Sunday, September 8, 2013

This blog has moved to

Time to move onto a more extensible platform. I fought it for ages. In some ways, I don't like change.

But life is about managing change.

So you can now find my musings here, at


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Photos of orange fields & fairy tales

Chasing Daisies

Before I came to South Africa, I heard that there were these spring wildflowers that extended as far as the eye could see. I resolved to go see them when I first came here, because at that point I thought I would only be here for that eight month period.

Never happened. Too busy.

Same thing the next year. And the next.

This year, I’m actually properly busy. Like things that should have been done weeks ago still not done busy. Life of an entrepreneur. Not that I’m complaining.

Heck I haven’t even breathed since this break enough to write a blog post. True story.

It felt good to be away from it all, though. As much as I love most everything about my life right now sometimes you just need a break when no one is asking you what to do, or telling you something you already know, or trying to make their problem yours.

The break wasn’t long enough.

But it was breathtaking. The stories were true.

After Upington I drove back to Springbok and the roads we’d been on the day before when the daisies had their petals closed to the sun. How different in the daylight! The patches were orange. Bright orange, like a nuclear spill you might see on a cartoon.

What a thing to see the roads lit up like that!

After a quick stop for food in Springbok I headed about 45 minutes south to a small town where I stayed overnight  at this retro little hotel. It was literally like something out of the 1960s or 1970s South Africa, and it was nearly like going backwards in time to be there. I met a pair of flower-seeking ladies at dinner and they invited me out with them in their 4x4 to the National Park the next day, which saved some wear & tear on my car’s suspension. Plus they knew the names of all the flowers. Piet Snots! Who would have known??

After a while seeing carpets of fluorescent orange as far as the eye can see got to be a bit repetitive. On the drive out we stopped because we saw a couple of different colours in one area, and this was the magic of the entire trip for me. Walking through a dry creek with multi-coloured daisies; even running through them on the way back to the car. It was like a fairy tale.

There was also the feeling of standing in the sun, feeling its warmth on my cheek. Nothing but nothing feels like the spring sun. It somehow seems like it’s been a long winter, perhaps because I’ve been travelling for so much of it that whenever I return there is this shock to the system.

I did have one of those ‘oh CrossFit’ moments when it was about 2pm, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, there were no restaurants for at least an hour’s drive, and the local grocery store didn’t even have biltong! I wound up eating some sort of tinned fish like mackerel or something, with a cucumber & avo. Sometimes you just have to laugh; probably my cat would have appreciated the way the fish tasted but to me it meant one thing: protein. And it was actually quite tasty.

Thanks to our amazing mobile carriers, I was with internet the entire trip just about. It made it possible to make sure there were no fires to be fought upon my return, but it disallowed me from completely checking out. Digital detox indeed.

I know I’m skipping ahead of myself, but I also realise that it could be a lot worse. If I let it. I guess we will see what happens.

My triumphant return to Cape Town brought me to see friends at &Union. The flowers have their magic, and so does Joburg, but there’s no place like home, and sleeping in your own bed.

I’ve felt this way before. When I was at Ask Jeeves International. One of the happiest times of my career to date.

  • “She never rests!” – Rudolph (this was after he called me Boss with a capital B in an email …. hilarious)
  • “There’s something wrong with most males, in my opinion.” – Judy (LOL)
  • “I know that you bake cupcakes and strangle people with ropes.” – Jason (he wasn’t talking to me)

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I rarely rest, except for of the so-called planned variety. I don’t rest my brain, my body, or even my emotions much.

Before I came to South Africa for my first 8-month stint that wound up becoming a tad longer, I had heard stories of spring wildflowers stretching as far as the eye could see, and I resolved to go see them. I never did, and I’m busier now than I’ve ever been so I figured what the heck, I’ll go see them this year and continue up to see my lovely friend Aliwiya, who I met in Cape Town, and who now lives in Upington.

Long trip, but although I’ve never read Jack Kerouac even, I love to drive, I love the open road and the space it gives you, to see a place, and this place is a magical, special, fantastic place.

Some people run long distance and claim they get clarity of mind through the moving meditation. I get bored with running. But I can drive all day! This is why I also hate driving at night or on a boring road (I-89 in New Hampshire, for example). I like stimulation.

Anyway. I had meant to go out an earlier weekend but then I changed it to suit someone else’s schedule (work first …!), but finally I did go. Before leaving, however, I firstly had the pleasure of a great breakfast at Tasha’s with Carla. Ahhh Tasha’s, a little piece of Gauteng in Cape Town. No but really, you look at the clientele and you may as well be sitting in Sandton. Two girls in their gym clothes didn’t quite fit in, but then again, Carla and I don’t quite fit in anyway. Not that we care, especially.

THEN I got to do something that I had been waiting for literally for a year, which was to go play with the new tech being developed by my friends at HealthQ. And by play with, what I mean is be guinea pig for. They made me race up and down the street which was probably more fun for me than for poor Nicol who had had three hours of sleep the night before, and had to run with me!

