Saturday, May 21, 2005


That’s “Balls To The Wall” for those who don’t know… I’ve been accused of (or maybe complemented on) being that sort of guy. From time to time I’ve pondered the origin of the term. I mean, if your balls are to the wall… you’re not really going any where, are you? In fact it’s often conjured up images in my head of having your back so ‘Up against the wall’, pressed so tightly against it that your balls were actually touching it. It’s not used that way though.

The term is used synonymously with ‘Flat Out”, “Wide Open”, “Full Tilt”, “Peddle To The Metal”, “Full Throttle” and so on. Now I’m not denying that I am a “Balls to the wall” kind of guy, for the most part, I am. I attack new projects, ideas, plans, etc. all the same way.

Full on effort, “110%” … I really don’t know any other way to do things.

Sometimes it pays off big, sometimes I crash and burn big. Years ago when I opened my own garage, I crashed… big time. In the last two commercial software ventures I had… I crashed… again big time… Currently, it looks like it might just pay off on the project I’m currently involved in.

An associate of mine suggested I might want to submit what I’m doing as a case-study, to see if there was interest in publishing it. I felt, that since it’s not my project/company, I should check with the project manager and see how she felt about it.

I did that this morning. Now, next week I’m meeting with the VP of Business Development to discuss the matter!! This would be a huge deal if it comes to be, not only for the company, but for the placement firm, and me, as well. Nothing like big press announcements with your name on them to get the phone ringing!

The interesting thing to me, is, that despite the possibility that this could lead to a ton of work in the future, I really would prefer to just continue to work where I am. I’ve mentioned before that it’s a well run operation, with great, forward thinking management, but the best thing from my vantage point is that they actually let me do, the things I love to do!

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to ‘stretch’ my developmental legs. To actually have some projects that I can dive into, and be left alone to determine the problem, devise a solution, build it and deploy it. What normally happens is that you get assigned the project and then get pulled in eleven different directions instead of the one you should be headed!

Since November of last year, it’s been get handed a project, give the project manager a time estimate and then just do the job. I’ve completed everything they’ve tossed my way, on time or ahead of schedule, and with a few little ‘bonus’ features each time. This led them to extend the contract first for 30, then another 90 and a little over a week ago through the end of the year.

So, despite having had some hard crashes in previous BTTW adventures, and some less than optimal outcomes in others, I continue to always drop the hammer and have at it.

I’m not exactly sure why I do it. Trust me I’ve thought about it many, many times. I’m pretty sure it’s rooted, at least in part, in the sometimes overwhelming ‘fear of failure’ I have. You see once I’ve immersed myself in something, those fears dissipate; become replaced, by the process. I get so involved in the cycle of development, that the fears don’t resurface until it’s time to demonstrate my work and get sign off on it.

Part of it goes back to the early days of programming PC’s, when there was more work than you could possibly do and everyone was trying to get their ‘piece of it all’. Everyone was promising shorter and shorter deliverable times and it seemed the faster we did anything, the faster the clients would want the next project. So those of us who were ‘in the mix’ back then often referred to the work load as, ‘balls out’, everyday.

One other component, is, I’m sure, rooted in my desire to be the most productive person any of my clients have ever worked with. Deep in my, most likely unfounded but nonetheless real, belief, that if I am, they’ll continue to purchase my time, talent and skills. Hell, if that were actually true… I wouldn’t be ‘working’… I’d be independently wealthy and retired!!

So, I’m done rambling for the moment…. But I’m still pondering… where the term “Balls to the Walls” actually originated…

Ok… so I broke down and ‘Googled’ it…

From the Idiom site:

Dating back to the 1950's, this refers to an all-out effort. The phrase originated from an aviation term. On airplanes, the throttle control handles and the fuel mixture are often topped with grips that are ball shaped, thus referring to pilots as "balls." If you push the ball forward close to the front wall of the cockpit your result would be a top speed.

I would never have guessed this!! I think most of us guys think it has something to do with testicles, enough testosterone, or ‘large enough’ ones to get something done. Instead, it simply means full throttle in an airplane… So who knew?

Oh… (Totally off topic) in another post’s comments, Karyn mentioned that I:

“have an uncanny way of making a six-pack of beer actually sound as wholesome and American as apple pie.”.

