Monday, July 28, 2014

Low Hanging Fruit

"What in the Sam Hill is going on here?" was referenced in a pleasant blog followed elsewhere and referenced as a regional idiom.  Language is important and I've been away from certain forms of learning for many years and felt compelled to confirm my comprehension of "idiom."  A collection of words with certain meaning not immediately determined from the words.  It was perfectly clear to me what that sentence meant.  Something a bit stupid or wasteful is occurring or you have just done a really dumb thing after receiving explicit directions.

"You'd better keep an eye out for that!"  might be national rather than regional but after looking at it (with an eye out?) it seems like a CSI plot rather than cautionary advice about something you might miss (because you are stupid?).

"Let's go after the low-hanging fruit" is now part of corporate process improvement culture, as idiomatic as it
may be.  My opinion was that simple fixes generally fixed simple problems, not big problems and rarely led to any transformational change.   Anyone can go after low-hanging fruit and it has immediate return.  If you don't like a staff member, fire them or move them to something they don't enjoy.  If you don't like your IT department's security policies circumvent them and keep all your files on .  Staff resources, corporate knowledge and a legacy of past work that stabilizes the innovation framework of tomorrow is really important.  It's a bad idea to eat all the apples in the summer.  It might make sense to save a few for the late fall.  If you want a treat, have an apple but don't tear down the branches which provide next years fruit.  As an aside I did lose a lot of apple trees to the cold and to deer this past winter but this comment makes no particular sense right here.

OK the point is that if you are after fruit, get a ladder.  Put some work into solving your problem.  Work hard at it.  Maybe the answer is some sort of lift instead of a ladder.  Don't be put off by the cost.  Perhaps there are competitive lease rates or there are fewer injuries and your worker's compensation, liability insurance and health care costs will be less, or you'll just pick more apples or cut your labor costs or you employees will enjoy it or you can use the lift for other stuff when it's not apple picking time.

The deer spit is awesome.  A few years ago there were two deer that frequented the windfalls of this tree.  I'd toss an apple between me and them and they'd advance.  With each throw they'd get closer.  After a month of this they'd start to salivate just seeing me.

Friday, July 25, 2014

IT Executive & Pickle Salesperson

Years ago I used to take my kids to work once in a while.  It seemed logical for them to witness a corporate headquarters, see how people acted, have lunch with dad and perhaps get a sense of what I did.  During those visits I'd go about my normal day responding to phone calls, sending and receiving email, "networking" with peers, "collaborating & planning" with other department heads and ensuring that everything in the IT department was on schedule, on budget, etc.

There would always be a followup conversation with my kids asking what they remembered, what they saw and questions for them.  Always they would remember lunch, especially if it was at some pizza place.  Anyone with blue hair, purple hair, good tatts or who took the time to actually acknowledge and talk to them was high on the list of memories.

When I'd ask them what they thought of what I did the standard response was "I don't know what you do except talk on the phone."  When my son was in second grade I suggested that I take his place in second grade and that he go to my job.  "What would I do?  I don't even know what you do."  My advice was always the same.  Be nice.  Don't answer the phone.  If it's important they'll leave a message.  Throw away all the mail.  None of that really matters anyway.  Be pleasant and respectful.

Now my children are adults, 30 and near-thirty.  They've watched me, too, over this past ten months of re-definition.  One of them asks every month or so how I am doing.  The other I see almost daily in my wife's and her small business. 

Today I was talking about the opportunity we had to create a friendly business for people to patronize and the opportunity we had to be pleasant and respectful.  My daughter indicated that as a guy who now sells pickles and honey from the back of a pickup truck I had something to share.  As I've pondered that I've thought of all the people in the corporate world with whom I worked.  Certainly there were lasting friends and relationships that defined the social aspect of the corporate organizational world that made the work more pleasant.  I think the advice there to throw away the mail and be prudent about which calls to answer was correct. 

