Sunday, November 30, 2014

No Satisfaction

Several weeks ago at the recommendation of a friend from Iowa I started watching "Mad Men."  There's really no reason to include the Iowa reference with exception that I grew up on the southern Minnesota prairie just eleven miles from Iowa.  I value the opinions and the practical advice from people of the prairie. 

Mad Men is very well written and well cast although a bit repetitive.  The main character, Don, has made a truly major error in his life which carries throughout every job and relationship in his life.  It's possible that we all need to review our life's mistakes along with our successes.  The show starts in the 1950's.  Now in season four it's sometime in the 1960's.  Viet Nam is weaving it's way into the story.

Much has changed in the workplace.  Women have made some inroads but certainly not to a point of equality.  There are some organizational exceptions.  During the first five or six years of the 27-year gig people did smoke in the office and opening some alcohol around 4:00 PM was not uncommon.  

This past few days I've been working on getting my arms around blog monetization and have made significant progress.  The opportunity to make some money does exist.  All of my blogs so far have been hosted and created in Blogger.  During the last year of the 27-year gig I did dip my feet into WordPress and that's where this effort needs to go.  Between Friday, Saturday and today I spent about eight hours figuring out how to correctly insert javascript widgets featuring Amazon tools.  There appears to be an underlying effort on the part of Google to not make that simple.  Of course not I've figured it out and it's simple. The real challenge is creating interesting content.  I've been looking at many food blogs which have large followings   We have casually done some blogging in the small business, which is a food retail and wholesale operation, but it needs to be done more seriously.  This goes back to my often referenced fallback book on writing,  Writing Down The Bones.

 Overall the goal here is satisfaction.  This is a later video but I believe the first release was around 1965.  Hopefully not all of my reference points are mid-1960's in this search for employment, jobs and a little cash in my pocket.  So far it's been interesting but without broad appeal and satisfaction.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Monetization & "Been Around the Block"

Employment Recap:

  • Dairy Queen: Ray gave me my first job, challenged me and gave me a lifetime of Dairy Queen stories and references.
  • Berglund's Sporting Goods:  Pete and Harold groomed my retail skills, taught me a great deal about everything outdoors and established some key life-long interests.
  • Wilson & Company:  Being a dishwasher in the cafeteria of a meat packing plant paid $2.00/hour and all the gore you could stand.  My German WWII war bride manager continually tried to convince me that no one in Germany knew of the Holocaust.
  • U.S. Army:  11B40 designation teaches you how to kill and how not to be killed.  I am alive.
  • Universal Milking Machine:  Laboring on the factory floor and with my first management responsibilities (at 20) taught me lessons used throughout my career.
  • University of MN...Data Center:  First programming challenge (DEC PDP 8/L).
  • University of MN...Teaching Assistant:  Standing in front of an auditorium classroom requires preparation and confidence.
  • Governor's Commission on Crime Control & Prevention:  Heads-down data management and statistical analysis and the best group of people I ever worked with.
  • MN Department of Public Safety:  What more can be said than writing the "Minnesota Motorcycle Helmet Study" and "Minnesota Crash Facts" was the beginning of the end of government employment.
  • Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Minnesota:  Two weeks and I knew it was time to move on but...I had the opportunity to get my first exposure to personal computing (1980) and write an innovative medical claims analysis program with a rogue implementation of mainframe Basic.
  • North Star Casualty Services:  This was a good gig with an enthusiastic group of professionals, competing with very large companies as a start up.
  • The 27-Year Gig:  There is much to be said.
Around the Block
One of the advantages of having been around the block a few times is that you have been around the block.  Without a major effort to be oblivious you learn things, hopefully taking the time to apply them.  My first exposure to personal computers was in 1980.  I worked for a large health insurance concern.  Doing analysis of the data was quite difficult.  All the systems in place were for claims processing, underwriting and billing.  Our only tool was a report writer called ASSIST.  How I remember that name I don't know.  We'd fill out forms for  ASSIST and send them via inter-office mail to someone who would key them on punch cards and submit the job.  The report would come back in a couple of days.  Usually you would make errors on the ASSIST forms.  Turnaround was eternal.  Somewhat undercover we visited a few other people who had purchased personal computers, kept them well hidden from corporate pundits but leveraged them for special analysis and purposes.

