Thursday, October 29, 2009

Employment Contracts - Read. Think. Then Sign. Maybe.

This is one of those times I'm very glad to be self-employed with a little sole proprietorship - instead of being toward the end of a conventionally 'successful' career with the government or some corporate employer.

I ran into this blog post a few minutes ago:

The gist of the post is in its lead paragraph:
"Both employers and employees may be surprised to find that employee created blog posts, YouTube, LinkedIn profiles, Facebook profiles, and even tweets may be owned by companies. ... Why is this? Employees sign employment contracts that may indicate that all intellectual property created during employment may be owned by the company, let's dive into what you should know:...."
(Jeremiah Owyang, Web Strategy)
Kudos to the blogger, for knowing what he doesn't know:
"...I'm not a lawyer, so I've asked one to comment on this topic...."
(Jeremiah Owyang, Web Strategy)
Even so, I wouldn't take this post as the final word on the subject of employees, contracts, intellectual property, and the whims of corporate legal departments.

I do think it would be very prudent for anyone who has signed a contract to take a good, hard look at it - and see if they've signed away their rights to all intellectual property they produce while employed - on the clock, or not.

Me? I'm safe. The last contract I signed is almost thirty years old now, with an entity that no longer exists. Almost my entire 'professional' career in writing and marketing was as an hourly wage-earner - with no contract. No complaints there.

I know that American culture assumes that contracts are some sort of guarantee. Let's look at it this way:
  • If I'm doing my job and my employer is being reasonable: we're both satisfied, and don't need a contract
  • If one or the other of us isn't satisfied, a contract could get in the way of sorting out the problems
  • If the employer is ethically challenged, some twerp in one of the departments can't pay the legal muscle it would take to win in court
So, contracts are (arguably) somewhere on a continuum between unnecessary and harmful.

I know that there are good reasons for drawing up contracts - and I approve of the idea of defining exactly what a working relationship is. On the other hand, I'm willing to see the up side of a 'you pay me until I'm not getting the job done' relationships, too.

I'm starting a discussion thread on employee contracts and intellectual property, over on BlogCatalog. (Posting on Company Time? What's the Worst that could Happen?) I hope some good insights come up there.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:
A tip of the hat to Twitter_Tips, on Twitter, for the heads-up on that post.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Who Knew "Coconut Crab" Would be so Hot?

It's enough to drive a blogger to distraction.

About a month ago, I posted a micro-review about's writeup on coconut crabs. ("The Coconut Crab: No, It's Not From a Science Fiction Movie" (September 25, 2009))

Then, I moved on to the next task of the day.

I enjoyed putting that post together more than most: the monster land arthropod looks like something out of a better-than-average science fiction movie, and it's quite real.

But I didn't expect that post to be particularly popular. I'm fascinated by arthropods with branchiostegal lungs that allow them to scuttle on land - and up trees: but I've long since learned that my interests and those of about 999 out of a thousand people don't have all that much in common, when you get beyond basics like grilled steaks and the opposite sex.

So, I was surprised when that coconut crab post kept showing up near the top in my daily logs.

Then today, so far, it's accounted for over 75% of my traffic. Total. All eleven blogs and three websites. (Shameless self-promotion: A Small World of Websites™)

The 'extra' hits are all, or nearly all, from Google. Why? I have no idea, although there seems to have been a serious spike in the last hour or so. My blog post is in the top 10 (9th place), so there must be something that's driving interest in coconut crabs today. This afternoon.

My guess is that there's some television program that mentioned the things.

Traffic Spikes, Research, and Common Sense

Whatever's driving this spike, I'm glad it's happening: and won't spend more time wondering about why it happened.

My business is a sole proprietorship, with me as owner, manager, writer, research department, janitor, and anything else that needs to get done. Knowing what drove this spike would be nice - but beyond filing what I've found away with the rest of what I've noticed about traffic, I don't have the resources to find an answer to that question.

Besides, the answer probably wouldn't help me. Aside from concentrating more on 'cool' subjects than I might otherwise, I plan to keep writing posts for that blog, Apathetic Lemming of the North, the way I have for the last couple of years. In that blog, I focus excursively on topics I'd be following anyway, like:
  • Martian speleology
  • Interior design
  • City planning
  • Visions of the future
  • Cute and funny animals
  • Artificial intelligence
  • The weirder end of high fashion
  • Cosmology
  • Architecture
  • Anything else that looks interesting

I've used this quote fairly often:

"There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person."
G. K. Chesterton, Heretics (1905), The Quotations Page

And, from Tennyson's Ulysses:

"...this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.....

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Thought for the Day: Marketing Isn't Yucky

"Marketing isn't sleazy, yucky, expensive, or phony - unless you make it that way...."
"Start Your Home Business in No Time," Page 116, Carol Anne Carroll (2004)

'New and Improved' Schedule Worked: Pretty Much

Last week, I started working with a 'new and improved' schedule. ("The Best Organizational System in the World Won't Work" (September 8, 2009)) Ten days later, I haven't followed it perfectly, but that's okay: I got the important tasks done. Most of them, anyway. Easy Griller and Narcissus-X are surprisingly hard blogs to write for.

Still, I can do better. I've penciled in (literally) some time tomorrow, for moving items around on the schedule - mostly, a matter of putting all of each day's 'to do' items in one spot.

That, and a procedure of crossing out tasks as I do them, printing a new schedule sheet each week, dating and filing them as they're filled, should help me spend more time productively, and less on 'management' tasks.

Eleven Blogs, Thousands of Posts: Dropping the Ball is Too Easy

I've got nearly a dozen blogs now, and discovered that I can't trust my memory to update each of them in a timely fashion.

Besides, I think they'll do better if visitors learn that they can count on something new on certain days.

I still think I can make blogging a reasonably profitable occupation - but I'm also looking at other ways to make money. More about that another day.

Now, if I'm going to get that apple eaten by an hour before Mass, I'd better wrap this up.

Related post:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Best Organizational System in the World Won't Work

One of the advantages - and disadvantages - of being self-employed is that you get to set your own schedule. No more having a boss keeping track of what needs to be done and when.

I've got, so far, eleven blogs and a handful of projects that I 'really ought to work on.' The blogs are a high priority - not because they're fun to write, but because they're what's bringing in the most revenue.

I had a task schedule, defining what needed to be done and when, dividing the week into half-hour segments. When I was done, it visually represented a reasonable, practical allocation of time and effort.

I last modified it on April 27 of this year. A little over four months later, I've come to the conclusion that I haven't used it because I won't use it.

Reasonable? Yes. Practical? Yes. The way I work? No.

The Best Organizational System in the World Won't Work

My task matrix was far from the 'best' anything. But even if it had been the ultimate organizational tool, it would have done me no good - if I didn't use it.

The problem, I think, wasn't so much that I don't like schedules. It's that my mind doesn't work that way. Deadlines I can handle.

So, the new-and-improved schedule has time for things like Mass and Soo Bahk Do marked out - and deadlines for each day in bold.

We'll see how this works.

The Soo Bahk Do, by the way, is a more hopeful thing, than part of my regular routine. I started learning, some time ago, but stopped a bit before getting my hips swapped out. I'm getting a little less out of shape now, so it's a matter of deciding to get involved again.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Being Your Own Boss: Good News, Bad News

I see that I haven't written anything for Easy Griller, since I discussed grilled octopus last week. No, I haven't grilled - or eaten - octopus, but that didn't stop me from writing about it.

