Friday, February 25, 2011

Now I Get It....It Totally Figures

The other day I found myself driving downtown. The one thing that really bothers me about having to go there is the need to bring along quarters to feed the parking meters stationed along the sidewalks.

The idea of a city installing parking meters on its streets has always bothered me.  Essentially it's a tax by the city to park your car while patronizing small downtown boutique businesses.

I pay gas taxes to drive my car.  The local establishments pay business city license taxes.  Consumers pay sales taxes on the purchases they make.  Businesses pay income taxes on any profits that may be derived.

After conducting my business, I walked back to my car.  I noticed that the car beside me had run out of time on their meter so in practicing "pay it forward" consciousness, I decided to feed the other car's meter a few quarters to help out my fellow citizen.  As I started to climb into my car, I saw a "traffic control" officer starting to write out a ticket for the car whose meter I had just fed. 

I poked my head out of my car to tell the officer that I had just put money into the meter so he shouldn't be issuing any citation for that vehicle.  The officer then told me that feeding other people's meters was an illegal act in the city but that he would let me off with a warning instead of giving me a ticket as well.

I stood there in utter shock and amazement.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing...since when did helping a fellow tax paying citizen become illegal?  Somehow the city now considered this kind karmatic gesture an illegal act of perhaps "aiding and abetting" meter scofflaws. 

Who knows what the reasoning was... 

I do know better than to try and argue with a "peace officer" (especially one with an electronic ticket machine in hand) so I decided to best leave matters alone and drove off.  

I felt great sadness for the car owner and for the good people of the city as a whole.  We have become a monster with an insatiable appetite for tax revenues to fund city / county / state and federal bureaucracies and other lunacies. 

"When will it stop?", I wondered to myself as I drove away, vowing to myself never to go downtown again.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall...
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.  
All the king's horses and...
All the King's men...
Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again...

Shortly thereafter...Mr. Dumpty and his attorneys sued the wall owner (for erecting such a place as to attract wall sitters), all the King's horses and men for attempting unqualified first- aid, and the city's planning department (who issued wall building permits). 

Since Humpty was on his collectively bargained 15-minute coffee break at the time of fall, the department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) became involved and found negligence in the design and workmanship of the wall and became a key witness for the plaintiff.   The local unions concluded that the wall was not built using sanctioned "prevailing wage" labor and began picketing the site, shouting at would-be customers that this place of business was unfair and unsafe.  

The insurance company; that the wall owner had been paying premiums to for more than 20 years, decided to cancel the owner's policy due to "willful neglect" and refused to pay any claims.

Without any liability insurance, the bank, that the wall owner had been with for more than 20 years, decided to call in their loans as being unsafe.  

The cash-flow crunch finally  caused the business to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  The company's creditors (including the bank) received only pennies on the dollars after several years in court.  Attorneys and the court appointed trustees received most of the business's and owner's remaining assets.

This didn't bother the bank though, as this particular loan was already classified as "toxic" and was sold to the federal government who just printed more money. The TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds were used to pay back the bank the money that they had lent the company.  the same company that they themselves forced into bankruptcy.

After the bankruptcy, the business was forced to lay off their 30 employees, 10 of whom were unable to find gainful employment elsewhere and eventually lost their home to foreclosure but later joined a class-action suit against their respective lenders (the outcome is still pending).

Distraught, penniless, and depressed, the business owner took his own life after his wife and his children and left him because he had become a failure.

Mr. Dumpty, eventually won his lawsuit against the city.  The lawsuit against the business was dropped due to impending bankruptcy and subsequent suicide of its owner and, as it turns out, you can't actually sue a King (or his horses and/or men) in court due to their diplomatic immunity.

Mr. Dumpty received a large cash settlement from the city.  His lawyers took 60%.  The hospital (who managed to put him back together again...although he is still not completely altogether...if you know what I mean) took most of the remaining amount.

He also received extensive occupational re-training and a high-paying job with the city.  Now he drives around giving parking tickets as a "traffic control" officer and threatening people who feed quarters into other people's meters.

Now I get totally figures...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we hope to never need to feed your parking meter...

Friday, February 18, 2011

And the Oscar Goes To...

The award season is now upon us. Soon envelopes will be opened and winners announced. The Emmys, Grammys, Golden Globes, Oscars and People Choice awards were originally intended (or so we were told) to recognize individual achievement in the performing arts but they have become so much more than that.

