Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some books I read this year

Here are some quick reviews for some of the books I read this past year.

I've always got a pile of books I'm working on.  I read most fiction to completion; with most research and political/economics/self-improvment, etc., I tear through the first eighty percent and then out it back on the shelf a year or two later.

  • T.R. Pearson.  A short History of a Small Place. His first novel with his unique turn of the phrase. It brought back some memories for me as I read it a good fifteen years ago.  Louis Benfield is a sentimental young man.  I felt for his mother and the way Pearson helped her express her grief.
  • T.R. Pearson.  Blue Ridge It was a Pearson year.  I'm currently reading Gospel Hour.  Blue Ridge introduces a new setting and new characters.  Sometimes crime-bosses do things with class.
  • Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises I read this about twenty years ago.  This time through, I noticed some good writing about three quarters of the way in, but I think for the most part he was phoning this in.  I have, however, realized some acquaintances remind me of Lady Ashley and Jake Barnes.  It also inspired me to search for some YouTube videos of Pamplona's Running of the Bulls.  Oh, that and the use of telegraphs back in the day was very much like texting.  They drank a lot.
  • Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.  Makes me want to avoid Paris.  Politics as usual.  Mobs are bad.  I loved the political intrigue but found the love story formulaic.
  • Jack London, The Call of the Wild.  A fun and adventurous read; a view into a place and time most have forgotten.  Told from the dog's perspective. 
  • C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength).  I think I read them this year.  I had attempted them a few times in my past but I was frankly just too young.  Perelandra stands out and shows the battle of evil against innocence.  I shall re-read.  That Hideous Strength takes an unexpected and frightening twist into the evil workings of organizations.  You don't want to meet the Head.
  • Orwell, 1984.  Speaking of evil workings of organizations... Does listening to an audio book count as reading it?  In my case, 1984 had a profound, depressing, and haunting impact on me.  I'm glad I didn't read it when I was younger.  It is intense and timely today, which I consider to be an Orwellian time with a smiley face drawn on it.  Liberty had better overcome.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, A Pale View of the Hills.  I read The Remains of the Day a long time ago; this has been on the bookshelf teasing me for over a decade.  The main character is confused and troubled by her past and believes it was someone else who did these things.
  • Robert Kroese, Mercury Falls and Mercury Rises.  Rob is a humorous and philosophical writer, software developer, and tweeter (is that the right term?) with the initiative to forge his own path towards success in the publishing industry through hard work and determination.  I came across Rob through his humorous website and have had witty exchanges with him through the years.  Imagine my delight to read his self-promoted and published novels about an angel and a mortal who cut through the heaven and hell's bureaucracies to stave off armageddon.  A few times. Should you enjoy Douglas Adams, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and non-sequitur style of humor, you'll devour these.  
  • Robert Kroese, Self-Publish Your Novel: Lessons from an Indie Publishing Success Story.  Good advice on marketing and creating an audience for your book.
  • SAP Variant Configuration, from SAP Press.  Hey, you know, professional interest and good bedtime reading.  Knocks you right out.
  • Ludvig von Mises, The Anticapitalist Mentality; The Causes of the Economic Crisis.  Economics is not economic policy. Economics is not a weapon.  Economics is the study of Human Action and how it deals with scarce resources.  Economic chains of events, however, are constantly being set in motion ( as a weapon?) through bad economic policy by governments.  Some of those pulling the levers are compassionate, if ignorant; many pulling the levers are sinister and seeking power at the price of liberty to others.  If you find yourself compassionate yet ignorant, these are good books to educate yourself.
  • Dr. Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics and The Housing Boom and Bust.  Excellent introductions to economic concepts.  Don't let the size of Basic Economics scare you away.  It is written for all to understand... if only more would read it.  It's also thought provoking in Audio Book form.
  • Anna Sewell, Black Beauty.  Like The Call of the Wild; one horse's life from the perspective of the horse.  A happy ending!
  • Mark Frost, The Match.  Golf.  A telling of golfing legend and history.  Would that he had spent twice as much time and space on the book, building up the characters and the drama even more.  I recommend "The Greatest Game Ever Played" first.
That's all I can think of for now. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Carried away

In just about a month, I'll achieve ten full years of owning what I intend to be the last car I ever buy with debt, my 1997 Audi A8.

Funny how a tenth anniversary is a 'tin' anniversary.  The irony.

For its part, it has decided to celebrate the occasion by presenting me with an $800 bill to replace the fuel pump.  The fuel pump is, like many parts on this odd duck of a car, unique.  It's not a $79 fuel pump like those on most cars (Audis included), it's a $900 fuel pump that resides in the gas tank.  I found a used one from a reputable Audi recycler* online for $400.

Here it goes, headed off to the shop.

I've put over 100,000 of the car's 180,000 miles on myself.  It was Audi's flagship technology showcase back in the 1990s when their advertising slogan was Vorsprung durch Technique** (Advancement through Technology).  It's an aluminum bodied and paneled car with a 300hp/300 torque V8 and all wheel drive.  Heated seats and power headrests in the back!  The sticker on it was $65k when it was new in 1997; I picked it up five years later for $18,000 when for the same money I could have had a base Accord with cloth seats and a four cylinder.  Audi, here I come.