Over the course of the later gigs I was hands-on on the IBM 34, 36, 38 and was in an early adopter of the AS/400 following that through numerous hardware and software upgrades to the iSeries and then on to network servers, and then the evolution of virtualization and cloud services.  Frankly it all ends where it began.  Certainly personal computers have delivered computing to the masses, changed all of our lives and perhaps made us happier.  From a technical point we're not applying to the personal computer world much of what the mainframe world mastered and deployed thirty-five or forty years ago.  

As I sit here at home writing on a Samsung Chromebook, using Google's SAS 'Blogger'  I'm reminded of a lot of time spent at a mainframe 'dumb terminal.'  It seems that I've seen this before.

My efforts have been a bit vertical and lacking integration.  Historically as a reader I'd check each of my email accounts individually, monitory Twitter for a while, check into LinkedIn and read and post and of course check Facebook to see if any of my quips attracted attention.  A dashboard for dealing with that would be more practical.

On the writing and creative side that would be likewise prudent.  Yesterday and today I did research on integrating Blogger and Twitter (Blogger to Twitter). provides such integration and also to LinkedIn and Facebook.  I'm not exactly sure how much of this particular blog needs to go to those other social media sinkholes.  That's to be determined.   Clearly there are many venues for adding viewers/readers and ultimately impacting monetary return.

"Sign Your Work"
A week or so ago a blog that I follow showed a repair of a leaking oil filter with a large hose clamp and a beer can.  In the military that's called "field expediency."  You use what you have to solve a problem or make a repair that allows the mission to continue.  I thought it warranted recognition.

Another blog that I follow is Seth Godin.  His focus is marketing, promotion and public relations and initiative and action.  His posts are succinct, clearly done frequently in a practice of active writing.  Some are very good, others of nominal or passing interest.  Carpenters often sign their work, leaving names and dates on hidden components of dwellings and structures.  Whenever I have a wall opened up I leave a record, as nominal as the work may be.  Seth makes comment that more work should be signed.  It's not limited to artists and songwriters.  Often I find things in buildings that are placed in a particular location because it's logical (e.g. a place to hang a removed padlock) or a place to hang a tools where it is used, not where it is stored.  The filter repair may have warranted some sort of hang tag with a name and date, too.  

This is a test to see how the integration tool work.   

Moving stuff

George Carlin did a routine about moving stuff in our lives, how important it is, how we spend a great deal of time taking it from place to place.  My spin on that is that we typically pack a bag with old underwear when we fly to Europe.  My life, too, is overly encumbered with stuff, much of it misplaced, broken, unused, dated and of no real value.  I think "the cloud" will solve much of that.  Actually I've already misplaced, lost and stored a lot of worthless stuff in the cloud.  The real advantage to that is when I die my family won't know the passwords of the URL's so that will be quick with no repetitive trips to Goodwill or the Salvation Army with all "my stuff."

Yesterday we checked on the status of our goods (from the small business) at a new account in Minneapolis.  Last week we stood on our heads (I cannot, my father could) to deliver a large order.  In the process I became an overnight expert on UPC-A and EAN-12 barcodes.  During a quick walk through the store we found one category of our goods but not the other.  While creating and printing the barcodes I did wig out a bit over some alignment issues and I thought that might be the issue (an perhaps a problem for the customer).

Placing a quick email to one of the contacts asking how it was going and where the product might be in the store he responded that they might not be out yet and that he was just a glorified stock boy.

