Friday, April 20, 2018

Five Lessons from SWA 1380

At 10:27 AM on Tuesday, April 17th, 2018, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, a Boeing 737 with 144 passengers and 5 crew members, took off from LaGuardia. 56 minutes later, the plane made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after the left engine blew apart, breaking a window and killing a passenger.

What happened during those 56 minutes, and the professionalism of the fight crew, Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor, which saved the plane and other passengers, has a lot to teach us about how we face the challenges in our everyday, on the ground lives.

1. Remain Calm
Words never said: Something happened, and I panicked and that made it better. Whether it's an exploding engine causing your plane to roll precariously or an unexpected invitation to the bosses office, stay calm and work the problem.

If you listen to the ATC recording, considering that Captain Shults' just found out that one of her engines just blew a hole in her plane, you will find that her voice has about as much tension as the average person ordering a pizza. In fact, the professionalism of every voice in the recording is impressive.

Next time you encounter a crisis in your life, try describing it in exactly the same tone that Captain Shults says, "Yeah, we have a part of the aircraft missing, so we're gonna need to slow down a bit." Since your crisis is probably not on par with a "part of the aircraft missing," namely an engine, you'll find that it sounds silly to say it any more dramatically than she explains her situation.

2. Focus on the Desired Outcome
During the process of bringing the plane in safely, the pilot and copilot were aware that one of their passengers had been sucked out a window. They didn't know her condition or if she would survive, but they did know that their priority was getting the other 148 people on board safely to the ground.

In driving, your car will tend to follow your eyes. Sometimes, in a skid situation, a driver will fear hitting the guardrail and fix their eyes on it. At that point, it becomes nearly impossible to recover from the skid, and they hit the guardrail.

Many things in life are similar. Your path of travel will follow your attention. If you are fixated on things going wrong, you will follow your eyes to failure, but if you remain fixed on where you want to go, whether it is a safe landing on a runway or career success, you will have a much better chance of finding yourself there in the end.

3. Preparation
Pilot simulators allow pilots to prepare for the unexpected.

Most pilots will never have to land a plane with a blown engine or deal with any other major emergency during their careers, but every professional pilot spends countless hours in simulators preparing for any emergency you can imagine. This preparation for what will likely and hopefully never happen means that if they do find themselves in that situation they are prepared and are ready to deal with it like it's just another day at the office.

Most people do not take effort to prepare themselves even for the expected tribulations of life. Many professional salespeople do not practice or study their presentations. Many entrepreneurs don't study business to improve their skills. Many parents do not take advantage of resources to improve their parenting skills.

But for those who do, when they encounter the crisis, they find themselves fantastically prepared.

4. The Power of Process
In the airline industry, there are checklists and procedures for every situation. In an emergency, there is no time to work the problem and figure it out. There's no time to call experts and see what the right answer is. When you listen to the recording, you can tell that, even though there was no warning that this crisis was about to occur, everyone from the flight crew to the cabin crew to the air traffic controllers immediately knew what to do and how to handle the situation.

Many businesses and other organizations don't even have processes for predictable events that occur every day, leading to countless wasted hours as the same problems are worked day after day, rather than taking the time to consider the most common situations and put systems in place to deal with them automatically. However, you can tell which businesses and organizations which have processes because they are fast, efficient, and the people who work there have a calm about them that you only find in people who feel prepared.

5. The Mundane Matters
Fortunately, SWA 1380 got to the ground quickly because if it had not, then there would have been serious problems with hypoxia among the passengers. Why? Because almost none of them wore their oxygen masks correctly.

Most people ignore the safety briefings before a flight because it is mundane and they've heard it a thousand times, but you are supposed to put your oxygen mask over your mouth and nose. If you don't, you won't get the oxygen it's supposed to be feeding you.

It is easy to stop paying attention to that mundane detail day after day, but that mundane detail may be the thing that means the difference between success and failure. Embrace the mundane. It could save your life, or it could save your business.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I Was Wrong, and I'm Sorry

Giving a public apology is a unique experience. March 13th, 2018 in an interview on Talk of the Tavern was the first time I had occasion to do it, and I learned a few interesting things.

The first thing that I learned is that the nervousness that comes with making a live statement is the enemy of sincerity. Anxiety will make you speak faster and higher. Sincerity comes of speaking lower and slower. I practiced that statement many times to make sure that the sound of my words would match the thoughts in my head that I was trying to express.

The second thing that I learned is that an apology is often a conflicted experience, especially if the people to whom one is apologizing have their own affairs to apologize for. Shots are fired on both sides of a conflict, and we are responsible for our own, regardless of what fire is returned.

I started my apology with the sentence "I was wrong, and I'm sorry." This sentence has stuck in my head since then. I thought about putting it on a t-shirt. The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how often it is appropriate.

Unless you stay locked in your house and never interact with anyone, chances are that any given person may have daily occasions to say "I was wrong, and I'm sorry." Fortunately, most of our transgressions do not rise to the level of that which requires a public, live apology, but we all transgress.

I have apologized for things I may have done wrong. I even apologized for the offense given by private statements I made which were never meant to be read by the public. My wife apologized when she was about as far from wrongdoing as anyone involved in our effort. Tammy has apologized. And all of these are necessary.

As a culture, we would all be better off if we all took a moment to say "I was wrong, and I'm sorry" when the occasion called for it and if we recognized that the occasion called for it far more often than we like to believe, even if, and maybe especially if, the person we are apologizing to has returned more grievous insults than those for which we apologize ourselves. Then, we can seek to learn from those mistakes and do better.

As the Bible says: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgiveness is a reciprocal process, but it starts with an apology.

For any number of mistakes that I have made in my life, I will start by saying to anyone who deserves to hear it: I was wrong, and I am sorry.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Downton Groton

No, Downton Groton is not a new American spinoff of Downton Abbey
The state of Connecticut recently spent a spectacular amount of money to install new highway signs on I-95 through Groton, and this is one of them. There are two things you may notice on this sign. The first is that there is a letter missing from the word "Downtown," and the second is that it's behind a tree.

I'm going to give the highway department the benefit of the doubt that they are planning to remove the tree, but that still leaves the type-o.

When I taught driving, I attended a conference in which a speaker explained that, for an accident to occur, generally at least two or three things had to go wrong, and sometimes more. For example, if someone simply ran a red light, it might not cause an accident, but if someone ran a red light and the person coming the other way had just sneezed and their brakes were worn out, then an accident happens. Had they not sneezed, they would have seen the car in time to avoid it.

I feel like the story of this sign may be similar. I don't know how modern highway signs are made, if they are digitally produced or made by hand, but either way, there was some kind of design and production process, and at least one person either digitally or manually applied the word "Downton" to this sign, failing to notice the error.

Then, someone had to load it onto the truck. I've seen the trucks they were taking them off of to mount them. These signs are too big to pile into a big box, so someone had to load the signs onto the truck and would have seen every one. Probably more than one person given so large an item. None of those people noticed the error, or, if they did, they either did not say anything or they were ignored.

The truck then arrived at the installation point, and, again, someone or someones would have been involved in mounting the sign. They either did not notice the error or noticed and did nothing.

Based on my admittedly limited knowledge of highway sign construction procedures, it seems like between 5 and 10 people were involved in not noticing that the word "Downtown" was misspelled on a sign that would be seen by tens of thousands of people every day.

Now, of course, it will need to be fixed. I am told that it cost $12 million to install the signs from the Thames River to the Rhode Island border, and I can only imagine what it will cost to replace this single sign.

Any one of almost a dozen people could have noticed the error and corrected it before it was installed, probably saving state taxpayers many dollars, but none did.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this particular highway sign is not terribly important, but it does raise the very important issue. Sometimes people in seemingly inconsequential roles may be in the position to notice very serious errors. Too many organizations do not create a mechanism to allow them to get their message up the chain of command to fix the issue before it is too late, or they make it so unpleasant to do so that the individual will say it's not their problem and let it go by.

Is that what happened here? Who can say. But it does remind us all to look at our own organizations and wonder if there are process failures that could allow a serious mistake to make it all the way downton without anyone catching it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Sin of Loyalty

Last week, I wrote an article discussing my disappointment at how quickly a small number of my friends had turned their backs on me at the slightest whiff of suspicion. This article led to quite a bit of introspection. Why had their betrayal cut so deeply, even though it was really only a few people against the many who have been quite supportive?


The answer was clear. I would not have done the same to them.