If a car is the fashion statement I believe most material items to be, it certainly expresses a lot about me:
  • Quality, but at a value price. 
  • It is a subtle Q-ship, yet can command some attention.
  • It's quirky, sporty, powerful, safe, luxurious and performs best when pushed.
  • It works hard until it hits the wall and can't continue.
  • It has a lot of good years left in it.
  • The glovebox key was never provided, ans so its contents remain a mystery to me, even ten years later.  I'll have to pry it open before it goes to the wrecker.
  • It's missing something (a manual transmission.  Oh, nirvana!) to be perfect.  And aren't we all missing something? 
  • It's looking a little old, but cleans up nice.
    It's a great fifteen year old car.  When Hertz deigns to give me a luxury or sport car as a rental, I always enjoy getting back to the A8 when I return home- it compares favorably, even today.

    I've spent enough money on it this year to have bought a dependable replacement for it, but am rolling the dice with what I know.  I'm tempted to get another of the same vintage- either as a parts car or as a backup.  But having two or three of the same, older model car in the driveway would reveal another personality trait that I'm maybe just not ready for.

    Audi A8, here's to you.  Keep me running for another five years, will you?

    *Shokan in NY. When I called and placed the order with them, they asked if I'd bought from them before to save some time in the order entry process.  I remembered the name and thought maybe.  When the customer service rep checked the computer, they came up with a shipping address to a company I worked at in 1993.  That's pre world-wide-web stuff, folks.

    **If you've ever wondered what Bono is saying in the opening lines to Zooropa, now you know:
    "Zooropa...vorsprung durch technik (a step ahead through technology) all that you can be"

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    An outlet for passion

    Over the last few years I've discovered how much I enjoy the spotlight.  I'm coming to embrace opportunities to grab it. I enjoy the moment, the responsibility, the execution, and, of course, praise.  The spotlight combines the excitement of risk and passion into a period of time where I, for my audience, am the focus for helping them move forward. 

    In my career, I lead the engagement and presentation of software solutions for business problems.  My audiences are business people in executive, leadership, and front-line roles.  I hopefully give them a new perspective and direction in their business roles.

    As a coach, I try to create an environment where the athletes learn through experience.  My risk is doing things differently.  My reward is seeing growth of my players talents.  My audience is the parents.  For them, I'm a running color-commentary of the action and, perhaps, confirming to them their children's personality.

    As a catechist teaching faith formation to third graders, I hope I'm a witness and a different experience than they encounter in schools and in dealing with other adults in their lives.  The stage is mine and I invite them onto it, extracting some participation by expressing joy and passion for our faith.

    There are some challenges that come with the spotlight:
    • If you're the type who leads, people will ask you to lead (usually by them taking a giant step backwards when volunteers are asked for).
    • Not everyone appreciates the effort that goes into preparing for the stage.  It's easier to critique than create.
    • I don't like to share in the effort of creation or the glory of the results.  And since the stage is a production, I want everyone's performance to be great, not merely acceptable.
    I know this passion will take me somewhere else.  Will it be writing?  Will it be performance- musical or stage?  Will it be humor?  Keynote presentations?  Why not combine all of the above?

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    Some good, some bad

    Last Friday I picked up a new cell phone from the office, the new Blackberry Bold Touch 9930.  Fancy it is; probably the best that RIM has to offer and an impressive stat sheet it has:

    • 1.2ghz processor and tons of RAM
    • 8 gb built in storage with a slot for my 32gb micro sd card (for holding music and podcasts, you know)
    • touchscreen and a very nice feeling blackberry keyboard
    • every kind of radio you can imagine- blue tooth, wifi, cell, gps... it even has a compass built in.
    So far, it's been intuitive for a Blackberry user to adopt.  It just seems right.  you touch the screen when you think you should; you use the buttons and keyboard when you think you should.

    The real good, though, was when I did my corporate enterprise activation.  They sent me an email with simple directions (go to the device, this icon, this menu, enter this and hit go) and golly, it worked.  Down came my contacts, calendar, email, everything else.  My ringtones and apps even carried over.  Impressive!

    And then I ported my phone number to the new device (the company had me switch from T-Mobile to Verizon, which I'm not going to complain about here in the woods of Maine.  What does a German company care about the woods of Maine?  They gave me simpler instructions- dial this number, hit 1.  I did it, the kind computer recording on the end asked me to listen to a voicemail setup public service announcement while my number was moved.  When the ad was over, my phone had been switched.

    Like that.  Apple couldn't have done any better.

    I'm already impressed with the hardware and utility of the phone, let's see how it survives real life where we live off the things.

    The bad:

    Now my BlackBerry Desktop software  won't recognize or connect with the device.  I've tried a few different things, connecting, disconnecting.  It had worked well before the enterprise activation, but now- no connection.  I'll have to go through the usual PC rituals- rebooting, different cables, uninstalling.  Crap.

    Update twenty minutes later:  I re-installed the Blackberry Desktop Software (not to be confused with the Blackberry Device Manager or the Blackberry Desktop Manager or the Blackberry Device Desktop) and it found my phone on start up.  The media sync wonked out when I tried it, but when I when to the applications, it started synching the music to the device.  Sloooooowly.  I don't mind, as long as it gets there.  I've got all night.

