Monday, December 26, 2011

Two Apples

Now there are two apples in the family - Jenna and Ellen.  Today was a big day for Ellen.  After saving her money for over one year (and not receiving the expected laptop for Xmas) she decided to purchase the 11.6 in MacBook Air ($999 retail) So precisely at 8am this morning, I drove Ellen to the mall to buy the laptop.  The Apple store was relatively busy but we were waited upon immediately.

Apple's "trojan horse entries" continues to wear at the Microsoft giants monopoly fortress.  The ipod, itouch, iphone, and ipad device proliferation is driving people to Apple - step by step.  A brilliant long term strategy. 

In a rare move, I patiently listened to the English major Apple Store Representative walk me through the one-to-one program, and the extended warranty.  I actually decided to pass on the one-to one program but bought the extended warranty and technical support ($249 less $66 and $50 support visit discount).  The HP Officejet 3054A was $99.95 with a $100 rebate.  So the damage after taxes, rebates, discounts etc. will be over $1,200.   For a 1.6hz processor and 64 Gig, it was a premium price. 

It just shows you that if Xmas morning doesn't yield the electronic gadget you hoped for, just wake up early the next day and get your apple.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas eCards

This year it was difficult to do Christmas Cards since I was out for 8 days with back problems.  Jenna and Ellen created the assembly line and we mailed a few (card, letter, and picture of the kids and dogs, with signatures from all and a brief note).  I violated my own rule of sending a picture without Susan and I in the shot (see Happy Holidays from the Kids). 

This year I also wimped out and used a BlueMountain.com ecard instead of creating my own customized email Xmas email.  It was a great animated card to "God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen".  I'm actually surprised at how few ecards I received  (20%) vs snail mail traditional cards.  BlueMountain had this great feature to post a card to someone's wall on Facebook - or actually post it to your own wall (which I did). 

Like any good statistician, I wondered how fast traditions change.  For example 20 years ago there were not these Holiday Picture (usually of the kids) Legal Envelope size shots.  For the volume sender what could be more convenient - slap a mailing label on; return address; stamp; insert picture; and send (no note; no actual signature). To bad the picture is dated or you could use any excess for the following year.  Nearly 50% of the cards we received this year were of this type vs the traditional Hallmark folding card.

I suppose the reaction to my BlueMountain ecard is similar to my critic above of the Holiday Mass Mailing - how impersonal!  Where's the investment of time and thought? Why did Garen even bother?

Well - I will survey the reaction and modify for next year.  And if you didn't get an ecard this year - chalk that up to my mis-management of Outlook's address book (and a bad back).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Traditional Wisner Christmas Letter


      
  Wisner Family   - December 2011
It was Back to Basics for the Wisner's this year, with local activities focused on the simple things in life - family, home, community, and nature.  Our Family continues to be in good health and thankful for another year of time together.
Jenna (20)  - Was it a summer of P.R., or just good grades that resulted in Jenna's acceptance into U.C.'s Nursing School?  Her Entrepreneurial eBay Entry and Incentive In Investing doubled her savings.  And the reduced wait was not appreciated when Jobs delivered the iphone 4s (s - after sister) vs  5.  She hoped for a better statistic, but a 3.9 final quarter rounds to a 4.0 in my book.
Ellen (12) - Her tennis team bravery resulted in an iphone 4 (before s- for sister) with an iron clad data plan.  Continuing in middle school (7th grade) ,  she ignored the middle with all A's and a B+.  Choir and piano are the music of choice.  Cookies, Cupcakes, and Cake pops Consume the Kitchen Counter. 
Susan (>200 pts) - Passing over the bridge into a new civic role and garden - Susan gave the Christmas shoppers an "Aftershock" this year as the doors of Laurel House closed in January (no late start there).  With a heart of gold, Susan continued Emmaus activities, family room decorating, and billboard funding.   Stay tuned for the ultimate issue - the 2012 elections.
Garen (57) - Was it luck or a venue of a brand  (   W   )  new man? Acting like Daniel Boone in the forest, he enjoys  the 5:35am walks in his Woodford Reserve or the Saturday excursions to Grand Valley.   Garen practiced his statistics on Jenna and District 13-D polling this year.  Susan still believes he is full of data.
Bella & Fitch (10 mo) - Nellie's legacy could only be matched with double the pleasure.  With weekly Federal Express packages of fun, these two siblings make the WWF look like amateurs.   Rocky and Rambo are now just pussy cats in comparison.
Traditions come (three apple trees in our forest) and Traditions go (ATP Tennis box seats) but family, friends and community remain our connection to a purpose.  We are grateful for each year of growth and our prayer is that your seeds planted today bear the first fruits of tomorrow.
         Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
                  "Anyone can count the seeds in an apple .... 
        but only God can count the number of apples in a seed."   
                                                                               Robert H. Schuller

               

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Political Holiday Dejavu

The political holiday games are again in action (see Dec 21,2009).  Today as I recovered from my self inflicted back ache, I decided to listen to Cspan Radio for the House debate and dislike over the Senate taking their toys and going home for Xmas.  So the blame game continues - everyone gets in front of a microphone to blame each other - point the finger and exert their retoric into threats. This time the threat is about taxes, unemployment, spending and doctor pay -  Dejavu!

The term bipartisan is used and misused by both sides.  The facts are, with the Tea Party Independents, there is no sense in using a word with "bi" in it - it should be tri-partisan support.   Getting three people to compromise and agree is something our system of government has not yet figured out. This is the new governance model that we will be living with for a while.

Meanwhile uncertainty continues.  We can  100% certain about one thing - until November 2012 there will be continuous uncertainty. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Heaven Board Entry #4

"When a person is born into the world, he may be likened to a piece of charcoal.  Charcoal is soft and amorphous, so when sunlight falls on it, nothing is reflected.  Then, in the crucible of time, the charcoal becomes subjected to such intense heat and pressure that it is transformed into a diamond 'in the rough.' The stone's natural inner design is determined and marked.  The diamond is then carefully cut with many facets to emerge into the precious and radiant jewel.  Then, when rays of sunlight fall upon it, the colors of the rainbow are reflected, creating a magnificent symphony of beauty and radiance."

"So it is with each person born into the material world.  We may feel 'pressed and cut' by life's experiences and by the choices we make.  Then, however, we are 'born' to greater understanding: the humility our soul has achieved begins to reflect the light of divinity.  Perhaps this could be one reason why the God of Unlimited Love created the crucible called earth!  "

"Building Heaven is up to each of us"

Words Taken from:  "Wisdom from World Religions - Pathways toward Heaven on Earth" by Sir John Templeton
Photo by davmirsim's photostream "Cool as Ice" set on  www.flickr.com "White Rainbow Diamond" uploaded 5/26/2009

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tangled Wire Mess

Usually this time of year is dealing with Xmas wires totally tangled in a mess.  There is something about wires that their default state is to completely tangle themselves requiring the patience of Job to get them straightened.  Jenna has taken on the Xmas lead manager role and now deals with the wires and challenges of partial lit strands of Xmas lights.  I have freed myself of the obsessive desire to untangle and fix the Xmas lights.

However, I received my dose of wire puzzles as I assisted the Direct TV installer with replacing Time Warner cable.  The spagetti stands of coax cable spread around with splitters and signal gain adapters created a complex web of a "whole house wire mess".  With old technology of coax concatenated A/B wire combined with a Time Warner complex installation of a "whole house loop" - this complex configuration had both the Direct TV installer and me completely confused.  That combined with wires in the attic, the crawl space and outside created a matching wire puzzle game. 

After the installation was complete, I decided to create a whole house wiring diagram to facilitate future upgrades or changes back to cable.  Without proper testing equipment and  because the cable signal was discontinued, it was a best guess. 

All of this reconfiguration reminded me of when Dad and I installed the first Direct TV satellite at the Brill house in 1991.  Back then it was $700 to buy and self install - but as a bleeding edge gadget guy - I just had to have it.  Now 20 years later the technology has changed from single signal and one TV/phone connection to multiple satellites, LNB, with SWM splitters to multiple receivers/TVs all connected through a broadband adapter.  And the cost to install was $19.99 ( the $300 normal cost was waived with a 2 yr contract).

