Saturday, April 17, 2010

The problem with COIN SORTERS

I was out at my local Office Depot this week and low and behold, I saw a really nice ‘all digital’ battery powered coin sorter. This was not some cheapy model either; it was one of the good ones drastically discounted down to $5.41. I was tempted, I mean REALLY tempted to buy it, but then I remembered that ALL of these machines have problems (and I ALREADY have an electronic coin sorter anyway).

The main issue with these coin rolling / counting jigs and electronic sorters is that they require COINS!!! Uh Oh, he’s finally lost it – of course they need coins? Well the thing is that now, except for those grocery store rip-off 9% surcharge ’ATM-esque’ change conversion machines, no bank wants your change or ROLLS for that matter. Banks HATE messing with coins and basically have relegated the process as an out-sourced task for firms like Brinks and Pinkerton’s security.

So we all rush out and buy these $30 nifty coin counting machines to help us roll coins and banks don’t want to take them because THEY did not tally the coins themselves. The catch-22 is that they REFUSE to count coinage either because they do not even have commercial coin-counting machines on-site any longer? Your coin deposit will not be officially ‘booked’ until the 3rd party armored service RE-COUNTS your rolls and then reports back to the bank. They will in turn FINALLY record the deposit days later based on their vendor’s counts NOT YOURS. So what’s the point of ever counting anything or buying roll sleeves, or counters?

I kind of think we should all move to paying all denominations of less than a dollar in STAMPS anyway. They are pleasing rectangles and flat enough to fit inside my wallet. They don’t weigh much and they won’t jangle around with my keys or short my spare coin sorter batteries in my pocket. Just think, no more fears about leaving unattended tips on restaurant tables. When your server appears, you simply just lick and stick 5 or 6 First Class stamps and press them on the staff’s forehead. What could be easier? Oh no, I forgot something. Stamps are getting so pricey that soon I will need a BIG BILL sorting machine to help stack cash for my post office visits. I wonder if Office Depot has any of those laying around for five or six bucks?

Reader's Links - "TWO-FER"!

Ok it’s the weekend so let us depart just a moment from the normal random light-weight mirth which consumes so many of my posts. Don’t worry, nobody has died and I am not asking you to spend your hard earned cash. What I do have today is actually a couple of links for you to check out. In both cases, your participation might possibly make a big difference for a lot of people though so take a second and click through.

Now the best part about these gems is that they are contests of sorts so there is no cost whatsoever. I just thought both were intriguing and worth a few minutes to ponder. Second, BOTH links were emailed to me so thanks are in order for my active and engaged readers who truly put the O.M.G. in the PJ ‘MonObloGs’ and make them fun to write.

Ok, if I keep it up, like Congress, it will take only 2000 more pages to pack it all into this post. So to avoid that terrifying potential, the first link is the ConocoPhillips Energy Prize. This is a sponsored by the energy giant in association with Penn State. They are offering up to $300,000 in cash to hopefully spark a new idea or two for creative alternative energy solutions, energy conservation ideas, or ways to combat climate change. So if you think you have developed the perfect perpetual motion machine (No not your kids), then check out this contest and see if you can help make a difference.

Click here for the CONOCOPHILLIPS Energy Prize description and contest rules.

Ok, if actually putting a pen to paper is just too much for you to compete for the Energy prize, maybe you could spend less than 30 seconds and simply CHOOSE ONE charity from the twenty noted in the link and help them receive a $10,000 donation from Lightspeed Aviation Foundation. This is a major manufacturer of aviation headsets and they apparently need help in spending their money.

All of the groups are worthy charities, but my wife, kid, myself, my friends, and even my MOTHER have all worked with Wings of Hope based here in St. Louis. I have many friends that fly for Angel Flight and the Civil Air Patrol and I do favor organizations like the AOPA foundation because they promote ongoing flight safety and we can never have enough of that in aviation. Wow, I should probably not have unduly influenced your vote but heck, it’s my blog so with all the hot air I’m spewing, I thought I could at least throw CAUTION to the wind! Thanks for your indulgence!

