Happy Chinese New Year

So ends another decade, my 4th on this Earth. each one has had it’s own unique flavor. The 70’s to me were childhood. They lasted for an eternity, in all there Naugahyde glory. The 80’s were my adolescence, the Reagan decade of morning in America, and a continuing depression in Upstate New York. A good decade spent thinking about girls every 7 seconds. Any decade that begins in 6th grade, and ends with College graduation is tough to define. So much change in so little time. The 90’s were young adulthood. Having a job, starting a life on my own. Travel, friends, weddings, and marriage. By the 2000’s I was nested and starting a family. Fatherhood has defined the past decade.

Looking ahead to the 2010’s it’s hard to say what will define them. Some things I know for sure, are that the years will pass even faster, the kids will grow up and be ready to leave home by decade’s end. What exactly I will be doing besides parenting I have no idea. Getting older and fatter most likely. Maybe by then I will have passed beyond cynical and disillusioned about my career, and entered into resignation. Entering into the downside of my working years I will be hanging on until retirement. What will the world look like by then? What will our country look like? Our economy? A long twilight perhaps, or maybe a slow dawn. I doubt total darkness or bright sunshine will be in order. I can feel already that a certain economic stagnation has set in.

In my corporation the worst effects of the economic downturn are behind us. Now we are poised for some positive growth. But as our sales increase, and the workload threatens to overwhelm the survivors, my Dark Corporate Overlords are holding tight to the purse strings and resolving to use this opportunity to re-structure the corporation. They have decided that the elimination of 20% of our jobs in Minnesota is an opportunity to begin what they have decided is inevitable, the transfer of highly skilled engineering and technology development (the heart of our company) to Asia. China in fact. So as managers cry out for more help to keep up with demand, we are being told that no positions can be added in Minneapolis, but that we must put a plan together to start adding positions in China.

The reality of it all is only now beginning to dawn on middle management. I have seen this coming for at least 10 years, so I am not surprised by it. If anything, I wonder what has taken my Nefarious Liege’s this long to try it. For the past ten years they have been steadily moving production to Asia, with much success, if success can be determined by our stock price. So flush with pride over this achievement they have finally taken the next logical step. My advice to any shareholder that would ask me, would be to sell now. We have reached our peak. The CEO has begun drinking his own bathwater, and no one around the Senior Officers is either aware of it, or willing to tell him to stop. So sad, but so typical of baby boomers. They believe their own P.R., and nothing can be more dangerous than that sort of hubris.

So the next few years should be interesting. At first there will be confusion and dissension inside of the ranks. Some managers will stand up and say it cannot be done. They will be shouted down as pessimists and naysayers, and many examples of past triumphs will be used to show how the naysayers were wrong before, and therefore must be wrong now. After that the managers will either comply, or be replaced by others willing to comply with the directive. Then the strategy will be implemented, slowly and haltingly at first. Some business units will be chosen to lead the way, and their efforts will be watched closely. Regardless of the actual outcome, success will be declared, and the rest will be herded along behind them. The true effects of the move will not become apparent for several fiscal years. It takes time for a lack of product innovation to begin to show up in a market. We will keep producing the products we make today, only in derivative forms, well into the next 5 years, and our competitors will begin to gain market share. Management will then decide that the reason is that we are too slow in moving our business to Asia, and that our remaining overhead in the U.S. that is supporting the move and overseeing the training, and development of the China staff is too costly, and must be cut. So the cost cutting and job elimination in the U.S. will increase. This will only worsen the situation, as our experience base erodes more quickly, and our communication and relationships with Western customers begin to suffer. We will lose business even faster at this point, and the point of no return will have been passed. After this, a takeover, or the breakup of the business will most likely ensue. This failure will be blamed on many things, management, the economy, external factors, everything but the move to China. That will have already been decreed as a success, and the few left standing will know better than to dispute the Corporate Gospel.

