Into the Valley of Terror

ValleyScare TripAmusement parks can be scary places, but an amusement park in the moonlight cloaked in artificially generated fog with with actors who delight in terror – that’s a wonder to be experienced.

If you’ve never been to ValleyScare, they spew out fog all over the place (unless it’s windy). Familiar rides take on new aspects in the moonlight and haze – the Xtreme Swing seats seemed very much like maneuvering thrusters on various sci-fi shows as they cut through the fog.

In 2010 my scariest moment didn’t happen with the ride in motion. Someone two seats down from me had a malfunctioning seat brace and they wound up releasing the braces for everyone on that bench. As I sat there, unfastened, the attendant walked off to get someone to help (rather than calling someone over which would have been the smart move) leaving me imagining the ride operator spotting that the attendant was clear and starting the ride up.

My favorite ride: Renegade – a wooden roller coaster that is breath-taking (to the full extent of the word) in daylight.  In 2010 they had turned off the lights and were allowing us to experience it in nigh pitch black. There is a level of exhilaration daylight rides cannot match when you are flung through the darkness with no visual cues as to which way you were going to turn next. In 2011 I suppose I could have had the same experience with my eyes closed but it was still enjoyable.

The experience goes beyond that though. I learned something from the haunted houses. They don’t spook me at all – I laugh pretty much all the way through them and taunt the actors. Meanwhile, people with no fear on the rides would squeal and jump. It was so amazing to me that someone felt completely safe being flung through the air in mechanical contraptions that have on occasion broken down and yet could be so spooked by people who weren’t allowed to touch you.

I was reminded that sometimes we as humans can get locked into our own perspectives and cannot visualize the concerns of others. We need to find compelling ways to break that impasse so we can communicate with each other. It’s a lesson I’ve learned before, but it was in stark relief given the venue.

(originally written in October 2010 – updated for multi-year experience)

Confronting Fear

3676366324_a96b37865b_zI was suspended 3 stories above the ground with a rope tethering me to two relative strangers below. Terror is the appropriate word for what I was feeling. How was I ever going to cross the cable spanning the open space before me?

Everyone tends took look back to seminal experiences in their lives which have forged them into the people they would become. For me, one of my most transformative experiences was that moment in June 1994.

In that moment I was forced to confront one of the greatest fears of my childhood. I remembered going to Yellowstone Park with my family and looking at the water falls from my knees because my center of gravity was higher than the protective wall of the viewing platform. I peered over the edge as the water slammed into the rocks and pool below. While the majesty of nature impressed me, I was unable to fully enjoy its glory.

My new boss down below encouraged me to step off the crossbeam onto the cable which ran completely counter to every impulse going through my head. It jolted me out of my paralysis long enough to realize that in a few days I was going to have to be coaching teenagers through this very situation and I realized that my fellow counselors below were probably judging me based on what I was doing right here and now.

I pushed that desire for respect to the forefront and stepped out on the cable. Gripping the cable above me, I shimmied slowly at first and then with greater vigor. At the midway point I had to do a trust fall of a couple feet and this pause of confidence was shorter.

The next obstacle was a beam that I would have to walk across with no support above. I grabbed onto the rope and took a few hesitant steps before practically running across the end. It was a total rush.

The rest of it was harder and yet easier once I had made that commitment to myself. Minutes later I swung out from the top and was lowered down to pats on the back and congratulations. I slept very soundly that night.

I would revisit it multiple times in the following 11 years as my students experienced it for the first time and looked to me as they tried to summon the confidence necessary to overcome it, or for the veterans seeking a challenge they had not found on it previously.

The lesson for the day that you can’t avoid your fears, you need to face them head on. I’m human and I’ve still done my share of avoidance, but when I’m scared, I now remember that willpower can overcome most obstacles. Of course the corollary to that is that you have to know which obstacles to push through and which to accept, but that’s a lesson that I’m continuously learning.

Attribution photo by michaelcardus

Get Your Social Media On

Thumbnail of RockMelt + Google ReaderSocial Media is something that I’ve dabbled in but never felt like an expert in by any sense of the imagination. In my new role as a corporate trainer, this was a topic that my client base expressed an interest in so I’ve spent the last month scurrying about trying to flesh out my knowledge base.

For this week’s blog entry, I’d like to give you a peek at two resources that I found useful.

Google Reader

This is a great utility if you’re feeling like you’re getting behind on information. I used to rely on friends to keep me up to date on what’s cool and hip in the world, but no one friend is going to share every single one of my passions and so I’ve had to follow multiple people religiously on Facebook and hope they didn’t miss a story. That’s simply not an option in today’s marketplace for people who need to be experts. Google Reader to the rescue!

