Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The 5 Items You Should Actually Capitalize



I know You might Think the Capitalization in this Sentence is a Little Off, but I can Tell you that I See sentences Just Like this every Single Day.

I believe the cause of most of this unnecessary capitalization stems from the fact that a lot of content creators use capitalization for emphasis when they are writing. But that doesn’t mean those content creators are correct. In fact, I would argue littering a piece with all that erroneous capitalization actually draws emphasis away from its overall message.

Before you capitalize a word, ask yourself why you are capitalizing it. Is the word at the beginning of a sentence? Then go right ahead and capitalize that word.

Is the word a proper noun? If it truly is, then go ahead and capitalize the word or words that make up that proper noun. If you are uncertain if something is a proper noun or not, you can conduct a Google search with the word or words both capitalized and not capitalized, and you’ll most likely quickly find your answer.

Is the word part of a headline or subhead? If so, and it is not one of the words that should not be capitalized in title case, then capitalize that word. A quick search on ‘title capitalization’ should yield some great tools that can help guide you with proper title case. 

And, of course, don’t forget to capitalize the pronoun ‘I’ and the days of the week, months, and holidays.

But if a word is none of these five things – at the beginning of a sentence, a proper noun, part of a headline or subhead, I, or one of the date-related items we capitalize – then it should not be capitalized. It really is that simple.

In addition to capitalizing for emphasis, another common error content creators make is to capitalize concepts like ‘business analysis’ or services like ‘report editing for enterprises’. Many of these same content creators will also capitalize industries like finance, education, and manufacturing, as well as business areas like human resources, sales, or marketing. But, none of these things need to be capitalized.

Before you capitalize any of these terms, consider whether they should really be capitalized, or if they are simply a company term, an industry term, or just a term you wish to call out in your content. Do not capitalize that word, or group of words, unless they fall under one of the five capitalization rules above.

Remember, you have tools like making words bold or italicized to create emphasis – or putting the words inside a sentence separator like this – but do not capitalize these words just to give them emphasis or to call out your company or industry terms.

Content creators should try hard not to break these capitalization rules. But, if you must break the rules and capitalize words that you really shouldn’t, at least capitalize consistently. If you capitalize Marketing as a concept or a department in the first sentence of a paragraph, then you should capitalize it as a concept or department in the fourth sentence of the paragraph, and when used throughout the rest of your article or document.

Content creators should also be mindful that if they capitalize subheads, table content, figure content, or any other items in an article or document, those items should be capitalized consistently. Special care should also be given to using consistent title case as well. Create a list of title case words that should be capitalized and apply it consistently as well. You can do a Google search to find these terms and also customize it for your particular style, company, and industry.

By simply applying capitalization consistently and only in the five necessary instances above, you can declutter your pieces and save your editorial staff hours of unnecessary de-capitalization. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Problem With The Value And Faith We Put In Paper And Electronic Currency



If you reach into wherever it is that you keep your on-hand cash and pull it out, there are four things that you should keep in mind:

  • You have exchanged something of value to you in order to obtain that note, and you should have a good understanding at all times of just how much of that valuable thing you traded for that note
  • From the time you exchanged that item of value for that note, there has been and will always be continual fluctuation in how much of that valuable thing each note is worth to you and others
  • The actual note in your hand only has a perceived value, granted to you by others who also believe in that same perceived value, otherwise all you hold in your hand is a piece of paper
  • Without an exchangeable value other than its perceived value, all of the value you put into that note could completely disappear instantly…yes, instantly!

No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, no matter how you earn your money/dollars/notes, and no matter your age, location in the world, or your socioeconomic conditions, these four things apply to you. Pretty scary, isn’t it, especially that part about the value of your notes disappearing instantly, right?

There was a time in history when all of the paper currency in the world, whether issued by a bank or a government, was exchangeable for, and therefor backed by, a stockpile of precious metals somewhere. The value of the paper money in your hand was tied to the value of gold, silver, or some other metal that was under lock and key somewhere, and any time you wanted, you could go and trade in your paper money for that tangible precious metal. Today, however, this is no longer the case. And that is why whenever we are dealing with paper currency, we need to remember those four things above.

But, how did we get here, and why? That’s the trillion-dollar bill question, isn’t it?

Sadly, the answer is very simple. It all boils down to the fact that governments need your value through either your labor or your money, in order to operate and exist. That means that governments need to provide a currency that can be used to perpetuate their economic system and provide the means to take value from you. But today, there are far too many people, there is far too much potential value, and there is far too little precious metal to have paper currency tied to actual tangible real-world assets any longer. In short, the world’s governments and their economic systems need far more value in paper money than all of the already-mined precious metals in the world can provide.

Following the chaos of World War II, the 44 Allied nations came together and agreed that in order to create economic stability, they would all peg their paper currency to a gold standard and that each of their gold standards would be tied to the U.S. dollar at an exchange rate of one ounce of gold for 35 U.S. dollars. This created a scenario in which these nations and their central banks could exchange U.S. dollars for gold on demand. This system worked well and helped fuel the economic growth that would ensue for the next 25 years.

