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  • Archive for the 'Personal Narrative' Category

    It All Comes Down to Chickens

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 16th May 2015 (All posts by )

    The coop, completed and painted.

    The coop, completed and painted.

    Granny Jessie kept chickens during the Depression – quite a lot of them, if my childhood memories of the huge and by then crumbling and disused chicken-wire enclosure, the adjoining hutch and the nesting boxes are anything to go by. Some of her neighbors went on keeping backyard livestock well into the 1960s – we occasionally sampled goose eggs at Granny Jessie’s house where we could hear a donkey braying now and again. Mom had to help care for the chickens, as child and teenager – and wound up detesting them so much that this was the one back-yard DIY farm element that we never ventured into when we were growing up. Mom hated chickens, profoundly. It seems that keeping chickens is one of those fall-back things, when hard times loom.

    But my daughter and I were considering it over the last couple of years, along with all of our other ventures into suburban self-efficiency – the garden, the cheese-making, the home-brewing and canning, the deep-freeze stocked full, the pantry likewise. I put off doing anything about chickens until two things happened: we finally encountered the woman in our neighborhood who keeps a small flock of backyard chickens, and she took us to see her flock. She told us that it was not much trouble, really, and the eggs were amazingly flavorful. In comparison, supermarket eggs – even the expensive organic and supposedly free-range kind were insipid and tasteless.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Diversions, Entrepreneurship, North America, Personal Narrative, Society, Urban Issues | 28 Comments »

    Growing up in Chicago in the 1940s.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 5th May 2015 (All posts by )

    I grew up in a Chicago neighborhood called South Shore. At that time, 1943 to 1956, it was one of the nicest parts of the city. Now, now, it is a cesspool of crime.

    When my father moved us to the house at 7344 Paxton Avenue, I was 6 years old. The area was quiet and peaceful. Not far away was South Shore Country Club, a beautiful club that offered golf, skeet shooting and a horseback riding to members.

    ssold1

    It was a elegant place and I visited a few times but we were not eligible for membership because my father was in the business of owning and repairing juke boxes. That was not a respectable enough occupation. Prosperity was not the criterion. Los Angeles County Club has barred people from the entertainment business for the same reasons.

    Our home had been built in 1912 and still had gas lighting fittings in the bathroom and living room, as electrical lighting was still a bit suspect.

    Paxton

    This is the house many years after we were gone. It has had the front porch enclosed in brick. Otherwise, it looks much the same. The owner saw me taking a photo and came out to ask me who I was. He insisted on showing me through the house which has had some interior remodeling. He asked if I could send him photos of what it looked like when we lived there but most of my old pictures are home movies.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Chicagoania, Personal Narrative | 19 Comments »

    Rockford – At The Top in Illinois

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 4th May 2015 (All posts by )

    I grew up in Rockford, Illinois in the seventies. I lived what would now be considered a pretty rough existence. I ate hot dogs a lot, all of my “new” clothes came from the Salvation Army, our house was perpetually cold in the winter since we couldn’t afford to turn up the thermostat too high, etc. etc. But we all understood what we had to do, and I was never wanting.

    I sincerely feel that growing up in that sort of environment prepared me very well for my later life. Through a lot of hard work, I have become relatively successful, but remain rooted in reality – I would say that I am frugal, but not cheap. I hate waste.

    My parents sacrificed a lot to send me to a private Baptist school, and I later attended a private Assembly of God school. In the seventies and early eighties, certain areas of Rockford were very rough. I saw the neighborhood I grew up in transform from one that would be considered your typical All American Neighborhood, to one that had half torn down houses, open air drug dealing and all the rest. We left that area for a better one out by the airport. When much of the heavy manufacturing base left, so did many of the good things that came with it in Rockford. But the people didn’t really change that much.

    Boy was I in for an awakening when I moved just 70 miles to the north to Madison, Wisconsin. Completely different deal to be sure. It was really quite the culture shock. I still laugh to myself when I see things in Madison that I consider strange. But I digress.

    The video below talks about some of the old manufacturing base in Rockford and even shows the (still) beautiful Sinnissippi Gardens, along with some of the hotels and other buildings that I recognized from my youth that were repurposed by the time I was growing up, and have been repurposed again since. My wife and I had our first real date at the Sinnissippi gardens where I bought her a – hot dog – for lunch. Rockford wasn’t all bad. I made it work.

