Thursday, November 29, 2012

This and that

Greetings, one and all....thanks for stopping by.  Just a few stray thoughts to capture before getting into the work day.

Just back from a quick-turnaround trip to the northern Virginia area, where I saw an airport, a hotel, and a shuttle van.  When I say "quick," I really mean it!  Actually, my sole purpose for traveling there was to interview a candidate for a position on my sales team, so the trip was useful for that purpose.  With a little luck that was my last overnight business trip of 2012.  Cross your fingers.

During my travels, as so often happens, I noticed one or two things of interest.  First, in the Atlanta airport the PA system is playing very traditional Christmas music.   I have to confess to being a bit of a stick in the mud when it comes to holiday tunes.  Not that contemporary singers don't have something to say by reinterpreting "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" but there are older versions, most likely those  that I grew up hearing, that I like better.  It gave me the greatest delight to note to hear Bing Crosby singing for hurrying airline passengers in Atlanta yesterday.

Also, I don't know if it's me, or people are channeling their inner Alec Baldwin, but lately I've noticed a  growing number of passengers on airplanes who simply disregard all of the requests (and eventually demands) to discontinue the use of electronic devices after the plane's boarding door has closed, or after  falling below the requisite altitude.  Case in point:  guy sitting in my row yesterday plugged his headphones into his iPhone before the boarding door closed, and was clearly listening to music because   HE WAS SINGING ALONG, albeit softly.  This continued all the way through until we were preparing for landing (actually, the service crew was preparing....I don't think "we" were) and a flight attendant stopped by to ask if he was "logged off."  He asked her to repeat her question, then, honest to God, actually said "Why?"  Guy knew what he was doing, obviously, and grumbled noticeably when he powered off his phone.  I suppose if you get away with it often enough that you come to think that you can ALWAYS get away with it!

Mitt Romney is to be President Obama's guest for lunch at the White House today.  Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall to hear that conversation?

Did you buy Powerball tickets this week?  We did, only do so every year or so, when the jackpots are so absurdly large that you almost have to buy them, but we were again losers.  Voltaire once wrote that lotteries are a tax on stupidity, and given the astronomical odds of winning, perhaps he was right.  But yet two people apparently bought winning tickets, so I suppose they're smart and the rest of us aren't.  In conjunction with the publicity surrounding this jackpot there were a lot of articles here and there about how winning the lottery has ruined many people's lives.  Somehow I don't think I'd mind finding out firsthand whether this is true.

My wife and I got our house decorated for Christmas last weekend, finishing up Monday night.  Gradual and painless process, but important in our family to have this completed to enjoy for the month of December.  So we're ahead of schedule due to Thanksgiving being early this year.

Speaking of which, our son borrowed a friend's Weber Smokey Mountain smoker and prepared a wonderful smoked turkey to enjoy on Thanksgiving this year.  I highly recommend this, as there's just nothing better than well-smoked meat.

I've leave you with a thought about managing one's e-mail, particularly work-related e-mail.  Google the phrase "inbox zero" and you'll find some very interesting information about how to handle incoming messages.  Turns out I've been doing this right for a while, so I'll continue to pat myself on the back while you research this.  Have a good one!






Wednesday, November 21, 2012

They sure don't make them like they used to

Happy (almost) Thanksgiving, one and all.  Hope you'll have the opportunity to enjoy the holiday with family and friends.

The recent news that Hostess is probably going to liquidate its operations, meaning no more Twinkies, HoHos and Ding Dongs (and, no, I was NEVER willing to call them "King Dons") made me start thinking about things that endure versus things that don't.  Let's start with luggage and briefcases, in a generalized way.  When I was a kid I remember my dad used to travel overnight once in while and would use a medium-brown faux-leather suitcase.  You remember these, semi-hard sides, double clasps, the stiff cloth dividers with the turnbuckle closures.  I happened into a shop recently that sells antiques and vintage items (hard to tell the difference, frankly) and saw a couple of suitcases that looked eerily similar.  And he used an attorney-style brief bag, which he always called his "grip," for work papers and such.  Both appearsed to be made of iron or something similar, as I never remember any difficulties with these bags' durability or functionality.

