Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Big cans, big trash!

Since the beginning of the millennium we've been outfitted with giant garbage cans. These cavernous monsters, like most everywhere in America, can hold 80 gallons of “stuff.” We get two of them; one for the regular refuse and one for the recyclables. The huge cavity seem like an invitation to dump as much as possible; as a result, everything from tree trunks, old clothes, dead animals to used appliances eventually find their way into the can and on pickup day, all of them are bulging with their lids opened up, as if they were regurgitating the excess load. This, in my view, leads to a self-generated escalation as we all dump more, the contracting company claims more tonnage each year and then can charge the local government accordingly. In this “green” and less profligate era, it seems to me that it would make much more sense to switch to a much smaller size, and if someone still wants a giant dumpster, let them pay a generous surcharge for the extra load. This would save lots of money, encourage more folks to compost or recycle responsibly and put an end to the idea that bigger is always better.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Family reunion

Yesterday's weather was terrific and served as a perfect venue for a family picnic and celebrate – one week later – Father's day... The whole gang went to nearby Midway, a community located on the other side of the Wasatch Mountains for the circumstance and after a delicious lunch in the shade, some passerby from Eastern Oregon took that picture of the six of us standing on the 2002 Olympic Legacy Bridge that spans the Provo River, near the little town of Midway. A Sunday to remember!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Resort real estate

According to the market, we have not seen the bottom of the “normal” real estate yet, that is sales and purchases of homes everyone needs. What I'd like to discuss today though, isn't that kind of real estate or even commercial properties; I want to discuss the mysterious segment of “resort real estate,” you see that one that not really needed by anyone, that “fluff” sector largely made up of second-homes and that has inflated like a giant balloon over the past twenty years... Today that market appears almost totally frozen as investors have either not the extra money to “invest” into a second home, or think that it would be foolish to do so as the prices stay hung up into the stratosphere. The result as been, as realtors put it so aptly, that “prices are holding, but nothing is selling!” In plain language that means simply that the emperor has no clothes and that no one as yet grasped the momentous collapse that's going to seize that superfluous market. My prediction is that the downfall is imminent. We're perhaps still between eight month to a year away from the calamity, but it's coming and we will see something astounding as prices are likely to collapse like we've never seen it before; I anticipate a fall even more drastic than what happened around 1985. The table sums up my prediction. Let's review it at the end of 2010!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fame and Michael Jackson

There's often a point in most people's life when we'd like to be famous; perhaps just for a day to see how it feels. I really think the “King of Pops” fell on the altar of fame and had become a prisoner of that schizophrenic system in which you need to build any sort of walls to shelter you from the rest of the world. Sure, there seem to have been a lot of abuse going around when he was young, but to anyone who's read a few biographies of “stars,” the path they must follow is a very perilous one. It's a bit like climbing a treacherous ridge on the final ascent to a very challenging mountain peak. A few of the countless steps taken can place you in jeopardy of tumbling to your death on either side. For Michael the peak was extraordinarily high and the climb was so technical that it didn't leave him much of that “wiggle room” most of us enjoy. With that in mind, I'm at peace with a non-famous life; after all, I can go shopping and do a multitude of things in all anonymity and I like it a lot...

Friday, June 26, 2009

PR's self-destruction

Yesterday, I just caught myself reading a recent press release about someone I know and came to think that the piece – like million of other such announcements - was coated with a mixture of Teflon, sugar, salt and fat to make it palatable to all and everyone. Yet, in the process, this medium has become incredible, has lost most of its desired effect, and represents a waste of time for the reader, fails to help the subject and reflects poorly on the author. I don't know if you'll agree with this or not, but just like our health-care system, PR as we know it, needs a strong overhaul. Just like breathing, we've come to taking it for granted, but instead of being created on a tired template, it should truly be custom-made, with more texture, with a sprinkling of bad stuff into it, to make the good stand out, with some humor and a genuine creative streak that can get traction with readers. If your daily endeavors get you close to that activity, I'd love to hear your opinion on this...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Time and observation