Click here to choose one of 20 worthy charities to receive a $10,000 donation from LIGHTSPEED.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Egg-ceptional Physics

The age old ‘egg drop’ experiment in physics is a bit ‘overdone’ (pun intended) these days, but when I was in high school, we thought it was just about the most unique experiential learning device known to hen … oops - uh MAN. The basic premise is that you are given a raw egg, which like the drug commercials of old, represents your noggin and the presumably ‘synaptic goo’ inside. You then devise a way to protect said ‘brain-mush’ facsimile from suffering fatal destruction when dropped off a 5 to 10 story structure. The only restrictions are you cannot pack the egg entirely in foam padding and you have to limit your protective container to around a third of a cubic foot (4”’ X 4” x 4”) in volume (meaning no wings or parachutes).

Sounds simple enough especially to a bunch of sophomoric high schoolers (namely me). The only wrinkle in my universe was that my future wife (then girlfriend) was in the same class. That adds a whole new level of teen angst and male hormonal bravado, that should ordinarily be reserved for less scientific venues, such as a school dance or garage band rehearsal. Not only was my wife infinitely more adept at the principles of ‘brain saving’ physics than I, she has always been extremely competitive. So being a little short on ‘yoke’ myself, I did the obviously logical thing and proposed an all-out, ‘throw-down’ egg-stravaganza competition with my wife. The bet was that my egg would survive the fall and of course hers would not. The loser would not only face public ridicule since the whole science department was aware, but also would have to EAT THE RAW EGG in front of our physics class!

Not deterred by heavy competition, my friends ‘egged’ me on to think out of the box and find a unique solution which would not only save the egg, but most of all impress the teacher ( ok I’m lying – I ONLY wanted to impress my girlfriend, but it sounded better the other way). Amazingly my parents kind of got into the spirit of brainstorming as well and helped me ‘hatch’ a brilliant solution. My mother donated a pair of panty hose and history was born. I made an elastic suspension harness attached to 6 points on the outside of my lightweight cardboard box. Kind of like an Apollo mission, I would open the hatch, lock the perfectly centered egg in-between those taut elastic pantyhose ropes and then knew, victory was at hand.

It was an early morning when we climbed the tower to throw our eggs into oblivion. I was relaxed, confident, and felt like Rocky Balboa as he mounted the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s entrance steps, in training triumph to competitive perfection. I launched my egg and my wife did tossed hers as well. The whole class and teacher awaited the results 60 feet below. Both containers had no visible signs of damage and no liquid evidence of failure was present. With hushed anticipation, my wife opened her drop-box to reveal a PERFECT egg simply crated in a series of cut cardboard strips, not unlike how you would store a treasured Christmas ornament. BIG DEAL – that was stupidly simple. That probably took her all of 5 minutes to think up and even less time to make; my victory was assured. As you’ve already guessed, I got to feel like Rocky Balboa again – as that disgusting lump of a yoke hit the back of my throat, to the collective ‘EWWWWW’ of the entire physics class.

Crummy Food names

Over breakfast this morning I was inexplicably pondering the origins of Grape Nuts and other foods with really really bad names. In the case of Grape Nuts, beyond its unique moniker and visions of Eunuchs dancing in my head, it has the whole texture and rugged 'coal miner' looks thing working against it. Why didn’t I think of selling a box of little rocks and marketing it as a healthy food for people on diets?

What about “cottage cheese”? Only Sweeny Todd would possess a brave enough soul to dig into the left over chunks of a bowl of warm clabbered milk and think “Mmmm, that clotted mass looks good enough to eat”? This stuff in its birth stages is what liposuction Docs suck out of your gut and fill in the hollows of your face when you get old. Yogurt and tapioca too are in this same class of badly named and warmed over dairy products. I personally enjoy all of these foods, but if travelling the world, by name alone, I would probably be wary.

Lots of spices and baking basics have lousy names. Flax seed and Cumin sound more like something you cough up than season your food. And come on, MACE or cream of tartar – I thought this is stuff that you don’t want near your face much less on your teeth? Oregano you say? Well, Oregon is a pretty state, but have you been to the BAD parts of Portland – I HAVE? Rosemary Leaves; haven’t you seen the movie “Rosemary’s Baby”? I don’t know about you but whatever Rosemary's leaving - I want nothing to do with it!