As I discussed previously, the first I heard about the allegations against Jeff Mach was on January 23rd. Although we had never been particularly close personally, I had worked with Jeff for 12 years, and I considered him a friend. When a friend is attacked, a good person's first instinct should be to stand by that friend and then look into the reasons for the attack and determine if the friend might be in the wrong. Anyone who abandons a friend and then assesses if they have made an error has a moral deficiency.


A mere 5 days later, I agreed to sign off on a letter that pushed Jeff Mach out of his own company, effectively ending his career and business. Five days after first hearing the allegations against Jeff Mach, I signed his professional death warrant.


It had been suggested that I was secretly working with Jeff Mach after this time. While not entirely accurate, I had not cut him off completely either. After being pushed out, Jeff Mach was left with nothing but debt. No assets. No money. No income. There was a very real danger that he would either starve or simply commit suicide. My involvement was to work to make sure that he was paid for the very valuable property he was giving up. He would have been paid about 1/8 of what it was really worth and the payments would have been spread out over 3 years, but it would have given him enough of a chance to survive.


Redemption is not possible if you do not live long enough to see it.


I am a Christian. The first tenet of my religion is love, – explicitly loving the enemy and the unlovable – but following shortly after is the concept of sin and redemption. These are often misunderstood, but, put simply, everyone has sin – everyone misses the mark – because we are all human and we are all imperfect. How that sin manifests is different for different people, but we all have it. The only path to redemption for sin is what is called repentance, which is a fancy word for admitting that you are not perfect, have done wrong, and that you don't want to do wrong anymore – and then you change your ways.


Before a man can repent, he must first survive.


My first choice was a choice of loyalty. My second choice was a choice of justice (or betrayal, only God can judge.) My third choice was a choice of compassion.


There are those who say that, from the beginning, I should have abandoned Jeff, my friend of 12 years whom I subsequently condemned less than one week later. They suggest that at the first intimations by people, whom I did not know well, that he had done wrong I should have thrown him to the wolves.


There are those who say that I should have left Jeff to starve or even commit suicide in silent solitude and despair.


If you are friends with such a person, I might suggest that you should look very closely at your relationship with this person. This is not a person who will stand by you when you encounter your hardest times. This is a person who lacks the virtue of loyalty.


The concept of compassion and redemption goes much deeper than simply believing that a friend can be redeemed of his wrongs. Over the past two months, some people have done and said some terrible things to me. People have said what one might call unforgivable things: statements so insulting to my character, my reputation, and my morals that one might say that they can never be redeemed.


I do not believe in unforgivable sins. Even for the worst of these people, I understand that if I had been born with their DNA, to their parents, raised in their childhood, experienced their experiences, I would do the exact same things that they have done. When you realize that this basic truth applies to every person you will ever meet, you understand that either everyone can be redeemed or no one can.


For this reason, if any one of these people, even those who have said the most egregious, hurtful, insulting things were to come to me and express a desire for peace between us, I would be open to a dialog. There would likely never be friendship or trust, but there could certainly be peace and possibly one day forgiveness.


There are times when my anger may get the best of me, times when I may forget that my path is not the path of hate, and that is when I am truly grateful to the many wonderful and loyal friends that I can count on, not only to support me, but to protect me from my own demons.


I have been accused of many things the past couple months, but I believe that I made three choices early on, and at the time I believe I chose loyalty, justice, and compassion.



Note: In this article I mention that I am driven by love due to being a Christian. That kind of love is not exclusive to Christianity. Almost every major religion preaches concepts of love and forgiveness, including Humanism. Christianity just happens to be the source of love that inspires me. God’s love is a house with many doors, and you may access it through Judaism, Islam, Budism, Wicca, Humanism, or any other path which brings you joy and peace.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Q&A #1

One of the greatest things I have come to know/be reminded of over the past few months is that try as I might, I can never fully know what the community might or might not know. I can share all kinds of information and miss the one thing that everyone wants to know. For that reason, I'll be doing Q&As periodically as questions come in.

If you have a question, please email me at feedback@michaelwhitehouse.org. While I may take questions from other mediums, the only way I can be sure I won't misplace your question is if you email it.

Now, on with the questions:

You have characterized former vendors, patrons, staff, and presenters who have come out against the myriad ills wrought by Jeff Mach, senior staff, repeat performers/presenters, et al. as being an "Internet Mob" intent to tear down Jeff's life works and as enemies of "the community." Do you still believe that in light of the new COGS event?
First please allow me to apologize for any part that I may have had in making it seem like we were considering you or anyone else with concerns or allegations to be enemies of the community. As I mention in this post, SPS did an absolutely atrocious job of PR, and certain individuals raised the bar on awful communication, so it is reasonable that you may have gotten this impression, but it was certainly not the message I wanted to send.

