Monday, January 22, 2018

The Sabbatical

Work, eat, sleep, repeat. That was the familiar pattern for ten years straight. But I was lucky to be at a progressive company that was one of the few left to offer employees a sabbatical leave. However, that company was just recently acquired so I had better use it before the new owners got around to taking it away. That was among a couple of other reasons that I was more than ready for the extended leave.

The new company had immediately made one particular bold and arrogant business decision. They dismissed the entire original sales and marketing team. They had too much confidence in their own teams. There was an immediate drop on sales, of which they never recovered.

The effect that had on production was just as abrubt. We didn't have the usual orders to fill. We went from 24/7 production to one eight hour shift, five days a week. The resulting reduction of my personal work load was increasingly boring. There was nothing to fill a twelve hour work shift except for mundane "look busy" type work!

My anxiety on the job was exasperated with recent off the job changes. I had recently bought my farm in a far away place and it needed a lot of attention. It was a run-down property with a lot of potential. Sweat equity was the biggest part of that potential. During the long commutes to and from work and the all too frequent idle times at work, I would daydream about the farm and all of the work I planned to do.

When the opportunity for a sabbatical leave presented, I jumped at the opportunity. It would mean eight weeks removed from my suffering and half of that was paid time.

The farm was secluded and private. For the first couple of weeks, I would go nowhere. I did not go to town. I was experiencing by own personal "Walden".

There was a whole lot of manual labor to do. I was thankful for that. The long years of corporate life had me dialed up high for so long that I was buzzing all the time for something productive to do.

The weeks passed fast. I had not bought anything but a few grocery items. It was stunning remarkable how little that I actually needed! It was after the seasonal harvest and I discovered that I could get all of the potatoes and onions that I could possibly eat - for free. And I had a start of chickens that already layed more eggs than I could eat.

My utilities bill for the month was $30. My month's grocery was $50. I didn't buy any gasoline, since I only went to town twice. Why was I sacrificing so much of my life to work so much for a company that I was increasingly growing to hate?

The time went so fast! With two weeks of my leave remaining, I phoned my boss, "Hey buddy, this is my two weeks notice. I am never coming back."

"What? Is there something wrong? Maybe we should get together and talk? I don't want you to make a snap decision mistake."

"Well, I have been thinking about it for awhile; especially these last six weeks. The routine that I was in never allowed me to realize how miserable I was. It's nothing that you have done. In fact, I appreciated working for and with you."

"Well then, I've known you many years. I know there's no changing your mind, once you've decided. Good Luck! Keep in touch and let me know if there's anything that I can do for you. I can offer you an excellent reference."

"Thanks buddy! The same goes for me."

Just like that. I was a free man for the first time in my life on a new frontier. Plan A? I might find gainful employment closer by. Plan B? Maybe I will just chill for awhile?

It was my only unemployed status since college and it didn't last long enough. But a whole lot of things changed in my life during those short couple of months. Not the least significant of those changes was meeting my wife.

She wasn't concerned in the least that I was unemployed when we met? When I told her "Stick with me babe. I will have you in horse turds as big as diamonds!" she actually liked the sound of that? Was this a person that I could relate to? Somebody who values life's experiences more than material things?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Red Flags in Business

When business leadership goes awry, the first to be impacted are the employees. If the error continues, the customer will be impacted next. It doesn't take very long after that for that sort of thing to impact the share holders.

Why don't more companies pay attention to their employees? I was a long term employee in good standing when I asked a consultant that question. He had come to the same conclusion that we already had known for a long time. The company was ready to listen to him saying the same thing that we'd been saying for awhile.

"The difference?" he stated somewhat abruptly, "They are paying me too much money to ignore me."

The company trusted this guy off the street more than any of their long time, good standing employees. Typical? When a company has such a disconnect with their employees, that is a red flag.

Why don't more companies truly value their employees? "You are sadly mistaken. Valuing employees is in the top three of our published corporate principles!" Window dressings to fool share holders who are cognizant of that. Actions speak louder than words though. When you fire a whole division of employees because you deem them to be redundant, that should raise suspicions. When your sales plummet because your customers are impacted by that decision, that is one big red flag!

If you are an investor waiting for those problems to impact other share holders before you take action, you are too late. You need to look for problems that will impact employees in order to protest your interest in a timely manner.

One problem is that most board members only have one or two points of contact with the company, the CEO or CFO. Those management positions are usually far removed from policy changes that impact employees. And those executives typically have large holdings of company stock themselves. That creates the phenomenum of preaching to the choir.

Employee to management relations are complex, to say the least. Even in positive work environments there exist negative cultured employees. Those type tend to be more vocal too. That frustration of management trying to communicate with lesser educated employees defaults to lesser communication with all employees. Another red flag.

Share holders need some knowledge and experience of what it is like to be a corporate employee. That may be the only real way to peak through the window dressings and read between the lines on policies that a draconian management will impose on employees. Having empathy as an investor for the employees of your chosen company can go a long way to protecting your hard earned investment.

I > You < the Bull

"The ambulance should be here in ten minutes. Just try to be still and breathe."

He was obviously in intense pain. For good reason, the ornery old cow had caught him against the fence and gave him the business to the best of her ability!

I was standing right beside him when the old gal turned mean. It is like a switch going off in their head when the fight response trumps the flight response. Being around cows long enough, you can often tell when that happens, and you have a fraction of a second to get out.

My being a bit smaller and a whole lot fleeter on foot, I cleared the top fence pole to safety, but he was a fateful step behind me. He didn't make it. And that old cow had a whole lot of meanness to take out on somebody. She'd had all the hollering, whipping, and redirecting that she could stand for and now she was dishing out the whole can of whoop ass!

Now her victim was lying in the dust, wretching in pain. His shirt was pulled up over his head like a good hockey fighter will do you, exposing his side. He was turning off colors all the way from his rib cage to his hip. He couldn't take a deep breath and was making short gasps for oxygen. We feared the likelihood of internal injury and broken ribs.

"That's just great!" lamented the rancher. "Now I've got to pay the medical bills! I've seen guys get gored worse than that."

I was appalled at the attitude. His life could be in jeopardy. I started to wish it was the rancher lying in a heap, but there was fat chance for that since he was shouting out orders to us young 'uns from a safe distance from the action.

The whole production would just have to wait! We dared not move him if he had internal bleeding. The rancher was further annoyed by the delay in activity. He could barely breathe, let alone say a word on his own behalf. A couple of other hands joined me to attend to the injured man and we tried to ignore the rancher's pacing and under-breath statements of dissatisfaction.

He would make a full recovery all right. It took several days of bed rest and he was lucky not to have broken bones.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Our Democrat Cat

It's not at all uncommon for people to abandon cats in the country side. I wasn't surprised to find three kittens abandoned about half a mile from the farm house. As they grew and displayed their personalities, it was uncanny how well they represented our three main political parties.

I couldn't know for sure if the momma cat was dumped with the kittens. I observed them for awhile from a distance, but it wasn't very long before they found their way to the farm house. I could tell from their condition that they had not been fed; I took pity on them with milk and food.

Often times, cats dumped in the country go wild. These were obviously domestic and very friendly, well - except for Scratchy. There were two females and one male. They appeared to be siblings. The male was all grey, one female was white with grey stripes and the other female was orange and white tabby.

We named the grey male "Lost Juevos" after he was neutered. The white female with grey spots would be Nina, and the orange tabby got a name that didn't stick. She quickly earned her real name - Scratchy. We had them all fixed.

Scratchy was very independent, cautious, and unforgiving. She earned her name by refusing anybody trying to pick her up in dedicated violent fashion. It tooks years for me to gain her trust to be the only exception to the holding rule. But still, I had better not press my luck by holding her longer than her alotted time. She would cover vast distances just to accompany me working alone in the field. And sometime, she got in the way of progress.

I once had an order to deliver four tons of hay for twenty miles in the cold beginning of winter. When I began unloading the hay, I discovered that Scratchy had made the journey on the trailer. She was covered in frost, cold, and scared. I cuddled her up and put her in the cab of the pickup.

When we returned, the other farm animals could not believe her tales of the journey to the far away land. No doubt her adventurous spirit contributed to her demise. She was the first to disappear. We suspect she was kidnapped by a bold coyote judging the recent signs in the region of her regular domain.

Nina was not as independent as Scratchy; she was balanced. She was rarely late for feeding time, but there were times that she was too busy off hunting. She was lovable to a certain point. She would never lash out or scratch. She would merely keep a safe distance from suspect or overly affectionate humans. She was the smartest cat and the best hunter during her time. She paid the most taxes since she often brought her catch to the yard; it was often stolen. She disappeared a couple of years after Scratchy under similar circumstances.

Lost Juevos has been through a lot. He took the incidince of neutering like water off of a duck's back. He was always the most affectionate. Our daughter used to carry him upside down and he loved every second. He wasn't choosy who or where he got affection from, it was all good. He never met his cuddle quota. He would take it all in, purring loudly with drool running out of the corners of his mouth.

For the earlier years of his life, he was a card carrying democrat. He never did any more work than he had to. He was a fixture on the back porch, waiting for a handout, feeding time, or the chance to be pet.

He didn't go hunting very often, but one fateful day, on a rare hunting trip, he suffered a severe injury. Somehow, he'd broken a bone in his right front leg. I felt the break and considered trying to splint it, but it was straight and he was a good patient. He layed around a lot anyway and he would just lay around more than usual as he was healing.

He eventually made a full recovery. The experience had surpising lasting effect on him. He started going off hunting more! I would have expected the opposite, but his hunting career really took off after his injury. His specialty has become catching gophers. I have seen him consuming the better parts of gophers three days in a row.

We can still count on him at regular feeding time. And he still spends a lot of time on the back porch, mostly looking for affection. But he has progressed to pulling more than his own weight on the farm. Go figure?




Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Body's Ineffeciency

Weight management is a popular topic. People want to look good and feel good. There are so many ways to go about it and some are better than others. "So, just tell me what works!"

Almost everything works given enough time and effort. Even a lump of coal can become a diamond if it sticks with the program long enough. "Okay, I get that. So tell me what works in my lifetime!"

Now we can compare efficiency. Of course, there are different measures of efficiency, but for most busy people the important factor is time. What can you do that is proven effective and TIME efficient?

Let's examine what the human body is good at - endurance. Believe it or not, humans rank very high in endurance when compared to the wild kingdom. Marathon runners can maintain speeds up to 13 mph for hours while endurance horses can only maintain 6.5 mph for long durations. I watched on television in amazement while old aborigine women ran down young feral cats on a wide open desert. Humans can maintain aerobic activity for very long time frames while expending little energy.

That is why people that exercise aerobically to manage their weight are doing it the hard way. The body is so efficient that you have to spend a lot of time on a tread mill just to burn the calories from one candy bar. The numbers are daunting.

To make matters worse, different body types have different inherent efficiencies. The endomorphic body type is the most efficient. Endo's naturally conserve energy and can go the longest time on the same calorie. The least effecient body type is the mesomorphic.

It's really hard to estimate weights when a mesomorphic is standing next to an endomorphic. The meso can be much smaller dimension wise and still weigh more than an endo. How can that be? Dense muscle mass weighs more and consumes more calories.

People that exercise anaerobically are burning more calories more efficiently. The human body is really bad at building and maintaining muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn just to maintain it.

"But I don't want to end up looking like that!" I overheard some middle aged ladies pointing at the cover of a body building magazine.

"Don't worry. That sort of thing doesn't happen by accident." Unless if you are a naturally gifted mesomorphic.

If you are the more rare mesomorphic body type, you are probably not very interested in reading how to lose weight. If you are the ectomorphic body type, you'd be interested in learning how to gain weight. The rigors of natural selection have made endomorphic the highest probability. That inherent trait of getting by with fewer calories would be a big genetic advantage during times of attrition.