During the last ten months I've met many new people, some at the small business and its' sidelines, some in the pursuit of new ventures and some in similar spaces, both in-person and in this new era "online."  The strength of my work and the challenge my work was always the newness, the creative opportunity.  The last ten months have had many more creative opportunities and rewards.  That has been great.

I'd still like to re-visit second grade.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"What day is it?", Big/Small Corporate Deceit, Screwdrivers & Jobs

What day is it?...

After a normal sleep I was up early with assignments at the cafe.  Certainly there were tasks that needed to be done at 7:30AM & 9:00AM but it was a bit unclear what day of the week today was.  Was it the weekend?  Was it a weekday?  If either of those what was the name of the day?  In the current mode of operation every day is a work day (with limited financial gain) and they are all a bit unfocused...but that can change.  Gainful return comes with focus.

Big/Small Corporate Deceit...

Many of the the brand names we grew up with are gone and many others have been become nameplates on inferior China-produced goods.  

Our food has gone through similar branding compromises.  Hamburgers used to be fairly decent.  Now it's feedlot beef teaming with e coli, formed in a factory somewhere into patties, fried, frozen, shipped and microwaved for your pleasure.  One contaminated plant can poison the nation.

Branding involves what you hear and retain but also about what you see and what synapses that ignites in your head.  If you see a pickup truck parked along the road with bags of sweet corn you think "hey, fresh sweet corn.  I bet he/she picked that this morning."  If you put a couple of teenagers on the tailgate it's even more convincing.  Farm kids working for the summer.

In our area there is a corporate entity that has cornered the market on metropolitan food stands.  They are placed about the metro (not in bad areas) and the produce sits out in the sun all day after arriving from Texas and other god-forsaken parts of the country.  Hand-painted plywood signs indicate that this is "farm produce."  At night the produce sits out or on the ground.  No doubt the raccoons and vegetarian night-prowling coyotes have a field day.  They also charge about twice what the big box grocery retailers charge where the produce is rotated regularly, kept air condition, misted with cold water and for which you get really competitive pricing. 

My uncle used to say the best business was one in which you have no employees, no inventory and you continue to make money when you are not there.  I think that's what works for the owner of this farmstand corporate entity.  Hopefully I'll think of something like this one of these days.

Screwdrivers (and the US economy)...

My years at Universal Milking Machine were memorable and certainly representative of a long history of manufacturing in Albert Lea. In later years as I learned of it's end it did not dawn on me that it was the beginning of a an era of closings, consolidations, exportation of jobs and a loss of local and national economic strength. This evening as I remained challenged with a self-imposed writing deadline I opened my desk drawer looking for something to motivate me.

This was my first Enderes screwdriver and I distinctly remember seeing a four-way tool for the first time, explaining the Enderes name to the hardware store person (who may not have cared) and buying it without checking the price. Several more were purchased. Over time I started to see orange-handled screwdrivers of similar size and appearance but they were at most $1.99 and made in China. We started with really good screwdrivers and local jobs and tools that last and ended up with a very old company on the ropes, really cheap Chinese screwdrivers of questionable quality and jobs in China, not Albert Lea. Online checking indicates that Northbridge Tool purchased the Enderes name, reputation and goodwill and it looks like they have a catalog and it looks like there are new production Enderes tools available on eBay. If that is the case I'm going to send all of my orange-handled Chinese tools to some country that deserves failure.


working on it...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Broken Tools, Obsolete Necessities - July 14, 2014


  • the late winter, cool temperatures and rain, rain, rain impact
    • slow, late bees in the field
    • agitated bears finding the beeyard(s)
    • broken mowers
    • reliable Stihl weed-wacker died from overuse (twelve  years)
  • fee apples
  • the gooseberries are going crazy
  • great red and black currant production
  • grapes...another story


