Sunday, December 30, 2007


Two wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all.”

“One is EVIL. It’s anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

“The other is GOODNESS. It’s joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather. "Which wolf wins?" The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

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Saturday, December 29, 2007


is the eponymous title of the work that describes a method refined by the author, Robert Brinkerhoff, for quickly finding out what’s working and what’s not.

I was attracted to it while reviewing the different methods for conducting case studies. Case studies attained respectability as a tool for understanding, diagnosing, and solving (or attempting to) real world situations. Harvard University’s graduate-level programs (its MBA, for instance) legitimized its use as a management tool.
"The Case Program at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, is the world’s largest producer and repository of case studies designed for teaching about how government works, how public policy is made, and how nonprofit organizations operate."
Case studies are widely used by management and boutique (niche players) consulting firms. McKinsey & Company, one of the most prestigious ones, employs it not only for client work but also during their hiring process.
"We use case studies to assess your problem-solving skills. They can also give you insight to what we do."
The Success Case Study Method (SCM) is a straightforward method for evaluating a change. The term, “change management,” is a discipline that grew from the need to understand and manage changes. I’m not trying to make you dizzy with circular reasoning here but as management tools go, it couldn’t have been named any better.
Change management is about managing change! One practicing change consultant, Fred Nickols defines “change management” as:
  1. The task of managing change.
  2. An area of professional practice.
  3. A body of knowledge.
  4. A control mechanism.
SCM focuses on the first definition, the task of managing change. Mr. Nickols expounds on this in a very precise way:
One meaning of “managing change” refers to the making of changes in a planned and managed or systematic fashion. The aim is to more effectively implement new methods and systems in an ongoing organization. The changes to be managed lie within and are controlled by the organization. (Perhaps the most familiar instance of this kind of change is the “change control” aspect of information systems development projects.) However, these internal changes might have been triggered by events originating outside the organization, in what is usually termed “the environment.” Hence, the second meaning of managing change, namely, the response to changes over which the organization exercises little or no control (e.g., legislation, social and political upheaval, the actions of competitors, shifting economic tides and currents, and so on). Researchers and practitioners alike typically distinguish between a knee-jerk or reactive response and an anticipative or proactive response.
Typically, when a change is introduced, some aspects of the change’s consequences will work. Others will fail. Management-speak for introducing a change is a “change initiative.”
Management-speak, by the way, is our generation’s way of getting even with the younger generation’s use of text message phonetics.
@mosFER = atmosphere or l8r = Later
SCM seeks to understand why some aspects worked while others failed. Would that information be useful? It definitely would especially to the decision makers as well as to everyone who has a stake in the success of the change initiative.
Incidentally, the latter are referred to as “stakeholders” in management-speak.
SCM’s usefulness is particularly effective when you apply it to partially successful initiatives or to initiatives that cost a lot of money and time to plan and implement. Why? It’s because SCM, when properly used, can ferret out the facts and present its findings about the initiative’s results. Other case study methods may do so as well but SCM is a structured and proven method of accomplishing this. This is SCM’s niche.

SCM and other case study methods lay in the middle of the fact-finding spectrum. To the left are hunches, guesses, and tidbits from the grapevine.
I trust everyone 12 years and older knows what “grapevine” means.
To the right are formal reviews, audits, and studies. The methods on the left are too casual and leave too much room for error based on incorrect information. The methods on the right are expensive and time-consuming. They also tend to provide too much information and take so long that their results may come too late.

How does the Success Case Method (SCM) work?

First, it uses inquiries (e.g., surveys and interviews) to answer four basic questions:
  1. What’s really happening?
  2. What results, if any, is the change program producing (in other words, what consequences are occurring)?
  3. Are the results of value?
  4. Could the change initiative be improved and, if so, how?
Second, it documents the results and presents it.

That’s it!

Why is it called the Success Case Method (SCM)?

It’s called that because it studies the successes (i.e., the success cases). These are the groups or individuals that appear to have reaped the most benefits of the change.

SCM’s first task is to identify the success cases. Its second task is to learn how and why these parties succeeded relative to the rest of the population. Part of the second task is also confirming that the parties initially identified as success cases are indeed successes.

Success, in this context, refers to achieving the results that the parties who planned and introduced the change intended.

How do you conduct the SCM?

