Sunday, February 27, 2011

Forest Grooming

Something about a 60 degree day in February causes the need to get outside and do something. Two things guys love to do - dig or cut. So today was cut - get out the chainsaw and groom the forest - get rid of the honeysuckle bush.

Naturally there is the 30 -45 minute prep to get the chainsaw working again. But once the chain was tightened, with gas and oil things happened fast. Down came 50 or more bushes and that only made a slight dent in the forest behind the house.

Next I will need to get out there with a herbicide (Roundup) and attack the stumps or all that cutting will be for naught.

We have this great feeling when we try to "tame" nature. Make it follow our direction.

Unfortunately we are constantly reminded who is really in control. As the old commercial says "Don't mess with Mother Nature".

Saturday, February 26, 2011

See the Light

Get ready to smile - Yes I really did it - I went around the house counting all the light bulbs in the house (and outdoor also). TWO HUNDRED FORTY SIX light bulbs!!! No wonder GE is the only company that still exists since the history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Also remember that they have been encouraging (with Governmental help) replacing all those bulbs with the new florescent type.

Susan knows my pet peeve about turning out the dang lights when you leave the house - and I'm trying to teach my girls that habit also. So I also went around and counted the bulbs that Susan insists be on continuously 24/7. Her guess was seven ---- the real answer 22 almost 10% of our bulbs!!!!

Add to that the appliances that silently chug away consuming KWH without your knowledge - Electric Water Heater, Fountain Pump, TV's, Computers, Hot Water Dispensers, Hot Water Circulators, Refrigerators, Wine Cabinet, Clocks, Phones, Battery Chargers, Modems, Night lights, ..... I'm sure I missed a few. Another reason to invest in Duke Energy.

Dad said the other day - "There was a time I worried about all this" when we talked about the thermostat settings and comfort in the house. " Now, I don't really pay that much attention to those things ".

Maybe that is a way of "Seeing the Light" :)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pay by the Drink

"Pay by the Drink" was the business model vernacular used in discussing pricing strategies. Susan always hates when I throw out one of those common business terms in normal conversation expecting everyone to automatically understand the point I am making.

Should you price your product "by the drink" or "all you can eat". As a consumer how do you evaluate the two before buying? Do you sit down and forecast usage and compute the unit cost?

My internet access/data over wireless is grandfathered in an "all you can eat" model; Ellen's itouch apps are "by the drink". Netflix creates an entire menu of subscription choices but either way you "use it or lose it". Cell phone pricing models make it critical that you don't use more than you forecast - the "I'll surprise you sometime with an outrageous bill" scenario.

Those businesses that choose "pay by the drink" hope you will not pay attention to the low cost and consume large volumes - probably more than you need (sounds like KWH). Those businesses that choose "all you can eat" hope for long periods of non-use to subsidize those consumers that abuse the servings.

Other businesses worry less about the pricing model and attempt to make the billing as confusing as possible to prevent the consumer from determining what they have spent on the product or service in the first place (just look at any Utility bill).

In all models - disguising the cost helps minimize the consumer price/value analysis.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Alternate Paths

"Sliding Doors" is a movie about two different universes (or life paths) of a person who squeezes just in time through a subway door and the same person who misses the subway. How would your life be different if you changed one of your decisions completely today (something you control) or if a seemingly random circumstance (like a subway door) obstructed a path you intended to take?

We can all point to a "moment in time" that initiated a very long path in our lives. One of mine occurred when having lunch with Dave Luvison- Head Resident of Swing Hall working on his MBA at Miami - who had just finished an interview with the Managing Partner of the Administrative Services Division of Arthur Andersen - Cincinnati (Bob Wilson). Dave casually mentioned there were still open interview spots for the afternoon (a rarity given the competitive days of 1976 for employment).

I was "bending the system" by interviewing for full time jobs with the intention of asking for summer employment half way through the interview. When Bob Wilson discovered this (after a tiring day of interviewing) he rolled his eyes back and sighed. "We have no summer employment available - BUT he would be interested in talking to me again next year after I complete my Masters Degree".

