Thursday, April 23, 2015


During my gig as CIO I managed all aspects of the company's IT world.  We had a national footprint but a relatively small IT staff.  When called upon to do specialized software development we'd put together out best estimate and then multiply by a factor of three.  Normally users provided inadequate specification which lead to many re-writes, substantive changes and once in a while, re-starts.  Executives and users always hated our time estimates.

It's not clear why IT was held to such a critical examination of estimates.  Commercial design projects and land development projects had almost never-ending re-pricing, re-scoping and re-definition, all within a frequently changing financing and economic market.  We simply multiplied by three.  In hindsight (ever good) it's possible that we should have made it more complex, a multifaceted estimate or simply revised our estimate every couple of days.

The remodeling project is proceeding well.  We've not run into anything insurmountable.  I have found a few interesting things. This plaque is mounted inside the front door frame.  The Federal Home Loan Bank Board was created by the Federal Home Loan Bank Act of 1932.  The Board was superseded by the Federal Housing Finance Board created by Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) following the 1989 savings and loan crisis.

The layout of the house appears to reflect pre-war (WWII) conveniences.  I'm unable to locate any information about this plaque.

The original plumber's information is also nailed to a floor joist.  Perhaps this was a plumbing upgrade given the format of the phone number which might have been from the late 1950's.

I've been pondering this as I work away but now I've asked my daughter of the age and she quickly responded '1940.'

The original bedroom closets had conventional doors.  The closet space was normal depth but wide.  As some point one of the closets was opened up and the doors replaced with bi-fold doors.  The trim and bi-folds appear to be from the 1960s.  Door upgrades are on our our list and I've started to replace the older bi-fold with a new six panel arrangement.  In the broad perspective of a home's life this is but a bit of re-work.  Interestingly my daughter is the second owner.  The original owners built the home and raise three children in a small two bedroom home.  At some point one of the residents did the door remodel or had it done.  

The bottom jam-side door pivot hardware is more or less in the same location.  The instructions with my new door, likely from China, really made no sense with more screws than available holes  ( or potential holes) and nothing that made sense in the enclosed diagram.  Taking out the bottom bracket I set the screws aside, put the new bracket in place, looked at the new screws, reached for the ones I'd just removed and put them back in place where they've been for forty or fifty of this home's seventy year (more or less) life.  Who knows how many years down the road someone will start another re-work project on this and ponder "why is this a newer bracket with older screws?"

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Small Business & Milk...and ice

Certainly this will date me but time is flying anyway and I'm already older than the start of this post.  As a kid milk was delivered to our homes.  Everyone had a 'milk box' outside on their front porch.  The 'milkman' would stop the truck walk up to your house and leave milk and retrieve the empty bottles from the last visit.  I'm not sure how often they actually came by but neighbors with more children had bigger milk boxes and that was a source of pride.  We'd put frogs in the neighbors' milk boxes.

The more progressive milk trucks were refrigerated but some still kept products cool with ice.  We'd regularly, as kids on the street, where we most often played, would ask the drivers for ice which we'd suck on.  Freezers in home refrigerators were pretty small and marginal and you were lucky to produce usable ice cubes, summer was hot and there was no air conditioning.

At some point milk delivery people must have gone away.  It was probably the advent of the paper milk carton which eliminated the cycling of milk bottles and made grocery store milk more practical.  I'm only thinking about this today because we do go through a bit of milk at the small business.  People who ask for milk to drink get it in an 8 oz. plastic, sealed but recyclable container.  The espresso machine is where we glorify milk and produce some very nice lattes and mochas.

Normally we have milk on hand but we do run out.  Fortunately we have a Cub Grocery store about a block away but during busy times we head to SuperAmerica across the street.  When I was a kid my mother was always concerned that I'd get hit by a car on our no-traffic street.  She had her reasons.  Finally when reaching an age where crossing the street was allowed I was excited to be able to run with the other kids and beg for ice.

