Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Sea of Cortez, Sunrise and Looking Ahead

This is more of a personal than a professional piece but with less and less separation between the two dimensions, herewith.  Our recent travels began the first week in January, took us respectively through Houston and Phoenix and we crossed the border around noon to Mexico on January 9 at Otay Mesa, the eastern port of entry at Tijuana, thus missing one of the busiest border crossings in the world.  We had camped the previous two nights in Chula Vista, CA getting ready for the big trip south to Baja.  Little did we know what lay ahead.  Driving a 39' motor home some 8' wide, towing our Jeep we stopped the first night in Ensenada, only 91 miles. We set out the next morning, quickly ran out of good roads and then began the narrow two lane roads and later on through mountains of snaking curves, steep ascents and descents and the trip to Los Barrilles, some 1000 miles, took four more days arriving on Sunday, January 13.  This fishing, kite surfing village is about 45 miles north of San Jose del Cabo and another 20 miles from there to Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Baja.

Ten days later we set off for La Paz to put our vehicles and us on a ferry to Mazatlan. We had arrived in plenty of time to pick up our reserved tickets, measure and weigh the vehicles, go through customs and inspections and get them and us, separately, on board the Mazatlan Star of Baja Ferries.  The pictures here ( are not our ship but a newer one with a few more amenities.
This was definitely not a cruise ship but a commercial ferry that carries mostly big tractor trailer rigs and a deck or two of cars and of course some passengers, maybe 100-150 many of whom walked on.  There are six decks, four of which are for vehicles, one for reception, cafeteria and lounge and a few cabins and another with mostly cabins and outside deck space.  We had a small but comfortable cabin on the top deck.

As I started to drive on to the ferry in the motor home, Susie with the Jeep, one crew member wanted me to back on, another wanted me to drive on front first.  The two of them argued and the drive on head first guy won out and I proceeded up the steel ramp onto deck number 3 and up another  ramp to level 4.  I had to pull forward and then back into a very narrow space between two rows of tractor-trailer trucks of which there were probably five or six rows on that particular deck.  They pack all the vehicles in like sardines front to back, side to side, with several crew members directing.  That done, I squeezed through and was led by a security guard up to reception where I waited for Susie.  We had begun loading at 3 PM and all was accomplished in two hours and we cast off around 5 PM.  From the bay near La Paz, at the port of Pichilingue, we headed north then made a big turn south into the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California.  Our course took us toward Mazatlan on the mainland, arriving there some sixteen hours later, a calm and easy crossing.

As we are often up before sunrise, we wanted to see this one especially out on the water and it was spectacular.  Sunrise on the Sea of Cortez reminded me of those early sailors and explorers who, guided by the stars, traveled so many of the oceans, searching for new lands to exploit and conquer but also seeking new countries for those willing to start a new life in another land.  Somehow, the sun over water adds a dimension of brilliance to both elements and the ocean air is a third variable in the equation that makes an early morning meditation both easy and very peaceful.  The winds were fairly clam although a flight of five large sea birds could hover almost motionless above the ferry as we plowed through the water.

Mexico has a fascinating history with significant cultures of indigenous people going back some 13,000 years.  Then the Spanish came in the early 16th century and either conquered or merged with the Mayan, Toltec and Aztec peoples.   Hernando Cortez was one of those explorers who marched across Mexico, over ran the Aztecs and established Mexico City but that whole campaign was not won easily.  There are many stories of the struggles of the Mexican people right up to the current day and the political leaders and issues that continue to plague this beautiful country and the people who live and work here.

We landed the morning of January 25th, in Mazatlan, exited the ferry for another inspection by the military and then hooked up and headed for Guadalajara, almost all expensive toll roads but easy driving until we hit the outer limits of the city.   Then it was solid six lanes of traffic in both directions until we made a wrong turn 300 feet too soon, had to unhook and get back out on the busy road before finally finding San Jose del Tajo, a remote campground in Guadalajara and drove down a cobblestone road under low palm trees and a narrow passage way.  The next day was a "morningmare" getting out of the city.  We got lost,  in spite of our GPS and good sense of directions, went at least 30+ miles out of the way, finally ended up in a barrio dead end and had to get a taxi driver to get us out to the highway headed out but in a different direction than we had planned.   We were about 2 hours delayed by that fiasco and then another wrong turn in Queretero and we ended up in some catacomb tunnels under the city, arched stone passages that were low and narrow and dark.  An angel on the street gave us directions out through a straight long tunnel and we headed on to San Miguel, arriving finally around 5 PM, about 4 hours later than planned but intact if a little harried.