    Posted in Personal Narrative, Video | 14 Comments »

    The Gypsy Marketplace

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 3rd May 2015 (All posts by )

    Over the last year or so, my daughter and I have moved deeper into the world of the gypsy entrepreneur market. Of course, I’ve been dabbling around the edges for a while, as an independent author, once I realized that there was more to be made – and a lot less ego-death involved – by taking a table at a local craft fair, especially those which occur around the end of the year, deliberately planned to enable the amicable separation of their money from someone shopping for suitable seasonal gifts. The first of these that I participated in – strictly book events, like the West Texas Book and Music Festival in Abilene – involved only a table and a chair. It was incumbent on the authors, though, to bring some signage, informational flyers, postcards and business cards, and perhaps eye-catching to adorn the table. But a couple of years ago, my daughter started a little business making various origami ornaments, flowers and jewelry, and last year we decided to partner together at the community market events within driving distance, and within our ability to play three-dimensional Tetris in fitting everything into the back of the Montero. It helps to have two people doing this kind of event, by the way – you can spell each other, make jaunts to other venders, go to the bathroom – and setting up and breaking down is much, much easier.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Conservatism, Markets and Trading, Personal Finance, Personal Narrative, USA | 7 Comments »

    History Friday: A Vietnam Meditation

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 30th April 2015 (All posts by )

    (Posted a bit early, as I have been reminded of the anniversary of the fall of Saigon. I wrote a version of this early on at SSDB, around 2004.)

    Never been there, never particularly wanted to: to someone of my age, it is Bad Place, a haunted place, where ugly things happened. It gave nightmares to friends, co-workers, and lovers for years after it dropped out of the headlines and the six-o-clock news. Today in light of the current war, it seems as far away in time and nearly as pointless as the Western Front. You look, and remember, and wonder, knowing that yes, it really happened, but really, what was the point of it all? Platoon seems as much of a relic as Journey’s End, the image of a helicopter hovering over jungle with “All Along the Watchtower” on the soundtrack an image as archaic as doughboys with puttees and soup-plate helmets, marching along and singing “Mademoiselle from Armentieres”.

    But it was a beautiful place. My friends Xuan-An and Hai brought away pictures of where they lived in Dalat, in the highlands, where they married and lived with their three older children, snaps of cool, misty green pines and gardens of rhododendrons, and a horizon of mountains. Eventually, they had to flee Dalat for Saigon, where their youngest daughter was born, and Xuan-An’s mother came to live with them. Hai had left Hanoi as a teenager when the Communists took over there, his family being well to do, part Chinese, and immensely scholarly. He worked as a librarian for the USIS, and Xuan-An as a teacher of English and sciences, so they were on the Embassy list of Vietnamese citizens to be evacuated in the spring of 1975, with their four children, aged 12 to 2 years old. They were waiting at their home, for someone to come fetch them, on that last day. Perhaps someone from the Embassy might have come for them eventually, but Xuan-An’s brother who was the captain of a Vietnamese coastal patrol vessel came to their house after dark, instead. He had sent his crewmen all to fetch their families, they were going to make a run for safety out to sea, and he came to get his and Xuan-Ans’ mother. He was appalled to find his sister and brother-in-law and the children still there, and urged them to come with him straight away, and not wait any longer for rescue. They brought away no more luggage than what the adults could carry, in small packs the size of student’s book-bags, and the youngest daughter was a toddler and had to be carried herself. Xuan-An’s brother’s motor launch was a hundred feet long, and there were a hundred people crammed onto it, carrying them out to an American cargo ship, the Pioneer Contender, which waited with other American rescuers, just beyond the horizon.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Current Events, Diversions, History, Immigration, Military Affairs, Personal Narrative, Vietnam | 23 Comments »

    I Am Woman …

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 21st March 2015 (All posts by )

    … hear me roar … and then turn around and whine because some cis-male said something, or looked something, and I feel so … so threatened! Look, girls…ladies … possessor of a vagina or whatever you want to be addressed as this week in vernacular fashion; can you just please pick one attitude and stick too it? Frankly, this inconsistency is embarrassing the hell out of me (sixty-ish, small-f feminist in the long-ago dark days when there was genuine no-s*it gender inequality in education, job opportunities and pay-scales to complain about and campaign for redress thereof). This is also annoying to my daughter, the thirtyish Marine Corps veteran of two hitches. The Daughter Unit is actually is very close to losing patience entirely with those of the sisterhood who are doing this “Woman Powerful!-Woman Poor Downtrodden Perpetual Victim!” bait and switch game. So am I, actually, but I have thirty years experience in biting my tongue when it comes to the antics of the Establishment Professional Capital-F Feminist crowd.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blogging, Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Feminism, Personal Narrative | 11 Comments »

    The Game “Doom” and Its Historical Importance

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 14th March 2015 (All posts by )

    The game “Doom” came out for PCs in the early 1990s. Playing that game was a formative experience for me and its contribution to computers and gaming is very under-rated.

    I recently picked up a copy of the game on my iPad. I immediately was re-immersed in the game, remembering the maps, the monsters, the tactics, and sweating and jerking in my chair as I tried to get through the levels alive.

    Doom was created by Id Software, and it was one of the most successful “first person” shooters. To some extent they invented the genre; their first game was Castle Wolfenstein which was a remake (far superior) of a top-down view game that I used to play on my old Apple II. That (ancient) game was famous for having the characters’ talk – I remember that they would yell “Schweindhund” when you shot the German guards.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Personal Narrative, Tech | 7 Comments »

    The Next Big Thing

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 25th February 2015 (All posts by )

    A few weeks ago while sitting around, my wife and I started discussing the Next Big Thing. My new smart phone is simply an improvement over the last one – that isn’t it.

