Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Most Cool Day in Pasadena

Armene and Judy
      We find ourselves in Pasadena, California. While the weather is cool here by Pasadena standards, it is a cool day in that I experience a wonderful convergence of many aspects of my life. Being the last day of the year, it is fitting to be thinking of and being thankful for all of these things at the same time. 
     First and foremost, Judy and I spent the day with our daughter Armene. It is her birthday today. My little tax deduction was born 29 years ago today. She is also expecting her first child at any time now. So, this is an exciting time in her life and we are delighted to be here with her and her husband Michael as we wait for our grandson to be born.
     We began the day with a facetime call from our six month old grandson Aris. He and his parents called from New York. It was a great birthday call for Armene from her nephew, brother, and sister in-law. Judy, Armene, and I then went to Russell's an iconic diner in Pasadena. While waiting for our table there, I was seated outside the restaurant while Judy and Armene went to the cupcake
shop to by desert for our New Year's Eve festivities at Michael's aunt's and uncle's. 
     I was sitting there in the cool clear morning noticing the Rose Bowl Banners on the lampposts. Folks in Oregon or Florida State colors were walking by and I was excited to be in Pasadena at this time of year. From when I was old enough to aware of football, I have known about and have wanted to attend the Rose Bowl. This year, I have that chance. As Armene and Michael are Pasadena residents they were able to get four tickets in the resident lottery which is very cool. While, I always thought that my first time in the Rose Bowl would be to see Michigan play, I delighted nonetheless to attend the first ever College Championship Playoff game. I look forward to walking from Armene's apartment tomorrow to the famed stadium and watching the game with Michael, his father Manuk, and his brother Andrew. Just before the game starts, I will hear Dick Enberg's voice in my head saying, as I have heard so many years on TV, "as the sun sets behind the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains..."
     The last dimension of this wonderfully convergent day is the Armenian factor. Over my lifetime, with the Lebanese war in the 1980s and the fall of the
The Blimp take a test flight around the Rose Bowl

Soviet Union and tenuous start of the Armenian Republic in the early 1990s, there has been a wave of Armenian immigrants flowing into Southern California. Armenians now have a significant and noticeable presence in many of the cities including Pasadena. Every time we have ventured out to eat or walk around, we would see Armenians and hear Armenian being spoken. It is very cool. While it is very cool for us, It is so prevalent that it is just commonplace to the locals.
     What a great day for a variety of very cool reasons.
     Happy Birthday Armene.  We love you and delighted to be with you at this special time in your life.
     A most happy, healthy, and prosperous 2015 to everyone. 

Classic Cars Cruising Colorado Boulevard

Monday, December 29, 2014

Watches and The Wall Street Journal

     In reading the Wall Street Journal more regularly, I am struck by the number of watch advertisements. These are usually found on pages A2 and A3 but sometimes on other pages as well. The advertisements are not everyday. I suspect the watch companies have figured out which days the readers are most susceptible to watch advertising and plan their ads accordingly.
     Being the Wall Street Journal, we are talking about very special and very expensive watches. These watches are all for men. After all, the bastions of Wall Street that can afford the kind of watches advertised are men. They are status statement watches. They are pieces of jewelry and symbols of power and luxury. They are made of gold or stainless steel with metal, leather, and, sometimes even, rubber bands. Because of all this, and I reiterate, they are expensive. They are $5,000 and $10,000 on the low end and there is seemingly no high end limit on how much one can spend.
     In a recent paper in early December, there were five ads on these two pages for fine watches. A in the photo, the watches featured are Hublot, Oris, Breitling, Richard Mille, and Parmagiani. Of these, I was only familiar with Oris and Breitling. I have seen ads for the likes of Rolex, Cartier, Omega, Audemars Piguet, Patek Phillipe, Ulysse Nardin, TAG Heuer, and Vacheron Constantin. The vary from the simple and elegant Patek Phillipe to the dizzying array of dials and knobs that Breitling is know for. There are sporty watches that are waterproof in case only ever has to sail in a regatta or escape from a submarine. There are watches with white dials, black dials, gray dials, and see through dials where one can see the working gears of the watches underneath all the very dials. There are big bold, in your face watches, and they seem to have gotten bigger and bolder in recent years and there are the slimmer and more elegant watches.
     My preference is for the simple and elegant timepieces. There is even a watch company, new to me, named MeisterSinger that only sells watches with only one hand. The are really nice looking watches that would appeal to me if they had two hands.  I think I need an hour hand and a minute hand as a bare minimum and the only other hand I would want is a second hand.  
     I was thinking of writing this piece when lo and behold (it is after all the season for lo-ing and beholding), the WSJ printed an article on this very subject on December 26th. Until reading this article, I never gave much thought to the origin of wrist watches. Certainly, I knew that before wrist watches, men carried pocket watches that were secured by fobs and chains. I even carried one for two years during college including, duh, my sophomore year.
     It seems that wristwatches were mostly popularized by pilots. They needed to track time and could not be fumbling around for their pocket watches. From the simplest Cartier Santos (made for a pilot named Alberto Santos-Dumont in 1904) to complicated chronograph and altimeter watches, they were popularized by pilots and craved by the public who admired the flyboys. It is no doubt why “the pilots” of industry and Wall Street love big bold chronographs.
     Upon leaving the corporate world in 2008, I stopped wearing a watch simply because, for awhile, I had no real tight schedule and I was living on my laptop and cellphone both of which informed me of the time with a mere glance. In 2013, basically because I missed the fashion accessory of a watch, I got all my
watches new batteries and began wearing them. My wife bought me the case that holds my daily watches, which from L to R are, Croton, Tumi, Tissot, and a Swiss Army. The Croton and Tumi have metal bands. The Tissot and Movado have leather bands while the Swiss Army is a field watch with a canvas and leather band. There are black, white, and gray dials. Two have markings, one has numbers, one has Roman Numerals, and one is just plain faced. The Tissot and Movado watches were gifts from various Colgate events, the Croton was a gift from a friend for my 50th birthday, the Tumi and Swiss Army were purchases of my own. I do not believe any of these watches cost more than $300. 
     If I were to only to be able to wear one watch, I would choose the Swiss Army watch. I just like look and feel of a field watch.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reading the Wall Street Journal