I think the tangled wire mess is straightened out - for now.






 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fair or Fare

In our increasing volume of class warfare discussion the word "fair" is being used constantly.  How much should the 1% pay in taxes?  How much should the 99% pay in taxes?  How much should the "common worker/laborer" make, and what should an "executive" make?  This is really an argument about engineering the disparity of wealth.

The best definition of fair that I can recall is "Either you get to slice the pie how you want and I select the slice I want or visa vera". 

First lets use this method to determine taxes.  You pick the rate and income brackets you want and I will assign the rates to the various income brackets that I want.  If that were the way tax rates were decided then the outcome would be a flat tax - guaranteed.

Next how do we engineer the "fares" - what do we pay a worker for services rendered - or who gets to earn what in the pie.  This becomes a discussion of compassion and responsibility regarding  the disparity of wealth (which will always exist) in a capitalist society.

Here is where the word fair and my definition of fair breaks down.  Lets say that we want to engineer the exact difference between the lowest hourly worker (minimum wage) and the highest paid executive.  Again, if you pick what that difference is - then I should be able to pick which side of that I get paid.  Hence we would have flat incomes.  But that isn't how capitalism works.

So the compromise (which is also a definition of "Fair") is --- to allow a free floating exchange rate of difference between minimum wage and the highest paid executive (something the conservatives like and liberals dislike) we  establish  a progressive tax system to exist (something the liberals like and the conservatives dislike). 

What isn't fair is trying to re-engineer the disparity of wealth both ways - cut the pie and pick your slice.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Accenture Adventures

Last night  was the 11th reunion (unsanctioned) of old Cincinnati Accenture Alumni remembering their adventurous careers.  Something drives us all to return each year (at Arthurs) to smile, laugh and remember the adventures we all experienced together.  For me, it is the chance to see the faces of those that helped me, influenced me, and made a permanent mark on my personal path and the hope that I returned a small amount of what I received from them.

I thanked K.M when he remarked about some encouraging words I had made that had impacted his Accenture adventure.  E.L reminded me of the bleeding edge briefcase mobile phone  that I had used at the 1988 ATP Tennis match as I lamented about my technological regression in owning a obsolete cell phone without a data plan (while everyone else displayed their iphones).  R.F and I laughed about the personnel issues (e.g. hair style) and hidden rules of engagement.  And the stories go on and on.

This re-union has it's own culture - seeded by the shared values, attitudes, goals and practices of the historic growth of the A.S. (Administrative Services) Division of Arthur Andersen (that morphed into the MICD - Management Information Consulting Division; AC - Andersen Consulting; and finally after the breakup into Accenture).

Now there is no organizational goal, or mission/vision/values - just a culture of fun among aging adventurers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sir and Ma'am

I was greeted in church during the service with "Hello Sir" by a young woman.  Was it because my grey hair has made me into a Sir?  Or was it just the respectful title from someone younger to someone older? Or was it a person from the South steeped in the tradition of saying Sir and Ma'am?

Growing up in Louisiana, I remember addressing my parents with "Yes Sir, Yes Ma'am, No Sir and No Ma'am".  When you did not hear or understand the person the response was "Sir? or Ma'am?".   This was drilled into me by my 5th grade teacher in school when she informed me that if I said HUH one more time that I would be subject to writing "Yes Ma'am" 1000 times.

Sure enough, the next time I was called in class for participation, I said "HUH" or "What" - and bingo -  that weekend I filled 20 sheets of notebook paper with line by line cursive "Yes Ma'am" now permanently etched into my respectful memory.

Thank you,  Ma'am - to my 5th grade teacher.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rate Prison

I returned the DVR/HD Converter to Time Warner.  After my emails to Time Warner, the BBB, Ripoffreport.com, Yelp and the PUCO (Public Utility Commission of Ohio), I can now calm down and feel the freedom of being without Cable TV for a week until Direct TV comes out to install the satellite.

The short story is that Time Warner raised the price of the DVR/HD Converter Box by $1.99/mth.  My anger was less about the rate increase and more about the fact that the "Price Lock 2yr Guarantee" that I agreed to in July 2010, only applies to the Digital Content Plan - not equipment and I have no recourse with their indiscriminate  price increase - if I would cancel, I would be subject to an early termination fee - Hence I was in "Rate Prison".  They can do anything they want to the overall rate but I am locked in my own rate prison.

Those that know me, would now understand that I have no patience for this type of  a corporate bully tactic (the fine print of the "Other Terms and Agreements" section of the contract).  Regardless of the cancellation fee, I was determined to cancel.  I will decide later whether to settle the bill with Time Warner.

Clearly Cable Entertainment, options and prices has been the subject of many of my postings - 9/1/2009, 1/25/2010, 10/31/2010, 9/1/2011.  The $61/mth I was paying in 2009 (without DVR & HD) is now $75/mth (with the Price Lock Guarantee) and would be $80/mth without the Price Lock Guarantee.  That is a 31% increase in costs for the benefit of DVR & HD Channels with inflation.

Bundling services - cable, wireline phone, wireless, and internet (which I have not done to date) is now becoming a necessity to reduce the overall subscripton price.  So back to the Direct TV  I will go.  Since Direct TV is bundled with Cincinnati Bell, I should be able to get some economic benefit of bundling  my internet, wireline phone, and now satellite TV.  The last thing to go will be my wireless service with Verizon.  However I'm stuck in Verizon prison for 2 years (ending 10/14/2013) because of Ellen and Jenna's iphone data plans.

So instead of three rate prison cells - I can be in one very big rate prison cell.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankfully Connected

Thanksgiving this year we are in Cincinnati but the extended family  are all at their respective locations (New York City, Wichita, Pittsburgh, Akron, Naples, Washington DC, Colorado and so on) ... as the network of connections extends beyond the first node. 

It would be interesting to see the visual "Linkedin" degrees of separation that shows the various Thanksgiving celebrations in process today.  Maybe an iphone app will be created called Pilgrim Square (like foursquare), or Get Turkey (like GetGlue ) to virtually connect us all at the Thanksgiving meal.  Or we could all  post to Facebook or tweet the moment we pass around the Turkey platter.

My thoughts connect to prior Thanksgiving gatherings and virtually connect all those family members today (those living and those beyond).  No need for technology for this type of connection - it is instant, continuous, ubiquitous, and requires no hardware or software. 

What am I thankful for today -  all those human and spiritual networks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Peace Meal

Reviewing the history and beginnings of Thanksgiving, I pondered why Canada and the USA are the countries with designated days for Thanks.  Combining the harvest festivals of European and Native traditions seems to be the root. My childhood pictures of Thanksgiving included the Pilgrims and Indians sharing a meal together.

I have this theory that most of the worlds conflict is attributable to "grumpy tummies".  Whenever there is an argument brewing between family members, I always ask if someone is hungry.  It's funny how happy Jenna and Ellen become after a Sunday meal - singing songs in the back seat.  Like the Raffi song states:  All I really need is a song in my heart, food in my belly, love in my family.



At the root of poverty is hunger, and at the root of hunger is survival.  B.E. who is on the board of the Freestore/Foodbank told our Friday Men's Fellowship group that nearly one in four children in the USA are at risk of hunger or as he said "food insecure" (BreadfortheWorld).  I feel good that SVP Cincinnati last year chose Whole Again International  a faith based non-profit that provides summer lunches to kids at risk and yesterday we announced our re-investment for the second year.

This Thanksgiving at your meal - think about how food creates peace.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Invisible Moments of Impact

I like the visual of a small pebble creating the ripple in a still pond in describing the kind of impact one moment can create.  When I think back to the people who did something, wrote something, said something, encouraged something, or listened to something in my life that created impact, I think of how many ripples before them and the expanding ripples after them (and me) are yet to happen.

When your name is mentioned in a conversation; when "credit" is being given to you about something; when an action or deed is recognized;  all these moments are invisible to you - most even after you leave this world.