Five major steps are involved:
  1. Plan the study. Define the purpose and scope of the question that needs to be answered.
  2. Create a model of the “ideal,” in other words, what success should look like.
  3. Design and conduct the fact-finding process (typically a survey) to search for the best and the worst cases.
  4. Learn their reasons for being the best and worst cases. Document your findings.
  5. Communicate your findings, conclusions, and recommendations.
You will have to read the book to delve into more detail. The author wrote clearly. He presented it in a way that was interesting enough. That's praise considering that case study methodology is a rather dry and topical subject.

Under what circumstances is SCM best used?
  1. When the findings must be discovered quickly, relatively inexpensively, and be supported with verifiable evidence. In short, to dig up enough information to make a decision about the change initiative.
  2. To highlight results and accomplishments
  3. To provide models and examples that can motivate and guide others.
  4. To identify best practices and add to the organization’s knowledge base.
Under what circumstances is SCM not a suitable tool?
  1. When the findings rely heavily on quantitative measures. There are many quantitative survey methods that are more effective. SCM, however, can be used to supplement (not supplant) the quantitative results.
  2. When all of the participants or subjects must be surveyed. In fact, step 3 of the five major steps, requires you to limit the study to a particular subset of the participants.
  3. When the timing for doing the SCM is inappropriate. In many instances, the appropriate timing will depend upon the nature of the change initiative and the manner in which it was deployed. Obviously, some time must pass after an innovation has been introduced before you can expect it to have an impact. On the other hand, it makes no sense to conduct your SCM years after a semi-annual bonus program, for example, was implemented.
What are the cost components of SCM?
  1. The interviews. This is typically the most expensive and time-consuming component. It also requires the most skill and professionalism.
  2. The actual survey. This is second to the interviews in terms of expense and, frequently, time consumption.
  3. The scope of the study.
  4. The identification of the subset.
  5. The documentation.
My personal experience

I used SCM to evaluate the feasibility, for a struggling residential homebuilder, of using auctions to liquidate his growing, finished inventory. At the time of this writing, the construction industry (residential homebuilders in particular), has been contracting for the past 18 months. At this time, conventional wisdom portends another 12 to 18 months of drought before demand catches up with supply.

My client, the homebuilder, was roughly in the $10-million dollar revenue range. As of September 2007, he had 20 unsold finished homes at an average price of $250-thousand each. These homes started accumulating nearly 12 months before I conducted my SCM. When you do the math, it’s plain to see that he was in dire straits. Fifty percent of his previous year’s revenue was stuck in unsold inventory! (20 homes at $250-thousand each equal $5-million!)

It took only three weeks to complete my SCM. The findings pointed to an unambiguous recommendation of yes! Auction the homes. And do it before Thanksgiving!

Unfortunately (for him), he chose not to. As far as I know, he’s holding on to those empty homes and meeting his obligations through a short-term line of credit. Maybe he knows something I don’t. Maybe he withheld some information. Maybe he doesn't realize how risky it is to use short-term capital to fund long-term debt. Oh well...

Regardless, SCM proved itself to me.

Read the book!

In no way am I being compensated by the author, publisher, or any other party. As a matter of fact, neither the author or publisher know that I'm posting this entry. They will, after it's posted.

Speaking as a consultant and change agent of many years, I believe that SCM is a versatile tool that belongs in the toolbox of any management consultant or business analyst.

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Monday, December 17, 2007


The Red Cross is one of our world’s great humanitarian organizations. Unfortunately, little is known about it—especially in mainstream America.

Were you aware that it won the Nobel Peace Prize not once but thrice? It was awarded the prize twice for its work after the First and Second World Wars. In 1963, its 100th anniversary, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was awarded its third Nobel Prize. In addition, its founder, a Swiss businessman, was one of two individuals who were awarded the very first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.


You’ve probably have heard of the Geneva Convention—where a treaty was signed that for the first time, rules of combat were agreed upon. These rules were intended to protect the wounded and sick on the battlefield and to ensure that the people who cared for them were recognized as neutral and were not to be attacked. The Geneva Convention occurred directly because of the Red Cross.

The year before, in 1863, sixteen nations—the military powers of that era, all European countries, discussed their plans for treatment of wounded soldiers in war. At that meeting they decided that medical staff and volunteers should wear a distinctive emblem for their protection. This meeting—the precursor to the Geneva Convention—was held in Geneva, Switzerland. They settled on the distinctive simplicity of the Swiss flag—with its colors reversed. The result is the now-familiar Red Cross against a white background. The following year, in 1864, they finalized their plans in what is now known as the Geneva Convention. And best of all, each signatory started its own national Red Cross.


