Friday, August 26, 2011

Laughing Out Loud

"I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge...myth is more potent than history...dreams are more powerful than facts...hope always triumphs over experience...laughter is the cure for is stronger than death"

- Robert Fulghum

Now that I'm approaching my middle years, I rarely exchange gifts with other people even on birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas.

Sure...there's that mid-priced bottle of wine that a friend may bring to dinner...the one that you open immediately and share with ones who just gave it to you...

There are gifts of cash and a congratulatory card presented to a young couple at their wedding...

I might also trade small "stocking stuffer" gifts with my children during the holidays... receiving perhaps a small box of my favorite candy in return for four years of college tuition.

Truth be told...I don't really need any more stuff at this point in my life. I have all the stuff I want or need.

For me, the best gift I can hope to receive is to spend quality time with my friends and loved ones...doing things I like to laughing out loud.

As a rule, I enjoy people far more than I enjoy things. Mostly, I enjoy making memories that accompany spending quality time with those people who matter most in my life.

Rules are indeed meant to be broken...

On a beautiful crisp Saturday afternoon sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas a few years ago, my girlfriend Susan and I found ourselves at the local Costco to pick up a few items. (Aside: To me, Costco is the opposite of the low-priced 99¢ fact...I'll typically refer to Costco as the $99 that it is hard to leave without spending at least $99...mostly on things I really don't need)

As after we entered the store, Susan and I she could find what she needed to buy, and I could go visit the book section.

Upon my arrival in the book department, my eyes quickly met the complete 3-volume collection of Calvin & Hobbes cartoons on a table before me. I picked up one of the volumes, opened it to the middle and began to read.

As I read the first few comic panels, I began to giggle a bit...the giggles quickly turned to chuckles and snorts...and then full-fledged laughter. As I continued to turn the pages my laughter turned into hysterical and uncontrollable roaring...complete with tears.

Soon, I was unable to turn the pages or focus on the words or even stand erect.

People around me began to stare at me with glaring disapproval. Their expressions on their faces screamed, "Who is this person to interrupt my perfect holiday shopping experience with their loud laughter?!"

I didn't care...

As I looked up, Susan was standing beside me, thoroughly embarrassed. Like a mother to a young toddler, she placed her hand on the book and slowly closed it and whispered, "I could hear you laughing all the way back in the refrigerated food fact...EVERYONE in the store could hear you!"

We need to!

I put the book down and we made a b-line for the checkout lines.

A few weeks later, Susan presented me with one of the best gifts I've ever received very own 3-volume complete set of Calvin and Hobbes comics to read in the comfort of my own home.

It's now been several years since that Christmas and I must confess that I still have not been able to read all three of the books...

I read a few pages...and I start to laugh controllably...side-splitting laughter...after a short time...I need to put the book eyes have welled with tears and my stomach hurts.

I'm not certain as to what it is that I see in the little kid with his stuffed tiger.

Maybe Calvin represents the rambunctious kid in all of us. The kid with a wild and fantastic imagination...with a best friend and accomplice(Hobbes) to share adventures and a warm cup of hot chocolate with...standing up to authority and "sticking it to the man" - such as his mom and dad...his teacher, Mrs. Wormwood...and Rosalie, the babysitter...and or course little Susie Derkins.

Calvin knows that the world and the people who reside in it are a bit mixed up...that there are rules and conventions worth questioning...that other people do irrational things...

...but he's a renaissance man being an inventor of a time machine, a cloning (duplicating) machine, and a "trans-mortifier" (surprising both made from the same cardboard box), a conquering spaceman hero, a lemonade stand entrepreneur, a political commentator and pollster, an artist, and fashionista.

He is his own man in his own world...

...and I am thoroughly amused when he allows me to enter it...

To be sure...the world is a serious place with serious warming...political strife...natural disasters...

There are horrific acts made by irrational people...there is greed and corruption...jealousy and revenge...

There are petty crimes and crimes against humanity...

