Monday, January 31, 2011

Eschew Obfuscation

A.S. (Visgage Bud) and I sat down for coffee. A.S. has become one of my favorite Techies that "have my back". You know, the experts that you find to ask questions about technology trends, gadgets and recent technology pet peeves.

As we were discussing web sites, A.S. asked me if I would like to see the underlying HTML code. Sure thing, as I looked at symbols that reminded me of programming in assembler code at Accenture. Next A.S. mentioned we could look directly at some embedded scripts but he suspected that there would be obfuscation.

WHAT??? That was a new word for me. Not encryption - just obfuscation. Learning a new word is always enlightening. It was out there all along - you just didn't know it. Suddenly you begin hearing it again and again, reading it (where previously you skipped over it) and even seeing it in unexpected places - maybe even doing it without knowing.

I have been told to eschew obfuscation in my Xmas letters and my blogging. Hmmm...... I'll consider it once I understand the phrase :)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Look in my Eyes

Just finished listening to P.H (my Vistage bud) give the sermon at Horizon for the 9:15 service. Based on Acts 3:1 and making the point when Peter said "Look at us" .. " Look straight at us"... "Look here" ..... "Look on us" ... depending on the translation you prefer.

P.H. said, "the eyes are the window to the heart" (see 9/9/10 Blog- Faces). Making eye contact is one indicator of connecting. I remember the difference when I started wearing contacts - I could no longer hide behind the glasses (see 5/3/10 Blog - Hiding Eyes). It was then, I began to train myself to look into people's eyes.

When you start doing this you discover the number of people who are hiding, looking down, feeling uncomfortable connecting the windows to the heart. You can see it in children sometimes. Ellen would hold her hand/arm in front of her eyes (doubled the protection) as she would look down to avoid the eye contact. As if to say, she was now invisible to the on looker's stare.

I like the translation that said "Look straight at us". Almost as if to say Look true from your heart at me ... not the facade, the real you connecting to the real me.

Postbloggingscript: 1/31/11 "Lift up your eyes and look about you ..... your heart will throb and swell with joy" Isaiah 60:4

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cost Meter

When the 900 gallon oil tank ran out a few weekends ago, I began the mundane task of collecting the historical data on our energy costs (electric, oil, and propane). Why - to figure out how to save energy with oil prices going up and up.

During my years at Accenture, one of my functional areas of expertise was cost accounting. Working with Newport steel, analyzing the volume, rate and mix variances was the practical delivery of those accounting courses I took at Miami.

So applying this dormant skill, I set about looking at all the historical variances in my utility costs. The key to measuring anything is what actions or changes does it cause in your behavior. Another added benefit is to validate any prior economic assumptions (e.g. was the extra investment in the insulation of our roof worth the benefit in lower energy costs).

The trouble with costs is they are difficult to measure. First - it is a detailed, mundane, ugly and time consuming task. Second- so many costs are indirect. Third - many costs are hidden (and in some cases on purpose).

Driving is a good example. R.M. always said that our behavior would change if on the car (like a taxi) there was a cost meter. Like the utility meter on the house (except calibrated in dollars), it would spin away for each trip. Maybe our behavior would start changing when we discovered the extra trip somewhere added another $8 for the day.

What if we all had a cost meter (like a watch) attached to our body. As we walk around the cost meter shows what we are spending. Sitting here at home the meter reads $20/day (electric, oil and propane only). It reads $250/day (I made that up) fully loaded (mortgage, telephone, maintenance accrual, cable, taxes, insurance etc.). But that is split between 3-4 people (and any guests). Hmmm .... just like cost accounting it becomes complicated.

Life is costly and complicated - but it is worth the price.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Lemon Laptop Lottery

It pays to go ahead a read these class action settlement letters (or in this case a post card). This one was a NVIDIA GPU settlement. If all goes correctly, I will be able to dump Jenna's lemon laptop computer (see blogs 9/4/09;6/24/10;7/22/10) and with this settlement they will send me a Compaq Presario CQ50.