Looking for one thing leads to finding another.  This afternoon I found another box which I must have used fifteen years ago to consolidate computer debris.  There was a nice Multi-tech 28.8 modem with the power
adapter and serial adapters for both sizes of serial ports.  Obviously this was purchased at a point of technology evolution.  Software and hardware alike takes forks in road which can be dead ends, switchbacks, shortcuts and the main road to the future.  Telecommunication speeds continue to increase.  Centurylink will now bring fiber directly to one's home.  Someday we'll be stealing copper telephone cable from our neighbor's homes along with the plumbing.  I'm not sure what I used this modem for and I have no recollection of the computer for which the adapters were purchased.  My first personal computer was purchased in 1980 for about $1500 which was half-price at the time.  Following that most have come from one job or another.  The no-name box in use at the moment was about $300 four or five years ago.  Most other PCs about the workspace are throwaway notebooks re-purposed with Linux or my ever-present Samsung Chromebook.

Half of the cables and adapters were discarded.  I kept a couple of network cables but pondered whether they were CAT3 or CAT5 and all six on the parallel printer cables.  Certainly there are people around today that know nothing other than wireless or bluetooth printing.  That's fine.  Having a box of old computer cables are probably like the brace and bits of our parents and grandparents.  The brace and bits in my tool box are still useable.  The computer cables cannot connect to much of anything.  I shipped the box of cables to some impoverished country in Africa where they can burn off the insulation, polluting their drinking water and air but make a few cents.  It made me feel like a business incubator.


After working a short consulting gig the other day I felt pretty good.  The company were complimentary of
opinions, perspectives and ideas that the 27-year gig rejected for 27 years.

The Twin Cities is full of jobs.  I'm shooting for a fall re-entry but only something less than 8x5.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Post July 4th Post

The Opportunity...

The Fourth of July was a bit of a stretch.  During my working career it was a long weekend, some consideration of the sacrifices of others that allow us to live freely and unfortunately sometimes it was a long weekend to do system upgrades.  The corporate world likes to use those long weekends to enhance their IT environments.  I've never seen a long weekend used to revise marketing plans, to set corporate initiatives or bring all the cost accountants together for a 3x24 activity.  Five years ago I told my staff that we'd done as many long-weekend upgrades to meet the lifetime requirement and we were done with that.  Over the next couple of years there were suggestions from the people who flew on the corporate airplane that we leverage a long weekend.  We successfully found other ways and the IT staff regained a bit of their lives.

This year over the Fourth we did not have the pressure of a work upgrade but we took the opportunity to
create some memories for three young children.  My wife taught them how to bait a hook, the basics of fishing from a dock, shared the excitement of their first catches and the hesitancy of removing hooks from fish and doing the "release."  I put the dock in the water (first time in three years) and launched our legacy fishing boat and took them for their first boat rides.

If they remember their first catch, their first boat ride and the wind and water in their faces as much as my wife and I remember our firsts this was the best three-day weekend ever.  It was far better, far more meaningful and important than an Oracle 10g to 11g database upgrade.

The Loss...

Every week in my wife and daughter's small cafe and market store we meet new people.  Much effort goes
into putting healthy, local food on the table and we are an island in the middle of a sea of nameless but nationally branded food options.  We're different because we care about the food and we care about the people.  Every day we ask people's names and call the return patrons by the name we learned the week before.  We ask about their families, their plans, console them on job issues and one in a while we have to say goodbye.  Some good friends have been made, we see them often and then they are gone and we wonder what happened.  We do hear nice stories.  A guy brought his 90-year old neighbor in for lunch on the way to the grocery store.  The elderly man claimed it was the best sandwich he'd had in his life.  Of course the sad part is that he died that evening.  Smiles, conversation and friendship and good food does make a difference.  You don't get that at Subway.  This past week our good friend Curt lost his best friend Zinnia.  Soft-spoken, polite, patient and content to be seated outside we're saddened by this loss but ever-thankful for our time together, and hopeful and certain new friends will enter our lives.

27-Year Gig Reflection...

My life is increasingly filled with events and multi-faceted opportunities that make the 27-year gig increasingly part of my life history that I'm working to forget.

If I could find the dead mouse in the basement I'm be a complete person.