Sunday, January 31, 2010

It's your Relative

People do not evaluate the absolute value of their income, performance, achievements but are heavily influenced by comparison to others.  H. L. Mencken defined a wealthy man as one "who earns $100 more a year than his wife's sister's husband.

Peer pressure is a strange thing.  We all remember it in school.  It continues throughout life.  Keeping up with the Jones is the famous term.  Gary McClimans once said "We are all tribal - we want to be in a tribe".  It is the human condition and it starts with the family -  everyone first belongs to a family, then the extended family and it proceeds from there into social networks - memberships, political parties, religious denominations, alumni clubs, Vistage, Social Venture Partners, IH Swim Club, country clubs .............

The greatest correlation they have found for happiness is human relationships.  And with those relationships comes social networks and relativism.

So happiness is relative - or is it about your specific relative :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Your Avatar

 OK - so I'm late in getting to the movie Avatar - the 3D IMAX version was $13 a person.  Was it worth it?  I suppose -  the effects were good, the story line fair, the surround sound excellent, and the acting good.  I'm not sure it is that original and unique as parts of it  put me in mind of Aliens, The Matrix, Rambo and Jurassic Park. 

So what kind of Avatar would you be?   On the Wii you can create your own avatar and after many games you begin to expect that you actually look like that cartoon figure.  I liked the fact that in the movie Avatar, the lead actor who was handicapped, could walk in the Avatar world.

The new TV series Caprica has this Avatar -  duplicate yourself theme.  Recreating yourself creates the intellectual discussion about the soul - could that be duplicated also?

For now I will stick with my Wii Avatar - bold glasses, brown hair and a geeky computer look :)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Where did the Time go?

I'm in the middle of reading "A Travel Guide to Heaven" by Anthony Destafano.  Chapter Nine - "The vacation that never ends" talks about the mystery of time.  Time travels at one speed here on earth, but we often experience it in slow motion or conversely we wonder how it passed by so quickly.

For years I didn't wear a watch (in fact I don't wear one now because I always have the time on my phone).  It always amazed me at the number of clocks around.  Now with microprocessors everything tells you the time - your computer, the copier, the microwave, the phone, the car, the TV ..... the list goes on and on.

 One of the things I hated most about my job was filling out the time sheet - accounting for every hour of my working time.  When you bill hourly you never want to ask the question:

Where did the Time go? 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Up on the Rooftop

Driving through Norwood today - what did I my wandering eyes see on the rooftop of one of the homes - SANTA!!

Come on - it's Jan 28th!

My rule of thumb is all Xmas decorations down by the weekend after New Years.  Maybe outdoor lights can stay up longer awaiting a moderately cold weekend - as long as they are not on at night. After all there may could be times when snow stays on the rooftop for long periods of time.

Decorations are always easier coming down than going up - so what's the problem?

Do you really want to publicly display your problems with Procrastination?

Leadership Styles

I watched with interest, the State of the Union address last night.  It caused me to think about leadership styles.

I remember certain people. that when promoted to Partner at Accenture, - suddenly changed.  I always thought that was strange because when I was promoted, the next day - I didn't feel any different or feel compelled to act different.  It was just a title bestowed on me. I felt it was only recognition of work I had already been performing.

Interestingly, everyone else thought of you differently once a new title was attached to your name.  I always felt I needed to correct this mis-impression.  Others took the "title" opportunity to change styles.  Beware of those individuals.

True leaders don't need titles or elections -  or State of the Union speeches.  These things are required activities of leaders but don't make them leaders.

You can only be leading when others join you willingly.  Leadership must be earned everyday.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Clean Slate

Yes -  I confess I am I "Pack Rat" and have real difficulty throwing anything away.  This is especially true for electronic stuff.  Part of the unfinished basement looks like the scene in Star Wars where the Jawas scavenged for scrap robots.

Over the weekend I decide to wipe out and restore to factory settings two of the old laptops I refuse to throw away.  Actually it was a great feeling - almost like getting a new computer.  It is like starting over - a clean slate.

