Category Archives: Change

Nighttime Earth

Once again Jason Kottke has taken me far from home…

I have always been intrigued by the nighttime sky. Now NASA has put the sky on earth. The stories these earthside stars tell aren’t quite the same as the ones told by our ancestors as they stared heavenward all those generations ago. Instead of mythological creatures and gods spread across the bowl of the heavens, these stars tell human stories… Stories of lives lived, homes built, trails explored then improved again and again to make it easier for us mortals to travel around. Stories of man’s unrelenting war against darkness… First with fire, then with electricity.

Here is my home, from San Antonio to New Orleans…

Books are dead (long live books) – Seth Godin

I first started reading what Seth Godin had to say about things almost 20 years ago. I even had one of those crazy Purple Cow Milk Cartons on the top of my credenza for years. I have been following his new project since he first announced it online. So, long story short, I trust a lot of what the man has to say.

And this bit about authors and the written word hits a chord with the observable data.

Here’s an insightful, stick-with-you essay about what happens to books in a digital world.

For me, there are two key insights:

There are three stages–pre-artifact (there is no book yet), artifact (here it is) and post-artifact (what happens now? not much). Craig argues that all three stages are changing, and quite dramatically.

The second insight isn’t as delineated, but it comes down to this: what it means to be an author is changing for the first time in a hundred years. This is a profound shift in one of the most leveraged professions of all. Instead of there being a clear box around who an author is and what an author does, that box is becoming blurred.

It’s really the second insight that resonates. What I see is a much tighter connection between authors and their readers than there ever was in the past. There is more of a two way conversation taking place now than there ever was.

In the good ol’ days, you might meet an author at a book signing or a convention, but, other than a few words you didn’t really converse. Today with email and twitter and Facebook, your chance of having a back and forth conversation is much improved.

Then again, maybe the circles I hang out in have changed and I converse with authors more because I just “know” more authors. Either way…I think the book world hasn’t finished changing. And all indications are, the life of an author will keep getting more complicated.



via Books are dead (long live books).

evil plans and big companies | Gapingvoid

Today I found myself re-reading the latest ebook from Seth Godin (A Weekday Routine Is Always Disrupted By A Weekend… | Coffee Muses) and ended up following the link to Hugh Macleod’s where I stumbled over this gem…A list of 6 ways to execute “Evil Plans” within a large company. Number 5 struck a real chord with me and my 35 year history at Freeman.

5. Create your own luck. Create your own job desc­rip­tion. None of the best jobs in large cor­po­ra­tion are ever crea­ted by your boss. They’re crea­ted by you taking the ini­tia­tive. And there’s a defi­nite art to that. ~ evil plans and big companies | Gapingvoid.

It was the second part that caught my eye…One of the things I always said when I was at Freeman was that the minute they came up with a job description for whatever job title I had at the moment it was time to change my title. For the longest, I was able to gety away with that policy. My General Managers valued my contribution and the way I would work across department boundaries. My experience and my talents and skills allowed me to fit in with every department within our local branch. Sadly for me, managers change and the corporate culture became defined by MBA graduates. Everything must fit within the corporate definition. Anything that doesn’t is culled…

So in the end I was culled…And the company posted it’s worst year ever fiscally. The manager who didn’t value my talents is gone…Also culled. And the company goes forward into the third generation of management.I begin to believe the analysis of my cousin with the double degree…Most companies fail when the scond generation takes over the reins…Almost none make it to the third…It was after we had that conversation that I realized that Freeman, though having a second generation in the top seat, still relied on the first generation of upper management. As I watched those managers retire the feel of the company changed. More credit was placed in academic degrees, less attention was placed on the benefits of long experience. Another change, with the hiring of more and more MBA executives, there was a push to free up Freeman stock in the Freeman ESOP…Making all of us long-term employees a problem in their recruiting…I enjoyed a long, friend filled relationship with the company… I wish them luck.

For the record The list for those that don’t want to follow the links…

  1. An EVIL PLAN’S suc­cess is 90% the peo­ple around you.
  2. If your EVIL PLAN is not alig­ned with what your com­pany is doing, you have two choi­ces.
  3. Patience is a vir­tue.
  4. Risk.
  5. Create your own luck. Create your own job desc­rip­tion.
  6. Prac­tice. Fail.

To see the full list with all of the paragraphs and not just the first sentences…Follow the link: evil plans and big companies | Gapingvoid.

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Earth Day 2009

This was to be the start of my last year at my former employment. A couple of years ago or so, I thought the 30th anniversary of Earth Day would be an auspicious time to start a new phase of my life…Then the knee jerk reaction to the economic picture of the autumn of 2008 ended my plans for a scheduled retirement. Such is life.

So plans have changed, but life goes on. And funny as it may seem, the early boot out the door will mean that my original timetable has a better than even chance of being possible round the time I wanted to make the changes.

