Sunday, November 04, 2007

in ... the dumb things that non-climbers say ...

Found in

"And how do you get the rope up there?"
Answer1: "It just kind of grew down from that tree."
Answer2: "I used a harpoon. It took several tries."
Answer3: "We've trained a couple of these squirrels to run the rope up and loop it down the anchor."
Answer4: "You don't." - usually said as the lead climber begins to climb -

"How does the last person get down?"
Answer: "Just like I did."
"Well, then, who carries the rope down?"
Answer: "No one, we leave it there for the next party of climbers." - this usually said as the last person down is pulling down the rope -

"Hey, are you training to be Tom Cruise's double?"
Answer: "No. He's training to be mine."

"Rock climbing is your hobby; but what do you do for exercise?"

"Is there a strip-club or something at the top of the cliff?"

Then the all-time classics:

"Do you know there's an easier way around the back?"

and the most important and most classical of all:


Exactly. Why? Why do we climb?

Why do we have to get to the top of the rock? Why do we climb another rock, another mountain ... once up there, the views are all the same?


Orpierre is another world I never knew existed. A sleepy medieval village in Les Hautes-Alpes (the upper Alps) department popular with climbers but ignored by everybody else (except perhaps a few stray tourists looking for a quiet getaway from the touristy Provence or Côte d'Azur), it maintains the very traditional French character and mentality.

Friendly, laid-back, and trusting. No matter where you're from, what language you speak.

Just like in Fixkes's 'kvraagetaan. A world from the good-old-time that knows no gsm (unless you climb 500m to the top of the cliffs that is), no cinema, no police station, no restaurant, no hypermarket, not even a post office. Just a small bar, an épicerie, a bakery, and--of course--a climbing shop. Its main street--La Grand Rue--is only about 1.5m wide. A place where its villagers still live the life that knows no hate, no prejudice, no worries, no ambition, no regret ... a place where everything is still so simple, and a week vacation in a nice traditional gîte costs no more than €150, everything included.

Including one heck of an experience that--to me--beats any $5000 vacation in the Bahamas or any other "exotic" places.


Why do we climb? Why do we have to get to the top of the rock? Why do we climb another rock, another mountain ... once up there, the views are all the same?

Why do we work, why do we chase dreams, why do we have to always be better than everybody else, better than yesterday? Why do we live?

We, climbers, climb because we love to climb.

Monday, October 22, 2007

... in life and childhood dreams (memorable quotes from Dr. Randy Pausch--delivering his last lecture in Carnegie Mellon's "last lecture series"

"How do you measure a year in the life?" - The Rent

How about ... in Randy Pausch's childhood dreams?

"It's wonderful to be here. What Indira didn't tell you is that this lecture series used to be called the "Last Lecture". If you had one last lecture to give before you died, what would it be? I thought, damn, I finally nailed the venue and they renamed it!"

Delivering his "last lecture" in Carnegie Mellon's "Last Lecture Series" with 3-6 months left of good health, Randy talked about his life and his childhood dreams. For complete lecture video and transcript, they are available in Randy's website.

"So what are my childhood dreams? ... And there I actually have a picture of me dreaming. I did a lot of that. You know, there's a lot of wake up's! I was born in 1960. When you are 8 or 9 years old and you look at the TV set, men are landing on the moon, anything's possible. And that's something we should not lose sight of, is that the inspiration and the permission to dream is huge ... So what were my childhood dreams? ... Being in zero gravity, playing in the NFL, authoring an article in the World Book Encyclopedia ... Being Captain Kirk ... I wanted to become one of the guys who won the big stuffed animals in the amusement park, and I wanted to be an Imagineer with Disney ... OK, so being in zero gravity. Now it's important to have specific dreams. I did not dream of being an astronaut, because when I was a little kid, I wore glasses an they told me oh, astronauts can't have glasses. And I was like, mmm, I didn't really want the whole astronaut gig, I just wanted to float. So, and as a child, prototype 0.0 [slide shown of Randy as a child lying in floating-formation on a table top] But that didn't work so well, and it turns out that NASA has something called the Vomit Comet that they used to train the astronauts. And this thing does parabolic arcs, and at the top of each arc you get about 25 seconds where you're ballistic and you get about, a rough equivalent of weightlessness for about 25 seconds. And there is a program where college students can submit proposals and if they win the competition, they get to fly. And I thought that was really cool, and we had a team and we put a team together and they won and they got to fly. And I was all excited because I was going to go with them. And then I hit the first brick wall, because they made it very clear that under no circumstances were faculty members allowed to fly with the teams. I know, I was heartbroken. I was like, I worked so hard! And so I read the literature very carefully and it turns out that NASA, it's part of their outreach and publicity program, and it turns out that the students were allowed to bring a local media journalist from the home town. And, [deep voice] Randy Pausch, web journalist. It's really easy to get a press pass! So I called up the guys at NASA and I said, I need to know where to fax some documents. And they said, what documents are you going to fax us? And I said my resignation as the faculty advisor and my application as the journalist ..."

