Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Four Hole Buick

As I pulled out from La Rosas there was this fancy white car, with bright red trim speeding along. I said to S.S. - look at that antique beauty, is that a Chyrsler/Dodge - maybe a 65' Charger?  "No, S.S. replied, that is an old Oldsmobile". As the car turned I saw the defining marks - three emblems along the front fender.   Immediately I said "That's a Buick - three hole and no hit backs"

Actually that wasn't precise - since the game was "Four Hole Buick". As kids, D'lane, Vana and I would sit in the car and play "Four Hole Buick - no hit backs".  This was a game in the car (no DVD's or cell phones with data plans back then) where you diligently watched all the other cars looking for a Buick with four holes (most had only three). Once spotted, you had the priviledge of punching the person next to you, while announcing the sight of a Four Hole Buick.

You might ask - what are the holes for?  The precise term was "Ventiports" and  was introduced in the Buick in 1949.  VentiPorts put the driver at the controls of an imaginary fighter airplane.  Buick didn't use them functionally as ventilation for the engine and instead they signified the number of cylinders under the hood and/or the size of the car.

Sibling car games may be a relic of the past - maybe Buick should bring back the Ventiports and revive the game.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Visual representation of data is something that goes hand and glove with my love of numbers and statistics.  Maps is a close second but probably was the earliest pictoral delivery of critical data (where are you and where might you go).  The treasure map was always a fun fantasy that delivered an award for dechipering the code and/or clues. 

How ironic that maps become obsolete within minutes of being published.  Our GPS devices are only as good as the location data that it contains.  Google Earth as sophisticated as it is (with Satellite photos) is only a "snapshot" in time.  Nature changes the landscape and we adjust our maps. 

I remember in mathematics courses on topology learning about maps.  Proving why four colors will cover the topology of maps (the four color theroem).  One of my favorite print advertisements (by Y&R)  for Accenture (at that time called Andersen Consulting in 1989) was a map of the U.S.A. completely reconfigured with the states in different locations with the by line "Sometimes Success requires a little reorganization". 

Click for larger view

A map visualizes a space - provides some identity of where you are relative to that space - and can encourgage discovery or a journey.  For some "collectors" (and maybe crossed with the "traveler gene") it is an index of places to go.  We have a map of the world on the wall downstairs with pin points of the locations visited by Susan and/or myself (and/or is important as it creates more pinned locations).  But the country names, city names and borders change --- so did you visit Peking (pre 1979) or Beijing (post 1979)?

Topographical maps are the most pleasing to my eye.  I like the extra diminsion of data representation.  But there is still the challenge of taking a sphere and squashing it onto a two dimensional page.  Try taking a map of the world on paper and creating a globe (or visa versa) - not so easy!

Where exactly is "Middle Earth" - just ask Tolkien for the map!  :)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Money Trail

I decided to listen to J.P.'s speech at the Liberty Alliance meeting held in the auditorium of the Indian Hill Primary School.  Susan normally attends these meetings since she is on the Executive Committee.  It was an informative meeting as they had the two Republican candidates from my State District (Ohio #27) present their credentials.  Also they explained how the two parties have State Central Committees that are voted on in the primary (1 male and 1 female for each of the 33 Districts).

What was evident is that the power of the party (either party) resides with this Committee and it's Chairperson and governance.  From the "inside" story of the politics within the Republican Ohio Central Committee, it was clear that "it's all about money and power".  It made me thing of why it is so important to know where your money goes.

At SVP Cincinnati we use the term "Engaged Philanthropist" because our members not only know where their money goes, they volunteer time at the non-profit we fund.  We contrast that with the "Checkbook Philanthropist" - the person who writes a check and hopes the money is spent appropriately.

I think these same terms apply in Politics.  Too many people are just "Checkbook Citizens" - writing a check to the Ohio Republican or Democratic Party and hoping the stewards of that money are spending it appropriately.   Well, if how Congress spends our money is any indication of how the Parties spend money - we can all be upset on any money given to the Party.

The solution is to become an "Engaged Citizen" that donates both time and money. The first part of engaged is to understand how much money is involved and where it is spent (like a 990 IRS form for non-profits). I think a great visual would be a one page document showing the "money trail" of the Party, the PACs, the SuperPacs etc. 

I'm guessing this money trail probably leads to the garbage pail!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Retro Commerce

This evening it was time to buy a new pair of tennis shoes.  So off to to see if they have the old favorites - Jack Purcell Converse or Stan Smith Adidas.  Yep their back! - there they were -  the retro memory of  two 1970 competitors - Converse  who was on the decline, being displaced by the popular new kid on the block - Adidas.