    I will tell you what is the Next Big Thing – driverless cars.

    I had heard about them a few times before reading America 3.0, and they are mentioned in that book. I send Lex links about testing and we have both come to the conclusion that the big hurdle with them won’t be the technology – it will be regulatory hurdles. But this is coming faster than we all think – and there really won’t be much anyone can do to stop it since the demand will be intense.

    I imagine the cops will be trotting out “safety” issues when the real reason will be that their days of writing dumb speeding tickets will be over. That revenue train, along with the DUI industry, will take major hits. I imagine they and others will fight this to the end. Insurance companies will likely see damage done – as crash rates go lower, they will be forced to drop premiums, or people will just go to a simple liability policy and chance the crash.

    As for me, I lose 70 minutes a day of productivity sitting in my car. All isn’t lost since I listen to Bloomberg business news, however if I could have that 70 minutes to catch up on email, or to simply further myself by reading a book it would be a huge plus in my life. How about being able to have more than one glass of wine with dinner with my wife at a nice restaurant or at a wedding reception and not having to worry about a DUI?

    Elon Musk says that we will be ready, tech wise, in five to six years:

    Mr. Musk expects autonomous driving to be safer for riders and pedestrians by a factor of 10.

    I absolutely believe this. In addition, when the computer gets traffic reports, it will choose the quickest way to the destination, and will choose the speed to use the least amount of fuel.

    This article is interesting from CNBC. Here is a quote:

    But for some mass market brands like Chevy, Honda or Volkswagen, Winterhoff says it will tougher to compete and win in a world where self-driving cars usher in the idea of mobility on demand.

    “Autonomous drive vehicles will mean many families will need fewer cars and if you only have one car instead of two, you will likely make it a premium brand,” he said.

    Imagine having only one car for a family of four. In my life, it would drop me off at work, head home and transport the wife if she needs to go somewhere, pick up/drop off a kid at school, head to the market where my groceries will be loaded by a clerk there that I have already paid for with Google Wallet, etc. etc.

    When you get talking heads speaking about winners and losers, you can feel that it is on the way. I just can’t wait.

    Posted in Big Government, Personal Narrative, Tech | 66 Comments »

    Mike Lotus Spoke to the University of Chicago Law School Federalist Society Student Chapter on February 3, 2015 About “America 3.0 and the Future of the Legal Profession”

    Posted by Lexington Green on 5th February 2015 (All posts by )

    UChicago law school

    Huge thanks to the University of Chicago Law School Federalist Society Student Chapter on Tuesday, who invited me to speak to their group on February 3, 2015. I previously spoke at the Booth School of Business, which was also a thrill. I am most grateful for the opportunity to speak at the University of Chicago, my undergraduate alma mater.

    The event was well-attended. I attribute this in part to the drawing power of the free buffet of Indian food, and not exclusively to the appeal of the speaker. The students were attentive and asked good questions. I understand that audio of the talk will be available at some point. I will post a link when it is available.

    My topic was “America 3.0 and the Future of the Legal Profession”.

    First I spoke about some of the themes from America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century, Why America’s Greatest Days are Yet to Come, which I coauthored with James C. Bennett. I discussed the cultural foundations of American prosperity and freedom, the role of our legal profession in American history, in particular in adapting to technological changes, I then discussed some of the major technological changes which are now sweeping our nation and the world. I said that some of them will be general purpose technologies which will cause changes on the scale of the steam engine, railroads or computing itself.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, America 3.0, Book Notes, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, Law, Personal Narrative, Politics, Quotations, Society, Tech, USA | Comments Off on Mike Lotus Spoke to the University of Chicago Law School Federalist Society Student Chapter on February 3, 2015 About “America 3.0 and the Future of the Legal Profession”

    A Random Upper-Middle-Class White Guy Writes About MLK

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 22nd January 2015 (All posts by )

    So, OK, my employer made me burn off some vacation days before the end of the fiscal year, in the form of a cap on the number of PTO hours that can be carried over from FY14 into FY15, which boundary has shifted by 3 months due to our recent change of ownership. Much lower down, my management intimated that due to certain software-release and testing milestone dates, no significant block of time off in February or March would be approved. But thanks to an unrelated M&A a few years back (a spectacularly problematic one, destined to be a business-school case study for decades to come), we now get the MLK holiday off. I decided to take the whole week and head southwest in search of sunlight. After a swing through New Mexico, I am spending a few days at Crow’s Nest, a 10-minute hike from the 6+ acres I own near Bloys Camp. It’s my first visit in four years.