That path started me into a summer job in 1976 at Arthur Andersen (yes, that meeting got Bob thinking about establishing summer internships in the Cincinnati office) and a great career path at Accenture.

If I had not had lunch with Dave Luvison that afternoon in 1976, and met Bob Wilson - what alternate path would I be on today?

Monday, February 21, 2011

How do I look?

It is a waste of time spending too much time in front of a mirror. First of all, without a mirror you would have no clue what you look like (aside from other reflection devices). Second, my appearance is what other people have to deal with (as I with theirs) so consequently spending too much time in angst about one's appearance is only a self inflicted wound. I look long enough just to be sure there is nothing that I can't control/adjust to avoid embarrassment (you get the picture - XYZ "is your zipper up?).

So when I went to Best Buy to acquire the Logitech HD Webcam C510 camera for $39.99 - what purpose would it really serve? Why do I care if other people see me in HD (well actually it is only 720p) while Skyping? It follows my argument about a mirror.

Now if the purpose is to be able to record in HD other scenes to publish in a blog or Utube - that would be a different story. But would I really be doing that? NOT.

Needless to say, I will be returning the Webcam.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Three Blog Day

A three blog day!!! - or a three dog night :) - Mama told me not to ..... :)

I couldn't resist researching Randy Newman's 2002 Oscar/Academy Award Acceptance speech for the song "If I didn't Have You" from the movie Monsters Inc. after being previously nominated in 10 different years - 16 times (and yes he has since been nominated 3 more times and is awaiting a decision again in 2011):

"Thank you. I don't want your pity. I want to thank first -- all of the music branch for giving me so many chances to be humiliated over the years. I have nothing [no speech]. I'm absolutely astounded I have won FOR THIS (my emphasis) though the picture deserves recognition. Walking out here and having someone this beautiful [presenter Jennifer Lopez ] give me an award, I'll never get to heaven but that's as close as you get I think. Thanks very much, I'm thrilled."

I guess he wouldn't have nothing ........ if he didn't have you.

Randy Newman - He gives us all his love

Cold Turkey

Watching & listening to Randy Newman in Middletown, OH last night was a treat! As we were driving up M.M. asked why I was such a fan?

In 1971 I watched the satirical comedy Cold Turkey in the theater (Randy Newman's first film sound track) and heard the song "He gives us all his Love". Sorry - no DVD for the movie - only VHS. I awaited the credits to find out who composed the song and discovered Randy Newman.

Since that time I have grown to love his songs - film music, studio recordings and odds and ends. Needless to say Susan doesn't share my view since the music can be discordant, mordant and at times vulgar/offensive (in a satirical, sarcastic way).

Jenna and Ellen had to put up with hearing the PG-13 pieces including Jenna's favorite - "Short People".

You can tell his songs play in my minds memory (see 12/17/2010 "It's Home" blog entry) - or (2/3/2010 "Big Hat, No Cattle"); (Oct 8, 2009 "Faithful Friend").

One of my favorite albums of his is the 1993 musical "Faust" which would be very offensive to the dogmatic religious folks hearing lyrics of heresy in Newman's apparent satire and "humorous cynicism". But with a cast of James Taylor, Don Henley (Eagles), Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, and Bonnie Raitt, how could anyone not listen at least once.

If I had to pick one song of his that is the best - I just couldn't and wouldn't.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Analysis Paralysis

I tend to like numbers - naturally I've got a Masters in Statistics. SO - when is my data number crunching really just analysis/paralysis? The answer - when a timely decision is in stalemate and the number crunching is in an infinite loop.

My computer is full of spreadsheets of analysis - Roth Conversion; Utility Deregulation analysis; break even calculations; HSA vs Lower Deductible; Refinance; Inflation; Investment Rates of Return; the list goes on and on.

All these numbers were used to give me confidence in an "optimal" decision. Really that feeling is just a comfortable way to "put the decision behind me". It is massachistic to constantly re-think logic already decided upon - but it is a trait that I can get caught up in without the comfort of saying -"I already did that in a spreadsheet".