Ketchup has its own crummy name problems. To help the consumer, most bottles are marketed as “Tomato” followed by the rest of the name. Does that mean there are other fruits, veggies, or THINGS that can become ground up into a “ketchup” slurry? Suddenly it gives you a whole new frightening perspective on the label “CATsup” doesn’t it? Honestly if this were true, I would feel a little better to know that the rest of the grapes were not wasted after they have been violated for my nutty breakfast cereal. Suddenly I'm not hungry anymore - I guess this 'Crummy' diet works!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Vertical integration – a WIN WIN deal

Did you ever look around your office or cubicle and just wonder “where did all this stuff come from?” I mean we have really come a long way since the day’s of our primitive ancestors were taking dictation on the back of a flat rock with a piece of charcoal. It was not all that long ago that we were typing term papers on REAL typewriters and making purple copies from dittos. I honestly don’t miss the lack of technology of the old days , but I do miss some of the space (and the smell of those purple dittos!).

It is so commonplace now to cram all that precious space with a computer, multiple monitors, a scanner/fax combination, clocks, phone, routers, files, books … well you know, you live with this stuff everyday! When did everything become so complex and BULKY? In fact however, many things have become LESS complex. It is just that we are far more vertically integrated as office rats now. We do more jobs and have a broader knowledge of the total work required to get a job done, therefore we use more desktop to accomplish it all.

I remember when I was young, my father would have to call a ‘typesetter’ if he wanted a special font or graphic for an art project he was working on. He would reference books for the right typeface he wanted, order the copy, and then have to wait a couple of days before driving to pick it up. That entire process is handled at your desk now in minutes not days. The same has happened for photo printing and even frame matting. All of those jobs required a separate vendor to get the task done just a decade ago. Now with smaller, inexpensive consumer grade equipment, we can do all of those jobs and more without ever leaving our office or homes.

In general, I support the ideals of anything that I can teach or do for myself. I do not seek to replace ‘the professionals’ because in most cases for bigger jobs, the pros can almost always do a job faster, better, and at a lower overall cost. If you don’t believe me try drywalling a ceiling sometime – it is a humbling experience. But I do promote vertically integrating your people and offices as it leads to a renaissance understanding and appreciation of the way things AND PEOPLE work towards a common goal. So all that vertical integration stuff on your desk DOES have a higher purpose. While you’re busy being self-dependent, you actually have learned to communicate more effectively and better appreciate your work, and that produced by others. Now that’s what I really call a Win-Win deal.

Hollywood hates me!

Way back when I was a mere pup, I prepared a position paper for a law course on the inevitable ascension of video tape recording machines into the hands of the private consumer. My basic contrarian argument was that this new technology phenomena, would be an inherent benefit to Hollywood’s bottom line so they should embrace it. I even solicited Jack Valenti’s take on the topic as he was the President of the Motion Picture Association of America at the time. Amazingly he respectfully answered my query but HATED my opinion, as did apparently my professor (both Ivy grads by the way), and I received the lowly grade of a C for my considerable effort and thoughtful examination on a controversial topic.

Though history was far kinder to me on that argument, since video and recordable media basically SAVED Hollywood from going bankrupt in the 80’s, I have often run into the same hard-line thinkers when it comes to post-production editing vs. directorial intent today. Most artists fight any alteration to their medium EVEN if it means wider distribution (more sales and money) for them. This has always amazed me? I argued against the late great Gene Siskel of movie review fame regarding colorization of old black and white movies. He hated the idea and I once again loved the technology that made colorization possible. Siskel felt strongly that the movie was somehow inherently violated and different from the original directorial intent, if an after-market artist applied ‘color’ frame by frame. I just wanted to see a prettier movie that’s all?

