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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Picture Technique and Logic

Now that my wife and I are communicating strictly through my blog site, I wanted to take a quick moment and answer her question.

"What's up with the side profile? Do you think it is your better look or what?"

My answer is three fold.
First, from the side, I think I look much thinner. Compare this picture to the ones from the last post.

Second, I hate asking people to take my picture. It seems vain and touristy, especially when I'm not on vacation with my family. So I found that if I hold the camera in one hand with my arm extended, point it toward my head and guess about where the background is going to be I can (with a couple of tries) get a pretty good shot of myself.

Third, it's my new effort at branding myself. All of my blog pictures of myself are going to be side profiles. It's what sets me apart.

Okay, I made the 3rd one up, but it sounds good, so maybe I'll go with it.

4170 Words

If a picture is worth a thousand words, here is four thousand one hundred and seventy of them.

Took this right after I made sure my dad was on the mailing list. They said practically everyone in the world is in our database. I actually found out the office joke is if they really wanted to find Osama Bin Laden, they'd just ask AARP. He's in their database somewhere... and approaching 50 I hear!

Dinner Monday night at Smith and Wolowsky - great salad, great filet, good cheesecake, but should have had the chocolate cake. Layers of cake and creamy moose / frosting stuff. It filled an entire salad plate.

The cigar store indian located outside the cigar bar we went to after dinner. After my diet coke with a lime (I'm a hard core drinker) I smell like smoke. The conversation was great and honestly, more work connections are made after hours.

The HUMONGOUS bathroom in my hotel room. For $183 a night, you would have thought you could have actually opened the door all the way instead of having it hit the edge of the toilet. Maybe not.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Washington DC Day 1 Highlights and Blackberries

After arriving yesterday and sleeping 10 hours last night. (I was exhausted after only 3.5 hours of sleep the night before) I had a great day.

Here's the highlights of what I learned and experienced today.

At the US Chamber of Commerce:
There are a lot of issues that I had no idea that a chamber of commerce would even care about. However, after hearing them talk about some, I'm glad they do. In a week, when I get back from my trip, I'll spend more time on these issues, but for now, I'll leave it that I experienced why our country is so great, yet so messed up politically. It takes 3 organizations to debate and argure who's right and wrong so it can take a couple hundred people to decide what's going to become a law.

I managed to lose my cell phone in the taxi cab that took us from the US Chamber to the AARP building. While I was waiting patiently and confidently amid my panic attack for the cab driver to return sith my phone after calling 20 or so times before some passanger found it on the floor of the cab, the rest of the group took a tour. It's probably okay that I missed the tour, because I'm a long way's from 50 years old and wasn't very interested in it anyway.

They did feed us lunch, which was very nice and tasty too, so in that regard, I'm glad I went.

Small Business Administration:
The meeting went something like this.
Us: Here's what we do...
Them: Here's what we do...
Us: We're ticked off because you screwed our city out of this or that, what do you have to say for yourself?
Them: That's an interesting question, I'm going to defer that to my superior who isn't here right now, but please leave me your card and I'll pass the question on.
Us: Uh... okay.
Politics at its finest I thought.

I did make special note based on my observations of one of the speakers. I realized this when I became bored of being bored while listening to blah blah blah for 10 minutes and looked around to see who else was feeling the same way. I wasn't the only one. I counted 20% of the group was checking or sending email on their blackberries. Another 5% were actually sleeping or at least had thier eyes closed. And I couldn't quantify, but I would guess another 20% were doodeling or doing something else. So let's call it 45% of the group wasn't paying attention. Out of 20 people that's got to hurt if your the one speaking. Mind you these are professional adults, not hung over college students either.

My 3 suggestions on preventing boredom while you speak:
  1. Have some passion and conviction about what you say.
  2. Don't appear or communicate rude or smug.
  3. Whatever you communicate, say it so that it relates to your audience's point of view.

Out of Town on Business

A very cool part of my job occurs this week when I got to get up on Sunday morning at 3:45am.
Okay, that's not so cool, but what is nice is going to DC for the week at the company's expense.

We're heading to Washington DC on the 2006 Legislative Action Mission through the local chamber of commerce.

The highlights of my schedule are:
Staying at the Hotel Washington
6-9pm - Welcome Dinner at Ristorante La Perla
8:30-9:30 US Chamber of Commerce
10:00-11:30 AARP - getting information for my dad (HaHa)
Lunch at DC Chophouse & Brewery
1:00-4:00 US SBA meet with Porter Montgomery (senior advisor)
Dinner at Smith & Wollensky Restaurant
8:00-9:00 Meeting on Fair Tax Initiative
10:00-11:30 US Dept. of Labor
Lunch Capitol City Brewing Co
2:30-4:00 US Dept of Transportation
6:00-7:30 Reception by Mexican Consulant
7:30-9:00 Congressional Breakfast
9:30-10:15 Congressman Duncan Hunter, Chairman, House Armed Services Committee
11:30-12:30 Lunch with Speaker of House J. Dennis Hastert
12:30-1:00 Congressman Peter Hoekstra, Chairman, House Permanent, select committee on intelligence
1:30-2:00 Congressmean James Sensenbrenner, Chairman, House Judiciary Committee
5:00-7:00 Congressional Reception
Tour Whitehouse
Fly home
Sleep all day

I'll update and post pictures as the week goes on.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Oh, How My Life Has Changed

Ask someone from my parent's generation where they were when Kennedy was shot and they'll describe it with detail. Ask someone of my generation where they were when the space shuttle Columbia blew up and you'll get the same thing. Of course ask anyone where they were on 9-11 and you'll get more detail than you want. Why? Because these things are major events in our lives that change and shape us forever.

Ask me where I was 8 years ago today and I can give you a lot of detail because my life was changed forever, only not through tragedy like the examples I gave, but for the better.

February 24th, 2006 8:44am I am on the couch in the upstairs living room of our first house in Ames, Iowa. My wife is on the couch with me and we are watching television and paying close attention to my watch. I skipped class for the day. It was the last semester of my MBA program, I was allowed at least one skip day in 2 years. I did call my professors and tell them I was skipping.

Why do I remember all of this? Because my lovely wife, Deann was in labor with our first child, Jacob. Her contractions started in the night and we were up tracking how far apart they were. Jacob wasn't born until 12:15am on February 25th, his great grandpa Dick's birthday (which made him even more proud)

Amazing how in 8 years your life have so many changes and other events happen, but you still remember the important ones. They seemed to be etched in your brain for eternity.

Happy Birthday Jacob - my big 8 year old son!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Are you taking applications?

Okay, so I just got settled into my job, but when I read this article. I had to pause and wonder if they were taking applications. (no not really)

According to Yahoo!News the sheriff of Spotsylvania, VA was running a sting operation on "full service" massage parlors - if you know what I mean ;)

Well, to go the extra mile and make sure he got the conviction his detectives received sexual services as part of the investigation, using $1200 at various massage parlors. They even left a $350 tip at one place!

Wow! What would the interview for that job be like? "So Mr. Barrett, could you tell me what makes you qualified for this job?" Uhhh, yeah... I don't think so.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Meet Ben Casnocha

If you couldn't tell by recent posts I have been doing a lot of blogsploring lately. Mostly along the lines of small business / entrepreneur blogs. It's all part of a new newsletter that we are going to do here at work. I promise this too shall pass and I will quit boring you with all kinds of business information... maybe... or maybe I'll start another blog devoted to it. Who knows, that's not the point.

The point is I came across a particular blog which blew me away and I have to share it with you. Not because it is the best in the world, although the information is quite good, but because it is written by a 17 year old "kid".

When I was 17, I was more interested in going to the movies, hanging out with friends and making out with my girlfriend (who's now my wife - thank you). This guy is writing book reviews, commenting on resumes and discussing leadership issues. He makes me look like a slacker.

At 12 he started his own dot com company. At 14 he started another. His latest posts cover everything from poor career skills, pursuing happiness, leadership and his high school basketball team. Check out Ben Casnocha's blog. Forget that he's 17 and learn from him.

Spending Change

When I was younger I was told I should track every penny that I spend for an entire month. The results were supposed to shock me so badly that I wouldn't ever spend frivolously again. Unfortunately when I was younger I never followed through on anything. Fortunately, I never spent that frivolously to begin with. None the less, it is a good exercise and we should all try it at least once.

Did you know that the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics tracks this same thing on a nationwide level?

Each year they conduct the Consumer Expenditure Survey. It's long, it's boring and I don't expect you to read it, but if you can't sleep tonight, here's the link to the 75 page (1.2MB) report.

Let me summarize for you:
The Top 10 Trends of the report:
  1. APPAREL: Casual dressing - Average household spending on apparel plummeted 17 percent between 2000 and 2003, after adjusting for inflation. Down 28% on men's suits and down 48% on women's dresses. Who needs a $500 suit when you can buy pants at Old Navy for $20?
  2. ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES: Wine drinking - Beer buying went down 8% while wine buying went up 4%. Big buyers of wine are 45-64 years old. Baby boomers are behind this one.
  3. ENTERTAINMENT: Cocooning - Cable TV went up 23%; TV sets up 32%. Cable or Satellite TV makes up 21% of the average household entertainment budget while most out-of-home spending went down.
  4. GROCERIES: No cooking - Fresh prepared foods went up 20%. So did frozen dinners by 14%; prepared deserts by 12%; prepared salads 3%. My grandma Rachel's chocolate cake from scratch is a thing of the past I guess.
  5. HEALTH CARE: Biting the bullet - Out of pocket expenses up 19%
  6. HOME FURNISHINGS: Lawn mowing - Thank HGTV for a rise in 11% in lawn and garden equipment as well as decorating and furniture rising of 14%.
  7. INFORMATION: Cell phoning - Spending on cell phone service doubled. If you're under 25 years old, you spent more on cell service than you did land lines.
  8. PETS: Empty-nesting - Baby boomer's kids leave home, they spend less on kids, more on pets. So when your mom and dad kick it and leave you with $4.38 as your inheritance, might I suggest looking under Rover's dog house for the remainder of your money.
  9. RESTAURANTS: Sitting down - Again Baby Boomers without kids are eating out at full service restaurants, while us kids of Baby Boomers are taking our kids to cheaper fast food establishments. My thought - take your parent's beloved Rover to the restaurant, chop it up and drop it in the food. Then sue the restaurant for serving you dog meat. You'll get revenge on both of the people taking your inheritance.
  10. TRANSPORTATION: Shifting gears - Trucks, Minivans and SUV's up 51%.

So there you have it, and no I didn't read it either. I just summarized the summary of Anita Campbell

Monday, February 20, 2006

Fair Warning About Calling Me

As many of you know, since moving to Colorado Springs about 7 weeks ago, we have been living in the basement of my father-in-law and his wife's house while we wait for our house back in Iowa to sell. Not exactly stylish for the young and upcoming professional that I am, but it does have its definate advantages.

For example: When My father-in-law answers the phone it is never with the traditional "Hello" or "Klever residence". Instead you usually get "You have just entered the twilight zone" spoken with a eerie voice, or his favorite "Klever Kingdom, this is the king speaking". This becomes particularly fun when one of my friends (no names Ashley) calls and hears the Klever Kingdom greeting, pauses, mutters something unintelligibile and hangs up. A few seconds later the phone rings again, my wife answers with the usual "Hello." and someone (no names Ashley) says "Oh, wow, I just tried calling you and got the wrong number. I got some kind of animal kingdom or something."

So be warned when you call. Klever Kingdom or Animal Kingdom, if you squint real hard there's not a lot of difference. We're all a bunch of baboons and hyenas (I'll let you decide who is which) But we are having a great time out here laughing at all the people who call, hang up and call again.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Late Night Munchies Online

Came across this website. I thought it was pretty ingenious, plus the food looks good too.

Simple, quick & efficient. Now I just need them to deliver to Colorado.

Thanks Ramit for the link.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Viral Branding

Yaro Starak of Small Business Branding and Marketing had a post on Viral Marketing.
You all know what Viral Marketing is, even if you've never heard it called that before.

"Viral marketing in a nutshell is when a company creates something that is interesting and compelling enough to make a person want to forward it to their friends or pass the word on."

Drawing major attention for a small business has been done with Viral Marketing. A great way to take your sales through the roof if done correctly.

Here are some great examples of Viral Marketing - Might I suggest the game "Revenge of the DeBug"

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I'm Wanted, Dead or Alive

Perhaps I've always been a bit shady. Never quite legitimate. But when I called the police station last night and found that there had been a warrant issued for my arrest it proved my point.

February 14th, Valentine's Day 2006. I was enjoying a mildly romantic evening of fondue with my lovely wife when it suddenly dawned on me that my speeding ticket had not been paid.

I got this speeding ticket shortly after I received a phone call from my wife telling me that our youngest son Tyler needed to be taken to the emerge-care center because he had a horrible ear ache and it couldn't wait to see a doctor. My wife, almost in tears asked "Could you go pick up Jacob from school on the other side of town? You need to be there in 10 minutes." Off like a flash, I jumped in the car and drove slightly faster than legal limits allowed to his school. Less than a mile away from school, I had the opportunity meet Officer Davis. A nice young fellow with a propensity to not cut any slack. "Thank you officer." I said as I drove 2 miles per hour under the speed limit to school to get my son.

So there I am 10:45PM on Valentine's Day night and instead of winking at my wife, I'm speaking to Stacy at the Northwest District Police Office in Colorado Springs. "We're open 24 hours a day." she said, so I went down to straighten things out and hopefully not spend the night in a small cell with Bubba. "Oh, I'm sorry, you're not in the system yet, so you'll have to go to Municipal Court tomorrow to straighten this out." Stacy said with a smile.

So I'm on the lamb. Running from the law. My family could be busted for aiding and abetting. SWAT is probably rigging their harnesses on the roof, ready to swing through the window, shattering glass as I'm laying in bed sleeping.

So I went to Municipal Court this morning. As I walked through security I put everything I owned in this little Tupperware dish, then a stern constipated man wearing dark sunglasses said "Take your belt off." I thought "Wow a full body cavity search just for a speeding ticket, come on!" Then I was pointed to the sign which said everyone takes off their belt when going through the metal detector. "Sure" I said, blushing slightly and a little disapointed.

I went to pay my ticket. They announced I had a warrant for my arrest. I said "I'm not going down with out a fight!" I shoved the sheriff away, grabbed his gun and shot my way out... right after I paid my ticket and thanked the lady behind the counter.

Careful... I'm a dangerous man. Wanted - Dead or Alive.

Everyone Sing Along!
I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride
I’m wanted dead or alive
Wanted dead or alive
I walk these streets, a loaded six string on my back
I play for keeps, ’cause I might not make it back

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Two Ears, One Mouth

"The quality of our relationships is directly tied to the quality of our listening."

Recently I sat on the couch and listened for 15 minutes as my 3 year old son tried to explain to me why he didn't like his school. What a challenge, but what an exercise. It came down to he didn't like being left at school for the 20 minutes after other kids are taking naps and he is made to sit quietly and look at books. Solution - my wife picks him up right after lunch.

Coaching or mentoring is an activity that we are all involved in. If you are a leader, people come to you for help in how to do what they are doing better. Whether that is live life closer to God, run your business better, or have a closer relationship with your spouse (don't forget men, it is Valentine's Day and you should already have bought your card) you are coaching or mentoring them.

I had the opportunity recently to sit in on the Colorado Springs SCORE chapter for a number of reasons. During the meeting, Fred and Marti from A company called The Coaching Biz shared a great tool for coaching and mentoring through listening.
These are the notes from their talk:

Listen for what they want.
The steps are:

1. Prepare to Listen
a. Choose to be a listener (turn off the dialogue in your own head)
b. Take care of distractions
c. Or schedule a time to listen later

2. Listen fully
a. Listen until they are empty (no questions, interruptions, or comments)
b. Listen as if they are brilliant
c. Ask only "What do you want?" and "What else?"
d. Let them know you are listening with eye contact and nods.

3. Affirm the Speaker
a. Show gratitude that they are sharing
b. Verbally demonstrate that you understand their feelings, desires, ideas, reactions, and that they can have what they want.

4. Feedback What They Want
a. Turn their complaints into requests
b. Send back to them their desires and ideas
c. Ask, "Is that accurate?"
d. Repeat as needed

These are all great points, but I think the trap we (at least I) fall into with coaching and mentoring is that we (I) know it all. I know how to solve your problems and if you'll just take this pill and do these three steps all your problems are cured. But you (I) have to listen fully to everything... until they are empty, then guide them down the path to discover their own answer.

We've all read, heard, and probably memorized the quote, "People won't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Listening is a great way to show how much you care.

Friday, February 10, 2006

More Pics From the Road

Using my own 3 tips for taking pictures while driving, I snapped this picture at a stop sign.

Now, granted I'm a die-hard PC guy (save the jabs for later - I know I'm a dying breed) but I had to agree with this bumper sticker.
I mean if I was driving a bright blue Dodge Neon, I certainly would rather be driving a Mac too.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Small Business Blogging

In Colorado Springs, over 96% of the businesses are small businesses (according to the PPLD Business Research Librarian). Many of you are small business owners; entrepreneurs at heart.

I found this article interesting. Written by Dan Bricklin, the guy who invented the first spreadsheet program called VisiCalc, it addresses small business blogging. Written in 2002 I thought he was pretty insightful for writing it more than a year before I even knew blogs existed. His advice is still relevant and still something to consider

He makes the points:
  1. Blogging is great for consultants - Blogging is a way of showing your expertise and establishing yourself as a trustworthy authority without doing the travel.
  2. Blogging is great for Bed and Breakfasts - A blog can be very effective, especially given the attachment some people have to the areas where they vacation. Keeping previous guests updated on weather, events, improvements and local happenings will keep their emotions tied to you all year long.
  3. Blogging is great for specialty retail stores - Many specialty retail stores rely on regular customers coming in to talk and see what's new in the field as well as in the store. Customers just want to get a "fix" of their area of interest from a face they know. While they don't usually buy anything (or just a low margin consumable) during these visits, the visits are crucial to loyalty that leads to major purchases.
  4. Blogging is great for supplemental customer support - Frequently asked questions and tips can covered ("At this time of year everybody seems to have problems with their gutters..." or "With the continuing city drought regulations here's the best way to deal with those plants we sold in the spring...").
  5. Blogging is great for crisis management - Small businesses and organizations can't rely on press conferences and local media to tell their story the way a large national company can. (They also don't have some of the legal restrictions of publicly held companies to muzzle them.) A blog can be used to instantly respond to local news coverage, provide information to all interested parties, and have explicit written material for the press and others to refer to.

In summary, I think his underlying theme is that blogs create a way to take that personal touch that many small businesses thrive on and put it in cyberspace. Now a customer can maintain feeling connected one-on-one to you and your business without ever stepping in your store. It helps develop your personality as part of your organization.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

3 Tips for Driving Photographers

We all see strange things on the road, but this one made me jump for a second. Imagine driving 70mph down the Interstate, when you see this white Jeep pull in front of you.

Fortunately I had my camera with me as I drove so I could share the moment.

Examine the picture below and tell me what's wrong. I understand that there is a pretty significant glare on the rear window, but do your best to figure it out.

3 tips to simultaneous driving and picture taking.
  1. Always have the camera in the front seat with you. It's very unsafe to reach around behind you into the back seat and try to retrieve the camera.
  2. Rest the camera on top of the steering wheel. This typically only works if you are driving in a straight line (i.e. highway driving) If turning corners you may end up with a picture of the french fry you lost in the air vent last month when you had to slam on the brakes to avoid rear ending the jerk in front of you, thereby sending your whole super-size fries hurling forward at the dash. It also helps you hold it steady with the motion of the car as you drive over potholes, etc.
  3. Use the view screen. This allows you to still use peripheral vision to see objects around you. Don't try to stick your eye up to the eye hole and shoot pictures like a traditional camera. It's going to be pretty hard to explain to the state patrol why you have "nonnac" imprinted above your left eye after you caused a 6 car pile up.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Hanging @ Governor Willie's Crib

Thursday night, I escorted my lovely wife and her new hairdo to Denver for an evening of hors d'oeuvres at the honorable Governor Bill Owen's mansion. It is one of the many such perks of my job.

We were all there primarily to celebrate those entrepreneurs who had graduated from the NxLevel program. But let's be honest, we all came to see where the governor hangs out.

I would love to say I took tons of pictures of my bride and I looking from the balcony over the garden and the Denver skyline beyond, or sitting at the exquisite marble table as we ate tasty treats. However, my wife didn't want to take her purse in and I didn't want to look to touristy by carrying my camera around, so I left it in the car.

So instead of fabulous images of our ritzy evening, you get this: A snapshot of a beverage napkin I used with the governor's seal on it. It's almost the same I think.

Here are some images of what it does look like, but notice I'm not in any of them... because I didn't take any of them.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Meeting the Father of Spam

I am so excited. In less than an hour I get the distinct privilege of meeting Gary Thuerk, the Father of Spam. He was given that dubious honor because he was the man who sent the very first spam back in 1978. He's coming to my office so we can discuss the workshop he is going to be teaching for me at the Small Business Development Center on March 9th.

He has been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, the LA Times and even Guinness World Records mentions him

His workshop is going to be on spam of course, but more on the topic of building and working in a creative work environment.

From the few emails and phone calls we've had so far he seems like a great guy. And no I won't give out his email so you can all have your vengeance by signing him up for every spam list in cyberspace. I won't give it... but I might sell it! Hey small business is all about making the deal right???

Anyway, if you're in Colorado Springs on the 9th, let me know and I'll make room for you at our workshop.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Virgin Digital

While up at our print shop last week, I noticed an interesting picture. I began to study it and discovered that it was a collage that had band names in it.

Later I found it comes from Virgin Digital and evidentally there are 72 bands represented. For example, the cart holding the vases of shot guns and roses is Guns and Roses.

You can view the full size picture here.

I got: Guns and Roses, Smashing Pumpkins, Matchbox 20, Green Day, Blind Mellon, White Snake, Alice in Chains, The Eagles, The B-52's, The Rolling Stones, U2, Led Zepplin, Korn, then I had to go back to work.

Which ones can you find? (no fair googling for the answers either - try to use your brain, not your fingers)