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Friday, July 25, 2008

Douglas “Wrong-Way” Corrigan: 70 Years Later

By Gregory McNamee on History

Seventy years ago, at 5:15 in the morning on July 17, 1938, a 31-year-old aviator named Douglas Corrigan walked out onto the tarmac of an airfield in Brooklyn, New York, climbed into the cockpit of his plane, and made for the skies, bound for Los Angeles.

In those days, radar had yet to come into general use, although the British government would install a pioneering coastal-defense system later that year. Pilots radioed for instructions along the way, checking in from time to time but mostly relying on ground personnel only when cloud cover prevented them from seeing terra firma. Aviation was a decidedly seat-of-the-pants affair, sometimes dangerous and always unpredictable.

Even so, observers were more than a little surprised when Corrigan’s plane banked sharply to the east on takeoff and disappeared into a looming cloudbank over the Atlantic Ocean, the opposite direction of where he was supposed to be headed. They were even more surprised when reports came that, 28 hours and 13 minutes later, Corrigan had landed his little modified Curtiss-Robin monoplane at an airfield outside Dublin, Ireland, and amiably told the workers who gathered around him, “I just got in from New York. Where am I? I intended to fly to California.”

Thus, instantly, thanks to some sharp reporter, was the nickname “Wrong-Way Corrigan” born. And thus, instantly, was the wayward pilot’s flying license suspended—but only for two weeks, a slap on the wrist that had everyone involved smiling.

Corrigan claimed that his little plane—a wreck that he had bought for $310 three years earlier and rebuilt, bolt by plank by piston, in a California cow pasture—had been betrayed by a faulty compass, and that he had absentmindedly wandered to Ireland without ever bothering to check the lay of the land below him.

He had landed in Brooklyn a week earlier, having made a solo run from California that, in the bargain, netted him a world record. Understandably puffed up at the accomplishment, he determined to try to break the established records across the Atlantic, set over the past few years by the likes of Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post in the wake of Charles Lindbergh’s famed 1927 transatlantic flight. Almost as soon as he landed in Brooklyn, he applied for permission to make a trip to Ireland.

The civil aviation authorities were quick to say no. All they had to do was take a quick look at Corrigan’s nearly homemade plane, its engine cobbled together from two previous planes and souped up to nearly double the original 90-horsepower rating. It was an accident waiting to happen. Corrigan had added five fuel tanks to the rig that completely blocked his view out the front of the cockpit, so that he had to open his door—held fast by baling wire, like many other parts of the plane—to see where he was going. California aviation authorities gave the 1929 monoplane an experimental certification, and their Brooklyn counterparts had no intention of improving the grade.

Corrigan was unfazed. In a decade-long career of barnstorming, he had applied for permission to cross the Atlantic several times. He had helped build Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, which now hangs proudly from the ceiling of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., assembling that famed aircraft’s wings and instrument panels; he had even pulled the chocks out from under its wheels as Lindbergh soared off to New York and glory. Corrigan knew what constituted a safe plane. He was a daredevil, but he was no fool.

On Corrigan’s last application, in 1935, the federal authorities had said that his plane was not worthy of an ocean crossing, but they didn’t blink about the craft’s suitability to cross over land. Corrigan had spent the next two years making modification after modification to increase his plane’s range and dependability, but still they turned him down.

He was careful not to pack a map of the Atlantic, but instead made sure to show off charts of the Midwest and California as he clambered aboard his supposedly westward-bound aircraft. He packed only a little food: a couple of chocolate bars, cookies, a quart of water. He headed into the clouds, only to reappear in Ireland the following afternoon, innocently asking for directions.

In the bargain, he set a new record, despite a leaky fuel line that made the crossing even more perilous than it already was. The American public winked along with Corrigan. He earned a tickertape parade, public appearances, a book deal, a movie contract, and a few celebrity endorsements, including one for a pocket watch that ran backward.

By the time World War II began, the commotion surrounding him had quieted, and Corrigan worked as a test pilot and freight transporter. He later bought an orange grove outside Los Angeles. He was all but forgotten afterward, and when he was invited to display his famed plane at an aircraft show in 1988, he grumbled that he would take him a lot of work to do so—for he had taken it apart and had been storing it in his garage since 1940.

Toward the end of his life, Douglas Corrigan is said to have admitted that his trip hadn’t been a wrong-way adventure after all. The story is unsubstantiated, and even in his last months—he died on December 9, 1995, at the age of 88—Corrigan never said anything other than that fog and a bad compass had been kind enough to give him a small measure of fame in his day.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Warren Buffett’s 7 Secrets for Living a Happy and Simple Life

Secret # 1 : Happiness comes from within.

In my adult business life I have never had to make a choice of trading between professional and personal. I tap-dance to work, and when I get there it’s tremendous fun.- Warren Buffett

This is the man who truly does what he loves. The battle between Productivity and anti-productivity blogs stems from their convoluted chains of frequently twisted rational to substantiate their claim that productivity is a force of an external demand - from an employer or a competitor. In reality, productivity comes from within. It comes from doing what we love and loving what we do. When we start trading time between our professional and personal life, we wage war in our own mind to justify our passion in terms of a personal benefit. In my business I have felt more stress and angst when I haven’t given all of my talent, hard work and passion to help others on a given day. The myth of working hard to make more money to buy more things throws us in the vicious circle of hallucination. Our happiness always remains imprisoned when we do work that we abhor yet justify doing it to pay bills for those things that we don’t need. I used to work even after buying my first hotel for many years to justify the fake notion that I needed additional income to pay bills. What I needed was to change my lifestyle to free myself from this never-ending rut chase.
Secret # 2 Find happiness in simple pleasures.

I have simple pleasures. I play bridge online for 12 hours a week. Bill and I play, he’s “chalengr” and I’m “tbone”. — Warren Buffett

If the man richer than God can find happiness in the simple pleasure of playing bridge online with another billionaire, I have to learn to be happy with the simple pleasures of playing cards with friends or playing with my children or taking a walk in the wilderness. All of these simple pleasures do not need extravagant spending. I used to go play golf with other businessmen when the local chamber of commerce sponsored an event. I never found happiness in those events as they were centered on generating more business and exchanging business cards than on truly enjoying the moment. I was allowing myself to be run ragged by trading business cards after hours in a vain hope of making more money whereas that time deserved a dinner with my family.
Secret # 3 Live a simple life.

I just naturally want to do things that make sense. In my personal life too, I don’t care what other rich people are doing. I don’t want a 405 foot boat just because someone else has a 400 foot boat. — Warren Buffett

The sad truth is that our ever-sophisticated advertising industry has conditioned our mind to find happiness from consumption by spending our hard earned money on the possessions that never bring us lasting happiness. We spend our life-energy on those possessions that we seldom use. We worry about making payments for a luxury car that sits in our garage collecting dust only for the right to brag about it in an occasional social gathering. Keeping up with the Joneses is the worst epidemic among those who should never contemplate that notion in the first place. If a man who can possibly buy a nation with his cash never espouses the mantra of “more the better”, I need to learn not to spread my legs beyond the reach of the blanket. We are conditioned to spend money before we earn it. We are sold on the fake happiness of “Buy now, pay later dearly” - It’s nothing more than buying possessions that we cannot afford. I have my share of insanity when it comes to mindless spending, but lately I try to pay for most of my purchases with cash. It creates awareness towards the impulse buy when I pay by cash. I have also started red lining items on the credit card statement that I consider useless spending. All of these efforts have built my awareness towards my impulse purchases. I have been using mantra of - “less is more” to simplify every aspect of my life. It’s a work in progress but the results are astounding.
Secret # 4 Think Simply.

“I want to be able to explain my mistakes. This means I do only the things I completely understand.” - Warren Buffett

There lies one of the greatest secrets of simplicity. Warren Buffett invests only in the businesses that he understands. If you ever read research reports from an accomplished Wall Street guru, you’ll find a plethora of details that make you dizzy. The success of Warren Buffett as the greatest investor ever lies in his ability to think simply.

I used to invest in the stock market in the mid 90’s when everyone wanted to make over night millions in an exuberant market. I used to read “Investor’s Business Daily” only to look at the movers and shakers. These were the stocks that made a significant upward move a day before. A few days before Christmas, I made $52,000 in one stock in a matter of a few days. I knew nothing about the company. I created a new reality for my thoughts that I had figured out how the Wall Street works. I was on my way to the riches. I applied the same thought model on the next several stocks. Needless to say, I lost all that I made and much more. I was lacking in a basic human quality that Warren Buffett has mastered well - common sense. It says a great deal about the character of a man who invested a measly amount in Microsoft despite the fact that Bill Gates is one of his closest friends. I learned a valuable lesson of life from this experience - “Not losing hard earned money is far more important than making more money”.

If I apply this rule in my life, I can develop clarity and sanity in my thoughts. Clarity is the mother of simplicity. Life is not a roulette; life is about simple yet profound choices.
Secret # 5 Invest Simply.

The best way to own common stocks is through an index fund. - Warren Buffett

It is astounding to know that the greatest investor in the world is not bragging about intricate financial maneuvering to impress the rest of the world with his financial genius. Instead, Warren Buffett shows us the most simplistic approach to our financial freedom - “Flow with the market rather than pretending to be smarter than God.”

In this world full of so-called financial experts, Warren stands tall by showing us the simplest way to the riches. The stock market has moved upward for the last hundred years despite numerous setbacks. He is using a long historical view to back his argument rather than making a futile effort to predict how we can make a quick fortune. After losing most of my capital in the late 90’s, I have precisely followed the simple advice of investing in the no-load index funds. I’m happier than ever and while my assets have not skyrocketed, they haven’t dwindled either.
Secret # 6 Have a mentor in life.

I was lucky to have the right heroes. Tell me who your heroes are and I’ll tell you how you’ll turn out to be. The qualities of the one you admire are the traits that you, with a little practice, can make your own, and that, if practiced, will become habit-forming. - Warren Buffett

We are worshipers of celebrity demi-gods. All of us have this acute desire to look and live like these celebrities. However, are they truly the ones with character and moral compass to lead us? Having a mentor is as important as having a purpose in our life but having a wrong mentor is as devastating as having a wrong purpose in our life. The mentor has to be someone whom we can trust and have an unwavering faith in his/her guidance. The mentor has to be the one who has made outstanding strides in advancing the greater and guiding purpose of happiness in his/her own life. You’ll find that person in your inner circle if you think hard enough. Write down why you admire them. Try to emulate their traits and as Warren has shown by his exemplary life, with a little practice, you can form a habit to clone the life that you admire the most.
Secret # 7 Making money isn’t the backbone of our guiding purpose; making money is the by-product of our guiding purpose.

If you’re doing something you love, you’re more likely to put your all into it, and that generally equates to making money. - Warren Buffett

warren2.jpgHow do you rationalize the richest man on the earth still living in a small 3-bedroom house that he purchased fifty years ago? Warren Buffett never travels in a private jet despite the fact that he owns the largest private jet company. His character and way of life speak volume about his greatness. This is the man who spent his personal time investigating a $4 line item on his tax return to hunt down the specifics of it while giving away billions of dollars to Bill Gates foundation. It is rare to find the richest man on the earth living without luxuries that we want to possess even by mortgaging our future. He has demonstrated that while valuing the worth of money is vital for our ingenuity and success, money shall never become the object and end all of our motivation.

I’m an avid admirer of simplicity, but I’m an even bigger fan of the man who has mastered the greatness by living and breathing simplicity amid an ocean of wealth. Do you agree?