One of the definite 'up' sides of being your own boss, running your own company, is being free to do what you want with your time.

That's also one of the 'down' sides.

Take today, for instance.

In a few minutes, I'm going up to the attic, and expect to read - or maybe take a nap - for a couple hours. Now, I've got a good reason for doing so: There's a long-dormant project or three that I've moved off the back burner. More of that in Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space. There are two science fiction authors whose work I like: one did a good job of sketching out plausible and very different societies; the other, not so much. I'm trying to figure out what the difference is.

So far, so good.

But, part of me seems to be thinking that it's pretty neat, going off and reading on company time. The other part of me realizes that I'm the boss and that I'm not entirely convinced that this is a good idea.

However, there's no time-sensitive task pending today, apart from three posts in yet another blog, and this literary foray might yield useful results.

I'm heading for the attic now.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Webcam's Back: A Window on Small Town America Reopened

My webcam is back online, posting two new pictures a second, at "Small Town America: Central Minnesota."

It had been doing quite well, from December 27, 2007, to April 26, 2009. That was when my computer got a rather serious malware infestation, and had to be de-wormed. After that, I could monitor the webcam from my computer, but the software I was using to post to the Internet was not working. At all.

After quite a few hours of frustration, spread over several days, I decided that, much as I liked traffic generated by the webcam, I was spending too much time trying to make it work.

Fast forward to this week, when my son-in-law-to-be was visiting for a few days. He told me about USTREAM, a service which provides pretty-good video feeds. He talked me through the setup - which was quite easy - and I had a 23 frames per second live streaming video for a few hours. Then I had to reboot my computer, and couldn't get the webcam and my computer to get along. As far as the computer was concerned, the webcam wasn't there.

No clue why.

Today, around noon, I did what I'd done before - physically disconnected the webcam and rebooted the computer. This time, it worked: and I've got a video feed again.

It's slower, now: by intention. Two frames per second lets people see the cars, cyclists, pedestrians and hummingbirds: and doesn't put quite so much strain on my system's resources.

It's not an ideal situation, but it'll do for now.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Easy Griller Blog Gets a New Lease on Life

I started my Easy Griller blog on July 28, 2007.

It's description is wordy, but pretty thorough. "Notes of a backyard griller, without many gadgets and gear. A propane grill, fork, tongs, and spatula is all I need to grill hamburgers, hot dogs, and the occasional chicken."

In March, 2008, I stopped writing new posts. I'd found it was hard to write something interesting - even from my point of view - about grilling every Saturday and Sunday. Winters included. Each time I started another post, it seemed like I was writing something like: "Grilled burgers again. Same as yesterday. Same as I'll do next weekend. They taste good."

Watching linoleum curl might be less exciting, but it would be a close contest.

I'm trying something a little different now, based on how I handle my Apathetic Lemming of the North blog: writing micro-reviews about grilling articles and websites I find; with the occasional ramble, when I've got something vaguely interesting to say.

One thing that's got me excited about this re-start of Easy Griller is that I've gotten very good return on the time I spend on Apathetic Lemming of the North, both in terms of page hits and revenue. I'm hoping that I'll find that the same is true of Easy Griller.

Today's post, "Chicken Grilling Recipes That Really Work: But First - - - " is the first of what I hope will be many more.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

May have Found Good Webcam Software

My webcam's been on the fritz for some time now. Actually, the camera is working fine. But, since getting my oldest daughter (with assistance from my son) to de-worm my computer, the software I use to connect the webcam to the Web hasn't worked.

I'm sure that there is a way to restore what I've got to the way it worked before: but I'm also no longer sure it would be worth the time and effort it could take.

So, I started looking for alternatives.

And, may have found one: "How Webcams Work" (part 4 of 6 (HowStuffWorks)) identifies Webcam32 as a fairly simple, easy-to-use bit of software.

When I can have my 'tech support staff' around, I'll see whether it's my solution.

Update (May 22, 2009)

Just one problem: Webcam32 is obsolete. The company that produced appears to be alive and well, under a new name, and into robotics: Surveyor Corporation. They're apparently looking for someone to buy the rights to Webcam32: good news for some software developer, but not so much for me.

Back to looking for some good software.
Later, the same day:

My oldest daughter suggested I try, and talked me through a search. This looks promising.

Now, why didn't I think of that?!
Maybe TrueTech WebCam Personal Edition 2.25 or webcamXP Free - We'll see.
Update (May 25, 2009)

On examination, it seems that TrueTech WebCam Personal Edition 2.25's main function is to generate traffic for a particularly nasty porn site. That one's out.

webcamXP Free doesn't look too good, either: 11 wonderful votes, one awful review - could be made by a company with 11 employees.

Dorgem seemed promising - if I were satisfied with posting to an FTP root directory, not a specific folder. Which I'm not.

Later -

So far, I haven't been able to disqualify WebCam2000, a freeware program developed several years ago by Jeffrey Coleman Carlyle "Ruler of Earth," and apparently a rather competent programmer.

Still later -

WebCam2000 seems to be a neat little program. If I wanted to make my desktop computer a server people to visit, it would be dandy. That's far from what I am looking for, need, or want, however. Back to searching.

Even later -

Going back to the webcam's manufacturer: WebCam Vista (Creative Labs). This might prove useful. Or, not. It's late, and I need sleep.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Waiting for Inspiration? Start Working!

Thought for the day:

"We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action."
Frank Tibolt, The Quotations Page

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Galaxy Cadet: An Idea that Wouldn't Go Away

I created a picture in the summer of 2007 that I dubbed "Galaxy Cadet." I was just having fun with some 3D software, posting pictures on an online art community's gallery (DAZ 3D's ArtZone), and getting feedback.

I described the last of that run this way: "...Galaxy Cadet! Whether battling brain-burrowing bugs on Betelgeuse II, exploring new worlds in the Rigel sector, or developing a defense against split ends, Galaxy Cadet is there, patrolling the galaxy with spirit, spunk, and super-spritzer."

Although I accept responsibility for what's happening, it's a fact that someone on ArtZone responded with two words: "Cool idea!"

That started me thinking. "Galaxy Cadet" had been intended as nothing more that a sort of tutorial to get me more familiar with Bryce software. That "cool idea!" response suggested that I was looking at something more.

I revised the poster to conform to movie poster dimensions in October, 2008:

And the idea that "Galaxy Cadet" might make a good basis for a story or two was still wandering around, somewhere in the the utility closets and storerooms of my mind.

Toward the end of March this year I got organized and started a notebook of ideas for Galaxy Cadet - who the character was, what the 27th century setting was like, and deciding what sort of stories I could write and 'draw.'

Today, I sat down and created a sort of character sheet for "Galaxy Cadet." As you can see, a few things have changed since 2007.

Besides this, I've got notes and sketches (digital and otherwise) for a six-page online comic. I haven't established a publication date yet: I've never done this before, and have only a general idea how hideously complicated and time-consuming this project will be.

Next week, I plan to do character sheets for the other major characters, and get a start on the sets I'll need.

Online Comics: You Gotta Love the Idea

One thing I like about publishing these things online is that I don't have the limitations that come with ink-and-paper publication. I can make the comic as long or short as the plot allows - and don't have to worry about printing costs.

Although I don't plan to charge visitors for the privilege of viewing my art (or whatever it is), I do plan to make a profit on this project: in the long run.

