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Another thing that Bezard taught was how to take notes and how to set up card files that are useful a whole lifetime. If I had followed his advice, today I would have a gold mine; none of my early work would have been lost.
-- Jean Guitton



Blog Posts for April 2008

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Spring in Iowa

 

There's nothing like spring in Iowa, when the cold and the barren give way to color and life.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 4/1/2008 1:15:59 AM
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Absorption

 

Tom Peters said that "we become who we hang out with." (See slide 21...) He's right. If you want to fly, don't hang out with chickens, you know?

It's the rare individual who improves her tennis game after consistently playing against those with skills less than hers. She doesn't have to try as hard to win. She gets soft. But pit her against someone who can serve aces to her, and her every skill is front and center. It has to be, or she has no prayer in the game.

Who influences us most? Those near us, of course. We become who we hang around.

There was a guy I worked with who told me that his sales manager told him to never hire a salesman who drove an old car and didn't want a new car. The great salesperson, he told me, is the one who wants more than what he has today. That new car payment gives him incentive to get out there every day.

Troy Dunn wrote a book called "Young Bucks," which describes how to raise children who know how to create a profit. In the book, he has this passage:

The greatest gift you can give to your child is the gift of want.
He coaches us parents to ditch the allowance and teach our children to "learn to earn." He reasons that when they want something bad enough, and earning the money is the only way to achieve it, they'll figure out a way to make the money. That creates self-sufficiency, self-motivation. That child becomes confident in life. Isn't that what we all want?

Who influences us to stretch ourselves into more than who we are today?

I don't mean those who tell us who we ought to be. They might be right, but that's a realization we need to birth within ourselves.

No, I mean those that we choose to be near to us who pull us more into knowing for ourselves who we want to be. They're unafraid to help stretch us.

Now, think of this in terms of our co-workers, managers, and work environment. Some people live to shirk work as much as they can. Some people see their job as nothing more than a paycheck. Does the manager help the individual set stretchable goals? Does the work environment pull people into higher performance? Is the culture centered on nothing less than excellence?

Truly - what is the purpose of work? A paycheck? A means (money) to an end (bills paid)?

Or do we go further and stretch ourselves into making our work a life-altering experience? An opportunity to become more than we are today? Are we encouraging those around us to do the same?

I'll give you one reason for work: to help the employer make a profit.

Some people want "profit" to become a dity word. They want it to represent greed and selfishness and unfairness.

Bullshit.

Profit means that you can stay in your job longer. It mean that you might be able to get a raise. It means that people who are unemployed can enjoy work and the paycheck it brings.

But what kills me is that profit-making is so far removed from the mind of so many employees. The good business culture should put it square in the middle of every activity and decision and make it so that everyone in the company can see the profit in any effort made. Something that the company is doing is not profitable? Why is it being done?

Make profit the focus of your work. Encourage others to do the same. Hang around those who love and crave profit, and ditch those who disdain it.

It's not just okay to want more - it's essential. You grow as a person in your skills when you do.

 

1 Comment
by Brett Rogers, 4/4/2008 11:55:02 AM
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Yummy

 

My wife recently introduced me to Del Monte Fruit Chillers. This guy does a complete review of them here and I agree with every word. If you're looking for an excellent healthy alternative to ice cream after dinner, this is a perfect one.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 4/9/2008 9:11:09 AM
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Oil for Blood?

 

I have no problem whatsoever with the idea that Iraqis pay for their newfound freedoms with the resources they have to pay for the expenses that our nation incurs in fighting the battle for them.

But to have this recommendation come from the "No blood for oil" crowd shows them to pretty much be talking out both sides of their mouth.

Couple that with no drastic change in lifestyle for their alarmist "global warming" cries, and what credibility do they have? If you believe something, for pete's sake, then show it. So here's a bit of advice:

  • Walk your talk. If you really believe that the US invaded Iraq to confiscate its oil, and you pillory the president for the rationale you impose upon him, but he never does it and has no plans to do it, then you look pretty silly doing it yourself and show that you, in fact, have no principles. Go Dems!
  • If you have no intention of walking your talk, but you want to be breathtakingly hypocritical for political reasons, then get some lackey to suggest it and then say that you reluctantly have to go along with it.
"This I believe..." - words that generally mean nothing for most politicians.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 4/9/2008 1:13:29 PM
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Spend It Like You Got It

 

When I was a kid, my parents weren't smart with money. They never taught me anything about managing money. In fact, the only advice I ever received was from a relative, who told me with lots of swagger:

Spend it like you got it.
Evidently, that impresses people... being a big spender.

It might be the generation, but we see that philosophy embraced by a lot of people. Washington spends a ton of money on pet projects and silly issues. Homeowners use their accumulated equity in their home to spend more money.

I read Calculated Risk, a smart blog about matters economic, and they highlight a speech given by former Fed chairman, Paul Volcker, who says:

"I come now to the heart of the problem, as a Nation we are consuming and investing, that is spending, about 6% more than we are producing."
Our expenses outrun our income.

This could be a been-there-done-that post about the dangers of over-spending, but that's not the problem in my opinion. I have no problem with spending. In fact, I think that's a good thing.