That reminded me of the George Carlin routine and I responded back to the young man with "We're all stock boys in the life,, moving one kind of thing or another from one place to another, waiting for someone to tell us to move it again.  At a point in life you will tell people to move stuff, and then to move it again, and it will all be fine.  It all works out."

Barn Finds, Mind Finds

Classic car collectors are always hoping to discover a treasure parked in a barn (or pole building) decades ago.  YouTube is full of videos.  Some of them are interesting, some contrived.  Once in a while I have a recurring dream about of our first 'up north' cabin which is actually comprised of a simple 20 x 30 cabin, a simple 8 x 10 shed and a simple 4 x 4 outhouse.

The cabin proper was built by Glenn and Helen Miller around 1960.  We purchased it in 1983.  There are a lot of stories.  It was built on a single layer of blocks with not really a crawl space unless you are a raccoon or coyote, both of which have inhabited the 12" crawl space.  Around 1990 the floor rotted and began to collapse.  Not often do you get to use a chainsaw inside your house.  Removing the floor and replacing it with treated joists and flooring in  ridiculously cold Minnesota winter was made interesting by the fact that the interior walls hung from the ceiling with the floor removed and the occurrence of the only break in.

Twice I've re-roofed the shed (the cabin once) which has a pitched roof and is built entirely of lumber milled from trees on the property.

I built the outhouse at our home (not 'up north') in the driveway.  Neighbors could not understand the purpose of a hole in the floor of a garden shed.  Built to be moved and re-assembled it's served it's purpose for 24 years.  Glenn and Helen's outhouse lasted 30.

In the dream I'm wandering about looking in several other buildings on the property, finding a few treasures but no cars.

The YouTube videos always show someone with a bolt cutter taking off a lock and there there's the car or truck under decades of dust, mouse droppings surrounded by parts; someone long ago just walked away from making this car special, making it run just one more time.

Recently I've been thinking about people I know and people I've worked with.  Certainly some of them have intellect, creativity, passion and enthusiasm; they show it and use it every day making their lives (their's and their friends and family) rich.  What I'm concerned about are the circumstances that cause the doors to be closed and locked or simply left a bit ajar, too small to enter or leave.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Eagles, Ducks and Dead Fish

Ducks, Eagles and Dead Fish

Many years ago during the 27-year gig the organization began the process of strategic planning, bringing in one expert after another sort of randomly poking at perceived organizational roadblocks.  Lou Holzt was the coach of the Notre Dame football team at the time and given that was our owners alma mater, Lou was one step below the Pope.  Not making enough money as coach he was a traveling salesman, a carpetbagger of sorts, spreading his wisdom learned from coaching large, steroid-filled men to the corporate world.

Essentially the program talked about 'eagles' who soared above the rest, who saw things others did not, who were true leaders, people that others would follow, look to and follow as they forged new frontiers in the domestic and world centers of trade, business and innovation.  At the other continuum were 'ducks.'  They simply sat on the water, ate, migrated not because it was there idea but because it was a direction everyone else went when it became too hot or too cold.  I guess Lou did not understand that eagles, too, migrate for more or less the same reason.

The planning session involved a football coach sort of introduction...go team, we can beat the competition, we have the guts, etc.  Following that two large flip charts appeared at the front of the room and the challenge was to name people who belonged on the duck list and the eagle list.  Obviously the eagle list started to fill first.  The facilitator pressed the attendees to name ducks, people who held the organization back.

I was not very well known at the time and someone put my name on the duck list.  Over twenty-seven years this person would periodically mention that he did not like me. 

The program became interesting when someone named the owners executive secretary and office manager and employee #3 as a duck.  I never found out who suggested that name but there was lively discussion and debate.  This meeting occurred on a mandatory Saturday.  Never again did the exercise of naming ducks and eagles occur.  Over time I became the first person to win two 'eagle' awards' in two separate decades for dramatically different efforts.