     With my new teaching position in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management (SBNM) at North Park University, there are a few perks, very few perks. But, I have taken advantage of a few. First, foremost, and one central to this bloggy bit, is a subscription to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). For $199, I got a two year online and hardcopy full subscription to the revered business newspaper. The same non-academic subscription would have cost $645. It is a pretty good deal. I took advantage of it.
     I never read the WSJ regularly when I was in the corporate world. I should have but for a combination of factors. There was no time which is always a kind of lame excuse. For some reason, I liked the general news of the New York Times or USA Today which was often a freebee when I was traveling. Focused business and financial news were not as critical to my job. I did, however, read quality, logistics, and supply chain magazines for that critical to my job knowledge. Even though my personal WSJ subscription didn’t begin until November 4th, I have read every issue of the WSJ since August 25th.
     We have a SBNM subscription and the Brandel Library at North Park also has a subscription. As the Operations Management Professor, I do what operations and supply chain leaders always do… I get to work early. At least three days a week, I am the person opening the office. As a result, I bring in the WSJ. After settling in my office, I would finish my coffee by reading and perusing the paper from cover to cover. Yes, it was the old fashioned reading of a physical newspaper with all the crinkly sounds and the starting of articles on one page and midway having to flip several pages to finish them. It was old school and it felt good… mostly. Truth be told, I never liked reading part of an article on page n and having to finish it on page n+5. Not having this distraction is a tremendous advantage of the online version in my opinion. 
     While the school papers are free, I did not have online access to save and share articles. In this modern era, this is even more of a nuisance to me than I would have thought. I love to cut, paste, quote, post, and forward articles of interest. Teaching operations and micro-economics, I want to do this with students often in online discussions and to create paper topics. Reading the paper everyday created all of these opportunities. Not having access to the online content required me to have to go to our admin who managed our SBNM subscription. I would have been bothering her every day with multiple requests.
     I would have probably settled for an online only subscription but they did not have that option. I even called the WSJ to try to negotiate an online only academic price. Not surprisingly, the negotiations were to no avail. Thus, I get the hardcopy at home every morning and full online access. I am enjoying reading a newspaper on a daily basis again very much and using it for classroom and assignment purposes even more than I even thought I would. 
     I am feeling like a grownup professional.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014

Our Living Room Tree
Judy Gavoor is an awesome decorator
     I have been writing a Christmas letter to friends, family, and colleagues for the past several years. This little tradition began sometime early in this century. Generally being an early riser, I was up before everyone else. Usually, it was dark. I would get a cup of coffee, sit down at my laptop and write a brief Christmas greeting to valued colleagues and peers that reported to me. Over the years, as I began a daily writing routine that led to monthly e-letters and eventually my blog
     The letters have been short and they have been rather long. They all seemed to start the same with something akin to “It is early Christmas morning…” I would probably still use that opening except for this being noticed and incessantly thrown in my face by my friend and most favorite nuisance Ara Topouzian. As he says, “It least it proves I read your stuff.” Yes, it does. Thank you and Merry Christmas Ara and all my Armenian and musician friends.
     It is not so early in the morning and there is no snow this year. I started this letter at 8:30 which is rather late for this tradition. Usually, in the pre-dawn hours, I was the only creature stirring in the house and social media. At this late hour, texts and instant messages are coming from everywhere. I am writing this letter and responding real time here and on social media. 
     Another friend, just texted this message “Merry Christmas! Writing your morning Christmas letter?” Yes, I am Sharon… Merry Christmas. 
     We just got face-timed by Aram, Anoush, Ida, Steve, Yervant, and… our six
Aris visiting Santa for the first time
Seems quite happy about it...
month old grandson Aris! While we are not together this year, it was great. It was wonderful seeing his smiling face. He grabbed and kissed the phone. It was very special. Merry Christmas to all you!
     When we count our blessings for the year, Aris has to be at the top of the list. He was born June 26th. We were kind of hoping for June 25th since that is my birthday. It is also his grandfather Yervant’s birthday and Judy’s Dad’s, Aris’s great-grandfather’s birthday. That would have been very special. I do think Aris wanted to be close to our date but that he also wanted to assert his independence and has his very own day. His birth is still the best birthday present ever. 
     Last evening, my sister Ani sent a text. It included a photo of my Dad with her children, my niece Kara and nephews Kyle and Jacob. Dad is holding a plaque that says it all, “My favorite people call me Grandpa.” Perfect. 
     We have a pending Christmas present too. Armene and Michael are expecting a son any day now. We are headed their way next week to be there with them. 2014 is indeed a year of grandchild for us… assuming Baby K, as we are calling him, doesn’t decide to make us wait until 2015. Merry Christmas to all the Kapamajian’s in California.
     My cousins Leo and David both reached out Leo by text and David by email.
My Dad surrounded by
Kara, Kyle, and Jacob L to R
Merry Christmas Leo. Merry Christmas David. Merry Christmas to all my cousins, aunts, and uncles. 
     This Christmas morning tradition began as a simple email of Christmas cheer to my work colleagues. When I was at Colgate it made a lot of sense for a variety of reasons. My friends and colleagues were spread out all over Latin America. Even though every country and culture is different, there is a sameness to Latins and Armenians. We tend to make and value friendships in the same way. Last evening, I got messages from Mexico and Uruguay from Angel de la Puente and Andres Malaplate. Merry Christmas Angel, Andres, and everyone else who I have not seen in years. 
     I have new colleagues. In August, I started a position as Associate Professor of Operations Management in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago. I am not sure if it is my next career move, my last career move, an encore career, or whatever. I am sure that it is not just a job. I am also totally loving it. I want to say this is what I should have been doing all along, but I am not certain I would have appreciated it or savored it as much as I do now. Merry Christmas to all my North Park University friends, colleagues, and, of course, the students.
     I will close with a copy/paste first text I got this morning as I sat down to write this piece. It is from my good and old friend Richard Kamar. It says it all:

     Merry Christmas 🎄 Enjoy the blessings of the day.

Part of our Christmas Eve gathering
The Musical Instrument Ornamented Tree in my Study

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November 2014: Food Replicators and 3D Printers

     Caveat: This letter is about what was once science fiction and now seems possible. Therefore, there are a lot of video links in it and, thus, is best read on a PC or pad, if you want the full experience. 

     Since I was a youngster, I was fascinated with a kind of space age alchemy. Alchemy like turning lead in gold in Medieval times alchemy? Not exactly, I did say space age alchemy. I remember seeing television shows like Lost in Space, Star Trek, and other movies that I cannot recall. Sometimes, when the crew was being social, they would go to galley or dining hall for something to eat. They would go to a voice-activated vending machine of sorts and tell the gizmo what they wanted to eat. After a few seconds, some flashing lights, and perhaps some space-age beeps and blips, presto change-o, the food was ready in the dispenser. One could ask for a steak medium rare with mashed potatoes and, voila, the machine would make it. Not only would the machine make it but would deliver it on a plate in a presentation that one might expect from a fine restaurant. 
     These machines would make all kinds of foods almost by magic. Not only could it make human food from hot dogs to spaghetti and meatballs but it could make alien food too. Let’s say you had a bulgy eyed lizard skinned Zerloffian from Harmol Solar System. Your guest wants some Feldjgis smothered in Glamixinas? No problem for our Veg-o-matic Pi Squared. Just tell the machine what your guest wants and it will serve it lukewarm or frozen depending on his or her mother made it. The machine never said no and it never seemed to malfunction or be out of anything. It was amazing.   
     There was never any explanation of how it worked or where the ingredients came from. We were supposed to be OK with the fact that it was space-aged or magic. After all, we were conditioned to expect miraculous things from the future! Being fascinated with this bit of science fiction, I was curious how it worked and when we might start seeing these machines in our school cafeterias and our homes. It would be pretty cool. I assumed that it used any form of matter or materials as an input and that the science and technology inside the machine was so sophisticated it could take trash and turn it into crème brûlée!
     Since this machine could turn anything into anything we wanted to eat, it stands to reason that another machine could be made to convert any trash into energy. This was, of course, shown as a possibility in Back to the Future 3 or 5… or was it 1. The time traveling DeLorean took any kind of trashy input and turned it into nuclear energy. How perfectly splendid! All we have to do to get there is, simply, to invent the flux capacitor, dilithium crystals, flubber, and the 3D printer. Come to think of it, these miraculous machines of the future should even be able to do old-fashioned alchemy i.e. turn lead into gold.
     I wonder what that would do to the price of gold? I wonder what that would do to the value you place on gold. That will have to wait for some future letter.
     The gizmo on the Star Trek franchise of TV shows and movies was called a Replicator. Thanks to YouTube there are several examples of how this fascinating item performs. Witness this from one of the more recent Star Trek TV series. This version of replicator is more magical than most. Want a glass of ice water? It creates it out of nothing in a most fashionable glass. Want pan-fried catfish? No problem. The Replicator creates a most stylish presentation including plate, silverware, a slice of lemon and sides. It is amazing.
     Of course, even with something so advanced, flexible, and diverse as a Food Replicator, humans will become jaded and not want to wait. We will expect the machine to read our minds. Certainly, there will be occasional computer glitch that can be mildly irritating depending on just how hungry one is. All in all the Food Replicator is an amazing bit of science fiction that hopefully will be one of the greatest inventions ever!
      There are some that claim the future is now and 3D printing is the answer. Hmmm, we have seen movies made about the flux capacitor. The entire Star Trek brand is fueled by dilithium crystals, which make warp drive possible. We all know how cool flubber is. What then are 3D printers?
      There was a report on National Public Radio supports the claim that the future may be much closer then we think: NPR Story. It seems that the US Army is seriously dabbling with 3-D Printers to create food that is engineered for each single soldier. We are going to print food? How do you print food?
     There is a higher tech twist to this project the Army researchers are working on. Per the NPR story:
Imagine soldiers who are strapped, head to toe, with sensors that measure if they're high or low in potassium or cholesterol. 
"We envision to have a 3-D printer that is interfaced with the soldier. And that sensor can deliver information to the computer software," Oleksyk says. "And then they would be able to have either powdered or liquid matrices that are very nutrient dense, that they have on demand that they can take and eat immediately to fill that need."
     The quote is attributed to Lauren Oleksyk, a food technologist who is leading this project. It is pretty impressive. Basically, the US Army wants to have a machine that will make a variety of energy and nutrition bars for soldiers on the battlefield. The goal is to have the bars customized to each soldier in terms of both nutrient content and, I suppose, flavor. It would consider if the soldier is diabetic, lactose intolerant, dehydrated, or any number of conditions.
      These “printers” will take the various ingredients specified by soldier’s sensory input, add flavors, some based nutritional goo that will probably needed to hold the concoction together, mix them, apply heat if necessary, press the bars, cool them if necessary, coat them (think chocolate), and finally wrap-up them. I do not suppose this entire process pushing the start button until the bar is dispensed will be anywhere as quick as the Star Trek video showed.
      The future is now… sort of. There are a variety of 3D Printers available on They range in price, and let’s assume capability relative to price, from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. There is even a 3D Printers & Supplies Store on Amazon. The site even provide an explanation of what 3D Printing is:
3D Printing, also called additive manufacturing, is the process of taking a digital model of an object of any geometric shape and creating a three-dimensional (3D) solid object replica. A 3D printer uses rapid prototyping, a pre-production process that allows manufacturers to scale a model using computer-aided design (CAD) data, or modeling software. A solid object is created using layers of various materials such as liquid, paper, powder, or metal that form a series of cross sections. The additive process automatically fuses the joined layers to create the object. Using a 3D printer filament, commonly supplied in various colors on spools, the 3D printer is able to create a smooth extrusion, creating a shape form as the material comes through the nozzle.