...yet the laughter I enjoy when sharing time with Calvin makes me forget so many of my immediate problems. It allows me to forget the problems of the nation...of the world...

It helps me to remember that humans are the only species on this earth with the ability to find humor and soul is burdens are worries melted away.

No matter how bad of day I may be having...when I spend time laughing out loud with my friend Calvin and his best friend day just seems to get a bit better...

Thank you very much for supporting OptiFuse where we hope you find a way to laugh out loud to today.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Fountain of Youth

Last Wednesday afternoon, my phone rang.
"Hello, this is Jim", I answered.
"Hello...Jim Kalb...this is a voice from your past", replied the voice on the line.
Although I had not spoken with him in more than a decade, I immediately recognized the voice.
"Ruben! are you?...are you still in Monterrey?"
My old friend, Ruben Corvalan, is one of a few Renaissance men I have known in my life. I met him back in 1987 as I began a new career at Cooper Bussmann. Not only is he one of the world renown experts in his field (grounding and arc-flash), he has studied a variety of other disciplines in great depth just for the sheer joy of learning something new.
More importantly, he has the innate ability to distill very complex and abstract concepts into easy-to-understand information for the non-technical layperson.
To top it all off, Ruben is a native of Santiago, Chile (thus the reason I was able to recognize his voice right away). English is his second language, but his communication skills incredibly adept, especially when considering the complexity of the subjects he teaches.
Ruben left Bussmann about the same time as I did in order to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams to become a consultant and teacher in Monterrey, Mexico in the early 1990's. I managed to stay in touch with him for a while traveling down to Monterrey on a couple of occasions but after some time, we lost track of one another. I had not spoken to Ruben in over 10 years.
"Jim...I am coming to San Diego on Friday and I want to see you so we can catch up after so long. I'll be in town through the weekend and I'd really like to try and get together if possible"
We agreed that it would be best if I picked him up from the airport, check him into a local hotel and talk over a long lunch.
On Friday, I met Ruben at the airport. He hadn't changed a bit other than a manicured beard he now sported.
I took him to his hotel and then we went off to get some lunch.
We ended up talking for the entire afternoon and much of the evening.
He explained that he was in town for a symposium on human aging. Several years ago, he had begun to study the process of aging (just a passing interest) and found the subject to be most fascinating. I'm certain that Ruben was one of the few people at the conference that who was not medically trained but most likely understood almost all of the technical discussions.
The subject of biology (specially aging) is one that has always intrigued me as well. I've never been much of a life scientist but I have tried to acquaint myself with the basics in order to make informed decisions.
Aging is defined as the accumulated changes in an organism over time and measured chronologically. Scientists who have studied the aging process in humans will tell you that the biology of aging is complex and although there are several theories, there are few absolutes.
What the researchers do agreed on is that there are two direct factors that are highly correlated to the aging process:
  • Molecular oxidation of cells
  • The shortening of telomeres during cell reproduction cycle.
Now...I'm not a biologist, but here's what little I do know...
We hear a lot about the anti-oxidants effects of several types of food and supplements but what exactly is oxidation and how does it happen?
The oxidation effect in human cells was first theorized and studied by a scientist name Denham Harmon back in the 1950's. He discovered that molecules in living cells could be attacked by certain ionic atoms called "free radicals". These free radicals could react with healthy molecules causing mutations in cells in the same way iron reacts with oxygen (from water and air) to cause rust (iron oxide).
These mutated cells have been linked to cancer tumors, arthritis, atherosclerosis, and other related diseases.
As we age, the population of free radicals increases in our bodies.
Anti-oxidants (such as those in certain foods) can help to reduce the free-radicals present in a cell which reduces the chances of cell mutation.
The second reason we age is due to the shortening of telomeres during the cell reproductive cycle.
In all cells, there are chromosomes which contain the DNA structure that establishes the characteristics of the organism. The chromosomes are long strings of protein molecules that form genes. During the cells's reproductive cycle, the chromosomes create a mirror image of themselves and then divide. This process is called mitosis.
In the mid-1970's scientists discovered that each chromosome has a protective cap on each end not unlike that of the plastic ends on shoe laces. These protective caps are called telomeres and help the chromosomes to properly replicate. This discovery was groundbreaking and the scientists working on this research were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2009.
What researchers have found is that each time the chromosomes reproduce, its telomeres are shortened. After a certain amount of replications, the telomeres are too short for the cells to reproduce any further. This is called the Hayflick Limit.
When we are young, our chromosomes are able to reproduce so we can create new healthy cells to replace the older cells. As we age, the body's cells reach the Hayflick Limit and can no longer replicate.
Today there are many laboratories around the world doing research to help increase the telomere length in chromosomes. In doing so, scientists may find a way that allows the body's cells to continue to replicate well beyond the natural Hayflick Limit.
Someday in the future, there may be a way for a human being to live a life of 150-200 years with the body of a 20 or 30 year old (if you think steroids and HGH are bad for sports...just wait!).
Additionally, stem cell research may actually turn the clock backwards allowing people to "un-age".
The futuristic idea of anti-aging is thrilling to some and quite frightening to others.
There are so many ethical questions that still need to be answered and I'm certain that the debate will rage on for years (I wonder what position pro-life / pro-choice will take on this?).
Unfortunately, there is no way to stop science from progressing. That train has already left the station.
The future is here...long live the past
Late Friday evening, after talking with my friend for nearly 8 hours, I said good-bye to my friend Ruben and thanked him for once again teaching me something significant about a very complex subject in a way that was somewhat easy to comprehend.
I sure hope that it won't take us another 10 years to reconnect again...but then again...if we both live to be 200 years old...I guess it won't seem like such a long time...
Thank you very much for supporting OptiFuse where we hope to be a part of your future.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Giant Pink Elephant