If you are trying to lose weight, take advantage of the human body's inefficiency. Perform exercise that continually tears down and rebuilds muscle. You will accomplish better health in a shorter time frame. You will gain strength and find that your endurance doesn't suffer either.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Some ABC's for U and I

A is for Ability.
"Ability is a poor man's wealth." Matthew Wren
B is for Business.
"Always tell yourself: The difference between running a business and ruining a business is i." Frank Tyger
C is for Chance.
"There are no chances so unlucky from which clever people are not able to reap some advantage; and none so lucky that the foolish are not able to turn them to their own disadvantage." Francois De La Rochefoucauld
D is for Desire.
"We should aim rather at leveling down our desires than leveling up our means." Aristotle
E is for Effort.
"Whatever your work is, dignify it with your best thought and effort." Esther Baldwin York
F is for Freedom.
"The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do." Eric Hoffer
G is for Giving.
"No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions; he had money too." Margaret Thatcher
H is for Health.
"Health is the vital principle of bliss." James Thomson
I is for Industry.
"The way to wealth is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words: industry and frugality; that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both." Benjamin Franklin
J is for Joy.
"Real happiness is cheap enough, yet how dearly we pay for its counterfeit." Hosea Ballou
K is for Kindness.
"In nature there's no blemish but the mind; none can be called deformed but the unkind." William Shakespeare
L is for Living.
"To live is not to learn, but to apply." Legouve'
M is for Money.
"The safest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it in your pocket." Kin Hubbard
N is for Nature.
"In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences." Robert G. Ingersoll
O is for Opportunity.
"An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity." Winston Churchill
P is for Prosperity.
"That some should be rich shows that others may become rich and, hence, is just encouragement to industry and enterprise." Abraham Lincoln
Q is for Quality.
"People forget how fast you did a job - but they remember how well you did it." Howard W. Newton
R is for Respect.
"Reverence for life demands for all that they should sacrifice a portion of their own lives for others." Albert Schweitzer
S is for Spirit.
"I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do." Helen Keller
T is for Talent.
"Shun no toil to make yourself remarkable by some one talent." Seneca
U is for Usefulness.
"The function of man is not to attain an object, but to fulfill a purpose; not to accomplish, but to be accomplished." S.E. Stanton
V is for Virtue.
"Sincerity and truth are the basis of every virtue." Confucius
W is for Wealth.
"Wealth, like happiness, is never attained when sought after directly. It comes as a by-product of providing a useful service." Henry Ford
X is for eXample.
"Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example." Mark Twain
Y is for Yahoos.
"It is the peculiar quality of a fool to percieve the faults of others and to forget his own." Cicero
Z is for Zingers.
"In laughter there is always a kind of joyousness that is incompatible with contempt or indignation." Voltaire

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Big Ag's Link to Obesity

Growing up generation X, we witnessed the change. You don't need a phD to study the numbers, because we lived through it. Sometime in the mid nineties, America gained a lot of weight.

There are numerous studies, theories, and directions for the blame. But I have yet to see the link between obesity and the coincidental greatest advancement in agriculture for the past century.

What a coincidence that this unprecedented development in agricultural technology gained traction just before the explosion of obesity rates in the US? Never before has there been such a historical triumph in farming. Never before has a scientific breakthrough been more promising toward the goal of "feeding the world". But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Glyphosate (Round-up) and the corresponding crops developed to take advantage of it (GMO) have been the biggest success story in our lifetime. It has enabled almost every farmer to produce ever higher yeilds and at a lower cost than ever before. It's widespread use surged with the patent expiration about 1990. The obesity rate doubled in 1995.

American farmers can produce sugar derivatives at a lower cost than climate advantaged Brazillian sugar cane. Corn and soy have perversed our food sources with cheap fillers and additives.  If a food processor needs a cheap filler or sweetener, they don't have to look any farther than corn or soy derivatives.

"Poison is in the dosage." There is nothing wrong with corn and soy. It's the popularity that leads to the problems. If it's consumed all day and everyday because it is so widespread, it is going to cause health problems. You will find it on the labels of places you would expect and products that you didn't expect. If you ask somebody who has developed a corn allergy, they can tell you how common it is. People with food allergies are increasingly easy to find. That is another indicator that they are getting too much of a good thing.

"Change is inevitable. Except from a vending machine." And you can't expect to change the contents of a vending machine either! But you can start to discriminate what you buy to consume.

It's not going to take an extreme elimination from your diet. But you should start taking steps to read more labels and manage your consumption of corn and soy derivatives. Start with refusing to consume your share of the 160# annual average of sweeteners.