The "Galaxy Cadet" (that's a working title, and may change) comics will have advertising, just like this blog does. And, if there's enough interest, I plan to produce a sort of line-art hardcopy version. That I will have to charge for: paper and ink isn't cheap.

Stay Tuned for the Next Installment of Galaxy Cadet

Meanwhile, I'm determined to have fun putting this thing together and seeing what happens. For now, I'll post progress reports on this blog.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stuff - Useful and Otherwise - for a Home Office

"You're On Your Own: Outfitting the Home Office for Under a Grand"
Wired product reviews (March 23, 2009)

"Before taking the dive into self-employment, you're going to need some pony-up dough to outfit your home office. Fortunately, for a capital outlay of under a grand, you can get everything you need to turn that breakfast nook into a respectable workspace (and tax write-off). We burned down the industrial park and smoked out the best values to get you to the giddyap...."

The (very) brief reviews start out with the Aerobie AeroPress and end with the Ziszor Shredder.

That AeroPress is a sort of minimalist espresso machine. That, and #5, an Aerolatte - some sort of frother for milk?? - are items I wouldn't need. Or want. My ('instant') coffee comes out of a jar, and goes into microwaved water at about two times the label strength.

Some of the rest of the stuff - including a computer - might actually be useful.

If nothing else, reading the article is a sort of online window-shopping trip. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Economist Says Saving is a Good Idea - Really!

The first item in Wired magazine's March 23, 2009, Mr. Know-It-All column ("Mr. Know-It-All: Feeding a Bear Market, YouTubing High School Athletes, Laying Dad's Brain to Res") caught my eye this morning. So did the last one, about a fellow whose wife had his head frozen - but that's not quite so relevant to business.

The lead item started with: "I've got a secure job, but this bear market gives me the creeps. Is it my duty to buy a new Jet Ski to help the economy?..."

If you own a store that sells Jet Skis, the advice we're hearing to go out and spend, spend, spend sounds pretty good.

Warning! Middle-Aged Reminiscences Ahead!

I was born in the Truman administration, my parents survived the Great Depression, and learned a few things from the experience. They were far from mattress-stuffers who didn't trust banks, but they had a modified 'if you don't need it, don't buy it' approach that kept me from enjoying all fifties and sixties equivalents of Nintendo and X-Box. They weren't tightwads by any means - but they didn't waste money, food, or water. And their definition of "waste" included "keeping up with the Joneses."

An Economist Says Saving is a Good Idea?!

My notion of what economists are like was formed by reading about Keynesian economics: that famous brainchild of John Maynard Keynes, that Cambridge Math major who studied for a year under a couple of people who presumably knew something about economics.

The bottom line of Keynesian economics seems to be that letting private sector entrepreneurs run around loose was bad. Centralization is good: as long as it involves a government-run central bank and what's euphemistically called 'fiscal policy decisions' by the federal govenment to control business. The idea was that with Big Brother in control, the business cycle would settle into nice, flat line.

Keynesian economics was enormously popular - and the more I learned about it, the lower my estimation of economists sank.

My guess is that Sam Allgood, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is doomed to live out his career far from the hallowed halls of ivy and hemp in the northeast. His notions about economics make sense.

From Wired:

"...'Saving is essential for economic growth, says Sam Allgood, an economist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 'The money we save and invest is used by businesses to expand, update, or just get started.'..."

Allowing our money to be used by lending institutions to finance business growth? Without an all-wise federal agency to make sure they spend it the right way? That's close to blasphemy!

And, to me, sounds like solid good sense. But then, I'm one of those people who think that a surprising number of people - given an opportunity - will spend their money with a bit of sense.

I'm concerned, though that it's going to take a reality check like the Great Depression to produce a generation of parents who have a vague notion of which end is up. But that's another topic.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Massachusetts BerkShares: Not Such a Goofy Idea

"Communities Print Own Currencies to Keep Money Local"
FOXNews (April 9, 2009)

"GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — It looks like Monopoly money, but the colorful currency created by collaborators in the western Massachusetts town of Great Barrington is legal tender.

"The creative cash is called 'BerkShares,' a play on words, referring to the mountainous region called the Berkshires, where businesses and citizens have come together to support each other in these tough economic times...."

An interesting idea. I think I can understand the feelings behind having a strictly local currency: but I'm not at all sure that this is a good idea.

Beyond Great Barrington, Massachusetts and BerkShares: Business Bucks

The idea behind BerkShares is something that businesses can (and do) use: an association of businesses can agree to treat ChamberBucks, or whatever, as real money. Accounting could be tricky, of course.

I've got a notion for using the idea of 'play money' in an online setting, too - oops. Too late. It's gone now.

Maybe it'll come back.

Friday, April 3, 2009

FTC and Bogus Blog Endorsements: Sounds Sensible

"Report: FTC to Crack Down on Blog Endorsements"
FOXNews (April 3, 2009)

"The Federal Trade Commission may be going after bloggers and Facebook users.

"Not just any bloggers or social networkers, mind you. Rather, the Financial Times reports, the government consumer watchdog will be cracking down on people who post false statements endorsing certain products — and the makers of those products as well...."

I don't particularly like regulations: but this seems to make sense. Lying about a product isn't, I think, particularly helpful to society as a whole: or to readers who don't have my, ah, heightened sense of caution. Or enthusiasm for due diligence. Or, maybe, paranoia.

What's important, of course, is what's in the details: exactly what the FTC says it will do - and what it actually does.

More: "Advertisers brace for online viral marketing curbs"
Financial Times (April 2, 2009)

"Advertisers in the US are bracing themselves for regulatory changes that they fear will curtail their efforts to tap into the fast-growing online social media phenomenon.

"Revised guidelines on endorsements and testimonials by the Federal Trade Commission, now under review and expected to be adopted, would hold companies liable for untruthful statements made by bloggers and users of social networking sites who receive samples of their products.

"If a blogger received a free sample of skin lotion and then incorrectly claimed the product cured eczema, the FTC could sue the company for making false or unsubstantiated statements. The blogger could be sued for making false representations.

" 'This impacts every industry and almost every single brand in our economy, and that trickles down into social media,' said Anthony DiResta, an attorney representing several advertising associations...."

I still don't see a problem: but then, I'm one of those naive people who won't extol the excellence of Slurm: even if given a case, fresh from the manufacturer.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Recession! Unemployment! American Economy Failing! - Been There, Done That - Still Here

I have it lucky.

I was born during the Truman administration, and lived in an upper Midwestern city with three colleges: Fargo-Moorhead. I still miss having access to the NDSU architecture, agricultural sciences, and main library collections; Concordia's library, and the library at what they're calling MSU-M these days. It was "Moorhead State" through several of the name changes.

Students went to those colleges, of course: enough to fill the small town I live in now, several times, if memory serves.

So, when I started looking for work, I was one of the horde of older teens and twenty-somethings doing the same thing.

An employer looking for someone to take out the trash could chose between someone who would be an architect in a few years, a grab-bag of liberal arts majors - - - you get the picture?

These weren't your stereotype pencil-neck geek intellectuals, either: so it wasn't a question of picking whoever might be able to lift fifty pounds without snapping.

And, there were an average, at some points, of about a hundred applicants for each job.

I'm Not Complaining: It was an Educational Experience

It didn't help that I graduated from high school in the spring of 1969. My timing, for the next several decades, was impeccable: That's a lot of recessions, isn't it? Different people will say it's George Bush's fault - either one; Clinton's fault, Reagan's fault, or the fault of a Bourgeois Capitalist System's oppression of the proletariat.