Luckily, when I am tempted to find the old spreadsheet - I can't find it among the 8 computers in the household with a combined 575 Gig (not including the backup hard drives).

But it is somewhere - so I can be at peace :)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Computer Graveyard

I just can't find a way to "deep six" my old computers. I finally inventoried the computers purchased since 2002 (some for Susan's business). Three desktops and five (yes 5) laptops.

Type-Memory- Hard Drive-- Processor--Oper. Sys
LH POS Desktop --2 Gig --75 Gig --Pentium 4 2.4Ghz --XP
LH DellGX260-- 1 Gig-- 75 Gig --Pentium 4 2.0Ghz --XP
HP Pavilion 170 --1 Gig-- 75 Gig-- Pentium 4 2.4 Ghz-- XP
Dell Laptop SDW -- 1.25 Gig -- 80 Gig-- Pentium Mobile 1.4 Ghz-- XP
Presario 1500 Lap --.512 Gig --40 Gig --Pentium 4 2.2Ghz --XP
Presario 2100 --.512 Gig-- 40 Gig --AMD MobileXP2500 1.86Ghz-- XP
Acer 5315 --2 Gig--40 Gig--Intel Celeron 530 1.73Ghz -- Vista (32)
Presario 2310US --2 Gig --150 Gig -- AMD Turion 64X2 1.6 Ghz-- Vista (32)

So I asked E.W. what to do with all these old computers? "GET RID OF THEM" was his response. "You'll spend more time trying to get them to work than it's worth".

Well Ed - you are correct. I just searched on the word computer in my brief history of blogging and the history (which never lies) is true - too much wasted time trying to get them to work.

All this was precipitated by my recent purchase of a 720p computer camera for near HD quality Skype-ing. It requires 2Gig and 2.5Ghz processor - ugh! Only one computer even comes close and in my experience you need more that what the box states as minimum.

Will I put these computers in the graveyard? Stay tuned :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I am lucky to be able to take Ellen to the school bus each morning. We have between 3-8 minutes of time together in the car as we await the arrival of the yellow school transportation. As Ellen exits the car, I get a brief look around and wave goodbye - very precious. I wave back.

Then the bus driver gives me the hi and bye wave as the door closes and I reciprocate.

What kind of wave do you have? Is it the salute snap? Shaking side to side? The continuous up and down beater? The back of hand royalty waft? Flexing fingers puppet? Single hand stationary? The Jedi mind trick?

A wave is the equivalent of a long distance handshake. In some cases a one-to-one transaction but in many cases a one to many (as in politics). Either way it attempts a visual communication connection.

And the most important wave of all - the "I can see you in the rear view mirror wave thank you" for letting me in your lane of traffic.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Changing Your Mind

I just read a quote from a noted Economist - "When facts change, I change my mind - what do you do sir? -- John Maynard Keynes. Politicians are tarred and feathered by the opposition when they change votes, or "flip/flop". Yet we are all faced with challenging decisions that requires action - sometimes with limited information or facts.

So could changing your mind a sign of strength of character? A way of saying "I was wrong, you were right. Or in some circumstances saying the hardest six words in the English language: "I'm sorry, please forgive me".

Staying open to new information and facts is the critical input to the ability to change your viewpoint. For this reason I want to listen to the opposite points of view; play out those scenarios; and read their opinions. Closing out this information creates a darkness - a censoring of freedom -- your freedom from always being right - your freedom to change your mind.

Monday, February 14, 2011


It is always interesting to experience the customer service of different companies when you have chosen to disconnect or terminate service. After all, why should they want to give stellar service when you are no longer going to be a loyal customer. The game becomes a billing/credit fight. Their leverage is billing you and claiming you are a dead-beat that won't pay while threatening to ruin your credit rating - your leverage is ...... well nothing, other than I won't pay you for even the service that I was originally responsible for.