Is this scenario a pessimistic one? Yes, I admit it. Is it inevitable? No, the future is never cast in stone. Can it be prevented? Of course it can, if true leaders stand up and are willing to lead others against the stream of group think. Will I be one of them? Hard to say at this point. I have always been a survivor, but I have been able to manage it not by drinking the Kool Aid and falling into step with the system. Instead I have survived by being recognized as someone who finds a way to get results by working around the system. I have been Ferris Bueller. Many times folks have praised my results, and been puzzled at my methods. “How does he do it? So strange. He does things differently, and you wouldn’t think it would work, and yet it does.”

I have found a way to float along in middle management, just visible enough to be acknowledged and rewarded for my performance, but just anonymous enough that I have not yet had to really stand up to my Dark Corporate Overlords, and openly oppose them, or their methods. I am more subtle in my resistance to things. I use non-being, and find ways to use the force of the system against itself to achieve my ends. In doing so I have carved out a little safe haven for myself, and those who work for me. A calm place where we can do our work in our own way, and maintain some bit of dignity and sanity. I wonder how much longer I can keep that up. The coming pressure to move the heart and soul of the business to China will be one that I cannot avoid. This will be the biggest challenge yet, to try to rally the organization to resist a decision that has already been made, and will likely doom the corporation for a generation. This battle cannot be fought entirely behind the scenes. I will need to find ways to enlist other, more powerful managers to fight a battle like this. Am I up to the challenge? Ask me again in 2020 and I’ll let you know.

Happy Chinese New Year

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Goodbye to another decade, wah, wah, wah…

Baby Boomer


This being an Internet “blawg”, I would be remiss if I didn’t make one of those “end of the decade” best of / worst of lists.

I know it’s in vogue to bash the last ten years as “Worst Decade Ever” but I can’t help but feel this is just another sign of our self centered media culture. If you listened to the Baby Boomers the world only began in 1950, and the sixties were the pinnacle of civilization man… I mean like, Woodstock and shit…

Yeah, as this terrific photo tour of the past 10 years shows, it sure wasn’t the best of times, but I wouldn’t call it the decade from hell either. Like most of our media induced navel gazing, our opinions are formed from the 24/7 saturation of News! News! News! Since we see few images of life pre-1950’s, it’s easy to assume that it was idyllic. But as I’ve said before, I’d take the past decade over the 1930’s or 1940’s any day. Heck, I’d take them over any decade in the 20th century, pre-Baby Boomer. And that doesn’t even begin to address all the pre-modern history that we have no images of to remind us how wonderful life was. I’m sure the Black Death was a lovely time to be alive. If only CNN and Fox news had been around to comment on it, we’d be able to figure out if it was Bush’s or Obama’s fault.

No, as much as we hate to admit it, as bad as the past 10 years were, they were also pretty good. Of course, statements like that don’t sell Newspapers and Magazines. Luckily, it ain’t my job to sell either. The one thing most lacking these days seems to be some sense of perspective.

The changes that have occurred in the world during the last 100 years are staggering. But we seem to forget that, and assume that things will continue to advance at such speed towards a technological utopia delivered directly to our iPOD’s. When they show any sign of slowing, or God forbid, a decline, we throw up our hands like spoiled little children and cry for Mommy. Well folks, I’ve got a news flash you won’t find in Time, CNN, or the NY Times. Life ain’t fair and it never has been. The world is imperfect, and man is imperfect, and I don’t see either one of them changing in the next decade either. Does that mean we should despair? Hell no. It means we all need to cowboy up damn it, and quit whining.

So the world economy tanks, and folks are standing in bread lines. Heck, we still have folks that were around the last time that happened.

So the polar ice caps melt? It won’t be the first time.

So peak oil brings about the end of the automotive age? I think we have a few thousand years of history to show we don’t need cars to survive

So a global pandemic decreases the world population by 30%. Yawn, been there done that too.

So we take that big asteroid hit and… OK, ya got me there. That would definitely suck.

So, barring an Asteroid strike, here’s to the 2010’s and another wild, unpredictable ride through human history. Please fasten your seatbelts and keep your hands and feet in the vehicle at all times.