I did then and still do today believe that there was a small group of agitators who were seeking to take advantage of the situation for their own ends. I have no reason to suspect the motivations of any of the actual authors of any of the accusations. At no time, either then or now did I ever believe that any of the accusers made their statements for any reason other than to tell their story and protect others.

When I refer to enemies of the community, I refer to people who, even after Jeff was pushed out of the company and removed from the process to the extent possible, continued to attack our organization and the event we were trying to run, ultimately succeeding in bringing it down. Their stated objective of removing Jeff Mach from the event and preventing him from receiving profits was achieved in the last week of January, but they were not satisfied until they saw it all burned down.

In future articles, I will discuss some of those individuals in particular and their particular actions.


Why did you choose to believe Jeff Mach and not the victims?
I'm glad that this question was asked. For anyone who has read the the leaked log of the staff chat, you will see that at no time did I say that I did not believe the accusers. My operating assumption was that the accusations were true as written. The fact of the matter was that we were dealing with something very serious. We effectively had in our hands the choice of whether or not we should take away a man's life, livelihood, and life's work based on what was before us, so it was not a question of whether or not I believed what I read but whether what I read justified the destruction of a man's career, reputation, livelihood, and business: a much more complex question.

If you were in a low-level role, how are you so sure that the statements you've made about how the company was being run prior to your ascension to power are true?
This initial series on Wicked Faire is based on my personal experience. That is also why my story starts on January 23rd, while, clearly, the the seeds of this crisis were planted many years prior.

As for future articles in which I will discuss past issues that I was not directly involved in, all of the information I have is from conversations with a great variety of individuals who had knowledge of the situation. In places where I am uncertain or accounts differ, I will certainly attempt to indicate so.

Why were you chosen or why did you step up as the background leader of this group, while placing someone else as the public figurehead of the "new" leadership?
I encourage everyone to read the entirety of all of the various chat logs that make up the story of the crisis. We are quite blessed that this is such a record of all that happened. I will be working on posting an un-cut version of the logs when I have a moment, because there are some key portions missing from the leaked logs.

All of us stepped up as necessary to keep the event running. although I had never had leadership in JME beyond our small department, I did have experience with other leading events, and I was the only one with that experience. For that reason, there are some occasions in which I lead the conversation. At no time during that process did I have any kind of formal authority.

Why are you writing these articles?
The story of the fall of Jeff Mach Events is long, complex and convoluted. The particular sexual allegations are merely the symptom of a much greater systemic failure, and there are tremendous lessons to be learned from a deep understanding of that system. Many other organizations, in business, fandom, and non-profit, suffer from some of the same failings that JME succumbed to. Perhaps the stories that I'll be sharing over the next few weeks may help another organization to step back from the cliff that JME went over.

Why did you insist that Elise share personal information of the accusers?
I didn't. Below is the actual chat log of that portion of the conversation.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Placing Your Thumb In Front of the Sun

Have you ever looked straight at the sun? If not, don't, it's bad for your eyes. but when you look directly at the sun, your entire field of view is filled with that one blinding light. You can't see anything else: not the stars or the blue sky or the clouds or the moon or the plane flying by.
This is what staring into the sun looks like. Don't try this
at home, kids.

What happens when you block that single source of blinding light? Something as small as your thumb can do it. Suddenly, you see everything else. You see that the thing that was causing you pain was a small part of the sky, and you can now see all the beauty around it.

Gratitude is kind of like that. It is very easy to be distracted by a small number of negative things, painful things, difficult things, and to not notice all the tremendous blessings that we have.

This became clear to me after I posted this article. In it, I describe some things that people have said recently which were particularly hurtful. The response I got over the next few days really put things into focus. There are maybe 5 or 6 occasions recently on which people whom I thought were friends surprised me by choosing to listen to rumors rather than believe me, but five times as many people reached out to me one way or another to express support, and hundreds have expressed support over the past couple months, and that is really where my focus should be.

I am deeply grateful that I have such a wide array of amazing people around me: Many wonderful people whom I have known for quite some time, and a surprising number of new friends whom I have only met since this crisis began, and who saw what I did and appreciate it.