This morning as I drove to Holiday for coffee I passed Lake Vadnais which was frozen last week but this morning had an inch of water covering it.  Two eagles were sitting about 200 yards offshore, next to each other and in contention for a dead fish.  An iPhone image capture effort would have been disappointing.  I pulled over and watched as the eagles tussled.  Both being mature, one finally gave up, not because of losing this particular contest but because there are always more dead fish. 

Yesterday I was near my former office headquarters and made a call to meet someone for coffee.  They were unavailable and I ran through the list of twenty or so people of seven hundred that I'd actually like to talk to.  After a few moments I closed the door on that thought,   looked at the eagle reflection in the windo and flew off to find another dead fish.

Morning Problems

During my gig I had a staff that did all the IT support and at a point they took away my screwdrivers and deleted my network and ERP administrator rights.  My job was to work on the strategy and politics and budget  and creative, innovative side of IT.  I did that well.

We do a lot of printing for the small business, consuming large quantities of inkjet and laser toner.  Over the years I've bought many OEM and aftermarket products.  The bottom line is that OEM products work.  Aftermarket products work, too, most of the time, just not all of the time.

Anyone with a brain scourers garage sales, auctions, etc., for USA manufactured tools (e.g. wrenches, sockets, etc.).  For whatever reason I still feel compelled to use aftermarket cartridges.  This morning I spent 1.5 hours screwing with a series of bad cartridges.  Given that I used to make money I do that calculation of how much that cost.  The small business really does well but my time is pretty much donated.  I guess that means it has no cost or it's really valuable. 

Given the likelihood of printers to fail and the importance of printing I have backup printing devices.  In all likelihood, they are of Chinese manufacture, just like all the cheap tools at Harbor Freight.  OEM cartridges seem to be the remaining holdout on quality.  Later today I may simply put all my remaining aftermarket cartridges in the 'recycle' box, but then again I may not have fully learned this lesson.


I'm re-scheduling my search until after the first of the year and after tax season.  That will give me about six months to leverage my outplacement service which has been of great value.

Write, right.

This is from a week, perhaps ten days ago.  There was some point to the introduction but I believe I lost that under the snow and will complete in the spring.

Direction, North
It seems that I've been spending a great deal of time moving myself or things from one place to another

The "up north" property involves driving north.  I'm doing the math in my head.  Apparently I've spent approximately one thousand hours in the 2004 vehicle going "up north."  Since August there's been a focus on everything that needs to be done before winter sets in.  The last time winter set in with a big snowfall was 1991 with 18" or 19".  This year it was yesterday with 12-15".  There were a handful of things that needed to be done and many that could be done but it's deer season and every outdoor adventure includes a small risk of being a target so I guess the snow was timely.

Direction, South

Random, Overhead

From Mad Men:  
1) "Don't spend your time dining on the drama of other people's lives."  
2) "My podiatrist went to Hazelden."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Guy With A Good Job

The white van that stopped at the small business simply said "Nielsen" on the side.  The driver bought four large salads (all different), a grilled chicken wrap and a kiwi drink, all to go.  While my daughter did the real work I asked the customer what he did.

"Nielsen does cellular network testing for the three major carrier networks.  I service seven major markets."

"What exactly do you do?

"I drive fixed routes in each market sending and receiving data and then I upload it at night.  It's been a good job for nine years."

"So just drive around?  What is your background?"

"Yes, I just drive around and let the equipment do what it needs to do.  I have a Masters in electrical engineering.  Previously I was a contractor doing exactly the same thing.  Now that I'm 67 I like the benefits."

Who would have thought there were jobs like that?  He's sixty-seven.  At sixty-four I think I might still warrant the compensation of a c-level guy but then I'd be doing budgets, managing people that don't want to be managed or annoying those that don't need managing, working on strategy, cost-effective process and system improvements, politics, etc.  Theoretically let's say the c-level job pays six-figures responsible for all those previously mentioned tasks versus a job that pays '.5 x six-figures" and involves getting in a nice van and driving around.

As much as I like driving I don't like sitting for extended periods of time and I do enjoy impossible tasks for commensurate pay.