The Academy Awards are now recognized as the second most watched television show of the year worldwide (the first being the Super Bowl). It now boasts a U.S. audience of over 40 million people with a broadcast to over 200 countries worldwide.

The award shows are about glitz and glamour. We intently watch the red-carpet events hours before the actual ceremony hoping to get a glimpse of our favorite movie stars. In the days to follow, a multitude of television shows and magazines are dedicated to what each star wore and/or said. The world is enthralled with Hollywood...and Hollywood loves it!!

The entertainment business is exactly that...a business...plain and simple. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It is a billion dollar industry that provides jobs to tens of thousands of people.

I am enthralled with Hollywood...not with the stars per se...but rather how the studios, record companies and the stars themselves have taken marketing to new heights. They realize that the world has an insatiable appetite for the glamour of Hollywood and their antics help to feed the frenzy each day.

Outrageous seems to be the word of the day whenever we talk about the entertainment business. Perhaps it's always been somewhat outrageous (think "Beatle mania") but I can't visualize Frank Sinatra being delivered to the Grammy Awards in a giant egg.

Sports have also become big business. Recently there seems to be more talk about the labor unrest in sports than the actual games themselves. After several decades of harmony among the players and owners, the NFL is now talking about lockouts and strikes.

Professional football is now America's favorite pastime (supplanting Baseball many years ago) with a $9B pie to be divided between team owners and the players. It would seem to me that with so much money involved, a deal could be struck where that pie can be divided in an equitable manner.

The entertainment business (both the arts and sports) are built on the "star system" where the stars are marketed to drive purchases.

Several years ago, there was a documentary about Sting (the former lead-singer of the pop group "The Police") called "Bring on the Night". In the movie, Sting's manager, Miles Copeland, described why the pie should not be divided equally among the players in the group. As he explained it, the people coming to the concert were there to see Sting not particularly the other players.

He volunteered that the other members of the group were extremely talented and gifted musicians but at the end of the day, Sting had the recognition that made people buy tickets. That's why he should get the lion's share.

In any business, there are some extremely talented people from the janitors, truck drivers and assembly line workers to the CEOs, product development teams, attorneys and accountants. Each plays an important role in making a business work. However, who is it within the business that makes customers want to spend their money buying that company's goods or services?

Is it that incredible customer service rep that people will wait on hold to speak with? Is it the sales person whom is always there to offer up new solutions? Is it the phenomenal engineer who comes up with innovative and exciting new designs?

The star system is one of the last pure forms of capitalism. If you create profits, then you get paid...regardless of the talent that you might bring to the table.

One could argue that there are questionably talented performers that get paid great sums of money (Adam Sandler earned $41M in 2010...playing the exact same roles over and over again), yet there are extremely talented people who wallow in near obscurity.

Is the system it fair? Perhaps not...but still at the end of the's about who those who actually create (buzz/ profits / wins / innovation / etc.) ...not necessarily those who try to create...

Just something to think about when watching acceptance speeches over the next few weeks...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we hope to always provide you with red carpet products and service ...

Friday, February 11, 2011

You Make The Choice

Last weekend, I found myself babysitting my 3-year old nephew at my brother's house.  After playing multiple games of Candyland, finishing countless jigsaw puzzles of "Woody and Buzz", having dinner and playing tag around the was time for the "boys" to relax a bit before bedtime so we turned on the TV to see what was on the Disney Channel.  

Now my brother is a subscriber to one of the satellite services so I needed to refer to the menu of channels to find exactly where the Disney Channel resided.  As I was perusing through the menu I became fascinated with all the television programming that was now available.  I didn't count the number of stations but I could make an educated guess that there were over 1000 channels available to watch at any given moment (plus all of the "on-demand" programs, pre-recorded shows, and pay-per-view events).

Myself, I rarely watch TV, so at home I only subscribe to the "basic" cable package that consists of about 15-20 channels containing the 6-7 major broadcast channels, government access channels, and "home shopping" networks.  No need for high definition as I watch these limited on my 32-inch CRT type television.

Today we have more choice in front of us than ever before...places to visit, restaurants to eat at, churches where we worship, websites to surf, products and/or service to purchase.  Online retailers, who are no longer constrained by shelf space, now literally offer millions of different products for consumers to choose from.  