Oddly, I think that last bunch has a point. It does seem that a boom-bust cycle is part of economies where people are allowed to make money, and keep some of what they make. It's rough: but I prefer it to the systems that look good on paper, but tend to fail when someone tries using them on a society of human beings.

Five Recessions and an Oil Crisis

And I was looking for work in all but two of them. Three, if you count the current one: but I'll get back to that.

I've quit one job, and been let go from one because I wasn't what the employer was looking for: and had the job - or the company - disappear so many times, I've lost count.

It's been a good experience. With each new job, I learned new skills, and that:
  • A job is a job - not my life
  • Jobs end - life (so far) doesn't
  • My next job probably won't be the same as my last
    • This certainly is not a problem
The last job I had, working for someone else, lasted just over 20 years. It ended in the spring of 2006: and I've been working for myself every since. I'm a lousy employer, by the way: I don't pay me anywhere near as much as I'd like. But that's changing.

Whaddaya Mean, the Place is Closing?! I WORK Here!!

I ran across a news item from Michigan today. Wayland, Michigan, is having hard times. They're tied up in the American auto industry - apparently more so than some other places. And, a car dealership closed.

Some of the (now former) employees sprang into action: they got drunk and started fights. One of them explained the logic of his actions:

" 'Does it matter how hard you work, because there is somebody a little bit above you that has the right to control every decision and every effort you put forward, don't you have a right to be a little bit mad when somebody says hey we're all done,' ... 'It's terrible, horrible.' " (WWMT)
Change Hurts, Change Happens
I understand the emotions, I think. It feels bad, losing a job. There's a loss of security and stability. I've gone through it, quite often. Losing a job really, sincerely, doesn't feel good. Even when it wasn't a particularly nice job.

But, I think I'm lucky. During one of those recessions - I think it was around the time of the 1980's one - I had a job in a state-run employment agency. Part of what I did was interview people, find out what sort of work they could do, what they were willing to do, and then connect them with employers.
Caution! Middle-Aged Guy Reminiscing
It was one of the best jobs I had. I'd be doing something like that now, but I looked at numbers then: and there was no way I could make a living at it, working independently, without moving to a larger city. Which I did not want to do.

Back then, talking with someone new every few minutes, I got a pretty good look at what was happening. Everyone was hurting, economically. There were a lot of people for each job, and only one could have it.

And, some of the people I talked to had only had one job in their life.
Don't Like Change? It Happens, Anyway
Applying what I learned in an upper Midwest city to the coastal culture, I suspect that there are people today who are experiencing the same thing. All their lives, they've worked at one job, and been rewarded for sticking to that unwavering routine.

Now, things are changing.

In my younger days, a typical victim of change was the WWII GI. He'd done his tour of duty, gotten started with GI benefits, and for decades been paid for showing up at the factory and doing his task on the assembly line. Nothing wrong with any of that. It was a good life.

But, when things changed, things changed. America's steel industry went through changes, automation had hit middle management (that's a whole different story), and was moving in on assembly line jobs.

It seemed so unfair: You do what's expected of you, and the factory closes anyway.

Or, in the Wayland incidents, the car dealership closes. And about 30 people are out of work.

I've been there: so often that I've started to understand that change happens. That's hardly a new idea. About two dozen centuries ago, Heraclitus said: "Nothing endures but change." today, you're more likely to hear, "the more things change, the more they stay the same," but the idea is about the same. ("The more things change..." is attributed to Alphonse Karr. What he actually wrote was "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.")

So, Change Happens: What Can You Do?

When your employer goes out of business, there are quite a few options:
  1. Go out, get drunk, and start a few fights
    • Spending time in jail and getting a 'drunk and disorderly' charge is close to a best-case scenario here
  2. Set fire to your former employer's place of business
    • Really stupid idea: Arson is frowned upon in most states
    • Social ostracism may be a result
    • It's illegal, too
  3. Give yourself time to feel sad, then:
    • Take a deep breath
    • Run around a bit
      • Or do something physical (and legal) to work off the emotional energy
    • Start thinking.
      • You've got skills, and experience
      • There are other jobs
      • Kinds of jobs that use the same, or similar, skills
All things considered, I think that of these options, #3 makes the most sense.

Option #3 includes starting your own business. Particularly when you open a sole proprietorship (like I did), in effect - you're hiring yourself.

I've had some interesting worker-management meetings with myself. One problem with the sole-proprietorship arrangement is that you can't storm out if the meeting doesn't go your way.
Oh, No! More Reminiscence!
Back in 2006, when the small publishing company I'd devoted 20 years to went through a radical downsizing, I didn't feel all that good. I'd been an advertising copywriter and graphic designer for ten years there, and list manager for another 10. I'd gotten carpal tunnel in both wrists, with all the keyboard-and-mouse work (the insurance company came up with an anonymous Ivy League study that said that repetitive motions don't cause the problem - but that's another story).

*sob* I feel so abused! - NOT! I'd picked up quite a few skills in those two decades.

And, on my own time, had learned about the Internet and the World Wide Web. I had a large website of my own developed (Brendan's Island) by the time the boss decided to use the Web. I ended up building a website for my employer, too (Vocational Biographies). Neither one was the best of its kind: but I do think the navigation's decent in both. If you noticed that the two look a lot alike: There's a reason for that, and that's all I'll say.

Around that time, I went into business as a free-lance website designer. Quite a few other people were doing the same thing: and most of them were commercial artists. Their work generally looked anywhere from competent, through professional, to fabulous.

My 'website designer' business didn't too at all well. I learned that the population density in Central Minnesota wasn't high enough (still isn't) to support it. Being more of a Web architect than a Web artist didn't help: There just aren't that many outfits around here that need websites with a hundred or more pages.

No problem. I still had a day job then, and: I'd tried. I started developing ideas for websites that people would like to visit. I figured I had between ten and fifteen years to make them into something that would be a self-supporting retirement hobby.

Then, I lost my job. And, my schedule changed. "Ten to fifteen years from now" turned to "last week," and "self-supporting hobby" to "household-supporting business."

One more thing: by that time, I couldn't feel my hands. Which was an improvement. The stage before that was 'sincerely distracting pain in both hands.' Carpal tunnel syndrome will do that, apparently. And, one finger on each hand had started locking up at odd intervals.

I could still use a keyboard: thanks to learning 'touch typing' in the sixties, my fingers knew where each key was, whether I could feel them or not.

After getting laid off, I had surgery done on both hands (one at a time), and was convinced by my wife and doctor that now was the time to get my hips replaced. They were right. So, one at a time, I had my hip sockets swapped out.

For most of 2006, I was 'in the shop' for repairs.

That gave me time to think - or would have, if the happy juice we used to control the discomfort had let me. I did have time to chew over what I was doing, and why.

Today, I'm still getting A Small World of Websites launched - one piece at a time.

It's slow going: but I got another check today, for advertising: and am learning about publishing 'real' books - ink on paper - on demand. I've got concerns about quality control - and I have yet to produce something worth printing - but I think it'll work.

Change Happens - What You do With it is Up to You

I'm no paragon: I'm just a middle-aged guy in a small central Minnesota town with a checkered job history and a few ideas.