First question was whether the CQ50 is a better machine than Jenna's HP Pavilion DV2310US. The problem is what model type (as there are 40 plus models)? For example the CQ50 - 140US doesn't have a built in camera - that is not good. Will it be new or refurbished? Also I added a gig of memory to Jenna's laptop - how does that work? So there is some risk in this claim - hence a lottery.

How long will this all take? They said 6-8 weeks from the deadline claim date March 14, 2011. Good thing - my extended warranty ends 6/09/11 and today when I turned it on funny sounds started occurring (as if it knows I'm dumping it).

So the pain of purchasing this 6/09/07 and sending it in for repairs no less than 4 times may finally come to an end. Was my extended warranty of $329.99 worth it? I guess it kept me from throwing this one away - so I can say that the warranty cost paid for the CQ50 that I hope to get.

Maybe now the lemon will become lemonade.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sounds like Blogging

Had lunch with P.H. (Vistage Bud) and mentioned my latest pet peeve about stock litigation.

"I just blogged about this" - but you don't have to read it. Come to my office and I will show you my file of litigation claims."

"Oh really", P.H. replied. I didn't know you had a blog. Who read's it?

"No one, I just do it for myself. It's therapeutic."

P.H. paused - "Garen it's not a blog unless people read it - otherwise it's a journal"

He has a point. But does a tree make a sound falling in the forest if no one is there to hear it?

Is there actually a blogger writing in the internet forest if no one is reading?

Legal Lethargy

Yesterday I received the envelope "Important Legal Documents Enclosed". I have a file three inches thick of these things - Securities Litigation notices. I used to diligently read them, find my old trade confirmations and statements, fill out the form completely, copy all the items, package them up and send them in. Now - based on the amount of the check I receive (sometimes 3-5 years later), I have typically just "given up".

This one takes the cake - it is Household Securities Litigation for stock purchased March 23, 2001 thru October 11, 2002. GIVE ME A BREAK - 10 years ago! Luckily, I have some old Schwab software that I still use - e.Schwab. I have never converted for the very reason of being able to search all my activity since March 25, 1987. For this litigation I don't apply as my trades were in 1996-1999.

The last litigation check I received was for Learnout & Hauspie on November 23, 2010 for $30.21. I'm not sure the $30.21 even covered my copying and postage costs. My activity on this one was from 1997 -2000 with losses in the thousands. I still have some actual certificates based on the litigation settlement and buy out of Kurzweil Applied Intelligence that I initially bought 3/8/1994. I still even own Nuance which today owns the original intellectual capital and Dragon Systems. Talk about being married to a high tech idea and never giving it up - ugh!

Those legal notices just keep coming and coming - later and later. Stay tuned - I just got a postcard for a NIVIDIA settlement for PC's purchased in 2006. This one may be worth the trouble.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Office Distractions

Today, I inherited Susan's Crystal Springs Water dispenser (among other office luxuries). I'm reminded of it constantly since my laptop faces it.

So to distract me from the monster water dispenser, I filled and turned on my old lamp/vertical fake fish aquarium with it's assorted plastic fish riding the up and down the multicolored bubbling distilled water.

Add to that the small table top fountain with actual falling water and choices of soothing sounds of rain forest, loons, summer night, thunder, sunrise and wind chimes. It is a virtual artificial aquatic experience - with water everywhere.

Oh, almost forgot the glass droplet temperature gauge suspended in water, the sand pendulum, and the ambientdevices for the stock market - the office gadgets are accumulating always available for a moment of distraction.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Now or Later

If not now - when? If not when - why not now?

For those that know me, I have this irritating quality of forcing a date on a calendar. I learned this at Accenture. The consultant's trick was to always open his day planner, palm pilot, or now Blackberry/iPhone at the end of the meeting. Like a gunslinger pulling his gun from the holster, suddenly everyone around the conference room table would pull out their appropriate scheduling tool.