Most recently I have noticed that more and more popular music contains objectionable and profane lyrics. This particularly bothers me because some of the music is rather catchy and perfectly acceptable for mass audiences of all ages without the mature innuendo. But I assume some artistic director or marketing guru believes there is a need to inject some manufactured ‘edginess’ or suggestive profanity to appeal to rebellious music buyers? Though the fundamental difference here is that the music industry understands that broadcast radio is GOOD for business, so they WILL allow edited ‘radio safe’ versions, to play and thereby guarantee a much wider audience for their art.

I never have understood why Hollywood does not embrace this concept more to improve its access to additional markets? I actually prefer edited movies on broadcast television since most of the time, the artistic intent of the movie is unaltered, but without two hours of repetitive cussing. I know that war brings out the dark sides of its participants, but I do not need to hear or see every explicit detail re-created when our family chooses to take in a movie together. I have never advocated censorship. If the producers want to make something and think they can sell it, then more power to them. I simply am advocating more choices for additional audiences and venues. I would love to be able to rent a ‘obscenity edited’ movie. I can’t tell you how many genuinely fun and clever movies, will inexplicably slip in a single profane word where a hundred other family friendly words would have worked just as well.

So despite my rant, I am not being prudish or subjecting ‘art’ to some arbitrary value judgment, I am just being practical. Young people make up a large portion of the movie-going public. Hollywood might be surprised that profit would not likely suffer to make ‘edited’ movies available for this demographic. Parents would ‘feel’ better and maybe our kids would learn that ‘cussing’ IS NOT part of everyday speech and isn’t as cool as they have been led to believe. Over time, like with the positive changes that VCR’s brought to the industry, profits would actually go up with more choices for the movie going public? Oh well, what do I know about controversial arguments - I’m just a nobody who got a #!%#&*!! ‘C’ on a stupid college law paper. Hollywood HATES me!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

“ Where’s Waldo?”

Quoting from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous essay ‘Self Reliance’, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”. These words should be an anthem for us all and one of the FIRST things you teach your children. Well ok, maybe not THOSE 19th century words exactly or by your kid’s crib-side, but you know what I mean. Why has society turned to the dulled malaise of the collective mind and so far away from Emerson’s ideals of relying on oneself?

Now Ralphy was by no means perfect and much of his philosophical leanings grew over time and after a series of personal tragedies which defined much of his opinions. However, Emerson was always a bit ‘different’ and an independent thinker, which especially in the 1840’s made him unique among his peers. I am not proposing that you immediately seek to be a contrarian or deny good social graces just to demonstrate your individualism. On the contrary, I encourage you to prod and GROW yourself, your friends, and your children to NOT demonstrate anything for ANYONE. They need to have the presence of self and the independent strength to simply choose, THEIR way for THEMSELVES; not just what they believe is the popular or cool way for others.

Self reliance means much more than the literal dictionary pairing that the words may imply. Just under the surface, those words embody all the stuff that ALL people should be made of – Independence, pride, strength of character etc. Who needs cliques, peers, and political parties to TELL you what to think? Everyday should be your day to express YOUR beliefs and the way you choose to live your life – not what society, government, doctrine, or your friends expect. If all those entities truly care about you, then they will VALUE you and your opinions just as strongly as ever, even if you do not exhibit a carbon copy of their beliefs.

I heard a quote recently which made me wince a little – “Liberty is not always pretty”. I thought about how poignantly true that statement is, not just in the political sense but in the personal one as well. Sometimes to go your own way takes guts and determination which are not qualities always easy to teach. Heck, anyone with teenagers, knows that ‘growing up’ involves a lot of struggle and it is not conflict for the faint of heart. But at the end of the day, when your kids grow into REAL self-confident, independent thinking, and SELF RELIANT individuals, because of YOU, it is an AMAZINGLY gratifying achievement. And if you’re really lucky, they will grow up to breed their own ‘hobgoblin of little minds’ someday and make you proud. Especially so when you wave off a ‘chance to change the diapers’ and happily quote old Waldo’s edict – “Self Reliance children … SELF reliance!”

