Thursday, January 14, 2010

Walk Like a Man... Start Today!

For 2010 I have resolved that I wouldn’t work as much as I have been (more on this when I discuss a few things I’ve been reading), at least not more than I was contractually obligated to do.  This also does not include my “other endeavors” to which I have alluded in previous posts.  I was starting to get pretty grumpy at work and people were referring to me as "the ass” so I figured that something needed to change (and fast).  So I did a bit of introspective reflecting (redundant) and determined that I was lacking something – namely exercise.
A few months ago I had been running and training for the Wild West Relay and I really felt good about myself.  Then in November the race was over and so was my training.  Now, I had every good intention to continue running and training but other things quickly found their way into the void and I soon found myself busy doing other stuff (which usually involved long stints sitting and staring at a screen) that one wouldn’t really call “being active”.  So I decided that I needed to get out and do more.  By this time I have fully lost all cardiovascular gains that I had experienced while training so I basically had to start slow again.  But walking, I’m learning, isn’t really a bad thing.
I have started taking long walks during my lunch hour.  I, being a really weak person who doesn't get motivated by anything, started out by bribing myself with something I really wanted during that period – a soda.  I mapped out my “lunch route” so that it was basically a 2.5 mile loop to McDonalds and back.  This way I could get a drink and return happy to work (with caffeine).  I’m sticking with Diet Coke so as not to destroy the positive effects of the walk so don’t worry.
I don’t know if it’s the fresh air, the freezing cold, or the fact that my brain is finally getting some much deserved O2 but I cannot believe the flood of great ideas that come to me on these walks!  It’s so invigorating.  Walking recently, the sun finally shining, gently stroking my soul (sounds kinky) back to life, I recalled the times past and my wonderful friendship I have always had with walking.
When I was a kid, growing up in the middle of nowhere NM, walking was one of the few modes of transportation we had.  When going out with my brother, uncle, or friends we would walk through the empty, dry fields and just spend hours (and sometimes days) wandering aimlessly looking for fun or trouble or both.  We usually only had enough working bikes or motorcycles for one of us so we almost always walked.  My parents were self-employed and it was only 2 miles across the old carrot fields, past the dead horse, through the “Big Ditch”, and over “The Hump” to get to the greenhouses that they ran.  I don’t know how many times we walked that path (and I don’t know how many times we walked that path, got there, and found that everyone was gone so we had to walk back home).  But even now I can smell the dirt, sagebrush, and weeds and feel the warmth of the sun radiantly heating everything.
Walking around in the arid desert of NM you learn a few things about how to walk.  For one you always look where you are going.  Nails were a plenty as the land had always “been” something before.  Either it was a carrot field, a mining camp, sawmill, barn, fence, or something of the sort.  But one thing was for certain whatever “it” was it had nails so you watched out for them.  You always looked for broken glass and rattlesnakes as well.  But cooler than that, if you watched where you were going you could almost always find something from the past or something FOR the future.  We often found arrow heads, old shoes, buried doors (that had to lead to a secret underground bunker), bottles, Marlboro Miles, or magazines.  Whatever we found it usually kept us entertained for the day and we just went with the flow – and usually invented some story to go with it.
As I got older we still would walk everywhere just because it was more fun.  Even while living in Italy we walked everywhere.  Granted Italy is more conducive to walking so maybe that’s why it was more enjoyable.  Either way, as I have walked the past few days I have reconnected with my old friend and felt the sweet freedom that comes with knowing that I can get wherever I want, using my own power and all I need to do is put one foot in front of the other.  It makes me feel so great.  I have always loved it and I now love how it makes me feel and the things it makes me remember.
Walking was how we got around.  Walking was part of how we lived.  Walking was how we played.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

White Elephant gift exchange rules – Plus 3 BONUS Tips!!

We recently held a White Elephant gift exchange at my work. We have a very diverse workforce since most of the workers are contractors and many of them are from other countries. I couldn’t help but hear all the different explanations of the game and the different names (like Yankee Swap) that it’s know by. I came up with some very good bonus variants for the game and would like to detail them below, but first I will talk a bit about the actual game and how it is played. The best part about a few of these ideas is that they play well given the current economic environment.