Commonly used in manufacturing, machining, automotive, construction, medical, and architectural industries, 3D printers are applicable to a wide variety of fields. Education, engineering, and jewelry-making professionals also use additive manufacturing. Manufacturing, in both industrial and remote areas, can utilize this technology. For example, if new machinery is required, new machined objects can begin to take shape in minutes. Material savings can be measured in decreased material waste during the manufacturing process.
     A Dremel 3D Printer costs $1,264 on eBay and only $999 on Amazon. Here is a video of it making a simple frog. Another video shows the Top 5 Best 3D Printers To Buy USA. So, they produce plastic parts that can be used as toys, prototypes, and perhaps even replacement parts depending on the kind of material used in the extrusion process. If we want to think big, there are folks working on building houses using 3D printers (this is also a great video to introduce 3D printing). It seems we are at the dawn of something with great and unlimited potential.
     Of course, the printer has to follow a plan. A detailed digital drawing is needed to print the simple frog and an even more detailed drawing is needed to print an entire house. With regards to the house, it is not exactly clear exactly how much house is printed. Is a big persons Little Tyke house? Does it print the plumbing and electrical wiring? I am guessing that the foundation still has to be dug and poured the old fashioned way? How about the roof? Are the shingles printed onto the roof or is that another process? These are all “small details” that need to be worked out. 
     Let’s get back to food. It seems like nutritional meal bars are probably coming to a military unit near you. What if you want tad something a bit more satisfying like a burger or a pizza? Not to be outdone by the Army, NASA has invested in the 3D printing of food. They began with pizza. Here is an article and a video of the first foray in this technology. They chose to make pizza. Notice the printer has three nozzles: one for dough, another for the sauce, and the third for cheese. The result is pizza but, frankly, it did not look too appetizing. For now, we should let the Army do their thing and invent the best meal replacement bar they can. Maybe these 3D bar printers will available in stores and vending areas and will be exciting as the high tech Coke machines that provide virtually every product they sell. 
     If you watched any of the 3D videos, it is clear we are nowhere near the Star Trek food replicator. There might be some decent applications. But there is nothing on the horizon where we can walk up to a machine and order anything we want and have it served quickly and in a presentation we might only find in a high end restaurant. This is what I would love to see.
     I have no clue how such a replicator would work. But, I have always had a notion of how I think, or wish, replicators should work. In my vision, a replicator makes everything from a base food powder or slurry. Really awesome technology would then transform the base into the desired finished food at the perfect temperature. The finished products would be placed on in a bowl or on a plate, depending on the kind of food ordered, and dispensed. My version of the replicator would not necessarily, as in the Star Trek version, replicate the plates and silverware. The plates would be in a hopper and silverware would be in bins next to the replicator.
     There are probably many obstacles to ever seeing such a food replicator in the near future. First and foremost would be the whiz-bang technology that would transform the base food goo or slurry into any kind of vegetable, meat, fish, legume, grain, pasta, libation, and condiment conceivable. Given we had the technology, the next question is would the process be time and cost effective? Such a transformation might require much more energy than it would actually cost to buy and prepare the real food the machine is replicating. In the movies, the replication is instantaneous. There is a microwave like convenience to these replicators. The replication transformation might take as much time as to prepare the same meal using real ingredients. Lastly, many people are railing against genetically modified foods. I cannot imagine what these folks would say about replicated food even though the machine in my imagination would be generically equivalent to the best natural foods ever experienced.
     If by chance this concept comes to fruition, I have a phase two in mind. In the follow-up, a preprocessor would be added that would allow any form of matter to be put into the replicator. It would transform the “stuff” into the base food slurry. We could dump table scraps into the replicator. We could put all our household refuge. It could be pretty amazing.
      Why stop here? Eventually, we should be able to replicate food simply from energy. As we will have to ween ourselves off of fossil fuels and migrate to something close to what I will call safe fusion, we may have unlimited and cheap energy available.
     There is another reason why we may need this kind of replicator technology sooner rather than later. There was an article in the November 17, 2014 USA Today, that reported that the demand for chocolate could exceed supply as early as the year 2020. This shortage is due to a variety of reasons that includes global warming reducing the growing regions, a disease effecting cacao yields, increased demands for chocolate from China, and cacao producers deciding to grow more profitable crops e.g. corn and rubber. Of course, if supply goes down, prices will go up. When prices go up, more growers may want to cash in and most likely the market will adjust to a new equilibrium. Needless to say, as the world population increases we will run into more and more shortages. There are similar reports that coffee production areas are also shrinking due to climate reasons. It is predicted that supply will not be able to meet demand for this commodity as well. Replicators will be needed to cover these shortages and provide people with the full litany of products they value and enjoy.
      After we get this replicator gizmo going we turn our attention to creating the transporter and the Wayback Machine.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Singles Day?