Fast forward to today, and what I use for my business travels are a Briggs and Riley rolling suitcase and a Tony Perotti TSA-approved leather laptop bag.  Both are suitable but have not been as good as I had hoped.  The suitcase, which Briggs and Riley claims to proudly warranty for as long as I own it (no questions asked, they say), has required repairs FOUR times in the slightly more than four years I've owned it.  Most of the problems have been with stitching that has come undone where the lining meets the frame of the bag.  Nagging but irritating problem.  On the last such occasion, I contacted Briggs and Riley and was told that I would again have to pay for shipping and insurance BOTH WAYS in order for Briggs to repair my bag at their own expense.  Some warranty.  When this bag finally gives up the ghost, which I expect will happen during the next twelve months of typically heavy business travel, I likely won't be replacing it with another Briggs bag.

And the briefcase, which is a very handsome honey color, began splitting along one of the bottom seams less than six months after I began using it.  Since the bag carried a one year warranty, I first contacted the dealer from whom I purchased it, and was told that warranty issues are between me and the manufacturer, which made sense.  So I then contacted Tony Perotti (the company) and was told that if I was willing to ship the bag to them at my expense they'd examine it and then would let me know IF they would stand behind their product and either repair the defective area or replace the bag.  I argued, logically (I thought), that they should at least pay for the shipping, since this was within the warranty period.  No, I was told, not company policy.  And they would not guarantee that they would stand good for repair or replacement, either, and I would be asked to provide a credit card number so that they could charge me with the return shipping costs.  So I took the bag to a local leather shop, who has now repaired this split twice and I've done so a third time.  Not acceptable, so I'm in the market for a good leather briefcase that will accommodate my various travel essentials, with Tony Perotti now off my list of possibles.

Here's another one that we don't think about all that often....vacuum cleaners.  When I met my wife, she was using a Kirby upright vacuum.  If you don't remember these, they were great vacuums in their day, looked like an antique but really did a nice job cleaning the carpet.  Heavy duty and built to last, they were sold door-to-door, which I suppose isn't done anymore.  When we finally realized it was worn out we explored the possibility of buying another, and were stunned to learn that a replacement would be well over $1000, and that parts were becoming rarer all of the time (if anyone knows differently, please let me know, just for curiosity's sake).

So we bought a Hoover WindTunnel.  Then another.  Then a Sears model that was made by Panasonic.  Those three lasted a total of about seven years.  Out of frustration we agreed to spend more in hopes of finding something that would work and that would last, and wound up spending quite a bit for a Miele cannister vacuum from Germany.  That was over five years ago, and all we've done to this vacuum is change the bags periodically and the filters once.  That's it.

I could go on (as I tend to do) but I think you get the gist of my remarks.  And this applies to shoes, clothing, lawn equipment, furniture, and lots of other things we use regularly in our lives.

I swear that a manufacturer of anything could do very well, if only they'd do these things:

Make the product easy to use, yet durable and functional
Stand behind that product in the event that something goes wrong with it
Act as though you care about the customer who buys your product, instead of planning obsolescence

Now, is that really asking too much?



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The usual

Morning, all....hope the week is breezing by for you.

Now that the election is over and most people have moved on (save for those pesky yard signs that won't seem to go away), I suppose things are getting back to normal.


Can you believe that Thanksgiving is NEXT WEEK?  Me, either.  That one slipped up on me rather unobtrusively.


My wife and I had a very nice weekend trip last weekend, with one of the highlights being our viewing of the newest James Bond picture, "Skyfall."  I won't spoil it for any of you who might be planning to see it, but suffice it to say that we liked this movie VERY much.

Our primary purpose with our trip was to kickstart our Christmas shopping.  We've relied on this technique numerous times in the past, finding that if we were out of town we could focus better on the task at hand, and we've had success with this approach.  This trip was no different, as we made a significant impact on our basic lists.

