Washington, A Work in Progress

US Capitol

I spent last week in Washington D.C. This city used to be a frequent destination for me to visit museums, take in the architectural beauty and reflect on our history as a nation. This was however my first visit in nearly nine years and it was a very different trip as it involved my 8 year old son. We spent some time up front discussing the history and importance of the city and reviewed maps and photo books. When I got there it felt like I was visiting an old friend.

It’s not a perfect city nor a perfect democracy. We need to remember that our country is still a great experiment and there is still much to learn. I do worry that we are in danger of forgetting how to learn or work together for a greater good. We’ve created so much in such a short amount of time. We need to take the next steps, together.

There were people everywhere from all over the world this past week. They came eager to learn and excited for the opportunity. There’s a huge benefit to being a tourist. We don’t have to do the negotiation or the hard work of trying to support a base and stay true to what’s inside one’s heart.  I don’t envy their job, but they chose it and I do expect them to make progress for the nation at large.

One thing is obvious. Much of what our founding fathers did was correct. They knew they were creating something from scratch, but were wise enough to incorporate aspects of what was working across the world at large. The layout of the city. The thought that went into the decisions is probably the most impressive to me. So many things were consciously planned with deep meaning. Lady Liberty on the Capitol dome faces east, because the sun never sets on freedom. The cities’ main architect Pierre Charles L′Enfant is buried in Arlington Cemetery at the highest point so he can forever watch over his design. The streets were labeled based on the population of the states at the time. The most populous states got the longest streets.

The city has bones with a capital B. It’s a low city. Flat. Things happen close to the ground where the interaction is most personal. And nothing is more personal that one’s government.

All Photos: Steve A Furman with either an Olympus E-350 or my iPhone5.

I’m Going to Stop Messin’ with Texas

texasI’ll admit it, I have never been a fan of Texas. There’s a lot of baggage there for me; Oil, JFK, Bush, free use of the death penalty. But I’m softening my position on Texas. Why? I attended a conference there for four days last week and I couldn’t say where I was ever treated with as much courtesy, friendliness and hospitality as on that trip. From the moment I landed until I boarded my flight back to Chicago, and every touchpoint along the way, everyone was very nice and respectful. Not sure I am scoping out a new place to live, but will definitely tone down my criticism and tune up my attitude. Thanks Texas.

Secrets to Using the Moleskine® Notebook

For over eight years now, the Moleskine notebook has been my preferred way to take notes, record thoughts and track my to do’s in the analog world. I always go for the black, 8×5 size with rule.

It has so many cool things going for it. It’s compact, easy to carry, has a ribbon marker to find your place and a clever elastic closer. There is also a pocket glued into the back endpaper to hold small bits of paper or business cards. You also look pretty important when you sport one of these to a meeting or are sitting in a Starbucks with your iPhone.

But it’s not without its problems. First, at some point the book gets full, then you have to carry two for a while as you migrate to the new one. Another challenge is finding something you wrote months ago; no search feature. The mind can recreate a chronology to some degree, but not exactly. So you find yourself thumbing pages. As you get older that skill recedes while the need to write things down so you don’t forget increases.

Here are my secrets to the art of managing Moleskine.

  • Always date each and every page in the header. That way you can easily see where you are as you flip back
  • Develop a categorization schema for what you record
  • To do’s are preceded by a box. Completed tasks are then checked off. Makes it a fast read to see what you still need to do
  • Innovations/ideas are designated with a ψ
  • Notes taken during meetings with several people get this
  • One on one meetings are noted in this fashion >
  • Strategy thoughts are given

All of these symbols are placed left aligned for easy scanning. I tend to go back and forth between cursive and printing, and my penmanship has gotten pretty bad. But I can read it, and that’s all that matters. Having bad handwriting helps when your Moleskine is summoned in legal cases, as they can’t read what you’ve written, and the symbols confuse them.

But perhaps the most difficult feature of the Moleskine is how much you put down for a reward. At first there isn’t much written, so the value is low. It gets higher the longer you write, with the highest amount being at the three-quarters mark. After that it goes down again, and when you are on the last few pages you essentially have a nostalgia file. Fortunately I haven’t lost one yet, but you never know.

Golf, Tiger and Father’s Day

The U.S. Open golf tournament and Father’s Day seem to always intersect. Growing up, I used to watch the last day of the tournament with my father on his day. Now it’s my day, and I was gearing up for tomorrow’s BBQ with friends and my family when I decided to flip on the plasma to catch a bit of the third round.

I’m speechless. Having followed Tiger Woods since his teenage years, it’s so easy to fall into complacency over his abilities. I expect him to win, and he so often does. But today blew me away. He is coming back from a 3rd knee surgery and it really didn’t seem to bother him that much early on. But near the end of today’s round he was clearly in a lot of pain. Grimacing, favoring his left leg, and adjusting his swing.

Photo Credit: John Mummett/USGA

His eagle, birdie, eagle display on the closing holes was simply super human. Really can’t believe it. Will he be able to hold on tomorrow? If it was anyone else, I’d say no. But it’s Tiger, so I fully expect him to win his 14th major.

My father is gone, as is Tiger’s. I had a close connection with my father; so many memories. And from what I’ve read, Tiger’s role model and great friend was his father. To all the dad’s. Enjoy the day.

Indy Cars and Super Modifieds

Watching this year’s Indy 500 took me back to my childhood. I grew up within ear shot of a high-banked, dirt oval race track. Every Sunday night during the summer, my dad took me to the races. I had an uncle that raced for a few years and traveled the midwest circuit. He was forced into early retirement due to injuries. All that happened before I was old enough to go to the track, so I never saw him race.