I've mentioned before that the more time is spend on a project, the better the results. Sure, the law of diminishing returns applies in that domain as well, but it's yet another evidence that it pays to take the time. In the past, I was convinced of this truism when putting thoughts on paper and not necessarily when observing a situation from all of its various angles. The minute you start doing that, you begin to see new elements, surprising features, hidden pathways and can turn a dilemma or something apparently impossible to solve on its head. This happened to me a few days ago, when I saw something feasible, yet very simple, out of an idea I had long given up on. What it took was more observation, looking “outside of the box” as we like to say, to discover that an impasse could be turned into a King's Highway

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Name calling...

Just recently I was told that I was “an arrogant Frog” by someone I know and who holds a very high position in our community. This was the first time – in the 32 I have lived in the United States - that I was called a name like that. At first, I just couldn't believe that such a prominent person could even say something like that. I slept over it and the next day, asked the individual whether he was just kidding, extremely tired or under the influence of some drug or alcohol when he uttered that slur. I was told it wasn't the case; it was just in reaction to an opinion I had expressed. However, it so happened that that person had not paid close attention to what was actually expressed, misinterpreted it, and went on to insulting me! Pretty unbelievable, but I stood my ground with tact and class to eventually prevail. Never roll over and play dead!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Revolution, evolution and compromise

Revolution might be the byproduct of impatience. It generally is very costly and not always efficient. It's very satisfying though as with it, comes generally instant gratification. Since they require perfect timing and the right chemistry, revolutions don't happen all the time either and it's when evolution comes in handy. I'm probably not talking about a Darwinian form of change over a long period of time. I'm not patient enough for that! I tend to prefer the intermediary steps like the compromise or the hybrid solution. That's right, just like the Toyota Prius; half electric, half internal combustion. I usually don't love the “half-baked” nature of compromise, but I'll accept it when there seem to be no other available issue. That's right, to crack the hard sfuf, I'll now be aiming for compromises and we'll see if it works...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fascinated by Facebook

Even though I've been on Facebook for several years, I've never actually used it. One week ago I only had about 10 friends and after this weekend, I must have picked up another 60! What's fascinating with that tool, is that it is so interconnected that there is always someone who has a friend that you somehow manage to know. This said, I can't help but think that folks who have hundreds of such friends must be very hard pressed to get anything done if they ever start paying attention to what's going on in that invisible, but ebullient world... With me, all things come in spurs and these past few days have been Facebook-focused; will that last? The network better deliver on its promises! In the meantime, just like a little kid, I'm discovering all that effervescence and truly enjoying it...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Promontory: A living dinosaur?

Yesterday, we dodged the rain showers and went to visit Promontory, a bankrupt real estate project financed by Credit Suisse, the Swiss financial services outfit run by investment banker Brady Dougan. Between 2004 and 2006, that bank made more than $3 billion of senior secured "predatory" loans to high-end real estate developers operating mostly in the western United States. When Credit Suisse made the loans, it got paid millions in fees and then syndicated them all off to investors, who in the end might just get pennies on the dollar; Credit Suisse had minimal exposure to the original loans.

Promontory, is a gated 7,200 acre, second-home resort with 3 golf courses (2 of them already built) just outside of Park City, where the “top-of-bubble” average price of home stood in the $4 million range, and where out of over a hundred home built, 77 are currently back on the market. Common area charges and club membership dues are staggering and downright unsustainable. Some homes look as if they had been abandoned and unfinished for quite sometime and give the place a eerie appearance. We have a neighbor who built a “spec” home in the hope of making a “quick couple million dollars” that he had put on the market for more than $4 million, is now “reduced” to $2.5 million and isn't likely to find a taker anytime soon.