In 1876, around the last Russo-Turkish War, religion, once again, changed history. The Turks—most of whom were Muslim—associated the red cross emblem with the red cross that was worn by the Crusaders of the Middle Ages. The Crusades were Christendom’s response to continuous Muslim invasions of Christian Europe. The First Crusade took place in the 11th century and the last one that was directed against the Muslims ended in the 13th century. Despite the intervening 600+ years, the Muslims took it upon themselves to attack and kill Red Cross volunteers.

The Turkish government—actually the Ottoman Empire—later apologized and announced that although they would respect the red cross emblem, they would create a new one for their own national volunteers. They reversed the Turkish flag’s colors and created the Red Crescent. Although it would last only another 45 years, the Ottoman Empire was the dominant force in the Muslim world. Consequently, other Muslim countries started following Turkey’s example. In 1929, the Red Crescent was formally adopted at the next Geneva Convention.


The United States joined the movement through the efforts of a small number of activists. One of these activists was Clara Barton, a remarkable woman—an American Florence Nightingale. 

She was a government employee who was touched in the same way that the Swiss businessman was 25 years earlier. She played a leading role in helping the wounded of the American Civil War.  She continued her participation in Europe after the Civil War and returned to the US determined to form an American chapter. After eight years, the American Association of the Red Cross was established in 1882. The US became a signatory to the Geneva Convention the following year.

Clara Barton was immortalized with a postage stamp.


Today’s Red Cross actually consists of two bodies. Both are based in Geneva, Switzerland. One is the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the other is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The ICRC focuses on the victims of armed conflict. The Federation, on the other hand, works with national societies in assisting victims of all other types of disasters, including epidemics.

The two organizations coordinate their efforts. After a conflict ends, the ICRC gradually withdraws from each area and hands it over to the Federation. The Federation’s job is to support the local Red Cross rebuild the lives of the people left by the conflict.


Israel became independent or recognized internationally as a sovereign state in 1948. The following year, Israel tried to join. Unfortunately, Israel objected to using either the cross or the crescent. The Red Cross, on the other hand, refused to admit the Star of David.

This stalemate over emblems continued until two years ago, December 2005, when Israel’s modified emblem—a red crystal—was accepted over vociferous Muslim objections. The crystal may be displayed by any national society but it has not (yet) gained popular acceptance.


The Federation is popularly known as the “movement.” In 1965, the movement developed its seven fundamental principles to guide its mission.


The movement aims to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found.


The movement does not discriminate between races, nationalities, religious beliefs, class, or political opinions.


The movement does not take sides in any conflict or dispute.


National societies maintain their independence so they can act according to the principles of the movement.

Voluntary Service

The movement is a voluntary relief organization that is not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.


There can only be one Red Cross or Red Crescent society in each country. Membership in this organization must be open to all.


The movement is global in scope.

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Monday, December 10, 2007


Diabetics probably shouldn't. however.

Several months ago, I read this article about the benefits of fasting. These are:

  1. it provides your pancreas and liver a chance to "rest,"
  2. it forces the body to consume the body's fat reserves since carbohydrates aren't available,
  3. psychologically, it encourages reflection on what it means to go hungry and on one's good fortune to be able to eat at will, and
  4. for many people, it brings a feeling of tranquility.

The pancreas and liver, two of our seven vital organs, produce essential chemicals that allow the body to convert food into fuel the body can use.

The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes (including the all-important insulin) that metabolize food. The liver, you may know, is our body's primary chemical factory. One of its primary roles is to assist the metabolism of food. What is metabolism? It's the set of chemical reactions that maintain life. Digestion is one of them.

This week, I came across an article about a scientific study that confirms that Mormons benefit from fasting. Mormons belong to the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). The scientists who conducted the study presented their results at a recent American Heart Association conference.The Mormon church encourages believers to abstain from food on the first Sunday of each month. The study found that Mormons have less heart disease (about 40 percent are less likely to be diagnosed with clogged arteries than those who did not regularly fast).

Muslims enjoy this benefit too. During the month of Ramadan, except under certain circumstances, Muslims may eat or drink nothing, including water, while the sun shines. They feast before dawn and then again after dusk.

Regardless of religious beliefs, it appears that regularly taking breaks from food helps improve the odds to develop clogged arteries.

NPR (National Public Radio) ran a recent article entitled "Retune the Body with a Partial Fast." I've quoted and then summarized it below.
For thousands of years, beginning with philosophers like Hippocrates, Socrates and Plato, fasting was recommended for health reasons. The Bible writes that Moses and Jesus fasted for 40 days for spiritual renewal.