I have found in business the two most important things to consider prior to the first relationship transaction is to understand the initial terms but more importantly the termination process. The internet scams of sign-up with no obligation if you cancel within 30 days is a red flag that tells you it will take more than 30 days for you to cancel and great personal effort to figure out how to cancel.

The lesson is--- be careful what business partners you connect with because there will always be a time (even in the best of circumstances) that you will disconnect.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

When I Grow Up

G.M (one of my Accenture Partners) would always describe his career path as: "I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up". Interestingly, my career path was similar. I always enjoyed being the Renaissance consultant - hopping from industry to industry using technology as the common thread for my expertise. It was in the '90's we had to pick an industry to specialize in.

Jenna has almost completed her first quarter at U.C. (transferring there hoping to get accepted into the Nursing program). Her first year at Miami was filled with uncertainty on what career path to select. She has come clarity now but more refined decisions will be required down the road.

I network with many individuals during their career changes and find each path very interesting - a story of purpose - a story of "growing up". It is so interesting when you meet someone to hear their path in career development and goal setting in moving to the next position.

And in the end we are all like G.M. wondering what we will be when we grow up.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Activist of One

Last night was an interesting "Movie Night" for SVP Cincinnati. Our first quarterly educational event was viewing excerpts from The New Metropolis - a PBS documentary about urban sprawl. With the diversity of our Partnership (and their guests) the discussion started moving to policy and politics.

Big and complex society problems are the most complicated and naturally are seen from various points of reference. In fact the problems exist because predicting human individual behavior is impossible and combining that behavior into social networks and communities adds to the impossibility.

What struck me most in the movie was the one activist - who passionately said "I'm not going to sit idle - I'm going to DO SOMETHING about this". Note the word activist - IT MEANS ACTION. She then began to have home meetings and solicited help from others. Then ...... (you'll have to watch the rest to see what happened).

So we all sat a watched passively, we discussed politely, and then drove home. Nothing will happen until one person says - "I'm going to DO SOMETHING about this". It starts with one - or as Dr. J. E. said to me the other day - "An Activist of One"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Irreplaceable Trust

Vistage group 1107 was full of great one-liners today. P.H. said "Trust is irreplaceable" in the context of deciding whether to accept referral revenue. It made me think about the challenge of trust. Is trust quantifiable? Or is it "on/off"? Can you trust someone alittle?

Then looking over at my bookself in my office - my thoughts returned to Stephen R. Covey's 2006 book "The Speed of Trust". Not his best book, it still had a great deal of content to ponder and is full of great quotes about trust. The economist in me enjoyed his simple formula on the Economics of Trust.

When Trust goes down, speed will go down and costs will go up. When Trust goes up Speed goes up and Costs go down. So there is economic incentive to build as much trust as possible. But that doesn't answer the question "Is Trust irreplaceable"?

Yes - without forgiveness I agree that trust is irreplaceable. Maybe P.H. was using the comment as a dogma to bring emphasis on the difficult (and for some impossible) task of forgiving and starting a new "Trust" meter to rebuild upon.

Or maybe the point is there is never a point that Trust can be 100%. That "Irreplaceable Trust" is impossible to achieve - it will always be the human condition to have doubts.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Location Location Location

Real Estate conversations have dominated the sidebar discussion I have been having with folks. While in Charlestown, I walked through a house in 'short sale", and several of my friends have kids who are beginning to buy houses. The housing bubble and today's foreclosure flood has reframed the historical rules of thumb for buying houses.

I refuse to give up on the rules of real estate that I grew up on:

(1) Buy based on Location, Location, Location.
(2) Buy more than you think you can afford (it is a great forced savings plan)
(3) Put the least down (without PMI) and finance fixed for 30 years (inflation always exists even if it is only 3%)
(4) Don't think of a home as an investment (this is why there was a housing bubble)
(5) Never buy a house when, as you are walking through it, you begin to say "We can change that.... we can modify this ......
(6) Never participate in a multiple bid situation
(7) Use the inspection to convince yourself not to buy - which will make you a better negotiator for the final price
(8) Remember it is just a house - not a home. It becomes a home after you move in.

