Saturday, March 31, 2012

Virginia Vanity Plates...

Virginia seems to have a high proportion of personalized plates - from what I've heard, it's one of the cheapest states to have a vanity plate.  So I keep a little notebook in my car and write down a lot of the plates I see when driving around town.  Here is the list I have so far, and I will keep adding to them as I see them.  Enjoy!

LNCHBOX (on a Scion XB)
UGLY BOX (on a Scion XB)
EQYNE (on Horse Enthusiast Plate)
BOXDIN (on a Scion XB)
THNX2MK (on a Pink Cadillac)
GNS FUN (with NRA Range Frame)
WCKD BUG (on a VW)
WI N8TIV (with a Green Bay Packers Frame)
TNKS2U (with a Support Our Troops Frame)
SKYSPY (on a Dulles Air & Space Plate)
R3XY 1XX (our 3 boys, 1 girl)
RM 4 1 MO
MUZK24 7
WINDY FT (with a Mom's Space Shuttle Frame)
LCKYGI (on a Bronze Star plate)

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

David Ellefson Releases Book of Images and Words

Words and Images
By David Ellefson

Unsung captures the latest chapter in the life of one of metal music’s most iconic and influential artists, as he explores a new medium for his lyrical creativity. The book is also David’s first venture into the realm of self-publishing and as a result, he encourages the reader to utilize his new and original lyrics under license from him for their own songs. In this manner, song-writers of all levels can actually become a co-writer with David.

As bassist for the rock group MEGADETH, David has been a regular contributor to one of Metal music’s most enduring legacies. Followers of David’s work will be delighted that Unsung proves to be yet another unique narrative from a man who is known for creating fresh and innovative ways to inspire and connect with his fans.  


Megadeth's David Ellefson Discusses His New Book, 

'Unsung: Words & Images' 

Lately, a musician releasing a book is nothing unusual, and Megadeth bassist David Ellefson has joined the fray, releasing Unsung: Words & Images, a self-published book of his lyrics and photograph.

Guitar World caught up with Ellefson, who offered some insight into the book.

GUITAR WORLD: You recently released a self-published book, Unsung: Words & Images. Can you tell us what inspired the project and how it got started?

I have a lot of lyrics from just the past few months, ideas that were really good, but I wasn't necessarily inspired to go through the process of writing music around them all. Setting the lyrics to photo images opened up a whole new realm of creativity with these words and didn't confine me to having to edit ideas to fit into a specific musical genre, either.

Were the works in the book written specifically for the book?

Much like when you compile a musical album, the lyrics started to shape the book very naturally. Once I realized the potential, I had to not be locked into writing only genre-specific lyrics, other ideas started to flow effortlessly. Pieces like "Sweet Affections," "Goddess Divine" and even "The Cycle" really helped round out the book and give it some unique emotion and variety that I may not have been able to put on a musical album with many of the same lyrics.

The photos used in with each piece -- were they take with a piece in mind or did you look through photos to find what fit your vision?

I was really blessed to find a fantastic creative team to help me put this book together. Raffaella is a photographic artist and, as a result, she has so many great photos we were able to utilize. Her specialty is taking random, thought-provoking photos of various subjects, much the same way I create thought through lyric ideas. Bringing our creative works together with mine was a really unique way to co-create with our respective mediums.

When you write a lyric, you will typically have a melody and form in mind. Was it liberating to be able to just let the lyrics flow naturally?

Sometimes I will have a melody, or even start with a riff and then put lyrics over the song. But when starting with a lyric, I usually just let an idea flow in order to convey the story I have in mind. The trick in putting lyrics to music is that you are often then required to edit your words to fit into the music, either because of space, rhyme or even the simplicity the words require for the listener to grasp the story. That is really the difference between story telling versus lyric writing. Lyrics have to be musical!

This book didn't confine me to have to edit lyrics to fit musical nuances. In fact, I found it really became much more open, like poetry or even spoken word, because the music wasn't dictating to me how I should edit my words to convey my thoughts. That is why the photos are so important, because they reinforce the words to the reader to really go in depth with the thoughts I'm conveying. The photos are visually doing what the music would be audibly doing if these were songs.

What drew you to go the self-published route with the book?

The book publishing business has evolved much like the record business. Today, artists and writers don't have to toil in vain over their creations, only to have some corporate giant reject their work because it may not fit their sales objectives. More and more in recent years, I have really embraced the DIY work ethic because I'm not profit driven but rather creative driven. I really subscribe to the belief that when you can create at your best, all the perks of that will flow naturally anyway and that's the freedom self-publishing now affords writers.