To understand how the body reacts to a lack of food, you could start by looking at what happens to newborns. Newborns can't sleep through the night because they need to eat every few hours. They don't produce enough glycogen, the body's form of stored sugar, to make energy.

Glycogen is necessary for thinking; it's necessary for muscle action; it's necessary just for the cells to live in general
Most endocrinologists think that fasting doesn't hurt the body and may, in fact, help it by resetting its digestive mechanisms.
Endocrinologists are specialists that diagnose diseases that affect our glands. Glands are the organs that make hormones. Hormones control reproduction, metabolism, growth, and development. They also control the way we instinctively respond to stimuli and help regulate the amount of energy and nutrition our bodies need.
These mechanisms make the digestion possible. The primary internal organs that are involved are the pancreas and the liver.

Fasting suppresses insulin secretion and, ultimately, reduces our craving for sugar. During a fast, the body burns up stored sugars, or glycogen. Since less insulin is required to digest food, it rests the pancreas.

There are two additional benefits to fasting:
  1. Digestion creates free radicals as a byproduct. Free radicals are one of the primary causes of cancer, oncologists believe. Free radicals attack proteins, our DNA, the nucleus and membranes of our cells.
  2. Reducing our calorie intake, especially as we age, seems to reduce the incidence of disease. Lab studies of rats and mice, at least, confirm that.
Oncologists are specialists who study, diagnose, and treat cancerous tumors. Cancer is a catch-all term for the diseases in which cells multiply abnormally. These cells run amok, if you will. They do not follow the life cycle of normal cells.

Incidentally, do you know why cancer is called that? The Greeks named it. Cancer has afflicted mankind since time immemorial. The Greeks observed that it was impossible to remove cancer once someone developed it. It was as tenacious as a crab. It wouldn't let go. Cancer is the crab.
All told, it seems there are more side benefits associated with fasting. I encourage you to read the article.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007


Passwords are proliferating in our daily lives. How can we create strong but memorable passwords? This post suggests a method.

Most sites suggest several basic guidelines for creating passwords. Most or all of them are covered below.

1. Passwords must never be a single word or concatenation of words:

  • Anthony
  • larryLou
  • Christinejan
  • funnycat

To "concatenate," by the way, means to link together in a series.

2. Passwords must never be a familiar number or word to you (especially your Social Security Number):

  • Feb19
  • 06291990
  • 24July1992
  • 32367007

3. Some sites require passwords to meet certain requirements:

  1. It must begin with a letter.
  2. It must have at least one uppercase letter.
  3. It must contain at least one numeral.
  4. It can't be your name, birthday, social security number, street address.
  5. It can't be the word, "password."
  6. It must contain at least one special character, e.g., $ or # or ^ or &, et al.
  7. It must contain between six to eight characters.

  • Jim@s2legs
  • LI$ais17
  • Ekn60126

4. Many people deal with their passwords in two ways:

  • They use one password for all sites, like Ekn60126.
  • They use one password for most sites, except for a few special ones. Their usual password is Ekn60126 and their special password, which is reserved for their bank accounts, for instance, is Alm7opp.


There is a better way. The two preceding methods have one major flaw. If somebody learned your usual (or special) password, s/he will be able to access your account. (I'm ignoring the username at this point since I'll cover that in another post.)

Is there a better way to handle this proliferation?

Yes, there is. Before we go on, let me clarify that the term, "character," refers to either a letter or numeral. In other words, letters and numerals (and even special symbols like $ or &) are characters.

The following method allows you to create a dynamic password that changes with every site and, yet, remains easy to remember. In addition, you can modify the principles outlined below to create your own algorithm. An "algorithm" is a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem. These are the steps.

First, create a sentence memorable to yourself. This is a sentence that you know you can remember. Let’s say your name is William and you live at 322 San Carlos Rd. Your memorable sentence could be:

  • William lives at 322 San Carlos Rd.

Second, take the first character of each word in the sentence:

  • Wla3scr

This becomes your root word.

Third, create your algorithm. You can create any rule(s).

You decide that the rule would be to use the first character of the website to sandwich your root word. Furthermore, you decide to always make the first character of the website uppercase.

  • Site: YWla3scry......... 9 characters

Your root word, Wla3scr, is sandwiched between an uppercase Y and a lowercase y. The “y” came from “yahoo.”

Is nine characters too long? Then drop the last character of your root word before using the first two characters. Change your rule to accommodate the length limitation.

  • Site: GWla3scg........... 8 characters

Still too long? Use a shorter sentence to create your root word:

  • Larry is 18.