Here at Hotel Balnerio San Ramon there are some concrete pads for about six RVs and one of them was already occupied by a couple with an identical Allegro Bus to ours, same year, a bit different floor plan.  They have been almost full time for about 7 years, lived on the island of Vieques in the Caribbean for six years prior and are originally from Colorado.  They have mega information about RV travels, Mexico and all the systems that make this kind of life comfortable and enjoyable.  There is good connectivity here most of the time via WiFi, cell phone and email, so I continue to work with those back in the states with whom I am engaged in several projects that are ongoing.  Another couple from the Yukon territory near Whitehorse arrived and have already been in Mexico for a month planning to spend 4-5 months seeing other parts.  They are traveling in a truck camper, the Dodge diesel truck is 10 years old, in great shape and the camper is new.  They can go many places we cannot such as boon docking on wonderful beaches, remote and beautiful mountain spots and smaller parking places in many campgrounds that cannot accommodate our big rig as they're called here and in the states.

Speaking the language would be a tremendous asset when traveling here and we're hoping that by the end of our three weeks of Level 1 Spanish classes we can at least get along better than we have thus far.  The Mexican people are wonderfully friendly and helpful and seem glad to see us Nortenos from Estados Unidas or Norteamericanos.  This is our fifth extended trip to Mexico and we are already looking forward to more.   The challenges are far outweighed by the rewards of both the travel and being here.  The weather is superb, the people gracious and generous of spirit, our house on wheels comfy and cozy with an outside patio for additional space.

Sunrise this morning over the hills of San Miguel de Allende reinforce our desire to continue this kind of travel and new living/learning experiences.  The warm days and very cool nights are most comfortable, the surroundings are beautiful, the old part of the city charming and intact, and we are looking forward to being here for the next several weeks.  School is hard, learning a new language at this age is challenging,  the teacher, Warren Hardy,  is terrific and we should come away with at least some basic language skills to help us communicate a little more effectively with our Mexican friends here south of the border.   We don't expect to become fluent but we do hope to add to our very limited vocabulary and use of the language.

I learned yesterday and even more today about why my brain is not so resilient as previously.  Both it and I are much older!  We fill that storage space with all kinds of memories, information and details.
And the older we get, the more that's in there and the harder it is to add anything more.  If someone has a way of erasing that which is no longer of use, without surgery, please let me know.  In the meantime, as lifelong learners, we continue to challenge ourselves with learning what we believe is important, valuable and practical.  The rest will just have to be put on ignore!  

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Be Out of Touch and Enjoy it!

Be Out of Touch – And Enjoy It!   
As the owner/user of an iPhone, an iMac and a MacBookPro, plus a wireless connection in office and home, and in most public venues for all of them, (plus a roommate who is similarly connected) I am somewhat familiar with email, voice mail, live conversations and meetings through various means including Skype, Google+, webinars with and without video and conference calls.    Add to this mélange of apparati the social media network that includes one or more of the following social media -Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, My Space and Google + -  and you have activity that sucks up a lot of time, attention, energy and resources.  Yes, it’s how people communicate, connect and do business and fills our calendars and schedules with meetings, appointments, commitments and projects.
The phrase, “taking time off” is interesting because one cannot really ever turn time off.  What we mean is "time out" from the usual and ordinary, perhaps to invest in the unusual and extraordinary.   Like it says in the old ads for Timex, it just keeps on ticking.  One day, we will run out of time, or walk out, or lie down and check out.  Think of some of the amusing ways people speak about time.  “I didn’t have time to do it.”  What they really mean is they did not choose to take the time to do it, whatever “it” was, but who is going to say that?    How about this one?  “It’s time to eat.”  That was my mother calling from the kitchen.  Whether you were actually hungry or not didn’t matter.  It was “time” for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  One family I knew quite well, not my own, sat down precisely at 5:30 PM every evening for dinner and everyone was expected to be there and be on time.  Being “on time” is highly important to many people but different cultures regard that behavior with more or less value.  Personal priorities about being “on time” may also vary.