Wikipedia has a very good explanation of the game and a few of the variants. The basic idea of the game is that everyone who wishes to participate will purchase a gift (usually there is a max budget amount that is set when planning the game). This gift can be serious, funny (a “gag” gift), thoughtful, used, or a re-gifted item – as long as it doesn’t go above the budget.
On “game day” everyone will draw a number (1 to n) and this will determine the order that the players will take their turn. Player one will draw a gift from the pile and open it. Player two has the option of stealing player one’s gift or opening any of the other unopened gifts on the table (or in the middle of the circle). This continues with each subsequent turn. If a player has their gift “stolen” they cannot immediately take the gift back and they have the option of either drawing a new gift from the pile or taking one from someone else. Then that person has the same options. This continues until all gifts are drawn and there is no more “swapping” going on. Usually a “max out” or max trade rule is established whereby a gift becomes “dead” after x number of trades.
I would like to tell you some of the cool observations I have had in the several years that this has been played. In addition you will get some great bonus tips that will ensure you have a great white elephant game:

• The best gifts are ones that have some sort of nostalgic value or other value (see tip #2). Some of the gifts that always max out are: Starbuck’s gift cards, other dining gift cards, playing cards, Nerf guns, wireless weather stations, and other card/board games.

• Bonus tip #1 – “The Twofer” – I call this the twofer because it accomplishes a few things a once. I’ve done this one a few times over the years and I am always pleased with the results. First I would go to the store and purchase something that I would like to have. Then as the gift rotations begin I stealthily watch until I can either a) grab my gift on the “max out” turn or b) get my gift from someone and try and hide it until the end. This is really nice since you buy the gift, play the game, and still get to take it home and use it. The only downside is that there might be an even cooler gift in play at which point you would take the cooler gift and stick someone else with your crappy junk.  This year I added to the twofer by not only getting my gift back but I also took it back to the store. This accomplished 3 things – I brought a gift, played the game, and got my money back at the end (it’s one of the few times you can “have your cake and eat it too!!)! I thought that was a classic moment in work politics and personal financial frugality. The financial bloggers would be jealous!

• Bonus tip #2 – “The Giver” – the second idea I had was one I like to call the giver. This is a cool gift because it can come back to you 10, 100, or 1000+ fold. Last year one of the guys brought in a bar of chocolate (50 cents or something) and all the rest of the gift was a combination of 9 scratch lotto tickets and powerball tickets (our max was $10). Then, with the remaining 50 cents he got a card and in the card he wrote that the stipulation of the gift was that all proceeds over $10 had to be split with him. To which the recipient agreed (who wouldn’t in a large group setting like that – you don’t want to be know as the jackass that wouldn’t share the money right!). I think one of the scratch tickets got a $20 so he basically cruised for free as well.

• Bonus tip #3 – “Light?” – Finally, and as a personal plug, I’ve tried giving away gift cards for my own services. Basically everyone I work with knows that I run my own “side hustle” so I gave a $10 gift card for one of my headlight restorations ($75 value) which resulted in a job. I made money on that gift, not too shabby!

Hopefully these were some ideas you could implement at your next gift exchange whether it’s a Yankee Swap or a White Elephant. Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Where's Heath?

I currently have a boss who told us that her old boss used to always send emails to everyone when he was running late or out sick with the subject line "Where's Jack?"(replace Jack with the person's name). So now it's a running joke among our team that we use this when we aren't going to be around. I personally like it when I see this in the subject of an email especially when it's someone with whom I have a meeting scheduled for that day. But I digress.
So, you might be wondering: "Where's Heath?". Well, I'm right here and I'm sure you are there, or here, since you're reading this. My last posts discussed how I would be making an effort to be here as well sharing all the minutiae that was clogging my head...well, that was almost a year ago. Oops.
A quick update, or perusal of the web/facebook/twitter would tell you that I have been busy in the last year. Basically I have a very restless mind and I can't help but continually think of new products, new businesses, new ideas for the minutiae report, funny sayings, and ingenious ways to make millions - only one problem (according to my wife) - I never do anything about them. Well I didn't.
It was during one of these "Hey honey, I have a great idea" moments when she said one of the most pivotal things I have ever heard - "why don't you stop talking and do something already?!?" Oh, okay, I will. So I did. Soon after my last post in the minutiae report I found a really neat product for restoring the lenses on automotive headlights and decided that it could be a viable business concept - that of restoring headlights on cars.
You see I had a very common problem on my 1997 Honda Civic, one of the headlights was yellow, cloudy, and foggy looking and no matter how hard I scrubbed on it at the car wash, nothing would clean it. Until I mentioned this problem to my friend and car pool companion at the time. He just happened to have a dad who was a chemist and had invented a product and process for headlight restorations. He was running a distribution/service side "hustle" with this product and asked if I wanted to volunteer my car to be used as a demo vehicle when he went on his next sales call - um yes! Well the results were great and I mentioned to him at the time that I thought there was a big demand for this type of niche service company - he agreed - and I told him if he didn't live near me that I would want to do it. He chuckled.
Not long afterwards I used this idea as a project for my Marketing Strategy class (I'm getting my MBA currently and only have 2 classes left) which was a big hit and everything I discovered proved to me that it was a very viable business. Guess what, he got a job transfer and his "side business" suddenly became "my business". In a nutshell I have started 3 companies in the last few months and am starting a new one over the holiday break. I will thoroughly detail the entire process over the next couple of postings (in segments) including what I have learned, how I started a business in Colorado, which businesses I started, what they do, how I'm learning to market and how I'm coping with it all.
In the meantime you can check out my website for the headlight restoration company, Lumina Headlight Restoration, at and let me know what you think. You can also follow me on facebook and twitter (LuminaHeadlight, exampleMKTG, and zot717). Oh, and by the way, how did the restoration work on my car's headlights? I know it's small, but look at the photo below and let me know what you think! (before on left, after on right).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm coming I promise!

Yeah!!!   The holidays are over and I can finally get back to life - as it happens - um, every day.  That means that there will be more "new and exciting" installments of the Minutiae Report that you can enjoy...and I can enjoy writing.  I will get to it as soon as I finish cleaning the garage, putting laminate flooring in, helping potty train, starting MBA classes again at Regis, refreshing our 2009 budget, preparing a "menrichment" budget training for 40 guys, working, working, and working...oh and I have to go to bed because my wife is calling me - I've been down in the "man cave" long enough.  Really honey, I'm coming...I promise!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bailout Comments from Mandevilles & Toot:

Here's my thought on a bankruptcy of the Big wouldn't matter. Chrysler did it in the 70s when Mr. Iacocca was in charge* (and he took a $1 salary for something like 10 years). People still bought Chryslers, in fact they were able to reorganize somewhat and come out stronger-ish and more innovative (i.e. Chrysler was the first to develop a minivan). But again the UAW was able to sink its teeth in and start ratcheting up the overhead. It didn't help that the Daimler deal didn't workout because of the perceived quality disparity between Chrysler and the Daimler-Benz camps. But either way I still see a lot of Dodge trucks, minivans, and cars on the road today meaning that people really didn't have a huge stigma with purchasing a vehicle from a bankrupt company. Like you, I would look at is an opportunity to pickup a cheap car but most importantly I would view it as a way of actually saving brands that have been around so long. Mr. Gettlefinger was on NPR the other day, defending his position and spouting Union half-truths, and he was asked that same question. "would consumers have an issue with buying cars from a bankrupt company?" His answer was an emphatic "of course they would!" Then the host (I think it was Neil Connan (sp?)) dug a little deeper by saying something to the effect of "I still fly around the country on planes owned and operated by bankrupt companies" I would add also that we still by toys from toy companies that were bankrupt (KB TOYS), we still eat food from bankrupt companies, we still on, and on, and on. Of course I'm talking about those companies that filed chapter 11 and were able to reorganize and break free from some of the shakles of poor decisions in the past. Gettlefinger didn't really have a good rebuttle other than "yeah but this is different".
All that being said, I still don't agree with bankruptcy at all. Being the true free-market-economy-backer that I am I would say let them go away and something bigger, faster, and stronger (wait for the analysis on the documentary with the same name) will come take their place. I like to think of it as Financial or Economic Darwinism (I really want to coin that phrase). My pure market heart says that we shouldn't even consider bailing them out and that we should let the market decide how to deal with them. I think that is what is at the heart of the whole issue. The American public loves these brands but not enough to risk our tax dollars on trying to push them against the market current. Everything is flowing away from these companies in the market (in the form of dollars) and yet the government seems to think that it can give them a paddle-less canoe to float around in hoping against all hope that it will be enough to provide a "bridge"...come on, do we look that stupid!?!

*Chrysler was in quasi-bankruptcy and not actual Chapter 11...please follow link above to read about it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

49. Bailout? We don't need no stinking bailout!

I figured I had better touch on this before it becomes old news what with President Bush considering using the TARP funds for an auto bailout as we speak.  By the way, my wife warned me that I shouldn't write really long entries as people wouldn't have the time or desire to read them... I told her that that was exactly the point of minutiae, it's all the details - and that's how I am!
A few months ago I had a strategic international business class where I had the arduous task of writing a weekly essay on current events as they pertained to international business.  I found an article from MSNBC regarding GM’s efforts to cut costs to stave off the serious dangers that it was facing.  It’s funny how hindsight really is 20/20.  This article was from July 15th – long before they would be faced with the major issues that they now face.  I have included some analysis from that essay.  It basically had to do with the fact that GM needed to cut costs or increase sales in order to have the cash necessary to pay its bills – it was the proverbial writing on the wall.

According to the text from one of my previous classes, a business can make money in only a few ways.  Logically, two of the most effective ways to manage this are to increase revenue and to lower costs.  As with personal finances, these management tools are fairly simple to understand – either you need to make more money or spend less.
There are several strategies for increasing revenue.  Basically the goal would be increase sales of your good or service, raise the price, or expand your company footprint.  Several volumes have been and could be written on any one of these approaches. A company will usually try to increase sales or raise their prices before they look to increase their footprint – assuming they are fully expanded into their domestic market.  This is usually due to many of the hurdles that have to be overcome as a company expands its global footprint.  Some companies may need to expand globally but are constrained by various internal and external forces.  Externally they might have a corporate structure or ownership that isn’t permitted in a different market.  Much like some government controlled companies from China find it hard to expand into Africa.  (Behar, 2008) [This is a really cool article about CHINA’S role in AFRICA from Fast Company magazine and is really worth reading]  They might also be constrained internally by lack of funds, no strategic direction, management incompetence, or a myriad of other items (sound's vaguely familiar).
At first brush I didn’t think that this article really had much to do with the assigned reading for the week.  However as I read this and ancillary articles the picture it painted was pretty clear.  GM has clearly become a huge international company.  In many of its markets outside of the U.S. it is a dominant force in the automotive industry.  Holden Motors, in Australia, continues to have the top selling cars for the last 35 years – they are owned by GM.  Opel in Europe is a brand that is found along every curb and on every street – also a GM brand.  Obviously GM had some well defined global strategies for entering many of the markets around the globe.  But what happens when a global company has to figure-out how to “reenter:” its own market?
Much of the success that GM has experienced outside of the U.S. comes from the fact that it is just that – outside the U.S.  Many countries where they are growing and continue to have success do not have the same regulations and “red-tape” that is found in the U.S.  Labor unions, which had their day in the sun to benefit the American worker, are seen now as a major burden.  I could write a enormous blog entry about the Labor Unions and how they have outlived their usefulness in the American Market Economy.  They had their moment…and now it is gone.  It’s interesting to breakdown the COSTS that the Union places on the Big Three.  Many of the costs faced by GM are pension and healthcare for their retired employees (you know, the guys that made the CRAP that made them so famous during the 70s and 80s…yeah, those guys, they still pay for them!).  Much of the strategic moves they are making now are an attempt to mitigate their overhead costs in the domestic market.
In essence they have to determine how to stay in business in the market that they call home.  The landscape of the U.S. has changed such that there is a completely different culture than when they started here.  Wall Street is so much quicker to punish a company than ever before.  They will need to manage their plan so that they can not only thrive in the current market but also adapt to the new culture.  Seems to me that it would be beneficial to them to treat the U.S. as a newly opened market and start over with a new entry strategy in a “new market”.  For some reason this strategy is working great for Honda, Toyota, VW, Mercedes, and other foreign companies that have moved into the US - bringing with them lostsa jobs that pay less than GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
As we now know they have gone to Washington twice to beg for money.  The first time didn’t bode so well for them as they walked in assuming that they still had the stature that they once did (GM acts like it's 1980 and they still have 50% market share when in actuality they only have 20% - and that's a tie with Toyota!)  The second time they entered, hat in hand, in graphic images of humility.  They were sent away the first time because they didn’t have any plan to present as to what they were going to do with the money – nor did they have any idea how they were going to compete and become viable in the new market.  I bash on the strategic plan, or lack thereof, by the upper management of GM and Chrysler.  But Lee Iacocca doesn’t think they should be booted just yet – and he should know!  Since the first trip and even before, there have been many people – successful businessmen like Mitt Romney – that have publicly opposed the bailout, er, I mean bridge loan/bill thingy.  But why don’t our elected REPRESENTATIVES listen to us?  If they really listened they would see that there aren’t many people who want to risk our tax dollars on poorly managed companies – early pollmost recent poll.
But why are so many people opposed to this and not the financial bailout?  I think it is for many reasons but a big part of it is the fact that the Big Three are three of the Biggest Whiners in the country.  Not to mention the fact that Chrysler is privately held by Ceribus Capital.  But they are continually strong-armed by the biggest union in the world, the UAW.  And every time they get kicked while they are down by the UAW’s arm twisting (mixed metaphors, I know) and they end up conceding just so they can continue production, fully aware of the fact that they will have to do it again in a few month’s time.  They continue to cry that their woes are the product of the economic downturn, but I think that it’s just the downturn that exposed the festering sore that was being covered by bandaid after bloody bandaid.  Let’s just see if the newly appointed CAR CZAR (just what we need, someone else who will get into a pissing contest with Ron Gettelfinger) will have any power to make the changes necessary to keep the big three from crawling back a third time.
I could go on, but I need to finish working…at least I don’t cost my company $73 an hour!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I'm not adding to Santa's List...