This creates two possible root words; one with one numeral (Li1) and the other with two numerals (Li18). Longer passwords are more difficult to break.
  • Site: YLi18y................. 6 characters

This dynamic method of creating passwords has five benefits.

  1. You have a different password for every site.
  2. Each password is based on the site's address.
  3. Recalling the password is easily done by applying the algorithm.
  4. Changing the password is as easy as changing your root sentence and / or your algorithm.
  5. Even if two or three passwords are compromised, it's still difficult to crack the algorithm.

As stated earlier, you should use these principles as starting points for creating your own algorithms.You could, for example, change the rule to always capitalize the second character of the website and insert that between the first and second characters of your root word.

  • Larry is 18.

You decide to create a root word that starts with a lowercase L and ends with two numerals: li18.

  • Site: Yli1A8................. 6 characters
  • Site: Gli1M8................. 6 characters

Note how your password changes for every website. Even if two of your passwords were learned, it would still take time and effort to break the algorithm.

You could also, for instance, use two memorable sentences to create two passwords: one for regular sites and the other for special sites.

An infinite number of possibilities exists so use your imagination and create strong and easily-remembered passwords. Good luck!

Finally, here are two sites that contain more password creation and password cracking (!) guidelines.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007


It can seem like a hassle when you learn that a product you recently bought has been recalled. Will you go through the hassle of returning it?

It depends, right? If the product was inexpensive, you may not.

Take flip-flops, for instance.

I received an email from Asia that contained these photos of injuries suffered by a woman who purchased flip-flops from Wal-Mart.

I googled it and was led from this site to this one. The latter belongs to the woman whose feet are apparently in the photos.

Quoting from her site's homepage:

For those of you who are not familiar with this story, I will sum it up for you.

I bought a pair of cheap flip flops from Wal-Mart. I got what appears to be chemical burns from them. I took pictures.

I was blown off by Wal-Mart, they actually told me to call China. I put up these pages because I was feeling a bit betrayed after their attempted dismissal and to my surprise, I have gotten several emails telling me that the sender is experiencing or has experienced the same thing.

Now it is September and the shoes are no longer being sold, but I can not seem to find much out yet, they are being very quite (sic) on the issue. They have also said that they only have 9 reports, actually, they said that in July, and they said the same thing in August, and they said the very same thing in Sept.

I am wondering what is going on here ... read my story and you will see what I mean.
Her account of the reception she received after she brought it to Wal-Mart's attention screams of bad customer service. Her story reinforced some of my emotional feelings about Wal-Mart. On the one hand, it's made many products more affordable. On the other, it's success has decimated many independent stores.

In this instance, what's galling is the indifferent attitude exhibited by the front line manager who dealt with her.

This is the letter she posted on her website that apparently came from Wal-Mart's vendor's representative.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Walgreens considering slowing pace of new stores

Nov. 14, 2007

Walgreens Co.
, one of America's largest drugstore chains, is considering slowing the pace of store openings. This is a move away from one of its key sales drivers, but it's a decision that its chief executive said would help earnings.
Shares of the company rose 3 percent Wednesday morning.
Could this turn out to be a classic example of corporate short-sightedness; of paying more attention to the near-term rather than the long-term? If so, the stock market appears to have the same myopia.
"We have discussed that within our company," Jeffrey Rein, chairman and chief executive, said of slowing the store opening pace during an investor conference on Wednesday. "We have not made any decision one way or another." Rein said the idea of slowing store openings had good and bad points.

On the plus side, it would reduce the need to develop managers. Rein noted that in 2008 the company would need about 875 new managers due to the new stores, promotions and retirements.
The company currently plans to open 550 new stores in the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2008, a spokesman said.

On the downside, if the company slows its store opening pace, it risks losing some of the best locations to competitors like Rite Aid Corp., as well as to companies outside the drugstore business, such as banks that are adding branches.

Walgreens operated 6,059 stores as of Oct. 31. The company has expanded at a rate of about 8 percent annually on a square-footage basis for the past several years, a spokesman said.
"In the past, organic store growth has been an important part of Walgreens' strategy."

Rein said the company could reduce some of the items it sells to make space for other offerings that could lift sales.
"There is clearly an opportunity to wring more sales out of the store base. A lot of it would depend on execution."

Walgreens, like rival CVS Caremark Corp., has expanded aggressively in recent years and has relied on convenient locations to spur sales of nonprescription items such as milk and bread, sometimes commanding a higher price in return for that convenience.