    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    A mentor

    In the summers somewhere around my freshman and sophomore years of college, I did building maintenance work in the Jefferson mill building in Manchester, NH.  If you've driven through Manchester and past its mile of century-old textile mill buildings along the Amoskeag river, you've seen it.  The Jefferson is the one with the clock.

    My father worked for a technology company that occupied the third floor of the Jefferson through the 80s and 90s.  I'd sleep on the ride in with him in the mornings, labor through the day, and sleep on the ride home.
    I'd paint, fix plumbing, sweep, repair windows, put down baseboard, sweep, sweep, sweep; you name it.

    One week they had me remove the side sashes from all the windows on the fourth floor, cut the pull ropes for the granite window weights, and stack the removed weights on a kart. At the end of the week, I rolled that cart into a dark, damp corner of the basement where I'm sure it still rests.

    I developed my skills of "driving" the light-duty internal freight elevator.  'Old Pete' taught me how to operate its rope controls and time its motion to stop even with the floor.  We once had a repair to make and Old Pete took me into the control room at the top with a special tool box.  The six inch leather belt that ran from the General Electric motor (I looked at the manufacturer's plate on the motor: 1928) to the gears and steel cables that drove the elevator had torn, so we had to graft on a fresh section of leather.  The tools were as specialized as the skill, and I'd doubt there are too many left anywhere that could repair such a mechanism without having to research first. 

    Old Pete added to my understanding of how to do things.  He was a mentor.  He was probably all of 68 at the time, but to a green 18 year old that's pretty ancient and he had my respect.

    Old Pete taught me how to paint.  "Hold the brush close, like a pencil, not way at the end of the handle.  It'll keep your hand from getting tired and give you more control," he said.  "Get some paint on your brush.  You can't paint with a dry brush," he explained.  "When you roll, use a dowel.  And all the way up and down; cover well and smooth, or you'll leave racing stripes."  I've used his advice on every wall I've painted.   "See these windows?" he asked, sweeping his arm, indicating the interior wall that was fully window paned and which marked off the maintenance headquarters in the basement of the mill building, "this week you're going to learn how to cut trim."  It was Mr. Myagi and 'paint the fence.' from The Karate Kid.  I can cut and glaze a window like nobody's business.

    During a hot week in August, Old Pete and I headed to the boiler room to clean the boiler tubes.  "You might want to wear shorts tomorrow."  He directed, I labored.  Hose the tubes down.  Ram the steel brushes in. Push and pull to scrub.  Pull them back out.  Sweat.  Next tube.  I don't remember how many tubes there were, but they were a good five inches in diameter and probably fifteen to twenty feet long.

    Old Pete was a veteran of WWII; served in the Pacific if I remember correctly.  Told a very occasional story but mostly said "Ah, war is hell, war is hell."  On Fridays, my boss Stan would start the litany:
      - Pickin' up some beer on the way home, Pete?
      - Not beer, Michelob.
      - What are you doing this weekend, Pete?
      - Painting another room for my wife.
      - See you Monday, Pete.

    My father said Pete came with the building when his company came in; jested that Pete might have been there from the beginning.  I wouldn't be surprised to come across him today, sitting on that cart of window weights, enjoying not a beer, but a Michelob.

    There is a fascinating book, "Amoskeag" made from numerous interviews conducted in the late 1970s, that documents the establishment, rise, and decline of the industry and mills from the memories of employees all along the chain, from dye workers to management.  They didn't talk with Old Pete, but as I read stories from old foremen, from laborers, from those that lived in the row houses up the hill to Elm Street, or those who were on the Franco-Canadien West Side, I couldn't help but think of Old Pete, and what a long portion of those mill buildings's history he was.

    Saturday, October 1, 2011

    Rainy day scramble

    It's October in Maine and that brings a dichotomy to the weather.  It's either a beautiful clear day (yesterday) or endless drizzle (today).

    This morning, my ears slowly became awake to the gentle patter of rain on the trees and the "shhhhhhhh" of wet streets in as cars rolled slowly passed. 

    I've cancelled the soccer games once again.  I'd rather not; it's 45 minutes of emails and phone calls and clarifications.  Oh, and being communications moderator between divorced parents.

    The coffee is hot.
    The weekend is young.
    There are chores to do. 
    But the writing is done.

    Friday, September 30, 2011

    Who wants to be a millionaire, anyway?

    You know, it generally takes a long time to be a millionaire.

    Granted, we all have visions of sugarplums danced before our eyes in the form of rock stars, celebrities, athletes, business tycoons who were in the right place at the right time, even lottery winners.  But in general, it takes a long time to achieve that measure of wealthy we think a millionaire to be.

    Is this news to you?  Do you know that you have the opportunity to become, over time, a millionaire? To become wealthy?

    If you don't believe its possible, you probably assume that these millionaires are beyond you; that they have something you can't; that they must have somehow oppressed others to achieve this impossible dream.

