Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A surprising find

We have a friend visiting and her mother was born in Winsor, Colorado, so we drove up so she could see the town just for fun.

Since it was lunchtime we decided to try a Mexican restaurant, called the Pueblo Viejo, because it was close to the freeway and on our way back from Windsor. From the highway it looked quite large, but pulling into the parking lot it looked like your typical strip mall storefront and we almost didn’t stop.

When we got in it was a really nice looking place, clean with nice decorations and a wonderful hostess, who we later found was, with her husband, the owner.

My wife, her friend, and I all picked something different from the menu and each of us were very pleased with our choices. I was really surprised to find a Pescado Costeno (a breaded Tilapia topped with jalapenos, cheese and bacon) that was first rate.

I didn’t expect to get a fish dish that outstanding from a strip mall storefront Mexican restaurant!

Pueblo Viejo in Windsor has two other locations in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, and while I can’t vouch for the food in any other location, based on the food at the Windsor store I’d try any of them when I am in that area.

I can’t recommend them highly enough, so I’m attaching a link to their Fort Collins location for you to follow up if you like.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


On October 3, 1957 I was telling my dad about a science fiction book I had just finished. My father, not being a science fiction fan finally said: “Just shut up until they do it!”

The next morning, October 4, my dad woke me up very early before he went to work and said “That story you were telling me about yesterday, finish telling me.” Then he showed me the newspaper headlines “Russians launch Sputnik satellite”.

While I did learn the not everyone would get as excited by a sify book as I did, it taught me a valuable lesson about keeping an open mind to things I am not immediately interested in or familiar with. Lean whatever you can about everything you bump into.

One big lesson was that to be able to enjoy a science fiction story you must suspend rational disbelief. That is you must accept that faster than light travel (for example) is possible or you just quit reading because FTL is not possible under physics as we understand it.

This ability to not prejudge flowed over into the rest of my thinking and allows me to look at problems and, at least mentally, try on “impossible” solutions. Since I don’t automatically reject it because it doesn’t conform to my preconceived ideas.

People do the same thing in watching movies all the time. We know that it is very unlikely for a librarian to really be mistaken for a spy but we disbelieve that rational knowledge during the movie to enjoy the story and the action.

In the same way to find new solutions to old problems, you must forget the old restrictions and just pose impossible solutions. Try it and you will find that at least one is not as impossible as you might think. The impossibility might just be like flying to Paris – impossible until the Wright brothers figured out the basic principles. Impossible until a host of others figured out how to make stronger airplanes, better engines, and all the necessary inventions to make a flight that long possible.

Impossible to fly to the moon until Neil Armstrong did it!

Those changes may have been taking place in the background leading up to today, unnoticed by you, and those changes may make what was truly impossible last week, possible today!

Monday, May 16, 2011

No Brainer Decisions

Just watching a story on CNN about a man with a 4 cent (yes $0.04) tax bill and since he didn’t pay it for several years they are trying to collect $200 in penalties and late fees.

This kind of obvious craziness happens all the time in a bureaucracy where decision-making authority is held at too high a level. Shouldn’t the lowest level clerk have the discretionary authority to fix this instead of having an IRS agent deliver the tax bill?

Why is this an issue worthy of discussion; more importantly do you have the same kind of silliness costing your business? Driving up costs by diverting necessary assets into spending more in time and effort than the return is worth?

At the hourly rate for the lowest level IRS clerk who has the file on the 4-cent underpayment, the time spent on this file has to be orders of magnitude above the recovery amount. Holding the discretionary authority to just write off the $0.04 above that level wastes the time of both the clerk and the people chasing down that payment.

Is your organization wasting the manager’s time authorizing deviations from regular policies that are so simple that the lowest level clerk should be making that decision? Not only are you wasting time the more senior manger could be spending on other issues, the clerk could be helping someone instead of dealing with this no-brainer issue.