Rein noted that McDonald's Corp. Chief Executive James Skinner is a board member and that McDonald's in recent years had drastically slowed its own expansion to focus on store operations.
"If we were to cut back, we would definitely help earnings," Rein said.

Walgreens shares rose $1 to $40.10 on the New York Stock Exchange at midday, after trading as high as $40.35 earlier in the session.
For the year, the stock is down 12 percent, compared with a 26.6 percent increase for top rival CVS Caremark Corp.
Notice the comparison between Walgreens and CVS. Could this be what Walgreen's board is concerned about? Is it the pressure to boost the share price?

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Friday, November 9, 2007


What are the big, basic things that make economies grow?

ECONOMISTS AND POLITICIANS argue about degree and detail—and they surely do—but generally speaking:
  • Encouraging competition
  • Keeping taxes low, and
  • A tight monetary policy
are the three drivers of economic growth.

HERE'S HOW THOSE POLICIES worked for America these past 25 years.

Encouraging competition.

When companies fiercely compete with one another, the result can be lower prices and more innovative products and services. Competition forces companies to constantly innovate—whether through new technology or business models or management processes—to keep ahead of rivals. And key to competition is keeping government regulation as light as possible while also keeping products safe and preventing harmful monopolies.

Starting in the 70s, many American industries were deregulated, including airlines, trucking, railroads, banking, electricity, and communications. This broke down concentrations of market power and unleashed innovation.

Deregulation and increased competition through global trade in many ways have created a more vibrant economy. (London, Paul. The Competition Solution. 2005.)

Established financial institutions such as big New York banks, the New York Stock Exchange, and insurance companies had to compete with junk bond financing, the Nasdaq stock market, and bigger regional banks. Southwest led the challenge to United and American Airlines. And, of course, Wal-Mart challenged locally powerful department and grocery stores.

Deregulation creates flexibility and flexibility clears the way for innovation.

Keeping taxes low.

While the Reagan tax cuts of the early 80s—dropping the top rate from 70 percent to 28 percent and indexing tax brackets for inflation—get much of the attention by economic historians, there was also the capital gains tax cut of 1978 that Jimmy Carter signed reluctantly and the 1997 capital gains tax cut signed by Bill Clinton.

Lowering tax rates does the opposite of what high taxes do, namely, discourage job formation, discourage savings and investment, and encourage tax avoidance and evasion.

As Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors stated in 1994, "It is undeniable that the sharp reduction in taxes in the 80s was a strong impetus to growth."

Tax increases appear to cause a very large, sustained, and highly significant negative impact on economic output. Tax cuts, on the other hand, cause very large and persistent positive effects on economic output. (Romer, David and Christina. White Paper. Univ. of California - Berkeley. 2007.)

All things being equal, lower taxes stimulate economic growth while higher taxes depress it.

A tight monetary policy.

Let's start with the opposite, a loose monetary policy. A loose monetary policy flirts with the prospect of inflation and the dangers it brings. Inflation is bad because it devalues the currency and causes prices to rise. Rising prices cut purchasing power and distort investment decisions. Individuals and businesses look for inflation shelters instead of investing capital where it can be most efficiently allocated.

Inflation seemed out of control heading into the 1980s, but deregulation and tighter monetary policy under Fed Reserve chairmen Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan helped inflation fall from double-digit rates to today's two to three percent.

Low inflation brings price stability and the two are seen by many economists as essential for long-term growth.

By preventing inflation, a tight monetary policy avoids inflationary spikes that usually leads to recessions. A recession is the natural consequence of an economy wracked by inflation. It's as if inflation sickened the economy and the medicine is recession.

To repeat, a sound monetary policy keeps inflation in check and avoids the danger of a recession.


There you have it! The big three secrets to America's economic prosperity for the past 25 years are:

  • Deregulation that encouraged competition that fostered innovation that made American industry more productive,
  • Low taxes that encouraged beneficial investment decisions back into the economy, and
  • A tight monetary policy that kept inflation under control and avoided a recession that would have contracted the economy.

  • BusinessWeek. "What's Been the Secret of America's Economic Success?" Internet. November 2007

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Used a pair of binoculars. It was high up in the sky. Saw it despite city lights.

If it were not for another comet...
My kids will have a good story to tell their kids and their kids to their kids and so on and so forth.

If it were not for Halley's Comet that last visited us in 1986, I would not have been able to date my ex-. And if we had not dated, my kids would not have been born.

So in 2062, when Halley's Comet returns, when my kids will be 72, 70, and 65, they can tell their kids to look up in the sky and thank God for Halley's Comet.