Canary Wanted

1908 - Photo by Lewis Hine - Library of Congress

Sorry for the lack of posting, but I have been at the bottom of the deep dark mine these past few days, and haven’t felt much like writing.

The photo above sums up the mood nicely. It’s a picture taken just 100 years ago, September 1908. The boy in the photo is Vance Palmer, he is 15 years old. He worked in a West Virginia Coal Mine as a trapper. What his job entailed was sitting on the bench by the door, and opening and closing it to let the mule driven carts through. This controlled the ventilation in the mine. That little alcove behind him is where he stood when the door was open, to let the team past. This photo, like so many that I have found in the Library of Congress archives, is a reminder of how much life in the United States has changed in a relatively short span of time. 100 years is not that long ago, but this photo seems to be from another Universe.

If you want to read more about Vance’s story, go to this link. It’s a site called “Mornings on Maple Street” where Joe Manning, a writer, genealogist, historian, and poet, has been working through the 5,000 photo collection of Lewis Hine, the photographer who took the photo above, and many others of Child Laborers in the early 20th Century. On this wonderful site he researches the children named in the photos to find out about their stories, and what became of them. This is truly amazing work. I am awed by the depth, and the breadth of this undertaking.

Lights please.

8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

– Luke 2: 8-14

That is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.

Copenhagen – December 1996

One of my fondest memories of a business trip, is my trip to Copenhagen in 1996. I was there to support some meetings between one of our Indian licensees and their customer NTPC (an Indian power company). The meetings were held at Haldor-Topsoe, a consulting engineering firm, in suburban Copenhagen. Apparently, even the Indians didn’t want to have a meeting in India. In my role as an application engineer, I was purely there for technical support of the specification review, between the Danish consulting engineers, our Indian licensee, and the turbine manufacturer EGT (European Gas Turbines) of Essen, Germany.

The meetings were held the week after Thanksgiving, and we flew out on a Monday. We arrived at our hotel in Copenhagen around 10:00 pm Tuesday night. The girl at the front desk gave us a message from the German’s at EGT, that they would be in a conference room on the 2nd floor, preparing for the meeting, and to stop by when we arrived. So we dropped our bags in the room, grabbed our laptops and headed to the meeting. There were six Germans, sitting around the table, with half liter glasses of Tuborg in front of them. After introductions, the first thing they did was order us a round of beer. The cute little blond waitress (and in Denmark they are all cute little blonds) arrived with a tray full of beer, and set us up. The Germans immediately ordered another round. That little blond got her exercise that night ferrying beers upstairs to our meeting, and taking empty glasses back down to the bar. By the time the meeting finally broke up around midnight, I was pretty much in the bag.

The days that followed were long, and painful negotiations between our Indian licensee and NTPC, over the most mundane and irrelevant portions of the technical spec. It drove the Germans crazy. As for me, it was entertainment. The Danes would read a section of specification, listing the 4 acceptable suppliers for a given component, and our Indian licensee would request the addition of 2 other suppliers to the list. The Indians from NTPC would object, and a 15 minute discussion would commence. At the end of 15 minutes, our Indian licensee would finally give in, and repeat, “OK, just to confirm the 4 acceptable suppliers are…” and then he would list 3 of the names from the spec, plus one of his own. If the Indians caught it, the argument would start up all over again. In this way, our licensee wore the customer down the way that a stream polishes a stone. Slowly. Excruciatingly slowly. I think the German’s nerves were frayed by the afternoon of the first day, and the meetings continued like this for 3 days. And so a week passed slowly by.

Our hotel was out in the fringes of Copenhagen, and we never got much of a chance to go out until Friday evening. To save on airfare we had booked our return flight for Sunday, so we had 2 evenings, and a Saturday to spend in Copenhagen. For me and my colleague, an amiable salesman from Louisville, it was like a trip to Disneyland. Friday was the first Friday of Advent, which is a festive time in Copenhagen. The walking streets (Stroget) in the city center come alive with Christmas decorations, crowds, outdoor musicians, sausage stands, and vendors selling hot mulled wine. We wandered the streets for hours, eating hotdogs with horseradish mustard, and sampling all the Danish beer we could find. My personal favorite was the Tuborg Christmas Beer. I drank gallons of the stuff. Sigh… if only they imported it here.