Fragrant Frustrations

I am not a fan of walking into any mall-side entrance of a name-brand department store. Usually I am physically assaulted by an air-bath of competing perfumes and body colognes. My wife has no compassion for my condition and simply rolls her eyes as I immediately start to grasp my throat and gasp for breathable air. If you get into a small space with me such as an elevator or car, and have a fresh pat down of aftershave, I will react in much the same way. I know I am a little whiney but I prefer my own natural (yet tolerable) baby-stink over somebody else’s over-the-top skunk-o-rama ardour.

On one weekend we found our way to the desert sun in beautiful Palm Springs, California. It was a toasty day (as most of them are there) so we decided to take the Aerial Tramway from the base of Chino canyon to the top of the surrounding mountain range. The temperature differential is some 50 degrees or more and on this trip there was significant snow pack on the mountain. Knowing this and that we intended to take an ‘all terrain’ hike on the mountain the next day I bought some snow repellent treatment for our boots. I opened the can and it looked like a clear jelly mucous. The plan was to spread this goo all over our shoes and rub it into the lacings and stitches of the boots thereby making them water repellant. As you can guess, the odor of the product was a cross between Sterno Stove alcohol fuel, and the business end of a diesel exhaust pipe. We opened the hotel door to air out the room as we liberally applied the weatherproofing buttery spread.

The next morning, we got up bright and early and headed for the tram station. We bought our tickets and excitedly waited for our tram carriage to arrive. I believe each car is similar to the larger enclosed ski-lift trolleys at high-end ski resorts, so they hold 80 people and gear. With all those folks crammed into a relatively small space, the faintest odor is somewhat amplified by all those warm bodies. It was insignificant at first, but the smell seemed to grow at an exponential rate as we ascended the mountain and the air got colder. What started as an annoying ‘greasy rag’ smell, seemed to become more and more pungent. One of the patrons looked alarmed, and said “ Does anyone smell gasoline?”. Then the next person said “ I smell it too???”. As other ears in our sardine tin pricked up, yet a third rider queried the operator attendant alarmingly “Do you think we are leaking fuel for the tram’? My wife and I looked smugly at each other in knowing amusement – the tram is ALL ELECTRIC buddy – GET A CLUE! As the rumble of concern started to become more urgent the operator attendant sensed a brewing mutiny and assured everyone that we were safe and not to worry.

I turned ice cold as I realized it was our BOOTS and that evil diesel mucous jelly, that was smelling up the doomed tram. Minutes later my crisis was averted as the tram reached the apex off-load station. Everyone had become scared that the tram had a dangerous petrol leak on board but in essence they were only sniffing my stinky feet. Whew – and all that time I had been needlessly worried that I had overdone it a bit with my 10-W-40 ‘Real Man’ cologne!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

El Hapless Jalepeno

I had a Mexican friend once that worked with me in California named Mariel. We watched out for each other and made sure our respective files, phone calls, and work got taken care of to keep our bosses and clients happy. This in turn ensured that we didn’t get fired and would each go home with a paycheck regularly which made our spouses happy too. I had gotten back early from lunch and had saved a small jalepeno from a salad. Since Mariel was nowhere to be found, I deftly used clear adhesive tape and strapped that little jalepeno right on to the speaking side of her phone receiver. I then retreated to my own office and shuffled paper while I waited for the show to begin.

I had alerted a couple of other office mates to my deed so when Mariel returned, we all tried to remain in earshot of her office but aloof so as not to create suspicion. It was a frustratingly slow process as the phone did not ring as quickly as I had expected, and at one point I toyed with the idea of calling her myself. But finally, the phone resumed its natural state in our firm and a call was buzzed back to Mariel’s office. To my surprise, she picked up the phone and I only heard the muffled normalcy of a one-sided phone conversation. You could see the disappointment on my workmate’s faces as they tired of the gag and went back to their offices. Clearly I had not thought this prank through.

What had gone wrong – did the pepper fall off the phone? Had Mariel, simply discovered the green lump and chucked it in the trash set on a far more childish prank in the planning stages for retaliation? No, as I peeked in around the office entry, I could see Mariel looking confused as she continued her conversation on the phone. She appeared to be searching for something below her desk and papers but was unaware of my presence. Suddenly she shrieked out with a stabbing soprano bark directly into the phone. I literally fell backwards myself worthy of a 4th Stooge, in genuine terror as this reaction was far beyond anything I had expected. After all, this was a highly serene and ‘professional’ office environment – how could one little aromatic jalepeno make such a stink?