 It was a tough decision. If I was going to play with my Jack Kramer wooden racket (and use the shoe for badminton also), the Jack Purcell was the ticket.   If instead, I was going to play with the upgraded T2000 Jimmy Connors metal racket, the Stan Smith green-tab Adidas would be the right choice. 

In the end, I chose to go the Stan Smith direction - a later 1970's choice.  The price -  $72 with shipping.  I remember just before they were about to be discontinued from the local store, Susan purchased four pair for me back in 1992 (although they were black-tabbed).  I still have two old pair in the mud room  laying around for working in the yard.

What a contrast in commerce - buying 1970's shoes from home on the computer that will arrive at my door in three to five days.  No fighting the malls, or driving around to determine inventory availability and price comparisons - just surf and click. 

Now if I can only get my 1970's tennis game back!  :)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Laughing with Friends

One of my favorite things to do is laugh with friends.  It's sort of a Sienfeld thing - sitting at lunch or the counter talking about the humorous side of life.  A show about "nothing" - just fun with friends living in the moment.  I enjoy the company of people who can make me laugh, laugh at my stories and laugh at themselves, and laugh about life's circumstances. 

Some humor is planned and planted - jokes, puns, and comedic performances.  There are natural comedians and witty folks and others who can just spark a smile or chuckle in day to day conversation.  I actually enjoy those people who are not purposely trying to be "funny" but in the course of conversation just create a "bit of humor".  It's the unexpected humor that I enjoy the most. 

Of course, I have been to concerts with comedians (Laugh until it hurts) and enjoyed the overdose.  And, I enjoy certain comedy TV series, like Men of a Certain Age, Sienfeld, etc.  However, I'm not that much a fan of slapstick or movie comedies.  It is the simple "laugh at life" scenarios that I enjoy.  Satire, irony, double entendtre whether in print, music or discussion, are things that make me smile.

As I mentioned to A.M. yesterday, I like to be around people who make me laugh.  I can't define the science of humor in people - it just appears at the right moment.  It can start with listening, telling your story, which morphs into a related experience --- and the humor ball bounces forward and back in a gentle volley with the intent to keep laughter in play. 

So find a laughter partner and put the humor in play.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Savers vs Borrowers

It's been a year since my last lunch with H.B. and I love to hear his  stories and one-liners.  M.E.B. and H.B. were our neighbors from 1988 to 1992 when we lived in our condo. My office is next door to M.E.B.'s office coincidentally.  Consequently, I wanted a face to face update from H.B.  A confirmed Libertarian, H.B. is a refreshing person to talk about limited government. 

His best one liner today was "Defend my shores, deliver the mail, and stay the HELL out of my life".  Given the downsizing of the US Postal system, it seems government may be failing on all three.  You can guess where the conversation went from there - taxes, social security, healthcare, inflation, the economy, and the constitution. 

H.B. mentioned he had gotten to the restaurant earlier since he needed to make a deposit at the bank.  Oh. "I replied, you must be a saver -  afterall only savers deposit the others withdraw."  This was particularly important as I talked about the recent article I had read where John A. Allison (ex CEO of BB&T bank) pointed out the deeper issue of our economy right now: "The Fed says that it's currently holding interest rates below market rates - which means it's redistributing wealth from SAVERS to BORROWERS". 

Inflation is the same thing - a hidden transfer of wealth from savers to debtors and we all know who the "mother of all debtors is" -  The U.S. Government.  Hence inflation becomes an insidious tax and incentive not to save.  This, you could say, is class warfare - pitting the SAVERS against the BORROWERS. The irony is that to be able to borrow - someone had to save first.  It is interest rates that create the counterbalance to the unfair redistribution of inflation. But the Fed is messing with the interest rates (a form of price controls).

The government (and I include the Federal Reserve in that category) has meddled again in our lives.  George Shaheen at one of the Accenture conferences said it best when asked about the upcoming election between Clinton and Bush - "Whoever wins - I just hope they keep their hands off the dials". 

That was a more diplomatic way of saying what H.B. felt about government and the economy. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Forecasting Error

A.M. asked me to reflect about my  bullish 2011 ecomomic predictions (referring to my 12/23/2010 blog entry).  I should have had some pithy response like "Just think what they would have been, if I hadn't predicted a bullish market". 

His question reminded me that I needed  to score the $100 bet that I annually have with B.S. and schedule the payoff lunch for the winner. 