Amateur astronomers the world over have been stunned and amazed by the weirdest new object to appear in the sky in memory. And it's one of the brightest, too — it's easy to spot with your eyes alone if you know where to look.
On October 24th, Comet Holmes brightened unexpectedly and dramatically — by nearly a million times — virtually overnight.

For no apparent reason, the comet erupted from a very dim magnitude 17 to about magnitude 2½. Within a day its star-like nucleus had expanded into a perfectly round, bright little disk visible in binoculars and telescopes.
It looked like no comet ever seen.

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Thursday, November 1, 2007


This is humor.

A college teacher of Spanish explained to her class that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine.
  • "House" for instance, is feminine: "la casa."
  • "Pencil," however, is masculine: "el lapiz."
A student then asked, "What gender is 'computer'?" Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, men and women, and asked them to decide for themselves whether "computer" should be a masculine or a feminine noun. Each group was also asked to give reasons for its answer. The men's group decided that "computer" had to be feminine in gender ("la computadora" ) because:
  1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic;
  2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else;
  3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible later retrieval; and
  4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.
The women's group, however, concluded that computers should be masculine (el computador") because:
  1. In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on;
  2. They have a lot of data but still can't think for themselves;
  3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem; and
  4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model
Incidentally it is feminine, "la computadora." The men were right!

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


And what do welders do?

Welding is the most economical and efficient way to join metals permanently. It is the only way of joining two or more pieces of metal to make them act as a single piece.

Welding is vital to our economy. It is often said that over 50% of the gross national product of the U.S.A. is related to welding in one way or another.

Welding ranks high among industrial processes and involves more sciences and variables than those involved in any other industrial process.

There are many ways to make a weld and many different kinds of welds. Some processes cause sparks and others do not even require extra heat. Welding can be done anywhere… outdoors or indoors, underwater and in outer space.

Nearly everything we use in our daily life is welded or made by equipment that is welded.

Welders help build metal products from coffeepots to skyscrapers. They help build space vehicles and millions of other products ranging from oil drilling rigs to automobiles.

In construction, welders are virtually rebuilding the world, extending subways, building bridges, and helping to improve the environment by building pollution control devices.

The use of welding is practically unlimited. There is no lack of variety of the type of work that is done.

Welders are employed in many industry groups.

Machinery manufacturers are responsible for agricultural, construction, and mining machinery. They are also involved in bulldozers, cranes, material handling equipment, food-processing machinery, papermaking and printing equipment, textiles, and office machinery.

The fabricated metals products compiles another group including manufacturers of pressure vessels, heat exchangers, tanks, sheet metal, prefabricated metal buildings and architectural and ornamental work.

Transportation is divided into two major groups: manufacturers of transportation equipment except motor vehicles; and motor vehicles and equipment. The first includes shipbuilding, aircraft, spacecraft, and railroads. The second includes automobiles, trucks, buses, trailers, and associated equipment.

A small group of welders belongs to the group of repair services. This includes maintenance and repair on automobiles or refers to the welding performed on industrial and electrical machinery to repair worn parts.

The mining, oil extraction, and gas extraction industries form yet another group. A large portion of the work involves drilling and extracting oil and gas or mining of ores, stone, sand and gravel.

Welders are also employed in the primary metals industries to include steel mills, iron and steel foundries, smelting and refining plants. Much of this work is maintenance and repair of facilities and equipment.

Another group is the electrical and electronic equipment companies. Welding done by this group runs from work on electric generators, battery chargers, to household appliances.

Public administration employs welders to perform maintenance welding that is done on utilities, bridges, government armories and bases, etc.

Yet another group involves wholesale and retail establishments. These would include auto and agricultural equipment dealerships, metal service centers, and scrap yards.

Probably the smallest group of welders, but perhaps those with the biggest impact on the public are the artist and sculptors. The St. Louis Arch is possibly one of the best known. But there are many other fountains and sculptures in cities and neighborhoods around the world.
This article was excerpted from Modern Welding Technology, 4th edition, 1998, by Howard B. Cary.
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Monday, October 29, 2007


Click here for a tragic story that was reported in the Chicago Tribune last month.

IT REMINDED ME of a similar experience in the late 80s.

My ex- and I learned to sail in the late 80s. After completing our course, we naturally did a lot of sailing. The boat in the Tribune story was a J-35. We were on a J-22.

J-boats," as they are called, are popular, well-built racing sloops that range from 22 to 65 feet.