It doesn't take long for a laptop to bog down with junk - uncontrollable junk that we are conditioned to leave on the computer.  I remember too many times thinking I could tune a computer by deleting this stuff only to find I cost myself countless hours trying to restore because I deleted something important.

So if this "clean slate" feeling is so good - why do I avoid throwing anything away?

Because I didn't really throw anything away  -    I backed up all that computer clutter stuff on spare hard drive -  the unfinished basement for all my junky computer files.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Shift in Time

The VCR (Videocassette Recorder) for home use was introduced in 1965.  Finally! we said ---TV scheduling freedom...  and the ability watch a movie if you missed it at the theater. 

 I just "caved" and signed up for the $10/mth DVR (Digital Video Recorder).  Why -  I couldn't stand taping football in non-HD on my old VCR.

 And once again the Cable TV (actually the precise term is CATV -Community Antenna Television) has the edge on quality viewing by charging you an extra $10-$15/mth for the Digital and HD package. It is just like the old 1970's need to get away from snowy antenna reception - Deja Vu.

It's hard to watch in anything but 1080i  High Definition.  Susan swears she enjoys the old resolution.

And we all justify these DVR's by our ability to fast forward through commercials.  We are saving time and watching only what we want - when we want to.  We are in control of our time :)

In the book -  "A Geography of Time" by Robert Lewis he refers to the Tempo - Speed of Life. 

So my DVR  -  a shift in time  ---
                                                    with fast forward
                                                                                    is syncopation          
                                                                                                                  and Prestissimo ( 200 bpm)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nudges, Nudgee and Nudger

I become much more 'a tune'  to following nudges.  Those suggestions by people to do things that, without a nudge, you would not do --- you would fall back into your complacency, routine, and comfort zone. 

Sometimes the nudge gets more frequent and  stronger - maybe a kick in the pants.  
Who is nudging you today?  Too often we can even get irritated by the messenger.  Or if it is a parental nudge we can even get rebellious and move in the  opposite direction purposely.  Maybe if I pictured the nudger as an angel, I would be more receptive to the message.

How many nudges does it take to move Garen?  It depends on the subject matter.  Susan has a 20+ history of trying to get that number down to one.

And I have always considered her my angel.  :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pursuit of Happiness

I took Jenna back to Miami Campus the other day and gave her the ol' parental speech .......  "You need to use this time in college to explore what path will make you happy".  At that point I said - "Obviously you know what makes your Dad happy - Right?  ----------------- Long Pause --------------

This is a "loaded question" and dangerous for the child to answer.  Jenna was smart to wait me out.   I then interjected my version of what I defined as my personal happiness - to which Jenna then added some points of perspective.

As I reflect on this discussion,  I discovered how tough a question this is - and how challenging the pursuit of happiness is.

I'm not happy yet with my answer  :)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Time is Money

A man was taking it easy,

laying on the grass looking up at the clouds.

He was identifying shapes when he decided to talk to God.

"God," he said, "how long is a million years?"

God answered, "In my frame of reference, it's about a minute."

The man asked, "God, how much is a million dollars?"

God answered, "To me, it's a penny."

The man then asked, "God, can I have a penny?"

God answered, "Sure, just a minute."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Million Dollar Idea (Part 2 Penny for your Thoughts)

Everyone of us has had that million dollar idea --- probably multiple million dollar thoughts.  And what makes the difference between those that disappear and those that are implemented?  Welcome to the brain of an entrepreneur. 

There may be something special
about entrepreneurs' brains. Many have a condition called
attention-deficit disorder, or ADD. "There's a very high incidence of
ADD among CEOs in small companies,"
says Daniel G. Amen, M.D., a brain researcher and director of Amen
Clinics Inc., a group of four brain-imaging centers in the U.S. "These
are people who take risks, need people to help them stay organized,
don't like working for other people, have a lot of energy and are good
at multitasking."

So the difference between a penny and a million dollars ---   ADD?

Penny for your Thoughts

As Ellen was sitting silently in the back seat, I asked her ......  "what are you thinking about"?   "Nothing'', she replied.  I said - "you have to be thinking about something".  " No Dad - nothing".  What happens when our mind just wanders - our subconscious mind just takes over? 