Just for full transparency - my forecasts were:

Crosstown Shootout - Bearcats   (This was for the 2010/2011 season and the Bearcats won 66 to 46)

Bengals - 8-8  (Oops - who would have known that Andy Dalton would be QB    Season ended 9-7)

S&P - 1500  (Wow - I really blew this one S&P did nothing 1257.61  but at least dividends created a 2.11% return)

Best Long - MSFT (B.S. laughed at this one - and I must admit it is a long shot  MSFT lost $1.95 w/o dividends or -7%)

Best Short _ Netflix  ( who's laughing now :) NFLX lost $106.41 or -61% )

SVP Cincinnati Partners - 22  (technically 21 even though our last new partner's check wasn't received before 12/31)

B.S. Asset Under Mgt - 18M  (I will need B.S. to give me the result at lunch)

Unemployment % - 6%  (8.5%  miserable for all)

So for the investors out there, my stock picks were mixed, the economy forecast was way off, and the S&P prediction was laughable (even the highest high on 5/2/2011 of 1370.58 was not even close - "Sell in May and walk away").   You could say 2011 was a muddle along year. 

But just like measuring happiness - it's always relative to the other person.  So it depends on how bad B.S. predicted that will determine my real forecasting error.

Afterall if two guys are surprised in the woods by a bear (market)  how fast should you run?

Answer:  You only need run faster than the other guy. :)

Postscript (2/23/12):  I happened to see another post of mine (12/16/2009) titled Forecasting Error.  At least I'm not that bad!

Measuring Joy - Part 1

This is a follow-up to yesterday's blog about the Joy to Stuff ratio.  Since one half of the ratio is joy, it is important to understand what joy is.....  and can it be measured?

I will change (adding two letters) the famous quote by Supreme Court Justice Potter   (vs what he was defining) from  "I know it when I see it"  to defining Joy as --- "I know it when I sense it". 

Joy is different from happiness or pleasure (see Counting Feelings) even though the dictionary defines joy with both of those terms ----  "the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.  In Peter Kreft's book "Heaven, the Hearts Deepest Longing", he visually shows (pg 125) the three levels  of emotions - pleasure, happiness and joy (Dionysian) and the  three congnitive levels of the mind -sensation, knowledge and wisdom (Apollonian) associated with the levels of our "being" -physical body, soul and spirit.  Hence, Joy is at the deepest level connected with wisdom embedded in our spirit.

On the internet, I stumbled onto Laurie Kaufman Rees's recent (2012) web site attempting to measure Joy - "The Joy Project" which has a handy tool with 24 questions with the intent of quantifying your joy ( a perfect score is 120).  She probably agrees with Peter Kreft's illustration of joy,  since her website by-line is "The Biblical Pursuit of More Than Mere Happiness". 

When people are asked to define joy (see Jan's Joyous Jungle ) the responses range from individual physical sensations/activities (e.g. hot shower, giggling, smiling) to relationships (e.g. falling in love, friends, children); events (e.g. sunrise, sunset, concert); things (e.g. hot chocolate, homemade cookies); and spiritual (e.g. God's love, knowing your purpose).  But how to quantify those feelings, things, people, places, memories is the 64 dollar question?

I can see this will take some time to research - part of my definition of Joy  :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Joy to Stuff Ratio

I have been interested in the study of time and money for some time now.  So I was excited when I met  Ellen Frankenburg and read the 2001 article referencing Joy to Stuff ratio (Frankenburg references the book "Your Money or Your Life" by Vicki Robin et al).  In Joe and Vicki's book they have a great graphic describing the fulfillment curve -  visually depicting when you have "enough" (note -fulfillment  is on the vertical axis and money is on the horizontal axis).

Accumulating money takes time and spending money ( "stored time") is spending life energy (the time it took to earn that money).  Short term, we are all equal and have 24 hours in the day.  Long term, some of us have more time than others but each unique individual is given only so much "life energy" time. 

Stuff comes into play when we use money to buy stuff - presumably for survival,  comfort, and luxuries.  So money is traded for stuff and that stuff becomes the new "stored time". Many people try to use stuff to increase their feeling of comfort, happiness and joy.  Everyone has a different fullfilment curve and must individually define for themselves "how much is enough". Ellen Frankenburg's point is that it is important to  "Keep your joy to stuff ratio in balance".

OK - this is where my mathematics background overpowers the "literary and philosphical" points the authors are trying to make.  Since this is a ratio, it is only natural that I begin to ask the mathematical question of what happens when the values approach zero or infinity and what is the "optimal ratio"? 

Start with stuff (keeping joy constant).  As stuff approaches infinity, the joy to stuff ratio becomes zero.  As stuff approaches zero, the joy to stuff ration approaches infinity.  I think this is the  point the authors want to make - Eliminate the over pursuit of stuff and your joy to stuff ratio will increase.  Yes - your ratio increased (and some would confuse this with joy increasing) - but your joy may have remained constant. 