A couple of days ago in the midst of the lunch rush we ran out of milk.  Heading straight across the busy four lane street, not going seventy-five feet to the crossing, I heeded my mother's warnings from sixty years ago to look both ways and then look again and keep looking as you make your way across.  "Don't fall down or the cars won't see you!"  Not looking both ways attentively had left a large, never to be filled void in her life.  Crossing, I looked and looked going across and coming back.

As I filed my week's take of receipts for the remodeling project and for the small business I looked at this receipt and chuckled at 'Super Moo,' thought about the lack of ice, the evolution of one more occupation and service delivery business but also thought I'd take a moment to remind both of my children, now mature adults, to continue to look both ways, look again and keep looking...and don't fall down or the cars won't see you.


Tired of This

Another Small Setback...
There was a time when the days and weeks were long and years seemed forever.  At that time people older than me would remark that 'time flies.'  It's been a few decades since I reached that age and yes, it does fly.

Lately progress has been hampered by random setbacks and challenges.  Progress slows, time speeds up.

The small business is run primarily by my daughter and wife.  Sunday morning my daughter woke up to find the wheels and tires missing from her truck which was parked in a good neighborhood about fifteen feet from her door.  The likely workers, probably young men, are disciplined and can do this job in two minutes.  Unfortunately they do not have health care coverage and cannot look forward to Social Security and Medicare benefits.  I hope next time they drop the car on their hands.

Upcoming Weekend Break...
For the last twenty years or so we've planted trees every spring on our rural property.  Often we're asked 'why do you do that?'  There are a few long answers but the simple one is that it's just the right thing to do.  We're all mass consumers of paper and wood products, all corporately harvested, and who knows the ethics of their reforesting efforts.  It's likely focused on future harvest opportunities, not biodiversity.

Our area was covered with 150' white pine trees in 1850, as were all MN, WI and MI counties east of the Mississippi.  The lumber barons took it all and left the land baron.  Our area was part of the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894 which consumed 250,000 acres and resulted in over 400 deaths.  It was fueled by the slash, the leftover debris of logging.

As I plant I do think of that firestorm which destroyed a city and many families.  Time flies and it's now almost anecdotal conversation, not news of a horrible man-made disaster or of great tragedy.  The old train station in Hinckley is now a museum chronicling the Fire.  Since the Grand Hinckley Casino opened about fifteen years ago it appears that the museum has lost it's patrons to the buffet line and slot machines.

After the fire the trees that grew were oak, birch, basswood and ash.  The birches have now fallen victim to their age, several infestations of birch borers and rising temperatures.  The oaks, once on the edge of zone 3 and subject to frost cracks now, also, are reaching their terminal age.  The basswoods grow quickly and this must be the second or third round for them.  They do make wonderful carving material but are soft and are poor firewood.   The ask, especially the black ash, are treasured but soon will lose to the ash borer now infesting central Minnesota.

This year I'm far too busy to plant trees but I am going to plant trees.  The focus is two areas where I've cut the poplars out and will give the red pine opportunity to grow.  I'd rather do White Pine but they are tough to nuture and require fencing and bud capping each fall to reduce white tail deer browsing.  During the 1850's there were very few deer but certainly elk and moose in the low lying areas.

Outplacement Service...
I was unable to meet with my outplacement guy this week but will work it in next week and bring closure to that process.  I'm ready to get back in the office at least three or four days per week.

Too busy today...even w/o a job

We've dealt with many senior relatives, moving them from long-time homes to senior buildings, to senior buildings with services, to assisted living facilities, to long-term-care buildings and then on their final move.  I have one senior left, my mother's next oldest sister.  She'll turn 99 in June.  She lives in a senior building and is doing remarkable and is quite independent.  I help with a few things.

A few weeks ago I made a change to her phone service.  She had local service from Centurylink and long distance from ATT.  ATT charged her about $35/month.  I'm the only person she calls who lives in the 'long distance' zone.  She has trouble with phones, now, so most of the time the calls don't go through.  I canceled the ATT long distance and added long distance to her local service.  A few days later her phone quit working.

I've commented on the lack of skills in the world, the lack of people who can identify window glazing and a lack of people who really care.  Everyone at Centurylink appears to be working off a script.  It's very frustrating.  I drove 100 miles to test her phone.  While I was there Centurylink called (her phone had been dead) and announced that it was a problem with a central office switch.