Do you have aspirations to do more publishing beyond Unsung?

Yes, for sure. I'm definitely a communication kind of guy! I like to put thoughts down on paper, audio, video, etc. It's just how I'm wired. So this whole process has really opened up my sphere of creating more in a literary sense, and even being available to help others publish and release their own books, too.

I think at this point the actual physical printing of books is shrinking because of the new formats for digital distribution, like Apple's iBooks, Kindle, etc. Unsung was specifically created to be a high-gloss print book, but I must say that the iBooks version looks fantastic and it is a fraction of the price because there is no printing and shipping involved. It creates a very high-quality version for another kind of book buyer now. It's following the same road as the physical manufacture of CDs vs. a purchase from iTunes.

Can you give us an update on your "David Ellefson Rocks Shop" iPhone app?

Yes! We are finishing the feature set on it as we speak and we are aiming for a launch first week of April. It will be available in the App store from there. It's a fun app, but it's really become a new type of digital work station for musicians to practice and create with. More info available at and in the coming days.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Five Leadership Lessons From James T. Kirk

Alex Knapp, Forbes Staff
I write about the future of science, technology, and culture.

William Shatner as Kirk in a promotional photo...Captain James T. Kirk is one of the most famous Captains in the history of Starfleet. There’s a good reason for that. He saved the planet Earth several times, stopped the Doomsday Machine, helped negotiate peace with the Klingon Empire, kept the balance of power between the Federation and the Romulan Empire, and even managed to fight Nazis. On his five-year mission commanding the U.S.S. Enterprise, as well as subsequent commands, James T. Kirk was a quintessential leader, who led his crew into the unknown and continued to succeed time and time again.

Kirk’s success was no fluke, either. His style of command demonstrates a keen understanding of leadership and how to maintain a team that succeeds time and time again, regardless of the dangers faced. Here are five of the key leadership lessons that you can take away from Captain Kirk as you pilot your own organization into unknown futures.

1. Never Stop Learning

“You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown– only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.”

Captain Kirk may have a reputation as a suave ladies man, but don’t let that exterior cool fool you. Kirk’s reputation at the Academy was that of a “walking stack of books,” in the words of his former first officer, Gary Mitchell. And a passion for learning helped him through several missions. Perhaps the best demonstration of this is in the episode “Arena,” where Kirk is forced to fight a Gorn Captain in single combat by advanced beings. Using his own knowledge and materials at hand, Kirk is able to build a rudimentary shotgun, which he uses to defeat the Gorn.

If you think about it, there’s no need for a 23rd Century Starship Captain to know how to mix and prepare gunpowder if the occasion called for it. After all, Starfleet officers fight with phasers and photon torpedoes. To them, gunpowder is obsolete. But the same drive for knowledge that drove Kirk to the stars also caused him to learn that bit of information, and it paid off several years later.

In the same way, no matter what your organization does, it helps to never stop learning. The more knowledge you have, the more creative you can be. The more you’re able to do, the more solutions you have for problems at your disposal. Sure, you might never have to face down a reptilian alien on a desert planet, but you never know what the future holds. Knowledge is your best key to overcoming whatever obstacles are in your way.

2. Have Advisors With Different Worldviews

“One of the advantages of being a captain, Doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.”

Kirk’s closest two advisors are Commander Spock, a Vulcan committed to a philosophy of logic, and Dr. Leonard McCoy, a human driven by compassion and scientific curiosity. Both Spock and McCoy are frequently at odds with each other, recommended different courses of action and bringing very different types of arguments to bear in defense of those points of view. Kirk sometimes goes with one, or the other, or sometimes takes their advice as a springboard to developing an entirely different course of action.

However, the very fact that Kirk has advisors who have a different worldview not only from each other, but also from himself, is a clear demonstration of Kirk’s confidence in himself as a leader. Weak leaders surround themselves with yes men who are afraid to argue with them. That fosters an organizational culture that stifles creativity and innovation, and leaves members of the organization afraid to speak up. That can leave the organization unable to solve problems or change course. Historically, this has led to some serious disasters, such as Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Organizations that allow for differences of opinion are better at developing innovation, better at solving problems, and better at avoiding groupthink. We all need a McCoy and a Spock in our lives and organizations.

3. Be Part Of The Away Team

“Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.”