    Mitre Peak (1887m/6190’) as seen from my lot

    Mitre Peak (1887m/6190’) as seen from my lot

    This is what I would write if somebody made me enter one of those hoary MLK essay contests that middle- or high-school students get sucked into. The entries that I’ve read over the years have seemed pretty unimaginative, but it’s hardly realistic to expect much historical perspective from a teenager. The tone I’m aiming for here is, of course, originality combined with some mildly discomfiting assertions, while avoiding stereotypical politics. The structure is a simple three-parter: past, present, and (near) future.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Society, Current Events, History, Holidays, Human Behavior, Immigration, International Affairs, Latin America, Libertarianism, North America, Personal Narrative, Predictions, Society, Systems Analysis, Transportation, USA | 23 Comments »

    Autocomplete: Threat or Menace?

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th December 2014 (All posts by )

    “I’m losing my house.”

    A friend of mine sent me this text message when I was on my way to meet her. Fearing the worst, I called her. She told me she had just left her house and was on her way. Her fancy new cellphone’s predictive-text feature had changed “leaving” to “losing”.

    This kind of thing seems to happen a lot these days.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Personal Narrative | 6 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Working in a Maximum Security Prison (Part II)

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 7th December 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Joliet Illinois, 1992, at a Maximum Security Prison. Here is Part I of the story. This prison is where the Blues Brothers movie was filmed along with “Prison Break”.

    After I got acclimated to the prison, it was time to select the assets that I would audit during the summer. Typically you “randomly select” assets from the asset listing, take a statistically significant sample (perhaps 20-50 items), and draw conclusions about the whole pool of assets based on whether you were able to find the selected assets in the location where they were said to reside. I did this at first and the results came up with many assets titled “XXX-780″ and I asked the accountants working for the facility what they were. The accountants said that these were individual prisoner beds and that was the cell number and the way to audit those assets would be to go in and unlock the cells and I could flip up the bed and check the number. I thought about this for a few minutes and then said “f&ck this” and decided that I would use “judgement” to select my assets instead of the random method and I selected 30 assets myself for my project.

    The quest to find the assets took me throughout the facility. If it was a gun that I selected, I would go past the guard into the armory, through the tunnels under the building, and up the ladder into the tower to manually check the serial number of the rifle or other weapon that was picked to be audited against the building records.

    I selected what turned out to be a sniper rifle. These guns were kept in storage at the armory, and they brought out the sniper to show me the weapon himself because they didn’t let other people touch it after he had calibrated the scope. The sniper asked me a question:

    Do you know why they pick snipers out of the staff in the prison?

    No, I said.

    Because in Attica there was an uprising and the prisoners took over the yard and then the prison brought in outside marksmen to ensure they could not escape. During the melee the marksmen shot many prisoners but it turns out that the prisoners had changed clothes with the civilian hostages, so some of the individuals gunned down were actual guards or workers. Thus the snipers were prison guards from that facility because they could pick out the inmates from the guards and workers.

    I said that if he ever saw me in his scope wearing an orange outfit, please don’t shoot. It wasn’t a joke.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Personal Narrative | 5 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Working In a Maximum Security Prison (Part I)

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 4th December 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Joliet Illinois, 1992, at a Maximum Security Prison

    When I was an auditor I worked with utilities and governmental entities. These were the least popular clients because they often required a lot of travel and if you left the public accounting firm you generally worked for a client (or a different firm in the same industry) and this would pigeonhole you into working in regulated industries.

    When I thought I’d seen the least appealing clients possible, a new low occurred – I was assigned to a maximum security prison. The Joliet Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois. The prison hired an accounting firm to do an audit of their property records and my job was to inventory the physical assets deployed throughout the facility.

    The only guards with weapons were in the towers or overlooking the prison walls. Once you were inside the facility the guards had nightsticks but no guns. This was to prevent the prisoners from overpowering the guards and taking their weapons. The prisoners could seize control of the facility at any time and hold the guards hostage but they could not exit the facility because the guards in the towers had rifles and would be able to fire back and would be difficult for the prisoners to overcome.

    You entered the facility and went into the armory. From the armory you could take tunnels under the facility and then you could go up into the tower via a ladder. Only within the armory and up the tunnels were the guards armed. This facility was built in the 1860s and it was disgusting in the tunnels underneath with standing water and rats. I would go through the tunnel and yell up and then they would let me into the tower via a ladder and I would climb up a couple stories in my suit with my briefcase. I remember distinctly that the guards seemed somnolent and they had a picture of the warden with a hand drawn mustache and graffiti on it; probably because there was no way he could sneak up there for a “sneak” audit. The guards in the tower always knew that you were coming.

    I took an initial tour of the prison with an assistant warden. She was an African-American woman perhaps in her 50s and the predominantly African-American prisoners treated her with great respect. They spoke to her politely and stayed out of our way rather than glaring and intimidating you to move out of their path, which would happen to me later when I walked alone throughout the facility.

