Friday, January 23, 2015

January Blues

Small Business...
January in MN is typically overcast, cold, fraught with Arctic winds coming across the Dakotas and western prairies and short of daylight and sun.  Small business sales are normally dismal.  People hunker down in front of their fires (now natural gas fireplaces which replaced wood burners which replaced the cow pie burners of my mother's farmer cousins), stay home and do nothing while they watch people on their big screen TVs who are actually doing something.

January has been warm with little snow.  After years of living here I have a small panic attack when leaving the house in JAN without good gloves (or mittens), warm socks, hat and a slightly too warm coat.  You never know when your car or horse will die and you'll be marooned.  This winter I rarely wear a hat or gloves or a coat when running out to the car, bringing in another load of firewood (we burn real wood, not natural gas or cow pies [we don't have any cows]).

Business has been slow.  Many people go south.  The rest stay in their houses.

Quality Work...
My maternal grandfather, a Norwegian immigrant, said little, spent little, had little but went to work every day, glad to have an income.  He moved cattle about in a stockyard, even losing an eye in the process.  For that he was compensated $100 in the 1940s.  He kept on working.

My paternal grandfather, a self-taught high-pressure boiler engineer, also had little, spent little and was also glad to have a job.  He talked a lot and had a great, dry sense of humor and loved telling stories, some true, some not.  Not making enough and perhaps not challenged enough he repaired mechanical clocks in his home, often explaining the workings and issues to me.  I don't understand clocks.

From each of these men I brought a sense of commitment to my work.  Work hard, do a good job, enjoy the people, be civil and compassionate, enjoy the challenge and do it a bit better than the person next to you, in front of you or behind you.

Culver's Yogurt Hot Fudge
 My first job was at a Dairy Queen.  There were standards of how things should look and how much they weighed, serving both to the satisfaction of the consumer and to the profitability of the business.  Last week my son was visiting and given the lack of good ice cream in Denmark (go figure) suggested a stop a Culver's, a midwestern food business.

Upon delivery I suggested that we return the hot fudge sundae.  My first reaction was that that was not an adequate presentation.  Forty-eight years after the Dairy Queen job and I'm still talking about how sundaes and cones should look.  My boss at the time was a nice guy, a good mentor who taught me skills and perspectives that I've used my entire life.  It's possible that most people who worked there simply ate all they could and moved on.  A friend of mine described life as a series of conversation opportunities.  The more popular and similar statement is that each moment is a teaching (or learning) opportunity.

My, 27,  son has a good job.  I explained the importance of how sundaes should work.  My daughter has heard the Dairy Queen story before.  Whenever I go to a Dairy Queen I ask the people how they like their job and what they're going to do with their life.  With a brief overview I encourage them to build and educational and career plan with a firm foundation in making the sundaes (and Blizzards) according to specifications and with a little flair, with a sense of design and balance, and don't forget to say 'thank you.'


Costco Unleaded Gas
 This was at Costco (who actually pays their employees a living wage...Wall Street hates them) where it ends up being three cents less than this because I'm using a Costco American Express card.

The Sixth Extinction
During the State of the Union the POTUS mentioned that we are producing far more oil, fuel is at a low prices, etc., and how this is all good for the economy.  Certainly I burn more than my fair share of gasoline but I'm in a life transition where I drive from one residence to another.  One is going away.

The North Dakota Bakken Oil Field trains rumble through our neighborhood all day long.  All this fracking and sucking of the substrate simply seems to have an ultimate unfortunate and not very good outcome for us.

While honeybees are not native to the United States they have had a major challenge from other parasitic insects for the past twenty years and since 2008 we've had huge losses characterized by catastrophic losses.  It appears that recent agricultural pesticides in the class of neonicotinoids are the source of the problem.  Casually we like to kill insects with "bug spray."  In military operations we have the options of nerve agents.  That's what kills insects.  The insecticides screw up their nervous systems.  Honeybees collect corn pollen from neonicotinoid treated corn.  They can't find their way home.  My beeyard adjacent to corn has had huge losses.  The other was doing fine until the black bear showed up.