What I do think is the problem is this: we're no longer producing enough. Evidently being industrious went the way of the Industrial Age.

This is the age of Magic Money, where the government can fix problems by just speaking the solution into existence - never mind that any solution proposed comes from tax dollars absconded from you, the taxpayer. Oh but that's okay - the politicians want to take most of that money from the rich, where rich is defined not in terms of wealth but in terms of income. It is, after all, an income tax, not a wealth tax. So the goal is to therefore tax those capable of producing the most money. Which penalizes production. But it's okay to bail out adults who signed up for a house they can't afford. And "bail out" means giving money to people who didn't earn it, drawn from tax dollars absconded from you, the taxpayer. Oh but that's okay - the politicians want to take most of that money from the rich... and so it goes, around in a cycle of ignorance. Make some other guy pay.

Don't penalize production; reward production. Reward entrepreneurialism and investment and lots of extra effort. Reward those who create jobs.

To produce (pro·duce):

  1. to bring into existence; give rise to; cause
  2. to bring into existence by intellectual or creative ability
  3. to make or manufacture
  4. to bring forth; give birth to; bear
  5. to provide, furnish, or supply; yield
The law of supply and demand is a pretty simple, but oh so essential, economic lesson. If you want lower prices, you have to make it easier for those who produce the thing you desire. That will increase the supply and lower prices. But instead, too many people make it harder. Too many people penalize production. Too many people hate the successful and the productive. Then, when the thing desired rises in price, like gas at the pump, these same people get angry about it. Oil companies are told they can't drill, can't build new refineries, and then they have to sit in front of congressional committees and get lectured by people who don't produce a single thing in benefit of society.

Production, unfortunately, is in limited supply these days, as Paul Volcker noted. But it doesn't have to be that way.

So change the world and celebrate the productive and successful. Once production is back in the groove, then you can spend it because you actually do "got it."

 

1 Comment
by Brett Rogers, 4/12/2008 11:05:06 AM
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Spring Cleaning

 

Thankfully, my wife likes things clean and tidy, and we recently bought ourselves a Hoover SteamVac from Costco. Only a little over $200, and lemme tell ya, well worth the money. Easy to assemble, easy to use... we became horrified and relieved at the same time when we made our first pass at our carpet. While we vacuum at least weekly in our house, check this out:

That brackish water in the container you see is the muck pulled from our carpet. Horrified and relieved, I tell you.

We've determined to do this at least every 6 months. It's cool to have the tools to be able to accomplish this ourselves, and for not a lot of expense or time.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 4/13/2008 2:52:35 PM
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Interesting Work

 

Every once in a while, I get approached to do custom programming or design work. I just finished one such work, where I did about 90 hours of work over three months of time to create a custom web site for a local company to help manage the quotes they do for their customers.

I had to integrate complex Sales, Use, and Excise tax laws across multiple states into an easy interface for the quoting package, and the output goes into dynamic Excel spreadsheets. I use XML to create the spreadsheets, which isn't something I see many programmers do. Most use a third-party reporting package of some type or another, but the beauty of using XML is that I can do any depth of customization necessary to achieve the look and feel that makes sense for the need.

The work is interesting, and it can lead to solutions in other projects.

Another fella recently approached me and asked if I could create some EDI-type output for his retail chain. The object? Take the sales data, compile the items sold within the last week, create records in the EDI-type output, and upload the finished file to a custom server in New York every Monday. I spent a few hours in my Sunday afternoon today pulling in the data and creating a sample output file for testing it.

So many companies need help automating processes through a simple interface. It's fun to help a few.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 4/13/2008 6:30:20 PM
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Making It Your Own

 

Tamara and I watch American Idol, and far and away, the one to beat, despite Simon's assertions otherwise, is David Cook. It's not because David is the best vocalist - he's not. It's because he knows what he does best and he chooses songs that can be performed his way and he rarely does the song like the original. He niches himself very, very well. I'd eagerly listen to his music because it's unique and well done. He surprises me, and I look forward to the surprise he brings. In fact, if it wasn't for him, I'm not sure that I'd want to watch the show.

The "one to beat," as Simon puts it, is David Archuletta, who is an exceptional vocalist, but with the exception of his version of Imagine earlier in the season, I'd never run to the store to get anything he does. As they say about Enya, you can start anywhere with any song and it sounds exactly like the same song every time. There's no surprise. He delivers a few nice runs in any song that will sound pretty much like the original version, but nothing else.

The person I want to do well is Carly. Tamara too... we both like her and want her to do well. The problem? She never makes it her own. She picks songs she can sing well - and sing well she can. But like Syesha and little David, it sounds like the original. Which is disappointing. She has more passion than all of the others combined, and that's what is carrying her through right now. Which says a lot about passion...

Jason Castro? Initially, I didn't really like him, but as he gains confidence in knowing what it is that he does well and executes that - kind of a lighter version of David Cook's originality - he's growing on me. It's how he makes the songs his own that pulls him through.

You don't have to be the best at what you do technically. But you do have to know what you do well and do it in a unique way - a way that makes it memorable. If it looks like everyone else, you're wallpaper. How can you be pleasantly surprising? Catchy? Infectious? How can you make people eagerly anticipate what you the niche of what you do?