Today, the question remain as to who would buy these monsters, if so, at which prices and how will that project evolve. It looks like a dinosaur to me and with these animals, evolution has unfortunately run its course...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Change and innovation

If there are two elements that are “joined at the hip,” it's change and innovation. Change is hard and requires lots of begging, nudging, politicking, persistence and boundless education. These traditional methods can take too much time to bring change soon enough, and successful transformations often use a good dose of innovation, either through the nature of the idea itself or the way it's brought into light. The latter is often the most attractive and faster way to trigger change; the challenge however is that it demands a strong charge of creativity. That material is generally not available on demand and seems to manifest itself as a result of painful and arduous research combined with some magical inspiration, which means that a positive outcome is never guaranteed. In my view however, this is just what makes the whole process so attractive!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Job hunting advice

It's been long since I've been looking for a job or have interviewed applicants for a position. I was recently asked for my advice on writing the kind of cover letter typically sent with job applications. As I went through the process with a clear mind and without pressure, I suddenly realized that most of the letters I had ever written on the subject weren't as good as they could have been, and focused too much on showing off my abilities and achievement and missed the opportunity to giving my potential employer a compelling reason for hiring me.

No matter what we're told, we generally stay too much focused on telling our own story, and not enough on confirming what's expected of the job seeker. That when I suddenly realized that some “reverse engineering” is in order to “mirror” what the employer, or I should say the interviewer, will be looking for and the way results are likely to be rated. Simply put, the cover letter must cleverly and succinctly “repackage” what the employer is looking for. I sincerely believe that if I had done that when I was job hunting, I would have been trading a lot of struggles for some stunning successes...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Looking for a happy medium...

Following last night's non-stop deluge and yesterday's announcement by Obama that our government is finally going to place some restrictions on financial institutions, excesses of all types are now flooding my mind. What's too much? I only will go over a few things that are dear to me. For starters, there are too many of us on the planet. Let's reduce our population from 6.7 down to 1.5 billion; how do we do that? Less religion, more birth control, sensible education and let's start taxing families over four people.

Next, we need to stop the migration from rural areas into cities; half of all humanity now lives in metro areas. What ever happened to telecommuting? Of course we must rein in obscene salaries. $20 million a year for a bank CEO, a pro golfer or soccer player? What about $250,000? Don't get me started with big houses; 10,000 square feet homes are unsustainable; cut'em down to 2,000! The list could go on and the paradigm that “we're too big to fail” must be changed to “we're too obese to last...” and as I'm jotting that down, I can't help but think about dinosaurs...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A full night sleep

It used to be that I'd get a full night sleep every day; that's in the old days though, before I reached into my sixties. Today, my days are just fantastic, with not enough time to go around in order to accomplish all the tasks I'd love to do. It's the night that has become a problem; in the evening, I'm usually exhausted and fall right asleep. That the easy and nice part, because pretty soon - it could be as early as midnight, or even before - I start waking up. Often these wake-up sessions occur every one or two hours and it's not unusual that as early as two or three I can't go back to sleep, especially if I have something special, like an upcoming project or a hot idea that will keep me so excited that I'm done for the night. That's right, a full night sleep is for me a thing of the past... Perhaps, I should lead a more boring life, without anything to keep me enthused or looking forward to tomorrow, but I guess that's the way sleep now works (or rather doesn't) for me!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iran and the Internet

The events that are stirring up Iranian society at the moment have shown the power of the Internet in exposing tyranny and oppression. Between on line 24-7 news, the blogs and the social networks, there are now few places that can remain fully isolated on the planet and where blatant injustice can keep on hiding without fear of retribution. This reminds me of course of what really caused the fall of communism and more tangibly the breakup of the Berlin Wall.