I wish I could get this here in Minnesota


My colleague was a very outgoing guy, which compensated for my shyness, and he struck up a conversation with every bartender, and bar maid in Copenhagen that weekend. The bars were packed with people singing along to the music, and in very high spirits. I remember one particular bar where the bartender kept feeding us drinks for free, and insisting that we stay until bar time, which was hours past the last train back to our hotel. We only managed to escape through the crowd when he wasn’t looking to catch the last train home.

I fell in love with Copenhagen that weekend. On Saturday, we spent the whole day strolling the sights, and shopping. The slanting winter sun was achingly beautiful as it hung so low in the sky that afternoon, and the nighttime was a repeat of the evening before. By the time I left I was convinced that the Danes were the happiest people in the world. Apparently, they still are. And in a country full of warm blonds and cold beer, who can blame them?

Self Serve Christmas Card

We were a little late in putting together the family Christmas card this year, and with the holiday fast approaching, we thought we’d try something a little different this year…

Father Christmas visits 20 Prospect

Dear (insert your name here)

It has been a wonderful and momentous year here at 20 Prospect. We hope that the season finds you all doing well, and that you are having a _____

a.) Merry Christmas

b. ) Happy Hanukkah

c.) Jolly Kwanzaa

It is so hard to believe that 2009 is almost over and that the first decade of the 21st century is coming to an end. Why is seems like only yesterday that ____.

a.) ‘lil Miss 20 Prospect was born.

b.) 20 Prospect Jr. bagged his first squirrel with the .22.

c.) I finished rehab.

Great memories to be sure, but we’re excited about what new adventures await in 2010. Mrs. 20 Prospect and I are so looking forward to ____.

a.) ‘lil Miss 20 Prospect’s next swim meet.

b.)20 Prospect Jr.’s first game misconduct penalty.

c.) Receiving our stimulus check, and government cheese in the mail.

But the end of another year is also a good time to pause and reflect on the past year, and all of the wonderful times that we shared like ___

a.) our family vacation to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Darwin, MN.

b.) Mrs. 20 Prospect being acquitted on all counts.

c.) The amazing success of our Ponzi scheme direct marketing business.

And then there was the time that the Indomitable Moxie ____

a.) ate the Guinea pig.

b.) bit the mailman.

c.)  made an amazing 2,000 mile journey with a cat, and a rabbit, to be re-united with us after we forgot and left her behind on vacation.

We are still laughing about that one! After all of that excitement, I think the whole family agrees that we are looking forward to relaxing over the winter break.

Wishing you a Happy New Year, and looking forward to seeing you ___

a.) on our next trip to Batavia.

b.) at the family re-union next summer.

c.) in hell.

Peace,

The 20 Prospect Family

The Center Cannot Hold

Came across this article over the weekend, on the study of dark matter by Physicists at the U. It was hard to resist the headline “Key to the Universe found on the Iron Range”. It seems one of the enduring mysteries of physics is what holds the universe together. A calculation of the mass of planets and stars in the galaxies reveals that there is not enough mass to create the gravity necessary to hold galaxies together, and prevent stars from spinning off into space. That is where the theory of “dark matter” comes from. Dark matter is theorized to be a substance invisible to the eye that contains enough mass to generate the gravity necessary to hold the universe together.

Cool.

The article doesn’t do a very good job ‘splaining to non-physicists what exactly they found at the bottom of an old iron mine up on “da range”. I’m speculating on a loaf of Potica, or perhaps a Cornish Pasty left behind by a miner.

Cornish Pasty – Key to the universe?

It also brings to mind this poem by William Butler Yeats. I was never a big fan of Yeats, but this one has always given me chills.

The Second Coming  – W.B. Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

If you had to pick one poem to be the theme for the 20th Century, this one would get my vote. A century when the hand of man, in an effort to achieve heaven on earth, unleashed forces upon the world that created living hells. You could make a strong case that modernity is the rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem.