Seltzer and Evaporating Clouds

I've had the great pleasure over the past year to work on a key strategic project with some consultants from the Goldratt Group (including a trip to Amsterdam last year (to work directly with Eli Goldratt - see Jamming With Eli).

David Leonhardt's Economic Scene column in today's New York Times (To Spend or to Save? Trick Question) addresses the conflict many people are feeling right now between spending and saving; the paradox is that we need spending to improve the state of the economy, but we need savings to reduce personal debt, recapitalize banks, etc. Given all that, it's hard to know what to do, and the natural instinct is to hunker down and stop spending any more than is absolutely necessary. Leonhardt writes:
It’s your fault. Part of it is, anyway. You, the American consumer, spent too much money. You bought too much house, took on too much debt and generally lived beyond your means. Your free-spending ways helped cause the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

And now you’re going to have to do your part to end the crisis. How? By spending. Enough already with the saving that many of you have suddenly begun doing. This very moment, Congress and President Obama are preparing to send you a tax rebate, to inspire you to stimulate the economy. So go out and stimulate. Spend as if the future of your country depended on it.

John Maynard Keynes, the great 20th-century economist, would have appreciated the apparent absurdity in these mixed messages. He coined a phrase, “the paradox of thrift,” to point out that what was rational for an individual during hard times — saving money — could be ruinous for an entire economy. Eventually, many of the savers may end up out of work because everyone else is saving, too.

It’s enough to make you wonder what exactly you’re supposed to do. At his news conference on Monday night, Mr. Obama was asked directly whether people should spend or save their rebate checks. He ducked the question.

Goldratt has a way of looking at these kinds of conflicts: a thinking process called an evaporating cloud. I liked Leonhardt's approach to breaking the conflict between spending and saving: spend, but spend on things which represent investment (such as energy efficiency home improvements and a seltzer maker (you'll have to read the article....). Check it out!

Maintaining Perspective

During what can charitably be described as challenging times in the business world - when it can feel like the world is collapsing around you and the rules as you understand them are changing, it's sometimes difficult to maintain perspective.

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a thought-provoking article on the risks of being addicted to a kind of success that revolves primarily or exclusively around career. As the article says:
The deepening recession is exacting punishment for a psychological vice that masquerades as virtue for many working people: the unmitigated identification of self with occupation, accomplishment and professional status. This tendency can induce outright panic as more and more people fear loss of employment.

For the entire article, see: You Might as Well Face It: You're Addicted to Success

In terms of what one can do about professionally focused success addiction, the piece has this to say:
To disassociate identity from professional status, therapists recommend taking pride in characteristics that can't be stripped away -- virtue, integrity, honesty, generosity. They also recommend investing more time and pride in relationships with family, friends and community.

All of his reminds me of a couple of songs I really like (ok, so they are a little over the top, but still....): Kenny Chesney's Don't Blink, and It Won't Be Like This For Long by Darius Rucker (thanks for this one, Phyllis). The links are for the music videos.

Fred Says....

I found this fascinating quote today:

We've moved past the time when big institutions controlled what we read, what we thought, and what we believed. And we are arriving at a new place where each and everyone of us will report on our world and share it with others. Sharing is the new truth.A VC, Feb 2009

You should read the whole article.

Ice Skating on Candlewood Lake

From Outdoors On The Frozen Lake - January 2009

From Outdoors On The Frozen Lake - January 2009

From Outdoors On The Frozen Lake - January 2009

Had the first chance recently in my 40+ years to make an ice skating rink on a frozen lake - see the pictures above.

Nice article in the NYT about the weather being cold enough this year for lots of ice skating in the area: Skate, Sure, but Don’t Expect a Zamboni. We could have used a Zamboni to smooth out the ice, but I don't think the kids cared much....

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Revisiting Abraham Verghese's Cutting For Stone

Late in December I posted about my experience reading Abraham Verghese's Cutting For Stone (A Must Read....). The book has now been released - available here and here and here - and the reviews are starting to come in (links below). Reviews in from friends who have read the book are very enthusiastic.

This video from the publisher will give you a sense for the scale and vibe of the book (link):

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Houston Chronicle: Cutting For Stone By Abraham Verghese

San Francisco Chronicle: 'Cutting for Stone,' by Abraham Verghese

Washington Post: Healing The Past

New York Times: Doctors And Sons

Worth a Listen - Tapes From USAirways Flight 1549

F.A.A. Releases Flight 1549 Tapes (edited and full-length audio is available at the link).

Listening to the audio of communications between the pilot of Flight 1549 and air traffic controllers, I'm struck by how calm everyone seems to be. Hard to imagine.

If you're interested in James Fallows' take on what happened, check out these two blog posts:

In case you were wondering, about that airplane in the Hudson

Two quick followups about the airplane in the Hudson

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Loving TED

Spurred to action by Virginia Heffernan's article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine (Confessions of a TED Addict), I've started watching videos from the annual TED conference. You can read Heffernan's article for a more in-depth overview of what the conference is about, but I think the TED tag line sums things up pretty well: Ideas Worth Spreading.

I've got a bunch of videos lined up to watch, but my favorites so far are by Peter Reinhart on baking bread and Benjamin Wallace on the price of happiness.

Here's the Reinhart video:

And here's the Wallace video:

(here are links to the Reinhart and the Wallace in case you can't see the embedded videos).

If yoy are interested in baking bread, you should also check out Reinhart's new cookbook The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. The cookbook has won a couple of awards and is terrific. I've not made any of the breads yet but have enjoyed just reading Reinhart's detailed descriptions of the bread making process.

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On (Back) Pain

I recently came across two articles that were relevant given that lower back pain has been one feature of my post-marathon suffering (not much progress on that front, by the way). Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide, has an article which discusses research showing that the solution to back pain is often psychological rather than physical. An entry yesterday in the New York Times Well blog came at the back pain problem from a slightly different angle. Scans For Back Pain Ineffective addresses research showing that scanning (x-rays/MRIs/CT scans) to find the source of back pain are often ineffective because those interpreting results often fail to account for the normal effects of aging and time. Both are worth a read.

I did laugh at this quote from the Lehrer article:
Chronic stress is another important risk factor for chronic pain. One back surgeon, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of offending his patients, said that he's seen several men develop lower back pain shortly after getting engaged. "Weddings are stressors," he says, "and that stress can exacerbate the experience of pain.

And that, of course, reminded me of this very funny video (thanks, Bob & Sara!):

If you can't see the video, you can find it here.

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Mystery Solved

Funny story about the source of the maple syrup smell that has periodically occurred in New York City: Map of the Day: NYC's Official Maple Syrup "Odor Reports". Most interesting to me is that the mystery was ultimately solved by overlaying calls to the city's 311 line on a map with dates and prevailing weather patterns (check the link for a detailed picture).

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