    So here's how to be come a millionaire:
    1. Don't spend all of your money.  
      1. I'm not being flippant here, just pointing out that if you don't eat all your candy on Halloween night, you'll still have some the next morning.
      2. Something to think about:  your current net worth is the sum total of all your adulthood's financial decisions and a fair judgement of their wisdom.  So add up the value of what you have and subtract what you owe and post that number on the fridge as a reminder.  I do hope it's a positive number.
    2. Save what you don't spend.  
      1. You've heard the phrase "pay yourself first." Savings gain a momentum through a combination of regular investing, return (growth) and time.  You can control the regular investments and the time.  Do it early and do it often.
      2. Investment growth is the opposite of debt growth.  Multiply out a mortgage payment by the number of years on the mortgage and you'll see that the price of the house is much more than the mortgage amount. 
    3. Have the discipline to say no.  It's not easy to deny yourself something that you can have just by signing up for a payment on it.  As I've detailed elsewhere, a brand new, inexpensive car at age eighteen will end up costing you about a million dollars. Huh.  A million just sitting there in a fancy Honda Civic.
    4. Stay the course for thirty or forty years.  You know, throughout your working career.
      1. Did you know you're responsible for your own retirement?
      2. Did you know that you should retire when you can afford to, not when you decide to?
    Ding! You're a millionaire.  Did you oppress someone along the way, you greedy bastard?

    Who are these millionaires?  Most millionaires are at the far end of this 30-40 year cycle.  They followed this plan of not spending all they had, of investing (and investing more as their incomes grew- which also tends to happen as you get older), of staying the course for a long time.

    In other words, most of the millionaires are old people.  They saved this money so that they would have something to live on when they stopped earning an income.  They took care of themselves so they wouldn't be a drain on society.  You can do the same.

    Thursday, September 29, 2011

    Two-edged Swords

    In business, the investors (be that one person with an idea and some capital, or you and I as stockholders) take the risk towards a reward. 

    If the venture fails, it is the investors who lose. This is the risk.  If the venture succeeds, it is the investors who gain. This is the reward.

    How to reduce the risk and maximize the reward?  Two-edged swords:
    • Succeed.
      • Success can and should be achieved through honest, hard, even clever work.  Success can and should be honorable, and is even more so when the odds are against you, i.e., on an uneven playing field.
      • Success can and shouldn't be achieved by, well, poor sportsmanship, though the opportunity is there and is often taken.  Let's agree to call this greed, as that's a favorite term for those who succeed.
    • Spread the risk to more investors
      • It is wise to increase the number of baskets in which you place your eggs.  As long as there is a reward for these risk takers, and as long as this risk taking is voluntary.
      • If you've spread the risk to those without a reward, to those without a choice, who loses if the venture fails?  What diluted risk is there to those who have spread the risk.  Has the venture...
    • Gained enough mass (traction and momentum) to perpetuate?
      • Is it profitable, growing, thinking strategically, spending wisely, re-investing, re-inventing?
      • ...or has it become "too big to fail?" Momentum and mass are impressive, but removing the risk removes the incentive to succeed.  It removes the opportunity for that which needs to die to die.  It stifles the market mechanism of...
    • Competition, which
      • creates new jobs, creates advances, innovates, destroys those ventures which fail to respond.
      • or, competition can be met by blocking it through various barriers to entry through regulations, cartels, and monopolist behaviors. It is interesting to note that most cartels and monopolies are formed with the collusion of government.. they are established and defended where a free market cartel and monopoly will not stand.  Ask Kodak, Pan Am, TWA, AT&T, and numerous other monopolies which have tumbled due to fierce competition and sloth.
    Each has a virtuous path and each has a temptation to a shortcut. 

    The virtuous path is the best of what capitalism has to offer, growth and income, risk (responsibility) in the hands of those who would gain the rewards. 

    The tempting path leads to market distortions, such as false investment, a lack of concern for risk in investing, public bailouts of concerns which should fail, resulting in stifled and genuinely unfair competition, a lack of responsibility, slowed emergence of better goods to the market, and a dependency and complacency of the worker rather than an independence of responsibility.

    But what about that worker?  What is his risk?  What is her reward?  What are their opportunities?

    I hope to think more tomorrow.

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    A walk in the woods.

    A rather gung-ho CEO of a rather aggressive software concern I used to work for had an interesting turn of phrase for things he considered a waste of time.

    "A walk in the woods."  As in, "I'm not out here, doing this, for a walk in the woods."

    While he was being witty and even charming, with his nebulous English colonial accent,* I have to disagree.  Most times, a walk in the woods is a good thing.  It's a chance to get some thinking done and set your thinking straight as you wander down a trail, stepping over fallen logs, avoiding mud, and just pausing once in a while to admire trees and rock walls.

    I'll often step off the trails, forged long ago by earlier land-owners, farmers, even snow-mobile clubs, and wander until I come across something: a rock wall, a road, another trail, some rusted junk.  Today I scared a deer and watched its white tail bound from me.  I'm no woodsman and I couldn't have tracked a deer if I wanted to, so that was just plain luck.

    I'll ride the trails a few times a year on my mountain bike.  I intend to return with a chainsaw and clear fallen trunks from the path.  Come winter, the snow-mobile clubs have cleared and even grated the trails for me, and so I do a few runs on my cross country skis.

    I wish I would force myself out more.  I do it for a walk in the woods.

    This is some of what I saw today:

    *Was he Scottish?  South African? A Kiwi?  I can't recall.  I'm developing a theory that presenters, be they sales people, actors, comedians, or the guy escorting you out of the fancy restaurant for being a drunken jerk... all have instantaneous credibility if they happen to have some English derivative accent.  I'm considering adopting one in my professional role as a technical sales engineer.