    The first thing you noticed in the prison was how LOUD it was; everyone was screaming the word “motherf&cker” in about 250 variants. It was a cacophony of yelling and noise and very disconcerting. The prison cells were very small with 2 inmates each; one stood menacingly at the bars and one was usually on a bunk bed (there wasn’t really enough room for both of them to stand). If you walked too closely to the cell they might spit on you; if you walked below the high tiers they might throw urine down on you.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Personal Narrative | 7 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Small Unit Cohesion

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 28th November 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Chicago, 2010, at a Shooting training center

    In 2010 my dad and I went to an all-day class to learn how to shoot properly. The first four hours were in a classroom and the last four hours were outside when it was a brisk fall day and we learned various techniques of how to shoot and spent over 800 rounds.

    In the beginning of the class, the instructor asked everyone about their background. My dad and I said we were complete amateurs. When the others talked about their experience I didn’t fully understand what they were saying until later but many were ex military who were now contractors in Iraq or elsewhere with very extensive experience. They were attending for what must be some sort of required periodic classroom time.

    The reason that this is interesting is because the instructor went through firearm basics that was all news to me but must have been the most banal and simplistic discussion that these guys have ever heard. It would be like sending me back to school for mandatory training and showing me a balance sheet or explaining the very basics of systems technology. In five minutes of this I would be agitated and distracted and frankly a bit insulted that someone wasn’t properly valuing my corporate and career experience. Because that is how a corporate or business person would view the process, but not a military person. Each of the military guys sat in their seats for four hours and if anything they constructively helped the instructor, who was ex-military himself. In hindsight no one was joking around or making a mockery of anything.

    When we were shooting the guys all helped each other and the team immediately without asking. We had a lot to cover so they leaped up and changed the targets and moved and anticipated and everyone was part of a larger mission. After a while it was completely obvious to everyone that me and my dad (who was in his late 70s at this point) were behind the game so they subtly starting helping and coaching us in addition to what the instructor was doing. Sometimes you had to shoot multiple targets to clear a level and I think a few times guys helped me by shooting my targets too.

    Only in hindsight did I recognize the “cohesion” concepts that SLA Marshall talked about in his famous book. He talked about the value of leadership and training in motivating and getting the best out of the men under your command. While these sound like commonplace lessons, and ones the military has likely long since learned in its recent brutal wars overseas, these lessons are usually nowhere to be found in corporate America and most private businesses.

    I watched “The Last Patrol” (highly recommended) last night on HBO and they had a similar observation. The protagonists are walking across America (even in Baltimore, I was scared for them) and asking people what is great about America. These ex-military guys and ex-combat photographers (with 20+ years in the middle of all of it) were trying to wind down and find their bearings without the adrenaline rush of combat and surviving possible death. They met a woman in an American flag bikini and she said she worked in an old folks home for veterans and she said that they all helped and looked out for each other. However, she said, it wasn’t like that once you left the facility – it’s not like that outside in America today.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Military Affairs, Personal Narrative | 7 Comments »

    Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – Ebola Realities and the True Test

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 22nd November 2014 (All posts by )

    as airline stocks tracked – and predicted – Ebola did not become established in the US

    as airline stocks tracked – and predicted – Ebola did not become established in the US

    Although the false alarms might continue for a few more weeks, we have obviously transitioned into the lessons-learned phase of the Ebola non-outbreak in the US. I will list those lessons below, but first, a useful summary of a talk I attended on the evening of Tuesday the 4th.

    [Readers needing background may refer to the earlier members of this series, Don’t Panic: Against the Spirit of the Age; Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series; and Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – Ebola or Black Heva?]

    The venue was the Johnson County Science Café, a monthly forum sponsored by Kansas Citizens for Science. Johnson County is, by some measures, the wealthiest county in the country outside of the DC and NYC metro areas; greatly simplifying, this is a product of a somewhat unique combination of blue-state salaries and red-state cost of living. Kansas Citizens for Science was founded in the wake of upheavals on the Kansas Board of Education, which resulted in the initial imposition of, and subsequent drastic changes to, science-curriculum standards for public primary and secondary schools for ~300 school districts half a dozen times between the early 1990s and mid-2000s. The most famous was a 1999 board vote to remove key questions about the historical sciences (including astronomy, geology, and paleontology) from assessment testing, but there were several others which either re- or de-emphasized those sciences as the makeup of the board fluctuated with each election. After a decade and a half of chaos, as of now the board is relatively quiescent – its makeup was ironically substantially unaffected by this month’s wave election – and teaching and testing of the historical sciences is in place. I know several of the key personalities involved, and could certainly tell some interesting stories, but that controversy is not the subject of this post. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics, Civil Society, Current Events, Ebola, Health Care, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Markets and Trading, Medicine, Organizational Analysis, Personal Narrative, Predictions, USA | 5 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Building a Web Site, Then and Now

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 17th November 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Chicago, around the year 2000, before the dot-com bust

    Back around 2000 I worked in an “incubator” that was a digital design agency. At that time everyone was moving onto the web, and it was a giant land rush.

    This was the first time I worked in an office with any type of serious amenities. They had free coffee, lounge areas, and the occasional foosball table. Previously I had been a buttoned down consultant, auditor, programmer and project manager – and all of the sudden the world changed and we engaged with a whole host of “creatives” and designers on joint projects.