I'm reading a good book about the brain - "The Scientific American Day in the Life of Your Brain" - A 24 hour journey of what's happening in your brain as you Sleep, Dream, Wake Up, Eat, Work, Play, Fight, Love, Worry, Compete, Hope, Make Important Decisions, Age and Change - by Judith Horstman.

  More to come .......  Insert a penny for further thoughts - part 2.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Winter Lethargy

This year will be the test on the fountain and its fish.  I was told that goldfish can survive almost any freeze. I turned off the fountain and let the pond freeze this year and wasn't too diligent about chopping a air hole.  Hopefully there will be enough air pockets between the ice and lower water line. 

It is amazing to watch the fish - perfectly still in the cold water.  Makes me think about my own winter lethargy and hibernation.  It's tough to get out of bed on a cold Saturday morning.

There are plenty of pockets of air between the covers and the mattress.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Number Please

What is your number?  Not the commercial by a Financial firm with the guy walking around with a number with a dollar sign indicating what he needs to retire on.  No I'm talking about all those numbers that you go through life memorizing - your Social Security #; phone numbers; your house number; user id & password numbers; employee number; PINS and the list goes on.  Problem is those numbers (all except the SS #) continually change during your life time.

Machines and software talk with numbers.  "Please enter your customer ID followed by the # key.  Please say or enter your PIN".   And only after you are validated as a number can you talk to human.  And even then the human asks you to verify numbers - "For security reasons could you give us your date of birth and home address". 

Even your name becomes a number on the telephone key pad.  Garen is 42736.  It is no wonder in the history of civilization there is great meaning put to numbers and the mysteries about those numbers.  A thousand years from now an archeologist will unearth a lottery ticket and determine some hidden meaning in the sequence. Maybe it is your number.

534559 735115   :)         03 18 43 51 56 -- 06    28 31 53 55 56 -- 08

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


It's always disconcerting to me when I open the sock drawer and see a single pair.  Where did it go?  Will it ever be paired again?  How long of a wait?  In fact I have an inventory of single pairs still awaiting that fateful moment.

Much of my peace in life revolves around symmetry.  It's not just the need to pair with two of everything. It has to do with balance and the quest for the golden mean.  Or maybe it is the concept of Yin and Yang. 

Sometimes stress comes from symmetry as you consider the concept the "reversion to the mean" (especially when it comes to investments).  And then there is the old saying - "What goes around, comes around" - or is it "What comes around, goes around".

So maybe it's not a pair - it's a circle. The missing sock entered a black hole.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Taxing Productivity

Today - three guys at lunch sat around talking about how to save money on taxes for at least half of the meeting time.  Roth Conversions, C Corp Earnings, 529 plans, Married filing separately, Defined Benefit Plans and the list goes on and on.  What a waste of time and productivity for the USA.
But beware of the words tax simplification - it doesn't exist.  I once asked one of my Tax Partners back in the Regan days during that version of tax simplification,  if he was worried about his job ----  he just smiled and stated that all tax simplification meant was an increase in his fees and workload.
I can only imagine the number of Turbo Tax simulated tax games that the adults are playing right now (those that choose to be entertained by the U.S. Tax code). 
I wonder who will license the first visual tax game - Xbox or Playstation?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Waking up is hard to do

Or is it "Breaking up is hard to do"?  

My alarm goes off at 5:55am each morning and half the time I hit the snooze alarm.  How are you introduced to the morning?   A blaring alarm; soothing music that slowing increases in sound; or like the movie "In Good Company" an alarm that silently blinks a light.  And do you jump out of bed or grudgingly enter the world of consciousness?

Talking about this over dinner with friends, we came up with a million dollar idea - an alarm that has various scents that brings you to a beautiful consciousness each morning  - the smell of hot coffee, bacon and eggs .....  you get the idea.  The problem with this idea is that the body would be conditioned to know that there was no breakfast forthcoming -- consequently waking up in a worse mood than an ear piercing buzz.