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    Do I say hello?

    I'm the shy outgoing prominent member of the community who hates to deal with people.

    Example:  I run the rec soccer program for my town, which includes the whole registration and marketing process of sending out emails, making a few hundred phone calls, coaching at least one team of kids; all of which I'm pretty happy to do, and parts of which (the coaching) I really enjoy.

    But you know what?  I can't stand to go to one of my kids practices when I'm not the coach.  Just can't bring myself to hob-nob with the parents.  In fact, I suffer minor anxiety attacks (which I've learned to recognize, categorize, and ignore) as I pull up.  I'm happy to sit in my car, as I am now, and do anything else, such as type a blog post.

    Don't get me wrong.  I know most of the people in town and their kids.  I like watching the kids grow and mature.  I can and do have some genuinely great "great to see you" conversations with the parents.  I'll stop and chat when I bump into someone at the grocery store.  I enjoy waving at neighbors and friends as we pass each other on the road, which happens any time I go out.

    But given the opportunity, I'd just as soon not bump into someone.  It takes me out of my comfort zone and often puts me into a mostly-true happy face, smiling conversation mode.  It's easier to avoid than engage.  It's easier to wonder than to find common ground.  I need, I guess I've convinced myself, an excuse to engage.  I'm 'from away,' as they say up here in Maine, and that's an easy excuse to not engage.

    So maybe you'll see me around; maybe you won't.  I can't commit either way.

    Monday, September 26, 2011

    Thrills and dread


    I feel the most dread when I'm unprepared.  Like most anxieties, it comes from the overwhelming sense of too many things to do and my very own special brand of productive procrastination.  I've got so many projects and obligations that I can pick one (or two or three) and invest the time and depth to advance my knowledge or completion of them, forsaking the others.

    My best solution is to get a pen and make a list.  This gets it more finite and manageable.  I then prioritize and start tackling the items on the list, be it in order of urgency, ease of accomplishment or simply by how much fun each will be.

    I find the greatest thrills in making a connection, an insight, closing a mental loop, or opening up new lines of thought. 

    Today I saw a new way of using my favorite business tool, StreamWork, and it did all of these things at once.  The roadmap to include enterprise collaboration as a product, a platform, and a strategy throughout enterprise systems crystalized what I've been forming in my head:  collaboration is a strategy and a capability that is fast becoming central to the way organizations work in systems.  StreamWork is a platform for achieving this across systems and among collaborators intra and inter organizationally.  and StreamWork is a product, here today and better tomorrow.

    What a thrill!

    Sunday, September 25, 2011

    A new year

    Last fall, they asked for volunteers to teach Faith Formation in our parish.  Kindergarten or third grade.

    I'm not sure that I wanted to, but I knew that I had to.  And so began a journey with a group of eight year olds who I am sure, twenty years from now, will still be eight year olds to me when I see them and their children. I went from teaching in a classroom style to gathering around a table as a family; from following the study guide to the letter to following it as, well, a guide; from bored kids to a pretty extravagant and vocal group.

    Today was the beginning of my second year and we hit the ground running.  I'm sure the kids (including one of my own) were a bit surprised by their new teacher.  One mother came up to me before class asking if she could come in and join her trepidatious boy until he was comfortable.  Absolutely.  He was pretty quickly at ease and she slipped out about five minutes into class.

    Here's why I'm proud to serve:  Up here in Maine, our diocese confers first communion and confirmation at the same time to the seven year olds.  Predictably, the second grade class is the largest, and the third grade class, mine, is half the size.  I get the children whose parents care at least enough about their religious training to bring them back.  In getting to know them, I get to find out what they know.

    They don't know enough.

    And so through the year I'll pull and I'll prod and I'll get them thinking and learning.  And praying. 

    Our deacon gave a sermon today, and his message, passed down to him from Bishop Malone at our deacon's ordination and inscribed in his bible, was this:

    "Believe what you read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach."

    I wrote it down on the back of an envelope in my pew, and shared it with my class this morning. 

    We're going to have a fun year.

    Saturday, September 24, 2011


    I was out running errands last Saturday afternoon while my ten year old was attending a friend's birthday party. I stopped by the local mom and pop guitar shop for a chance to experiment with some American Fenders from the top shelf.

    The Teles were good; the Strats were so-so.  Plucked them through a used solid state Princeton 112 plus and got some good tone from it.

    Moving down to the used rack, I looked up and saw a Hamer logo.  Looking down, I saw a Strat body.  Closing my eyes, I said a little prayer, and looked up at the logo on the headstock again.  Hamer USA.


    It has been loved to death- but I'm going to love it more.  It's precisely what I've been hoping to find: a worn, loved, don't-have-to-worry-about-dinging-it-cause-it-ain't-gonna-get-much-prettier Hamer Daytona to play and play and play. That and it was the nicest Strat in the joint.

    Sperzel-locking tuners.  String it through the eye, clamp it down, cut the string, tune to pitch.
    Yeah, this is the sign of a hand-made American guitar at its best. 

    It looks better in these pictures than in does in real life, but that's the beauty of it.

    You can't get a neck like this without putting in hours and hours of love.