Elizabeth Kolbert has written a text that addresses the multitude of ways in which life on this planet is once again headed for extinction.  Having not read the book it would appear that good evidence shows this to have occurred before and it was not just the plight of the dinosaurs.  The POTUS talked about the warming of the planet.  That's just part of the change...and part of the challenge for future life.

This is pretty depressing stuff.  It's the time of the year that I ponder the health of my bee colonies as they snuggle and munch their way through the cold and dark.  How many will I lose is one question that was always asked.  Now I ask if I'll lose them all as they consume neonicotinoid laced pollen, the major source of protein for honeybees and essential for the growth of the larvae.  If healthy bees are exposed they may die but if the larvae consume the insecticide laden pollen they will die; the colony collapes.  Without honeybees we'll be grain and meat consumers.  The fruit and vegetable crops will disappear. 

Eating feedlot beef and over-processed grains does have a downside...



Fifteen years ago I decided that I addressed two challenges.  The first was that I was attempting to read too many newspapers, journals and books and watching too much news, assuming that bright successful people simply absorbed and leveraged more information than I was.  Elimination of some sources was good.

The second challenge was recognizing that one did not have to be good at everything and if it were an activity that you simply enjoyed, being adequate was just fine.

Business casual brought about some challenges.  Rather than the grey suit, white shirt and 'nice tie' uniform of the past we had the option to explore a few more options.  At a point that, too, became a world of too many options.  I standardized on grey socks, blue slacks and blue shirts.  My closet is full of blue shirts, all within a theme.  Since SEP of 2013 I've worn something from that collection one time.  If I go back to the professional world I'm adopting the Steve Jobs look.  Who could criticize Steve Jobs, a man who changed the world.  He was an egotistic ass but the uniform worked.

 Sixteen months into this life transition seems much longer than that.  Clearly my connection to my past working style and location is becoming a less oft referred-to gig.  Clearly I was a good manager, mentor and strategist.  My focus now is on taking my own management skills, mentorship and strategic thinking and apply it to myself.

The waiting lines are short.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

January - Lack of Traction

It's the weather...
Fall was early and cold with considerable below freezing in NOV.  December brought snow which melted in late DEC and now JAN is balmy.  For the past week I've rarely worn a hat or gloves while out and about.  Apparently 2014 was the warmest year on record and the last fifteen have included the warmest fourteen.

I grew up in MN. It was harsh.  Until the 1980s we had to dress warm.  Sorrel boots were the norm.  My kids, born in the 1980s were both given warm winter boots.  They commented recently that it's been a long time since they wore boots.

Small Business Distraction...
In the interest of saving some money I've been working hours at the small business which takes time from things like working on this blog and monetization projects and looking for a real job.  

Here is the progress on the break-in repair which I chose to do myself.

 October 2014.

January 2015.

That looks pretty good.  I'll be particularly angry if burglars come again.  There was consideration of a variety of approaches to making the wall none-breakable but there are windows everywhere.  If you are one of the burglars simply come through an adjoining window next time.

The neighborhood has been hit quite heavily by both business and residential break-ins.  Descriptions of the suspected couple are similar.  It seems like they've worked out a nice partnership.  The six foot guy does the heavy work of gaining entry.  The smaller women jumps in and does the loot collection.

We live if a 'bedroom neighborhood' where many homes are empty during the day.  We can only hope that they become more brazen and make a mistake.  Here in the burbs everyone is naive.  Our customers routinely ask if the perps have been caught.  I don't thing they realize what police and sheriff departments actually do with their time.  The Twin Cities remains relatively safe and you can actually leave your home.  No one has to draw straws to see who stays home with a loaded AK-47 as they do in many parts of the world.

Future as a Ceramic Tile Guy...
That's not going to happen. 

Future as a Burglar...
That's not going to happen.  I cannot fit between the 16" on center 2x4s.