You have probably heard about RSS feeds. What this means is that when something gets published on the web (via a blog, news source, etc.) if you subscribe to the associated RSS feed, it will be delivered to the RSS reader of your choice (in this case, Google Reader). Rather than going out to numerous sites as you are probably used to, the content gets “pushed” to you.

» An example of Google Reader in action

If you have a smart phone, you can download an app that will allow you to read through these on the go and synchronizes with the web site version so that you can effectively cross off the ones you’ve already read through. For work I read through a lot of tech and real estate related sources for what’s happening in the industry and then for fun, I keep up on politics, video games, and whatever cool stuff Geeks are Sexy has been identifying like AT-AT costumes for dogs (Cerbie would be miserable if I tried to fit her in one).


When it comes to browsers, I’ve found that I need to separate work from play in order to maintain focus. Google Chrome is my preferred browser because it’s fast and it hasn’t caused me the level of stress that IE and Firefox have managed in the past. So when I’m off hours, I need something that tells me I can have fun, but at the same time, I wanted something that was as reliable as Chrome. Enter RockMelt, a social media browser that uses Chrome as a base.

If you clicked on the thumbnail or example of Google Reader above, you probably spotted the social media features. It links you to and tracks information like new e-mails, RSS feeds, tweets, Facebook posts, and the like. It also shows you on the right hand side which of your Facebook friends are online so you can message them. As you browse the web, it will identify feeds that it can keep track of for you.

It’s not perfect – I’ve had some issues with it not tracking some feeds, especially if there is a login involved. But I’m sticking with it as my default off-hours browser.

Book Review: Six Pixels of Separation

Six Pixels of SeparationPrelude

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the public library system and the rest of the taxpayers out there who make it a reality. Some of you may not find that line item in your taxes especially worthwhile, but I come from a family that are strong believers in the library system (my mother used to serve on the local board). Even when I was too old for the standard summer book program, Mom would rope me in as entertainment – my best friend and I would perform a magic act for the little kids. (Yes, I’ve been a geek pretty much since birth.) If you haven’t been there recently, I’d encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity your tax dollars afford you.


A couple weeks back I stopped in and picked up three audio-books. The first one I listened to extensively on the car ride on the way up to and back from Duluth/Superior. Six Pixels of Separation is the novelization (and 7 disc audio-book) of a set of blog entries written by Mitch Joel of Twist Image. It’s 2 years old, so relatively ancient in the social media sphere (he references MySpace as an important resource), but the information was very useful and fleshed out for me the aspects of social media that I hadn’t delved into deeply. I would definitely recommend it to people who are interested in social media – I think it will be worth your time even if some of the information is a bit dated.

One of the concepts he talks extensively about is how one person or one group that come up with a great idea can spark a change – make it viral. We see that today with the Occupy Wall Street coverage. But just a few years ago, there was a man in a shopping mall in Sydney, Australia who sparked a similar movement along a different vein. The video has over 70 million hits, but until I listened to SPoS, I was completely unaware of it.

You can change the world – find your great idea.

Instant Karma’s Gonna Get Ya!

5642183184_e26c1abdc5_zFeel the need for a little rush in your life (without alcohol, drugs, or extreme sports)? What have you done lately to build up your karma base?

Last night I had stopped for some curry (my remedy of choice for a head cold) and as I was pulling out I noticed a shopping cart in the middle of the street. I could have easily gone around it, but I wondered how many people had already done that (several did as I watched). How long would it be before someone didn’t see it or saw it too late?

I pulled into a spot that it was safe to leave my car and ran out into the street (after looking both ways) and moved the cart to safety. It was a small gesture that only a few people saw, but that’s not why it was important. We live in a society and we need to look out for each other – you have to ask “What would I want someone else to do in this situation?” On the drive home I felt good about my decision.

This morning I stopped at a grocery store to pick up something to munch on at work and a couple energy drinks (I never developed a taste for coffee). I normally do the self checkout thing but today I thought I would go through a line to support one of the cashiers. She commented on the flavor of my energy drink and as I was leaving she said: “Have a great day!”

I turned back to her and said: “C’mon, I know you wanted to say ‘Have a Grape day!’ It’s OK, really.”

She beamed “I did!” After a brief peal of laughter she said it the way she had wanted to and again beamed broadly.

If you’ve read this, I want to challenge you to do something small (or large) for someone else today and post about it as a comment. It can be something for someone who will never see it (like the shopping cart) or something for someone who will appreciate the gesture.