    Young blue-eyes approves

    Learn by doing

    My experiment is paying off. 

    Levi trapped the ball on defense, waited, carried around an oncoming player, passed it up-field and then dropped off the play, settling into the precise position a defender should be in for the next ball to come his way.

    This spring I watched my 7th grade daughter's softball team play a forty-five minute first inning.  Neither team had a put-out on defense, a hit, or a strike out.  Each team walked the entire batting order around.  Some pitches landed three feet in front of the pitcher; most went three feet over the up or short of the plate.

    I watched her team at practice.  They started off with the coach hitting grounders to the team, one player at a time.  Grounder, catch (or miss), throw it back in, next player.  All fourteen.  Each player handled the ball for about two seconds every five minutes.  Batting practice was (of necessity?) pitched by the coach.

    It dawned on me that these kids never actually spend any time playing sports and consequently they have no skills at sports.  Practices are short and made up of skills drills.  The coach tries to get their attention for five minutes to explain the drill, then runs them through it for another ten.  Each kid maybe gets one minute of experience in a ten minute drill.  The rest of their lives fully scheduled, they never play sand-lot baseball.  I'd doubt they know what "ghost runner on third" means.

    There's no play in the sports.

    So I decided that this fall, when I coached the boy's soccer team, I wouldn't do any drills.  I'd go full scrimmage from the first player to show up.  And so my experiment.  I have a whistle.  When it blows, everyone freezes where they are and I ask what's going on, make them think and answer, and then blow the play back on with another whistle.  If the play is at the other end of the field, I'm guiding my players, explaining and showing where to be and why.  In this way I am, single-handed, keeping fourteen nine to eleven year old boys fully engaged and playing soccer for an hour, giving them a full season's worth of drill and experience every week. 

    And so Levi, one of my favorite human beings, went from a defensive mindset of boot-the-ball to trapping it, carrying it around an oncoming player, passing it up the field to his wing, and falling back into position.  In a span of ten minutes.  And he kept doing it.

    Saturday, August 6, 2011

    Stupid debt deals

    This has been a week of depression for me. I saw our elected representatives bicker and argue and finally decide on the side of… not even what is right or wrong… but rather to further the status quo on the road to doom, kicking a large can a small way down the road. This, as a nation, we shall soon revisit.

    Personal finance talk show host Dave Ramsey best articulated our national challenge (and our national solution) in a monologue when he described an American couple that earned 58k a year yet spent 75k a year, and was 370k in debt.

    This couple resolved to fix things and were proud to announce they were cutting their spending down to 72k a year while extending their line of credit to 500k. All on the same 58k a year income.

    The American couple was us, America, and our national budget. Check the ratios to our annual spending and national debt. It’s laughable to call it a budget, as a budget is best defined as “here’s how much money there is, here’s how we will (wisely?) spend it.” That simple premise has been ignored by Congress for decades.

    Our country is spending itself into slavery. The Socialists in charge are doing so to create a dependent constituency of voters at the risk of liberty (for which they care little as these Socialists are the aristocracy); the Opposition (our Tea Party cum Republican congressmen) House claims victory for slowing the rate of spending down... and that it was all they could do in a political world still controlled by a liberal Senate and an evil (okay, I'll be nice... a misguided... no, wait, he is sinister after all) Executive branch.

    Consider those to whom we and our grandchildren owe the money and their ideas of liberty and social justice. What happens to the second born in China? They’ve already informed Obama he has no right to criticize their definition of human rights (not that he has any conception himself... but it can be worse.) Why? Because we owe them money. Vast, huge, compounding, astronomical, nay, economical mounds of money. They won’t fire a single shot, will they?

    Regardless, “debt deals” of no consequence, done in a rush towards a false deadline, have averted no financial catastrophes. They have merely established strong party lines for both parties come the foolishness and pointlessness of November the next. The winner then will be either a loser with a losing hand or the sneering Czar over our demise unless...


    Unless as individuals we can realize our own opportunity (while the window of liberty remains open) to shirk dependency on the state and on debt in order to carry our own weight. Simple questions: Can you feed your family? Can you love them, care for them, educate them? Can you carry your own weight? If necessary, can you rid yourself of the baubles of our consumer society to establish, first, a debt free existence and then, second, a prosperous, capital-based existence for yourself?

    I’m advocating individual achievement of financial independence. If you and all others are independent of the state, then its costly programs of charity (now called entitlements. What are you entitled to? Life, Liberty, and the PURSUIT of happiness. That’s all) become redundant, superfluous, unnecessary.

    Our country was founded upon the risk and faith in individual success (prosperity), and I believe nothing but rare circumstances and outbreaks of bigotry can hold you back. What is preventing you from success? Are you oppressed? No. You may be uninformed, lazy, or misguided, but held back by “the man?”

    No. So achieve.

    There is no financial situation that three years of hard work, sacrifice, even bankruptcy can’t resolve. Hard work is hard work; hard work is good for you. Employers love it, from pizza delivery to the boardroom. Sacrifice can be defined as selling the upside-down car, going without cable or iPhone, eating Ramsey’s s beans-and-rice. Bankruptcy is the last resort of pride, but even that is not forever.

    So. So achieve.