Finally - the last rule comes with a story. After great angst and effort when Susan and I were shopping for a new home (notice the word home) to live in just after Jenna was born, we offered on the Brill house (way outside our comfort zone financially). When I showed the inspection report to my Uncle Maurice (who was an agent as a hobby - and an outspoken Air Force military man), he looked it over and informed me the Brill house had aluminum wiring.

He then added, "There are two kinds of houses with aluminum wiring - those that have burned down ....... and those that are going to burn down." - Rule #9

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Nellie's Sense

It was time to say goodbye to Nellie - only this time it was final. Last Thursday morning Nellie's behavior after her second stroke was her way of saying it was time. I carried her into the family room but that was little comfort in her confused state of mind. Yet I had my time to say goodbye to her before I set off. It would be my last time to see her, touch her, smell her, hear her - I knew it and she instinctively knew it.

It was Susan that had the task of closing the final chapter (I guess I'm the one for cats, she's the one for dogs). It's tough to lose a best friend. Nellie was always there each morning to see me off and the first to greet me as I arrived. A daily dose of unconditional love.

Today it hit the hardest - no longer distracted by being out of town and starting back up the routine again. Suddenly this morning there was a void - a missing part - somehow it didn't make sense.

We take for granted the physical presence and the luxury of the five senses that connect us to life each day - almost infinitely available in the present.

When removed, we yearn for another moment of that physical sense - now available only in the virtual past tense.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Giving Playing Field

The best relationships are those on " a level playing field" - where there is equal power on both sides. It's not about "I win and you lose" that makes a successful relationship (especially in negotiations). I think this same principle applies to giving.

This concept hit me like a truck when I asked J.P. if he had ever asked the person he was coaching what value that person was giving him as the student. Too often in hierarchical relationships (e.g. teacher and student) it appears there is a power mis-match. This can also be the perception in a giving relationship - the giver is "more powerful" than the recipient.

NOT SO! The recipient is providing a gift to the giver - the chance to help - to serve.

The word charity can have the connotation of weakness, dependency, powerless, etc. I think instead it is humility that is of critical importance on both sides of the giving equation.

In the world of humility it is always a level playing field - more importantly a "giving playing field".

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Weekend

After the Wilmington NC monsoon stopped, it was sunny, clear 54F. Perfect day for golf tee time at 11:48 - home by 4:14 and ready for food and the Superbowl. It's become a tradition (after about the fourth time Rich and I figured out we were always getting together during the Superbowl) and I think we have missed only one in the last 10 years.

When Rich lived in Naperville, Ill. we established that whom ever had the largest screen television would host. Attempting to stack the deck, I bought the Dell projector for my movie room in 2003. There would be no way Rich could beat that size --- 7ft by 10ft with HD. That is when Rich said "I am moving to Wilmington NC and will have 60 degree weather and a beach". BINGO - he trumped me and for seven years I've been coming to Wilmington.

But I still have the bragging rights for the biggest screen :) that sits idle on Superbowl weekend.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Bet or Debt

The financial argument this weekend was about debt. Is debt healthy or not Of course this discussion morphed into politics and the state of debt in the USA. I contend that debt is a financial instrument of growth - it accelerates growth - when used for assets and leverage.

With debt comes risk - and risk is the currency of return. So greater returns can be achieved with debt. The key question is what is the proper amount of debt? This is a function of how much risk an individual wishes to take on. Clearly the maximum amount of debt someone can accept is when the income equals the interest payments. Few people can sleep at night with this much debt.

Factors affecting debt include the interest rate; expected payoff period; inflation; credit worthiness (e.g. stability of cash flows for payment); amount of equity/assets underlying the debt; history of credit; and others.

Debt to Equity ratio is an important financial measure in evaluating investments into companies. Likewise this can be applied personally and for entire countries. I just looked at the public debt as a percentage of GDP - 66%.

