1 mile swim not tired at all, at about 31 minutes. Not as fast as I wanted, but with plenty of energy to spare.

As I ran up the steps out of the water and to my bike, I realize I had made a critical error in preparation. I didn't mentally rehearse my transition so I'd be figuring out where to run with my bike after I changed out of my wetsuit. This was inexcusable for me, since I'm accustomed to mentally playing through songs on the violin before the bow hit the string. And so yes, I made a wrong turn out of the transition area, probably costing me 30 or so seconds. Hopping onto the bike, I paid attention to two things while I pedaled which would be displayed through my Garmin 310XT training computer. That my pedaling rate or cadence would be around 90 RPM, and my heart rate would be around 168 BPM on flats or downhills. 168 BPM appears to be a sweet spot for me, for races like this. I know that at 170 BPM, my body goes anaerobic and my time is therefore limited before I begin to fatigue. My plan was to stay aerobic, manage my energy accordingly, and reassess on the run.

During the last quarter mile of the bike portion, I changed gears to increase my pedaling cadence, and loosen myself up for the run. After hopping into my running shoes and taking off, I aimed to keep my running cadence, through the sensor in my shoes, also at 90 RPM. With 6 miles to go, the first two miles would be held at a heart rate of 168 BPM, to see how I felt. After which I would decide to increase heart rate, or maintain at 168. According to the Garmin, my first two mile splits were sub 8 mins/mile, and I decided to increase to 172-175 BPM. The last two miles were spent at near max heart rate ~185 as a broke out in a sprint for the last half mile. I wanted to be completely spent by the time I crossed the finish line. I was pleased at my performance, and also had plenty of information on what needed to be improved. I finished 24th out of 68 competitors in my gender and age group.

If I had to detail what I felt helped me out the most, obviously still being a beginner, here they are in no particular order:
Racing with the intent of performing for your friends and supporters
Digital monitoring of your heart rate, location, performance (Garmin 310XT)
Online records of your training progress (Garmin Connect, and Training Peaks)
Some kind of vain motivation (I wanted my six pack back)
A real training plan (Joe Friel's 12 week Olympic distance plan)
A well organized bag (Zoot tri bag)
Technical swim training (Total Immersion)
Social media (I've gotten a lot of help through friends on facebook)
Friends who support you and love what you're doing (Thank you all)

That completes my 3 month foray into triathlons, and hopefully becomes something I continue to love doing.