I think when you are in Heaven, you will suddenly see, hear and experience all those comments of others (a sort of Ebenezor Scrooge moment with the ghosts of time) and know all the impact moments.

What seems small and invisible to you today - will be infinite and known in eternity.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Donut Delight

After the Miami U. football game,  G.M dropped me off in the rendezvous parking lot close to midnight.  Dunkin Donuts caught my eye and I thought  Ellen needed a donut this morning before her critical science quiz (ignore that large portions of salivation had entered my mouth at 11:30pm).  Not one but six were purchased - 2 glazed, 2 pumpkin, 1 coconut, and 1 chocolate glaze. 

Doughnuts (as properly spelled) are an important staple in business decisions.  Morning meetings with donuts can make sure the people who had skipped breakfast do not take out their "grumpy tummies" on the issue or plans being made. 
I have the responsibility for the donut list for our Friday Morning Mens Fellowship group.  Even spiritual study can be most effective after a glazed doughnut. 

Mom tells her early entrepreneurial stories of selling door to door and delivering Spudnut (or was is Sputnik?) donuts in Kansas to suppliment the family income.   That makes me believe there may have been plenty of extra inventory for the kids to consume.

 In April 1952 a dozen Spudnut donuts retailed for $.50 per dozen.  My six Dunkin Donuts were $5.49   (that's a 5.32% Compounded Annual Growth Rate over nearly 60 years). But in any year the cost is worth the benefit of the Donut Delight.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Guilty Introvert

Which word produces positive of negative images - extrovert or introvert.  I would hazard to say that the general populace has a negative perception of introverts - meaning there is something wrong with being an introvert. 

Myers/Briggs has Introversion and Extraversion as the first letter in their personality test  (e.g. INTJ or ENTJ etc).  Talk to any Introvert (that is if they are willing to talk) and they will indicate they feel guilty about the number of friends, acquaintances they have.  Or that they should be interacting with others more.  Is this guilt just the conspiracy of extroverts putting pressure on introverts?  Or is it a self inflicted pressure inside the Introvert forced into a world that values extraversion?

My Myers/Brigg profile is and INTJ with a close call on the I and E.  I can get "energy" in solitude and in social settings.  What I have learned over time is to minimize any guilt of my inner need to recharge with introversion.  I don't measure number of friends, acquaintances, network contacts, Linkedin & Facebook friends etc. etc.

What's the right dose of I and E.  Remember moderation in all things :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Deeper Data

At last week's SVP Cincinnati Innovation and Inspiration night, the guest speaker said "The data helps us view things more deeply".  Spoken just like a statistician who loves to wallow in the data (you get the image). Lately I've been helping Jenna with her college statistics course - reminding myself of the good, the bad, and the ugly of data. 

I had to chuckle when we covered the lurking variable - also known as the confounding factor.  This is the beginning of understanding a false positive (Type I error).  The erroneous conclusion that a variable is dependent on (and in relationship with) an independent variable. 

Sound confounding?  Dive deeper.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Healthcare Bull Dozer

The Anthem letter arrived thanking me while saying my healthcare insurance premium will increase 17.4%.  Factoring last year's 8.6% increase that is a compound annual growth rate of 12.89% and for the last seven years the CAGR has been 6.5% (even after increasing the deductible and eliminating Jenna from our family plan). 

Fidelity does a study each year, predicting the Healthcare costs for retirees (e.g. the Medicare Gap costs of Healthcare).  I've been following that since 2002 when it was estimated at $160K and for 2010 it was $250K which is a 5.74% CAGR.  Meanwhile my Health Savings Account (established in 2003) has grown a measly 4.06%. 

So I am losing ground in the Healthcare cost "inflationary war".   The only "wins" I have (and I thank God for those) is the family health has been close to perfect during that period (which keeps the premiums down).

Healthcare Insurance is really a bankruptcy insurance policy since most major medical costs can't be afforded by the average person. That is why I prefer to have a high deductible policy with a Health Savings Account.

The trouble with understanding the finances of Healthcare is that it is a complex web, rule driven, constantly changing, rarely transparent, and ignored by the individual until it touches their life or a loved one's life. 

But it is like a bull dozer - slowly approaching each of us.  Some avoid it's impact, and others get hit. If you are hit, then the speed of impact seems to accelerate and overwhelm your ability to get out of the way to avoid it's destruction.  

How do you avoid a Healthcare Bull Dozer?  The best exercise is running faster than the Bull Dozer :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tempest in the Teapot

In today's Enquirer a scientist referred to the details in the challenged results of a controlled experiment as a "tempest in a teapot".  Obviously the context of the quote indicates the scientist's  has the opinion that the details argued about were "much to do about nothing".  But where did this term come from? 

A quick internet search gave credit to Cicero - "Excitabat fluctus in simpulo" - translated as "He was stirring up billows in a ladle". 

It is so easy to get a meeting "off track" by showing a slight inaccuracy in a detail (like a number or assumption). The result can be to discredit the entire analysis and conclude the meeting with an opposite conclusion from the recommended postulate.  Which is why we claim "the devil is in the details".

Either way - the image I had reading this idiom was one of those "singing" teapots my Grandma Wisner always had on her stove - whistling at decibels that required attention when the tempest inside was over heated.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Voter Policeman

Tuesday, November 8th,  I was deputized as a Poll Worker and spent 14 hours in District 13-D as the presiding Republican "Judge" (actually they are trying to get rid of the name of Judge and just call us managers).  Yes even though I call myself a Libertarian and an Indpendent, I am officially a registered Republican and therefore eligible to be a Republican Poll Worker for the Board of Elections.  Susan joined me (although it was her leadership that got me to do this) for the day with four other veteran Poll Workers who showed us the ropes.

I have a much greater appreciation for the effort we take to make elections as fair and smooth as possible.  Of course, I didn't use the word efficient - because if this was a company, there is significant room for re-engineering!!!   How a Country which leads in innovation and technology puts up with this highly manual and error prone system is an example of the "cobbler's children go barefoot". 

Any system will be subject to errors and abuse.  Why we use tradition and privacy concerns to scare us from utilizing technology is a mystery to me. 

But - with all my critical remarks, it was still a day to be proud.  When I saw a Mom and Dad proudly  (who voted at different times during the day) proudly smiling after they brought their 18 year old son to the polling location to vote for the first time, my heart was warmed -  This is a Great Country!  Let Freedom Ring!

Friday, November 4, 2011

User Manuals

I think there may be two types of people in this world.  Those that read User Manuals and those that don't.   I fall into the category of "those that don't".  In Donald Norman's book "The Design of Everyday Things", he believes the best designed things are those that are intuitive and require no user instructions.  An automobile is one of the most complicated and sophisticated pieces of machinery, yet how many of us have actually read the user manual? 

I just downloaded my LG EnV (yes I have a dinosaur phone) VX9900 user manual (thank goodness now you can find most users manuals on the internet).  I needed to review how to set up voice mail/messages.  However there were two systems to look at - the handset (i.e. hardware) and the Verizon prompts (i.e. software).  As simple as voice mail is there are 54 paths in the tree diagram with the ability to go four levels deep.


Jenna called me yesterday asking why her TV screen was showing red tint.  Was it the component plugs, the TV menu settings, the DVD progressive interlaced 720i setting ..... the list goes on and on.  And do you really want to spend the time to find the user manual, download it, read it in detail and troubleshoot the issue?  NO!!  I just want it to work.

What's the real answer.  "You are only as smart as the best technology guy in your network" is what I say.  So when it comes to friends - find the guy that reads the user manual.

And for life? - 2 Tim 3: 16-17

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Still Life

Several years ago, I read Charles Handy's book "Myself and Other Important Matters" and as preparation in the last Vistage meeting, I watched one of his video lectures.  I would define Handy as a Spiritual Capitalist - a great management guru with a heart.   I picked up his 2006 book "The New Philanthropists" and was intrigued by his teaming with his photographer wife as they profiled various Philanthropists' stories.