Needless to say, I was relieved that Mariel had only been talking to her sister when she soon debriefed the curious staff as to her sudden outburst. I’m not sure most of our clients at the time would have appreciated working with a bunch of advisors afflicted with Tourette’s. As always Mariel was in good humor about the prank. She described that the whole time she was having the phone conversation she could smell the pungent spicy aroma of jalepeno but could not locate the source. Her sudden and vocal discovery was due to the slightly wet and cold- to- the- touch skin of the jalepeno had made inadvertent contact with her cheek . She thought a green slug or something had crawled up on her phone. No it was just me and my little ‘leftover’ jalepeno always ready to ‘spice up life’ and sometimes literally ‘right under your nose’!

.500 batter – my softball legacy

Well once again softball season has begun. My wife has been on some kind of a league team for the last 37 years. So every year around this time, I will wander out to watch her play. As you can imagine, my wife is someone who has played the game for so long, she is really good and loves the game. When there were no co-ed leagues my wife was the only woman to play in the men’s league. She quickly proved that she could hold her own on first base with screaming line drives, and field throws rocketing in from the guys.

So given the background, imagine my genuine fear, when my wife’s team came up short on the roster and needs a tenth player to avoid a forfeit tonight? That tenth player does not have to be good, they just need someone – ANYONE, to fill in the spot. Uh, that would be me - ready willing and full of grace, to hold down any spot on the roster. Tonight they had me play right field. The last time I subbed two years prior, when backing up to get a ball, BOTH of my shoes came off and I tripped. I snugged up my shoes this time, though in the back of my mind I worried about my pant’s belt continuously.

Usually to make up for my total lack of hitting ability, I will mock the pitcher by pointing to the sky with my bat or shaking my posterior at them. It is good for comic relief at least for the other team. I figure if I get them off balance I may be able to sneak one by while they’re laughing. No it doesn’t work, but I do it anyway. I usually can hit the ball, but most of the time I will hit foul or somebody will catch my hits. I can run ok ONE TIME, but don’t expect me to go more than one or two bases at a reasonable speed. My wife’s team treats me well regardless of my total lack of sports ability.

Tonight I only got to bat twice and I got one hit (even though I caused someone else to get out). I guess that means I am a .500 hitter and that is not bad in anyone’s book. Of course we lost the game but I had clearly done my part. Yes my wife was 3 for 3 but let’s not dwell on details right now. At the end of the game, like a wayward puppy I was the lone player running out to assume my position in the outfield. I did not know the game had ended and traditionally I should have been lined up ready to slap the opposing team’s hands at the end of the game. Oh well, forget tradition I don’t need a hand slap to know I had fulfilled my legacy, conquered my fear, and kept my shoes on. Clearly I was a 500 batter now and my participation had avoided a forfeit and I had earned the true respect of my peers! Too bad though … no other hopelessly sport- challenged spouses were around so I had no peers to impress.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My Favorite Game is USED

I really do not have a favorite game, I have closets full of them. It is kind of an obsession so the weirder and rarer the boxed game, then I am an instant fan. I wish they were not so bulky sometimes, but half the fun is the artwork, instructions, and marketing graphics on the box top.

Now I am not one of those pristine collectors that insist upon every box be in ‘mint’ condition and every game piece factory produced. In fact some of my truly favorite games have been resurrected from the dead, especially by collector standards. One such game “Arch Rival” was missing a plastic cup that is an integral part of building a 3-D arch structure off the game board. The game was unusable without the piece but I bought the game anyway because everything else was there. I went home and proceeded to make a lightweight replica of the missing part, matching paint and all. Magically the game found life again and my kid used it many time throughout the years.