Maybe that’s because I think it is. To me, not many things are as satisfying as enjoying a good beer, with good friends and good conversation… especially on a warm summer day as we turn a wrench on something, relax on the patio, or simply are ‘talking trash’ about the weather, the neighbors and anything else that creeps in. I was raised in a family that had its roots in brewing beer; my great grand father was a brewmeister. So as I grew up, beer was always available at family gatherings. It was part of the landscape, the fabric, of the family.

I’m not saying things ‘revolved’ around beer. Rather that beer was a part of the festivities, not the reason for the festivities. So, to me, it’s a part of good times, but it’s not the reason for a good time.

I don’t have memories of drunken family members making an ass of them selves, or causing trouble in any way, just folks sitting around, the grille going, playing pinochle, talking, playing softball, eating and yes, drinking beer. There were other drinks too, water, various soft drinks etc, but beer was always there too.

So, I guess to me, it is as wholesome and American as apple pie.


Firehawk said...


Well, you saved me from my explanation of "BTTW". Google's a great thing. I use it every day. It's interesting how many little catchphrases are actually rooted in some military or quasi-military tradition: Balls to the Wall, OK (zero killed), whole nine yards (the length of the ammo belt on an airplane's machine gun, as in "I gave 'em the whole nine yards!" I suppose the strife of combat lends power to these terms, and they persevere even after most people forget what they mean.

Beer: I was always allowed to have a bit of alcohol when I was little. I drank beer with my dad from the time I was ten or so. I went through the wild times of a teenager like anyone else, but since beer and the like wasn't a mystery to me, I found it easier to use it sensibly. Since my big 21st birthday bash (long ago, now), I've never felt the urge to drink to the point of sickness. Usually, one or two with a meal is all I need. Just like a lot of things, alcohol is blamed for things that are character flaws in the person using it. Like you said a few posts ago, the bad acts of a drunk person are really, "that person revealed".

Anyway, glad to read your continued musings.

Karyn Lyndon said...

And all this time I thought BTW stood for "by the way."

Re: beer. Being of Irish and German decent, I've grown up with beer all my life, too. But there have been some individuals who have been less than pleasant after an afternoon of "tossing back a few" (Have you ever noticed no one has ever had more than three beers? Amazing!) Also, my 20 year old son has taken up the habit and all I can do is pray when he leaves the house.

Seriously, I think you should contact one of the major breweries and be their spokesperson. (You know, kinda like Jared with Subway.) You make me want to pop a cold one out by the pool and I hate the taste of the stuff. (It's 96 today in Dallas.) Besides, I'm plenty silly without it.

Trevor Record said...

Beer is pretty great, I consider it wholesome. Being in Canada, we're expected to adopt it at an early age.

I hope you don't "burn out" again. It's pretty common in the video game industry, which thrives on the energy of disposable young people. I never think of older, more experienced people having it happen to them, but I guess it's probably just as likely.

The Complimenting Commenter said...

That was a great post. I learned about your work load (I hope you get the case-study and stay where you're at) and some info about a phrase. I had no idea about the pilot thing either. Thanks a bunch.

Bill said...

Firehawk: OK is actually "zero-kilo".. I did not know that! Thanks. I often wonder about phrases we use I enjoy finding out where they originated.

Karyn: I actually had a friend who named his company 'BTW Enterprises', and he wasn't thinking by the way :)

Trevor: Thanks for the 'burn-out' concerns... they're well founded. It happens, or can happen to us all. Not just young 'hot-shots', us old 'hot-shots' need to keep the possibility in mind as well!

TCC: Thanks for reading, and commenting! I'm glad you enjoyed it. The case study would be a nice 'feather', and I hope it comes to be as well... but given the option, I'd be just as happy with a nice long motorcycle ride :)

Beer: Like Firehawk, Karyn and Trevor I was exposed to it at a young age. All of that exposure was positive.

Like Firehawk I had a number of years where I was excessive... believed the only reason to drink, was to get intoxicated... Later, thankfully, I learned the enjoyment of responsible consumption.

I've enjoyed your comments as much as I enjoyed writing the post!


RealLady said...

Bill, can you "google" my site and come help me with "screaming meme's?" ~love you,Maryan