Tuesday, February 20, 2007

On the road again

Tomorrow I leave for a short (two night) trip. Traveling to a couple of small towns in NC, Salisbury and Wilkesboro.

The good thing is, I have girl scout cookies....

Monday, February 19, 2007

It's a different world today

Many times, I say that things are just like they always have been. But today, I'll say how different it is.

My son was explaining to me the other night that he was planning to do something that I thought would get him in trouble. He asked me, didn't you do stupid things when you were my age?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact I did a lot of things that were stupid. But many of these are even stupider today than they were when I was his age. I was 17 in 1976. Jimmy Carter won an election. It was the 200th anniversary of our nation being formed. Apple Computer was formed. North and South Vietnam united to become Vietnam. The Israeli's conducted a raid at Entebbe to thwart a hijacking attempt. Microsoft officially registered their name (I assume that's when they started).

When in high school and middle school, I regularly took a knife to school. I didn't grow up in the country or in the mountains. It wasn't that I needed a knife, or that I would use one in a fight. But it was common. I had a large hawk-bill, with probably a 6 inch blade. If you greased it up good, you could flip it and the blade would come out.

Today, you would be expeled from school for that. Maybe even arrested.

As recent as 10 years ago, I sat in a pilot's chair on a commercial airplane. I wasn't even on the flight, I was escorting my daughter. I went through security and boarded early.

Things that I took for granted have changed. It's not all bad, too many kids did things with knives they shouldn't have. But it has certainly changed

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Snow days

(Note: I didn't post yesterday because I was busy courting my valentine)

I know I've posted on this below. But with the news, I couldn't resist it again. Planes stuck for 9+ hours due to snow. People stuck in NY can't get out. Icy roads. Did you see the video with the FedEx truck skidding on ice? AMAZING!

In the south, we close everything up for a day or two when we get snow. People in NY, Washigton and other places close up for a day or two when they get a storm like they've had the last few days. What's the difference? Sure, they got several inches or they got all ice. But they close as much as we do.

When it snows, you should take a day off and go play!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Recipe for cooking the books

Ok, I have to admit I'm getting to the point of being obsessed with stories of companies cooking the books. Enron, Woldcom are two big ones, closer to home Home Gold (Carolina Investors). Two companies that were found with their hands in the pot are Ahold and Computer Associates (CA), but they are still in business (with some bosses in jail).

But one thing seems to keep coming through in all of these cases. If the company had not encountered problems, the crimes would have gone un-noticed. So what crimes are being committed by companies that are still afloat (at least for today)?

Some of the crimes are committed out of ignorance. SEC regulations are sometimes not intuitive. Say you're in business selling wodgets (everyone sells widgets, you want to be different). You notice another company selling wodgets and decide to approach the head. You know, if you two could just agree not to steal each other's customers, you could both make a better profit. When you start trying to steal customers is when profit drops. Seems like a good idea, you shake and walk away.

What was just described is called anti-trust. By restricting competition, you are effectively engaging in price competition. You're cheating the public our of lower prices. It seems right at first, but it's wrong.

So how is this avoided? Or better yet, how does this happen? How do people who don't understand get into positions where they can commit these crimes? I think it's because people want to cut corners. Rather than train people, they just want to throw them in. Rather than hire the right people, they want to hire friends or people that think like themselves. And people outside the company want results, they don't care how they get them (until it falls apart).

Amazing how this all fits together...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Back from the big easy

I didn't see much of New Orleans, most of my time was in the Convention Center and my hotel (just outside the French Quarter). I talked to some people who took "The Katrina Tour", a Gray Line bus tour of areas impacted by Katrina. Also to some people who drove in and saw 15 miles of abandoned apartment buildings and neighborhoods.

What I did see was that the downtown area has a lot of construction (doesn't every major city?) and that a lot of businesses are still closed. One that caught my eye was a print shop, similar to FedEx Kinko's. It didn't look like there was much damage, just no business. Looking around confirmed that the area was no where near as busy as it was 6 years ago when I was there last. It took New Orleans decades (centuries) to reach the level of busy-ness that it had pre-Katrina. It won't return quickly.

So what SHOULD happen in New Orleans? If I were King For A Day (KFAD), what would I do? Being a conservative capitalist who believes in individual responsibility, I don't think it's the government's job to rebuild. The free market will fix itself. People will move back when the jobs are there and when the market requires it. Keep the government out, it's already too messed up.