Training Day
Today my daughter trained me on some of the things she does at the small business.  I've avoided being good at some of those because of the obvious.  The real upside to the experience was finding out she is a very good trainer, something I did not know.

Mobility & Embarrassement
My better half was out of town and I had to fill in on another small business activity at another location at five PM.  Being unusually early gave me the opportunity to use my phone as a hotspot, sit in the car and start a blog post (this one).  Any good mobile user has to futz with their headset or earbuds, find the right tunes,
check their email account(s), monitor Twitter and look at Facebook before doing any real work.

Sitting in a car doing all this with a notebook propped on the steering wheel and your gut is weird and it always makes me feel like a creeper.  It was an opportunity for a good quick Facebook read or short non-dancing cat post but I was distracted by the advertisement "Manilow."  Being greatly embarrassed I have to admit that I've actually seen Barry Manilow three times in concert.  One of those concerts was a fundraiser for children with no homes or some incurable disease or their parents were ultra liberal or ultra conservative.  Certainly that makes my three concerts somewhat less pathetic.  After the third one even my wife said "enough."

I Cannot Work At Bruegger's or Caribou 
At three-ten PM the Bruegger's/Caribou doors open and fifty middle-school kids flood in.  They are very noisy.  Apparently while I'm on the budget plan for artisan coffee the thirteen/fourteen crowd has money for that and it does not make them quieter.  They're not totally obnoxious but the staff looks pained.  The young boys look like they are ten and the young girls look like they are fifteen and they all have similar voices.  Combined with the really poor wireless internet bandwidth I gravitate to sleezy locations where no twenty-something or thirty-something or even older mobile workers would be seen.  Burger King has good internet and the few patrons simply sit and stare or read the paper leaving me the bandwidth.  I always buy a beverage just to "pay my way," but Burger King is so awful that I usually throw the contents away.

"Little Miss Sunshine" was written by a Twin Cities woman who sat at a coffee shop for a year or two.  I'm not sure if it was the coffee, the duration or the location that caused her to create such a sad but happy and thoughtful film.  OK this is wrong.  My movie viewing has been off for at least a decade.  "Little Miss Sunshiine" was a very good film and I would recommend it to almost anyone.  It's not a movie for kids.  The filmwriter/movie writing scenario was Juno, a film about a young girl unexpectedly pregnant.  I've seen the film but not read the screenplay.  As much as I promote remote/mobile working I'm not sure that much really gets done but I'm not sure much gets done in the formerly white collar office environment either.

Why This Post About Not Having a Dumb Job is Lacking Today.
Whipping Post by The Allman Brothers  is simply too overwhelming today.  Lacking, overwhelming, blah, blah, blah.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Morale Compass

Several times following the break-in at the cafe we've been asked "did they catch them yet?"  Reading the local suburban paper which now is published every other week, I see that about ten other businesses have been broken into by throwing something large through a window.  Propane tanks seem to be the choice recently.  I've been observant, watching for skinny punks carrying propane tanks.  Most skinny punks smoke.  I'd assume we could check all the local non-smoking programs and nail these people given the warning on tanks to not smoke.

Once in a building they simply kick the sheetrock out from space to space.  Those are walls for people who have some level of values, at least as we conventionally define them.  In Iraq the citizenry pulled the copper wire as quickly as the US Dollars put it in place.  That was the value there as conventionally defined.  You did not leave you home empty because someone would come in.  We leave our homes empty all the time.  This year we're all going to grandma's house but you, Bobby, get to skip that, stay home and watch TV w/ your AK-47 at hand.

No "they" have not caught them and if they are caught it will probably be a year on probation.

For at least twenty-five years I've been planting trees each spring.  In many
ways this was planting food for more deer.  Now I fence or use tree protectors on almost everything put in the ground.  The survival rate of my white pine (Pinus Strobus) plantings is correlated with the deer population.  I like wolves.
 The deer hunters dislike wolves.  Apparently deer hunters dislike white pine trees, too.  White pines can live to four hundred years and some five hundred in Wisconsin and Michigan.  One percent of the old growth forests remain from the extensive logging occurring into the early 20th century.