But what I was really looking forward to was putting their device through a CrossFit workout, and to see the results of said workout. Haven’t seen the results yet, but I was there for them, not for me. I did design a workout specifically to cause metabolic failure as soon as humanly possible. It was originally going to be burpees, running, and dumbbell push press but then to keep the geographic area small I modified it to be just burpees and dumbbell thrusters in small enough sets that I could always keep going at a very high pace.

The problem was, I was actually too effective at designing the workout because by about one minute in I wanted to die! You just can’t go at that pace for too long. I did well though at going into that pain cave where you don’t know what’s going on around you. AMRAP5 of silent pain.

Then I took a rest and did it again for another two minutes and this time … oh my word the second minute was probably one of the longest minutes of my life!!

I guess I was right with what I told Rick a few weeks back – CrossFit is my ‘me time.’ And qigong is my parasympathetic ‘me time.’ But I should really just chill out on a hammock reading a book. And maybe one that’s not about physiology or Olympic lifting or macroeconomics or behavioural psychology. Yeah, right! I’m not even fooling myself here!

Afterwards I stayed around for another two hours or so chatting. I did know better, because winter nights are short and I dislike driving in the dark, but … I was enjoying myself.

Finally I did hit the road and one thing I forgot about was that driving on the South African national highways is really not relaxing! The roads are quite narrow often, and then you have to be constantly overtaking slow-moving vehicles. So you can’t just zone out and look at the scenery … you have to be constantly on your toes.

Which I guess is a metaphor for this whole country. Everything is a metaphor, everything is everything.

I overnighted at a guest house in Springbok and the next morning was something like an extract from Twin Peaks. But I did learn something – apparently if you don’t rest your brain you can go mad. Not sure if this is true. But it sounds like it could be.

So, resting! Loving the beauty of the Northern Cape, and the warm embrace of loving friends. Carla said it well: when people are similar, they know it. And we embrace our time together. Aliwiya may be like J, where I will see her once or twice a year but when I do, it’s quality time.

Everything comes down to that. When you run, run. When you rest, rest.

When you play, play.

  • “I suppose I don’t need to move to Joburg. If I ever miss it I can just come sit here!” – Ellie
  • “When people are similar, they know it.” – Carla
  • “I like these kind of ‘no filter’ relationships.” – Carla
  • “You stop when you’re done. Or when time runs out.” – Ellie
  • “I did say that, didn’t I? I’m beginning to regret I said that.” – Ellie
  • “There goes the lawn.” – Nicol
  • “It’s an unwritten rule of parenthood that if you send your kids to UCT, they don’t come back.” – overheard at breakfast
  • “I’m an athlete. My drug is dopamine.” – Ellie
  • “We’re all being groomed for something.” – Aliwiya
  • “And the worst thing is that the ones that suffer are the children.” – Aliwiya 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

History is people

I am a student of people. I’m an extrovert, I like people, and I like to read about behavioural psychology. I started this as a way to understand myself better, which is always important, but between this and maybe just growing up (??) I’ve developed a pretty decent instinctual understanding of people.

I have a new … geez not at all sure what to call him. Not quite friend … not at all sure what to say. Guy I may be doing business with will do.

Interesting character. Fascinating, in fact. He taught me a few lessons in just a few days. Mainly he taught me that he scares me because he’s one of the smartest, and most lateral thinkers I think I’ve ever met. Now this is a compliment from someone who considers herself pretty smart, a pretty good lateral thinker, and a pretty good piecer together of puzzles.

I often see myself in other people but this time … it was weird. Same sense of humour, same filter problem, same ability to see implications beyond what most others see, same ability to read other people.

He said it best, and I quote: “Every time I see you, I learn more. And I get more and more scared.”

I’m scared because this man sees things in me that most others don’t, and faster than most other people who figure me out. He gets that I’m flexible, and understands the value in that I see complex relationships between people, politics, organisations, etc.

It’s not enough just to see value. Getting things to happen requires people, and knowing what people want, what are the realities on the ground, etc. I’ve learned my sales pitch for my target markets, and it’s getting better and better every day.

But heck enterprise sales takes so long sometimes I wish for the simple joys of product management: make it so. Yeah. Once you go broad it’s hard to go narrow. This damn job is ruining me for life.

Back to my friend. I won’t say I underestimated him. But I underestimated his EQ.

My first clue was that he does his homework. By the time we arrived at dinner a few days ago, I’d discovered that he had me at a disadvantage because he not only knew that I did CrossFit, but he’d checked out some of my competition results, and learned enough about the sport to draw certain conclusions about me, all of which were pretty well true. I’m persistent (stubborn), I’m strong, but most importantly – I am always trying to push the limits of what I’m capable of. It’s not enough just to compete, it’s that drive of always getting better, always lifting more weight, etc.