But what if I had been there? Well, again, personal responsibility. You self-insure against small losses, buy insurance against big losses. That's what I do at my home in SC. But regular insurance doesn't cover floods. So, as KFAD, rule # 1 is that (from now own), insurance is insurance. Insurance companies are in business for $$ (not for health), so they can adjust insurance rates. Customers should expect an increase. Oh, and by the way, customers in areas more likely to flood should expect a higher increase.

But, the market is not truly efficient, insurance companies (and all companies) typically look at the short term. Rule #2 as KFAD means that someone (probably a committee or a board) has to mandate that all insurance companies must have reserves to cover their part of Katrina-sized disasters and they must also be widely diversified so that they don't loose everything when Daughter of Katrina hits.

There were lots of sins and crimes and shames before and after Katrina. I don't want to focus on them. There will be much wringing of hands and pointing of fingers. As KFAD I wouldn't waste my time. Yes, much was lost and needs to be done better the next time. Much was also lost in the dot.com market burst earlier this decade. No one went to jail for that (well, except Ken Lay and a few others like him). Those of us who lost money, lost it knowing the risk. If we didn't know the risk, we should have. That's what investments are, risk. Sometimes they go up, sometimes they go down.

I know I lost a lot in one area, I have no idea how much I lost in some of the others. In fact, I'd probably rather not know. But that doesn't take me out of the game. I just watch a little closer and prepare for the worst. Self-insure myself.

The problem is, that there is no city of Jubilee in life. No place where you can escape. Remember in hide-n-seek? You could run to base and be safe. No one could tag you and make you "it". Doesn't happen in life. There is no "base", you can be tagged anywhere. Best you can hope for is to break even in the long run.

Now that sounds depressing, but it doesn't have to be. Instead, you can focus on other things. Life itself, the ones around you. The beauty of the morning (I watched the sunrise a couple mornings across the Mississippi). No one can take those away. So maybe, in a way, there is a "base".

This entry has takena few turns, I'm glad I'm back from New Orleans.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

New Orleans

OK, I'm off to New Orleans. Not a good start, the first leg of my plane ride is delayed. I should have enough time in Atlanta to make the second leg.

I'm not looking forward to this trip. I keep hearing things about safety and I know that the crime rate in N.O. is up (and it was high before). A good friend reassured me, said that they HAVE to keep the convention area and French Quarter safe. It they didn't, the tourist traffic would disappear all together. I hope he's right.

But the worst part is the schedule. 4+1/2 days, 3 of those nights, we have a reception + dinner. That means breakfast at 7am, sessions starting at 8:30, lasting till 5pm, reception from 5-7, and dinner from 7-10. Then go back and do your day job.

I do have Wednesday night free. I think I'll crash.

I am looking forward to seeing some friends I haven't seen in a while. We didn't kick off last year, so I haven't seen some of these folks in 2 years.

And I have two meetings with management. Mostly to see what I can do with my career. Right now, there doesn't appear to be a lot of room for moving up. If that's the way it is, so be it. I'm very well paid and happy doing my job. But if there is chance for advancement, I don't want to pass it up.

More this week from the Big Easy...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Back to work

Well, actually, I worked yesterday. But my point is that the snow is over, mostly gone. Roads are wet, but not icy.

Next week is a conference, our yearly kick-off. We get up at 6 or 7, eat breakfast (typically just continental, lots of sugar and starch) attend 7 or 8 1+1/2 hour technical sessions, then have a group dinner and "entertainment". Typically, that's some manager telling us how much he appreciates us, blah, blah, blah. I'm not looking forward to it.

So, I may not blog for the next week. I WILL be watching the HomeGold trial. The prosecution rested yesterday, now it's the defense turn. I'm hoping I can get some details from the papers, most of what I read is very glossy.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Let it snow!

Today we get our annual snow. About once a year, we get some snow/ice. Today's the day. We have about 1 inch on the ground, schools all around are cancelled. Folks from up North always laugh at us, but I have two explanations: 1) We only get snow once a year, so we have to enjoy it when we get it and 2) the snow we get is icy, no one can drive on that.

I've also seen video on TV from other areas showing cars sliding all over the place. Their argument is that they get several snows and by the second snow, everyone has learned how to drive in it. Trouble is, we never get a second snow.

Growing up, we made snow ice-cream. If you've never tried it, it's a treat. But I remember that you couldn't use the first snow of the season to make it, which meant you seldom made it. Maybe that's why it was so much of a treat. Anyway, you took snow off of some piled up surface, not taking the stuff near the surface. Also, you avoided spots where the dogs walked, no yellow snow.

So, with all of this, I have to say, Let it Snow!