Archive for the ‘observations’ category

My personal blog is languishing

December 13th, 2009

You are reading the first blog I had ever launched. This was an experiment for me to dive in and see what blogging is all about. I have never been a writer but like anyone, I have plenty to say.

Lessons Learned

Shortly after launching my personal blog I quickly realized a few things. One is the hosted WordPress platform graciously provided by my hosting company is far more limited than I like. After just a few weeks, I felt compelled to download, install, and customize WordPress to use for my Cubs fan site blog. I’ve since learned to tweak and customize WordPress to a great degree. I now have many WP installs that I maintain for sites I run or contribute to. The creative flexibility of a custom WP install makes it harder and harder to return to this blog with it’s rudimentary design and features.

Another lesson learned is there are only so many hours in a day. With the many websites I am involved in, frankly not much time remains for writing on this site. Seems odd that my own personal site suffers from the attention I pay to others.  If you know me, this might not be much of a surprise after all. But the fact remains my personal blog is languishing. So in 2010 I plan to change out this blog to a custom WP install and try to make more time for posting. A guy must have his dreams…

Starbucks VIA™ Ready Brew

March 10th, 2009

Starbucks Via Ready BrewYes, I was skeptical, even mocking of the idea that anyone can produce a decent cup of instant coffee. Really, Folgers Crystals is a freakin punch line!  But I have to report, trying a free sample of Starbucks Via instant coffee, it’s pretty acceptable. Even a good substitute when the real deal is not available.  I know some folks that swear by Via as the *perfect* ingredient for their iced coffee – just get a cup with water & ice and add a packet of Via, shake and you have great iced coffee.  Who’da thunk?

Don’t get me wrong, I cannot imagine actually choosing Via over a quality brewed coffee. But for some circumstances, Via is a good fit. 

My Report on Local Economic Indicators

March 2nd, 2009

Following is another in a series of reports on the US economy. My Report on Local Economic Indicators (RLEI) is not scientific at all. Purely anecdotal, with really no fact at all to back it up. Culled from the personal powers of observation, deduction and reasoning of, well, me. This brand of shoddy reporting is a cornerstone of web blogging in 2009, isn’t it?  But I digress.

In our own way, my wife Kristin and I are trying to stimulate the local economy of suburban Chicago by pumping literally hundreds of dollars into local home improvement retailers such as Lowes, Home Depot, Menards, and a hardware store once known as Ace, now under the name of Bill’s. We are leveraging the current availability of short lines at the checkout, huge sales and discounting, and generally favorable market conditions to gut and remodel our kitchen.

We hired an under-employed neighbor who does excellent work (call me if you want a referral) for the heavy stuff of taking down two kitchen walls to half height, breaking up our tile floor, re-routing some plumbing and electric, drywall installation and shoring up the once load bearing walls that are now empty space. Kristin has done all of the skim coating, sanding, priming and painting with the exception of one ceiling which I bravely and confidently rolled out! Ok, before I am judged for the workload imbalance, consider I work full time and Kristin stays at home working full time as a mom but having more flexibility of schedule to do these kinds of things. Plus I am verrry deliberate in how I work so frankly her output is about twice my capacity anyway. Also, I get overwhelmed easily when it comes to “handy work”. Another digression.

Back to my Report on Local Economic Indicators (RLEI). The solid cherry-wood cabinets have been ordered (by Kristin, natch) so we went to Home Depot and Lowes over the weekend to zero in on counter tops. We are going with solid surface acrylic by LG called Hi-Macs.  Nice stuff.  What I observe though, is hundreds of thousands of square feet of no customers in either store. Seriously, at both Lowes and Home Depot, employees outnumbered shoppers!  To my mind, neither of these retailers are normally staffed very heavy; there always seems to be two or three lined up to question a clerk that may have been cornered by a in-need customer. Not this past weekend. It was kind of spooky to have the stores basically to ourselves at these large major retailers on a weekend. Not a good sign.

Yes, I saw the headline this morning that insurance behemoth AIG lost 61.7 billion last quarter.  I did the math – that is $685 MILLION per day for three months, an astonishing number, almost incomprehensible. But what I saw or in this case didn’t see at Home Depot and Lowes over the weekend is equally disturbing. C’mon people, spread some money around!  The government can’t spin this downward spiral around all by itself.

The President Embraces Technology

January 24th, 2009

I love a lot of things here. I love that the President of the Untied States embraces technology and posts his weekyl address on YouTube. I love that within this weeks address, he says “hold my administration accountable” for his plans. And I love there is a PDF download right under the video, outlining in more detail the plans proposed and benchmarks with which to measure success.

White House website

January 20th, 2009

Shortly after the inauguration of President Barack Obama I visited the official White House website.  It sure didn’t take long for them to transition here… 1pm central today

Change I Can Believe In

December 10th, 2008

In the news today… President-Elect Barack Obama gave a wide ranging interview that included:

Barack Obama says his presidency is an opportunity for the U.S. to renovate its relations with the Muslim world, starting the day of his inauguration and continuing with a speech he plans to deliver in an Islamic capital.

And when he takes the oath of office Jan. 20, he plans to be sworn in like every other president, using his full name: Barack Hussein Obama.