     November 11th was Singles Day in China. It was also the single biggest shopping day in China… ever. For that matter, it was the single biggest shopping in the history of the world… ever. The fact China had the biggest shopping day ever is not really a surprise when you consider that it is the most populous country in the world with a population of 1.37 billion people accounting for 19% of the worlds population. But, Singles Day?
     Singles Day is a relatively new holiday in China. Per a National Public Radio report:
In the 1990s, Chinese university students began celebrating being unattached on Nov. 11, which of course is abbreviated 11/11.  
The idea was for singles to go out, go to parties, go to bars without all the Valentine's Day commercial schmaltz.
At least that's what it was. Now it's the biggest commercial holiday on the planet. 
Chinese shoppers bought more than $9 billion in goods for themselves today. Alibaba began promoting the celebrations in recent years as a way for singles to treat themselves to something special, and online retailers jumped in, offering deep discounts on purchases.
     Singles Day has turned into a day when people by gifts not for others but for themselves. It is a day to indulge oneself with at treat or more and more a luxury gift. It is a very different and, as the NPR report states, new kind of holiday. From a shopping perspective, it is huge. $9 Billion in sales is three times what was spent in 2013 for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US.  Apparently, one kind of "commercial schmaltz" has been replaced by another.
     Again while the sales numbers are impressive, it is proportional to populations of the China and the US. As China has emerged as a global economic powerhouse in the past ten to fifteen years, the buying power and lifestyles of the Chinese people has increased. This all kind of makes sense.
     The real surprise for me is the self-indulgent nature of the holiday. We, here in the good old USA, are supposed to be the most self-indulgent country in the world. Others keep telling us that all the time.  Yet, our busiest shopping day of the year is dedicated to purchasing gifts to give to others… not ourselves. Here come the Chinese, they create a holiday that is only fifteen or twenty years old. It is focused on self-indulgence and it unbelievably becomes the biggest shopping day on the planet. That is astounding.
Singles Day puts a lot of stress on the
Chinese parcel shipping supply chain.
      In the NPR report, Jack Ma, the founder and Chairman of Alibaba (the of China), envisions Singles Day spreading around the world. The NPR report did not think that would happen here as Singles Day is so close to our well entrenched holiday shopping season. There certainly is a case for the timing of Sngles Day, but I could see the concept of Singles Day taking off here nonetheless. Since it is made up holiday, we can put the US Singles Day in March. Heck, if I was Alibaba, Amazon, and other retailers, I would not want the US Singles Day to be on the same day as China’s. Stagger things so as not to strain the global retail supply chains all on the same day.
     I can see the advertisements, “After doing for and giving to others all year, isn’t it time that you did something for yourself?” I can see another advertisement playing on the old Janis Joplin song.
Why don’t I buy ME a new Mercedes-Benz
My friends all drive Porches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends.
So why don’t I buy ME a new Mercedes-Benz
     Oh yeah, this could become a huge shopping holiday here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Those Krazy Kids these Days

      I grew up in an era that had some unique challenges.  While it was America, the land of both freedom and plenty, my coming of age was in the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s.  There was unrest about the Vietnam War.  There were social movements for minority rights and feminism.  The ecology movement got its start then. We also had something called the Generation Gap.  We were the first TV generation.  We were part of the post World War II baby boom that for sure had a silver spoon in our mouths.  We took a lot of the 1950s and early 60s rhetoric seriously.  We felt part of a modern age where anything was possible.  Those ideals, optimism, and “wanting it now” had us focusing on things that were not aligned with the values and wants of our parents generation in those days.  I even wrote about this back in November, 2008 in a post called Was it the Weirdest Times?  
      There are always generational issues.  “Kids these days don’t know how easy they have it,” has probably been uttered by people my age for ages.   The same goes for the younger saying, “OK here we go again, another sermon on how easy we have it these days.”  
      I just heard and read news stories this week about things young people are doing that caught my by surprise.  It is nothing about work ethic.  It is not about expectations or even a new generation gap.  I was just surprised by the reports because I was unaware of the trends.  They are as follows:
  1. Per the New York Times, millennials are not necessarily owning TVs and not subscribing to cable television at the levels of older generations
  2. A recent story on NPR, explored why millennials are ignoring voicemail.
     OK then.  What is happening?  Let’s start with TV.  I thought TV was an American icon.  I already admitted that I
am part of the first generation raised with television.  There was never a thought that it would go away, and it is not going away now.  It is simply becoming more personal, viewed on pad and computers more so that on “TV sets” by the millennial generation.  Cable is expensive and TVs take up valuable space in dorms and first apartments.  So, millennials are moving toward on-demand services like netflix and watching these on-demand shows on their pads.  From an economic standpoint, the cable providers are pricing themselves out of the marketplace.
     The also think that voicemail is passé.  They would clearly rather text than be bothered with all the extra keystrokes and time lags required to retrieve a voice mail.  With all of the social media available these days, there is only so much any person can attend too.  Voicemail clearly does not make the top 3 or 5 mode of social media or social interaction for most young folks.  While this may be the case, that may change when they enter the job market and deal with older colleagues who still use and value voice mails.
     There is a certain practicality to young people.  As they will define future it makes all the sense to pay attention to where they are trending.  
     Have a comment on all this?  Text me as the kid in me is done with voicemail!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Negative Political Ads