But that amazing growth would yield a problem by the 1970s. The Allied nations’ populations and economies had grown so large that the amount of U.S. dollars in circulation had far surpassed the amount of gold the U.S. held in reserves. This meant that if the world’s governments cashed in their greenbacks, there would not be enough gold to pay everyone their stored value. Fearing that this would cause a run on U.S. gold and result in economic collapse, in 1971, the U.S. government removed the gold standard from U.S. currency, allowing the central bank to just print money that has no actual real-world, tangible value except for what we perceive in our minds as a collective. No longer could the world’s governments exchange U.S. currency for a fixed amount of gold. Instead, the value of each piece of currency would be tied to its perceived, or market value.

Let’s think about that for a second. When banks and the U.S. government first started printing paper money, the value of that paper money was tied to a precious metal like gold or silver, but that meant there could never have been more paper money out there in circulation than the amount of physical precious metal the bank or the government had on hand. That also meant that at any time, you could walk into the bank or the right government office and demand precious metal in exchange for the paper currency in your hand.

Do you see how this system of paper money based on a precious metal stockpile makes perfect sense? People no longer had to carry cold coins in a purse or large amounts of gold bars on a carriage, but instead, just had to carry light paper currency in their pocket.

But now, people can no longer walk into the bank or a government office and demand something of real-world value in exchange for the paper currency in their pocket. Today, all you can get for that paper money in your pocket is other forms of paper currency, or worse, a balance on the bank’s or government’s electronic ledger.

And, if the fact that paper currency is no longer tied to anything of actual real-world value is not scary enough, the next step, which is already well underway, is to transform that paper money into electronic numbers on an electronic balance sheet somewhere in the cloud.

Imagine a planet where the governments of the world convince us all that the cost of producing that actual paper currency is just too high, and even worse, completely unnecessary now that we have this beautiful digital world in which everything is stored on electronic ledgers and we can all carry around little plastic cards in our pockets instead of that costly-to-produce and now completely unnecessary paper money. Oh, and don’t even get them started on producing coins! It costs a nickel to make a penny now. How impractical is that? You humans don’t actually want to carry around coins any more, do you?

If you don’t believe this is where the governments of the world are taking us, think a little about how you transact now compared to ten or twenty years ago. How often are you using actual paper currency versus those plastic cards in your pocket? How many of your bills do you pay with a paper check, and how many do you simply pay online?

See how this is all progressing along nicely for the governments?

And what is the problem with the governments doing away with physical currency all together? Well, the biggest problem is that people will no longer have the ability to hold currency outside of the electronic system - meaning no one, ever, will be able to hide currency from the government's greedy hands.

Then, all it will take is for the government to sit at a keyboard and it can have complete access to the value of everything you own. Remember how earlier we talked about you exchanging the value of something for that currency? Well, once all currency is electronic and there is no way for you to hold that value in something tangible, then it can all be wiped out, entirely wiped out, with just a keystroke. That’s everything you have worked for your entire life – gone in an instant.

Couple this with a current movement to get everyone on the planet an electronic ID by 2040 and every single person on the planet and their electronic currency will be reachable by governments and global governing bodies like the UN at any moment, anywhere in the world.

Can't wait to see the black markets this creates for alternative currencies! We'll be using commodities as currencies to barter with each other outside the government's ever-watching eye like it was the Dark Ages again. How many chickens for a sword?

Think of what this will do to the price of precious metals. That is, if the governments even allow us to own precious metals any longer once they do away with all physical currency.

While we will have to see where governments and technology take us, unfortunately, there is very little we can do about the tangible real-world value in our paper money, other than exchanging some of it for precious metals while we’re still allowed. The main thing to remember each time you look at those paper notes in your hand is to ensure that your portfolio of assets is as diverse as possible.

Never keep all of your value in eggs, and never keep all of those eggs in one basket.
 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How I Come Up With What To Write



I once was asked how I come up with the topics for these musings which you have all been so gracious to take the time out of your day to read, and let me tell you, there is nothing particularly laborious about it, other than the fact that where I differ from you is that when I have some prevailing thought enter my brain while doing something like walking, riding my stationary bike, brushing my teeth, etc., while you may laugh a little at your interesting thought and move on with your day, I am forced with the chore of either having to find something to write with, grabbing the nearest laptop, or as happens most often, quickly pulling out my pocket screen and typing out the idea into a memo application or self-addressed email.

Case in point, just a few minutes go, I was riding my stationary bike and in popped to my head the idea that if one person is wondering how I come up with these topics, then maybe more people are wondering, and maybe I should write a musing that explains how I come up with all these ideas. Luckily for me I had just finished writing a musing that came into my head while reading a newsletter and still had the laptop nearby.

So, as you can see, it is a pretty easy process. I go about my day and while my mind is occupied doing something very routine, all of the sudden, an idea pops in my head and I record that idea via some means as quickly as I can. This is a must because nothing is worse than losing one of these ideas when I don’t react quickly enough. I am assuming that everyone out there has these ideas pop in their head, too, but because I write for a living, my first instinct is to turn those ideas into a written piece. If I were a painter or cartoonist, maybe I would turn these ideas into paintings or some funny drawing. Thank goodness I’m not a sculptor because the ideas just come too quickly for me to actually sculpt them all in a lifetime!

