Over the Wall – Lessons in Leadership and Teamwork

I work in Redwood City, CA. It’s a few miles north of Palo Alto, the home of Stanford University. Lucky for us, Stanford and Redwood City have partnered for an educational series and this post is about one of those events in the series.

On Thursday evening, I got the chance to hear about how an ex-Stanford football player with an unpronounceable name (Andy Papathanassiou) changed how things are done at NASCAR car races. He focused on the Pit Crews. He applied team management and discipline from football (coaches, practices, physical therapists, contracts, etc.) to Pitstops! Over the Wall refers to the rule that only 6 people can jump over the wall to perform during a pitstop. The efficiency and speed of that crew can make or break a race where winners and losers are separated by mere hundredths of a second. Continue reading to learn more…

Andy kicks off the talk with stories of how a football player got into NASCAR

What the Heck Does a Football Player Know about NASCAR?

The meeting started with Andy’s account of how he got into NASCAR, something he knew nothing about! He wanted to be in professional sports, but a ruptured disc made that impossible – he thought. During his recovery, he started watching TV and NASCAR. He was fascinated and decided to go to a race when it came to the Sonoma County Raceway. The way he got into his first event by dawning a red jacket and acting as a crew member was clever, hilarious and slightly illegal!

After working in the garage as a cleanup person he got a chance to propose a new idea to the CEO of Hendricks Motorsports. Incidentally, they are the owners of team Jeff Gordon, one of the most successful NASCAR franchises in history. He thought that athletes would be the best pit crew. After all, it was all about speed, strength, and discipline; all traits of a great football lineup. Up until then, the mechanics for the team got to be the pit crew on the “big day” as a reward. So basically they were sending amateurs in to do a make or break job. This seems ridiculous today, but in the past, it was the norm.

So a quick break here. Unlike other sports, a NASCAR race has up to 40 teams competing at the same time. Unlike football and baseball, there’s not a guarantee of a measured amount of time to compete. Even if you are performing terribly in football, you still get 4 quarters to up your game. A race can be over in minutes if your equipment fails and there are dozens of other teams to pick up the slack. So the name of the game becomes consistency and reliability. Once you have that down you have to focus on three (3) things.

  1. Identify bottlenecks – what is slowing you down. Get rid of it.
  2. Shore up weaknesses – the timing of a pitstop is gated by the weakest link. It doesn’t matter if 5 of the six people complete their task in record time if the sixth person goes slower than the entire pitstop is slow.
  3. Eliminate mistakes – you have to practice what you are going to do until muscle memory sets in. You can’t send amateur mechanics out there and expect peak performance every pitstop.

Every Sport Needs a Team

You should be getting the idea now, that this is about finding the best people for the job and then making sure they operate as a team. To that end, Andy started to recruit college athletes. After all, these people were going to be jumping over a wall carrying a spare tire and then slamming it onto the car as fast as possible while handling high power tools. Wouldn’t you want the strongest, fastest more coordinated people you could find? Again, the analogy to a football team is clear.

Initially, the team didn’t like it. The mechanics thought it sucked that they no longer got to go out into the pits on the big race day. One of the reasons this succeeded at all was that Andy’s boss, Mr. Henrick, had his back and made sure that he got to see his idea to conclusion. Fast forward and everyone’s attitude changed when they started winning races! Celebrating the win was even better than being in the pits during the race.

What’s the Point?

Crazy ideas are game-changing. You know that you have them in your head every day. You might be hesitant to tell people because they seem impossible, but you’ll never know if they’ll work unless you do something about it.

Four (4) Principles 

Athletes know that to succeed they have to adhere to 4 principles.

  1. Iteration – practice and repetition make things second nature. A football team would never try a new play unless they had rehearsed and practiced it hundreds of times. A tennis player improves their serve by thousands of practice sessions. Whatever you do, do it before you take it to market!
  2. Coaching – you need someone to provide constructive feedback, drive you beyond boundaries and tie the team together.  Coaches and players feed off of each other and you should seek a coach for all the activities you need to improve upon.
  3. Eliminate Distraction – focus on the thing that they can do next.  Athletes get booed all the time. Basketball players get heckled when they are attempting free throws. Fans yell at the opposing team. Your opponent may try to play mind tricks on you. Focus and block out these distractions. In business, someone will always doubt what you are doing. Focus.
  4. Attempt the impossible – push yourself. Incrementally improve over time it’ll add up to a lot. If you don’t at least try, you’ll never make it.

I left the event with a newly discovered curiosity for NASCAR (OK, I am fascinated with all things automotive), but also a renewed sense of wonder for how someone’s life can take an unexpected turn and work out so perfectly.

Also, I noticed that Andy had brought along a full on NASCAR car and placed it in front of the theater! It’s not often that you see a NASCAR car on the streets of Redwood City.