I'm happy with USA debt at this level when used to build our assets - intellectual or physical. It becomes an engine of growth. Since close to 30% of the public debt is owed to ourselves, it gives me confidence we are making a good bet.

I'll bet on debt.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Stuffed Collection

Happy New Year (Chinese that is). This is a special New Year as it is the year of the Rabbit - Ellen's year. Ellen was born in 1999 and when we returned from China in April of 2000 (just before Easter), it was wonderful to see all the bunny decorations as if to welcome her.

For this reason we began collecting rabbits to decorate Ellen's room. After all it was a random Clown that was a infant gift we acquired for Jenna in 1991 that started her clown collection. So we figured Ellen's collection should be something more meaningful.

As relatives discovered what we were collecting for Ellen, the stuffed rabbits multiplied faster than the shelf space available.

You might say the collection is stuffed - or is it just a collection of stuff :)

PS: In a moment of cleaning house Susan attempted to eliminate all the superfluous stuffed rabbits from Ellen's room. Little did she know that Ellen and I discovered the trash bag and reclaimed the stuff - and carefully hid it from future clean-aholics. The collection lives on.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Three Musketeers

I first met Rich M. in 1974 at Miami University. He was in Swing Hall in the room next to mine. Wayne Walder was our R.A. (and I first met Wayne at Morris Hall freshman year - he lived in the room directly below me). Rich had roomed with Wayne (in the same corner room he was presently in Sophomore year). So a certain randomness and yet connectedness bonded us together.

For the next 22 years it was "The Three Musketeers" - a botany major (Wayne); a physics major (Rich) and economics/mathematics major (Me) - stayed in touch. Every year we got together for various activities - Acquire tournaments, Las Vegas, Whitewater rafting, Golf, Basketball, Movies (e.g.StarWars) .... the list goes on and on.

We lost Wayne in 1996 (See Wayne's Weekend blog 9/24/2010) but Rich and I continue the tradition that has become a visit at least once a year during Superbowl weekend. I arrived today in Wilmington NC to continue the tradition.

Thirty seven years of friendship (66% of my life) and memories is a precious gift. No longer the Three Musketeers (now just Two) - Rich and I continue the tradition of reminiscing about the college days and keeping the spirit of Wayne alive in our conversation each year.

Fred Owlett (in my Friday morning Bible Study Group) put it best some time ago when he said: "When it's time for memories to really count ...... it's good to have one nearby"

It's good to have Rich (and Wayne in spirit) still nearby.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's Your Business

M.E.B. stopped by the office and we discussed the owner entrepreneur business dream.

I said the most important decision before going into business is to choose your partners carefully. Not just immediate partners (if you have any) but customers, suppliers and all the people you will interact with in the process of performing the activity you love.

MEB said - You sound like my husband (H.B.) and he adds a second fact: "Whatever business you start, you can assume you will be doing everything but the business/activity that caused you to want to start the business.

Seven of ten new employer small businesses survive at least two years, and about half survive five years - see figure 6.2 of Scott Shane's book "Illusions of Entrepreneurship" (these statistics are as elusive as unemployment stats). What is the single biggest causes - weak general management, financial management and marketing capabilities.

I bet the real reason businesses close is due to what H.B. stated - the inability to do the activity you love.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Painting Words

"Words paint pictures" says John Bevere in his book "Extraordinary - The Life you're Meant to Live". And stories describe the painting.

It's simple - If I say "think about an Elephant" - not only can you not stop thinking right now about an elephant, but the picture (your picture) of an elephant is brought immediately forward into your imagination. Maybe even a book you read or a caricature of an elephant, a recent movie about an elephant ... the mind begins a chain reaction of related stories, images, and relationships you have built over the years that associate with the word elephant.

So we guard against words (both written and spoken) that will imprint upon our mind. We choose to hear or read/interpret the words trying to capture a moment of our attention.

This is the ultimate freedom - something no one can take away from you, no one can force upon you ..... you can paint any picture you want with the words you choose to accept.