In addition to a black and white picture of the Philanthropist (I'm sure that was deliberate) there is a beaurtiful color photo on the adjoining page consisting of five objects and one flower.  Handy explains this as a "Still Life" - For which the person chooses five objects and one flower that would symbolize what was most important to them in their lives.  Arranged and photographed, this resulting "Still Life" would be pictorial representation of their life and values. At the end of the story there is an inventory of the objects with a brief description of the value or reason for importance.

Try this - it is not easy.  Like the Heaven Board - it is a project I may ponder and work on.  Once complete, I'll get K.C to photograph it.  Maybe that picture will be posted to my Heaven Board Entry #4.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Billions of Happiness

Today is the 7 Billion Person Day - the growth of our living population beyond 7 Billion.  October 12, 1999 was considered the 6 Billion Day.  In just the lifetime of Ellen (12 years) we have added a billion people (births net of deaths).  The US is about 300 million of this - 4.3% but has 22% of the World GDP (note GDP varies with population so the percentages have some dependency).

The current book I am reading is "Gross National Happiness" by Arthur C. Brooks.  I suspect that the US does not have 22% of the Worlds Gross National Happiness.  In fact, it is well documented and proved that income and wealth does not assure happiness.

 Most intriguing is Brook's chapter on whether Happiness is a Family Value.   He addresses the scientific data surrounding whether having children increases or decreases happiness for the parents.  Interestingly it is not a black and white answer - however the bottomline is that over time and across all populations the happiness cost benefit favors procreating.

I guess there is a reason we have 7 billion people - all in the pursuit of happiness.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Greed Antidote

Rev. Stover had a great sermon today about giving and I stayed awake the entire time :)   I really perked up when he said, "Generosity is the antidote for Greed". 

Greed is considered one the seven deadly sins (for those who want to see their batting average they are:Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy and Gluttony).  They are not ranked (as a Statistician would do) but one of the seven deadly sins is considered the most serious - and you'll have to look it up to find out.

Each deadly sin has it's opposite virtue (or as Rev. Stover said - An Antidote). Wrath - Patience; Greed - Charity; Sloth -Diligence; Pride - Humility; Lust - Chastity; Envy - Kindness; Gluttony - Temperance.

"Greed is Good" said Gordon Gekko in the  1987 movie Wall Street.  He was the guy we loved to hate.  The persona of Gordon Gekko, Hedge Fund Managers, and Fat Cat Bankers is what the Occupy Wall Street protestors are using as the foundation of their outcry in our cities right now. 

Many believe the famous Philanthropists were just evil capitalists (monopolists) who used the antidote of charity to "buy their souls" into Heaven.  So in that case was Greed turned into Good?

Measuring greed is judgmental.  It is as hard as answering the question -"How much is enough".  The answer depends on the individual and in our society the individual has the freedom to choose how much is enough. 

So find your personal level of antidote.  Change your Greed into someone elses Need.


PS:  Antidote - from the Greek word Antididonia meaning "given against" -  Hmmmmmm

Friday, October 28, 2011

Significant or Not

Last night I was helping Jenna with her Statistic course by studying the topic of regression analysis.  The text pointed to the fact that correlation does NOT mean cause and effect.  Of course it is vary tempting to draw conclusions from statistical data.   Coincidentally, I also stayed up to 1am watching Game Six of the Rangers vs Cardinals on TV - a game that will be remembered and maybe even compared to the  1975 World Series Game Six.

I remember taking a Wall Street Journal article into Dr. Bolger's "Theory of Statistics" class back in the mid 70's.  The punch line of the article was that for equally matched teams (and all other variables treated equally), the probability of World Series teams going seven games is less than 31.25%. But surprisingly, from 1952 to 1976 there had been 14 out of 25 (56%) of the World Series games go the distance.  The article ended with the statement :  The first televised World Series was in 1947 (and coincidentally went 7 games).

By 2002 the probability had dropped to 48%  (still more that 31.25% but is it significant?).  I remember Dr. Bolger immediately taking the article into our classroom at Miami(of Ohio) and using it as re-inforcement to what we were learning at the time - "what is considered a significant difference from an actual sample to the theoretical distribution.

So was TV the cause?  Who cares we all want significant (extra games and innings) entertainment.


PS - This is the first World Series since 2002 that has gone the distance.  See:  Inside Science

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Game Six

As I drove back and forth to Minneapolis to the Social Venture Partner International convention, I listened to "Game Six" by Mark Frost. Considered by ESPN as the number one "best" baseball game in history - on Oct. 21, 1975 the Cincinnati Reds played the Boston Red Socks leading the series 3-2.

I was watching the game in Swing Hall (Miami of Ohio) with Wayne Walder (the Cincinnati fanatic) and Andrew Chesley (the Boston fanatic) and a host of other college guys.  Famous for many reasons - number of relief pitchers; seesaw battle; defensive catchs and outs; and Carlton Fisk walk away homerun - the game was an epic battle of two historic teams steeped in baseball tradition. 

I decided to rewatch game 6 and 7 to re-experience the action.  While interesting, it was "flat".  Why?  Was it the non HD image and "pong" like computer graphics?  Was it the fact the outcome was known?  Was it I had just listened pitch by pitch to the 11 CD audio book?  Was it that I was not with the college guys of 1975?  Was it just the slow nature of the baseball game in today's fast pace world?  Was it the conflict of actual details vs what the mind had chosen to remember?

Recapturing the details of memories is like grasping for gnat in thin air- you think you've captured it briefly only to open your hand to see nothing.  Constant efforts are futile and frustrating. Yet the events surrounding the memory trigger the desire to re-experience every detail. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Best of the Best

A.M. and I were discussing financial planners/money managers and smiled when the term "best of the best" came up. 

What exactly is the best of the best? 

The statisticain in me kicks in.  Let's assume all our managers are sorted from low to high and we put them in "quartiles" (I wonder if they follow a normal distribution??) Call the top quartile (those guys above the Q3 point) "The Best".  So the best of the best is the "top quartile of the top quartile".  Right?

Well in statistics there is something called the Interquartile Range (IQR) which is the middle fifty (sounds suspiciously close to my age).  Any value outside of  [ Q3 + 1.5*(IQR) ]  is an outlier.

Hmmm - Out right lie or Out liar?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Measuring Love

In a world of obsessive measures and statistics, measuring emotions has eluded us (see Counting Feelings)  The brain scientists show how different snapses are fired during certain feelings and thoughts - but that is a very crude way to attempt to measure a feeling.  For example we know that the left part of the brain "glows" during happiness (Happiness by Richard Layard).

As a bit of humor, the Portfolio of Good Commitee of SVP Cincinnati came up with the concept of the Feel-o-meter (pronounced Fel o meter).  Since the quantitative data about our Non-Profit Investees was so challenging and "flat" we wanted a way to measure the heart and not just use the head. We handed out Hershey kisses and had each Partner "vote" their  ten kisses for the various Investees.



I think the reason you can't measure love is because it is infinite.  The ancient Greeks had various words for love, recognizing that one word was inadequate to describe something that is infinite in nature.  Try to describe how much you love someone.  Ellen and I would constantly try to out do each other saying - "I love you Elephants full"....  I love you a hundred Elephants full..... and so on.

And it's not about quantity.  Like a wine glass - when is it "full"?  Clearly not to the brim.  Our love is "full" when it is just right for the moment.  Something infinite that is just enough - for now.  Again that is an attempt to measure love for a person  for a moment in time.  Does it muliply and expand around others? 

In business - you get what you measure.  In love - you get what you mirror.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Discussion Closed

"Discussion Closed"  (Horse #8) came in 4th place by a neck in the 5th race at Keeneland on Saturday.  My ticket didn't cash.

It had been over 10 years since taking a day trip to Keenland and many memories of the visits came flooding back in - the sunburn of the 70's; the roadtrip with the guys in the 80's; and the Accenture all Ohio planning session of the 90's.

It was a wonderful sunny and crisp day in the beautiful countryside of Kentucky. It was punctuated that night with Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy at the Pleasant Hill location of Shaker Village.  The New England foliage may be heralded as the best fall visual but seeing the immaculate horse farms as we drove through Kentucky you couldn't ask for a better " Place or Show" (to use a horse racing term). 