In certain cities in the U.S., it is not uncommon for us to find timetables or daily schedules for buses or trains. If the bus is to be at a certain stop at 10:09 PM, for example, one can expect that to happen at the designated time, give or take a minute.   For polychronic individuals such precise timetables are mind-boggling, as many of them are simply used to going to the bus stop and waiting – not knowing whether they will be waiting for five or forty-five minutes. That is just the way things are.

This difference in time orientation is reflected in the complaints of U.S. business people conducting business in Saudi Arabia or in Mexico, for example. A big source of frustration for them is the difficulty of getting through a meeting’s agenda. That is because in these countries meetings begin with an extended socializing time in which time is spent establishing social rapport – usually over many cups of coffee or tea."

We are often like Pavlov’s dog.  The bell rings and we respond whether by changing activities, answering a call or checking something in the oven.  We are conditioned and regulated by time.  It’s “time” to go to bed.  It’s “time” to get up.  It’s “time” to go to work.  It’s “time out” and “time” to start again.  It’s “time” for the meeting.  It’s “time” to leave in order to get there in a reasonable amount of time.  It’s all about time and yet time is an invention, a construct for our convenience and we are bound by it.  How we measure time and how we use it reveals an enormous amount about who we are as individuals and who we are as a culture.

Here’s a phrase that amuses me because of the double entendre. “It’s about time” we say, meaning usually that we have waited for some time for something or other to happen and finally, it has taken place. Whether that expresses gratitude, relief or annoyance depends upon the context.  A long-awaited package arrives at the door and we say, “It’s about time!”   And really, it is simply that it has taken longer than was expected or desired for the delivery to be accomplished.  Big deal!  Get over it!  At least we got the package.

ßIn order to get more done in the same amount of time the phenomenon of multi-tasking has appeared and it seems to have arrived in conjunction with the advent of computers that are able to perform several functions at the same time.   Recent research at Stanford on multi-tasking shows that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.

High-tech jugglers are everywhere – keeping up several e-mail and instant message conversations at once, text messaging while watching television and jumping from one website to another while plowing through homework assignments.  But after putting about 100 students through a series of three tests, the researchers realized those heavy media multi-taskers are paying a big mental price.

When it comes to our brain’s ability to pay attention, the brain focuses on concepts sequentially and not on two things at once. In fact, the brain must disengage from one activity in order to engage in another. And it takes several tenths of a second for the brain to make this switch. As John Medina, author of “Brain Rules” says: “To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.” (

When we are in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, we are apparently not able to filter out what's not relevant to our current goal.  That failure to filter means we are slowed down by that irrelevant information."

However, that said, there are examples and instances that may show some exceptions and here is one such illustration.  The song, “The Time of My Life” which was the music and lyrics used in the final scene of the movie Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, was written by Frankie Previte.   Previte said: "I received a call from Jimmy Ienner who asked me to write a song for this little movie.  I told him I didn't have the time and he said, 'Make time. This could change your life.'"  Frankie's former bandmate John DeNicola and his friend Don Marowitz came up with the music for the song. Says Previte, "I received a track from John and Donny and I wrote the lyric and melody for the chorus in the car while I was driving along the Garden State Parkway, going to a studio session for another song."

Here’s the message:  Making or taking time to do what is really important can change your life. The question is, what is really important?  You are!

In light of all this connectivity, our current offering is an opportunity for a small group of people to unplug for several days and come together in an old-fashioned retreat setting and see what we might make of this kind of experience.   It will be interesting to get some feedback on the unplugged part of the Seminar and see how many were really able to stay simply unplugged for most of three full days.  Perhaps the only way to accomplish that part is to go to a hermitage where there is no electricity, no wireless, no cell service (global sat excluded) no land lines and make it a true wilderness event.   I will put it on my to do list and write it out on a yellow note pad.  Consider the SFLC event in April in Santa Fe, New Mexico!
© Gary Gruber 2013

Monday, 21 January 2013


Schools, organizations, kids and the future   

When schools began to be compulsory, the model was, following the industrial revolution, to make little workers of the students.  Like their fathers, and later their mothers during wartime especially, in the factories, they were to follow instructions, work diligently at whatever was assigned as their task – reading, writing, arithmetic – and produce good work or the right answers or whatever it was that the teacher wanted.  In the factory setting the foreman was the leader/teacher of the work group and the boss/manager was the principal.