My goal is to make replica parts that, while not perfect facsimiles, still complete the game and make it fully playable again. I bought “Mall Madness” at a thrift store that was missing a lot of cardboard storefront pieces. They were not as important to the game, but even as an adult, the game lacks something without the idea of wandering from store to store completing your shopping. So I meticulously made cardboard storefronts that would fit the die cut game board but reflected our own personality which was very fun. That game surprised everyone in that it was fun to play even with the gimmicky electronic credit card machine. Most of the time if you purchase a $30 board game with lots of goofy battery operated parts, it is just a lot of glitz and cover for a poorly designed game. By buying used and making a few spare parts, we got to enjoy the same game and express some personal creativity, but for only a couple of hard-earned dollars.

The logical extension of course is that once your family starts fixing used games, it will become an obsession to find more games to return to service for pennies on the dollar. Further, if you are like me, you will want to combine features of several games and make up your own unique blended version with custom cards, play pieces and even BOX ART. Try it sometime with your family – it’s creative, fun, and depending on their game topic, educationally mind expanding. Uh … or at least CLOSET expanding – now where to put my new made up custom combo game, “Blog-Rival Madness”?

Start what you can and CELEBRATE!

My wife and I finally got the opportunity to celebrate Spring with some old fashioned yard work. Funny thing, it was that kind of day that would have felt somehow ‘wrong’ if we did not at least get a little sweaty. After all, the sun was out in all its glory, the humidity was nowhere to be found, and best of all, I think Winter is officially off the blog topic list for at least 5 months.

We cleaned up mostly a front flower bed and got some mulch down. I am not a huge fan of mulching everything like most Midwesterners, but it does cut down on the weeds. My wife pruned back some yew plants, and we even mixed some fertilizer up to try to spark them back to their once dense green glory. Though evergreens are technically supposed to be immune to winter here, it is still hard on them. After sweeping and removing the clippings and leaves, the place looked good enough for visitors – on the outside.

Yes, as much as we did, our labor had never made a dent on cleaning up the garage or organizing a closet or two. It was a tad frustrating to be on a roll but then realize that we had barely scratched the surface of our chores. I don’t think that is unique in almost anything we try to do. Often in life, we cannot finish those long lists of tasks and goals. Time is the only commodity that is free to replenish daily and forever, but by nightfall you’ll never have enough of it. I think it is important to relish in the idea that sometimes starting is just as good as finishing, because you have advanced your position no matter how small. You are literally a PART of a solution, rather than the masses of naysayers and doubters who would rather grouse ceaselessly than partake in any action themselves.

So do what you can and even do a little more, but don’t find fault by not always finishing as fast or perfectly as you first desired. The idea is to divide large goals and tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. Start one or MORE parts of those smaller tasks and knock out what you can. It is much more likely that you will eventually finish a task that you have started over one that you have simply ‘thought’ about starting. At the end of the day, dust off, and CELEBRATE your achievements rather than berate your failures. There will be plenty of time to re-evaluate and plan for the next steps toward ultimate success. But always remember the most important step of ANY goal is to simply - START.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The self-inflicted quiet killer

No I am not talking about cancer or diabetes. Those things are terrible true, but they already have advocate groups to decry their obvious dangers. No the suicidal killer that I am talking about it probably affecting most everyone in your community as it has in my own. It is the ECONOMIC grim reaper of the insidious creeping sales tax.

You see the basic problem is not your local government directly but in fact the PEOPLE who are the source of the outbreak. Yes the people, are spreading this out-of-control virus at an alarming rate. They are not infecting our communities with malice and most of the time, hardly worry at all that their actions will harm anyone. This is primarily because we citizens inoculate the silent masses through incrementalism. Nobody can complain or whine about a quarter cent sales tax here or a half cent there. Who would deny our brave public servants, libraries, and parks the measly half cent they need to provide on-going services right? Do you want the reality of un-clean water or backed-up sewers on your conscious when just a fraction of a cent will fix all and save the masses from certain doom?

Well the reality of all that good-will and incremental tightening of the noose is that there are ONLY 200 half-cents in anyone’s hard earned dollar. There is no amount of fun new math to change this fact. I am not arguing that the need is not present in any of our social services or that our public servants deserve more. What I am suggesting is that at some point, just like we teach our kids, our communities are going to have to make a choice. Do you want to CHOOSE to survive with less and do more for yourselves, or do you want to die a long slow death and hope that somebody else will choose to save you instead?