Actually, I can't think of a more beautiful state at this time of year - Discussion Closed!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Foggy Rules

Vistage Group 1107 had much discussion about the economy today.  A.S. said there is continuing uncertainty  in his CEO groups --- one of his CEO members said "It's so foggy out there the birds are walking". 

My theory is that business players don't like to "play the game" when the rules are changing or unknown.  How would you like to be in the middle of half time for a football game when the referees and league officials announce there may be some rule changes  for the second half.   All rules are subject to change.  For example, touchdowns may be worth 5 points and field goals 4 points; first downs will be 15 yards from the line of scrimmage; off sides penalties 20 yards; etc.  The players stay in the locker room - not spending time on strategy (afterall how can they) - waiting for the announcement.

The stock market investors behave in the same way - what rule changes might come into effect (and when) for capital gains and dividends?   It is no wonder the volatility of the stock market reflects the fog of what investors think the companies (in the locker room) will do and what rules the politicians might change.

We risk our time, talent and treasure when we SEE a potential outcome.  When the uncertainty of outcomes has totally fogged any dream for the future, we shut our eyes and stay put.

And when will the sun rise?  When the rules and their timeline are known.







Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Statistical Power

So there is a reason the statisticians are the most powerful people in the world :)   Today 55 million Social Security recipients are receiving news about their "promotions" and pay increases effective in January 2012.  The CPI-W has increased 4.4% this year (Sept 2010 to Sept 2011) and 3.8% seasonally adjusted.

Who knows (and constructs) the details of the CPI-W?  THE STATISTICIANS!!!

Yes - the "real money" pay increase is determined by 28,000 weekly diaries (in 2007 and 2008) of 7000 families, and 60,000 quarterly diaries from an additional 7000 families which determine the weight of 200 item categories across eight major expenditure groups.  Statisticians collect prices monthly for 80,000 items that are "normalized" for quality and quantity by commodity specialists to compute the price for each of 200 items.  And is all this mathematically and statistically accurate?  I guess you have to trust statisticians like me :)

But we all know this meaningless index (based on the 1999 changed geometric mean) - which has been argued about within the statistical community continuously - is not your personal inflation.  Finding your personal inflation is as easy as looking at your monthly bills and comparing to last year.  Yet, 55 million people are pooled together into a "one size fits all" group and given a number.  (By the way - the 'W' stands for urban wage earners - you tell me why the politicians legislated that retires inflation index would be based on urban wage earners consumption patterns!)

And what exactly is the seasonally adjusted stuff?  Again just gulp and trust that the statisticians know what they are doing (even though it is 0.6% reduction). 

In the end, 55 million people will just accept the number because it was too hard to understand (and pass) that statistics course in school. 

Statisticians rule.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

You Lose

"Say less than you need to ....  People don't need to know everything - only what is important to them".  This was a great discussion during the breakout session on branding and storytelling at the SVPI conference over the weekend.  We were all challenged to come up with our six (yes only six words) story - in essence a laconic story line.

The word "laconic" entered my vocabulary when I was reading a book on vocabulary "Word Power made Easy" describing President Coolidge's laconic nature.  A young poet/journalist (Dorthy Parker) was sitting next to him at a banquet, so the story goes and turned to him mischievously.  "Mr. Coolidge", she said, "I've made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you". "YOU LOSE" Coolidge rejoined simply.

So what is my six word story?   Find lifelong friends at SVP Cincinnati.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Faithful Generosity

I just returned from my fourth Social Venture Partner International Conference - this year in Minneapolis/St. Paul Minn.  Each year I go to renew my energy in our local affiliate (SVP Cincinnati) and to learn more about philanthropy.  The keynote speaker/author of the book "Uncharitable" - Dan Pallotta gave one of the better keynote addresses on the misconstrued measure of non-profits based on fundraising and overhead costs.

But the session I really enjoyed was the combined presentation of speakers from AB Bernstein and  One Percent Club on "The Generous Life". Attempting to define and construct (financially) the Generous Life, it was full of challenges financially and spiritually.

"What do you get for your generosity?"  .......  "You'll never know until after you get it".

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Who to Manipulate

Dr. J.E. called me the other day and jokingly said "Garen, it's not who you know or what you know that counts - it's who you can manipulate that matters".  He added, "It is either consensual or coercive".

Manipulation is one of those words that is a dual edged sword and can cut either way - skillfully or underhandedly.  When we manipulate things we are considered skillful.  When we manipulate people are we considered devious?  If there is full transparency - is manipulation devious?

I loved the old book - "Looking out for Number One" by Robert J. Ringer.  In it (and his first book Winning through Intimidation), he describes the Three Type Theory.  Three types of people (in business) and the perimeters of selfishness. All three types universally want to get your "chips".

Type 1 - Acknowledges that he acts in his own self interest and openly tells you that fact and walks the talk.
Type 2 - Understands he acts in his own self interest BUT tries to make you believe otherwise.  "No really I'm doing this for you (or you and me too)".
Type 3 - Either doesn't understand or doesn't want to understand that he acts in his own self interest.  He feels sincere when he tries to make you believe he is thinking of you first.

And do all types manipulate other types?  Well the math in me tries to understand the 9 combinations of the types for a buyer/seller transaction.  (B1,S1); (B1,S2) etc.

I think the best transaction is between B1 and S1 (two type 1 guys).  By "best" - I mean efficient, transparent, simple, and neutral.   OOPS - that sounds like Herman Cain and the 9-9-9 plan :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Project Happiness

"Prod any happy person and you will find a project" Richard Layard says in in book "Happiness - Lessons from a New Science".  How we frame our mind has a profound effect on our happiness and setting goals and expectations are the starting point.  If our goals are too low - we are bored; and if too high we get frustrated.  It is the "Golden Median of Goals" (GMG) that is the happiness sweet spot.

In Kent Keith;s book "Jesus Did it Anyway - The Paradoxical Commandments for Christians" the eighth commandment is - What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight - BUILD ANYWAY.  Building is a code word for projects/goals.  Keith makes the point that even as you are achieving your goals they can be dismantled in an instant.  But that should not decrease your happiness.  Why?
Because the happiness and joy comes in the building - not the resulting goal or completion.

Susan has found this secret.  She always has projects that she is working on - personal, home, family, community etc.  She is never without a project backlog list  - which spills over into my to do's :)

So make sure your "to do" list is not too long and not too short - but just right.  And if you need more - just call Susan :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Laws of Unintended Consequenses

I listened to Jack Painter's debate on NPR about Ohio Issue 3.  It came to me that most of what was being debated (on both sides) was speculation about the unintended consequenses of the vote.  This is why I'm in favor of mostly "doing nothing" when it comes to legislation.  After over 200 years, the complexity of legislation has created logic paths that are filled with unintended consequenses. 

Case in point is our tax code (presently on my mind since I just completed 2010 taxes).  In the discussion last night with a tax accountant (at J.Z.'s 50th birthday party), I said working with Turbo Tax is like playing a game of "Whack a Mole".  If you move something in one area to reduce taxes, up pops the mole in another area to take it away.  Trying to understand why - and/or what the social engineering reason for that part of the tax code - is almost impossible.  Therefore our legislators could never have predicted the unintended consequenses of the interaction of the complex tax code.

This rule applies to business as well.  A company should be very cautious about the "incentives" they place into the employee compensation package.  Too often these are not well thought out and errant behaviour and unprofitable results occurs.  Environmental issues are the same and why great analysis is done on LCA (Life cycle analysis). 

So be a libertarian - vote for no votes (hence fewer laws).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Loyalty and Politics

Howard Wilkinson's  Enquirer article ["Politics is a game played by hardened, ruthless individuals"] about the movie "The Ides of March" mentions the quote by the Campaign Manager, Paul Zara - "There's only one thing I believe in this world..... And that is loyalty".  But Wilkinson makes the point that "Loyalty is a transferable commodity" [in Politics]. 