THERE WERE FOUR SAILORS on the ill-fated J-35. There were six of us on the J-22. We were overloaded. There were originally four of us, but our sailing club made us an offer we should've refused. But, it was one of those perfect sailing days so when they asked whether we would take a third couple in exchange for letting us sail for free, we accepted.

THIRTY MINUTES after we left the safety of Belmont Harbor, the weather turned nasty. Very quickly. We were suddenly caught by a squall. The weather on the lake, like the city, changes very rapidly. Whitecaps gave way to pelting rain and strong winds. Before long, large waves buffeted us. Like the sailors in the story, we dropped our sails and tried to motor into the harbor. It didn't work since the stern would emerge from the water every time our boat pitched. (Our outboard motor was at the stern.)
The wind was pushing us towards the wall. We had to get away! We were probably only 60 feet from disaster.

The only remaining method of propulsion was by sail. We had to raise our sails. Divine intervention, more than our novice skills, made it work. We were able to actually sail away from the wall. After 10 minutes, the squall passed, we dropped our sails and motored safely into the harbor. Just as if nothing happened. Ho hum...

NOBODY WAS HURT. Everybody was shaken. Two of our passengers threw up. It was quite a sight to see it suspended in mid-air but I'll spare you from further details. We were drenched but glad to be alive.

I still sail with the club. It's under different management now however.

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Did accelerated IT investments create the US labor productivity boom of the late 1990s?

New research from the McKinsey Global Institute shows that IT was only one of several factors at work—and that, in a handful of competitive industries, the most important cause was managerial innovation, that was sometimes (but not always) aided by technology.

Many of the innovations underlying the acceleration will continue to generate productivity growth above the long-term trend for the next several years.

Managerial innovations, increased competition (sometimes sparked by regulatory change), and cyclical demand factors were the most important direct causes.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

What else can we accomplish?

I enjoyed LEGOs growing up. I wholeheartedly recommend them as educational tools.

But eggs! Now that's something else. Here are two video links:

YouTube-2 YouTube-1

YTube-2 was created in response to the YTube-1.

YTube-2 runs for six and a half minutes but if you watch it, you'll notice it took longer to stack one egg on top of another. That's only one egg on top of another.

How long do you suppose would it take to construct a city consisting of stacked eggs?

I don't know but it can be done. In China, at least.

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Saturday, October 6, 2007


It’s not unusual for an objective to be initially defined vaguely for any number of reasons. It may be a first-time objective. It may not have been thought through all the way and it’s your assignment to flesh the objective.

Do not make the mistake of accepting a project that has a vague objective(s)!

In fact, even if the objective seems straightforward, I think it’s a good idea to check it against your SMARTs. This familiar technique—you can google it easily—ensures that the objective is really clear. If it doesn’t pass your SMARTs, then you have to push back and insist on further clarification.

Remember, you have to clarify it before you accept it.

SMART is a mnemonic (ne-mo-nic) for the five standards that must be met by your project objective.

Specific + Measurable + Agreed-upon + Realistic + Time-bound

Here are the details.

An objective must have enough specific detail so you know what the final product or service is supposed to resemble.
Quantify the objective and use an objective standard if possible and desirable. Reduce subjectivity since it leaves too many things open for conflict.
The standards of performance must be established before the project gets underway. This is especially important when there are numerous stakeholders.
Negotiate. Exploit the flexibility of the triple constraints. Frequently, a project seems too difficult or impossible because of the project’s constraints. If the constraints are negotiable, risk is lessened and the likelihood of success improves.
A deadline motivates action. A lack of urgency tempts people to procrastinate. Always have a time constraint.

Additional Remarks:

The SMART process is iterative, i.e., it uses successive rounds to zero in on the most precise solution. Be forewarned that this is a time-consuming process. On the other hand, time-consuming as it is, you can be sure that it will save even more time by preventing (or at least minimizing) the chance that you will have to re-do the project.

Try to meet all stakeholders at each round of the process. Do this for everyone’s sake. Stakeholders who are neglected or even just feel left out frequently tend to put pressure elsewhere on your project. Invite them since you need to protect their self-esteem and sense of participation.

Summarize and paraphrase each stakeholder’s input until the stakeholder agrees that you, the PM, understands.

At the end of each round, prepare a draft statement of the negotiated objectives and circulate it. Invite feedback and discussion.

You’ll know that the objective is clear when it passes the SMART test and is accepted by all stakeholders. Ideally, this group should include even those stakeholders whose objectives were eliminated. This group may not like the final decision but the important thing is their acknowledgment of the fact that their objectives will not be in the final project. Remember: the objective has to pass the SMART test and is accepted by all stakeholders.

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