The Hendrick Motorsport NASCAR car in front of the Fox theater.

It was a great evening and a nice surprise to see applications of leadership and team principles from a new perspective. I’ll take some of these tips back to my teams at Equilar. I’ll also look forward to the next speaker series event from Standford! Take a look at the link below for details on this great program.

Stanford and Redwood City Programs


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SopiGuard Skin for Macbook Pro with Touch Bar

I recently got a new 13″  Macbook Pro with TouchBar. This is a 2016 model and the TouchBar is a bit gimmicky, but that’s another story. I wanted to keep it svelte and thin, but also wanted some protection. I looked on Amazon for a skin and finally found a version from a company called SopiGuard. At the time, it had one review and it was not a good one. The reviewer didn’t like anything about it. So I bought it.

Nuts you say? Well, I had a feeling they just didn’t understand how to install it. So, when it arrived I began to transfer my files from one Macbook Pro (i5 2.9 GHz) to my new one (i7 3.3 GHz). The kit has 3 parts rolled up in a nice box. Despite the nice packing, there was a wrinkle in one main piece. More on that later.

Here's my computers transferring files and the SopiGuard kit on top.

Here’s my computers transferring files and the SopiGuard kit on top.

So, a while back I had installed a skin on my Macbook. I learned that the trick was to spray a fine mist of water on the laptop so that you could move the skin around and adjust it. If you do not do this, the large unwieldy self adhesive skin is really hard to position and you’ll be peeling it off to reposition it over and over. The problem is that when you peel it off, odds are food you’ll stretch it and then it doesn’t fit anymore.

So with that in mind, I sprayed a fine mist of water onto my laptop. It’s waterproof and the laptop was turned off. There is little risk of problems from the fine mist.

Spray a fine mist to start.

Spray a fine mist to start.

Next used a knife to pick out the cutouts for the apple logo. I most did OK, but the laser cut wasn’t perfect and I had to tug a little. That left a little imperfection that I’ll show you later. It’s really small. Anyhow, because of the water, I was able to position the skin and then move it around a bit. I started by lining up the Apple logo perfectly. When I got it where I wanted it, I used a credit card as a squeegee and got the water out, keeping a paper towel handy to catch the drips.

You can hardly tell there's a skin on it!

You can hardly tell there’s a skin on it!

The color of the skin was a bit darker than the space gray, but it wasn’t so bad after I got used to it. The skin is also slightly metallic so it enhances the laptop quite well. Now all was not perfect. There was a wrinkle in the skin before I even placed it on the laptop. I am hoping that this small wrinkle will settle over time.

Can you spot the small wrinkles?

Can you spot the small wrinkles?

Also as I mentioned, the area around the Apple logo wasn’t perfect because the cutout left a little piece that I had to tug at. However, I’m being nit picky as you can see here, it’s pretty darn close. Also I guess there’s a tiny shift right. Very tiny.

Small imperfection in upper right of logo.

Small imperfection in upper right of logo.

Well, the last thing was the bottom. It actually ended up being the hardest as it has the most cutouts. I got it applied, but there are many parts that are only ok. I had to pull it up a few times and sure enough, it stretched.

Bottom was the hardest, but it's still pretty good.

Bottom was the hardest, but it’s still pretty good.

There’s holes for the tiny screws and the speaker exit cutouts as well as the notch along the top for the screen. In the end, I stretched it a bit and the upper left cutout for the rubber feet isn’t perfect. If you look really close, you can tell the skin doesn’t sit perfectly.

However, all in all the skin looks great and it does protect the majority of the laptop from scrapes and scratches. For the $16 I paid for it, it’s a pretty good deal. The bad reviews you see are the fact that it’s tricky to install a large self adhesive skin. Use some of the tricks I’ve shared here and you should get good results. I’d recommend this kit!

Here’s a link to the kit on Amazon. SopiGuard Skin.

Good luck to you!

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A year since I updated my blog!

songcircularWith the popularity of social media, not much gets posted on my personal website these days. My friends pretty much follow me on Facebook and my professional associates follow me on LinkedIn. Those are really the only two outlets I use on a regular basis. These services combined with the power of a smartphone doesn’t leave much space for other mediums.

In fact, I’ve stopped carrying a dedicated camera and I use my iPhone 6S plus for everything. I’ve done the comparison and the camera in the iPhone is just as good as a DSLR from back in the early 2000’s (that’s the last time I got a dedicated camera). So now, everything is one that iPhone. Heck, with 64G that’s a lot of stuff I may never go through again.

As for the 1984 BMW 633csi I got last year. It is now my daily driver. All of the kinks have been pretty much worked out and I can confidently drive it anywhere. During the past year I have met a great community of enthusiasts who have helped me in the car’s restoration. Cars with a strong following like this will only go up in value. I had the same experience with my Porsches, Pantera and Ferrari. But anyone that knows me, knows that I get a hankering for another vehicle in short order. I’m not sure what is next but I do know that it’ll be a while as I am preoccupied with my job at www.equilar.com.