    Back then we all wore suits. I remember one day very clearly; one of the designers sat immediately in front of me. I was looking up and I saw “Victoria’s Secret” – she was showing off the new style where women were wearing their pants so low that their underwear was showing. To a consultant that charges hundreds of dollars an hour (not like we collected it, but that’s a different story) this sort of behavior and style just screamed WTF.

    When we bid on a client our clashing styles were immediately evident. I started out the template to respond to the RFP (request for proposal), and was tasked with estimating the cost to reply to this opportunity. The creatives didn’t seem to understand any of my questions, which seemed pretty simple to me:

    What are we delivering, and how many hours will it take to build it?

    They couldn’t be pinned down. Were we making a logo, or a web site? Would it allow them to run transactions? At the time that was just a tremendous amount of work and seemingly an insurmountable task.

    We ended up bidding hundreds of thousands of dollars for what, I still am not sure. The company who was “buying” our services was VC funded and was just about bled dry, without having even launched anything substantial. The era of the dot.com companies had petered out and we were entering a recession.

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    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Personal Narrative | 4 Comments »

    Twenty Five Stories About Work – The School of Rock

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 9th November 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Chicago, the 1980s

    Recently I was at an art exhibition and I saw a book about the “School of Rock” which takes kids with an interest in music and sets them up in a band situation and allows them to work together and perform live. I think it is a great idea and I have a friend whose son plays drums and has really gotten a lot out of this in terms of confidence and poise.

    I had my own experiences learning an instrument and playing in a band which really were formative to my business experience, although I never really thought of them as “formally” part of my background until I looked at that photo and remembered these 25 posts.

    Back in the 1980s I used to play bass guitar (switched from regular guitar) and was in various local bands with friends which typically went nowhere except maybe some free gigs in a public place or someone’s backyard. I absolutely am not a good musician nor was I particularly talented.

    However, the act of participating in a band in that era had many of the hallmarks of being in a small business. First of all – you needed to have some money to buy gear. You needed a bass guitar, a few amps (one to practice on at home, and one to leave at the primary practice space), and if you had extra money – a PA system which we could use for the entire band and microphones for the drums, vocals, etc… Actually having gear and these extra pieces of equipment immediately made you a more attractive potential band member, regardless of your skills.
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    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Music, Personal Narrative | 9 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Consulting HR and the Tragedy of the Commons

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 1st November 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Baltimore, the late 1990s

    In the late 1990s I worked for a large, now defunct, management consulting firm. This firm had recently gone public to great fanfare and morale was high. As a senior manager (a title right below partner), however, I had already seen a lot of booms and busts in this arena and was skeptical.

    Consulting firms have large pools of skilled resources. You can classify the resources many ways – by skill set (MBAs, engineers, programmers, project managers), by industry expertise (finance, government, utilities, technology), by region (a large firm might have 30-50 offices scattered throughout the US and nearby countries), or by level (staff, senior, manager, senior manager, and partner). Each of these categorizations is valid in some dimension.

    Consulting firms and audit firms used to have everyone come “up through the ranks”. They rarely hired from competitors, and when you left you weren’t welcome back. This has changed 100% today with staff at all levels jumping ship to competing firms, out to industry, and back in. The firms today also have an active alumni outreach plan to bring back talented staff that may want to return to consulting.

    At the time the firm I was with was organized mainly by “industry” regardless of your physical location. I was in the utilities group along with many other individuals scattered throughout the USA. This firm did not have a thriving utilities practice so we were often fighting uphill for assignments and our staff were often “seconded” to other verticals to fill needs on sold work.

    Our utility engagement was in Baltimore. Baltimore at the time was at a low ebb, with the downtown populated by crackheads and other undesirables. It didn’t matter much to us since we were staying in a hotel a couple blocks from our client.

    The partner on our engagement (who was the boss) was an ex-Navy SEAL. He was a very fun and interesting guy. I wasn’t there but one time another staff person said that they went to an antique store and the partner took a knife from the display and started doing that thing where you put the knife blade between each of your fingers in a pattern, going faster and faster. At some point the partner nicked the web of his hand and started bleeding but didn’t even flinch. It sounded plausible to me.

    For a variety of reasons the HR department of the consulting firm was investigating this partner. Since work is done on the road there is little supervision but somehow bad news about this partner got to HQ so they sent out a hapless HR partner. The HR partner sat down with me and started asking questions. My response was

    I don’t have anything bad to say about a guy who could kill me with his pinky

    The interview obviously ended soon after.
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    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Personal Narrative | 6 Comments »

    Annals of the Tiny Bidness

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 31st October 2014 (All posts by )