If I have the time right then and there, like on a night or a weekend or while watching TV, a lot of times I can just grab the laptop and belt out the entire article in one fell swoop. I write as far as the words take me and then will go back to beginning, read what I have written and repeat – read then write, read then write, read then write – until the piece is done. I then save it, set it aside and edit it a few days later until it is ready for you to read. Sometimes I have to revisit a piece multiple times for it to get there, and sometimes, like Mozart (just using him for reference, not comparing), I write one draft and it’s ready to go. If I’m on a walk, at an event, or doing something that does not allow me to actually write at that time, I usually will record the idea and them come back to it when I can. Sometimes it seems having to revisit the piece later to actually write it hinders the quality of the piece, but such is life, and other times it seems the exact opposite is true – some pieces are better after being revisited and rehashed multiple times. It really is a case-by-case basis.

Either way, I try to get these musings out of my head and down in words as quickly as I can. And like any artist who tries to keep up the appearance of a regular production pattern, I tend to store these and let them go a little at a time. The marketer in me wants to keep you looking for these pieces, not getting bored because I put one out every single day. And don’t be fooled, while sometimes I have an excess hoard of these pieces sitting, waiting to be let free, other times I am trying hard to think of an idea because it’s been a while and the reserves are running low. I can end up writing three musings on a single Saturday, and then, there will be none for a week or two. It definitely is very feast or famine at times.

Either way, I will say this: I can easily explain that the ideas come, but I cannot explain why or how they materialize. And while I can also explain how I keep my notes and how I manage producing, storing, and releasing these musings to you, I definitely cannot explain how each of these words appear on the screen in precisely the order I need them to explain my thoughts. I can only describe it as a flow – I have to sit down and type and try to keep up with the words that are appearing in my brain, especially when it is one of the pieces that flows all at once, just like this one did, in all of about ten minutes or so.

I believe how the words materialize and flow from my brain down on to the page are what scientists refer to as the spark of intelligence – not the smarts kind, but the ability to think and reason kind. And since we have been trying to explain how that works since the dawn of humans, I will save you from us trying to figure that out here and now. Just know that it is something magical, and regardless of its origins, we should all endeavor to cultivate this capability in all of us, all of the time, whatever that capability might be.

So, there you have it, loyal reader; an explanation of how I come up with the ideas for these musings. And yes, I have been peddling away on the bike this entire time. Now to shut down the laptop, close the lid, keep peddling, and wait for the next idea to materialize…

Friday, January 20, 2017

11 Names I Called Our Former President



I would like to bid our fearless leader a not-so-fond farewell by ending our eight years together with a list of the nicknames I not-so-affectionately bestowed upon him during the course of the time in which he had influence over my life.

Ride off into the sunset, HisHighness. I truly hope that I never see or hear from you again. Oh, and for all of you libs out there, my disdain is for the lacking of his character, not the color of his skin. Thank goodness that for at least the next four years, when I disagree with Taco Bowls, you won’t all immediately think I am a racist.

Who can forget when the Bush girls revealed to the world that their mom’s nickname for their dad was “Bushie”? I still call George the Great Satan Junior that to this day. So, when it came time for a new President to take office in 2009, I lazily just applied the same moniker to him until I learned a bit more about him. Hence, HisHigness’s first nickname was “Obamie”.

But that nickname did not last long at all. After watching our new President get a Nobel Peace Prize for simply winning the election and having a new skin color for an American President, and then going on a whirlwind apology tour where he bowed to everyone from Saudia Arabia to Japan and back again, I applied the new official nickname of “The Leader”. This was a two-part nickname. One part was to serve in irony for the complete and total lack of leadership I felt HisHigness showed on the world stage during that first year by calling him “The Leader”. The second was a very affectionate nod to my love of The Simpsons and an episode where Homer and a large number of the town’s people followed a highly unqualified false prophet and cult leader known as “The Leader”. I really felt this nickname was apt and thought it might stick for some time, but alas, it would not last long, either.

By the end of 2009, it was becoming apparent that HisHighness had sold everyone on all of the amazing magic that he was going to accomplish – things like transparency and reaching across the aisle. These were some of the very reasons that a lot of people voted for him, but by now, it was becoming apparent that none of these magical concepts were going to come to fruition. Also, it was becoming apparent that some of the other magic reasons that people had voted for him – race baiting come to an end, people not having to make their car payments, and everyone getting free cell phones – were not coming to fruition, either. And henceforth, at least until the next nickname, I knew HisHighness as “The Magician”. Of course, this nickname was also thanks to the magic of what we would later come to know as Obamacare.

Here is an excerpt from my December 5, 2009 blog post: “I call him The Magician because I think the only way for his Healthcare initiatives to work as he is selling them would be through magic. He says that he is going to find and cut all of the existing spending necessary to pay for $1 trillion in new spending after the money has already been spent (a common practice of politicians who end up never cutting the existing spending after the fact), cram people who have no money to pay for services into the healthcare system without increasing its capacity, and somehow reduce the cost of care to the people who are paying for the system, and somehow still increase the quality of care that everyone is receiving. There is only one way that this can be achieved...magic!”

Not long after being christened as “The Magician”, HisHighness was christened “The Messiah”. This was his nickname for a small chunk of 2010 that stemmed from the fact that despite the realization that the healthcare reform magic numbers were never going to come to fruition, people still blindly followed HisHighness no matter what. Everyone was realizing that it was all a magic show, but rather than criticize, they had faith and kept following no matter what. They kept telling us to have faith, too – to give him time – he had only been in office for a little while, but was still going to accomplish his miracles despite the odds, kind of like you-know-who.

I shook my head as his followers offered no words of criticism and began to accuse anyone who did criticize with a certain form of –ism. But it was actually a movie – a Russell Crowe movie at that – that would end HisHighness’s “The Messiah” nickname and convert it to “The Master & Commander”. That was the movie where Russell Crowe played a ship’s captain – its master and commander, if you will – during which no matter what happened, no matter how bad his mistakes were, and no matter how much he harmed the ship and its crew, he still thumped his chest and said he was “The Master & Commander”. Come hell or high water, we were stuck with this horrible captain.
“The Master & Commander” nickname actually stuck the longest of any of the early nicknames, though from 2010 to the early part of 2012, I peppered in some other nicknames like “The Weakling-In-Chief” and “The Fence-Sitter In Chief”.

But, it was during a little thing known as the U.S. Presidential election of 2012 that the next nickname became painfully apparent. It was started when a certain hopeful female presidential candidate’s staffers, I am sure with absolutely no blessing whatsoever in any way, shape or form from her, started to once again bring up questions about HisHighness’s birthplace. The fact that I read some bits and pieces of that propaganda autobio book and watched a lot of news footage of HisHighness’s ancestral homeland probably also helped me bestow upon him the name of “The Kenyan”.

And “The Kenyan” nickname he would remain until HisHighness came out and said that he was sick and tired of everyone calling his horrible Affordable Care Act debacle Obamacare. As the man tried to distance himself from his namesake legacy legislation as we all came to realization that we were right about how bad it sucked, he wanted us to stop calling it Obamacare, so I started calling him “Obamacare” instead, so we would never forget who gave us the steaming pile that it still remains to this day.

I did call HisHighness “Obamacare” for quite some time, but in December of 2013, I lovingly began to call him “President What’s-His-Name”. That truly stemmed from the fact that at this point, a good chunk into his second term, I was truly ready for a change and because I was thinking what most of us were thinking - isn’t it time for “President What’s-His-Name” to go already?

I know I switched back and forth from all of the nicknames at this point for a little while as well, but it was in December of 2015, motivated by all of the presidential orders that he decreed upon us once he could not get the rest of his legacy laws passed legally, that I began to call him “HisHighness”. And that is the name that has stuck through to today, HisHighness’s last day in office.

The man who took office with so much hope for change – that this time, it was going to be different – not only gave us very little transparency, but also gave us such ironies as forcing his will on a majority of people that did not agree with him through decree and becoming the first Nobel Peace Prize Winner with a kill list and drones that rained death from above. Truly, he was a king’s king, ruling the land with privilege like $100 million in tax-payer funded vacations all the while blaming everything that went wrong during his reign on the privilege of others and doing more to divide his people than any other leader in their history.

So, HisHighness, today, I bid you and all of your nicknames farewell. Today, I celebrate the end of your ability to influence our lives and divide the people of this great land.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Those Who Seek To Divide Us...



I have long believed that deep in her heart, America is not as divided as the media, career politicians, and other power seekers would like us to think. I believe that deep down, most Americans want a better life for their families, want to be left alone to pursue their dreams, and wish to simply live life as they see fit. I know that is all I want – to be left alone, to be allowed to keep the fruits of my labor, and to live life as I see fit according to my beliefs.

Naturally, while I do believe these are the things we all want in life here in America, I do recognize that we currently have differences in opinion about how we can obtain these dreams. I would argue, however, that the dividers like the media, politicians, and other power seekers, for their own benefit and to the detriment of the rest of us, have created these differences in opinion by continuing to divide us into pre-defined groups. The side effect of which, has been the distraction of far too many Americans from attaining their dreams, and instead, an unnecessary, continued concentration on the overly inflated differences between us.

Those who seek to divide us for their own prosperity and continued existence, seek to divide us according to things like gender, race, career choice, and net worth, when instead they should be using their voices to unite us as a nation. They should be using their voices to bridge the real gap between us – those who see America as the land of opportunity where anything can be achieved regardless of those very things the dividers use to divide us, and those who have been so pummeled with the divisive message that they have come to believe it, and wrongly, now live their very lives by it instead of fighting against it.

Here is an example of how these dividers quietly accomplish this goal, which also leads to the revelation that this divisiveness is what has put us into the two camps that, in turn, the dividers point to and say is the reason we are divided, instead of admitting that, in fact, they are the source of our divisiveness.

Each year, Time magazine selects a person of the year that they claim, for better or worse, has been the most influential person in the world. This time around, they naturally have chosen Donald Trump. In the video in which Time Editor-in-Chief, Nancy Gibbs, explains why they chose Trump, she states: 

“One of the things that was remarkable in going to see him to interview him is to be in that penthouse, which is the most ostentatious imaginable marble and mirrors and gold, and see him in the suit and the diamond cufflinks. There’s a kind of dissidence that we pressed him about of how is it that the billionaire is the tribune of the working man? He said he thought that it had to do with that he wasn’t a phony – that there have certainly been wealthy politicians before who in some cases would bend over backwards to make themselves appear like the common man, or do anything that they could, eating the corn dog at the Iowa state fair, and wearing a flannel shirt in New Hampshire. I think he had a very strong instinct that his wealth and the flamboyant display of his wealth was not a liability, that it was actually an asset.”

This statement got me thinking about one of the most staunch and apparent differences in what the Time magazine cover calls “The Divided States of America”, as well as the root cause of this difference. I agree that we are a nation divided – a nation divided in principles and a nation divided in hopes and aspirations. And while I agree there are racists and homophobes and all sorts of others –ists –isms and –phobes living out there on the fringe ends of the political spectrum in this country, I also believe that a large majority of Americans are actually none of these things that the dividers use to steer us to their desired end through fear.

I do, however, believe there is a very real chasm between two sides in this country, and it is one that we must address – one that is clearly pointed out in Nancy Gibbs’ statements about how a billionaire could possibly serve as the tribune of the hard working people of America, and we can explain this phenomenon in two words: aspiration and perspective.

Ask a conservative who they blame for their plight in America today and they will say the government. Ask that same conservative what the key is to prosperity and they will tell you business. Ask a liberal who they blame for their plight in America today, and they will say business. Ask that same liberal what the key is to prosperity and they will tell you government. Granted, reality is not as clearly defined as this example, but you can easily see the relevance of this take on the American political spectrum today.

If you do not believe that you can achieve anything in this country because there is an entire group of people – business people – holding you back, then you see a successful businessman like Trump as an embodiment of the evil that is conspiring against you. If you believe that you can achieve anything in this country because those business people build companies and provide jobs, then you see a successful businessman like Trump and the embodiment of hope and aspiration.

If you believe that the entire corporate structure in America has been stacked against you, then you look to the government for salvation. If you believe that the entire government superstructure in America has been created to steal the fruits of your labor, then you look to business for salvation.

And this is why you can pluck one working man off of the street – one who has bought into the liberal idea that the cards in America are stacked against him and that there is this mythical group of –ists, -isms, and –phobes constantly working against him – and have that working man tell you that Trump is history’s greatest monster, yet can pluck another working man off the street – one who has bought into the conservative idea that America is the land of opportunity and anything can be achieved if he plays by the rules and works hard, and that there is no mythical group of –ists, -isms, and –phobes, only a bloated government that needs his hard-earned money to survive and perpetuate itself – and have that working man tell you that Trump is an aspirational figure that represents that working man’s own potential for success in America today.

I hate to continue to narrow the differences caused by the divisiveness perpetuated by the media, politicians, and power seekers down to such a clearly defined line, but let me give you one more example. You take a young person in their early 20s who has just started their career and you show them a picture of what embodies success to them, and then ask if they too can achieve that success, and you will get one of two responses.

I believe the person who was raised on the idea that they were born in the greatest country in the world that provides people with the greatest opportunity to make something of their lives will tell you that they most definitely aspire to the success in the picture, and that their aspirations of success are achievable.

I also believe the person who was raised on the idea that they were born in an oppressive country that is filled with –ists, –isms, and -phobes that are constantly working against them will tell you that the type of success in the picture can only make someone miserable, that success of that type can only be achieved on the backs of others, and that not only is the scene in the picture not attainable for them, but in fact, is the last thing that they would want for their life, even though the image actually and truly embodies that person’s very definition of success.

And this is where the dividers have left us. They have successfully used their voice to classify us into every category under the sun and divide us into all these tiny little groups, which have led us to unite these groups into two camps – the so-called haves, and the so-called have-nots – even though each one of us has the same opportunities in life here in America. Yes, not entirely exactly the same, but still, the best opportunity of anyone else in any other time on this planet. Then, we all fight amongst each other while the dividers perpetuate their message of division, further solidifying their own existence in this world by point to us and blaming us for the divisions they have created.

I propose that the time has come for those of us that the dividers have divided to no longer allow them to divide us. We should hold journalists to what they call themselves – being journalists. We should also hold the elected representatives of the people to what they call themselves as well. And lastly, we, the divided, should come together to remove the division that is being imposed on us by no longer allowing the dividers to classify, categorize, and split us apart.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The People That Keep Us Moving


I recently read about a solemn ceremony held every year at the International Towing and Recovery Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee that hit me with something that I know I never think about.

Each year, probably like many of you, I send some money off to the Automobile Association of America without much thought. Our AAA membership is just something we renew each year as a precaution should one of us become stranded while driving.

It has probably been a good five years since we actually called AAA. The battery in my wife’s car died while she was at work, and I cannot even remember when we used our membership for roadside assistance the time before that.

Regardless of how often we use it, we send that money off to AAA every year because it provides us with the reassurance that if, for whatever reason, we become stranded, while in one of our cars, or even someone else’s, help is just a phone call away.

AAA members make a call, sit and wait, and usually within a pretty reasonable time frame, a tow truck driver that AAA trusts and has certified shows up and either charges a battery or puts on a spare tire, no matter where in America a member may be inconvenienced by a stalled vehicle or a non-functioning tire.

And while we’re thankful for the person that has made it their job in life to be the person to answer that call no matter what time it might be, how often do we actually think of the peril that person may be putting themselves into to help us get back on the road? I know that I seldom think of their job as dangerous. 

But the solemn annual ceremony in Tennessee I mentioned earlier is to honor the people whose names are being added to the Wall of the Fallen at the International Towing and Recovery Museum. This year’s ceremony saw the addition of 22 names to the over 400 that have been added to the wall over the past decade.

These are the names of Americans who get up and go to work everyday and at certain points in their career put their lives at risk to help us keep moving and to get us out of danger. This job actually puts these folks so much at risk that over 400 of them have lost their lives in the past 10 years.

Before reading about this ceremony, I must admit that even after spending over 25 years on the road, I never truly considered the danger that these drivers sometimes place themselves in to assist us.

For this very reason, in many states, including California, tow trucks have been designated emergency vehicles and are afforded the same protections for their operators as any other emergency vehicle.

This means that when drivers in these states approach a tow truck on the side of the road, they are strongly encouraged to slow down and move out of the lane directly closest to the tow truck or other emergency vehicle if at all possible. This gives tow truck operators and other first responders some space between their person and you car, which I cannot argue to be anything other than a pretty good idea.

Robert T. Bouttier, Chief Executive Officer of AAA, writes: The next time you see the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle, please remember to slow down and move over when it’s safe to do so. It’s a simple way we can all help these heroes of the highways to do their job safely.

So, the next time you see a tow truck with its lights flashing, I hope you remember this article and give the driver the same courtesy you would any other first responder. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Hours 38 to 40: Profit And Your Personal Finances


Once upon a time, when I was working with a consulting company that billed its customers hourly for their time, its CTO offered up an amazing perspective on profitability for its team of consultants during a team meeting. He explained that when it came to generating profit to put back into the business and to fund increases in employee compensation and benefits, the company’s consultants needed to keep in mind that while the company leadership appreciated everyone’s hard work, it was important to ensure that they billed a full 40 hours a week because all of the company’s profit projections were based on a 40-hour billable week.

He went on to explain, approximately of course, that it was hours 1 to 37 for each week that covered the cost of the expenses, but it was hours 38, 39, and 40 that yielded the profits the leadership put back into the business, and for that reason, while consultants might feel that billing close to 40 hours a week was close enough, it was, in fact, actually not.

This lesson in hourly billing and profitability not only resonated with me when I heard it, but still does to this day, because it makes me think of the very same concept as it applies to personal finances as well. While most people would never look at it this way, their personal finances are very similar to the financial models this consulting business and its CTO were addressing that day.

Much like this consulting business, and any business for that matter, each of us as individuals also have expenses that when deducted from our income, yield either a profit or a loss. If you get paid hourly and only work 37 hours per week, but your expenses take up your full amount of pay, which you anticipated being for 40 hours per week, you actually are going to bring in less money than you need to cover your expenses. While this comparison is quite literal, the same holds true for however you are paid, be it hourly, salary, in lump sums as a consultant, or any other way.

The bottom line is that you should always know exactly what your expenses are and should always ensure that your income never falls below the amount of those expenses no matter what you do. In fact, you should always strive to ensure your expenses are as small of a percentage of your income as possible. You should view the difference between your expenses and your income as your profit, and without profit, you cannot reinvest in the things in life that you enjoy and that are important to you and your loved ones.

Your personal profits are the money you use to pay for things like vacations, education, luxuries, or whatever other experience or items you and your loved ones enjoy. By looking at this money left over after paying your expenses as profit, you can very easily identify and dedicate your efforts in ways that increase that profit.

So, the next time you feel 37 hours is close enough, or spending just a little more than you earn is no big deal, remember that without profits, you will have nothing to reinvest in your life, and what is the point of all of that hard work if all you ever do is just cover your expenses or dig yourself deeper into debt?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Don't Be A Rhino At Work



Are you a rhino at work? Do your coworkers reference bulls and china shops in the same sentence when they describe what it is like to work with you?

Now, when I say rhino, I’m not talking about you physically storming through the halls, leaving twisted and mangled bodies in your wake, but I am talking about how you treat and speak to the people with whom you work.

Granted, some of us are more soft spoken, or out spoken, than others, and some of us are more imposing, or less imposing, but I am specifically talking about those individuals who time and time again end up rubbing their coworkers the wrong way and leave the rest of us marveling at what they just said, how they just handled a given situation, and more so, at how they just do not recognize the intimidation, uneasiness, and generally unwelcome environment that circles around them as they storm through the office.

The best way to tell if you are a rhino at work is to listen to yourself when engaged in conversation with your colleagues, your bosses, and your subordinates. There should not be stark differences in the tone and intensity of your conversations between the three. The same voice and tone you use for your bosses is the same voice and tone you should use for your colleagues and your subordinates. 

Also, look around at others in the office when you are engaged in conversation. Are people purposely looking away, looking down at their desks, or trying very hard to avoid eye contact with you? Are people shaking their heads or shifting uncomfortably in their chairs? Your office conversations should not make people who overhear them feel uncomfortable or uneasy, nor should they make people not want to work with you.

I know it can’t all be roses and sunshine at work, but your coworkers deserve to be treated fairly, reasonably, and with respect. People should not have to endure conversations that make them feel belittled or intimidated. There is just no place for this type of behavior in today’s business environment.

So, be sure to listen to yourself and take note of the reactions of those around you when you are engaged in conversation with people at work. By doing so, you can make sure that you are not your office’s rhino.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

When It's Time To Give, I Choose Family...



None among us wants to ever be seen as uncharitable, but with the overwhelming number of times we are solicited for donations, coupled with the fact that it is very difficult to gauge the trustworthiness of so many charities and individuals out there, each of us can struggle to find a balance between giving and ensuring that our giving goes to a worthy cause.

I, however, have found a solution with which I am quite comfortable, and have chosen to implement this solution for the foreseeable future. While it can still be difficult to say no to unproven outlets for my giving, I know my solution is the best course of action for my peace of mind, and my hard-earned money.

I can often be heard saying, usually under my breath with a sigh, “Everyone wants our money.” When I go shopping for groceries and come out of the store, even at 6:00 AM on a Sunday, there is a person there with a table, a lockbox, and a sign, asking me to make a donation. How often am I paying for something in a store, and the cashier asks me if I would like to make a donation to a cause the store is supporting? A couple months out of the year, every time I buy a movie ticket at the ticket window, I am asked if I’d like to make a donation to the charity the movie theater is supporting at the time. At least twice a week when I go to the mailbox, there is an envelope in there from a charity soliciting a donation through the mail. And obviously, each November and December, these solicitations for donations increase exponentially.

In addition to each of these forms of organized donation solicitation, the number of times I am solicited by individuals for money is also overwhelming. It happens to each of us, I am sure. We are walking into or out of a store, driving into or out of a shopping center, or maybe just driving down the street, and we are asked to part with some of our money by someone who is personally asking for help. Sometimes they ask directly, and other times they are holding a sign. Sometimes they are alone, and sometimes they have their family or a pet with them to pull at our heartstrings.

It can be someone asking if I have some spare change, or someone asking for something specific like money for gas to get somewhere while I am at the gas station. Sometimes the person will disclose a bit of their story, like that they are a veteran, or just lost their job, or as was the case with one guy I encountered in Santa Barbara in the mid-90s, just needed a beer and was out of cash. The people asking vary in age, stature, and are from obviously varying backgrounds. I’ve even encountered some that I know also work part-time at local retail stores and other businesses I frequent.

I know if someone was to see me smile and acknowledge the person that was sitting right outside a store I was walking into, yet not hand them some of my money when they ask for it, they would most likely think me to be uncharitable, and perhaps to that individual, I am being uncharitable.

And while I believe it is not only right, but fulfilling, to gift some of my hard-earned money over the course of each year, the bottom line is, when it comes time to gift my money, I prefer to ensure it goes to what I know will be a worthy cause by gifting it to a member of our extended family, usually one of the kids on their birthday or during the holidays, or when it comes time for back-to-school shopping. I would much rather see that money go into something that puts a smile on one of those little faces than simply hand it to someone or some organization that I know little or nothing about.

But, nonetheless, I still must admit that I feel a little bad when I deny my money to someone who has made the effort to ask for it, but at the same time, I also feel that by simply handing that person the money which I have earned through my hard work, I am aiding in whatever situation landed them in that spot in the first place. It’s all very “teach a man to fish” in my eyes.

It’s especially challenging for me to say no when the person claims to be a veteran because I truly feel that if our government should take care of anyone by confiscating part of my earnings, it should be our veterans. Sadly, however, I have been burned before and simply cannot take a person’s word at face value. I’ve donated in the past to organizations that I knew without a doubt provided care for veterans, but I’ve also been burned in the past by organizations that spend far too much of the donations they receive on administrative costs. Ultimately, in the end, this led me to the decision to restrict all of my giving to people I know personally.

I find a great deal of comfort and peace of mind in knowing that the money I gift in this manner is going to enrich the life of someone that I care deeply for and truly appreciates the gesture. With all of the questionable charities and individuals out there, I find this direct gifting to not only satisfy my desire to do my part, to give back, to share the wealth as they say, but I know it also fills the recipient of my gift with the same joy I feel when I see them enjoying the fruits of my hard work and dedication.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

John Quincy Adams On Immigration




In honor of what is turning out to be the most closely analyzed transition in the history of the American presidency, I am happy to share a piece I have been working on here and there since before the election got into full swing. As we wait to see where the chips will end up on everything from taxes to trade to immigration, I offer an in-depth analysis of a well-known writing from former President John Quincy Adams when he was serving as Secretary of State and provided his views on immigration to a German member of high society who was contemplating a move to the new U.S. nation in 1819.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Death Of Our Coastal Towns



When you grow up along the sparkling Southern California coastline, one of the most difficult things you can do is attempt to solicit sympathy from anyone in the world. Beautiful beaches, moderate temperatures, amazing quality of life, and a pretty chill attitude across the board, all make everyone in every other part of the world think you’d never have a care. For some, it is a life of economically based privilege, but for most, it is a life of hard work that yields worthwhile rewards.

But, when you grow up in the beautiful little coastal towns of Southern California, one of the most-desired places to live in the world, one of the saddest things you witness year after year is the eventual and permanent transformation of those towns into a place that is unrecognizable from the one you loved so dearly while growing up.

Towns grow, landscapes change, small businesses close and city governments change from focusing on maintaining an enjoyable life for citizens to attracting more tax revenue and tourism dollars.