I would say - "How about the week of ...... " Immediately someone would speak up - "I'm out that week". Someone else would offer -"What about ......." and before long like someone priming the pump the flow of scheduling discussion would continue until a common date was found.

Occasionally the "not now" or "not ever" person would attempt to sabotage by saying - "let's just send out a common email to get some available dates" or "I don't have my calendar with me" ....
My response was usually - "No problem - we will just pick a date now - it can always be changed later or canceled".

As S.M. (my Vistage colleague) said "Selling is a process Artfully done" and if "you don't have a date and a time", then you are not selling - you are dreaming.

So------ If not now - when? ......... and if not when, why not now?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Networking Triumph

The home is becoming an I.T. Data Center. Three old computers arrived (compliments of the Laurel House) and it was impossible for me to let them sit idle. So I embarked on the task of adding them to the home wired (and wireless) network.

"Plug and play" works about 50% of the time. Then it is "hunt and peck" in the chasm of complex network protocol world. How to connect a Netgear wireless router to a Dlink 4 port wired router?

The problem for me is the inability to "give it up". Afterall there was no NEED for three old computers to access the internet. But like a puzzle it was the challenge to succeed that drove me to waste the time to figure it out.

Once again the power of the internet comes into play. Just a simple question in the google search box - "how do you connect to different routers" was the ticket. Presto - some giving tech head had a 2007 post describing the "simple" things to do. I say simple -- you try it -- configuring the DLink router to and disabling the DHCP.

But just like the feeling one gets putting the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle in place, seeing the connection to the internet was a Rocky Balboa dance.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Synchronize your Watch

The cuckoo clock echoed it's tune this morning at 8:30am and I looked carefully at the microwave that displayed 8:24 and then to the large analog kitchen clock on the wall - about 8:26. Then I sat down at my computer to see 8:25 perfectly in sych with the DVR and phone next to my chair. Then I glanced down at my new analog watch (just received for my past birthday) and it says about 8:27.

I have never purchased one of those atomic clocks that is wireless synched to the great precise watch in the sky. How comforting it would be to have the "tie breaker" clock that could confidently correct all those other estimators (I've discovered even the computer, DVR and phones can be inaccurate even though they are not set manually).

I personally like the analog clock without the tick marks (like on my watch). And I could do without even having the seconds tick off the second hand (actually isn't it technically the third hand?).

Estimating what time it is can help smooth the rigid measures the perfectionist puts upon us at being prompt. The plus or minus 5 minute rule is a fair measure in a digital world of synchronized clocks.

"A man with one watch knows what time it is, a man with two watches is never sure"  Stephen Stigler Statistician

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Laurel House Shops - Stops

Saturday was the final day of sales for the Laurel House Shops. A chapter in Susan's book is finished and for the next two weeks she can work on the epilogue. It was a family affair as the entire family spent Sunday doing the final inventory. It will be an experience the girls will remember their entire lives (and good business experience).

It took only two weeks to sell off 70% of the inventory at 50% and 70% off. It will be interesting to see the final accounting tally of the 9 year investment. The number of customers feeling regret about the closing was astounding.

Timing is everything. Sales from 2007 had dropped almost 40% which is a significant amount of overhead to absorb --and the trend was not reversing - either due to the economy, other store liquidations, Nordstom's entry into Cincinnati, lower turns for big ticket items, or just the 30% of stale inventory that finally choked off the open to buy seasonal purchases. Susan timed this closing perfectly - post Xmas sales and pent up consumers desires to buy during the January winter blues (and the weather cooperated also).

Susan would make a great retailing consultant after the 9 years of the business cycles - she opened in the recession of 2001 and closed toward the end (I hope) of the worst recession in my lifetime.