    Declare your independence once again. Be independent and capable of taking care of yourself and your own. Catholic social justice is based on a principle of subsidiarity, (the American Bishops have stated this, though they seem to forget it from time to time) simply defined as “do not do for a man what he can do for himself.”

    What are you capable of? Achieve!

    Sacrifice is going to happen. It will happen at the government entitlement level when the money really does run out, which means it will happen at the household and individual level. Are you willing to sacrifice now to succeed in the not too distant future?

    Funny; the answer isn’t in Washington. The answer is in you and your possibilities.

    God made you and He made you special. America is still the best place on earth to realize your possibilities. Achieve them. Take care of yourself and of those who depend on you. When you’re finished there, take care of other who can’t take care of themselves.

    Hint: There are a lot of people who can’t take care of themselves right now, but if you wake them up to their potential, a sea change can happen, and it can happen in a short time. And we can believe once again in Life, Liberty, and Happiness.


    Monday, March 21, 2011

    Thanks for the help.

    I needed a software tool from our IT department to view some demo documents that our IT department had created.  I went to download it and, after following the white rabbit through a number of internal web-sites and links, I discovered I needed to download a downloading tool in order to download the tool I wanted.


    So I downloaded the downloading tool.  It next needed to be configured with servers, proxies, and some form of login.  I gave up and put in a general ticket for help, along the lines of: What do I put in the fields for servers, proxies, and logins?


    Here's the answer I got back, with the ticket pretty optimistically marked by him (her?) as comlete:
    Reply - 21.03.2011 11:27:15 -

    Support Guy


    Please first request profile B_SWDC_DL_NO for OW1 via the CUP

    tool -> https://uap.MyCompany.corp/AE/index.jsp. For more information

    please refer to the note no. 1037575 ->

    Detailed information how to configure SDM for MyCompany internal can be

    found at the attached note no. 600659 or via the following URL:

    For more information about the software download approval process

    for MyCompany Internal, please refer to the attached note no. 1090288

    or open the note via the following URL:

    Other helpful SDM notes are:

    574885 Download Manager: Tracefile für Analyse

    401195 Download Manager: Unable to read basket

    Best Regards,

    Support Guy.


    I tried.  Honest I did.  I tried for 45 minutes.  The I decided to write support back:


    This is more than ridiculous.

    I have bludgeoned my way through the CUP/GRC/WTF site and, after trying to understand it for a while, I simply gave up and started clicking on things so I could get past the roadblocks its ABSOLUTELEY INCOMPREHENSIBLE USER INTERFACE* was throwing at me and, voila, I lucked into getting the data to be input and approved. What that whole thing was I think I'm beginning to understand.

    Anyway, I have popped open the five or ten tangential browser tabs and windows necessary to get to the other notes that tell me things like "I'll need to enter my password" to find out what my password is. With that mission perhaps accomplished, I'm of course pointed to more OSS notes and web pages which pop up even more windows and tabs that ask me what my password is and tell me to do very-unclear-to-the-un-initiated things such as to turn off that which is un-turn-offable, the almighty PSE Single Sign On (hey, that's what SSO stands for! How about that? Acronym reverse-engineering provided at no charge) solution, which works so well that you CAN'T turn it off as advised, yet works so POORLY that every time I access an SSO enabled application within our corporate IT stack I arrive there, well, NOT SIGNED IN, causing me to click on the "Logon" button on, for example, the corporate portal, or to type my login into StreamWork, which is rumored to be SSO enabled. But will PSE die? Will it let me turn it off? No! It is apparently immortal and impervious to all known technology weapons, including the ultimate death-machine, ctrl-alt-delete, kill-process. Wow, the cockroaches could learn a thing or two from PSE.

    What is it's password, this mysterious "MyCompanyNet" password? I'm sure you're as curious as I am. Well, I'm sorry to say that I haven't a clue. More links and more windows take me full circle into suggesting that I put in yet another ticket to find out what the heck my own password is. Apparently it's neither my MyCompany_ALL password nor is it my MyCompanySuportPortal login's password. I've tried those. Where? I can't even remember, there were so many tools and web sites and download managers and logins.

    This is a cry for help in the wilderness.

    Won't you please cost the company some money and efficiency and help someone (me) who costs the company, oh, let's see, roughly $110 an hour based on last year's W2 (this is pay only. Please don't factor in administrative, tax, travel and expenses, and other costs for a fully loaded employee, or it will make you cry), and pick up the phone and call me? I'm at My Phone Number. That's in the United States. Where are you?

    I'm thinking maybe a five minute long distance phone call, costing roughly $0.25 would be more cost effective than having me run around for two hours in my vain effort to download a simple internal demo-viewing product (which should have been on the standard image, by the way). This same demo-viewing tool will, I know, can absolutely rely on, have faith in, bet-yer-bottom-dollar, not work for my Windows 7 image, as one of the many OSS notes that flew past my eyes before I fell into IE's trance and decided to see what's up on Twitter for a while and gripe about environmentalists with their cheesy "please don't print this email unless you have too," as if all I do all day long is print out emails unnecessarily, indicated I'd have to follow a few more notes. Notes are the devil to find and follow. Did you know that? See my rant about usability below. It applies here too.