Schools are still organized around the work day schedule whether 8 AM to 5 PM or the five-day week or the nine or ten months per year.  There are some notable exceptions where some high schools, recognizing the different bio-rhythms of adolescence start later in the day and have early evening classes.   Some even have some terrific week-end activities.   There are some year-round schools that take time off throughout the year rather than the long summer break fostered by an agrarian society that needed children in the fields.  One great disadvantage of the long summer for many students is that the first part of the following year is spent in review and catching up where they left off last year.   What if schools could break out of the adult mold and respond to children’s needs in developmentally appropriate ways?

Now it seems that students have moved up a notch or two but they’re still in the organization or company mold only this time they are the managers, trying to manage their time and their resources, their schedules and their activities, their homework (increased significantly over that of the previous generation) as well as their school day, friendships, parental expectations and future plans (both strategic and long-range).  Some schools are even preparing these young protégés for the next move up the ladder to the CEO ranks and have co-opted, with the best of intentions, a leadership theme.  How else can these young worker/students climb higher on the ladder of success and achievement?
Are they only fulfilling the expectations of those adults who surround them?  Or, as we might hope, are they being encouraged to ask their own questions about meaning and value, purpose and direction?  Are we helping them to become intelligent and critical participants of the very system that often fails to inspire and support them?  Are they developing a zest for learning, exploration, discovery and expression?  What other questions must we examine carefully to know whether or not we are serving their best interests or only those we have decided are important?   .

“The Organization Kid” (  following by 45 years The Organization Man is one look at the students in the beginning of the 21st century that remind us that authority of parents and other adults – teachers especially, was not only back in vogue but in fact may make a significant contribution to the way young people are able to live comfortably, securely and productively within specified boundaries of respect, responsibility and restraint.  The downside to all of this is what I found for so many years when asking the following question of students in numerous private and public high schools:   Why are you here? Why are you here in this particular school at this particular time?  Similar question of an organization:  What is your business or profession? What do you hope to achieve as a result of your practice? 

None of the students that I recall answered that they were there “to be students.”    Some responded that they were there to “receive an education” but that suggests a high degree of passivity in the same way that someone might respond by saying to get something by doing simply what is required as a means to an end.  What they did say in vast numbers, was that they were there to go somewhere else and “to get ahead” which meant to go on to the next place, to get a job.  In college preparatory schools they were there to get ready to go on to the next level of education.   Their response was sufficiently intriguing to pursue the conversation by asking them to explain the purpose of the next step and the response was equally future-oriented, to prepare for the next stage of life – it was something like this – high school, college, perhaps graduate school, good job, lots of money, comfortable life, early retirement so that they could really do what they wanted to do.  Why must they wait so long to do “what they really wanted to do?”  

I queried a recent graduate of a prestigious university that many aspire to attend about what was next now that the long sought degree was in hand.  The response
was, again, intriguing.  She said that she really wanted to teach and that she thought further that she would be really good at it.  But, she also said in the next breath that she was accepting a job at a bank because it paid almost twice as much and she wasn’t sure she could afford to teach just now.  However, her hope was that someday she would get to teaching, because that is what she really felt passionate about and that was where she believed she could make a difference.. This bright, attractive, energetic student was a math major, eager to share her enthusiasm for math with younger students and could easily contribute to a school in numerous other ways as a coach, advisor, mentor and role model.  Perhaps she could do some of those things from the offices of a bank but her presence and impact might not be as great as it could be if she had found a way to
pursue her passion and not make the compromise because of 15,000 dollars. 

There are signs of a shift in the paradigm from adult-centered and teacher-centered learning to more student-centered learning that capitalizes on their genuine interests and abilities.  Less emphasis on adult generated assignments and more on student originated topics that are relevant, timely and often extraordinarily creative and productive.  There are numerous examples from science experiments that tackle real world issues in the areas of environmental concern to health care and medicine to other global topics such as poverty, hunger and social justice.  For the future, I’m putting my money on the kids! 

© Gary Gruber 2013