Folks with a right-wing agenda have long postulated that the two individuals behind these seismic events were Ronald Reagan and John-Paul II, and not necessarily in that order. I never fully agreed with that assumption and have always held the belief that instead, it was a cocktail of CNN, satellite TV and Hollywood productions that collectively brought down the old “commie” system. While these forces remain at work today, the power of the Internet is what will make impossible to stuff the genie back inside its bottle...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Awesome deluge

To folks who don't know Utah or the Rocky Mountain West region, I always describe our weather as a two-season deal. A wet season running from November through May where we get generously snowed-in, followed by a dry, dusty period that span from June until the end of October; in other words shorts and t-shirt's weather. This year has been an exception to that rule and we've never seen such a downpour in the near quarter century we've lived in Park City. Since May 29, it's been raining every single day and abundantly at that. Our garden looks beautiful and as green as if had been transported near Seattle or parachuted somewhere in Haute-Savoie, France. Are we tired yet of all that rain? Hardly, because we know that in a few days or a few weeks, we'll be back to that “permanently boring” blue sky where you only see a few jet contrails now and then and if we're very lucky some lost strayed cumulus clouds seemingly asking for directions to a place where they can empty themselves...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The poison of religion

If the recent Iranian election outcome is any indication that theocracy is bad, we should remember that it finds its roots in religion. So whether people live in theocracies like Iran, Israel, Utah, or somewhere else in the world where the perverse effects of religion aren't as visible, they should be remembered that the ingredient that poisons every mind around us is good old religion. It kills more people than any other ailment known to man and remains the most corrupt excuse for doing anything that goes against the interest of humanity or the planet it lives on.

That's right, religion is a mental poison that is still affecting billions of people just like pollution and CO2 are poisoning mother earth. Will it change? Yes, through tons of justice and education and this is why it's likely to take a very long time for the human race to totally shed its shackles of organized religion, something invented when our ancestors still lived in caves and had very good reasons to be scared of everything. Today, it's time for each human being to keep religion if they want to keep it, like a very private trait and treat it like so many others to finally grow up an appreciate the joy of living free on this earth!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Inspiration from visualization (Part 2)

The virtues of painting a mental picture to create a better outcome in sport seems pretty obvious. Now how do we transpose that “recipe” into the world of business or personal management? The principle remains the same; we need an “example” or a model that we can literally bring into the picture and watch how he or she would respond to the challenge we don't seem capable of handling. The key to making that work is to pick someone we know as well as possible, we respect and admire a lot and can mentally picture to come and take control of the situation. This is not as far-fetched as you might think. Remember situations when your boss came to untie an apparently hopeless knot and, as you watched the process, you knew all the steps so well that you could even anticipate the next move while thinking “Gee, I could have done that myself!” This is what I'm talking about. Bringing that third party we admire into the process breaks the fear that paralyzes, take us momentarily away from the minutia of the moment and gives us a protected “peek” on how the process works and the knot gets untied. If that idea makes sense, and if you have success stories you want to share, jot them down here!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Inspiration from visualization

When I want to ski smoothly, visualizing a great skier helps me tremendously, and whenever I can think of it, or need that little extra boost, I bring that picture on my mental screen. Along the same idea, I've also discovered that when I run and I find the hill too steep or my legs are feeling a bit tired, I bring back the picture of Constantina Tomescu-Dita from Romania, who won the 2008 Women’s Olympic Marathon, leaving an incredible gap between her and the silver medalist.

Watching this event has made such an impression on me that I will never forget it. I keep on seeing her flying and extracting strength out of thin air. As soon as I visualize her dominating that race, my stride suddenly lengthens, I feel much lighter and start moving faster. It's as if my feet barely hit the ground and all begin to feel a lot easier and effortless. It's pure magic and I marvel how this “mental pill” has the raw power to boost my physical strength to such a degree.

Tomorrow, I'll expand into other areas where we can also use that tool in order to re-focus ourselves and achieve even more.

To be continued...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What can Obama do?

My European friends often ask me if we're already sensing progress from the Obama administration in terms of economic recovery. I always tell them that it's much too early to tell. Since he came into office, our new president has had to make one rash decision after the other. I don't think there is much he can actually control. The only thing he must do however, is avoid making colossal mistakes. Another element he'll need a lot is good luck and that magic ingredient is neither predictable nor quantifiable when and if it happens. It's pretty much like what happens while driving through mud and snow; it's a matter of staying relax and not holding too tight to the wheel. Maneuvering from the sea of red ink we're now in, into a more manageable fiscal policy will be tricky and frankly I don't see who is better equipped to achieve this high-wire act than him. There are few visible “eagles” in his team and count on them making more mistake as we move along...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Our daily efforts

Next to our “daily bread,” another important life ingredient could be called our daily dose of efforts. We all have a project, a regimen, something that is not essential to our survival, but yet take a huge importance into our present life that it often creates a vibrant difference between success and mediocrity.