Almost every day now, Sherry comes home from work and says something to the effect that she “wants to pack up and just go…NOW”. A change in attitude, a change in latitude, a change in altitude…All three are calling. We have never lived in a place with seasons and that is what is calling me this Earth Day.

I long for a place where shorts and flip flops are not winter attire. Where long sleeved shirts don’t hang in the closet for 11 months each year. And when I say long sleeved shirts I am talking tee shirts here not flannels. I don’t think I put on a jacket at all last winter…Much less a coat.

Well, I am going to get out this Earth Day and plant some vegetables to start a new garden. Home grown and local vegetables, not a complete change, but a start to something…New…Maybe.

The Myth of the American Dream

Over the centuries, the United States has been most conspicuous for one trait: manic energy. Americans work longer hours than any other people. We switch jobs more frequently, move more often, earn more and consume more.

via Op-Ed Columnist – The Commercial Republic –

From that opening thought David Brooks spins off in a business centric version of the American Myth. In his version it was the abundance of the frontier that called out to the American myth of success for everyone who tried. It seems to me that when the history of the American people is studied realistically, most people didn’t leave their “home” areas unless they were leaving something behind. For some, it was debts they left behind. Others left whole families, kith and kin.

Studying the history of American business successes leads one to wonder at the love affair we have with the myth of the self made man. Very few of the real success stories in this country have a thread of the moralistic ideals we are led to believe underlie our very national psyche. America prides itself on the ideal that anyone can rise to the top. We calibrate the few examples we are given. Yet most Americans will not rise above the class level to which they were born.

And its not the idealistic who do win up the ladder. No, the majority who manage to pull themselves up the ladder of success, do so at the expense of those around them. They stretch the meaning of the law even if they meet the letter. They use every trick and loophole to get a jump up.

Is there any reason then to be surprised at the excesses of the business and political sector in the last decade. It was only with societal regulation, that the business sector had been kept from allowing greed to run rampant over basic society mandated morality. The deregulation of the past two decades, the consolidation of whole economic sectors into a very few corporate hands, the wholesale bribery of public officials via lobbying firms and the handouts of favors and campaign funds have led us to this economic crisis. It’s not an American crisis, even though we led the way, it’s a worldwide crisis.

We are now in an astonishingly noncommercial moment. Risk is out of favor. The financial world is abashed. Enterprise is suspended. The public culture is dominated by one downbeat story after another as members of the educated class explore and enjoy the humiliation of the capitalist vulgarians.

Mr. Brook’s assertion that risk is out of favor is a bit ingenuous, most Americans are not adverse to risk. We live with it in our daily lives. We could die in our daily commute (if we still have a daily commute). It’s the abrogation of risk onto the taxpayer we have problems with. It’s the disingenuous use of the tax laws that allow bonus payments to be deducted from the corporate tax liability, but not the excessive salaries that those bonuses  actually equate to. Then the audacity of these financial titans to reward themselves for their abuse of the American trust by taking taxpayer money to pay bonuses to the very people who brought down the house…Get real.

If anything comes from this era of American history, I only hope the lessons learned last a bit longer than the last batch. All of this returning to the school of hard knocks isn’t really what I had in mind when I wanted a continuing education that would last a lifetime…

How the Crash Will Reshape America | Richard Florida

An extremely interesting analysis of the state of the economy and where it may lead from here. Thanks to Jason Kottke for the pointer

If anything, our government policies should encourage renting, not buying. Homeownership occupies a central place in the American Dream primarily because decades of policy have put it there. A recent study by Grace Wong, an economist at the Wharton School of Business, shows that, controlling for income and demographics, homeowners are no happier than renters, nor do they report lower levels of stress or higher levels of self-esteem.

And while homeownership has some social benefits—a higher level of civic engagement is one—it is costly to the economy. The economist Andrew Oswald has demonstrated that in both the United States and Europe, those places with higher homeownership rates also suffer from higher unemployment. Homeownership, Oswald found, is a more important predictor of unemployment than rates of unionization or the generosity of welfare benefits. Too often, it ties people to declining or blighted locations, and forces them into work—if they can find it—that is a poor match for their interests and abilities.

As homeownership rates have risen, our society has become less nimble: in the 1950s and 1960s, Americans were nearly twice as likely to move in a given year as they are today. Last year fewer Americans moved, as a percentage of the population, than in any year since the Census Bureau started tracking address changes, in the late 1940s. This sort of creeping rigidity in the labor market is a bad sign for the economy, particularly in a time when businesses, industries, and regions are rising and falling quickly.

via The Atlantic Online | March 2009 | How the Crash Will Reshape America | Richard Florida.

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No Way To Run A Retirement

I’ve been wondering why the impact of the financial crisis on the overall retirement “system” hasn’t gotten more attention in the media. We already knew the system was in bad shape before September 2008. According to the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances, in 2007, only 60.9% of households where the head of household was age 55-64 had retirement accounts . . . and their median retirement balance was $98,000. Given that the stock market has fallen by over 50% from its October 2007 peak – and that, for decades, the standard investment advice has been that stocks do better than any other asset class in the long term – we would be lucky if that median balance were more than $70,000 today.