It's now three weeks later.  Her phone is dead.  When I received a call from her area code yesterday I cringed because she is 99 and one of these days.... The symptoms of the phone failure were the same so I started an online chat with the repair people at Centurylink.  I also checked her bill and determined that they had added internet service when we added long distance.  After 90 minutes on the chat session the person at the other end, 'Asia L', announced that they could not help me or take off the service that had been added.  They gave me a phone number to call which ended up nowhere.  After telling Asia L. that that was a bad number I received another number for 'customer loyalty.'

Jennifer at 'customer loyalty' was sympathetic but could also do nothing because I was not an authorized person on the account.  She suggested that we get my aunt on the phone.  Repeating that her phone was not working and that was part of the reason for the call to 'customer loyalty' she suggested that we just wait a day.

The phone does not work.   I'd scheduled a service call at her apartment for 11 AM - 3 PM making it very clear that she had about 2.5 hours of medical tasks she has to accomplish each morning.  The person setting up the service call made it clear that that would work.  The repair person showed up at 9 AM.

Small Business...
Thursday is the long day at the small business.  My daughter and wife keep the place open until 7 PM.  It doesn't really pay but there are people who can only show up in the evening.  I was there from 11:30-4:00 and then from 5:00-7:00.

Today I did finish cleaning out the 2004 F-150 which has been replaced.  This has been my standard vehicle used for all farmer's market events, all farming events, all logging (numerous gallons of spilled chainsaw bar oil) and the 'up north' vehicle.  It has a few miles on it but generally is in very good shape.

I've found a few interesting items:
  • many miscellaneous bolts, nuts and eye screws, many in Ace Hardware bags, clearly purchased with some repair or enhancement in mind but I have no idea what.
  • two large Kershaw folding knives, each of which I've previously replaced.
  • many units of coinage, primarily pennies and quarters.
  • my Gerber multi-tool which I've not seen since 2006.
  • an envelope with six curved needles for sewing myself back together.
  • two packages of Quickclot in case I shoot myself or fall on my chainsaw.
  • a baggie containing four saw chains long ago sharpened.
  • two pair of prescription sunglasses.
  • three containers of root stimulant for various agricultural grafting/cutting projects.
  • four tire pressure gauges.
  • quit a few CDs, many of which I've not listened to for more than half a decade.
  • three unopened packages of 500 8" zip ties.
  • several 'loyalty' cards for local and not so local businesses.
  • two key rings with matching keys for which I have no idea what they are for.
  • three lottery tickets, all over one year old.  I'm not going to look to see what I missed.
  • a chocolate frosted donut of unknown age, hard as a rock.
  • two foil-wrapped shortbread cookies from 2004.
I had hoped to find my first Flip Camera, now obsolete from memorable in my technology progression.  It's possible that I purchased one after seen them on Oprah.
This project, the 'emptying' as I will think of it has been ongoing for a week or so but today was the 'in the cab' stuff and it was draining.

The 'House' ...
After working at the small business I headed to my daughter's house #1 for 90 minutes...
  • removed a jammed door closer
  • filled a lot of holes in the front door's a 1929 can only imaging how many storm doors, latches, springs, closers, etc.  The front door itself appears to be original.
  • glazed a window from the second floor (refer to yesterday's comments on window glazing).
  • re-nailed new paneling on the back three-season porch.
  • re-building some molding
  • painted some interior windowframes
  • demoed a discarded door
  • filled the garbage can and yard wasted can and dragged them out for pickup.
  • ordered some specialty light bulbs
  • reached out to someone to repair a broken thermal pane window and some broken windo sash mechanics
  • pondered the next trip
  • thought about reinstalling a dismantled wooden double hung window
Back to Senior Care...
  • The phone still does not work.  We spent $7000 on hearing aids for my aunt but she can't use them when on the phone and when she takes them out she can't hear.
  • Centurylink refused to remove the internet service on her account which I did not order but they won't talk to me because I'm not an 'authorized person' on her account.  They keep suggesting that we get her on the phone (which does not work). 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What is a window?