      The midterm election takes place this coming Tuesday, November 4, 2014. I have already voted. One might guess from my zip code how I voted but who I voted for is not material to this blog post. This piece is not about trying to convince anyone to vote for a particular party or a particular candidate. This is about the horrendous advertisements we have been bombarded by this season.
      The ads are disgusting and for the most part negative. The candidates are all attacking their opponents rather than touting their own acumen and capabilities. The ads, from either party for most of the important races, make the opponents out to be incompetent and crooked. While this is a tried and true campaign strategy, the negativity of the ads this year seem at the extreme. In watching these attack ads, I am not even considering or evaluating which candidate to vote for. Instead, I find myself astonished that the candidate is not doing time in a maximum security prison.
      Allow me to focus on just two offices in which the candidates are setting a new low standard in negative ads. This year we are electing a Governor here in Illinois. The election pits the incumbent Pat Quinn against Bruce Rauner. There is also a congressional race 10th District where I live. The incumbent Brac Schneider is running against Bob Dold the fellow he unseated in the last election. Both races are close and this probably explains the number and intensity of the negative ads.
       Rauner is painting Quinn out to be crooked. He is supposedly the latest corrupt head of a state this has had four of the last governors do prison time. Really? Over half of the last seven governors have gone to jail. In listening to the ads, I am convinced that whoever gets elected on Tuesday should go directly to jail, not passing Go, and definitely not collecting their $200. Quinn’s ads paint the billionaire Rauner as a greedy one-percenter or, maybe in this case, a tenth of a percenter. In watching the ads, it seems he has killed through neglect due to greed several people in the nursing homes via which he made part of his fortune. I am not sure why Quinn waited until the election to bring these “facts” to our attention. He should have had Rauner arrested and prosecuted.
      The Congressional race is no better. If anything, it is more confusing. I am not sure which candidate hates old people and which hates kids. It is unclear which is corrupt and which is just plain stupid. The negative ads are so bad, that it is impossible to identify with a candidate based on the issues I am actually interested in addressing. It is not only disgusting but totally confusing.
     Here is the rub. I have actually met each of these four candidates in person and heard them speak. They are each intelligent, charming, and very well spoken. In person, the discussed issues more than they attacked their opponents. What a contrast to the ads that has me wondering why these fellows are not all in jail.
     Because of these ads, I have spoke with a few people who are not going to vote simply because they find all of this so disgusting. I could easily vote for whoever runs on a platform of
[1] Banning negative ads
[2] Making the no call list reall work
     Ah… democracy.

October 2014: Watch Out What You Ask For

     There is an old adage: Watch out what you ask for, you may get it. Supposedly, you want something so badly and when and if you get it, it might be disappointing or not what you thought it would be. This saying is most used in references to relationships and new jobs and promotions. There is that promotion you wanted so bad, fought to get, and then got it. Then after a brief honeymoon period, you realize, "Oh my, what did I get myself into this is so much work and ridiculously political." Watch out what you ask for, you may get it.
     This letter is about that old adage but with a positive ending. I actually got what I wanted and more so than at any other time and I am both embracing and loving it.
      I have always wanted to teach at the college level. Over the years I have done just that but as an adjunct i.e. part time. I always wanted a full time job, to be part of full time faculty and all that means. What that means is being on campus quite a bit and integrating into the entire education, scholarly, and university experience. I have, as my sister Nancy reminded me recently, wanted this since I was in college. It was a job, career, and lifestyle that had a great deal of appeal to me.
     I have, as mentioned, taught a fair amount of adjunct courses over the years. I taught a lot as a graduate assistant and then part time in the 1970s and early 1980s. Then, I took a twenty-seven year break to have a full corporate career which I also loved and appreciated. In the height of the Great Recession, in 2010, I began teaching again albeit part time. If we put all of that teaching together, I have nine years of full time teaching experience. Six of those were in the last four years where often I was teaching five classes where the norm is three. I was teaching at the College of Lake County (CLC) which is a two year college, DeVry University and their Keller Graduate School of Management, and North Park University. The great majority of my full time teaching was in mathematics and since 2010 mostly statistics. 

      Leona Mirza is an Armenian friend and now a colleague, got me into North Park University as an adjunct. I first met her when my distant cousin Richard Hovanissian was visiting us and speaking at the AGBU Center in 2007 when we first moved to Chicago. Uncle Richard was scheduled to meet Leona and her husband for breakfast. As he was staying at our house and I was his means of transportation, I was invited too. We met Leona, at the Tre Kroner Restaurant on Foster Avenue. It was a glorious October Sunday morning and we sat outside. I noticed a lovely campus setting across the street from the restaurant. I commented on how lovely the campus looked and wondered what university it was. Leona said, "North Park University, it is where I teach." I remember thinking; it would be a cool place to teach. 
     In January of 2011, we were at an Isabel Bayrakdarian concert on the University of Chicago campus. Leona, her husband, and sister were also at the concert. We exchanged pleasantries and in the course of chatting, she asked me what I was doing. I responded that I was trying to get a consulting business going and doing some adjunct teaching at the College of Lake County and DeVry University. She asked me what I was teaching and I said mostly Statistics. She reminded me that she was on the Mathematics faculty of North Park University and was the course head for Statistics. She also mentioned that they were looking for adjuncts. Remembering the October Sunday morning and the impression the campus made on me, I said that I would be interested. She and another colleague came to observe a class of mine at CLC and after that encouraged me to apply for an adjunct position at North Park. By June, I was given an adjunct appointment at North Park and taught three sections of the Introduction to Statistics in the fall of that year.
      I loved the campus and the students from the get go. I taught Statistics there for three semesters. In the second semester, in March of 2012, I saw a notice in a campus email that the School of Business and Nonprofit Management (SBNM) was looking for an adjunct to teach Operations Management in the winter semester of the following year. As this was a class that I always wanted to teach, I sent a note of inquiry right away. I got a response in a few days that the Dean and Operations Director of SBNM wanted to meet with me. After that meeting, and their review of my resume and transcripts, I was asked to teach this class as an adjunct. I was teaching in place of a very nice man, a full time faculty member, who was going to retire because his wife was ailing and he was her caregiver.
Leona Mirza
     When they posted the full time position, I decided to apply which I did in December of 2012. I filled out the application over the Christmas break. In addition to my business/corporate resume, I prepared a teaching resume and an essay on my philosophy and approach to teaching. Most of these materials were updates of three other full time teaching positions I had applied for. All three were in Mathematics at the College of Lake County and all of resulted in a "thanks but no thanks letter" without even an interview.
     My expectations were pretty low. I had done some pretty intense job searching during the first two years of the Great Recession. Except for a few the adjunct teaching jobs and some good consulting work, I had not succeeded in finding a full time corporate position of any kind let alone a full time position of the caliber that I most recently had. The Great Recession job market led me to become, in a word, jaded. I was all but convinced that the show was over for me. I believed the primary factor for this was due to my age. I had even blogged on age discrimination. It is there. It is real. Many people in my situation have grudgingly accepting this reality. While accepting this new normal on one level, I continued to apply for positions that were of interest to me. The Professor of Operations Management position at North Park University was certainly a position I was quite interested in.
     I was therefore delighted when I was notified, in early January, that I made it to the next cut. From an undisclosed pool of applicants, six were chosen for the next step which was a one hour group interview with a subset of the search committee. These interviews were done by video conference, unless the candidate was in the Chicago area in which case the interview would be face-to-face. As I was already teaching a classes on campus for the department, I had a face to face interview with three members of the selection committee. That took place in early February, a few weeks after the spring term began. I dutifully dressed up in a suit and tie and was asked a series of questions in team interview style. As in the written application, I did my best and thought that I had answered the questions to the best of my ability.
      In another few weeks, I learned that I had made the next cut to a field of three that would be brought in for all day interviews. The interviews were with the President of the University, the Provost, the Human Resource Director, a campus pastor, and another team interview this time with the entire searc
h committee. The day also included a mock teaching session with students who were given evaluation forms to fill out. Again, as I was teaching a class on campus, the mock teaching took place in my actual class. This was certainly an advantage. I shuffled my syllabus a bit and gave a lecture introducing quality management: a definite forte of mine. Amazingly, the faculty asked most of the questions that resulted in an animated discussion. I was sweating bullets but held my own. Later that evening I was taken to dinner, at Tre Kroner again, by the Dean of the School of Business and Nonprofit Management and the esteemed economics professor Lee Sundholm. It was a great end to a long day.

      Then, I waited. I do believe I was the first of three to be brought in for the all day interview process but was never sure. My interview day was in mid-March. I heard nothing for day which turned into weeks. Was no news, no news? Or was it a bad omen? With each passing day, it went from hopeful and hoping to hear, to a bit agonizing, and then quite frustrating. There was nothing to do but worry which I knew to be a negative strategy. The right thing to do was to stay upbeat, hopeful, and positive. This was all easier to say than to actually do.
     In the interim, amid what seemed like endless waiting, another job popped up. There was a director/coordinator of Math and Science at The Illinois Institute of Art in Schaumberg. This for profit college is part of The Education Management Corporation which has subsidiaries of The Art Institutes and Argosy University. The Illinois Institute of Art specializes in graphic arts, web design, fashion design, and more. They offer a few math classes and one science course. The job I applied for was to coordinate course scheduling, hiring adjuncts and ensuring their availability, and teaching the occasional class.
      The Illinois Institute of Art was interested in my application and they were interested in moving very fast. I interviewed three times in two weeks and was a finalist with one other person. I had still not heard from North Park. Suddenly, I had two active prospects. This certainly had not happened since the onset of the Great Recession. In fact, I cannot recall ever having two active job prospects at one time. I was one of three finalists at one and one of two at the other. Assuming a one-third chance of getting one and a fifty percent chance of getting the other, I had a fifty percent chance of getting at least one job offer.
     The Illinois Institute of Arts certainly moved faster than North Park. I received a phone call saying I was the finalist. All that remained was one final interview with the President. I scheduled the interview ten days out to buy a little time. I felt a little guilty doing it, but did it anyway. A few days later, I heard from North Park... obviously the news was the good news I was waiting for. I was totally elated. It was the job I have wanted most of my life and I was psyched.
     I had to inform The Illinois Institute of Art that I was taking another job. I was now feeling a lot guilty for having to tell them no. This is in spite of firing off countless numbers of applications and resumes into the HR black holes of corporations during the Great Recession. Companies, awash with hundreds of applications for an opening, held all the power and rarely let applicants know the job was pulled or filled. They acted in their own interests without any concern for any common courtesies. I vowed I would act the same way given a chance. Yet, when at that crossroads, I felt bad. I felt guilt, for turning them down. They totally understood and I appreciated that.
I accepted the North Park position and was looking forward to the start of classes in late August. Given that I my teaching experience translated into six full time equivalent years, I was brought in as an Associate Professor and not an Assistant. Cool.

     My teaching load this first semester is four courses. A normal load is three. I am teaching three of these courses for the first time, so I have three preparations which is a heavy load. It has been a lot of work. There are other activities I never had to do as an adjunct. These include advising students on which courses to take next. I have ten students currently assigned to me and that will increase next year. I have to attend department meetings and soon I will be assigned, as all full time faculty must, to be on a University committees working on any number of academic and administrative changes. There are activities that every faculty is expected to do. These include holding fixed office hours, participating in convocation and graduation ceremonies, participating in a new faculty series of meetings, and attending all faculty meetings three or four times a year.
     Listening to some of the other faculty members, these meetings can get tedious. They can be rife with politics in a way that is special to academia (this means catty in a way you never see in the corporate environment.)
     Oddly, surprisingly, and wonderfully, I am embracing it all. I am doing it more enthusiastically than I did for any other company or job that I have ever had. I am actually enjoying every minute of it. I have also joined two groups that read and discuss books on improving college level teaching. I have attended soccer games, volley ball games, and concerts in which my students are participating.
     It has been a lot of work and been a lot of fun and the single best career move I have ever made. Recently, George Halas’s grandson, a graduate of North Park, was speaking on campus. He quoted his grandfather as saying. “It is only work if you would rather be doing something else.” That quote is now hanging up in my office.
     So, as they say, watch out what you ask for… you might just get it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

$2.99 Gasoline

Dave Ouzounian Photo on Facebook
     I filled up the tank of my Toyota 4Runner for about $45 the other day. It took 15 gallons and the gasoline was priced at $2.99. I thought I was doing well but then saw my old friend Dave Ouzounian having posted a photo on FB where the price per gallon was $2.89.  Darn Illinois gas taxes.  This is the lowest we have seen gasoline for years. It is amazing because every few years since 2006, there has been a prediction that gasoline was going to hit $5 per gallon and the impact that was going to have on our economy.
      More people talk about gasoline prices than any other product or commodity. If we had to choose one item replace the consumer price index it would be gasoline. It may not be the most accurate indicator from an economics standpoint, but it is certainly a very good emotional indicator. Gasoline is simply a large and visible expense. Based on 15 gallons per fill-up and 5 fill-ups a month, gasoline expenses would be $300 a month if gas prices were $4 a gallon but only $225 a gallon if gas prices were $3.  The savings of $75 is significant to most people.

      This drop in prices is certainly welcome news to most drivers.   It is the lowest prices we have seen since the winter of 2009 which was the pit of the Great Recession.  It is easy to forget, at least easy for me to forget, that gasoline was under $2 per gallon 11 short years ago.
      What is the reason for this drop in gasoline prices? It seems to our own domestic petroleum production. We have a massive, and until recently untapped, oil resource. There are billions of barrels of oil underneath our country.  For years, energy wonks have been saying that this oil could make us energy independent of the Middle East which is a most interesting proposition. The problem was that our oil, which had the potential to make us almost independent of imports, was shale oil. The oil was infused in rock and sand. Getting this oil had traditionally been more expensive than any imported oil, so it never was the economical choice. That all changed with the development of a new drilling technique called fracking.

What is fracking?
Hydraulic fracturing is the process of drilling for natural gas and oil underneath the ground. Water mixed with other components is pumped into the ground to create cracks (also referred to as fissures or fractures) to release the gas into wells that have been built for collection.
Groundwater protection remains a main goal and paramount to the success of and well operation. Both the well’s design, the casing, and the inherent risk associated with the hydraulic fracturing process itself all factor into new shale gas well development. Over the years, this technology has been used safely and successfully in over one million wells. Regulators together with operators have mitigated many of environmental risks. Shale gas, or natural gas, producers most often will leave a small wellhead behind on the property along with several storage tanks, and a metering system to measure shale gas production.
      I can almost hear the chants "Drill baby drill" which were a popular slogan from the Republican 2008 Presidential Campaign. Per Wikipedia, Michael Steele, at that time a former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland and soon to be Chairman of the Republican National Committee, used these words at the Republican National Convention. Shortly before the convention, Erik Rush titled a piece "Drill, baby, drill" in his conservative blog The Other Rush. It resonated with people both positively and negatively. Some have attributed it as the 2008 version of the 1964 slogan "Burn, baby, burn" used by radicals in the urban race riots of the 1960s. I know John McCain used the "Drill, baby, drill" slogan, but, in my head, I only hear Sarah Palin voice saying it.
       The slogan and, perhaps more so, the fracking technology have made oil more abundant and have brought prices down to levels not seen before the Great Recession. No one is currently talking about $5 per gallon gasoline these days. The only question is how long this will last. Every article and newscast reporting on the drop in gasoline prices finishes with the sobering "no one is sure how long this is going to last."
      Are there any problems with fracking? It all depends who you ask. Within in the industry, there are, of course, no negative reports. Amongst environmentalists, it is a different story. To them, fracking is a horrible thing that needs to stopped immediately.

The entire process of fracking — from drilling a well to transporting waste — endangers our water and the health of our communities. There is clear evidence of the growing damage caused by fracking:
  • Some people who live near fracking sites have become seriously ill from drinking contaminated water. Others can light their tap on fire due to the amount of methane in their water.
  • The oil and gas industry isn’t required to disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking process, but many are known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens.
  • Communities with fracking have seen declines in property values, increases in crime, and losses in local tourism and agriculture.
  • Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, leaks from fracking industry sites.
      So, what are we to do?
      The majority of the consumer public will probably enjoy the lower gas prices. Good or bad, we value convenience, prefer lower prices, and tend to think short term.  Maybe prices will go below $2 per gallon.  Maybe prices will get to the 1970 levels of $.55 per gallon... plus you get a free glass!  No fracking way this will happen.