A Promise Called Iowa (on IPTV)

All I can say is wow.  I put the kids to bed last night and decided to watch TV for an hour and accidentally came across, "A Promise Called Iowa".  (The link gets to you to the home page for the program and includes video clips, etc..).

I sat there mesmerized by Iowa's ex-governor Robert Ray as he help unfold the story of Iowa's lead role in stepping up to take refugees in the post-Vietnam war era.  Of most interest was the acceptance of an entire community of refugees at one time, the Tai Dam, that took a special exemption from President Ford. 

Maybe every Iowan walking around already knows tales of this era...but as a transplant I was completely ignorant. 

I'd highly recommend that you seek out and watch this program.  If I read things properly on the website, I believe it's on again June 21st, at 7PM.  It's an invigorating and humbling experience. 

I am a proud Iowan.

Giving Away the Collective Iowa "Farm" for the Google Server Farm

There's a googolplex of reasons why the state of Iowa is gushing over a new Googleplex being built within its borders. There are about 100 articles/posts hitting the wires every hour about it.  Here's a post at InfoWorld on it.

But has anyone done the math on this project with the tax credits, sales tax exemptions, and alleged jobs this facility will produce?  Does Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) have so much "star power" that legislators are willing to sell their souls to the "do no evil" Googolopoly?  I wonder if some GAAP accounting applied properly would yield that the cost to operate and build this facility is net zero for the next 20 years...just in time for an exit? 

I'm going to head out to Council Bluffs and do some investigative reporting a la Stone Phillips to get real resident reactions, etc. 

Are you nervous about Google and their continuing global domination...or are you concerned with them terraforming (or Googleforming) another colony here in the heartland?  Or are you just happy to have your city in the paper in a positive way?  More reports from the field to come.

Iowa Has Been Googled

I've been reading teasers about this for months, but it was announced today that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is going to build a server farm in Council Bluffs, Iowa...just across the Missouri River from Omaha. Now there's something more cool than "The starting city of last year's RAGBRAI" to talk about)  (Forbes Article Here). This is a massive boon to Council Bluffs I'm sure and pretty cool for the state in general.

The bottom line is that GOOG is concerned about power and the consistent delivery thereof.  MidAmerican Energy Co.     (other-otc:       MDPWL.PK  (Thank you Mr. Buffett) just spent $1.2 billion upgrading their systems, etc. 

Bring on the anti-GOOG crowd now to discuss conspiracy, corporate welfare, and invasion of privacy, etc.

When Birds Attack

Birds I've been laughing recently when I see some kind of black "migratory birds" attacking people as they walk by a nest on city streets highlighted on TV.

Until yesterday....

On my way back from Adel via bike on the Raccoon River Trail, out of nowhere, one of these black birds started chirping at me as I rode along at about 15MPH.  Funny thing was, the chirping became screaming and it was getting closer.  I looked back and immediately had the adrenaline surge and the "flight instinct" when this savage beast was inches from my head.  I waved my arm (one still on the handlebars) and started screaming profanities.

I'm guessing I accelerated to 25mph at full clip before my Hitchcock moment past...but for a moment...I felt quite a bit of peril.

It must have looked interesting to passers by to see me seizuring with absolutely nothing around me but open space and blue skies. 

Spring's Jungle Canopy

Picture_16 Our back yard with its 10 mature trees is finally in full jungle bloom.  All of the rain we've had (a lot) has soaked everything.  Now it's heating up and the greenery is literally exploding.  I thought I'd gotten off this year regarding allergies...but they were simply delayed. 

This year like last, we're having trouble getting into the house by 9PM and the taste of Mexican beers with lime are not helping my daily caloric intake.

I'm looking forward to the 15 step commute from the patio to the office in a while and wish all of my ex-commuting buddies well.

All hail the Midwest.

Spring Has Sprung

Img164_2

Ahhh Spring in Iowa.  It's about good wine, a fat Amana Porterhouse grilled to perfection, followed up with an excellent cigar.  Spring has an intoxicating affect on people I'm noticing...myself included.  Our kids are burning off months of energy stores and we're finding it difficult to even bring ourselves inside the house before 8PM.  (It wasn't that long ago that 5PM felt like "wind down time").  We're eating outside every day, having Bohemia Mexican beer with lime constantly, and opening more fruity white wines.   I've begun cooking the entire meal on the bbq including foil wrapped veggies and potatoes done on a cast iron skillet right on the grill.  (We actually never stop grilling through the winter but the spring volume increases dramatically.)