    So – how to begin the story of how I became a business owner? I suppose that the very beginning came about when I realized that I was sick to death of working for other people, answering to sometimes erratic bosses, metaphorically (and sometimes in reality) punching a time-clock or logging my hours as an admin/office-manager/executive secretary or whatever the temp agency sent me to perform. I had also realized that I was good at writing, wanted to write professionally, and was on the cusp of transforming the amateur word-smithing into a paying job. I was encouraged in this ambition by a number of early blog commenters on the old Sgt. Stryker site who basically said I was very good at the writing and story-telling thing and they wanted more – mostly in the form of a printed book – while some other bloggers with slightly more extensive and professional writing credentials also said I was very, very good and ought to consider going pro myself… and then there was one commenter who didn’t have internet at home, and wanted to read my posts about my admittedly eccentric family – so he inquired after my mailing address, and sent me a box of CD media, so that I could put an extensive selection of early posts about my oddball family on it – one for him, the note said, and the rest for any other readers of the Sgt. Stryker site who wanted a such a collation. I swear unto all, this was about the first time that it ever occurred to me that yes, I had an audience, and one willing to pay money, or at least, for a box of CD media.

    Eventually, I did produce a book – a memoir cobbled together from various posts about my family, and growing up – and there it all rested, until another blog-post sparked my second book and first novel. Again, a blog-fan encouraged me to write it, and one thing led to another, resulting in To Truckee’s Trail. About two and a half chapters into the first draft I was let go from a corporate job – a full-time job with which I had become increasingly dissatisfied. On many an afternoon, walking through the duties expected of me, I kept thinking of how I would rather be and home and writing. It was a small shock being fired, actually – but I kept thinking Whoo-hoo! I can go home and work on the third chapter!  I was oddly cheerful throughout the actual firing process, totally weirding out the HR staffer in charge of processing my dis-engagement from the company involved. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, Personal Narrative | 5 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Lost Productivity and Typing

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 23rd October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Vermont, the early 1990s

    When I was interviewing for my first job I had a chance to visit IBM in Burlington, Vermont. At the time IBM had a large contingent of workers and management staff at that location. On an unrelated note, IBM still has about 4000 workers in the state, and recently offered a company $1B TO TAKE THEM OFF THEIR HANDS. To confirm, they were willing to sell this business for negative one billion dollars (to quote Dr. Evil). And the sad thing is that the “buying” company wanted IBM to PAY THEM two billion, so they rejected the “offer”. Read about it here.

    I had been on a plane maybe once or twice previously and was completely clueless about what to do. I packed my bags and took a cab to the hotel. In the morning, before my interview, I got into the shower and turned on the water. I did not think to check what the temperature was before I got into the shower and it happened to be set on a scalding level; I ended up falling back out of the shower, grabbing the curtain on the way down, and scattering the shower curtain rings throughout the bathroom. I wasn’t seriously hurt. To this day I always check the shower temperature while standing outside the shower stall (or tub) and I only go in when it is at an appropriate level.

    The day started out on an ignominious note (with the shower incident) and the interviews were a disaster. I think we ended the day with a discussion that maybe someday I would at least utilize IBM equipment (they were primarily a manufacturing company at that time) since it seemed obvious that I wouldn’t get a job offer in Vermont.

    What I remember most of all was the endless sea of desks. IBM had workers that manually calculated their managerial accounting reports and they sat in a giant room that seemed to go on for infinity. I don’t have a photo but in my head it looks something like this…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Personal Narrative | 8 Comments »

    Retail Therapy ‘n’ Woes

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 20th October 2014 (All posts by )

    With so many other bad and dangerous things hanging over us like a Damocles sword – an Ebola epidemic in the US, ISIS setting up a new and brutal caliphate in the middle east, the final two lame duck years of the Obama administration, and the anointing of a minimally-talented yet well-connected legacy child like Lena Dunham as the media voice of a generation – and the upcoming marathon of holiday markets and book events in front of me like so many hurdles to be gotten over in a frantic two-month-long dash – where was I?
    Oh, yes – amidst all the impending gloom, doom, and Bakersfield (that’s a California joke, son) my daughter and I are coping with the rather minor tragedy of a friend of ours loosing her job. Minor to us, of course – but not to our friend, a vivaciously charming English lady of certain years whom I shall call Kay, whom we met when she managed a thrift shop to benefit a certain well-established local charity, in a preposterously wealthy outlaying town within driving distance from San Antonio.
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    Posted in Business, Customer Service, Diversions, Personal Narrative, USA | 5 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – “Don’t Hang Up” and the Recruiter from Detroit

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 19th October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Champaign, early 1990s

    As I graduated from college in the early 1990s, I went through the interview process on campus. About half the companies really liked me and about half the companies hated me. I guess I was a polarizing interviewee but who knows I had little idea about what to expect in an interview or how to behave. I do remember buying a suit with my mother for about $400 which seemed like an astonishing amount of money at the time.

    In addition to the on campus recruiters, I also fielded some phone calls. Looking back before the age of cell phones it is amazing that anyone ever got in touch with anyone else – they must have called me in my dingy hellhole of an apartment in the 5 minutes that I happened to be there in between class, prepping for the CPA exam, and going out drinking. I guess we had an answering machine but I’m not even sure about that and my roommates at the time weren’t exactly the most reliable.