Pre-colonial white pines could be as much as 230 feet tall.  From about fifteen years of age on they grow approximately three feet per year.  Some of my early plantings are growing at that rate, now.  Along the lakeshore I put up wire fence to discourage the beavers.  Conventional wisdom indicates that beavers will not take down pines because the sap gunks up their teeth.  I've not found that to be true. 

The leading portion of the white pine produces a bud cap which deer love.  Once they eat that the trees destiny as a 230' Tree of Peace (Iroquois) has ended.  The bud capping process needs to occur each fall to discourage the deer.  Here in MN I do this before deer season.  Typically we'll get at least one wet snow which requires doing it all over again.  I've had very good luck using 3M Post-It notes.

This tree stuff all falls into the category of work for which there is no pay, there will never be any lumber harvesting and for which many simply say "why?"  For some reason, perhaps because of being a midwestern flatlander, I think adding height to the other four dimensions of our morale compass is good.

The small business calls.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Few Random Thoughts

  • The small business has taken a lot of time in the last couple of weeks.  Our part-time person turned in her notice.  That's a good move for her and not so good for us but like most businesses it all comes down to managing your most valuable resource, that being your employees (or you if that's are there is).  Leveraging the time and knowledge for the demands of the day and the strategic demands of tomorrow requires discipline.
  • Although the 27-year gig was all in IT and the eleven years before that were also in IT my home computing environment has always been a bi shaky.  Everything worked and there have been no major data losses.  It's simply that system performance lagged a bit, font management was quirky, etc., etc.  Several changes have been made in storage, backup and printing.  Not that it matters but I use and for backups.  On the less than optimal configuration platform we had adequate printers in the office but you had to get the files to the he direct attached PCs.  Now I've implemented wireless printing which is more about catchup than anything else.  There was another wireless printer that's been sitting in a box on the floor for three or four years, long enough that it's probably just good for donating rather than implementing.  Everything has it's time.
  • On the art platform there have been a few projects.  Austin Kleon, a young guy, an artist, who's captured quite a following in the social media world offers the position that all art is theft; there are few
    original ideas.   This afternoon I dug into  For a number of reasons the 1970s are a bit unclear so I enjoyed the Grateful Dead doing Stairway to Heaven and The Immigrant Song and then chased the chainsaw art world.  I gravitate to the folk art world because I like quirky.  I'm going to steal another artists words about fold art..."Folk art is just short of fine art.  It lets the viewer finish the piece (in their head and find a place for it)."  Surprise.  That's not theft, simply my re-wording of someone else's idea.  If you want correct colors, textures, proportions and technique, a piece of fine art you should just go to art school.  This is a different route.
  • Re-training & re-work.  This next week I'm going to make a couple of commitments on the re-training front, focusing on a couple of technical certifications that would allow some short-term consulting.  A large national company about a mile from home continuously hires in those categories.  It's walking distance and now in my post-C-Level career I would not have to be concerned with politics or managing people.  I'll schedule a meeting or two w/ my outplacement guy, harass him about his unfinished book, make excuses for mine and start to wrap that relationship up.
  • In the database world data does not normally go away.  Deleting a record simply marks it as deleted.  Most often, especially in this day and age of unlimited storage, it's still there.  Everything you've every done or looked at on the internet is probably recorded and while not necessarily easily connected with
    you,  some sort of security group could put is all together.  Trees, this fall, have been beautiful.  As the leave have been deleted I'm reminded of the form and shape of trees, hidden for five or six months.  For the next two days I'm going to be changing the form of a couple of oak trees that have fallen during the summer.  This has been going on for thirty-one years, my changing of standing trees to not-standing trees.  In one sense they remain standing.