This “little something” often creates an impressive result that is nothing else, but the sum of modest daily efforts. Call it the “cumulative effect” of these invisible endeavors, but it grows surely, anonymously, without making any noise and eventually blossoms into the kind of “overnight success” that make others wonder. Today, I want to pay homage to that special dose of daily efforts that many of us producing and will one day create that other important difference guaranteed to catch everyone by surprise...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Interviews with Jesus

I've known sister Mireille for a long time. Actually, I knew her long before she became a nun in Lourdes, France where she now resides and attend to her duties. Over the years, she's developed a tight relationship with Mary, Jesus' mom and I wasn't totally surprised when she told me that she obtained Jesus' Skype address from her, and I suddenly was in business, ready for a series of interview with the person, that at least in my view, is still more popular than the Beatles. As you would imagine, getting through Jesus isn't that easy, even on Skype.

When it's attended, the line is generally busy and the times at which Jesus is at the computer are totally random which makes connecting with him more a matter of luck than an orderly process. No, there's is no webcam, at least in the two times we've been chatting, I had to deal with a blank screen. Like you, I wonder how he now looks like... In the upcoming blogs, expect a to read some of the interviews that will be conducted with him and, if all goes as planned, we should have some pretty amazing stories between now and the end of the year, so just keep on visiting my blog and look for some exclusive material likely to shake your socks off!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bernanke's interview

Last night's CBS 60 Minutes interview with our Federal Reserve Chairman was just “PR journalism,” superficial at best and a “staged event” that didn't disclose any fact that could give me a reliable sense of what to expect in the coming months. While I'm still waiting for my “magic economic bowl” described yesterday on this blog to start working and show the future outlook, I can't help but think that a combination between real estate and financial recovery partially holds the key to an improved economic outlook. Someone I met last week said, “if there is any kind of turn-around, all of us [not the government] will have to make it happen;” to this, I'd be tempted to add that if we want a full recovery at our egoistical or individual level, it may require that we “steal” that incremental gain from others as the “whole pie” is earmarked for long term stagnation, if not decline. Just a thought for the day, but one I need to expand on...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Economic forecast bowl

I'm not talking today about a crystal bowl, but yes – a kind of salad bowl – where a vast variety of ingredients are going to be mixed. Overpopulation, dwindling natural resources, climate change, education, health, food sources including water, human nature, culture, religion, politics and migrations, to get the forecasting process going. I'm not kidding; I trust this mixture may well reveal to us what tomorrow's economic picture will look like.

I've not played yet with the content of that bowl and have not even began to mix it; intuitively however, I believe that if I spend any quality time on it, it might expose some pretty reliable and eye-opening trends. Please, do me a favor; before I stir the bowl, review the ingredients that are in and let me know if I have forgotten anything. Seasonings? Yeah, there will be some, Go11 style!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Getting rich on health care...

We know how dysfunctional the American health care system is. If we needed to sum it all up and compare it with the rest of the civilized world, we could just take the information recently published in the Economist tables. Just read on...

  • According to the magazine, the US spends 15.4% of GDP on health care, including government and private expenses. This gets us 2.6 doctors per 1,000 people, 3.3 hospital beds and we live to an average age of 78.2
  • The UK spends 8.1% of GDP, gets 2.3 doctors, 4.2 hospital beds and live to an average age of 79.4. So for roughly half the cost their citizens overall get about the same benefits.
  • Canada spends 9.8% of GDP, gets 2.1 doctors, 3.6 hospital beds and all live until they are 80.6 yrs
Continental Europe does even better:
  • France spends 10.5%, gets 3.4 docs, 7.5 beds and all live to 80.6
  • Spain spends 8.1% , gets 3.3 docs , 3.8 beds and all live to 81
  • As a whole Europe spends 9.6% of GDP on health care, has 3.9 doctors per 1,000 people, 6.6 hospital beds and its citizens live to 81.15 years old.
Now, don't tell me that US doctors, hospitals, drug and insurance companies aren't lining up their pockets!