When my son was about to attend kindergarten he attended a screening of incoming students.  They were assessed for a few health things and then asked three questions of which I've forgotten two.  He was a bright, nerdy little kid who has successfully turned into a bright, nerdy adult.  He may have failed two questions but I do remember one.  "What are windows made of?"  Looking back I'm not sure if the answer was supposed to be 'wood,' 'aluminum,' 'vinyl,' 'high-impact polycarbonate,' or 'glass.'  He stared at the interviewer and responded 'I don't know.'

I suspect there were a lot of neurons firing, he may have thought 'Windows are transparent.  You see what is on the other side.  The image is made of what's there or not or what you choose to see.'  Regardless, he was accepted into a normal class.

How this relates to work...
My pursuit of work has been distracted because of other life activities.  As a former CIO (Chief Information Officer) I do know a bit about the IT (Information Technology) world.  Unfortunately I also know a bit about home repairs and am currently working on the house my daughter moved into (house #2) and the one she moved out of (house #1).  This has involved many trips to the local Home Depot, Menard's and Ace Hardware.  Two days ago I stopped at Home Depot to purchase window glazing.  There were a couple of windows in the upstairs that were wood frame and glass, the way windows used to all be and they were in need of re-glazing (A.K.A. window putty).

During my visit to Home Depot I spoke to three people and asked for 'window glazing.'  None of them knew what that was.  Even with the description 'the putty stuff that holds glass in windows' it was a complete blank.  The outside 'hiring sign' was in English and Spanish and I even looked around around for a Hispanic person who probably actually knew how to fix things but I think Hispanic people all shop at Menard's.

IT has been deeply influenced by the 'consumerization of IT,' cloud storage and applications and mobile devices.  Everyone is an IT expert and it's decoupling the IT departments of many companies, sometimes appropriately and sometimes not.  I'm not sure it's a good turn that every Tom, Dick, Harry and Mary is an IT expert but now one knows what window glazing is.

Home Depot

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Food & Free Food & Social Security

Small Business...

The small business owned by my wife and daughter has been a five year adventure.  We've been in the 'small business' business on and off for many years.  Putting healthy food on the table in the suburbs has it's rewards, not in the monetary sense.  We've always worked in ways we thought advantageous to the community.  This option gives neighbors healthy options, something other than beige food, fried food, feedlot food, Chinese-import food, growth hormone food, etc.

This is a real vegetable.  Many children and suburbanites may not recognize these but they are Roma tomatoes.  They are edible.

Free Food & Social Security...

An original purpose of this blog was to chronicle my unemployment and efforts at re-employment.  Some readers would consider that I've not been diligent in re-employment.  After working for fifty years and looking at '65' later this year I have taken a reprieve but have been very busy.

One thing that happens when you reach 60 is that everyone wants to help you manager you money and they all claim to be good.  Some admit that they are all good, even their competition so then you pick someone who does not appear to be a dick, dresses moderately and seems sincere.  My wife has validated the appropriateness of a few.  They are all men.  I'm looking for a woman.

We've learn a lot about Social Security.  I'll recap.

  • Most people have to work until 66 or 67 to reach their maximum retirement age.  You can collect at 62 but there is a penalty.
  • If you don't start collecting at 66 your benefit grow 8% each year until age 70.  It does not grow after that.
  • The Social Security people are limited by law.  They can answer questions but cannot give you advice.
  • Spousal Benefit:  when the higher earner reaches 66 they can 'file and suspend' if they wish to continue working.  The lower earner can collect a 'spousal benefit' which is 50% of the higher persons.  Their own continues to grow until they file.
  • If you are divorced and have been married for ten years you can collect the higher benefit of your and your ex's.  If you remarry before 60 that option goes away.  If you remarry at 60 and your ex's benefit is larger than yours (or the spousal benefit based on your current husband) you collect the higher.  You can work the numbers on as many ex's as you may have.
  • If your spouse is dead you can collect on their benefit if it is higher.
  • If you file and have second thoughts you have one time to say "I screwed up!"  You can withdraw you filing w/i 18 months, pay SSA back and move on.
You get invited to a lot of seminars, most of them involve food.  The better the food the longer someone will talk before giving you the food.  The low budget firms might have beverages.  Try ever free seminar you can get.