The joy to stuff ratio misses discussing the real goal - How do you increase joy (or fulfillment) - regardless of stuff?


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Entertainment Inflation

How ironic - I cancelled Time Warner Cable in November because of their price increase on the receivers (which were not protected by my two year price guarantee) and switched to DirecTV.  After less than three months on DirecTV, I receive this letter with all it's accolades and justifications  ---  #1..., unparalleled, most, lighting fast, optimized, very best, enhanced, exceptional, we strive....    BUT  because of the evil content providers our costs have increased 10% but we are only going to increase the fee to you 4%.  Funny the price increase is effective Feb. 9, 2012 and I received the letter Feb. 14, 2012.

Now that is Entertainment Inflation! 

But the next question is--- since I signed a two year contract, am I price protected?  I'm hopeful, but skeptical (maybe I should have read the fine print in the "Other Terms and Conditions" section).   In today's letter it states "If you are currently receiving a promotional offer, you will continue to receive the promotional price for the remainder of the offer period" and "Customers who currently subscribe to these [Legacy Base] packages may maintain them as long as their account is in 'good standing' as determined by DirecTV in its sole discretion".

The DirecTV bill is as complicated as my Duke Energy bill.  Add to that DirecTV is changing the names of all the "Legacy Base Packages" and  legacy receivers to help confuse the consumer.  My Choice XTRA  package ($65.99) becomes Choice XTRA CLASSIC package ($68.99) and my DirecTV DVR Service ($7) becomes Advanced Receiver-DVR ($8).  Who knows how many of the channels will change indiscriminately.

So do I have a price guarantee  until November 2013?  No--- if you look carefully at my bill, the promotion period for the Choice XTRA package is 12 months ($36 off).  So it is likely my bill in November 2012 will increase $39  (the $36 discount and the $3  February price increase) for the content.  And what about the DVR receiver increase of $1 (which is why I got upset at Time Warner in the first place)?  I give it a 50/50 chance that my next bill will have an extra $1 charge since there is no promotional discount on this item.

I'm beginning to wonder about the value of cable or satellite when the retail cost exceeds $75/mth.

Let's summarize:

(1) The letter says "prices adjusted by an average of only 4%"  -----my actual  5.4%  ($4/$73)
(2)  The letter says "programming costs were the cause"  ------   but they raised the price of the  DVR reciever which has nothing to do with the owners of the TV channels
(3)  They can change the content and prices indiscriminately  - yet I have a 2 yr contract with penalties for cancellation

Once again locked in Entertainment prison.  I didn't learn my lesson.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dad's Workshop

One thing I can't claim is the title "Handy Man".  However, I come from a long line of Handy Men (probably due to the their rual upbringing where it required innovation and engineering skill to fix anything).  While visiting Dad, I brought several projects to complete.  His workshop (like his Dad's) is completely organized and ready for any possible project that presents itself.  Case and point, my project was a simple gluing project.  Dad pulled out eight different types of glue - Gorilla superglue, Fabric/Leather glue, Plastic glue, metal glue, all purpose Elmers glue and the list goes on.

One trait I have inherited from Dad is keeping all the items to be fixed (thinking sometime I might magically acquire the gene to become a "handy man").  So my garage is littered with items to be glued, to be re-inforced, to be analyzed, etc.  Also, I have this illusion that maybe I can use the broken item for spare parts - hence drawers full of stranded junk.  This desire to keep all items stems from Dad's creative ability to "fabricate" the fix with some odd stranded piece of junk.

So I have a garage full of available junk inventory, awaiting the proper skilled "Handy Man" to create it's solution to the puzzle.   The only problem ---------   finding it. :)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Driving into Space

It was 8 below zero early Saturday morning as I watched the sunset rise on I-35 northeast just past Flint Hills.  "Hearts of Space" was playing on KAHN 87.9FM.  The warm heated seats of the car with a fresh cup of Starbucks Chai Latte created a veil of warmth inside and out.  I was only two hours into the twelve hour drive back to Cincinnnati - plenty of time to reflect on the wonderful visit with Mom and Dad. 

I was unfamiliar with "Hearts of Space" and the music was a perfect auditory compliment for the blanket of orange pastel infinitely placed into my eyes.  No talk - just "spaces between the notes".  Certain music has a way of quieting the soul, and this was a good venue.