The Bloomberg article linked to above describes the fragile state of state and local pension systems. These systems suffer from two major problems today. One is that even if they had been managed in a reasonable way, the fall in asset prices over the last year would have blown a huge hole in their long-term solvency.

via The Biggest Story of the Week « The Baseline Scenario.

Over a year ago I began to tell the folks in my office to move their money out of the stock funds and get them into interest accounts…No body listened. For the last year all of the investment advice I have seen has been to stay put in your stock funds…Oh and keep putting your new contributions there also. People get paid well to be so wrong…Thank god I didn’t listen. Thank god the country didn’t listen while George W spent his “political capital” pushing the privatization of social security. Thank god I got out of the market in December of 2007…It wasn’t much, but if I’d stayed put, it’d be a lot less and I wont be adding to it any time soon…

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Remodeling and Rebuilding…Pardon the Dust

Godaddy finally rolled out the patch for WordPress 2.7 so I’ve been busy making upgrades to all of my websites. So far I am impressed with the changes the WordPress gurus have incorporated into this version.

The new Dashboard is great. Granted it took a few hours to figure out where everything is located but I love the new menu layout down the side. Having the ability to install plugins directly from the website without going through a download, unzip, upload, activate procedure is also pretty dang nifty.

I am also taking the opportunity to install a common suite of plugins on all of my sites. One of the discoveries I made was the Multi-Level Navigation Plugin. I really like the look of the pull down menus…While I was at it, I built badges for each of my domains. They are a bit large but I like them.

I am also in the process of redefining North Carolina Mountain Dream and matching it with Virginia Mountain Dreams. I hope to turn both sites into resources for both myself and others who may be contemplating a move to the Blue Ridge Mountains. I will concentrate my attention on Watauga County, NC and Floyd County, Va to begin with and expand out from there.

Check back for updates…

What do you say about the company you spent a lifetime at…

When they tell you they don’t need you anymore…Leave. Now. We will not be replacing you…

It’s been a month…

I was proud to work for this company. On the whole they treated their employees well.

They did have the myth of “family” working far longer than it was actually a fact. It is still a family owned company…Corporation. And that’s where the problems began to grow.

Suddenly, we weren’t just a regional/national firm anymore. We were a “billion dollar corporation”. We quit promoting from within. Those of us who grew up with the company just didn’t understand the way “billion dollar corporations” worked. Top management hired consultants who told them so. They then hired more consultants who told them were they should spend all the profits…new software systems, new product lines…best of all, new names and logos…Changes from the changes that were inspired by the old consultants…pie in the sky, bye and bye. The Kool-Aid just kept getting sweeter. It seemed like every time we turned around there were new Vice Presidents, new Directors, new departments doing things new ways…Change seems to have become necessary for it’s own sake. Yet the company continued to grow and stay profitable.

Personally, for at least a year or better I had made no bones about the fact that I planned to leave (retire) in 2010. Earth Day was they date I chose, just for grins. That would put me to 37 years of service, I thought that was long enough for one career. As the local management, in my view, went off the rails over the past few years, I let my hair grow out almost as it was when I first hired in in 1973. I watched the money being spent…Began to think 2010 might be a year too long. Over the past few years I began to check out the tax laws and other issues that would come up with me leaving the company earlier than the normal retirement date.

Then along comes this financial crisis. Knee jerk reactions seem the order of the day so it’s bye bye. Now I’m not sure who at the corporate level decided when and how, but damn, for some smart people they sure act dumb. Let’s be nice and bump severance packages just a bit…It’ll make us feel better about the hard decisions. But let’s be dumb and pay it all in the 11th month of the tax year so these folks we just laid off are liable for more taxes next spring as they still look for a job. And in my case, January would have removed me from the 10% additional tax if I have to tap into my 401k moneys to get by, but no, let’s do this quick…try to make it painless on those that are left…Thanks for the forethought. And just think, as a company we were hired for our expertise in planning for the unexpected…everyone out in the real world hires us for our ability to foresee these types of problems.

What does thirty-five years of loyalty buy you these days…With a buck fifty, it may get ya a cup of coffee, muse on that.

Do I sound a bitter? I am a little. Funny thing though, I’m also glad I’m gone…Once they started taking themselves so seriously, it wasn’t fun any more. My only regret is there are still a lot of good people around the country who can still be hurt by this idiotic behavior…The one good bit of news…In the past week the karmic dissonance  has come back to a semblance of balance with the leaving of the manager who had the most to say in pushing me out the door…Have a great life MM…I sure plan to.

And to all my colleges at my old home away from home…All the best in this new working environment. I’ll miss all of you, but I’m moving on. earlier than planned, but going forward just the same. It was mostly fun, that life we had together…Maybe we’ll run into each other…down the road.