I'm hoping that I'm not biting off more than I can chew.  I keep adding to The List but I don't seem to be knocking stuff off very fast.  I can say that I think about writing stuff all the time (hence the expansion of The List) and I do plan on writing.  I was emailing a brother-in-law today trying to get his stamp of approval on the blog and he said something that made me think... He said "hopefully in two months you won't add to your list 'why I don't blog anymore'"  I figure that the best way to prevent that type of demise for the Minutiae Report is to keep at it - eventually I will get where I want to be.  So I am trying to define some of my goals for this blog to help me stay focused.
I will most likely continue to bring this up as I refine what it is that I want to accomplish by writing The Minutiae Report.  As I've said all along, this blog is my attempt (albeit conservatively paced) at purging my mind of the "clutter" that consumes me.  I've already eluded to the fact that I start thinking about stuff and it begins to consume me, I can't think, I don't listen to the people around me, I can't work and I can't focus on the things that will actually get me to where I want to go.  Instead I stray down these distractive paths in a hope that they will bring me to some sort of shortcut.  I don't think they will!  This is why I want to get them out of my head, explore them "electronically" in front of tons of people, and move on. 
A secondary goal is to attract readers to the Report and hopefully provide answers to questions that keep them up at night as well.  I can potentially lead them (you) down a path that I have already explored and give you a head start on the research and learning curve.  To do this I will have to be entertaining…this might be a stretch for me but I think I can try.  I don’t take this too seriously so you can’t either.
Oh, and one other thing…I know I am probably going to bring up some stuff that could be potentially incriminating so I am hoping that it is used for informational purposes only.  My dad used to always say “a smart person learns from his mistakes, a wise person learns from others’ mistakes.”  This holds true here.  I just hope the statute of limitations has expired for some of this stuff! 
So with that said, I am adding to the List…and it ain’t Santa’s!

Bailout?  We don't need no stinking Bailout!
50. The beauty of Free-Agency…You have a choice
51. Dust to Glory
52. Rally Cars
53. Hacking an Xbox
54. Le Tour de France vs. Il Giro d’Italia
55. Our home is a Petri dish
56. SME Server
57. Internet over powelines
59. Bigger Faster Stronger
60. Microlending –
61. Book Reviews
62. Netflix vs Torrents
63. Structured Procrastination