But that's not all I have to be thankful for.
  • I am generally healthy and active.
  • I have the ability to support myself and my family in a reasonable lifestyle.
  • I have a wonderful daughter who is absolutely brilliant and beautiful. 
  • I have a great wife who supports me in many ways. 
  • I work with a company of some of the best people I have ever met. 
  • I have an excellent game store right around the corner from me.
  • I am well respected in my local community for the work I have done here.
So, really, things are pretty good. What do you have to be most grateful for? Feel free to share in the comments!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Ready Player One

I am often late to the party on great books, usually being that guy who sees a movie that looks interesting then reads the book, knowing that the movie won't be nearly as good, and that well describes Ready Player One by Ernest Kline.
Like any book turned into a movie,
they redid the cover, and being late
to the partythis is the cover on
copy I read.

In addition to excellent pacing and a vibrant story, this book impressed me doing well two other things that are often done wrong. It tells the story of it's world without having to resort to long authorial dissertations, and it paints incredible pictures with words.

The world of Ready Player One is a highly believable near future dystopia. A global energy crisis has led to a massive economic collapse. Most people live in crushing poverty while an elite few live in a great wealth.

The world feels very real because it is not overdone. It takes our current economy and its disparity of wealth and extrapolates it. The government provides ration cards to the poor, which are much like food stamps. The poor live in hastily constructed "stacks", which are steel scaffolding holding stacks of mobile homes and other residences for people to live. They were created because, with the energy crisis, people could no longer afford to travel, so they needed to be near cities to find jobs, but the resources did not exist to build tall buildings, so the stacks were created.

People struggle to survive, working day labor jobs and otherwise hustling. The protagonist, Wade Watts, lives with his aunt in a trailer with 11 other people.

Into this world, Kline has extrapolated the trends of massively multiplayer online games and social media to the Nth degree. The OASIS is a fully immersive simulation. It had started as an MMO game, but grew to be something greater. It ended up being a platform for everything from virtual schools to commerce to simply a place to escape, and there is plenty to escape from. Many people even conduct business in the OASIS creating a real economy in a virtual plane.

Tomb of Horrors. Spoilers.
The plot of the novel centers around a contest created by James Halliday, the eccentric creator of the OASIS. Upon his death without heirs, he announced a contest, the winner of which would become his sole heir, getting his half-trillion dollar fortune and control of his company and the OASIS which it operates. The contest is an Easter Egg hunt throughout the OASIS. He has hidden three keys that open three gates which contain three challenges. The clues to where to find these keys and how to get them are hidden in his personal journal and other bits of 80s pop-culture.

This is where the nostalgia is worked in brilliantly. The character James Halliday was born in the early 70s so he came of age in the 80s. He clearly missed the simpler time of Atari and its blocky graphics, video arcades, and red box D&D, and he wanted everyone else to appreciate it. By creating the contest and creating puzzles where the solutions were hidden everywhere from old Dungeons and Dragons modules to movies to video games, anyone participating in the contest (and with $500,000,000,000 on the line, who wouldn't) would need to become the same level of geek about 80s pop culture that he was.

The book is loaded with detailed references to all manner of that retro pop culture, and it is not contrived at all because it works perfectly with the context of the story. Because I am familiar with the pop culture it is referring to, the story is very vibrant for me. When the main character has to play a life or death game of Joust, I could picture it exactly. And the surrealism of a simple 80s video game being the competition field for such a high stakes duel worked in the book, because the action occurred in a surreal virtual environment.

An original Joust stand up arcade system
I'm not sure if someone reading it born after 1990 might not have quite the same appreciation, but with YouTube and such it would be easy to look up all the references and full understand them even if it wouldn't have the same nostalgic resonance it does for me. Either way. the story and world building are still excellent and well worth the read.

On seeing the movie, I was disappointed to find that the movie did not create as engaging a visual story or evoke the kind of nostalgia that the book did, which is quite unfortunate given that the movie had a big screen to do it on while the book had only my aging imagination.

I'll say that if you have already seen Black Panther and A Wrinkle In Time and you don't want to see Black Panther a second time, then you might enjoy seeing the movie Ready Player One. While it lacks the robust world building and impressive nostalgia of the book, it is a fun popcorn action movie.

However, if you have not read the book, I highly encourage you to finish this sentence, stop reading whatever you a reading right now, and go get a copy and read it.