BMW 633CSi

The car one year later after numerous updates including all new suspension.

My work keeps me ridiculously busy. I am finally at a company that has a super solid business model and there’s still room for growth. I run Engineering, Products, IT and Marketing. It’s a lot to cover, but my past has had stints in each one of those areas. I am excited by the future and spend pretty much all my time working. It’s a profitable startup and that’s a rare beast in the Silicon Valley. OK, until next time. I hope everyone is doing well.

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So much new in the BMW

I’ve been doing so much work on this car and I have been documenting most it of at the BigCoupe forum. The reason for this is that this forum is full of enthusiasts and if there’s a question, they have someone who know the answer.

As a result, I haven’t spent so much time on my own site. Major new things such as the steering wheel,  fuel system and the cooling system, stereo and seats have been replaced or repaired.

I’ll try and put information on my site sometimes, but truth is that it’s too much work to type it in two places.

So hop on over here to follow along my story: http://bigcoupe.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=25858&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0

I’ve put about 200 miles on the car since I got it. Most things are working quit well now and there are only occasional completely annoying things.


New Kenwood Media player matches the interior lights quite well.

New Kenwood Media player matches the interior lights quite well.

Click on the image above for a much larger version.

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A 30 year BMW rises again

There has been so much done to this car since the last post that I don’t even know where to begin. I have begun to put things into buckets depending on the priority required to get it usable as a daily driver. I’ll document some of those things here.

Getting it Licensed

The first order of business was getting the title transferred to me. Not an easy task when the registered owner is no longer with us and the car is an inheritance, but the title is not yet transferred. But before we can do anything is California, we must get it smogged. This required multiple trips to DMV as we have to get a moving permit (remember it hasn’t been driven in over 5 years).

Getting smogged after 5 years of being idle.

Getting smogged after 5 years of being idle.

The good news is that it passed smog with flying colors! All I did was put in fresh gas and drive it around the block a few times. It wasn’t without incident as a coolant leak happened during smog and then the radiator failed! I was able to make it home though.

New Radiator

Well, this was an obvious one after the smog incident. Not only did I put in a new radiator, I decided to replace key hoses, the water pump and also do another coolant flush while all the stuff was out.

All new cooling system in place. Now if the temp gauge worked...

All new cooling system in place. Now if the temp gauge worked…

New Wheels!

One of the more exciting developments is the new wheels that I got from a 5-series. I learned that I would need something called hubcentric rings as there was a 1.2mm difference in the central diameter of the hubs. At least the offset was correct and I loved the style. The new tires 225/55 x 16″ are much larger than the stock 195/70 x 14″. Not only was I able to get new wheels, but the spare was also part of the package!

Really like the look of the new 5-series wheels on the car.

Really like the look of the new 5-series wheels on the car.

The Interior

The next order of business was various parts of the interior. The faded leather was hard and losing its’ color. It was also beginning to crack and the speaker pods on the rear deck was unsightly. I got some leather dye and Groit’s Leather rejuvenator and after 3-5 treatments, the interior is taking shape quite well.

eBay score!

eBay score!

One of the issues with the interior was the peeling leather on the steering wheel. It was a pain to have to see and feel that every time I was in the car. I bid on an eBay auction and won the wheel above for only $35! What a score!

The Instrument Cluster

This is by far the most annoying thing. I have been struggling with it for weeks. Basically my gauges do not work. After much research, I knew that a printed circuit board was at issue and that the nicad batteries used had leaked acid and damaged the board. I tried many things including a bypass, but have met with limited success. In the process I replaced a broken odometer gear, got brighter lamps for night lighting and learned way more than I needed about the wiring diagrams of these cars. Right now I have a working speedometer, odometer, fuel gauge and tachometer! Broken still are the temperature gauge, economy indicator and the service interval computer. Also my onboard computer is dead.

Rewiring the SI computer board to just bypass the SI computer!

Rewiring the SI computer board to just bypass the SI computer!

Wallah! A working (mostly) instrument cluster.

This made me happy. After two weekend's wor, I mostly have a working cluster.

This made me happy. After two weekend’s work, I mostly have a working cluster.

Final cool picture – the original license registration

During all this madness, I was able to get finally get the new registration tags. I took the picture below as I thought it a milestone that I was able to get the original tags in view before putting on the new tags! It was a nice nostalgic moment.

The car will live again!

The car will live again!

So true to my word to the previous owner, I will get this car back on the road. There is still a huge list of things to tend to, but I should have it pretty much fully driveable in the next month. I plan to keep slowing fixing critical items and then one day I’ll be able to commute with confidence in this car.

Thanks for staying with me this far. The shark will rise again.

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