And, I'm certainly not 'earning $40,000 dollars a week in my spare time.' (A whole other topic.) I've looked into those envelope-stuffing things from time to time. A general word of advice, for those interested in pursuing such 'opportunities:' Don't.

But I've gotten pretty good at losing jobs - then picking up the pieces and moving on. It can be done.

In the news: Background:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

CAN, Business Model; CHI Blogging Strategy: Cool Acronyms

"The CAN Blogging Business Model"
Damien Riley

"There is a lot of advice out there on how to blog. I’ve read just about all of it. I've been on the 'noob' end and also had the opportunity to mentor new bloggers. After over two years at this, I've developed my own criteria of blogg success and how to get there. First, let me describe the criteria I live by for blog success. I've categorized them into a three letter word acronym: C.A.N...."

the C.A.N. and C.H.I. blog strategy seem like common sense - but what would I know? This post is fairly short, has a low 'fog factor' (haven't hear that phrase for decades), and at the least should be a good review.

It's late Sunday night as I write this: I plan to get back "The CAN Blogging Business Model" next week. It's high time I review what it is that I think I'm doing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wal-Mart Gang Initiation: You Know What Those Non-Union Places are Like

Everybody knows what those non-union shops are like: capitalistic oppressors crushing helpless workers under an iron heel and all that.

And, the last I heard, Wal-Mart is not unionized. Which may explain what happened today.

Women Beware! Stay Away From Wal-Mart!! Gang Initiation Shooting!!! BIG DANGER WAL-MART!!!!

The gist of text messages that are popping around Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Kansas and Maryland is that a gang is going to kill women at Wal-Mart. It's an initiation.

Scary, right?

But, as Gilda Radner's character said, "never mind!"

The messages are a hoax.

With variations, this chestnut has been around for years.

"The hoax warning first surfaced in 2005 in Memphis, TN. Since then, different variations have continued to periodically resurface." (KBTX)

In some circles, 'everybody knows' what Wal-Mart is like. Even without gang initiations involving the killing of women (and, in one variation, children), it's one of those big box stores that roam the land, spreading doom and despair. When a Wal-Mart comes into a small town, presto-chango, the lovely small town is destroyed.

Oddly, a Wal-Mart superstore opened in the small town that's my home back in April, 2007, and we haven't been destroyed yet. An Alco store closed, an Ace Hardware moved in, people have more jobs available to them, and there have been a few other changes: but no destruction.

Today's hoax may be somebody's idea of a practical joke. But assumptions about Wal-Mart's oppression of the working class might be involved, too.

Meanwhile, it looks like the Wal-Mart gang initiation shootings is a hoax. According to "authorities" and

Of course, if you like, you can assume that the authorities,, KBTX, and I, are all involved in a conspiracy to suppress whatever is going on at Wal-Mart. Who knows? We might all be those shape-shifting space-alien lizard people who run the world.

I don't know about KBTX,, and the police, but I'm not a lizard person. Of course, if I was, that's what I'd say.
Update (March 20, 2009)

The bogus text messages seem to be working their way west. From Hawaii:

"Don’t go to walmart today, supposed gang initiation to shoot random people 'women' is the target.' " (Star Bulletin)

It's not always the same text. "Many of the texts read something similar to: 'do not go to any Wal-Mart tonight,' 'Gang initiation to shoot three people tonight,' 'Not sure which Wal-Mart,' 'ABC confirmed on TV,' and 'Please forward this on to friends and family.'..." "MSNBC)

An Amarillo, Texas, Station had some excellent advice: "[Corporal Jerry Neufeld with the Amarillo Police Department] says, 'we would ask, or strongly urge, confirm it with law enforcement before you assume it's true.'..." (emphasis mine)

The Amarillo station showed photos and a video about the text messages. The photo is a little hard to read, but the message seems to be: "I just got this... better safe than sorry
FW: Do not go to any walmart tonight. Gang initiation to shoot 3 women tonight. Not sure which walmart....
" (KFDA)

In the news: Background:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Never Mind the AIG Bonuses: We May Have "Redistributive Change" on an International Scale

I wrote about the obscene practical joke played on American taxpayers by American International Group yesterday. Two more observations -

A Simple Apology and Resignation Would be Sufficient

An Iowa politico made a modest proposal, regarding how AIG executives might deal with the regrettable embarrassment they face.

"...Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa didn't appear to be joking, however, when he spoke with Cedar Rapids, Iowa, radio station WMT.

" 'I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little better toward them [AIG executives] is if they follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, "I am sorry," and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide,' he said.

" 'And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide.' " (CNN)

I cannot, as a practicing Catholic, suggest that anyone commit suicide. With that proviso, however, I think that Senator Grassley's suggestion has merit.

I think it would be decent of those AIG executives who ran their company into the ground, and rewarded themselves with taxpayer's money, to reimburse the federal government for money wasted on their bonuses. But, an apology and resignation would be sufficient. Providing that they do no more harm to America or the world.

AIG, The Washington Crowd, and, Maybe, Redistributive Change

I don't think that The Wall Street Journal could reasonably be called a scandal sheet. That's why I was a bit disturbed to read this:

"...The politicians also prefer to talk about AIG's latest bonus payments because they deflect attention from Washington's failure to supervise AIG. The Beltway crowd has been selling the story that AIG failed because it operated in a shadowy unregulated world and cleverly exploited gaps among Washington overseers. Said President Obama yesterday, 'This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed.' That's true, but Washington doesn't want you to know that various arms of government approved, enabled and encouraged AIG's disastrous bet on the U.S. housing market....." (WSJ) (emphasis mine)

And, now that the federal government owns 80% of AIG, I'm very concerned about what money funneled through that company will be used for: and who it will go to.

I suggest, strongly, reading that Wall Street Journal article ("The Real AIG Outrage" (March 17, 2009)). Apparently, "...The U.S. government is now in the business of distributing foreign aid to offshore financiers, laundered through a once-great American company...."

Coming from another source, I might be more skeptical. Reading about what might be the start of "redistributive change" on an international scale - in The Wall Street Journal - I think there's some reason for concern: or at least a high level of interest.

American Money Going Overseas Can Make Sense - But This Looks Sneaky

I think that there are times when it's good policy to send tax dollars overseas: either directly or indirectly. Looking through my Another War-on-Terror Blog should give you an idea of my view of the world, and America's place in it. I'm no isolationist.

However, it looks like there may be something very sneaky going on with the feds and AIG. And, given Obama's views on redistributive change and related topics, I'm very concerned about the federal government quietly acquiring a massive interest in AIG, and the amount of money that's being channeled (the WSJ author wrote "laundered") through AIG.

I sincerely hope there's a nice, reasonable - and acceptable - explanation.

Related posts: News and views:

Monday, March 16, 2009

AIG, Outrage, Corporations, Unions, and Common Sense

'Outrage over AIG bonuses' is sizzling on the Web this morning, and for good reason. The American government has given somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000,000,000 (USD) to American International Group, AKA AIG, to help that corporation out of the mess its executives and managers made.

It looks like some of the executives got a cut of the take, to the tune of $165,000,000 (USD): much of that going to AIG execs. Not that shabby a reward, for running financial giants into the ground.

As owner and operator of a sole proprietorship in America, I've got roughly the same chance of getting a federal bailout, and pocketing around a penny on the dollar, as I do of surviving, unprotected, for an hour, inside a blast furnace.

I don't mind one bit. If I got 'help' like that, there would be so many strings attached, that I'd look like Pinocchio: pre-fairy.