I have come to enjoy soothing music while driving  (at 10:30pm on Tuesdays I listen to "Echos" when I return from Bridge).  Smooth Jazz on Susan's XM/Sirius radio is the favorite of the combined family.  In a future world of just listening to self selected Ipod playlists, I wonder how we will find the pleasant surprises of a random radio broadcast like that morning. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Heavenly Dancers

The Family attended the Shen Yun Performing Arts concert on Saturday.  It was the Christmas gift from me to the family.  I got the idea from B.E. ( my Vistage Buddy), who as a tradition, gives his family, each Christmas, some "family event" gift.  So it was timely when I received the promotional brochure in the mail in Mid December.  This was my start of a potential tradition.
The Chinese character for Shen is a general term for "divine" or "divine being" (Buddhas, and Taoist immortals who play different roles and color the canon of Chinese history).  Yun has a meaning far greater than it's literal translation - a dancer's style.  When put together it's about grace, compassion, and sublime beauty of heavenly realms. 

Indeed the concert was striking and an experience that won't be forgotten - the colorful outfits, the world class dancers, singers, and rich cultural traditions.  The tickets for five were pricey - $362.50 but worth the three hours of entertainment.

Even the poetry of the Soprano singing about predestination is intriguing:
"In the boundless sea of humanity, meeting is not easy
A chance meeting, a smile, linked by predestination
Calm your heart and come listen to the truth
You have been awaiting these words for thousands of years
The Dafa that rescues is being spread
All these spoken heavenly secrets are true." 

Worth seeing if they come to your town.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Heaven Board Entry #5

My visits to Rich (college buddy) for the last 15 years have been on Superbowl weekend.  It seems a natural fit/guy thing - football, trips to Best Buy and the hardware store, stock market talk, golf (when weather permitted), home projects, etc.  This weekend, I will miss the tradition (only the second time in the 15 years).  A close friendship, now in it's 38th year. 

Originally it was three of us (see Three Musketeers). So because of the Superbowl tradition, my thoughts will forever connect with Rich and Wayne at this time.  Our  triangle of friendship "All for One and One for All" is now just two of us.  C.S. Lewis in his book "Four Loves" said it best (I've inserted my own buddies in his quote):

"In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out.  By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity. I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.  Now that Wayne is dead, I shall never see Rich's reactions to a specifically Wayne joke. Far from having more of Rich, having him 'to myself' now that Wayne is away, I have less of Rich......  In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious 'nearness by resemblance' to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul , seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. .....  The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have".

A phone call to Rich can virtually "repair" the physical distance this weekend, but what technology is available for that of Wayne? And what future is there for the triangular friendship to become whole again? 

This thought kindled yet another Heaven Board Entry - #5.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mouth of Gold

Your mouth is worth GOLD!!!!
Having just completed my first root canal on a crowned tooth (#19 left bottom molar) that I had been having trouble with since July 2010, I cringed as I paid $960 for the root canal specialist (called an endodontist  - by the way, why dontist vs dentist?).  Then I returned to my dentist to pay an additional $375 to have it sealed correctly with proper "sanding" for my overbite grinding action. 

Susan just had three teeth reworked and is still pondering a potential implant.  In just three short years she is up to more than $8K.  My total cost for just one molar is $2,500 (Crown, Emergency Visit, New Dentist Cleaning, Root Canal, and Final Seal).

When you add up a lifetime of cleaning, an average number of cavities, wisdom teeth extracted, braces for those with crooked teeth, and then crowns, root canals, bridges, and special gum treatment, you can see why dentistry is a good occupation (and probably slightly recession proof). 

A 2003 report from the Data and Analysis Center (DAC), the nation’s largest claims-based dental health data warehouse, found that the average cost to maintain a restored cavity in the molar of a 10-year old reaches $2,187 by age 79.
According to the study, over a person’s lifetime it costs $1,788 to maintain a single filling on an anterior tooth (front teeth) and $2,108 to maintain one in a premolar (back teeth).

So lets due the math.  Your mouth has 32 teeth ( 20 are front teeth - Inscisors, Cuspids and Bicuspids and 12 are back teeth - molars and wisdom). 

The CDC uses DFMT (Decayed, Filled or Missing Teeth) Index and from their report I'm going to estimate a typical person has 15 teeth in trouble. 

Use an average of $2000 per tooth restoration and you get $30K for just the repair.  Add to that six month clean ups for 70+ years (between $50 to $135 per cleaning) and is an additional $14K.  Then add the intial filling cost ($150 for composite) of the 15 cavities of $2,000.  You're total is at least $46K.

So the average well cared for mouth will be worth at least 30 ounces of Gold  (some of which will literally be in your mouth) by age 80.

Now that should be incentive to brush multiple times a day!