We concluded that regardless of method - waking up is hard to do.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Free Day

Yesterday most schools were closed for a snow day.  It's like suddenly being awarded a free day - no notice; just wake up and bingo ----- you get a day off.  How nice would that be in the adult world?  You wake up -  your boss calls you (or your client), and tells you -- "Listen,  I just want to tell you how valuable you are and today you get a fully paid day to relax".

What would you do with the time?  Go sledding?  Drink some Hot Chocolate?  Have friends over for board games? 

Some of us wouldn't be able to relax or have fun.  Immediately guilt feelings would set in; or that feeling of--- "I can use this time to get caught up"; .....   and instead of squealing in glee about the gift, the free day becomes a burden of choice.

The Paradox of time - we want more of it - but what to do with it

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us" 
                                        - Gandalf (Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Random or Unique

I just finished re-reading "Ten Prayers God always says YES to" by Anthony DeStefano.  Chapter 10 "Why am I here Anyway" addresses the question of whether we are random or unique.

As a statistician it's hard to believe  that of the 6,794,961,364 living people on earth and the additional people in the history of civilization - no two fingerprints are alike.  That sure sounds like we are unique.  And you are the product of a single sperm of 500 million that fertilized one egg. Add that volume to the mix and it means that we are talking about numbers equating to the number of stars in the universe. 

Then add time to the equation and a pure statistician would say that there is some probability of duplication - that is if it is all random. 

I haven't studied the subject of cloning - but I assume a cloned person (if it could be done) would have identical fingerprints.

No longer unique - No longer random.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pound of Flesh = $?

I just changed health plans that required a reapplication process. The application process
required that I list every time I had seen a physician in the last three years- I can’t remember what happened last month. We need an electronic record of your entire medical history on your phone (yes a new iphone app) to solve this problem.

So I casually filed out the applications – first mistake. On the section on height and weight, I put 6’1” and 190lbs (my 2009 goal was to get to 185 and I madeit). Little did I know what was coming next. My insurance broker quoted me at the “super preferred rate” and when the underwriters got done with the application the cost was $25/mth higher than the quote.
Naturally I questioned this – and the broker guessed the increase was due to my weight.

I couldn’t believe it!! - yes, I felt 190 is a bit plump --- but overweight --- how offending! So I called Anthem Underwriting and sure enough the “super preferred rate” requires that my weight be 189. But, I said – “I’m now 185 lbs” ---- Response “You need a note from your doctor”. And my next question – how much would this save me? $12/mth

So the cost of a pound for me - $144/yr

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Forecasting Folly

I love thinking about the future and trying to guess what will happen next. I have on my office wall three wall charts with 10 years of history - the S&P 500, Dow Jones, and Gold (just replaced Copper with Gold).  Just looking at these charts shows the folly of forecasting human behavior. 

So what is my prediction for 2010 S&P500 close.  I say somewhere between 1250 and 1300 -  why not say 1296 which is the square of 36.  That is significant since 36 is the number of outcomes of the roll of a dice -   did I say gambling :)

So is it really a "Random Walk Down Wall Street"?  Mathematically I believe it is - Emotionally I don't and that is the real folly and a lifetime of study for a statistician.

Maybe I should replace my charts with global temperature patterns.

PS -  The sum of the integers of 36 =  666

Monday, January 4, 2010

37,869,120 to spend

Thanks to Rev. Greg Stover for an great sermon for the start of the year.  The 38 million is the approximate number of heart beats you will have in 2010.  It's interesting he used heart beats in the message about what to do, where to spend time, how to "spend your life". 

I've always joked that each person has a fixed number of heat beats available in their lifetime - which is why I relax --- minimize the stress and conserve those heart beats :)    Many people have countered that theory saying exercise will help lower the your rate of heart beats.  YES but all that strenuous exercise created rapid short term beats and great volatility.

Several years ago I got a home blood pressure machine.  I thought I would regularly take the pressure, beats and keep a record of this - NOT.  Too much effort and time for what benefit?  I think they should make machines that do that automatically for you. 

I've already spent 720 beats blogging about this - just a few more million to go -- heart beats that is.