America: A Nation of Law

An op-ed piece this morning opens with a pair of quotes:

" 'We are a country of law. There are contracts. The government cannot just abrogate contracts. Every legal step possible to limit those bonuses is being taken by Secretary Geithner and by the Federal Reserve system.'–Lawrence Summers, chief economic advisor[!] to President Barack Obama

" 'Perhaps you [the government] can explain to all of us why a UAW worker earning $29 an hour must give back wages and benefits to keep their company alive, while the architects of the biggest financial disaster in history get to keep their gold plated contracts.'–Peter Morici, economist, University of Maryland" (EMac's Stock Watch)

Glenn Greenwald's blog on also discusses the AIG bailout, and the auto workers' union. Mostly AIG.

What President Obama's economic adviser said is true: America is a nation of law. I think that's true. It's also true that there's a lot of legal wrangling over exactly what the terms of a contract mean - but that's another issue.

Having laws, and being expected to follow them, is, I think, a good thing. Given the attitude I have toward a massively powerful federal government micro-managing private-sector matters, I don't mind having legal barriers between the feds and corporation execs.

UAW and AIG: Class Struggle Between Proletariat and Bourgeoisie? Reality Check, Please!

What the Maryland professor said got me curious, so I looked up American wages on the BLS website ("Wages by Area and Occupation," Bureau of Labor Statistics). I didn't find an exact match for "AW worker earning $29 an hour" - but I got a few that are close.

Turns out, as of May of 2007, this is what Americans were getting paid, on average, in these occupations:1
  • "Production Occupations" overall
    • $15.05 an hour
    • $31,310 yearly
  • "Aircraft Structure, Surfaces, Rigging, and Systems Assemblers"
    • $21.24 an hour
    • $44,180 yearly
  • "First-Line Supervisors/Managers of Production and Operating Workers"
    • $24.88 an hour
    • $51,740 a year
  • "Numerical Tool and Process Control Programmers"
    • $21.54 an hour
    • $44,800 yearly
  • "Tool and Die Makers"
    • $22.36 an hour
    • $46,520 yearly
So, why the tone of righteous indignation I thought I noticed in the Maryland professor's comparison of UAW workers and "the architects of the biggest financial disaster in history"?

AIG executives probably don't, as a rule, have to get by on the $44,800 a year that your average Numerical Tool and Process Control Programmer makes.

Neither do college professors, for that matter. Americans with "Education, Training, and Library Occupations" get an average $22.41 hourly wage. That may help explain why professors, who are to some extent involved in education, are sometimes perceived as relatively poor. Looking a little deeper into the BLS site, I found that college professors don't have "hourly wage" listed. Their employment is seasonal, you see. They use their 'time off' to study, presumably. Besides, their pay isn't calculated that way.

I did a little figuring, from ten post-secondary teaching occupations listed by the BLS. College professors get by on a paltry $75,080 a year, on average.
  • Ten listed postsecondary teaching occupations average
    • $75,080 a year
  • "Mathematical Science Teachers, Postsecondary"
    • $65,450 a year
  • "Engineering Teachers, Postsecondary"
    • $85,260
I'm not complaining about what the professors make: what they do is a specialized job, requires a fair amount of training, and is demanding. If that's the market value for their set of skills, no problem.

I think that what your typical college professor makes may affect his or her perceptions of what a 'typical' or 'reasonable' wage is. It looks like professors make half again as much a year as your run-of-the-mill Numerical Tool and Process Control Programmers. More than that, actually. Or, coming at it the other way, the N.T.P.C. Programmers only make in the neighborhood of 2/3 what a prof does.

No wonder the Maryland professor regards $29 an hour as a comparative pittance.

Having grown up within a block of a college campus, and spending decades in or near America's academia, I've heard quite a bit about the class struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. A century and more ago, that was an important aspect of Western civilization's evolution.

But today, the UAW isn't struggling against plutocratic oppressors of the Victorian Age.

This isn't the 19th century anymore.

We're in the 21st century and, if anything, the UAW is now part of the entrenched system that labor unions struggled against.

Big Three Automakers, AIG, Bailouts, and Pavlov

I'm not as hard-hearted and callous as this is going to sound. Letting the Big Three automakers fail might be a good idea. Ibid for AIG and all.
The Humanity! The Humanity!
Yes, I know that if GM, Chrysler, and Ford go the way of Owens Magnetic, quite a lot of UAW workers might be out of a job. But I don't think that Americans will stop driving - and buying - cars.

As I wrote last year, "I have trouble believing, though, that nobody of the several-hundred-million people who live in this country doesn't want to open an automotive design and assembly company, and have the brains and background to do it.

"It's been a long time since a new automotive company has had a chance to get started, with three 800-pound gorillas sitting on the American car market...." (December 12, 2009)

The start-ups might not be able to provide the pay and perks that UAW members have become accustomed to, and they might have to learn new skills. Some people may find it hard to change decades-old habits. But my guess is that union workers can learn.

Besides, the UAW and others in the established order will have to change their ways anyway. The Big Three are in the mess they're in because their leadership hasn't een dealing with reality.

If the existing Big Three change, union workers will have to adjust - along with everyone else. (I'm getting to the twits at the top: be patient.)

If the existing Big Three don't change their ways, and the rest of us keep bankrolling their incompetence, taxes for a steady stream of bailouts will eventually clean out Americans who do know how to be productive. Then, after what's left of the economy can't take the strain of whatever shenanigans the feds pull to prop up the Big Three, GMC, Ford, and Chrysler will collapse.

And union workers will have to adjust. Only by then, the adjustment will be a lot harder. There won't be as many solvent businesses around to hire them: you get the idea.
Pavlov's Incredible Drooling Dog and AIG Executives
You remember Pavlov's experiment, where he learned about classical conditioning.

The parallel between Pavlov's dog and AIG executives isn't exact: the executives walk on two feet, and haven't learned to drool at the sound of a tuning fork. As far as I know.

However, they have been rewarded for behavior that isn't doing AIG any good. And, particularly since Americans are now bankrolling the American International Group debacle, the rest of us aren't exactly benefiting, either.

I have nothing against a company giving bonuses for performance. In fact, that application of behavior modification makes a great deal of sense.

If, I repeat, if bonuses are clearly and unequivocally linked to desirable behavior.

Barney Frank: "Disgusted" by AIG Bonsues

I don't agree with Barney Frank very often, but I'm also "disgusted" by the way AIG seems to be rewarding incompetent executives: with money that came (in very small part) from me.

Today's Boston Globe had a few words on the subject, including: "...Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, suggested that if the federal government, which now owns an 80 percent stake in the company, can't rescind the bonuses, it could force some dismissals.

" 'These people may have a right to their bonuses. They don't have a right to their jobs forever,' Frank said on NBC's 'Today' show...." (Boston Globe)

There's something to be disturbed about in that Boston Globe piece. My guess is that you caught it, too.

That's right: The federal government now owns 80% of American International Group.

The state owning and controlling major businesses? We've gone through this before. It didn't end well then: I'm hoping we get out of the current mess in better shape than Russia and Germany did. 2

Related posts: News and views:
1 The numbers are BLS mean, or average, hourly wages.