This past week I had the opportunity to attend a seminar hosted by SCORE, a non-profit free consulting service provided through a partnership with the Small Business Administration.
In the past, I've attended several other SCORE seminars in order to stay abreast with current trends, new ideas, and other resources to help my small but growing business. The seminars are very low-cost, incredibly informative and I highly recommend them to any current and/or future business person.
The workshop this week was entitled "Social Media for Small Business - Harnessing the Groundswell" (I'm told that "Groundswell" is a well-known term coined by social media guru Josh Bernoff).
Although I have been working with computers throughout my entire adult life, I feel as though I still really don't get the idea of social media. Yes, I have a Facebook account as well as a LinkedIn account, but I really am not active on either site - except perhaps to add new contacts after I've been "friend requested".
I don't tweet. I don't farm. I generally don't post items to my or people's walls. I don't recommend restaurants on Yelp or medical providers on Angie's List. I've never uploaded any cute videos on YouTube hoping that it'll go "viral".
Most 15-year old kids have forgotten more about social media that I ever knew.
As I listened to the gal in the front of the room go through her presentation as to why it's so important for businesses to have a presence in social media, I kept thinking to myself, "who has the time to do all this stuff?"
Then she got to a point in her presentation where she recited some statistics regarding social media:
· Facebook now has more than 750 million active users (including more than 100M in the US). 50% of all Facebook users log onto their account at least one a day. Each user has on average 130 connected friends and creates 90 pieces of content each month.

· Twitter has 200 million registered accounts - in only 5 years of existence. 25 billion (with a "b") messages were sent via Twitter in 2010 and has grown to 110 million tweets per day as of May 2011.

· Flickr currently hosts over 4 billion shared images.

· There is now 25 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every minute of every day. People view 5 billion minutes of YouTube each day.

· In December of 2009, there were 50 million registered LinkedIn accounts by December 2010, there were 110 million accounts and by June of 2011 there were 200 million accounts.