Many times, we turn to other people in order to help us make decisions such as family, friends and collegues.  There also the so called "experts" who try to tell us how to to behave...what products to purchase to look cooler, younger, or more intelligent.  Each and every day, the alternatives and options in front of us grow exponentially.  Is it really possible to make choices on our own...and/or do we even want to?

Making choices isn't a new concept. We make important (and not so important) choices every day of our lives.  We decide to get out of bed in the morning when the alarm rings. We decide what to have for breakfast. We decide what to wear each day. We decide to get angry when we are stuck in traffic. We've decided what we want to do to earn a wage so we can pay our living expenses.

In the end, we decide to be happy, sad, curious, stressed, bashful, envious, healthy, thoughtful, greedy, content and joyous.  These are inner decisions that we must make for ourselves and cannot abdicate to others for us.  We are the masters of our own emotions.

Some people might argue that the environment around us actually forces us to make certain decisions.  While it's true that we cannot control our environment, it is only ourselves that can control our thoughts and reactions.

There are countless stories of people growing up in severely harsh conditions that have gone on to achieve greatness because they decided that they would not let their situation limit them.  Other people have been cast into dire situations not of their own doing, but have somehow managed to survive (think of cancer patients or concentration camp victims).

Without question, there is a lot of good and bad in the world.  However it's not what happens to us but rather how we decide for ourselves to react to it.  Do we look at the world with the glass half-empty or the glass half-full?


Can you pass me the remote please?

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we are happy that you have chosen to share a moment of your life with us...

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Really Good Idea

I recall that when my son was a small boy, we were eating breakfast at a small cafe near our local airport.  Every time a plane came into land, our conversation needed to stop as we could barely hear each other over the loud engine roar of the plane.  That's when my son turned to me and said, "When I get older, I want to invent an airplane that doesn't make any noise"

As an engineer, I chuckled at his naivety and decided not to burst his creative spirit by telling him all the scientific reasons why jet engines typically make a lot of noise.  I asked him a couple of follow-up questions (to which he had few answers) and soon the topic turned to other mundane topics such as "why do birds fly and not people?".

Creativity is a strange thing.  Many people sit at their desks wondering what the next "big idea" might be.  They tell themselves that they could be rich or famous (or both)  if only they could think of a good idea.  Good ideas are typically new and/or novel are generally hard to come by.

Wayne Gretzky is perhaps ice hockey's greatest player ever.  Once asked about his success, he famously replied, "I never skate to where the puck is...but rather to where the puck will be"
Steve Jobs is another visionary who seems to be constantly skating to where "the puck" might be one day.  I often wonder, however, how many bad ideas does someone, like Steve Jobs, must have before they come up with a winner.  I really believe that good ideas often build from several bad ideas rather than waiting for that one great idea.

Good ideas don't come from looking around and copying what everyone else is doing.  They don't come from watching TV or a movie; where very little activity is occurring between the ears.  They don't come from listening to experts, talk radio, or the talking heading reading the nightly news.  They can, however, come from reading a book, surfing random websites, or participating in an online discussion.

I typically get some of my best ideas while my head is under the shower in the morning (maybe the hot water on my head stimulates good ideas...or maybe that reasoning is just another one of my bad ideas).  I also get some great ideas when I'm on a long bike ride or taking a road trip in my car.

Some of my best creative ideas come to me during conversations with friends who help to create a safe environment to share thoughts, they might add their own input or perhaps embellish my original thoughts. 
Really good ideas come from novices and youngsters who don't know any better (such as my 4-year old son) rather than from people who seem know better like focus groups and/or so-called experts.

Good ideas might come in English, German, Chinese, Arabic or French.

Practice helps.  It's often interesting to note that the people who often come up with good ideas are the same ones that come up with a lot of ideas.

Good ideas can come from deep thought, being scared or frightened, ways to help people, art, music, and from nature.  They come from being alert and awake.  They come from active participation.  They come from listening rather than talking.

The first books that many of us read (at least in my age group) were the "Dick and Jane" books.  Two of the most important words that we first learned from these books were "look" and "see" (as in See Dick run or Look at Jane)  Great ideas come from personal observations.

Great ideas potentially come from 4-year old boys who don't know anything about physics.

Perhaps you can spend some time over the next few days thinking up as many ideas as you can...both good and bad ones...practical and and mundane...

Sounds like a pretty good idea to me...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we are always exploring new ideas and thoughts...