You probably know this already, but:
  • Median in this context means "the value below which 50% of the cases fall"
  • Mean means "an average of n numbers computed by adding some function of the numbers and dividing by some function of n"
    (Princeton's WordNet)
2 I am not responsible for, nor do I necessarily agree with, content at the other end of links. The "Russia" and "Germany" links are to documents which discuss what I think are undesirable aspects of state capitalism in Germany and Russia. I most certainly do not think that regulation is a panacea.

'Nuf said.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Govenment Bailouts of American Automakers, Financial Firms: Feels Good, But - - -

On the economic scale, sole proprietorships like mine are pretty close to being at the opposite end from outfits like AIG and GM. And, I'm okay with that. Not all businesses can be huge, cripplingly inefficient bureaucracies, desperately seeking federal bailouts.

Watching a panel discussion this morning, I heard something that may be a key to understanding what's gone wrong with Wall Street and automobile industry leaders of the 1950s.

One of the panelists expressed concern that, should GM declare bankruptcy and re-organize, it wouldn't be the same company. He apparently believed that GM not being just the same as it was last year, and the year before that, would be a bad thing.

It was all those people who might be out of a job that concerned him, he said.

Compassion is Nice: So is Common Sense

I don't like to think about people losing their jobs, but I don't see too many alternatives. This is an over-simplification, but I think that, given what's happening, GM will:
  1. Declare Bankruptcy and reorganize
    • Some people will lose their jobs
  2. Receive federal bailouts until increased taxes and cuts in programs we really need end the gravy train
    • A lot of people will lose their jobs
  3. Receive an inheritance from a rich uncle in Australia
    • Which will save the day
I don't think we can count on option #3. At all.

Option #2 doesn't look too appealing. By the time the feds finish draining everyone else to keep the likes of GM going, I fear that quite a number of companies that aren't big and important enough to get Washington's attention, but are taxed just the same, will have gone out of business. That'll mean that the out-of-work auto workers will have lots of company: but that'll be small consolation.

Option #1 isn't all that appealing in the short run, but it may be the least-bad alternative.

The sad fact is that the Big Three automakers haven't been doing all that well. Keeping them just the way they are may be the nostalgic thing to do, but I don't think it's good sense.

Related posts:

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Experiment in Progress: YouTube Video to Advertise Blog

I've been thinking of doing something like this: but one of my BlogCatalog neighbors did it first:

"Promoting Blog Through Youtube"
BlogCatalog discussion, (started December 27, 2008)

I hope jjmezzio doesn't base his go/nogo decision solely on what BlogCatalogers say, but asking for - and paying attention to - that sort of feedback seems like a good idea.

The basic notion, using a YouTube video to promote a blog, look very attractive.

Just one problem, for me: I'd have to make a viewable, appealing, video.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Business Advice Blog

Okay: This looks promising.

Benjamin Warsinske
"Business Development For The Service Industry"

"Benjamin is on a mission to educate, inspire and motivate the service industry on business development, branding, and identity...."
Why is B.W. blogging?
"I started this blog as a place to showcase who I am, to write on topics that interest me, and mostly for fun. I am always looking to network with new people. Maybe you came across my blog on my LinkedIn profile. Great! Connect with me. Maybe there is a project we can work on together."
(Benjamin Warsinske)
As I said: looks promising.

I ran into this blog in a comment on BlogCatalog: another example of how online communities are good for a number of things besides hanging out.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Annoying Your Website's Visitors: Not as Good an Idea as it Seems

Someone may still think that disabling the 'back' button on browsers is a great way of keeping visitors on your website. If you don't own your own business, your manager may think so, or have equally daft ideas: that you have to execute.

Which is one reason why I'm glad to be self-employed.

Trapping viewers isn't covered in either of the two posts I discussed in another blog. Annoying ads, pop-ups, not including external links, and forcing visitors to register are.

So is an issue that I need to stay aware of: "Long posts that are hard to scan." (#7 in the Killing Your Blog?... post.)

Do You Want Website Visitors to Return?

If you don't, go ahead:
  • Disable the 'back' button
  • Make visitors scroll through two or three screens of advertising clutter before finding the registration link
  • Make them register to see your content
  • Be sure that the registration takes them through at least two screens, and collects their:
    • Home phone
    • Email
    • Date of birth
    • Postal address
    • Buying preferences
Finally, avoid subheadings, bulleted lists, or anything else that will make skimming easier. Remember: it's your website, and you can do what you want!

Or, you can design a website that someone might want to come back to.

The decision is up to you.

Microreviews from Apathetic Lemming of the North: The microreviewed posts:

Obama Wants Caps on Fat Cat Payouts

What? No golden parachute?

Why be a big executive in a big company, if you can't run the company into the ground, and get a generous bonus for your work?

Billions in Losses, Turning a Corner, and Millions in Stock

Back in 2007, the CEO for one of America's 'Big Three' automakers got, as a bonus, a cool $4,100,000 in stock, plus 3,560,000 stock options (at an excise price of $6.14). The company had lost $2,700,000,000 that year. It's okay, though: the CEO said that his company was turning the corner, and would be profitable. Soon.

The stock market seems to be more tightly connected to the real world than many CEOs are, so that $4 million bonus may not be quite as big as it seems. Not now.

Golden Parachutes, Obscene Bonuses: Not a Small Business Issue?

Bizarre bonuses and gigantic golden parachutes don't seem to have much to do with small business owners. Particularly sole proprietors like me.

Let's say I was talking to myself:

"I lost $2,700,000,000 this year. Not to worry, though: I've turned a corner, and things will get better."

"You mean, I'll make a profit? When?"


"Well done! Here's $4,100,000. Don't spend it all in one place."

If I could lose money in the ten-figures range during one year, and get paid $4 million for it, I could retire after that year. But it's not possible: ethically or practically.

I don't envy the Ford CEO, though. He seems to have gotten his bonus in Ford company stock. I don't know what that's worth, now that the stock market is melting down, but it's probably not what it was in 2007.

Big company shenanigans do affect small business owners. The most obviously-affected businesses are eateries and stores near the factories, and where the workers live. When people get laid off, or fired, they're not likely to spend as much as when they got a paycheck.

It doesn't stop there, of course, business owners buy supplies and (sometimes) hire people. When business falls off, business owners don't buy as many supplies, and may have to drop employees.

That means that the former employees won't be spending as much, and neither will the suppliers.

You get the picture.

So, even if you didn't own Ford stock, what's happening to American automakers will affect you, if you're doing business in this country.

Whatever is a Small Business Owner to Do?

I've done a little poking around, and found soem advice that doesn't sound too crazy. It's pretty obvious, but:
  • Keep track of cash flow
    • If more's going out than coming in, that's not good news
  • Don't need it? Drop it
    • Luxuries are nice, but don't pay for equipment and services you don't actually need
    • That goes for employees, too: and that's a lot harder
  • Cash, good: Credit, bad
    • Loans and credit cards are cool - and expensive
  • Pay attention to your customers
You're expecting startling insights and useful details? What am I, a consultant?! I'm a middle-aged writer and artist, trying to make his own business work. When I know what I'm doing, I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, here's a thought: many people are looking for ways to do what they need, or like, to do - for less money than they did a few years ago. If you can help them do that, you've got yourself clients or customers.

In the news:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Wired Hacked! Reports of Steve Jobs' Death are Highly Exaggerated

Wired Magazine's website reported Steve Jobs' death last night.

More accurately, a hacker who put the bogus article on Wired's site did.

Wired took down the fake article in under two hours, but rumors had already started.