Future as a Blogger...
I'm going to blog for the foreseeable future.  So far I've made $22.06 on Adsense. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I'll never quit working...Target Pulls the Canada Plug

Today Target announced that they were closing all their Canada stores.  This is just a few years after remodeling their acquired stores from one end of Canada to another.  My former employer (of 'the 27-year gig') did most of those remodels.  I've forgotten the total amount of remodeling dollars but it was many millions.  Seventeen thousand people will be laid off.  The cost to close the stores will result in a write off of hundreds of millions.  Their stock rose 7% on pre-open trading today.   Most of those responsible for the move to Canada were eliminated following the recent credit card data loss, including the CEO who left with a $20 million severance package.

The $20 million might not last because he's not an old guy and what with lifestyle and all that he's probably not living on $40,000 per year.  Of course he did make a huge salary the entire time he was there and had stock options so he's set.  I used to work with a guy who was one of the departing senior executives.  It was almost exactly fifteen years to the day since I said to him "Target will eat you up and spit you out but you'll be set."

CVS, Walgreens, Dollar Stores, etc., are eating Target (and Walmart to a limited degree) on the small purchase, cheap product end of the spectrum.  I'm glad I'm not working in that space, but of course I'm not working and would actually like to be part of the 17,000 soon-to-be-laid-off and get the upcoming four months of severance pay.

55+ Communities,  Arizona & Working...
Today at the small business I started talking with a couple about the weather.  At 29 degrees it's unseasonably warm for mid-January in Minnesota.  They had just sold their home of 21 year in Tucson, AZ.  Last weekend or so the Star Tribune carried an article about a woman who was retrieving her 80-something mother from three years of an over-55 AZ retirement community.

Common Roots Cafe Mocha
Yesterday I had coffee with a colleague from the 27-year gig at Common Roots Cafe. He left about the same time.  It seems standard to announce what you're going to do with all your free time when you leave (retirement assumed).  He offered (a year ago) that he was going to work with a North Minneapolis group that was aligned along the principles of Habitat for Humanity.

In yesterday's update he commented that that had not really worked out.  Old guy's drinking coffee and talking about work took up far more time than old guy's actually doing work.  We agreed that in our post working days (mine are not over) the last thing we wanted to do was have anything to do with was an 55+ community. 

He indicated that he missed the people and intellectual stimulation.  When pressed on how many people of the 700+ he missed it was less than two handfuls.  I allowed him to take the conversation where it might go and we ended up talking about Israel and the Palestinians.  During the gig our paths crossed on large project process-improvement and IT issues.  He did offer to help me finished up a kitchen re-modeling project. 

Vehicles and Working...
My life as an executive including a series of commuter cars.  The last, a 2008 Ford Fusion with 133,000 miles left the fold a couple of weeks ago.  Not having an executive leaves one with no reason to have a commuter car.

Fortunately I have a backup on the vehicle front.  In 1983 we purchased a cabin 'up north' and soon found a pickup to be invaluable if not a necessity:
  • 1980 Dodge-D50
  • 1981 Dodge D50
  • 1987 Ford F-150
  • 1994 Ford F-150
  • 2004 Ford F-150
  • 2014 Ford F-150
The 2004 Ford is full of stuff including tools, work clothes, parts for things I was going to repair, batteries for all kinds of things...just a lot of debris.  Today I was taking out things and found a 1950s Erector set that I bought at a garage sale with the intent of putting it on eBay.  There is at least one Flip camera in the F-150 somewhere.  When I lost the first one (in the truck) I bought another which I also lost (not in the truck) and as technology goes those are antiques.  At least three times I'm accidentally dumped a gallon of chain saw bar oil in the back.  Not wishing to do that again I've not purchased a bed liner for the new vehicle.  It's a naive thought that I'll somehow not dump something.  

It's going to take a few more passes at cleaning out the 2004 and then I'll get it detailed and put it on or some other appropriate site.  I don't like the color of the new truck.  I miss the keypad entry system.  There is no compass.  The old truck is just fine.  Not having a job has resulted in a few odd choices.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lunch with my old boss, Bill Murray, Seth Godin & Horizontal Elevators

Fairly often I'll have what I think is a bright idea for a blog post and I'll pound out the title or something close.  I've been distracted for all of 2015 and very remiss in working my keyboard.
Thought-resistant keyboard...cable mess...paper mess

Eleven days into 2015 I finally sat down at a desktop PC.  For the past week and a half I've been working on correcting the damage done by the burglars at the small business.  The damage was done in early OCT.  It took six weeks to get the plate glass replacement.  I used a company that was recommended.  Who knows how long it would have taken if I simply did a Google/Yahoo search.  