And he continued ...

"... Being an Imagineer. This was the hard one. Believe me, getting to zero gravity is easier than becoming an Imagineer ... And so I bided my time and then I graduated with my Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon, thinking that meant me infinitely qualified to do anything. And I dashed off my letters of applications to Walt Disney Imagineering, and they just sent me some of the damned nicest go-to-hell letters I have gotten. I mean it was just, we have carefully reviewed your application and presently we do not have any positions available which require your particular qualifications ... So that was a bit of a setback. But remember, the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough, they're there to stop the *other* people."

But sometimes, some dreams are just out of reach. Talking about his dream of playing in the NFL, Randy said:

"Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted."

And in the end, he sums everything up nicely:

"Be prepared. Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity."

"It's not about how to achieve your dreams. It's about how to live your life. If you live your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dream will come to you."

(And now, just for fun: ... in more sunsets ... this time from Le Mt-St-Michel in Normandie, France)

... in paper tickets, in warm meal on-board, and--who would've guessed--stainless steel knives and forks!! (Greece: a journey back through time ...)

Cyn and I (literally) in the hands of God Dionysus

Greece ... Ian summed it up nicely: "Greece ... great lots of ancient history ..." Carolien has had enough rubles, but she remembered the beautiful cities, great food + wine, beaches, and good weathers.

And Cynthia? "... annoying crickets playing the symphony at night ... roosters or peacocks or cows mooing in the early morning ... the stray cat ..."

It was about 4 in the morning when Cynthia rolled over onto my side of the tent, whispering in panic, "Hey Adi Adi Adi ... There's something that feels like someone's limb on top of my leg here!!"

Actually, the stray cat has just found a warm spot to sleep.

Then there's the scooter and the cheap rental car on adventurous gravel road. The "open-door" kitchen that solves all language barriers we thought we were going to have to encounter. And the annoying self-parking donkeys.

You really want to know what I'm talking about? Why not venture out and experience yourself all the daylights ...

(Cyn's idea of a day on the beach: "I don't wanna get any darker!")

... and sunsets ...
(sunset over Naxos beach and the Gate of Dionysus)

... and the midnights and cups of coffee ...
(ok, more like in nice cool evenings over few glasses of Santorini wines)

(All pictures, as usual, are posted on my Flickr photo album)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

... in something "bigger": social responsibility that pays

A few years ago, out of curiosity I browsed around school rankings and I was trying to see if there were strong correlations between a school's rank and the average salary of its graduates. And it stroke me hard: in several professional fields of studies (medicine, law, and scientific research), there were definitely strong and negative correlations between rank and average salary, at least among the top tier schools.

A friend told me: "Why? Easy. You don't go to Harvard Med if you wanted to practice medicine--which is where the money is. You go there to learn how to find the cure for cancer and a solution to AIDS in Africa ... a Utopian dream that does not immediately--if ever, during this lifespan--pay off."

As a person, I've always wondered what life is and what life should be. And as an aspiring leader ... I continuously ask the question: what makes an organization better than others? How do you recruit and retain the best and the brightest? And how do you create value and earn a living (and provide comfortable livings for your followers) while staying true to your values?

The Wall Street Journal, June 19th 2007
Law Firms Willing to Pay to Work for Nothing

"Pro bono work at Big Law has evolved from an act of noblesse oblige into, at least in part, a business initiative. Law firms want strong pro bono programs as a way to recruit and retain top law students and junior associates, who are often more eager than their predecessors to do pro bono work ... The big firms are 'having to dig deeper to differentiate themselves,' say Esther Lardent, the president of the Pro Bono Institute at Georgetown University Law Center. 'Dedicating to pro bono is a way for a firm to say 'Our culture isn't entirely about maximizing profits, but about something bigger.' ... ": Ashby Jones

Harvard Business Review, December 2006
Strategy & Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility

"Successful corporations need a healthy society. Education, health care, and equal opportunity are essential to productive workforce. Safe products and working conditions not only attract customers but lower the internal costs of accidents ... Any business that pursues its ends at the expense of the society in which it operates will find its success to be illusory and ultimately temporary ... At the same time, a healthy society needs successful companies ... If governments, NGOs, and other participants in social society weaken the ability of business to operate productively, they may win battles but will lose the war, as corporate and regional competitiveness fade, wages stagnate, jobs disappear, and the wealth that pays taxes and supports nonprofit contributions evaporates ... Leaders in both business and civil society have focused too much on the friction between them and not enough on the points of intersection ... When value chain practices and investments in competitive context are fully integrated, corporate social responsibility becomes hard to distinguish from the day-to-day business of the company. Nestlé, for example, works directly with small farmers in developing countries to source the basic commodities, such as milk, coffee, and cocoa, on which much of its global business depends. The company's investment in local infrastructure and its transfer of world-class knowledge and technology over decades has produced enormous social benefits through improved health care, better education, and economic development, while giving Nestlé direct and reliable access to the commodities it needs to maintain a profitable global business ... NGOs, governments, and companies must stop thinking in terms of 'corporate social responsibility' and start thinking in terms of 'corporate social integration' ...": Michael E. Porter, Professor, Harvard Business School, and Mark R. Kramer, Senior Fellow, Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government

And, the truth is ... sometimes doing the good things is not only comforting ... but also makes strategic sense ...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"So, what is home, to you?"

Almost two years later ...


"So how long have you been there? Four years now?"

Me: "Ha! Not even two years!! You must've missed me that much, huh? I'm flattered."

"Well, not that. But normal people, they would show up back at home at least once a year--if not twice or three times per year--and you? No email, no telephone calls ... nothing. And let me see ... your last blog entry ... November 19th, 2006 ..."

Me: "Hey, at least I'm still updating my Flickr site! Take a look!"

"Fine. Tulips, tulips ... and a bunch of old-looking windmills. Are these the things that keep you there? Geez, I hope you didn't forget your allergy medicines. Ah, I see. Of course. Now I see ... there're the chicks!!"

Me: " ... "

"So how's Mt. Blanc?"

Me: "Best time in my life. Chamonix-Mt-Blanc ... the 'Death Sports Capital of the World'. You should read Kristen Ulmer's description of it in Epinions. She describes it there very well. Snowboarding along the 40-50 meters-high séracs--glowing crystal-blue walls of ice that formed as a result of glacial movement--the experience is simply out of this world. Of course, there are the crevasses too--gaps in the otherwise smooth glacier surfaces--you've always got to be in the lookout ... those things could be as deep as 2-3 hundred meters!"

" ... "

Me: "And at one time the weather was so crappy ... the funny thing was that it was quite sunny on top of the lift ... though you could see from there that you would have to snowboard through the clouds. Oh yeah. After about 200-300 meters descent, it was so windy and it was snowing so hard that we had visibility of no more than 2-3 meters ... if you could still call it "visibility". To protect against a fall into the crevasses, we were snowboarding while tied together on a rope. That was exciting!"

"Excuse me ... exciting??? Did it ever occur to you that when one guy falls, all of you might get dragged into the cliff ... crevasse ... whatever you call those things???"

Me: "Hey, I came back alive, didn't I? But fortunately, I did not get to test that theory about the rope and the crevasse. So let's just assume the guide knew what he's doing ..."

"So when are you coming back?"

Me: "Who says I will? Besides, coming back where?"

"So you're not coming back? You know, back here? Don't you miss us?"

Me: "I don't know. The guys who're deciding don't know--they're too busy with other things. So, in the meanwhile, I am making myself home."

"So you've found yourself your greener grass?"

Me: "Ha. Funny that you mentioned grass. We have a lot less grass over here that my allergy is actually doing a lot better--at least when I am sitting at home in the center of the city!"

"Oh gosh. I hope you didn't suffer too bad in the tulips garden. So, beyond the lack of grass, what do you like so much about Europe ... about Belgium?"

Me: "Well let's see ... didn't we just discuss this? The tulips, the old-looking windmills ..."

"Oh gosh, give me a break ... in Memphis you've got tulips growing in your own backyard!! You've got to mean the chicks???"

Me: "Yeah, yeah ... you're just jealous. Anyway, those are the things you don't find in the United States. Come on. You know my tulips didn't even bloom ... they were just barely poking out of the ground ... And then of course, there are Chamonix and the Alps ..."

"But weren't you the one who said that Utah had the best snow on earth?"

Me: "Yes, Utah still has the best snow on earth. But you can't find Chamonix either in the US. Truth is, there is no comparison. There is no grass that is greener or greenest. They're just ... different."