    I was enamored with the idea of work and getting the heck out of Champaign so I was like a happy puppy when anyone called. The joke is that I would select the last recruiter to call.

    One day I did receive a call: Hello. I’d like to talk to you about a job opportunity in the transportation industry, he said. I was interested. I was always interested. Then he said something I’ll never forget.

    The job is in Detroit. Don’t hang up!

    The recruiter combined both sentences into almost a single thought, with urgency, because he apparently was used to people instantly hanging up as soon as they heard the job opportunity was in Detroit.

    I didn’t hang up. But I surely did not pursue that opportunity. Because it was in Detroit, of course. No wonder that city went down the drain…

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Personal Narrative | 18 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Office Hoteling and the Elusive Consultant Desk

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 16th October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Chicago, the ’90s…

    When I first started out as an auditor I had a tiny cube that consisted of just a desk and a chair with a big phone in a giant warren full of other cubes. There was a big bay window that let in the sun and lights far overhead. I didn’t know anything and was happy just to have a place to call my own.

    How accounting worked at the time was that you were assigned to clients and were “on the road”. If you were in the office you charged a code for down-time and struggled for something to do. You could take a training class, do research in the library, or more often than not you’d be assigned some sort of drudgery administrative work. Most of the time I ended up photocopying our audit files when clients transitioned to new auditors, which is much more work than it sounds because you had to dis-assemble the work papers, copy them, and then re-assemble the files again. The copier tended to regularly jam and you soon learned how to take that copy machine apart, as well. Not a good use of a master’s degree…

    After a while the managers learned who was good and who wasn’t and I was constantly busy as a result. We worked and traveled all the time and often I had overlapping clients, meaning that tasks I couldn’t complete onsite piled up for me at the little cube while I was at a different client. This was before any concept of telecommuting and we didn’t even have our own laptops. The only way to get work done was to show up at the office (on Saturday or Sunday, since I traveled all week) and do the remaining tasks.

    One time our office engaged in some sort of ISO process and they decided that having a “clean desk” was mandatory. So the (usually worst) staff that were in the office packed up everyone’s desk and sent it off site so that when the office tour occurred, my little rat cube was completely clear. Thus when I showed up on a Sunday a couple of weeks later to follow up on some annoying task from a parallel client, all of my papers were gone and that was an entirely wasted day. The fact that I still remember this over 20 years later shows how angry I was at this bureaucratic stupidity.

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    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Chicagoania, Personal Narrative | 6 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – New Mexico Is Part of the United States

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 11th October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    El Paso Texas, the ’90s…

    I supported a financial analytics system for a utility based in El Paso, Texas. Before I visited El Paso for work I knew virtually nothing about the area, the economy, or the people. One of the most interesting and unexpected benefits of my career was the opportunity to extensively work in areas of the USA that I never would have visited otherwise.

    One thing I did know is that 1) Texas has its own electricity grid that ‘walls it off’ from the rest of the USA called ERCOT 2) the El Paso area was “outside” of that grid. Thus while Texas may be its own separate country in their mind, El Paso was something else entirely.

    Another realization when you are working in El Paso is just how damn big Texas is. It can take longer to drive from El Paso on the western side of Texas to Houston on the eastern side of Texas than to drive from El Paso to Los Angeles. It was also extremely hot and the sun was blazing; some of the women brought umbrellas to shield themselves from the noon-day sun.

    The managers I met in El Paso said it would likely make more sense for El Paso to be part of New Mexico, rather than Texas. Many of the managers lived in New Mexico. A funny story they told was how many Americans believed that New Mexico was NOT part of the United States, and stories like this were collected in the back page of a local magazine and they were often hilarious.

    While flying to New Mexico one day I sat next to a gentleman that was frequently in El Paso for business. At the time, Ford Expedition SUVs were all the rage. He said that the last three times he visited El Paso, he selected an Expedition from the local rental car affiliate, and the car was stolen (and likely driven over the border into Mexico). I didn’t ask him why he was so stubborn and kept renting them.

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    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Personal Narrative | 5 Comments »

    Gypsy Retail in the Autumn

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 6th October 2014 (All posts by )

    My daughter and I spent almost all of last Saturday at our booth in the parking lot of a local Beall’s, in the heart of what would pass as the new downtown of Bulverde, Texas – if Bulverde could be said to have a downtown of any sort. There is a sort of Old Downtown Bulverde, at the crossroads of Bulverde Hills Drive and Bulverde Road, where the post office is (in a teeny Victorian cottage covered with white-painted gingerbread trim) and around the corner from one of the original settler’s farmsteads, complete with an original stone house and barn – now repurposed into an event venue. There is a small airfield nearby, and astonishingly enough, Googlemaps show a polo ground. But the landscape all around is that of the lowland Hill Country – low rolling, patched scrubby cedar, and occasional stands of live oaks. Everything – including a perfectly astounding number of single family housing developments are scattered unobtrusively here and there among the hills, the cedar and the oaks.
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    Posted in Business, Customer Service, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, Personal Narrative | 9 Comments »