Whenever an interesting or challenging mission came up, Kirk was always willing to put himself in harm’s way by joining the Away Team. With his boots on the ground, he was always able to make quick assessments of the situation, leading to superior results. At least, superior for everyone with a name and not wearing a red shirt. Kirk was very much a hands-on leader, leading the vanguard of his crew as they explored interesting and dangerous situations.

When you’re in a leadership role, it’s sometimes easy to let yourself get away from leading Away Team missions. After all, with leadership comes perks, right? You get the nice office on the higher floor. You finally get an assistant to help you with day to day activities, and your days are filled with meetings and decisions to be made, And many of these things are absolutely necessary. But it’s sometimes easy to trap yourself in the corner office and forget what life is like on the front lines. When you lose that perspective, it’s that much harder to understand what your team is doing, and the best way to get out of the problem. What’s more, when you’re not involved with your team, it’s easy to lose their trust and have them gripe about how they don’t understand what the job is like.

This is a lesson that was actually imprinted on me in one of my first jobs, making pizzas for a franchise that doesn’t exist anymore. Our general manager spent a lot of time in his office, focused on the paperwork and making sure that we could stay afloat on the razor-thin margins we were running. But one thing he made sure to do, every day, was to come out during peak times and help make pizza. He didn’t have to do that, but he did. The fact that he did so made me like him a lot more. It also meant that I trusted his decisions a lot more. In much the same way, I’m sure, as Kirk’s crew trusted his decisions, because he knew the risks of command personally.

4.  “Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker. Do you know the game?”

In one of my all-time favorite Star Trek episodes, Kirk and his crew face down an unknown vessel from a group calling themselves the “First Federation.” Threats from the vessel escalate until it seems that the destruction of the Enterprise is imminent. Kirk asks Spock for options, who replies that the Enterprise has been playing a game of chess, and now there are no winning moves left. Kirk counters that they shouldn’t play chess – they should play poker. He then bluffs the ship by telling them that the Enterprise has a substance in its hull called “corbomite” which will reflect the energy of any weapon back against an attacker. This begins a series of actions that enables the Enterprise crew to establish peaceful relations with the First Federation.

I love chess as much as the next geek, but chess is often taken too seriously as a metaphor for leadership strategy. For all of its intricacies, chess is a game of defined rules that can be mathematically determined. It’s ultimately a game of boxes and limitations. A far better analogy to strategy is poker, not chess. Life is a game of probabilities, not defined rules. And often understanding your opponents is a much greater advantage than the cards you have in your hand. It was knowledge of his opponent that allowed Kirk to defeat Khan in Star Trek II by exploiting Khan’s two-dimensional thinking. Bluffs, tells, and bets are all a big part of real-life strategy. Playing that strategy with an eye to the psychology of our competitors, not just the rules and circumstances of the game can often lead to better outcomes than following the rigid lines of chess.

5. Blow up the Enterprise

“‘All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.’ You could feel the wind at your back in those days. The sounds of the sea beneath you, and even if you take away the wind and the water it’s still the same. The ship is yours. You can feel her. And the stars are still there, Bones.”

One recurring theme in the original Star Trek series is that Kirk’s first love is the Enterprise. That love kept him from succumbing to the mind-controlling spores in “This Side of Paradise,” and it’s hinted that his love for the ship kept him from forming any real relationships or starting a family. Despite that love, though, there came a point in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, where Captain Kirk made a decision that must have pained him enormously – in order to defeat the Klingons attacking him and save his crew, James Kirk destroyed the Enterprise. The occasion, in the film, was treated with the solemnity of a funeral, which no doubt matched Kirk’s mood. The film ends with the crew returning to Vulcan on a stolen Klingon vessel, rather than the Enterprise. But they returned victorious.

We are often, in our roles as leaders, driven by a passion. It might be a product or service, it might be a way of doing things. But no matter how much that passion burns within us, the reality is that times change. Different products are created. Different ways of doing things are developed. And there will come times in your life when that passion isn’t viable anymore. A time when it no longer makes sense to pursue your passion. When that happens, no matter how painful it is, you need to blow up the Enterprise. That is, change what isn’t working and embark on a new path, even if that means having to live in a Klingon ship for awhile.

Final Takeaway:

In his many years of service to the Federation, James Kirk embodied several leadership lessons that we can use in our own lives. We need to keep exploring and learning. We need to ensure that we encourage creativity and innovation by listening to the advice of people with vastly different opinions. We need to occasionally get down in the trenches with the members of our teams so we understand their needs and earn their trust and loyalty. We need to understand the psychology of our competitors and also learn to radically change course when circumstances dictate. By following these lessons, we can lead our organizations into places where none have gone before.

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