And - I will always know I have a back up career as a retailing "stock boy" :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Counting Feelings

How happy or sad are you? Quantifying feelings is a dilemma for logical, numbers oriented people like me. If we could just measure some of this we could then begin the process of attempting to optimize (or minimize) the feeling.

Remember mood bracelet (or rings) that you could buy to indicate your mood. Based on your body chemistry, they change color based on the emotional state of the wearer. So when anger begins to boil - count to 10 and see if you can keep the ring glowing in the "contentment" color.

The Misery Index tried to simplify the combined economic feeling of unemployment and inflation. I tried to create the Worry Index (see blog 7/2/2010) There is a HPI - Happy Planet Index (guess which color is happy in the picture above). So there are many out there attempting to measure feelings (see blog "Quantify Suffering) 9/1/2010).

J.R. sent me an interesting BBC presentation on the health/wealth/life span has changed in 200 countries in the last 200 years - Hans Rosling This one is worth the 4 minutes to watch (especially the statisticians).

There is a problem with counting to much ---- "Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; Everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted." Albert Einstein

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Retailing Energy

I have spent the last four days working in Susan's store as it is being closed. I am amazed at the energy, employees and customers that has occurred. Everything in the store is marked down 50% and the parking lot has been full continuously for four days. My role has been "stock boy" and furniture delivery boy with help from Paul.

Each day the hours passed like minutes. Somehow the energy of others is contagious. I was rushing up and down stairs; directing employees; restocking shelves; re- merchandising items to eye level; asking Susan to price items; answering inquiries of customers; the list goes on and on.

I think human energy is transferable and multiplies. The excitement of customers looking for a "deal" can motivate employees... that motivation is felt by the customers and creates even more excitement in the shopping experience. The converse is also true - when the store is slow the employees get bored - time appears to drag on if not stop - the customers feel the lethargy and are not motivated to buy.

What we thought might take a month to close the store is likely to be complete in less than 7 business days - even the fixtures, the tissue. the bags and the boxes - literally everything will go.

I have several theories on the success of this store closing:

(1) The brand name is so good that viral marketing has created a "buzz".
(2) That pent up demand from a long recession of not buying was released when the Laurel House customers determined that the store would no longer be there - so buy now and save later since there would be no store of temptation available in the future.
(3) People returning to the store discovered so many items were already sold or missing (we did not require people who bought the fixtures (e.g. furniture/shelves) to wait until after the final day to pick up the furniture. Consequently there were SUV after SUV loading big ticket items outside the store front.
(4) After holiday sales (since some sales were diminished by snowy days)
(5) An immediate mark down to 50% (70% on Holiday goods) created momentum

It's easy to see why retailers get a "high"out of product sales and lose sight of the bottom-line. Thank goodness Susan has an accounting background as this will be one of the more profitable store closings on record.

Now that is what I call "good retailing energy" :)

Thursday, January 6, 2011


A.M. and I were talking over lunch after the Monday tennis challenge, and naturally a bit of philosophy slipped into the conversation. Using R.M.'s line - "Money is Freedom", A.M. added his point (from the song Me and Bobby McGee) - "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose" (Kris Kristofferson).

So therefore money is just another word for nothing left to lose. Hmmm.........

Wait ------ there is another line to go:

"Nothing ain't worth nothing but it's FREE"

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Going out of Business Sale

This was day two of the store closing of The Laurel House Shops - Susan's boutique store for women. Beginning with Ellabella in 2002, Susan built one of the premier upscale stores for women in Cincinnati. It has been an interesting journey and I can say that Susan can be applauded for her entrepreneurial retailing savvy.

I was fascinated today in watching the consumers frenzy of a store closing (everything including fixtures was marked down 50% or more). Two days of sales was almost equal to the entire December Xmas revenue. All this with no advertising other than an email to the customer list and a huge 5 foot by 10 foot sign. This speaks well of the brand identity that Susan built. The parking lot was full all day.