Local, long-time residents are pushed out as they seek to re-find the quaint little towns that have been pulled out from underneath their feet by the passage of time. Streets and neighborhoods are transformed from sleepy, cozy, little burgs with character to bustling, big box, trendy cities with urban flair. And sadly, avoiding busy areas filled with tourists grows from a summertime chore to a year-round endeavor.

But perhaps the worst aspect for those who grew up in this paradise is watching these beloved towns commit cultural suicide. You see quaint downtown streets lined with small houses and mom-and-pop shops where locals congregate turned into multi-story urban apartment complexes with underground parking garages and first-floor brand name retail outlets. Cultural uniqueness and flavor is slowly and methodically replaced by uniformed, trendy urbania.

So, if it’s not the residents who want this change, then why is town after town falling victim to this urban sprawl? It is a two-pronged attack from the government-industrial complex. City governments that need to bring in more revenue to support a growing population and urban developers who want to make the most profit from increasingly valuable coastal land are joining forces, and there is no doubt that, willingly or not, they are destroying the character of Southern California’s coastal towns.

I call it cultural suicide because residents of the community that serve in local government or own or work for the development companies are committing the act of destroying these cities from within. Whether knowingly or not, these people are killing the culture and character of the communities that surround them.

The suicide starts with one or two local businesses, spreads down the street, begins to consume entire neighborhoods, and then, eventually spreads throughout the entire town. Local governments seeking more revenue raise the rents on government properties, forcing the local businesses that occupy those government properties to shut their doors or move. Increased rents on government property lead to increased rent on private property, and the local businesses that occupy those private properties shut their doors or move. The government land is sold to make even more revenue and the private buildings are gutted and torn down, then replaced with bigger, more sterile buildings with less culture but more space that can be rented at a higher cost to larger corporations that can afford the higher rents. This urban sprawl spreads like an incurable virus until its host no longer resembles its former self.

I recently read a fantastically written article from a locally focused online news and interest rag called Thrillist that really drove this point home. The article was about a well-known restaurant at the Santa Monica Airport that was forced out of business by the City of Santa Monica as part of that local government’s efforts to close the iconic general aviation airport and its businesses. The forced closing of the airport and its businesses, like this restaurant, will deal a definitive blow to the local culture and long-time patrons of these businesses as the city guns to fill up its coffers with the inevitable millions it will gain by selling the land on which the airport sits to developers who will no doubt sweep in and build yet another array of those multi-story earth-toned, wood and metal accented, five-story apartment buildings with underground garages and first-floor name brand retailers that I mentioned earlier.

And much like the Los Angeles of old that we only see in movies, old photographs, and our dreams, the airport that has served local aviators from Hollywood stars to the most anonymous among us, will soon be just a memory. The restaurant, called Typhoon, had a single owner, a local businessman who spent a good portion of his life serving amazing cuisine, supporting the local jazz scene, and providing a place that pilots around the world will still talk about for years now that it’s gone. Why did is this restaurateur call it quits, even while his establishment flourished? The City of Santa Monica raised his rent by 200% because they wanted him, his long-time patrons, and the culture and flavor of the Santa Monica of yesteryear gone. To them, it is a small price to pay to keep the city government afloat.

The city needs money and urban developers are chomping at the bit to get that airport land, and sadly, in Southern California these days, that is all that matters to city government and urban developers. Local culture, flavor, long-time residents, long-time family businesses, and the heart and soul of the communities can all be damned!

And this is just one establishment inside one historic Southern California coastal town and iconic location. This is just one of many thousands of places that are, or soon will be, long gone, never to return.

One such other iconic feature of these costal towns that is changing forever is the pierside main street that once housed local mom-and-pop restaurants and a slew of boutique specialty and surf shops. And nowhere has Main Street and its surrounding area gone through a more gut-wrenching overhaul than in Huntington Beach, or Surf City as it is called in the onslaught of tourism marketing materials.

Those of us who grew up in Huntington Beach from the 50s to the 80s enjoyed a colorful and diverse row of one-story shops and restaurants that lined a quiet little street that was overly busy only a few select hours a week and during the peak of summer traffic. We enjoyed small mom-and-pop shops and a quiet local scene of local surfers and beachgoers. But then, the big construction cranes and land developers came in and the Main Street and surrounding area that we knew and loved was changed forever. Today, the quaint little pierside area we loved is gone, replaced by multi-story condos, brand name retail chains, and sprawling hotel complexes.

Locals once spent lazy weekend mornings beachside having breakfast and enjoying early dinners. Now, if you’re a local resident, there is a good tourist-filled four or five months in which you don’t even bother trying to get down there, if you even bother trying at all. For those of us who grew up in the area and spent a good chunk of our childhood there, it is so sad to no longer be able to enjoy the places you love because they are either so crowded, or worse, just gone.

Locals who have had enough can do little but move on to quieter areas or quieter towns and hope that the government-industrial complex will not overrun their new home just as quickly. And this pattern is going to continue to spread and grow. Trendy urbanites will rush in and the long-time residents who built our coastal towns with years of hard work will rush out, heading north, south, or inland, attempting to recapture their quaint little towns somewhere else.

For now, we watch the mom-and-pop shops come down, and watch the ever-taller, ever more sprawling hotels, retail centers, and apartment and condo complexes go up, remembering a time when our towns belonged to us, the folks that built them.