No one can tell you how long you are going to live.  That, along with financial need, are the two incestuous components of navigating Social Security successfully.

Job Pursuit...

Four people asked me this week if "are you really going to look for work?"  The answer is yes.  It provides structure and forces you to get a haircut and wear some decent clothes, something other than what your wore yesterday or something with your college name on it.

I'm meeting w/ my outplacement guy next week.  That will be the last or second to the last time.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Who asked for this?

Who asked for this?  "Energy Dome"

Who asked for this?
Who asked for this?
Who asked for this?

My staff during the 27-year gig was encouraged (by me) to think creatively.  Often IT people are labeled as nerds, slightly above accountants of the fun scale.  That was not the case under my mentorship.

We led our industry and our clients in the emergence on corporate email, intranets and company websites.  That might be worth a "what?" but in the late 1990s these were not the norm many industries.  Around 2005 we released our sixth or seventh version of our company intranet.  It was a bit progressive at the time providing not only resources for internal operations but culling press releases and news from our clients, industry and partners.

Apparently someone thought that unnecessary.  I was asked to demo the intranet to a senior C-level staff member. At each point in the demonstration I was asked "who asked for that?"  In most of the many responses to that question it was truthful to say "No one did.  We thought of it?"  This was trouble.

Just a few years later "innovation" became the hot buzzword of the management world.  The organization created a formal structure for "innovation" which included submission of ideas, formal review of the suggestions by those without ideas of their own and limited funding. Implicit in that effort was reigning in IT innovation and it was successful at curtailing IT leadership in the industry.

As managers we spend far too much time on problem employees and the the slight shortcomings of decent employees.  The opportunities for your own leadership is to focus on the good performance of employees and the people inherently bringing about change.

It was my wife who reminded me of this "Who asked for this?" conversation.  It put a bit of a damper on an otherwise pleasant holiday weekend.  I appreciate that.  Actually the Norwegian half of me appreciates it.  Good weather is not really all that enjoyable.  It simply means you can get your outside work done.  The damper kept me from a few accomplishments.

Authoritative Versus Charismatic Leadership? 

Not everyone is cut out to be a manager and fewer as executives.  You have to be comfortable with the unknown, ambiguities, politics, criticism, performance issues, etc.   For two days I've been thinking about Emile Durkheim and his discourse on authoritative versus charismatic power and leadership.  This has been a recurrent theme in my perception of management opportunities.  In it's simplest explanation we follow some leaders because they are charismatic.  They have have the presence, the ideas, the voice and the looks and your belief in them that makes you follow them without question.  Since I think about WWII a bit I'll suggest FDR and Winston Churchill.  The counter is authoritative leadership/authority.  Of course we might think about world leaders who kill or suppress their opposition but we see it in all organizations regardless of size.  Authoritative leaders have their power because of the rights and authority assigned to their organizational position, now because of their charismatic influence.  We follow them because we have to.

Of course I've used this simple dichotomy over the years many times, and long enough to forget that this was not Emile Durkheim's work but Max Weber.  It's been forty years.  I should still remember.

Steve Jobs = Charismatic
POTUS (current) = Authoritative
POTUS (previous) = Authoritative
POTUS (FDR) = Charismatic
POTUS (Reagan) = Charismatic

Who has your back?

People who have served in the military have a unique perspective on organizations.  The training is focused on making you efficient on core activities and good at a narrow range of skills.  While non-military organization's departments and functions are frequently at odds in the military you rely on the guy or woman behind you knowing and doing their job and even more importantly covering your back.  It's a bit of a commitment, and often to people who are friends, non-friends but under the same mission and rules of engagement.  I'm going to look at the Zappos training world.  They put new employees through a rigorous training program focused on customer service.  At the end of training everyone is offered a cash settlement to quit.  I'm curious how much of the training focuses on covering each others' back?

For those not having served on land, sea or air I recommend Restepo.