St. Louis just passed a miniscule half cent sales tax to expand bus and subway services. It all sounds noble and wonderful – I get that. But the reality is that only 5% of the region uses busses or trains even one time per year. Over a million people paying an extra half-cent on their purchases to subsidize a service that they don’t use? As pointed out by Charles Brennan, local radio commentator and host of the regional PBS talk show, Donnybrook, a Target receipt from 2005 as compared today showed a 63% increase in sales tax over the same regional area. Now I don’t know about you, but I thought that “inflation was dead” and “taxes” will only affect the rich? I guess “the rich”, at least in St. Louis, means any man, woman, child, or company who purchases ANYTHING at anytime within our county domain?

So look around your own town and do your own comparisons. I would bet that tax incrementalism is quietly and relentlessly infecting everything that you come in contact with on a daily basis. Your local economy and residents, like ours, will continue to try and absorb the mounting burden. Eventually, one day soon, there will be no more pennies to cut in half and no more golden geese. The local economy will no longer be competitive so sales will move elsewhere and people will move away. No candles or wakes will be necessary. N0 in-depth investigations will be required. Nobody will care, because It’ll be just another unceremonious expiration of a community where the need exceeded the resource and the victim’s death will be ruled an accidental suicide.

Duke v. Butler – a life lesson

First off, a disclaimer. I don’t know anything about basketball, so don’t shred me if I cross some imaginary line of sports ignorance. I am representative of a large silent block of people who are mildly curious, but not fanatical about random college competitions. See, right there; I have already lost the diseased and diehard NCAA ‘face-painter’ folks – because to them, collegiate basketball is as important as LIFE itself! Well I don’t know about THAT, but I did tune in for a few minutes to the Duke / Butler showdown and there was a life-lesson in all that “HOOP-la”.

I already knew that Duke University students were nuts about basketball. My kid had just last year gone through the college selection process, and this fact was readily apparent. I never had heard of Butler but everybody loves a Cinderella story and the news had quickly deemed the Bulldogs as this year’s best bet to fulfill that role. The little school out of Indiana just kept winning and winning and the ‘legendary’ hype kept growing and growing. All I knew was that most anytime I turned on the television somebody was bouncing a ball over the last month. Both teams had worked hard to make it to the finals. Both teams EXPECTED to win and Duke came out on top, but did they ‘Deserve’ it?

In the end, I think the game turned out ‘correctly’, though it is not the “Hollywood”ending that so many were rooting for. Both teams played well and in other ways, both teams let opportunity slip away. Whether at work or in play, generally, THAT is the ultimate balancing act in competing for anything in real life. Everybody starts out with an empty tool box, and you constantly add skills and knowledge to it throughout your life. The goal is to know when and how much to apply of each (or any at all) from your collection of tools and experience to result in a ‘Win’. Just like the basketball game, every goal, every challenge, and every THING, you consider important will take work and a LOT of it to get it right. Sometimes the differences between beating the odds, winning the job, or just showing up for a handshake, is a razor-thin line.

People like fairy tale endings because all youthful fantasy seems so perfect; so easy, and pre-determined. Real life is never set in stone; it is something that you go out and fight for to earn your place – just like Duke vs. Butler. We all have some handicaps and we all just plain ‘miss’ sometimes. It is ok and it’s normal to ‘come oh so close’ or even ‘fail completely’. Both of those results and infinite combinations of both ALL add to life’s toolbox and allow you to gain invaluable knowledge (hopefully) from the experiences.

So in life’s little showdowns or the important stuff like collegiate sports, smile a knowing smile and walk with your head high. Learn a little ‘something’ from EVERYTHING you do and never stop filling your knowledge toolbox even if every experience does not result in a perfect Hollywood ending. Half of the battle will be won purely in confidence and demeanor alone regardless of outcome. If you behave like you ALREADY belong in the winners circle, people will notice, and more importantly they will WANT you to be there too. Winning and self confidence are infectious afflictions. Make the fairy tale come true and prove that this is one disease, that you truly DESERVE!