(More at "Steve Jobs' illness sparks new round of death rumours" (January 24, 2009).) (The date isn't a typo: I'm in North America, they're in Australia.)

Aside from being a case in point for maintaining good Internet security - and keeping an eye on your websites anyway - this shows the good sense behind "trust, but verify."

Related post:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thought for the Day

Be like a Martian rock, roll into the wind.

Those robots that are exploring Mars found something odd. Rocks, lined up, that had been rolling into the prevailing winds. Martian Stonehenge? Somebody playing Mankala with Martian rules?

Nope. What researchers think happens is this: "Wind removes loose sand in front of the rocks, creating pits there and depositing that sand behind the rocks, creating mounds. The rocks then roll forward into the pits, moving into the wind. As long as the wind continues to blow, the process is repeated and the rocks move forward." ("Strange Rock Formations on Mars Explained" ( (January 9, 2009))

American retail electronics sales have been going down. So badly that Circuit City is closing its American stores. But one store's electronics sales have been growing.

Trends are Trends: Not Commands

The right decisions can make a business act like those Martian rocks: rolling into the wind.

Circuit City Closing American Stores - Canada Okay

This isn't good news for the 34,000 people who work (worked, rather) for Circuit City in America. And, it's at best a mixed bag for the rest of us.

In the long run, Circuit City liquidating 567 stores in America should mean more customers for other electronics retailers. In the short run, Circuit City's efforts to unload its remaining merchandise will probably drain customers away from them.

I suppose die-hard Circuit City customers south of the border could still shop at their favorite store: the hard way, going in person; or online. Circuit City says its 765 retail stores and dealer outlets in Canada aren't going anywhere.

Why Should I Care?

The number of soon-to-be-unemployed Circuit City employees is more than eight times the number of people who live in my town. That's a lot of paychecks that won't be coming in. On a personal level, I feel for the Circuit City folks, and the people who depend on them. This isn't going to be an easy time to find work.

It's also another indication that times are bad all over: even in Dubai. Construction on the Nakheel Harbour & Tower over there is on hold for a year.

Construction work in Dubai has even less to do with me and my enterprise than what's happening in American retail electronics, but the point is that very few people are feeling rich right now. Which means they'll be more sensible for their money.

And that's going to be a little tricky for me, since what I've focused on has been non-essential spending: like Minnesota for Web-Wise Travelers. Business travelers could use the links there, but Minnesota for Web-Wise Travelers is mostly geared for people looking for "Vacation Time Stuff."

Circuit City Liquidating: Bad News, But - - -

Unless something's changed in the last week, American national retail sales for electronics have been going down. With the exception of Wal-Mart.
And the Moral of This Story is - - -
Just because a national - or global - trend is going one way, doesn't mean that all businesses will go the same way. Wal-Mart is doing something different, so their electronics sales are growing.

The trick for me, and every other small business owner, will be to figure out which option for my little online empire isn't just different: but profitable.

(That seemed so profound when I thought of it: now that it's in print, not so much.)

Related post: In the news: Background:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Macy's Stores Closing, Retail Sales Plummeting, and Other Good News

This isn't the best time to be working for a south Florida Macy's, but there is a silver lining to what's going on. I think.

Retail Sales: Not Good News, Generally

A CNN Money article yesterday couldn't seem to get over how badly Wal-Mart was doing: Same-store sales in Wal-Marts were up a paltry 1.9%. Sam's Club's increase was only 0.1%. True enough, the growth in each case was disappointing: Growth last year was 2.6% and 1.3% respectively.

It could have been worse. Sears' same-store sales went down 7.3%, and Macy's sales wend down 4%. Which is probably why Macy's is closing eleven of its stores. (

Bad Year for Zircon-Studded Designer Jeans

Wal-Mart's sales were a mix of good news and bad news, according to
  • Good news
    • Grocery
    • Health and wellness
    • Electronics products
  • Bad news
    • Clothing
    • Jewelery
First, about the bad news: I'm no expert, but Wal-Mart may have goofed. Kathryn Finney, of, said: " 'The Wal-Mart brand embodies traits that men and women admire - realism, practicality, efficiency,' " which I agree with. She also said that Wal-Mart was getting more fashionable: " 'The store upped its style game, remodeling its women's apparel section and getting rid of product lines by corny C-list celebrities.' " (Argus Leader)

Maybe Wal-Mart would have been better off with less trendy fashions, and more product lines from those "corny C-list celebrities."

Now, about the good news: Grocery, health and wellness, and electronic products did fairly well this year. Groceries doing well isn't so surprising: everybody eats, and the recent economic troubles should have even the most highfalutin patrons of the retail food industry reviewing their buying habits. Americans (some of us, anyway) don't seem to have lost our interest in being healthy, and we still like electronic doodads and gizmos.

What Does Macy's and Wal-Mart Have to Do With Me?

As a consumer, my family does quite a bit of shopping at Wal-Mart. But, aside from giving me something to write about now and then for a blog and a journal, huge department store chains and my enterprise don't cross paths all that often.

I think there's something to learn here, though.

Macy's Stores Closing and PC Magazine No Longer in Print: This Could be the End of Civilization as We Know It!

That's "PC Magazine No Longer in Print" - not "PC Magazine Gone." PC Magazine is, as far as I can tell, still going strong at It's the print edition that's literally out of print. (Folio)

The point is, things are just the way they've been all my life: changing.

Black and white television gave way to color, and soon we'll be switching to all-digital television: or not.

Computers changed from room-filling behemoths with limited abilities to carry-along gizmos that can put you in touch with the world, help you do your taxes, and drive you to the ragged edge of insanity from time to time.

Change Happens: Deal With It

Or, better yet, embrace it.

Online shopping dropped by 2% this holiday season, compared to the last year's 22.4%. But e-commerce "showed the most resilience" of the retail sectors. (The Wall Street Journal)

There's something very interesting going on, assuming that The Wall Street Journal and are both dealing with a full deck. According to WSJ: "No retail sector was spared. Among the biggest losers were electronics and appliances, which fell a combined 26.7% versus a 2.7% gain last year...." According to, "Wal-Mart said sales of its grocery, health and wellness, and electronics products were strong in the month...."

Electronics are among the biggest retail losers.

Electronic products were part of what kept Wal-Mart's growth from slipping even more than it did.

My guess is that, overall, electronics retail sales tanked - except for the products at Wal-Mart.

I'm going out on a limb here, but I think it's reasonable to guess that people in general don't have as much money as they did last year - or are being more careful.

But, they still like electronics, and like to shop online.

I don't sell electronics, and don't plan to any time soon. But I have been looking into online retailing. Recent retail business news might be good news for me, since online retailing seems to be growing in the long term.

Now, to develop a viable product - and learn the nuts and bolts of online retail. I've found an interesting model to study: but that's for another post, to be written after I've actually learned something.

In the news: Blog post and discussion:
Update (January 16, 2009)

Circuit City is closing its American retail stores. My take on this: "Circuit City Closing American Stores - Canada Okay" (January 16, 2009).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Marketing Your Blog: Linkbaiting Advice

I did a micro-review of a short (165 word) piece of SEO advice on Apathetic Lemming of the North: "Linkbait SEO Insider Secrets! " (January 1, 2008).

The piece itself is "Linkbait Your Blog" (Wired (December 22, 2008).

The author left out 'good content,' but it's a useful, short, read.

("Following" list moved here, after Blogger changed formats)

Small Business Watchers