My thoughts quickly turned from "who has the time to do this?" to..."how can any business simply ignore these facts?"...
When Willie Sutton was asked by reporters why he robbed banks, he replied. "that's where they keep the money". 
Businesses should be using social media because frankly, that's where the people are.
The rest of the workshop covered the ins and outs of the different services, how to create accounts and participate, and some design elements.
She went on and on about the mechanics but virtually ignored the giant pink elephant in the room.
I like to call it the "Steve Martin method to making a million dollars".
In 1978, the then stand-up comedian, Steve Martin, recorded a live album called "Let's Get Small". During his performance, he explained in great detail to his audience "the secret of making a million dollars:
1. Step one...first get a million dollars...

2. Step two...

Now somewhere along in my life I've read a bunch of "get-rich" books that basically describe the above "Steve Martin method to making a million dollars"...all you have to do to make a million dollars is one (or more) of the following:

· Create a great new product that everyone will buy

· Develop a great new idea and sell your idea to a wealthy corporation or individual

· Write a best-selling book

· Record a record and then sell it as a theme song to a hit TV show (i.e. Friends or MASH)

· Work a 4-hour week doing "important stuff" rather than "unimportant stuff"

· Purchase stocks (or other things) that you can highly leverage and will go up in value (I wonder where is "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" today?)
So the more and more I listen to the teacher in front of the classroom, the more I start thinking about Steve Martin...
All I need to do is to create a "killer" fuse OptiFuse FaceBook account and get millions of people to "like" it...start tweeting several times a day about fuses and their applications... produce the next "viral" video showing how fuses protect people and equipment...
...and then we'll make million dollars in new sales!! (after of course I get millions of followers)
It's so simple! Anyone can do it!
I suppose that it COULD happen...It's has been done before...
As in most anything...there will be that one person who wins the mega lottery...creates a new viral video...wins American Idol...writes a best seller on their first try...invents a pet rock...
Yes it's possible...just not very probable.
The giant pink elephant in the room is CONTENT... 
Yes...(most) everyone knows how to talk and/or write...but only a few people have anything meaningful say to people who actually want to listen...just because you talk louder or more often doesn't mean that you have anything interesting to say.
Social media may be a good way to connect a lot of people together but when everyone starts talking at soon just becomes a lot of noise and is quickly ignored.
Quality always trumps quantity.
Of course...I'm telling you all of this via my weekly what do I know...maybe this social media thing isn't such a bad idea after all...
Thank you very much for supporting OptiFuse where our goal is to bring you ideas (and products) that you can use.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Competitive Spirit