All weekend I would look forward to race time on Sunday at Springfield Speedway (Illinois). The quarter mile track ran stock cars, midgets and the occasional destruction derby. But the main event was always reserved for super modifieds. These were very loud open wheel and open cockpit cars built low to the ground. They would slide through the turns spraying dirt from the spinning wheels. I so wanted to drive one.

Photo Credit: Armin Krueger

The track wasn’t much. No box seats, no skyboxes; we sat on bleachers. You went to watch racing. The speedway was constructed in 1947 and attracted a number of racers across the midwest. Once September came around my mom wouldn’t let me go to the Sunday races because of school the next day. So I would open my window, listen to the roar of the cars while lying in bed, and imagine I was in the stands. Below is a shot of the track soon after it officially opened. The final checkered flag came at the end of the 1988 season. You can visit an homage web site here.

Photo Credit: Marvin Scattergood

Today’s Indy car technology is amazing, racing around the track at speeds of well over 200 mph. Despite the numerous yellow flags and some stupid driving errors (sorry Danica), the final few laps could really have been exciting, as the announcers kept telling us. Scott Dixon easily prevailed.

I was never attracted to NASCAR in the same way as the open wheel cars. Most likely it has to do with all those Sunday evenings at Springfield Speedway. Thanks dad.

Baseball Memories Can’t Be Demolished

One of the things they don’t tell you about getting older is much of the structural part of the world you experienced in your youth will be demolished before your very eyes. Movie theaters, bars, bowling alleys, stores, schools, sometimes even the residences where you once lived. This change is most obvious when you leave your hometown and return for a visit a decade or two later. They knock things down to make way for new things.

One of the places that holds (held) fond memories for me as a child was Busch Stadium in St. Louis. My father and I would travel 90 minutes down Route 66 (now I55), cross the Mississippi and settle into our red plastic seats to watch the Cardinals play ball. What fabulous memories. The hot summer midwest sun beating down on the diamond. Air so thick that what seemed like for sure home runs would be snagged at the warning track. Every so often a merciful breeze would circle around the park and we would go “ahhhh.”

Busch Stadium was criticized for being “cookie cutter” in design. An unapproachable fortress of concrete pillars and ramps. Certainly it didn’t have the charm of the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field from the outside, but it was absolutely not pre-fab once you were inside. The fans were safely encased in a ring of arches guarded by the glistening “gateway to the west”, confidently situated on the banks of the mighty river. Somehow the sophisticated knowledge of baseball that has always been a hallmark of Cardinal fans, transcended anything that might be considered ordinary about the space.

The Redbirds had so many great seasons and exciting moments in that park, and I was there for many of them. Lou Brock stealing bases with ease. Bob Gibson polishing off yet another confused visiting team in less than 2 hours. Orlando Cepeda lacing rockets into the stands, and Joe Torre ripping apart opposing pitchers on his way to hit .363. For me the 1967-68 Cardinals will forever be a highlight in my boyhood memories. The great Yankee Roger Maris played for the Cardinals during those years. A more dangerous hitter with two strikes on him there never was. I remember watching the stadium’s opening game on television with my father, May 12, 1966. It was a marvel then, marking the second phase of the modern sports stadium. During those golden days I didn’t even consider Busch Stadium might some day be gone.

I was a witness to the first game of the 1968 World Series at Busch. Bob Gibson struck out 17 Detroit Tigers. Thrill of my life at that time. But change is inevitable, and so the new Busch Stadium opened for business in 2006. In its inaugural year the Cardinals won the World Series. Hopefully this is a foreshadowing.

One of my uncles lived in Michigan and was an avid Tigers fan. He took me to a game at Tiger stadium in 1969. That park closed in 1999 and sits abandoned and deteriorating inside the city. Thankfully, Busch came down quickly and and was able to avoid this fate. Below is what Tiger Stadium looks like today. Overgrown, neglected and robbed of nostalgia.

Photo Credit: The New York Times


Homage to Comet

This one’s personal. If you have pets you know how attached you can get to them. They become part of your family. You love them and they drive you crazy at the same time. Yesterday we lost a beloved member of our family, Comet the cat. He was pretty amazing. A beautiful, majestic, nearly perfect Maine Coon specimen. Warm personality that loved people. If I was on one side of the house and someone was on the other side, he would position himself in between so he could watch both at the same time.

We lost him yesterday at the age of 9 (62 in human years). Comet, you will be missed.

Double Fracture of the Left Ankle

I don’t frequently write posts of a personal nature, but this event seems to warrant one.

The Friday after Thanksgiving I was walking from house to garage and somehow I overshot the second step. All my weight came down on my ankle which was now turned 90 degrees from top dead center. The result was two bone fractures (fibula and talus for those ER fans) and some seriously stretched ligaments.

My wife immediately took me to Highland Park Hospital, where I got amazing care in short order. What a great experience. They had me in the examination room in less than 10 minutes from hobbling through the door. They brought an x-ray machine to me, and delivered the diagnosis in under 30 minutes. I was out of there in less than an hour! Fantastic customer experience, or should I say patient experience. The following Monday I saw an orthopedic specialist who put me in a fiberglass cast. The prognosis is that I will be healed in 4 weeks. I was very lucky. No surgery, no pins.

Don’t end up like me this holiday season. But if something does happen, I hope you receive the kind of care and attention I received from our health care system, and family. I married so very well.

Be careful, and watch that last step.


A Brave New World (for me)

I attended the Forrester Research Consumer Forum here in Chicago over the last two days. The entire event was a study in social computing. It made me feel a bit inadequate because I didn’t have a facebook profile, nor had I started a blog. I have written customer reviews and played the role as a critic on the web, but that is more passive participation. With the launch of this blog, I am officially in the game.