It starts with the willingness to take a risk. The safe way is doing things like everyone else did them successfully. Best practice, they call it. That's crap. It's just one way of doing it.

I read something yesterday while preparing for a meeting.

"What is an employee's purpose? Most would say, 'To help the company achieve its purpose.' But they would be wrong. That is certainly part of the employee's role, but an employee's primary purpose is to become the-best-version-of-himself or -herself."
That's pretty provocative. In fact, it caught me by surprise. Think that over... because I think that statement is breathtakingly spot on.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 4/16/2008 10:09:57 AM
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Tricky Ground

 

Re: the FLDS sect in Texas and the state's confiscation of over 400 children.

What do you get when you cross arranged marriage and polygamy and pedophilia and religion and incest?

Some people are upset that the state used what appears to be a bogus phone tip about the abuse of a 14-year-old girl to remove not just girls from the custody of their parents, but boys as well. The abuse of big government, they cry!

I'm no advocate of big government, as anyone who knows me or reads my web site will say.

But... show me the 14-year-old girl in any society who is mature and confident enough in her decision to consensually marry a middle-aged man.

I don't care what your culture is, some things are obviously wrong and don't require debate. Allowing a deviant nutjob to create his own society where he can harvest 80 wives, some of whom were 14 years old, would be one of them.

Does the state of Texas have the authority to go in clean up the mess created by a ring of pedophiles? Frankly, I wouldn't care if armed Boy Scouts in Eldorado, Texas, went in and broke up this illicit farce - it needed to be broken up.

Some assert that the kids need to be returned to their parents, as Dr. Phil did at the end of his show on the subject. I get his point. But the families, after several generations of this lifestyle, will only try to continue as they have in the past. While it is traumatic for people to have to relearn what they have believed all of their lives, not every myth carries with it a Santa-like innocence.

So to answer my earlier question: What do you get when you cross arranged marriage and polygamy and pedophilia and religion and incest?

A lot of ruined lives.

To put the chlidren back in this "lifestyle" with people who will try to continue to live this way is no answer at all.

 

1 Comment
by Brett Rogers, 4/25/2008 6:44:42 AM
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Drive-Through Innovation

 

Okay... so here's a crazy thought. You're in marketing at McDonald's. What do you do to bring people to your store?

Most people would focus on the food. New food products. Offer giveaways and discounts. Increase advertising. Ho hum. That's what everyone else might do, and it would typically increase expenses to achieve revenue and profits. You gotta spend money to make money. Yada yada.

Or, you could focus on a different tack... what are people doing when they make the decision to visit a McDonald's?

  • Driving home from school activities.
  • Driving to school activties.
  • Driving to work.
  • Driving home from work.
  • Driving long distance - to see family or enjoy vacation.
See a theme?

What do people do while driving? (Not just the driver, but the passengers too.)

They listen to music. They snack. They talk on the cell phone. They play games. They watch movies-

Stop right there. Parents love it when their kids watch movies while driving. The miles slip away more peacefully. Less fighting. Between the portable DVD player and the one that hangs from the ceiling in minivans, movies in the car are almost as indispensible as the cup holder.

Hmm... what if McDonald's offered movies?

Interesting idea, but as people drive around town, they rarely go back to the same McDonald's every time.

Okay - so make it that you can return the movies to any McDonald's.

Hmm... and what if it was only a dollar to rent?

So imagine this scenario: you're driving across the country in your family minivan. The kids are tired of the three movies you brought with you and they're starting to pick at each other out of boredom. You have a choice between Burger King, Wendy's, and McDonald's at the next exit. Which do you choose? Why, the one that makes the trip easier, of course. Perhaps, the one with kiosked movies.

What a beautiful concept. McDonald's new advertising just became a profit center. Redbox movies, per kiosk, averaged almost $40,000 in 2007.

Don't just think of how to make your product more attractive. Think of why people come to your business and think of what they're doing at the time that they think of your business.

Giveaways and promotions and advertising and discounts all cut into your profits. Is there a different way? Can you enhance your business through a symbiotic partnership?

Think through the scenarios that bring people to your store and look for ways of greasing that wheel.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 4/26/2008 8:54:43 AM
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My Suggestion for Solving the Recession

 

The government wants to bail people out of their problems. It does this by taking your tax money and giving to people in crisis or to people who made poor choices. The Senate, for example, allotted $10 billion to refinance subprime loans.

This would be unnecessary if people had the money to simply pay the mortgage to which they agreed. Using tax money only requires more taxes from the working anyway, and since we're bailing out the very people who pay taxes in the first place, it's kind of a dumb idea. But that's government for you.

How do you get people to be willing to work harder / work more to pay what they owe? How about telling everyone who works a second job that the income they get from that job, for the time being, is tax free. You keep 100% of it. It's exempt.

I think that would motivate the economy pretty well. It would stimulate job growth (more people productively working = more income = more people spending money = more jobs needed). It doesn't cost us anything from our current tax revenue. It's an efficient solution the government can offer.

 

15 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 4/26/2008 2:04:31 PM
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