    I keep getting asked for passwords that PSE fails to, in its immortality, provide, as it's so concerned and focused on just the act of living that it fails to live. It's kind of like Sharon Stone's movie career, you know? Basic Instinct 2? Are you kidding me? She's like fifty years old! Anyway, I'm still willing to take my chances and bow to the four corners of the earth a few times in order to make it run because, well, underneath it all I'm ever an optimist that maybe, just maybe, the stars will align with the super-moon we had over the weekend and it will work, it will Toto! And you can all visit me in Kansas.

    I've received two or three emails letting me know that my wise overlords are reviewing my request to download this simple tool and will let me know when they deem me worthy (oops, there's the confirmation, I'm worthy! Praise be!) to download.

    I've done what I can. I've entered most of the information I asked for (thanks for all the links, they've been great, but they still left the problem-solving to me and though I love a good mystery novel, I'm just NOT IN THE MOOD for it today.) and my 8gb of ram is running out and the TTGTT (that's Tool-To-Get-The-Tool for you acronym happy people out there) is still gives me an error. So please, as Harry said to Sally (you have seen When Harry Met Sally, haven't you? Great flick for couples. My wife and I watch it every two to three years and just laugh and giggle and blush and tease each other because so much of it is SOOO true!), "Call me!"

    * Seriously, if the data it needs is a simple tree, as in "My role, the component I'm asking for, some portion within that component, and a text-field for justification", I don't think we at MyCompany could have done a WORSE job of making it completely unclear as to how to enter these ostensibly drop-down choices. I mean, come on! It took me fifteen minutes, and I'm an pre-sales engineer. I demonstrate this stuff to customers. I'm an expert. I couldn't figure it out. Please, yell at the developers first for me, then scream at the idiots who allow regulations to this extent to be foisted on business, slowing it down and adding to its costs, hence causing economic slowdowns and poverty. Sheesh. Yes, I'm having a bad day.

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Progress Report Hamy. Beginning Finishing

    Over the last week, Henry and I have been experimenting with brush-on/rag-on oil-based polyurethane finishes.  We've glues some of his final veneer to a sample wood block and experimented with that block and a chunk of Mahogany left over from project Junior.

    We've sanded, cabinet scraped, sealed, applied layers of poly, and sanded some more.  Thge results are okay... but I think two or three lessons have been loearned here:

    • if you're not spraying the finish on, then you need to apply poly with an apprpriate brush, and apply slowly, gently , and in one direction only so as to flow the poly on more than paint it on.  Very different from painting, say, the wall of a house.
    • Tack cloth really should be used to get the surface really clean before applying.  I'd been wiping with varying leather gloves and ragged t-shirts, but that doesn't really get the small dust out like a tack-cloth will.
    • I've learned a lot about sanding.  While 220 and 400 do provide a smooth finish, you need to tart with something rougher to get to a flat surface, and use 220 and 400 (and probably higher) to make that flat surface smooth. Yes, I've been using sanding blocks. 
    Here's a picture of Henry's Sapele veneer finished with two coats of sealer and three coats of poly, sanding between each coat.  It maintains its depth, but the surface is craggy- not flowed.  I think that's a result of the rag-on, back and forth technique.  I'll be doing more of these experimental finishes over the next few weeks to see what works best, and then we go for the gusto on the real deal.

    Photo courtesy of my new blackberry bold.  Not bad for a phone!

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Obama's budget

    This year's budget:

    $ 3,700,000,000,000

    divided by the current US population



    $11,935.48 from every man, woman, and child in the country.

    Of which...

    $ 1,700,000,000,000

    (or $5,322.58 from each man, woman and child) is, um, unfunded.

    That's a $47,741.52 tax burden for a family of four. 

    I can't wait until next year!

    Saturday, February 26, 2011

    Hamy V Update

    Henry and I have been making progress on the "Hamy V" project guitar.

    When faced with a roadblock, I'll ponder for a while, be that days, weeks, or months.  I'll come up with a few solutions and then get up the guts to try it.  Doing the work usually takes all of fifteen minutes, but I'm so afraid of screwing it up permanently that I put it off.

    At first, we were going to put mother of pearl (okay, 1/4 inch ounch outs from a celuloid guitar pick) into the fretboard as markers, but getting the drill press depth consistent was impossible.  The I found a suggestion for instant epoxy mixed with pigment.  Cheryl's craft cabinet had metallic powder in silver, with copper marking the 12th fret.  We used toothpics to put the misture in the middle of the hole and pushed outward until it clung to the sides.  Some rose just a bit above the fretboard level, but they won't interfere with playability.

    Here I am sanding the body down smooth.

    Don't the fret markers look pretty good?
     Vs just have an awesome shape.  They're so agressive.  This is something I would have made out of Legos if I could have.

    Here's last night's commitment.  We needed a channel for the pickup lead to the control box.  Since we're going to put a Sapele veneer top on this, this simplest route was to rout a channel back.  It looks ugly now, but it will serve the purpose.

    And here's what I ordered for veneer:  A Sapele, which will cover the top and probably the peghead.  I got a lot of it, so I can experiment with finishing it  separately.  The sides and back of teh guitar will be done in a color.  Henry's thinking a deep sapphire blue and/or silver sparkle.  Maybe a blue back with silver sparkle neck and blue again on the back of the headstock, faded between?