Friday, June 5, 2009

More about aspen trees...

I have already written about these slender broadleaf trees of the Rocky Mountain, perhaps better known for their golden autumn foliage. They grows at elevations between 6,500 to 11,000 and usually in groves. They commonly grows to 20 to 60 feet in height and less than 20 inches in diameter, but a few reach 100 feet in height and 3 feet in diameter. Individual Aspen trees are relatively short-lived, rarely exceeding 100 years; they're easily damaged by fire, wind, and a very large number of kinds of insects, fungi, and animals. Most of the trees that are around our house and in our area are Aspens. This week, they are trying to have sex and are “snowing cotton” like we've rarely seen it. Around noon, the air around the house really looks like a snowstorm and as we're eating lunch outside, the large flakes land in our plates or into our glasses. All that work might very well be in vain because the seeds hardly ever germinate and grow; the sprouts growing from the root are the tree real reproductive tool... Well, I didn't see much sex in all of that; just a great deal of natural fibers!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Great news for Utah!

By adding a new non-stop flight between Salt Lake and Tokyo, just after the Salt Lake – Paris connection, Utah is now adding another long-haul, international connection into Asia. This should bring more tourism business and further break up our “landlocked” status that is part and parcel of living in the Rockies. I just hope that the five-flight a week link to the land of the rising sun makes enough money to last. Good job Delta and best of luck with this second worldly flight!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Are new planes sturdy enough?

Following the crash of Air France flight 447 between Rio and Paris, I've read a lot of reports, a few questioning the “fly-by-wire” system of the Airbus 330 aircraft and some related flight incidents, but none wondering if the search for fuel efficiency in recent years has not led engineers to designs planes that are a bit less sturdy and less apt at taking the severe beating that violent, high altitude storms, might subject a fairly large aircraft. That's the way I'm tempted to think at the moment, especially in view of upcoming designs like the new Boeing 787 (that has yet to fly its maiden voyage) and that is mostly built with composite materials. My next door neighbor, Ed Thiel, a 777 captain, doesn't think so, and believe that if anything, new planes are sturdier than ever. I personally am not so sure. Is there any aircraft designer out there who might read this and would comment on it?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

On GM's survival...

Now that GM has finally filed for bankruptcy reorganization, all the pundits are wondering if this time, it will work. Most talk about sales volume, economic recovery and management resolve as the key to GM resurrection. I'm skeptical and here is why... I've always been of the opinion that Detroit in general, and GM in particular, had for more than forty years, a serious product problem.

It wasn't exciting, innovative and was the main reason why masses of motorists had migrated towards Japanese, Korean and European imports. In a few words it was “the product, stupid!” Today, BMW, Honda and Toyota are leaders of their industry and mostly through innovative designs. For GM to survive and thrive, it will take the American firm to do as well or even overtake these three brands on the drafting table. Unless, I'm missing some secret information, that will be a tough one...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Reasonable and unreasonable

How should reasonable folks deal with unreasonable demands is a question that never cease to come up, as unreasonable persons don't understand what is within reason or not, and always keep encroaching on a territory that makes many downright uncomfortable. The answer is quite simple; just clearly say no and, if possible, explain which feeling or physical strain the outlandish demand brings into the picture.

I believe it's important to explain why – even so succinctly – a certain type of expectation is not within the realm of possibility. If you're one of these reasonable individuals, don't think the fancy requests will stop there however; they'll be repeated in the future as the unreasonable character never knows where to stop or has generally no idea where the boundaries should be. You'll be just practicing your answers, blurting them out instinctively and genuinely, thus guaranteeing that you'll never be stuck again with accomplishing a task that makes you downright uncomfortable...