Warren, heart holes, and gratitude


Just a few weeks ago – I had lots to blog about – I had just come back from the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting with a friend to hear wisdom and opinions from Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.  I have blogged each year about this trip (and yes, the below is what the Qwest Center in Omaha looks like during the world’s largest shareholder meeting).  Its crazy and still fun.


But before I could blog on this and other topics – life surprised me with a curveball…….

You see, 3 weeks ago on May 10th as I was just waking up, my wife noticed something odd with my speech and face – she had been planning to leave for Sioux Falls and was running late – she got concerned even though I felt totally fine – she called my mother to stop by as well  and see what she thought (many have since asked – why? Is your mom a nurse?  The answer – No – but she knows what her son looks like better than most) and immediately they decided we had to get to the hospital – a quick run to the emergency room, a quick consultation and they had me have a CT scan of my head – found a blood clot in my right half of the brain – they sent me to McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls where more detailed MRI revealed the size and location of the clot and even let them conjecture that the clot had reached my brain somewhere around 1 AM that morning – from Saturday morning until I was released Monday night, I was pushed blood thinners thru an IV and had blood taken every 2 hours day and throughout the night …..and yet I can honestly tell you that the entire event was extremely positive and a terrific experience (except for one time where I accidentally ripped the IV out of my arm – that wasn’t fun) , even the food was good and that this experience is one that my family views as a tremendous gift, a gift that cannot be repaid – I’ll explain why in a second.

But first – the whole experience brought to mind a book I had read at college – The Way of the Peaceful Warrior (a book which I can say did actually change me – and I did need changing.)


A parable from this book sums it up well…..

An old Zen story goes like this: An old Chinese farmer had a mare that broke through the fence and ran away. When his neighbors learned of it, they came to the farmer and said, “What bad luck this is. You don’t have a horse during planting season.” The farmer listened and then replied, “Bad luck, good luck. Who knows?”

A few days later, the mare returned with two stallions. When the neighbors learned of it, they visited the farmer. “You are now a rich man. What good fortune this is,” they said. The farmer listened and again replied, “Good fortune, bad fortune. Who knows?”

Later that day, the farmer’s only son was thrown from one of the stallions and broke his leg. When the neighbors heard about it, they came to the farmer. “It is planting season and now there is no one to help you,” they said. “This is truly bad luck.” The farmer listened, and once more he said, “Bad luck, good luck. Who knows?”

The very next day, the emperor’s army rode into the town and conscripted the eldest son in every family. Only the farmer’s son with his broken leg remained behind. Soon the neighbors arrived. Tearfully, they said, “Yours is the only son who was not taken from his family and sent to war. What good fortune this is…”

So – why was all of this a huge gift?  Apparently I have a small hole in my heart between my 2 upper chambers (about 3 mm wide) that I have had since birth –1 in every 5 people have them so its not uncommon – it’s a natural born birth defect as all babies start with this hole in the heart and for 80% of all people – it closes – but for some of us it does not – its called a PVO (patent foramen ovale) or an atrial septal defect. This is not normally a problem because PFO’s are typically very small and the amount of blood crossing the PFO does not place the heart under strain.


A PFO can however be a problem in young(er) patients who present with a stroke or stroke like symptoms because this can mean that the PFO is enabling clots to travel from the right to the left side of the heart.  And this is what happened to me – they figure a tiny clot (which normally would get filtered by the lungs) was able to jump thru that hole and get into my brain – and then its just a matter of chance of how much damage a clot in the brain can cause

So let me count the blessings:

  • I was dead tired that morning and planned on sleeping in while my wife was already about 20 minutes late in leaving for Sioux Falls that very morning – a few more minutes, and my wife would have been out of the house and I would not have noticed anything
  • My symptoms were very slight except for about a very narrow window (only a few minutes) where my speech was messed up – the only reason this was caught was because at the exact moment that my speech was hosed, my sister had called on the phone (and she never calls early on a Saturday morning) and I was trying to relay a message to my wife and could not recite the phone number.
  • My speech quickly came back – but the entire time I just thought I was over-tired and was going back to bed, but my wife noticed something odd about my smile – which is a feat in itself, anytime I have just woken up and not yet showered – I don’t think I ever look “normal”.
  • By the time we got to the hospital, my symptoms were almost invisible and I still felt totally fine.
  • At the hospital in Sioux Falls, they located the hole in my heart quickly with ultrasounds (which they suspected immediately since I did not have any other stroke factors…ie..I don’t smoke, I have low blood pressure, etc)
  • Bottom line – it was an extremely lucky catch that someone (my beautiful wife) saw my symptoms while I was presenting, I was extremely fortunate that the clot that did reveal the hole in my heart that I have had my entire life was so tiny as to not cause ANY permanent damage and yet the clot caused just enough symptoms to be noticed, and I could go on and on about the sheer fortunate events that happened that weekend
  • And 2 weeks from now I’ll undergo a fairly simple process to repair my heart will get me off blood thinners – and meanwhile I am cleared for all physical activity and I even started the tennis season with a win this week over an individual that started varsity for the Kernels last year. (not bad for a 45-year old man with a hole in his heart :)  – and what could have been a ticking time-bomb ready to go off sometime in the future with potentially catastrophic capabilities will be defused …….and I spent 3 days in a hospital with some of the coolest and most charming nurses ever.

So while gratitude is something that I strive to practice more on a daily basis – this experience certainly pushed it front and center in my thoughts.

There is no greater difference between men than between grateful and ungrateful people. ~R.H. Blyth

And I choose to be one of the grateful ones – have a great weekend.



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Day to day minutiae

Working on evaluations for my team, and I was forwarded an email in which 59% of people who willingly leave their jobs blame their managers – now I consider myself truly simply a team leader, as my team and I all do the same work – but still, didn’t really need the extra pressure and now in the back of my mind hope the company removes me before I can do too much damage Smile


Was watching the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and realized….I would definitely pay to go to a Dracula rock opera with puppets.

I wonder if the idea from this movie was based on a real thing – cause crazy as it sounds, it sounds like it would be awesome.



Speaking of awesome, attended Mitchell Show Choir Dinner Theatre tonight and rarely has my civic pride been higher than when one band member was introduced as playing the cow bell – and someone from the audience shouted “We need more cow bell” – yeah, never been prouder, and I was wishing I had been the one to holler that.

For the less-fortunate-never-watching SNL people……(click below)

Need More Cowbell
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“if everyone is special, no one is…”

This has got to be my favorite commencement speech EVER…

SKIP ahead to 3:00 to get to the good stuff……

High School Commencement speech

Wellesley High English teacher David McCullough Jr. told graduates “You are not special. You are not exceptional,” quoting empirical evidence:

“Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians … 37,000 class presidents … 92,000 harmonizing altos … 340,000 swaggering jocks … 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs,” he said in the speech published in the Boston Herald.

He added: “Even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.”

McCullough makes a statement on parents who overdo it in a modern society focused on collecting achievements. “You’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble wrapped … feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie.” But he adds in a video on Wellesley Channel TV YouTube page, “You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. … We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.”

He sums it up well, why is this on my mind? – 2 reasons – recently I saw our local honor roll, and I swear half the school is getting straight A’s – and my inner statistician is abit skeptical of that. And soon at high school graduations, I bet you see lots of 4.0 graduating seniors – I graduated with nearly 200 students and I know we did not have more than a few perfect grades at most, and we had some pretty damn smart kids in our class (lot of lawyers, doctors, even some Computer Scientists Smile ) – should that bother me? – no, It shouldn’t at all – I mean, it’s this generation’s problem with how they will mark achievement but its one of those things that just feels abit off. 

Or Check out this article about grade inflation in the colleges, proving that for most, you get what you pay for





Soon GPAs are going to be assumed to start with a “4”, and we will just have to go out a few more decimal points as we will separate students in honors classes with a few extra thousandths here and there.  Don’t get me wrong, I am still going to celebrate every good grade of my kids, my nephews/nieces, and friends of the family however David McCullough’s quote is going to stick with me “We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.”


So tonight, sure I could go online and pick up another Masters degree based on “life experiences” from a non-accredited university that sounds real enough, but I have a feeling that finishing by book on Data Sciences might prove to be the choice that brings genuine achievement – just a hunch from a guy who did not graduate with a 4.0.

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Mexico, Leadership and Female Coders

Every now and then I notice that I forget to blog – life gets busy, work projects take higher priority, kids activities become all encompassing, and suddenly I realize its been a few months since I last blogged – I don’t like when that happens – not that I fear the world will suffer from a few less blog posts but for me it’s a chance to rethink priorities, goals and what I need to be working on next…..so time to get a few things back in order.

After a fairly difficult fall for me on a personal level, my sisters and I decided on a vacation to Mexico within minutes of each other in a odd serendipitous moment.  Now odd for a number of reasons, I had not tried to arrange a vacation with them before, I had never been to Mexico before, and yet as soon as I said “we should go to Mexico” they laughed as they had been discussing the exact same topic before I had joined the conversation.  I was told by family and friends alike that once you go to Mexico during the winter, you will do what it takes to get back every winter – and I understand why.  After this long winter, we got down to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico the last week in February, and it has definitely charged my batteries again – something about 86 degree days, cool ocean breezes, and every tropical drink known to man in your hands pretty much around the clock at an all inclusive resort will change your attitude – and by a lot.  Yeah, I am hooked – pretty easy to compartmentalize your worries when your view from a deck chair is this (yes, these are ones I actually took rather than the stock footage I always include Smile ) and the ocean only looks bluer the closer you get.


It was my first time abroad and for some reason, we were only there 5 days – we really should have stayed 7 – as we headed home, I kept obsessing about wishing for 2 more days the same way the paperboy in Better Off Dead wanted his $2.  My sisters and our spouses had a terrific time and it was worth every dollar.


My team has grown once again, and each time our team changes, it forces me to rethink my role and responsibilities to it– not having ever wanted to be in charge of others means that I have had to learn and think a lot about how I should approach it and I have chosen to do so exactly how I would want the team run if I were not leading it – and by that I mean:

  • Open sharing of company goals & strategies & Plans
  • Opportunities for new projects going to those who have earned those opportunities and listening to team members to find their goals, desires and work that they may be passionate about
  • Taking every opportunity to raise awareness of team members who have done great work and those who show great teamwork
  • Build a team where everyone has everyone’s back and no one feels isolated or frustrated on any particular tough assignment
  • Seek lots of feedback from the team on course corrections along the way

It’s a work in progress and I learn more each year and I know that there are a few that could easily replace me today and do great which is a terrific feeling to know about your coworkers – I love this quote – you know you work for a good CEO when that person acknowledges this very fact:



A month or so ago at the urging of a co-worker I read “Lean In”, a book by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook.   Basically a book empowering women in the workplace to pursue their goals.  Having a few women software developers on my team (3) , actually more than any other team in my company, motivated me to read this.  Some time ago at the Heartland Developer Conference in Omaha, there were women software developers encouraging women to sign up for their social group, but when I inquired, I found it was only in the Omaha area and none of these clubs existed in eastern South Dakota.  The topic however was important to me because my young daughter has already expressed 2 different vocation choices so far – veterinarian & at one time, software developer.  OK, the past few years she has been solidly still thinking about working with animals – but the pragmatic dad in me thinks….hmm, at one time she was thinking of being a software developer like dad, and the animal thing may wear off – so there is still a chance…a geek dad can dream.  But articles like this do point out the issues that female developers still face in our industry


So its wise to know about them and be vigilant and hope that we are creating a culture for all software developers in our own company.


Finally, lets talk projects – I am back in the saddle working on something in my spare time that I have mentioned many times but am finally getting going on it

An information dashboard check out my post on this from the past to see a beautiful one.

I am attacking this from 2 directions:

My goals? to be able to display work metrics, project statuses, build statuses, and team accomplishments on a beautiful display (and use fewer printed graphs and charts) – I’ll post on any success I have – web stuff is a real weakness for me so I have some real digging to do to make it as dynamic as I want.


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Life in The Matrix

Last week I posted about the ongoing battle to stay current and how anymore, in software development, you have to pick and choose how you spend your valuable “personal” time in pursuing which software development topics you wish to stay abreast of or get acquainted with.  It’s certainly a grey area balancing what stuff I want to learn more about versus the stuff I need to learn more about (and more and more, determining which stuff I just can’t squeeze into either category). 


I think that many people would be surprised about the vastness of the software development landscape and the utter hopelessness of becoming a “master of all”.  Unlike most other scientific or engineering fields, the pace of change in software development is incredibly fast and constantly accelerating.  Just take a small area such as mobile development – and soon you have to make choices as to which development tool you use, which platforms you will target, which backend data storage you will use and soon you find yourself  buried in a world of necessary skills and a loudly ticking clock before those technologies are replaced by the next generation of tools/paradigms/needed features.

Just walked around the Sioux Falls Barnes & Noble last week during a quick trip up there and my beloved Software & Computer section of books has been reduced in half – probably since the books become practically obsolete in the months it takes to write them – also due to this, software developers will tell you that “our” books ironically tend to have more errors in them due to the speed in which they are rushed out.

So when I find great resources for learning new things efficiently, I take notice and dive in – and this week, the resource that impressed me the most was simply a series of YouTube videos.  At work, I got tossed into a project requiring Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Service work, and a coworker of mine suggested right away a series of videos on YouTube by a group known as Wise Owl.  I was super impressed with these – clear, easy to understand walkthroughs.  Thanks again for suggesting these Becky.


Spent a few hours today on a cold Saturday morning running through a series of about 8 videos, and when I was done I felt like Neo in The Matrix and some new information had just been downloaded into my head.

i know kung fu

Yeah, in my case, I didn’t learn kung fu, and I am not about to go home and loudly proclaim to my kids “I know Reporting Services!” but still – great tutorials are golden and make you feel empowered when you are done.  Kudos to the people at Wise Owl – they took a less than glamorous topic and turned these videos into great step-by-step lessons that I already benefited greatly from.  About an hour messing around installing it on my machine, and I am up and running and already coming up with things that I do on a weekly basis that I may setup as automated email reports.


So sure, its a topic I wasn’t planning on jumping into, but actually the nudge into the deep end of the pool was a good thing and I am making plans on how to best use this tool and its capabilities.  But for those in most fields, if you are not spending time each week investing in yourself, I have to wonder why not.  Balance in all things – your own future/career has to be one of them as well.

have a good turkey day next week – my baby sister is coming home from Dallas next week so my whole family will be back and that’s reason for thanksgiving right there


(PS – was thinking about the Matrix alot this week after I made (what I thought was) a very difficult shot during a tightly contested battle at the company ping-pong table during Doubles – I really felt my movements were Neo-like as in the bullet-time photo below – oddly enough, my coworkers did not see it in the same way – maybe they weren’t paying enough attention  :)


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Moving in order to stay in place (ie. Continued Learning)

In our field of software development, I am constantly reminded of one immutable fact – the pace of change is still continuing to accelerate.  Whereas a person could become a software development guru back in the early 80s when I first got interested in computer science– now that is all but impossible and you have to pick and choose what areas to become well-versed in, which areas to become competent in, and which areas you will just have to be content to be ignorant of.  Reminds me of that article from Coding Horror that I have referred to a number of times from way back in 2006.

It compares our industry from a chapter in Alice in Wonderland where you had to keep moving in order to stay in the same place – yeah – that sums it up perfectly.


That’s not a bad thing and in fact opens the doors for people to practice their craft in so may new ways, and for people like me (mid-40s) to reinvent themselves with new interests.


So with that in mind – last weekend, it was a quick trip to Sioux Falls for the annual South Dakota Code Camp – where more than 100+ other software developers had gathered to hear speakers on a number of topics


All in all, a good day, learned some new stuff, made some stuff that seemed totally greek to me previously at least a little more edible, and met some other like minded individuals – not a bad way to spend a cold November afternoon. Specifically, I attended a session on Mocking Frameworks, some Java scripting, use of Microsoft PowerShell, and how to use the previously crazy and foreign tool for me to understand– the windbg program to diagnose software issues at a client site which alone could prove to be a powerful tool to add to my toolbox.

Next week, our company is bringing in some professional trainers and pulling us out of the building for 2 days which is pretty cool, and honestly looks to be some great training – and for that, I am grateful as it makes the running to stay in place just a bit easier.

I just got done interviewing prospective software developers from SDSU, SDSM&T, and DSU these past few weeks – and the time spent staying up to date is always well worth it and something that I share with these new kids coming out of college as mandatory if they want to last.

Hope your Fall is as nice as ours has been the past few days (and less than 100 days until I find myself on a Mexican beach…hmmmmmmmm)



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Years ago I came across an old German saying which translates to the heat of change attracts demons – it sounds much more imposing in German – “hitze des wandels zieht dämonen”.   This saying (and I love quotes and sayings) has a universal truth to it – change is hard, change creates friction, and friction creates heat, and this heat will seem to be in the form of demons at times. And when the topic of change comes up – this saying always pops into my mind.


President Woodrow Wilson once said “ If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” – that’s funny on a number of levels but is true whether in our personal lives or corporate world – it does seem that many obstacles will jump in your path once you try to make change happen. Can’t count the number of demons in my life during the past few months with all of the changes going on but life seems back to normal (for now), and this topic seems way appropriate and timely.


A few years back, I was forwarded this article by someone whose leadership abilities I admire greatly – this story introduces “patterns” or ways of introducing change – Fearless Change: Making Change Happen By Using Patterns.  Over the years I have been part of a number of efforts to implement change at work or in various organizations – and the only real truth I have learned is patience.  Patience in knowing that change will take about 4 times longer than it should, and that it will require a constant exertion of effort, and that wins will be very small at first but should be measured and celebrated to keep forward momentum – even the slowest forward momentum to continue.  Now I find myself at times counseling others in not losing hope that change is possible and that they too will need to be patient, vigilant and stubbornly optimistic. Start small, measure the smallest progress, and recruit allies.



Tonight I end with this quote “The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions.” from Ellen Glasgow.  I admit to being in a rut lately in a variety of categories – time for me to make some more changes – despite whatever demons may jump into my path.


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