There was one disappointment in our shopping.....Christmas cards.  As I mentioned in my last post, we still send about three dozen cards to various relatives and friends, and will continue to do so until the U.S. Postal Service finally gives up the ghost, I suppose.  But finding GOOD Christmas cards is a lot harder than it used to be, as we looked in several places and had no success.  Finally found some we liked at a bookstore here in Lexington Monday night.

I know what you're thinking....he's already working on Christmas cards?  Quick answer is "no," with a caveat:  as much as I travel, I need to make sure that the cards are here when I am ready to proceed with that project, so now I can rest easy because we have what we need.  Still have to write the ubiquitous Christmas letter, though.

So I've managed not to travel overnight for business last week and this week, and have a single night away next week (and my wife will accompany me, as it's a car trip).  I suppose there's balance there.

I don't know about you, but this whole scenario involving the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus gets stranger by the day.  Makes me feel pretty damned normal, in a strange way.

So far my Reds have been just about shut out of the postseason awards, with only rookie infielder Todd Frazier claiming the top rookie award (as determined by players and coaches, I think) and outfielder Jay Bruce winning a Silver Slugger award.  No Gold Gloves, no Rookie of the Year (different award than that noted above), no Cy Young, no Manager of the Year.  I'd like to meet the hacks who vote on these things.

And the Kentucky Wildcats have begun their "real" basketball season, having beaten Maryland in Brooklyn last Friday night, and losing to Duke last night in Atlanta.  They're a really young team, and this kind of inconsistency is what happens to a young team, I think.  I'd think they'll be fine come March, when things really count.

On that same subject, it was my understanding in promotional information that Bobby Knight (no, I won't call him "Bob") was supposed to have been on the ESPN broadcast team for the UK-Duke contest last night, along with the estimable Dan Shulman and the frenetic Dick Vitale.  The game started, no Knight, although he had called the first game of two from Atlanta with Shulman and Jay Bilas.  No explanation on that, though I did read in the comments section of a blog that while Knight wouldn't even utter the word "Kentucky" last season until ESPN management required that he do so, he did say it last night during pregame discussions but wouldn't say the name of Kentucky head coach John Calipari, referring only to the "Kentucky coaches."  I've never been a fan of bitter old men, but in Knight's case, it's worse, as he's been a drain on college basketball for well over thirty years.

That's enough for now, lest I be accused of becoming what I complained about.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Moving on

Good afternoon.....hope that you were able to take the time to vote yesterday, regardless of who you supported.  As I get older I feel it's extremely important to exercise our rights as citizens, plus there's the old adage that "you can't really complain if you don't vote."  So there's that, too.

I have to say that I was very invested in the outcome of the election, but now it's over and the folks who were chosen by our cities, counties, districts, states and country can get ready to get to work.  So the rest of us should move forward with, well, whatever.

Thanksgiving is TWO WEEKS from tomorrow.  Boy, talk about something sneaking up on you!  I don't think we yet know where we'll celebrate or with whom, but I'm looking forward to a few days off.

And, of course, following Thanksgiving is the invevitable rush to Christmas and New Year's.  I can say with sincerity and honesty that we're NOT READY.  My wife and I were debating whether or not we had bought Christmas cards last year (they're always cheaper after the holidays, on clearance), and after exploring a few logical storage and hiding places, I have to conclude that, no, we didn't buy cards.  So that's job one for the holidays.

I think I commented here last year that we get fewer and fewer cards from people each year, and I think Facebook and other forms of social media are at the heart of it.  Used to be that the only news we'd get from some people was in the form of a Christmas card, but now people tend to spill their lives onto Facebook or elsewhere and it's generally assumed that those who need to know about things already do.  Call me old-fashioned, but neither my wife nor I have seen the wisdom or value in using Facebook to any extent.  So if you've been getting cards from us, you probably will again this year, whether you sent us one or not.

So there.

Christmas shopping will be a little different this year, too, as we're planning an eventual all-family vacation (us, our kids their families), so I expect that we'll be making vacation fund contributions this year in place of some of the usual gifts and such.

And then, before we know it, it will be 2013.  Wow.

Well, it now appears I have too much to do to continue.  Until next time......

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