Outplacement Firm...

My goal is to wrap up my time with the outplacement firm who has been very helpful.  At completion I'm going to write a review of their contribution to this "next phase" of my life.  My personal consultant is currently on a sabbatical and I'm on a sabbatical so two sabbaticals lead to, well...nothing at the moment.


The coyotes have kept the turkey population down but there are two males courting three females in my front yard daily.  The other neighbors chase them away.  I find that the turkeys keep the neighbors out of my yard and that is fine.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Look under the carpet...

Small Business...

Remodeled Restroom
 Last fall we had a break-in at the small business.  The intruders threw a large concrete block through an opaque window, probably thinking it was an office.  It was the rest room.  The wall caved in and it took a while for me to get the majority of the work done and as in most projects there are always a few little things that linger on.

For many years I attempted to be really good a everything I attempted to accomplish.  Now I've become comfortable with saying "it's good enough."  As I stared at the trash can and a box with a few tools and paint that I was using for the minor but never-ending touch-ups I was reminded of the comment that someday everything you do will be thrown away.  That completed the restroom remodel.

Instead of Target, Walmart...

Target is a subject often re-visited here simply because my former employer did a great deal of work for them and the Twin Cities is the location of their headquarters and...well, I used to really like Target.

As I headed off to work on my daughter's old house (now that my commitment on the new (old) house is complete) there was a need to pick up a few items.  Target now has defined their future as re-visited groceries, fashions and upscale home furnishings.  I needed a furnace filter, some window glazing and a really stiff cleaning brush to deal with the residual of a totally deteriorated rubber-back carpet, all of this dirty work.  Target is for clean people.  Walmart is for people who like dirt, work in dirt or are comfortable dirty.

Story has it that when Walmart opened in Mexico the stores were first built like those in the US.  Sales were not good.  Walmart fronted their retail centers with large parking lots.  People in Mexico ride the bus and did not like or take the long walk across the asphalt.

It was 150 yards from my vehicle to the front door.  Once inside there was probably another 600 yards of shopping.  In the old days you would have parked downtown, somewhat centrally, and visited the hardware store, the paint store, the show store and probably watched a little TV through the Sears & Roebuck window.

Know your customer.  Know your vendors.  Support small business.  Be happy with the big box retailers that know your needs.  Repeat:  support small business.  Worse case is when the big box  retailers care more about Walmart that their customers.
Looks can be deceiving...

This attic expansion space was remodeled, perhaps just updated a few years ago.  The carpet was sort of 1970s but for attic space it seemed OK.  Now as we update and stage my daughter's old house to get it on the market we're re-visiting all that seemed OK a few years ago.

Organizations now all talk about innovation and strategic plans and being nimble in a quickly changing market.  It's important to spend a little time looking back, too, not because anyone cares about your history but because most of your management staff typically has been around for a while and because your vision statement and mission statement (no one has ever been able to provide a succinct differentiating definition of those to me) come from that history which is all know and molded into the future which none of us know.

The carpet was rotten underfoot when we thought it was OK.  Over time it might have shared a bit of an odor as it reverted back to powder and felt a bit squishy to the bare feet.  A smell test and a bare foot test are both good for organizations. 

Outplacement firm...

Two days ago via LinkedIn I saw that the local office of my outplacement firm had a management change.  The head guy clearly was leaving the executive rank and returning the the consultant hallway.  That led to reach out to my consultant.  I've been on sort of a sabbatical because of time conflicts but want to leverage a few of their electronic resources and bring closure to the program both for my sake and the outplacement firm.

My consultant was on sabbatical.  It's sort of a what condition is your conditin in situation.

Amazon Echo...

My regular pitch in the tech world is for the Samsung Chromebook which I've not been using daily for at least three years.  Printers, phones, tables, notebooks, wireless, bluetooth...really at a point who cares?

I have a Sonos system in place for music and it's great, simple to set up and a pleasure.  Obviously it's much easier today to leverage cloud storage and whatever device you might be touching to hear your tunes.  At the teaser price of $99 I did purchase the Amazon Echo which goes by the name 'Alexa.'  This, I like, too.