That is the problem with politics - we have come to expect that politicians change views, modify their own personal loyalties to causes based on the polls and the personal temptation to get elected regardless of the ethics.  

When I was deciding whether to pursue a PHd in Statistics, I talked at length to my professors about the pro's and con's of the academic world.  I wanted to enter this world because of my disdain for "corporate politics".  But my professors felt that concept (and criteria for entering the academic world) was misguided and informed me that they felt politics were greater in the academic world than in corporate America. 

So I wanted to find a company that minimized politics - a career at Accenture seemed to an excellent window to evaluate corporate politics at various companies.  My logic was that  I could work at various companies as a consultant and determine what company had the least  corporate politics.  In the end, I stayed at Accenture (long story there) because I found the politics at Accenture (and yes there was plenty of politics at Accenture) was lower than any of my clients.

So my loyalty remained at Accenture for 25 years - but it was always something I felt was transferable. :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Blazy, Blogation or BLAXES

It's been a while since the last blog.  Was it a Reverse Hawthorne Effect? (although using that term in this context is not really precise);  Or did I need a vacation? or was it just being lazy - Blogging lazy :)

It can't be "Bloggers Block", since I'm never at a loss for words or advice. 

Well I did take a slight Blogation to Kansas.  I spent time on a project with Dad creating the wall placques of Grandpa Well's cattle brand (the Rolling W); the outdoor branding project in the forest branding random trees; researching the Kansas Historical Society Brand Books searching for the official registration (a possible future blog entry)

But that's not all - I will blame the lack of blogging on TAXES - Yes once again it was tax time for the tax procrastinator.  I just finished 2010 taxes to be mailed today.  What a relief to have them finished and 2011 taxes estimated.

B.E. of FMBS (Friday Morning Bible Study) replied to my joy of being done with taxes that his 69 page return had just arrived  from his tax accountant.  We both agreed that while we both dreaded paying taxes that we should be thankful for the country we live in. We both got this from our parents.

 B.E. said his father always said that you shouldn't gripe about your taxes.  Mom always told me that she was grateful to pay the taxes for all the freedoms and priviledges we have.

So - I'm happy to pay the taxes I computed.  That doesn't stop me from working to find every way to minimize the taxes I pay - just that for what I pay, I'm thankful it is not any higher :)

Friday, September 23, 2011

New or Forgotten

"There is nothing new - except what is forgotten"  Rose Bertin

I found this quote in a book I am reading - "This Time is Different - Eight Centuries of Financial Folly" by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff.  As the stock market goes down, and the politicians play their sound byte games, it is interesting to hear the talking heads try to put cause and effect to the randomness of our emotional investing behavior and then speculate on whether we are in a recession; is inflation coming; etc

I liked Newt Gingrich's humourous  repeat of Ronald Regan's quote in the Republican debate last night -  "When your brother-in-law is unemployed it is a recession;  when you're unemployed it is a depression;when Jimmy Carter is unemployed it is a recovery".

It is so easy to forget how one felt Sept. and Oct. 2008 when the financial calamity came to the stock market's attention.  That is why I have investment journals to remember the emotions of that time.  Is it different today three years later.

Hmm.....  "There is nothing new - except what is forgotten."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gold Databytes

I hit the limit today (on data, patience and pocketbook).  My phone reads 2.101 GB (although with the hotspot plan I get an addtional 2GB).  And I hit my limit of what I am willing to pay for the gold databytes that travel through the air into my phone or computer.  I will be taking back the Motorola Droid Bionic and chalking this up to a lesson in speeds and data downloads. 

How a family of four can afford smartphones is a complete wonder to me.  In fact how businesses allow smartphone employee expenses is also a wonder to me.  I have spent literally a week analysing internet data speeds and costs and I have come to one conclusion -  too much money is being spent on internet access and usage.  And there are alot of people using free wi-fi access points to attempt to keep the internet access charges to a minimum.

Adding Ellen back in August to the cell phone monthly bill was a 2 yr and a minmum $1,200 decision (not including the Apps she will likely pay for over the two years).  The Droid experiment that is about to end would have been another $1,500 decision.  A quick way to commit yourself to a $3,000 "ball and chain" around your financial neck.  All for the gold of data flying through the sky - untethered by wires or wi-fi. 

Back in 1996 when I was consulting with telecommunication companies, we said in the future the average family would spend over $400/mth in telephone, cable, internet, and other content. 

That future is here and the number is now greater than $400/mth and growing. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

APP-titude

It's all about APPs - (short for Applications- for the technology dinosaurs out there). 

Today was a day of searching around for Apps for the smartphone.  New things to do with a phone. But once the novelty wears off and the demonstrations to other dumb phone users ceases (everyone who just gets a smart phone - like you R.M.  - is so enthused they want to show all the Apps they just discovered), I wonder if it just becomes a phone, text and email device?

So I discovered that Nielsen has been monitoring us. 

The 7th most used App (26%) is the "Adv. Task Killer Free".   Hmm -  we all want to kill tasks!

If you look carefully at the uses - it's all about social media (connecting by text vs voice), voyeurism (You Tube, Twitter, etc.), listening to music, directions (maps), and weather.

Nothing has changed - we want to find a cafe on a warm day - listen to music, sip on a drink with a friend and watch people walk by.  Except both people have their smartphones out with their eyes and fingers glued to the screen.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bionic Phones

Yesterday - in a weak moment (and spontaneous purchase decision), I removed my dinosaur telephony status and entered the world of smart phones - Yes I have a Motorola Droid Bionic with a Hot Spot Data plan. 

I have 14 days to "test" my satisfaction with it's use and should I return it (which is a possibility) there is a $35 restocking fee.  That is a small price to pay for a $1,500 spur of the moment decision ($299 for the phone with $50/mth for the next 24 months). 

While you can do an extreme amount of analysis (which I am prone to do) the best test will be actual use.  The next 10 days will be a good test. My test criteria are:

(1) Do I still need unlimited data capability? Sprint's (Grandfathered) 3G unlimited data plan at $60/mth)
(2) Is the Hot Spot as convenient and easy as a tethered Sprint USB device?
(3) Is the network (for data) of Verizon as good or better than Sprint's network at my office?
(4) Is there any quality issue (data or voice) with a simultaneous phone call with web surfing
(5) Are the speeds of 4G worth the price?
(6) Will I be happy with the ergonomics and quality of the voice handset?
(7) How is the battery life?
(8) Does it fit my need for easy scheduling and contact data?
(9) How well does it synchronize to my laptop tools?


Stay tuned for as series of blogs on the "smart world" of the new Bionic phone.

P.S.  Can smart people still have "dumb" phones?
         Can smart phones be used by "dumb" people?
        

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Auditing Bills

My computer background of system testing at Accenture was training and planted the seed of trying to understand the detail bills I receive from providers.  Today, I decided to look over the Verizon Wireless bill that I received this month.  It was a complicated month because of adding Ellen's iphone (which included a data plan) to the family plan. 

The first revelation was the percent we pay for taxes and surcharges (beyond the monthly plan quoted).  For my last two bill it averaged over 10%  (10.5% and 10.8%).  WOW - that caused me to go into "auditing action".  The 10% consists of Verizon surcharges and governmental taxes.  Of course I can't change sales tax (as much as I would like to) which is 6.5% - but what about the remaining 4%?

Verizon has their classic answer to this question on the web site with the ultimate out :
Please note that these are Verizon Wireless charges, not taxes that we are required  [I love that point "required " - required by whom] to collect from you. These charges, and what's included, are subject to change from time to time.
But where are these charges defined and how am I sure they are calculated correctly?   Off to my phone to call the Verizon Wireless Customer Service (which is a very long story and addendum blog).  After two reps and two supervisors, I could get no detail answer on how some of these charges are calculated.  There are no less than six of these charges - some per line, and some based on some percentage that varies by zipcode. 

What I did discover that was unique to this bill is that Ellen's monthly fee was being prorated (for the 22 days of the partial month) but the surcharges were not.  After intense discussion and me training the supervisors - we concluded that I deserved $0.63 credit (8 days of the monthly surcharge overbilled plus tax). 