“I think we’ve got a unique opportunity to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular,” Obama said Tuesday, promising an “unrelenting” desire to “create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership in countries and with peoples of good will who want their citizens and ours to prosper together.”

The world, he said, “is ready for that message.”

This world of ours needs so much healing, more understanding and tolerance, it’s good to see the incoming administration recognizes this and is willing to reach out. Now that is change I can believe in!

Higher Ground

November 3rd, 2008

Politically, I identify as a Democrat although I’ve voted for my share of Republicans (and once for the Green Party) too. Now more than ever I believe a philosophical shift to the Left will help balance or un-do some of the damage done by the Right over the past eight years. I truly believe the change Barack Obama has been advocating is more than just a referendum on the failed policies of the Bush administration. I think this man has the power to heal the country and make us all better citizens of this world. Not necessarily by policy, but by changing the conversation out there. Raising the question and inviting each of us to make better choices. I admire the way this man, an African-American man, has not chosen to leverage his heritage to make us think differently about electing a person of color to the office of President. He just put his best self out there as the best candidate and made his case to the people.

I grew up in a neighborhood where voting for an African-American candidate was not a very popular idea. When Harold Washington was elected mayor of Chicago in 1983, I remember hearing the most vicious, overtly racist comments about how the city would ‘go to hell’ if he were elected. Race was an issue – a big issueback then. Now we as a society are in a place where race is mostly an after-thought. Same in part can be said of gender with the candidacy of Sarah Palin. I am aware there is still a great deal of racial prejudice and gender in-equality. I am constantly challenging myself in this regard every day – even more-so lately. It seems my self image and the reality of how open and ‘color-blind’ I am are not always in perfect alignment. This is a work in progress for me.

I believe Barack Obama serving as President of the United States can help to make us better citizens of this world. I do not agree with all of his initiatives specifically, but philosphically, I think his would be the perfect successor (antidote?) to the Bush administration. Financially and economically by every conceivable metric, this nation is worse off now than the day George W. Bush was elected President. I do not believe the booming economy inherited and severely damaged by Bush administration policies would have stayed on the same upward trajectory had Al Gore been elected in 2000, but I think the inevitable market corrections would not have been as dramatic and devastating to this economy. We as a nation would have likely been less reliant on fossil fuels, and more conscious of how we consume energy in general, specifically gasoline. For example, when the price hit $4.30 per gallon a few months ago people suddenly began consolidating trips, walking, riding a bike or bus, car pooling or just staying home. The price dropped as demand dropped. proving we can do it, we have the power to affect change! We have proved capable of making some different choices when faced with the consequences. I think a Gore administration would have fostered this more thoughtful way of living over the past eight years.

With the political leadership of a Barack Obama administration, I believe we have the opportunity to re-examine how things are done in government and in ourselves.  This historic opportunity is now before us once again. My vote goes to Barack Obama – not only for change in government, but for real change in our society. 

To paraphrase the great Stevie Wonder, I’m seeking a higher ground.

Listen to “Higher Ground”:  Stevie Wonder - Stevie Wonder: The Definitive Collection - Higher Ground  Higher Ground MP3 @ Amazon

Marketing and Social Media

July 30th, 2008

For much of this year I have been learning the ins & outs of this whole Web 2.0 social media thing. I have blogs, accounts with Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, and for years have been a podcast enthusiast. The attraction for me is being an active participant as well as an interested observer of how communication is evolving.

Fascinating how text-oriented people have become in how they communicate. From phone-based texting, to reading and writing blogs, to the little snippet updates on Facebook or Twitter, text is becoming an overwhelmingly popular way to communicate. For me, I find myself having to be very selective of what I choose to read because there is just so much out there. Information overload is a constant battle for me – a guy who has an enormous appetite for information. No wonder the older set pushes back so vehemently on technology. My parents read the paper every day and watched the evening news and that was about it.  Now data is coming at us in a constant stream and finding ways to sift through it seems to be where the magic is.  This brings me to web search…

Google is the dominant player in Search (~60% market share compared to Yahoo at ~25% and Microsoft at ~15%).  They have some very interesting initiatives going on that from a sociological perspective is fascinating. Things like offering free 411 directory assistance inquiries so they can document both who people want to call and to record their voice with accent and dialect to build a database for future voice recognition use. Their idea is to simply offer the free 411 instead of paying for access to someone else’s data.  Google wanting to build their own body of data and not even paying for it is genius.

So I am paying close attention to the trendsetters like Google and like Facebook to try and glimpse the genesis of this social mediarevolution as its unfolding before our very eyes. Marketing has always intrigued me but within the past year or so the entire landscape has been changing rapidly. Web users accepting the ubiquitous sponsorship/advertisements that seem to tag every part of every page (some much more than others) as a necessary component. 

On the web you really don’t get something for nothing as videos are either wrapped in an advertisement or perhaps even begin with a 15 second commercial that can’t be skipped. Links are usually sponsored so click-throughs are measured and counted so someone in the sky pays and gets paid. This is all now universally accepted as par for the course, meanwhile people using their DVR/TiVo setups at home usually skip commercial breaks rendering that method of promotion nearly obsolete.  Very interesting indeed to see all this play out. For me, I prefer ride-along ads over obtrusive, older methods. It’s less inconvenient and frankly more clever.