There’s other things, but it’s the offhand comments that give away the insight. If you know what to listen for.

So here’s what I learned. He’s a student of history; history of many countries all over the world. He knows more about American history than I do, and that’s just sad.

But by understanding history you understand people. Why leaders did what they did, why people reacted as they did, why, say, Ethiopia, is so resistant to foreign ownership in key sectors. It’s a funny thing to be in the presence of such a personality, who is unassuming and yet has the most gravitas in the room. Fascinating.

Anyway. Crazy week at work as it was a short week for me. Everything from meetings about a big deployment to playing a strange sort of matchmaker to an internal reorg to a product planning meeting to various different business development lunches to giving product advice to a potential vendor to a meeting with one of my favourite vendors where, I kid you not, the trigonometry came out. Well, I guess angles are important in this game. Not my job. I just sell solutions.

I had no idea this job was going to take me to the places it’s now taking me. But it is. I’m not complaining.

Nor am I along for the ride. As Jax Panik put it so well: ‘I don’t roll with the punches. I hand them out.’

Speaking of … I LOVE my coach. OK I hate him too. But wow am I loving this programming. It’s a great mix of strength, technique, and metcon (you know, classic CrossFit), and variety. I can see how it builds better athletes, and very rapidly, because I can see the logical structure behind it. My gymnastics have always been a weakness but I actually got a compliment this week on my chest-to-bar pullups while out playing with the coach at CrossFit City Bowl.

And, it turns out I’m pretty good at kipping handstand pushups if forced to practice them. It’s just a matter of being forced to do what you don’t necessarily want.

Being comfortable being uncomfortable: that is CrossFit, and that is my life across most levels. But as I said the last post, there are things that scare me, sure. CrossFit is funny. You can be lying on the floor writhing in pain and an hour later be at work like nothing happened. Very little that happens in the board room can scare me. You win some, you lose some, the worst thing you can really lose is face.

Evil Jackie? That was emotional. I feel like we have a ‘get on the rower and die’ every week.

But hey, if you can face that you can face anything.

  • “That’s nothing!” “I know.” – my Sunday night date & me
  • “But how can they do that, when they’re losing so much money?” “I don’t know! But they are!” – my date & me
  • “Yes. I would love to see that email. And I will be very careful what I do with it, I promise.” – Ellie
  • “A bottle of brandy and two 4Mbps lines.” “Wait. Who’s buying the brandy?” – Rudolph & Ellie
  • “Well played.” – Rudolph
  • “So… I believe you’ll be breaking our toys on Thursday. Can’t wait!!” “YOU can’t wait?” – Nicol & Ellie (seriously, I’m the one being pushed to metabolic failure. I fail to see why others could be more excited than I am)
  • “The trick is to outrun everyone else. As quickly as possible.” – a very smart man
  • “This has real momentum to it.” – same guy
  • “This is so bloody exciting. But let me tell you:” – same guy and I forget what he said next
  • “I feel like we’re selling cocaine. But it’s only Wi-Fi.” – Ellie
  • “They’re the ones that could upset the apple cart.” – Rudolph
  • “The better you play that the better it will be for everybody.” – Jeff
  • “I think he’s one of the most well connected people in Cape Town.” – Rudolph
  • “Metabolic failure … definitely not muscle failure.” – Riaan
  • “Avoid asking questions to which you don’t want to know the answer.” – Ellie
  • “And if your credit card company doesn’t have fraud protection, you should get a new credit card.” – Ellie
  • “LA is a highway. Joburg is a shopping mall.” – a fan of Cape Town
  • “I made a mistake.” “What was your mistake?” “Alcohol.” – me & anonymous friend
  • “Every time I see you, I learn more. And I am more and more scared.” – a partner
  • “What we’re trying to do, no one has done anywhere else in the world.” – same guy (maybe this should scare me but it doesn’t)
  • “You’re more than a competitor.” – a student of people
  • “I wondered why you were so calm.” – Adam
  • “So many bills. Can’t we just stop buying some of these things? I’m going to go book a flight to Joburg.” – Ellie
  • “How do I phrase this, now?” “Carefully.” – Rudolph & Stefan
  • “Why is that going to be a problem?” “I don’t know. I just have a feeling.” – Ellie & Stefan
  • “We’re going to need 20,000. For Cape Town alone.” – Rudolph (at this point, Stefan dropped his pen in shock and it rolled across the table)
  • “The areas I think we can sell to is –” “All of them.” – Adam & Rudolph (love my boys!!)
  • “Force them. That’s a good idea.” – Tamas
  • “I told you I wanted one for Christmas.” – Ellie
  • “I’m always drinking.” – Elizabeth
  • “I have learned one thing. If you close your eyes you’re never going to see anything.” – Peter
  • “Nothing much, just an orchestrated attack on churches, police stations, government buildings, and civilian property.” – Maged
  • “Air can be bad any time. But hard to turn down an AK-47.” – Mom