Your customer knows that the four-cent problem should be a no-brainer and the fact that your clerk has to get permission for something that obvious makes them wonder if they really want to do business with you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I just read that Alan Shepard, the first American in space flew just 50 years ago and it reminded me of the second time I met him.

The year I turned 16, my parents took me to a friend’s New Years Day open house. I was hanging with their 15-year-old grandson in the “game room”. They had a pinball machine and a few other games to play while the adults did whatever adults did at a New Years Day party.

During the day, my friend’s uncle showed up and we cornered him to talk about his experiences as a Navy test pilot, he was the first to land a Phantom on an aircraft carrier. At one point, my father and the host came to rescue this guy from the kids and let him get back to the adults at the party.

While getting this poor guy away from us, my father happened to see a picture of the host in uniform in front of a world war one biplane and asked about it, The host told us that he had indeed flown in World War I as a fighter pilot.

Were we were in his game room talking to Phil Brewer and his son-in-law Alan Shepard! Image how I felt a few weeks later when Shepard flew the very first space shot!

When we watched the launching in class on live TV, I claimed to have met him and the teacher called my mother (later in the evening) to find out if I was telling the truth. That’s how much celebrity the first astronauts were in their time. Claiming to have just met one was automatically questioned.

What I mostly remember of that brief meeting was how kind and generous Shepard was to two young hero worshipers. As I remember 50 years later, he spent close to 45 minutes talking to us about the astronaut program and his personal experiences. In fact, this many years later, I really only remember that it happened and no details about the conversations, but I still remember his kindness to his nephew and a family friend.

The other thing I remember is being amazed, even at 16, at meeting two men, the older who flew the first fighter planes and the younger the first rocket ship!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Cause and effect

I have had low back pain on and off for years. My doctor’s are not sure what causes it but I dumped one who told me that my back hurt because I had bad posture.

Why did I dump him?

Because any doctor who can’t identify that walking bent over is an effect of back pain not the cause darn sure can’t help me find the cause.

In much the same way we are lingering in the current recession much longer than we really need to because the decision makers are mistaking effect for cause.

The high debt level of American workers was not the cause of the recession. Debt levels were a symptom of wages not keeping up with costs and workers trying to maintain their standard of living! Creative housing loans were not a cause they were a symptom. The salaries of jobs that used to pay enough to support home ownership fell behind costs, so banks developed creative loans to keep those people (whose salaries used to allow them to buy those same houses) as customers for home loans.

This confusion is caused by economists that don’t understand that economics is just money at a national or global scale. Money a medium to exchange and store labor. I do work today and either get goods directly from you in return or I accept money that I exchange for someone else’s goods or hold to exchange in a day, week, or year.

That’s it. All the economists do is track and project that process. Banks aggregate the medium (money) by collecting stored labor (cash deposits) and share it in the form of loans in exactly the same way that a battery stores electricity and delivers it elsewhere later.

If I get paid one quart of milk for chopping a cord of wood or a dollar for the same effort and can trade that dollar for a quart of milk, the rate of labor exchange is equal. When I make a small part that ends up in a larger and more complex product it gets harder to see the relationships, but it is there just the same.

In my wood for milk example, I can clearly see that if I can figure out how to cut more wood in the same time, I would be more productive and I would get the direct benefit of that increase. If I am doing more work in the same time, shouldn’t I get more per hour?

If I am chopping that wood with a hand axe and buy a chain saw then I should be able to cut more wood per hour and my income per hour will go up. But what if I work for someone else and they pay for the chainsaw? Who gets the increase? Should we both share in that increase or should the owner of the saw get it all? The chainsaw takes training to operate and I paid for the training and you paid for the chain saw. Shouldn’t we split the increase somehow?

This is close to what has been happening for the last 10 or 15 years. Industry has been investing in improved tools while workers have been investing in improved training. The cause of the recession is that most businesses have not passed on enough of the increase in profits as higher salaries to cover the workers’ investment in their skills and knowledge.