So are there any benefits of spending time to audit to this level of detail?  This time it was only $0.63  (the refinance mortgage closing audit resolution ended up being $175) - but you never know unless you take the time to understand what you are really paying for. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Waiting in Line

Today the line was long waiting to pay for my coffee.  I could tell my irritation was building.  I could see the stressful feeling of the cashier.  Should I just leave in protest - go across the street to Starbucks, skip the morning coffee or wait with escalating impatience and irritation?

"Impatience is selfishness with time" so says Max Lucado in his book Max on Life.  Somehow time and the pressure of it leaving us tick by tick creates an intense feeling of not wanting to waste it.  However we have the ability to control every second - every tick tock.  There are plenty of alternative uses of the time while waiting in line -  a short meditation; observing others; recalling blessings;  reviewing the "to do" list; the list goes on and on.

Or just being less "selfish" about the time can release the stress and irritation.  Afterall as Mother always said - "You are just hurting yourself ......"    Letting time create pressure only shortens your life - and interesting paradox. 

The more selfish you are about your time - the less time you have.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sounds Around - or Surround

When P.H. (Vistage Bud) handed me the Phil Collin's concert DVDs, I asked the question "What's the better audio - Digital Dolby or DTS?"  I had been wondering this ever since I purchased and installed my Sony Home Theater (HT-IS1000) system several years ago.  I had just never gotten around to do the research. 

Now that I have moved the Sony KDS 50A2000 SDRX  TV downstairs (awaiting a new 3-D TV upstairs), I had to reconnect the 50 wires to my complicated HD-DVD; Playstation; VCR/DVD Combo; and Time Warner DVR set tops and Sony Surround Sound Headphones.  But what to use for sound when not using the headphones. Since I had an old Samsung DVD/Surround Sound System, I decided to use it downstairs. 

Hours of complicated troubleshooting - optical digital cables with three way switch; wireless rear speakers; menu settings on all set-top boxes  - it takes a virtual audio/video technician now days to configure the components together compatiably. 

Add to that the complication of wondering if HDMI cables with the different certifications were causing the lack of digital audio sound coming from the TV (after all the Best Buy Rep informed me that 3-D video requires HDMI 1.4 compatible cables).

I do enjoy all this complication.  It is like a puzzle - and attempting to get to the perfect audio environment.  It reminds me of the early days of talking to my Dad about stereophonic sound and 3 head recording.  It amazes me how we continue to strive to get recorded sounds to perfectly match what we hear naturally with our ears.

Sounds good!

P.S.  The anwser to Dolby vs DTS?
"In other words, you need a thoroughly refined home theater audio playback setup to bring out the subtle difference in sound quality between these two formats."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

G-G-G or W-W-W

This morning Susan and I discussed non-profits and 501(c) 3 organizations. She is on the Board (Treasurer) of Emmaus and is also acting as a part time CFO for the Civic Garden Center. We were discussing the necessity of tax returns (990's) and external audits. I mentioned that churches have different rules - but didn't know the specifics. In fact when I was the Chair of Finance at Armstrong Methodist we had no external audit.

I remarked that Susan is a great Board member on Emmaus - as a Board member and Treasurer the money increases vs decreases.  It reminds me of P.F. of SVP Cincinnati's quote to me about the role of a Board member - G-G-G   "Give, Get or Get Off".   When I mentioned this in a breakout session at the International Social Venture Partner Convention in Long Beach last year, the facilitator rebutted -  I prefer W-W-W for describing Board members - "Work, Wealth and Wisdom".

Lately I have come to some conclusions that non-profits have weak (VERY WEAK) boards.  Alan Proctor highlights this in his book "Linking Mission to Money".  He was an excellent speaker to our SVP Partner group and we need to have him come back to Cincinnati and speak again.       

So make sure one of the W's on your Board is not WEAK!!!! -  Otherwise use the G - Get them off!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

C-C-C

At the Vistage meeting today, A.S. mentioned in his "3 Year Plan" he wanted the three C's.  To stay Current, Curious and Carefrontational.

Staying Current (especially with technology) is not an easy task.  It requires plenty of reading, listening, networking, and interpersonal training.  An open mind, and energy to take on new tasks are two attributes that are needed.

Curiousity takes energy and time also.  The willingness to take risk outside your comfort zone.  I'm not suggesting that it is prying or meddlesome - rather I suggest that curiousity is being interested and willing to learn about an area that may not be in any of your present fields of interest.

Finally - Carefrontation is a word that I learned from A.S. when I first joined Vistage.  It was one of the principles we use in the interaction of our group.  The caring style of confronting an individual with feedback and observations.  Not advice - per se - but opinion based on the background and knowledge of what you know about the person. 

Today's message hit a C-chord with me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Heaven Board Entry #3

I'm predicting entry #3 on my heaven board 10 years from now. It will be the three apple trees that appeared in our backyard yesterday.  It required some "hounding" of Susan who felt that planting them was just creating a "deer magnet".  I assured her that with Fitch and Bella there would be two diligent sentries to protect the trees. 

Yet last night I put an extra layer of protection up by hanging bars of Irish Spring soap.  Add to that the chicken wire arount the trunk, and deer repellant mixture on the ground - it is almost a complete failsafe and redundant set of systems to keep the deer away. 

Why Heaven board #3?  Fruit trees remind me of many of the places I have lived.  The beauty of seeing them blossom in the spring. Eating apples from the tree in the fall.  And the magic number three will remind me now of Susan, Jenna and Ellen.

So it will be important to me that these trees grow long and prosper.  And I can now feel like Johnny Appleseed.


5/15/2017 Update:   Sadly the middle tree died in the Winter of 2016 but to keep with tradition, I added two new trees - after all Jenna and Paul getting married in May will be a new relationship mix in the Wisner Family Orchard.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Delighting the Customer

What a refreshing call to Cincinnati Bell Telephone.  When I called at 11:09 there were long wait times so I was given the option to be called back within 25 minutes - which I took.  At 12:14 (oops they had missed the window), I was called back only to be put on hold for about 45 seconds.  It is these little things that escalate the irritation of the customer. 

Elizabeth came on the phone asking me my full name and we began the discussion.  I told her that I felt $10 credit for three months was my expectation or that I would be considering discontinuing service.  She acknowledged that my file was full of repair notes and that this had been going on for quite a while (I mentioned to her since March 2010). 

Now here is how you turn irritation into "delight".  Elizabeth said she would be crediting my account $35 AND discounting my internet bill to $20/mth for the next year or until the service is completely fixed.  WOW!!  was my response.  I asked her how long she had worked at Cincinnati Bell - she said two years.  Not only am I impressed with her customer service style (listening, asking if service was meeting my expectations now, and acknowledgement of my issue), I am impressed with CBT's policy to let a 2 year rep make the customer service judgement and dollar authorization of $215 ($35 credit and $15/mth for 12 mths).

And it avoided the potential disconnect of the wireline.  Just last night Jenna and I were trying to convince Susan to eliminate our wireline service and use an extra Verizon wireless phone at home. Susan was wavering and if this call had not gone well, I would have eliminated all CBT service.

And how many people will hear this story-  as many that will listen or read a blog.  Well done Cincinnati Bell.


Addendum -  I forgot mention why I was so impressed with Elizabeth.  After my delight, I mentioned to Elizabeth that I was anxiously awaiting Fiberoptics to my house so I could get higher speeds and cable content. However that I knew because of the low density that my house would be the last in Cincinnati connected.  She responded that if I got a bunch of my neighbors together and communictated this to Cincinnati Bell that there might be a chance that the service would be come faster to my community.  WOW - not only delighting the customer by attempting to sell more Cincinnati Bell service and loyalty.  I'm double-ly impressed.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Buying Invisible Speed

September must be my pet peeve blogging month.  And note Pet Peeve blogs are long and boring! - Unless you have the same problem and gripe.