I have a good friend named Craig. He is a two-time cancer survivor. About 5 years ago, he contracted a staph infection. The doctors gave him a choice...lose your legs or lose your life...not much of a choice - lose or lose. Now Craig had plenty to live for (a wife, three incredible young kids, lots of loved ones and a phenomenal charity that has helped thousands of kids to pay for college)...he chose to lose his legs...he didn't want to...but it had to happen if he was to survive to love/fight another day...
This week I'd like to start by telling you a story about a company.
This start-up company was founded by some really smart people who had come together as individuals each with their own skills and talents as well as their own wants, needs and ideas of success. These people knew that if they tried to start their own individual businesses they would not become as successful as they would by banding together.
The company had a rough start in the beginning. They were undercapitalized and didn't have much credit. The management was untested and inexperienced. They found themselves in very competitive markets going head-to-head with much bigger and well established companies.
The management team had some really innovative ideas, a well thought out business plan, a mission statement and a set of core values.
The small start-up assembled a great hard-working production staff who shared many of the same entrepreneurial ideas as the company.
Together the management and staff work long hours and many years to create a series of successes. They fought off several hostile takeovers, made some strategic acquisitions, and open new markets.
Each person of the small company worked extremely hard to make it a success. The company rewarded their employees with a good living wage, educational benefits, access to health benefits, and promoted people from within based on merit.
Soon, employees from competitor companies wanted to join the new startup as opportunities in their own companies were lacking. Competition for the better jobs was fierce and those who worked the hardest and the smartest typically had more success than those who didn't work so hard or take advantage of the educational opportunities before them.
The many years of hard work finally began to pay some dividends. The managers of the company soon had some profits to which they were able to invest in new machinery, tooling and computers. This modernization program allowed the company to grow very rapidly and due to some poor management by their closest competitors, the company was able to gain significant market share during this time.
After a few market transitional periods and the introduction of some new innovative products, the little company found themselves on top of the market with a growing market share. The little company wasn't so little any more. Life was good for everyone.
A few years went by, and profits continued to roll in. However, the new-found profitability seemed to change the people at the company.
The management team, who always seem to do what is right for the company began paying themselves large bonuses, while enjoying lucrative perks and taking more time off. They forgot about the company and the average worker and began thinking solely of themselves.
This didn't sit well with the hard working production staff which began seeing the management team as greedy and self-serving. The workers decided to organize a collective and demand better working conditions, higher wages, free healthcare and early retirement from management.
The workers, over the years, had amassed large blocks of stock, and if the top management didn't cave into their demands, the workers would band together and replace the entire management team (which they actually did from time to time just to show management who was calling the shots).
During this time, new competitive start-ups were beginning to take root in some markets. Market share began to slip away from the big company. These new start-ups were hard working and copied many of the early management characteristics of the now big company.
Profits at the big company began to erode as the management and their staffs now worked less hours and were generally less productive than their upstart competitors. Free lifetime health care benefits were lavished upon workers and their families. Due to worker demands and high management turnover, the workers were able to negotiate an early retirement program where they would be paid a portion of their former wages for the rest of their ever-increasing lifespan. These worker benefits were not significant, at first, but became a larger and larger burden to the company.
The management team was no longer a cohesive unit but had broken into hostile competing factions. Each faction rewarded their own friends and supporters with rich and profitable contracts at the expense of the company. In addition, there were several hostile takeover attempts being made by and against the company using precious company resources.
The company, with increased costs and more competition, continued to lose market share and profitability. The company, needing to create more revenue, decided to raise prices for their very best customers, create new handling fees, and start charging for shipping. The theory was that their customers could afford to pay more so why shouldn't they. This new pricing structure worked for a while but soon their customers began to revolt and started purchasing their products from the company's competitors whose prices were much less than the company's.
Soon the company's revenues were not large enough to pay all of its expenses so it began to borrow little at first...but then considerable amounts later on. A very large portion of this borrowed money (about 45%) went to pay for former-workers benefits (because these former workers had a considerable amount of voting stock and would threaten management with removal if they didn't keep paying these benefits).
The interest payments on this debt continued to climb (now about 6%). The amount of money fighting off hostile takeovers was now consuming 25% of the all expenditures. The expenses and competition were becoming too great of a burden so management decided to layoff some workers but continue to pay them a portion of their salary as severance.
The company is now on the brink of bankruptcy if it doesn't radically reorganize its fundamental operational structure. Its revenues are budgeted to be $2.2 trillion dollars in 2011 but its expenses were estimated at $3.7 trillion dollars. 76% of the expenses were spent on benefits for former workers (45%), defense (and offense) (25%), and debt service (6%). The other 24% is spent on education (3%), transportation (3%), low income / jobless benefits (12%), other programs and general government (6%)
It can't continue this way for much longer...we need to cut expenses or raise taxes $1.5 trillion dollars to create a balanced budget. Additionally, we now have some major competition from all over the world so gaining additional revenues from increasing market share isn't going to happen any time soon.
Those are the cold hard finger pointing...
There is still time...we can fix it...but it won't be fact it'll be downright painful for ourselves...our friends...our neighbors...and for our loved ones...but we can do it if we try...we have the competitive spirit inside us...
We can chose to die or we can live to fight/love another day...
Thank you very much for supporting OptiFuse where we acknowledge the entrepreneurial spirit inside each of us.