Break-In Damage
The estimate was $7500 for repairs.  It's a small business.  We don't make a lot of money.  As a former executive I made an executive decision.  "That's too much money!"  It's three months later and I'm finally doing the work myself.  There was a certain amount of sheet rocking ('rocking' as they say in the trades) that needed to be done.  Right next to the recommendation to not put your tongue on the metal railing when it's -15F is the recommendation "just hire someone to do the sheet rocking and taping."

I did the sheet rock and taping work myself.  The last work like that that I did was in my first house purchased in 1978.  Thirty-six years later and I've forgotten how much fun it is.  Actually it went quite well.  At sixty-four I've decided that I'm not going to die from too much dust, Ben & Jerry's ice cream or tobacco smoke.  It's not that I'm casual about it, I do mast up and goggle up, etc., but I know something else will get me.

Almost Repaired Wall
Every day is a learning opportunity.  I'd not ever done any tiling.  With a few YouTube videos under my belt I headed to Lowe's and Menard's to get materials.  In my head I did the calculation of how much tile was required.  The clerk had a special handheld 'tile estimator' which gave a different and smaller answer.  "Are you sure that's enough?  Don't I have to consider some factor for waste?"  She entered all the info again and confirmed her earlier estimate.

On day two of the tiling project I used the last tile with about thirty percent of the wall untiled.  That is my fault.  Never trust anyone working in a "Answer Booth" or in "Customer Service."  A round trip to Lowe's added thirty miles to the odometer and took almost two hours.  The good thing was that the previous layed (laid?) up tile was well set and I could re-set my supports and finish.  This was a repair job.  Walls are never plumb and floors are never level.  For that reason I started in the middle and worked up with the intent of meeting the appropriate pattern of the undamaged walls.  The fun part of that was that I worked downward at the end of the project.  I left the more difficult integration at the bottom where I also was attempting to save the molding tile surrounding the room.  

Monday or Tuesday I'll do the grouting and then call it a wrap.  As a former executive I might just throw a small party for the laborers on this project, put on a symbolic hard hat and pretend to eat a slice of bad pizza in lieu of my executive lunch of a lettuce wedge and a small portion of grilled salmon.

Distraction from the title...
Lunch with my former boss was fine.  We ate at Matt's Bar in South Minneapolis which is famous for their Jucy Lucy burger which contains cheese in between a couple of  patties.  It's impossible to eat without squirting hot greasy cheese on yourself.  They warn you with "have you had one of these before?"  The warning is worthless.

Bill Murray  was on Charlie Rose on New Year's Eve.  The full 1.5 hour interview is available on the web.  Murray talking of his career on stage and in movies, mentioned his friend, John, now dead for decades and responded with "this is a not a dress rehearsal" when Charlie Rose repeatedly pressed him with sharing his plans for the rest of his life.  I'm going to re-visit my list of things I really enjoy and make sure I address those every day (this blog is now on that list).

I do follow Seth Godin who apparently writes short blog posts every day...most of them worthwhile (it seems like this entire blog post might be a seems that I've already said all of this before), but I cannot recall which piece of wisdom I intended to share when I wrote the title to this blog.

Bloomberg Business Week has an 'innovation' section that recently contained an article about a new company that has developed horizontal elevators that ride on magnetic rails, much like high speed trains.  This replaces the cable elevators which are standard in high rise buildings.  The plus to the magnetic elevator is that it moves more quickly and can also move horizontally on floors delivering passengers much closer to their intended destination.  Elevators take up valuable rentable floor space and this new innovation could pay for itself quickly.

Those four topics in their completeness and incompleteness cover in a much shorter version what I intended to cover on the last day of 2014.

I did exchange email with my LHH coach.  I'm going to wrap that experience up NLT JUN.

The following image has nothing to do with anything.  It's simply part of a label design I did for some products we sell in the small business.   Actually the products are for gluten-free, salt-free dry soup mixes.