Today's gripe is about internet service (and may even be a duplicate blog see On Hell Hold 3/16/2010).  I currently have Cincinnati Bell DSL service (and have since 1996 as one of the first subscribers).  I have experienced the service in three locations and have many stories.  At my present location, there are line problems after a heavy rain and after troubleshooting on the phone for hours, I have found after the weather dries - the problem goes away.

Lately, however, the problem has been different with slow speeds and complete disconnects/outages - again only to remedy itself with time.  The basic problem with paying $35/mth for internet service is that we are "buying invisible speed".  I am paying for a certain speed limit but never know if I am going that fast.

Example:  Cincinnati Bell offers "speed limit" plans for "UP TO" download and upload bytes per second:    $25 for 769Kbps; $35 for 5Mbps; $40 for 10Mbps (Fioptics); $50 for 20Mbps; $60 for 30Mbps; $100 for 50Mbps; and $300 for 100Mbps.  I haven't listed the upload speeds but this could be important for certain users.

The up to provides an "out" for Cincinnati Bell and their slow speeds,   Yesterday as I awaited a technician to arrive (after wasting hours the night before on the phone with a rep),  I played with two sites to measure my speed - Zoomtown Speed Test  and Ping Test.   The results showed that I was crawling along  at 127Kbps and a Ping Test line quality of "D" - (8% Packet loss; 79ms Ping; 55ms Jitter). 

By the time the technician arrived (at last minute of the 12-4pm reservation window), my speeds were testing 4.36Mbps and a Ping Test line quality of "B" (0% Packet loss; 43ms Ping; 11ms Jitter).  As I described my frustration to the technician, he acknowledged the intermitent speed issue and said they have been working on it and may ultimately lay fiber to the switch to aleviate the variable quality of speed issue.  "Please bear with us and Thank you for the business."

Well - time is up.  I will call customer service and ask for a $10 rebate for 2-3 months.  And if that is not provided - I will switch to Time Warner.  Stay tuned for the result.



Thursday, September 1, 2011

Contracts vs Expectations

No matter how many times one get's burned on the fine print, it can happen again and again (no matter how old or how often you get scammed).   The triple witching hour hit last night as I spent too much time messing with contracts. 

First - the HUD settlement statement for the refinance loan that Susan and I are closing on today.
Second - the 2 year contract I entered into for Direct TV - and the resulting impact of cancelling the 2 yr Price Lock Guarantee with Time Warner.
Third - the 2 year agreement that I now have with Verizon after Ellen acquired her i-phone.

(1)  Guardian Saving Bank states on their web site that refinance costs are $250 (with some fine print about recording fees, credit score and LTV dependency).  My out of pocket - $740+!  There will be some $#%^&@ to pay at the closing today!

(2)  The Cable and Direct TV guys are in hot competition to steal and retain customers (the benefits of capitalism).  I price locked Time Warner in July 2010 for 2 years.  Tuesday the Direct TV salesperson in Sams Club convinced me to switch and lock into their 2 yr contract.  Trust me the common man's head would spin in the complexity of answering the question - did I really save any money and/or get better services.  I'm still trying to complete the analysis.

(3)  When I added Ellen to our Verizon plan with the i-phone, I established the time clock on a 2 yr agreement with all kinds of penalty clauses (that I really didn't read).  I'm sure not paying attention to the fine print on this one will "burn" me as I update my phone and when Jenna updates her phone.

The hard lessons of life are when you discover your expectations were unrealistic to what you signed - because you didn't spend the time to read the fine print.  Always be prepared for the customer service rep to say "Did you read what you signed when you ......."

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

You're not Covered

One of my pet peeves is the dislike of paying for insurance.  Part of this is that I have no confidence that why my incident occurs that my insurance policy will be covered.  How many of us have read carefully the policy? 

I just heard on NPR that only 40% of the damage done by hurricane Irene will be covered by insurance.  Many of the policies do not have flood insurance - and the damage is water flooding. Hmmmm - normally water comes with hurricanes - but my guess is that someone with a hurricane policy is getting the comment - "Did you read your policy carefully?" by the Insurance Agency.

My best story about this is when we were about to move to Hudson, Ohio and the house inspection that we had offered on revealed varmin damage (probably racoon) in the attic.   I called my Insurance Agency (Allstate at the time) to ask if my house would have been covered.  They said - yes but it depends on whether it was rodent, vermin or wildlife and it depended on the size of the vermin (example - Bear damage is covered) and whether the house was vacant for a long period of time.  What an out -  I would need pictures, DNA samples, and presence to prove if I was covered!!!!

So I diligently pay my insurance premium each year - expecting that I won't be covered.




Friday, August 26, 2011

Four Fortunes

For Ellen's 12th Birthday she picked P.F. Changs for the celebration dinner followed by a father/daughter excursion to the Creamery for desert.  It was a wonderful evening.  At the end of dinner the fortune cookies arrive on the plastic tray.  I've always wondered whether people jump to "pick their fortune" or defer to the last cookie of choice fortune.  This time I decided to wait for the "fortune of default".

Mine was:  "Take the advice of a faithful friend".   How appropriate - similar to the advice I received October 8, 2009 Faithful Friend

Advice is a dangerous thing - both asking for it and giving it.  I told K.C. the other day that I have found that giving advice doesn't do much good AND that even when someone asks for advice, it is better to not provide it.  Interestingly my fortune doesn't say - ask for the advice -- only take the advice. 

And the other three fortunes:
Susan - "Patience is the key to joy"
Jenna - "A sound mind and healthy body bring many happy events to your family"
Ellen - "You were born with a six sense and superb insight"

Four Fortunes - For Family

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Daniel Boone's Grave

K.C. and I had a road trip yesterday to Woodford Reserve with a sidebar visit to Frankfort, Ky. (on my request) to visit Daniel Boone's Grave.  A beautiful location in Frankfort Cemetery on the edge of  the hillside overlooking the Ky. river and the Capitol building in the distance.  Actually it is Daniel and Rebecca's final resting place. 

Just mentioning Daniel Boone creates an image of Fess Parker and the TV Series. Originally wanting the series to be Davy Crockett (after the wild success of the 1955 Disney Mini Series and later edited into a movie ), 20th Century Fox Television could not secure the rights and consequently designed the series around Daniel Boone but was able to get Fess Parker to play the lead.  So forever - 1960's kids will think Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone looked alike (see March 19. 2010 blog - Coonskin Hats).

K.C. snapped a photo of me by the grave - the only thing I lacked was my 1960 rifle and Coonskin Hat.  - oops I found them but who was Davy Crockett and who was Daniel Boone?


PS - Just got the proof that I was there :)


Sunday, August 21, 2011

i-payalot

Ellen and I went to the Verizon store to procure a phone for her.  It was her reward for trying out and making the tennis team.  As the rep approached the 5 (and only 5) phones available that require no data plan, Ellen's expresssion was evident -  these were all "loser phones".  As I began inquiring about the difference in the phones she immediately began perusing  the 20-30 different model "smartphones".

All of those smart phones REQUIRE the data plan (at $30/mth).  This is the cell phone's conspiracy to get each subscriber in a family to pay an extra $30/mth (since there are no family plans for internet access).  So it was a big decision for Ellen.  I told her I would only pay for what the "loser phone" plan and phone - she would have to anne up for any additional costs. 

It was a tough decision - but Ellen made her choice - the i-phone which really means i-payalot. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Toys for Boys

My office sits above Ted's Toys and today as I was returning with my coffee, there was a small boy, cupped hands peering into the window of Ted's Toys waiting it's opening at 10am.  I remember my own version of riding the bike from the house in Berwyn Pa. to the local toy store - money in hand awaiting a selection of a board game. 

Now the toys are all high tech and expensive.  In fact the desire for Boys to want Toys never goes away.  Several weekends ago R.M. and I decided to head out on Sunday morning to Best Buy.  Just like the boy today we got there too early - the store was not opened yet.  So off to Dicks Sporting Goods next door to check out those toys first.

The old adage "He who dies with the most toys wins" drives the college buddy "one upmanship" trying to "win" the toy accumulation game.


Some things never change - just the toys.