I think consumers lose perspective in the time pressure of -- will someone else snap up the item before me. It almost has the psychology of an auction. I was relegated to "stock boy", helping to load the furniture and bringing up new merchandise from the storage room in the basement. Women would wait anxiously as I would emerge from the stairway - wanting to be first to view (or pounce) the merchandise.

I will be curious on the 'declining balance" of sales during the liquidation. Clearly the first two days create the greatest "buzz" and the early "pick-ins" go to the early birds. At this rate of sales the store will be empty in a week.

I can see why the oriental rug dealers would go from town to town opening up a store front and then announcing a store closing - it creates energy and excitement from the consumer hoping to capitalize on a great deal. Unfortunately the deals were usually to the advantage of the dealer.

It just proves the point of the quote I heard - "The U.S. consumer knows the price of everything an the cost of nothing."

Postblog (1/28/11): The quote comes from Oscar Wilde's Lord Darlington ActIII --- "What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing"

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Verizon Surprises

Lately my blogs have been about "pet peeves". So here is another. Verizon (and other cell phone network providers) has made things so complicated to their advantage. The extra charges for data or 411 or anything can add up quickly and surprise the customer with a big bill. This leaves the customer in the unfortunate position of feeling "duped".

The memories linger. Jenna's first out of control calling as a teenager when the bill received was over $125 for her increased usage. Then the texting nightmare (pre unlimited text) when the bill was also a big surprise.

Anticipating something might go wrong with Serena's phone while in China, I checked usage. Sure enough some data charges, and text charges. International texts are 50 cents to send and 5 cents to receive. Serena dutifully knows not to use the phone while in China but what about people sending her texts - something she can't control. Sure enough there were 14 texts received.

I told the rep how being charged for received texts and not having the capability to turn this feature off was a typical way that Verizon can get more revenue without the customer being able to control usage and what they get charged! The only solution - to turn off all texts. No ability to turn off international only texts or those received.

I wonder how much revenue the phone companies get from user mistakes, or lack of knowledge of what they are doing and what the cost is. It is a business model that is inappropriate - getting charged for services without knowledge of the cost or even that a charge is being incurred. This happened to me once (I think I blogged about it also) when I accidentally signed up for a monthly text service of daily jokes.

This is one of those areas that I can expect infinite customer frustration. Cell phones are a necessity - yet I'm going to constantly fight with Verizon to get charged only for the service I want.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Goals & Resolutions

Something magic about a roll over to a New Year helps to create reflection and goal setting. Maybe the time snowed in or the comfort of getting through another year sets a proper "back drop".

As much as I criticize the process of Strategic Planning, I am a key believer that you achieve only what you vision. Without vision - there is boredom. The process of setting goals has been studied, over methodolgied (a new word), and abused by consultants. How an individual does it is as unique as their fingerprints.

Vistage has provided me the forum to think about goals for the last seven years. Looking back at what I wrote seven years ago is amusing, at best. I can choose to see it with regrets (for those goals missed or ignored), or with knowledge (for the wisdom to ignore or change).

So what goal do I have today? To always write down annual goals :)

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Something is fun for a mathematician when numbers sequence or repeat - so this is a day to celebrate. Since technically it is 01/01/11 it is not quite as interesting as what is coming in November 11/11/11. And even that isn't precise since it is 11/11/2011 - and not nearly as visually appealing.

So what can we do with 1/1/11? Well as any good mathematician would begin to play with the numbers.

One is an interesting number - referred to as the identity number since when multiplied you get the number attempting to change. That can either be fun or frustrating.

One is it's own factorial and square,cube, ..... So maybe we should write 1/1/11 as 1**4 (1 to the fourth power).

Or let's literally do the division 1/1/11.

(1/1)/11 = .0909090909........ Or 1/(1/11)= 1/.09090909... = 11

How about 1-1-11? That is either a minus 11 or a positive 11 (depending on the order).

Are you "one-ed" out? Just wait another 11 years, 1 month, and 1 day and then it will be 2/2/22.