This Spring buzz is even more noticeable this year since winter gave us a parting shot that lasted until just a week or so ago.  By this time last year, the trees were full of leaves and I was cutting grass with regularity.  We're just now seeing buds open up to leaves on the trees.  The last deep freeze apparently didn't kill everything...it just delayed things a bit.

This weekend is the first race of the 2007 season at Iowa Speedway and it's supposed to be in the 80's!  I"m chomping at the bit to hit my Newton Club seats and relax to the smell of hot dogs, cold beer,  and race gas exhaust. 

Vrooom vrooom

Everything's Turning Green In Iowa

On Sunday, Iowa's own Zach Johnson won The Masters.  The entire state is buzzed with excitement and the newspaper plastered the news on the front page: IOWAN WINS MASTERS! 

If any of you have seen Zach Johnson give his interviews or discuss his history, his humble, God fearing, Midwestern roots come shining through.  Even in his moment of glory...the first words he shared with the TV announcers paid homage to his family and to his savior on Easter Sunday. 

Zach Johnson exemplifies traditional Midwest values.  He didn't attend the University of Iowa, become a golf star, and make his way easily onto the tour.  Johnson played for Drake, a small liberal arts college in downtown Des Moines. 

(I really wanted to buy that plot of land to plant my crops but someone got to it first.  I'll go ahead and make the best of this plot just outside of town and with a little extra work, we'll be just fine.)

Zach was only the 2nd or 3rd best on the Drake golf team from everyone's recollection...however anyone interviewed today adds the footnote that Zach, "Made up for whatever skills or polish he lacked with hard work and determination.

(My tractor is a bit rusted and I'm not the best farmer in the state, but I'll work from dawn 'til dusk to ensure our success)

Zach climbed his way through the minor league tour, got his shot, has stuck to his guns, and has now reaped golf's most glorious prize.  When he reached the pinnacle, he gave thanks to those who'd gotten him there and humbly accepted the green jacket.

I'm proud to be an Iowan.







Forbes 4th

Des Moines has been named the 4th most desirable place to work and do business in the U.S. by Forbes. We surged 7 spots from last year I guess.  What changed I wonder?  I bet upward income growth and increased cultural opportunities did it.

The magazine looked at business and living costs, job and income growth, worker education and quality of life issues, such as crime and cultural opportunities.

It's number one in my book.  Thanks Des Moines and to all you've given my family.

March is Fickle in Iowa

I woke this morning, the first annual BlogBQ day, to find that snow had fallen...and is continuing to fall lightly.  It's only 32 degrees so it won't be around long.  March seems to be a very mixed bag in Iowa.  As I recall last year, it was 78 on a Tuesday, lightly snowed on a Wednesday, then Thursday was back into the high 70's.

We're on for today and can't wait to enjoy some fellowship with friends and the blogging community. 

What do Algae & Venture Capital Have In Common

They're both very GREEN.  This simple graphic shows the total VC investments in US based companies in 2006 alone.  The NYTIMES article is here.

Shall we keep discussing the price of corn or develop fundable technologies and ideas and capture some of the billions?

0307bizwebalgae

Biofuel Funding Continues to Impress...IF...You Don't Pay Attention to the News

4aces I have about 10 blog/news searches automated in my blog reader covering renewable fuels (especially ethanol).  Daily, I'm deluged with articles from around the U.S. concerning the future of the food supply, the lack of available land, the high price of corn, kids starving in Mexico, and the scientific reasons why ethanol and bio diesel are totally inefficient. 

Yet, the industry keeps forging ahead and innovating buoyed by $1.28 billion (with a b) in venture capital investment in 2006 alone.  Cellulosic technology, (making ethanol from anything organic vs. just corn by using enzymes to break down the really tough stuff) is getting funded with BIG dollars now and it's happening right here in Iowa.

In fact the Department of Energy just dump a few hundred million around the US into the technology.  It's also obvious now that some of our friends in other states have figured out that cellulosic ethanol production is good business too.

This is a BIG ISSUE that has BIG IMPLICATIONS for a BIG SEGMENT of the population that costs BIG DOLLAR$ and involves BIG BUSINESS and BIG GOVERNMENT.  However, this big issue's  power is that it transcends the news!  Can you feel that?  No matter what the cadre of news pundits keep spewing,  the cash keeps arriving  as if a John Deere wheel loader kept filling a CAT dump truck scheduling drop offs by the hour.  "$34 million today, where do you want it?" says the operator.  "Just dump it on top of the pile of pundits that got it wrong."

Ethanol and renewable fuels in general have become a reality and it's up to Iowa to maintain leadership in the segment.  Pay no mind to the nay saying punditry (they probably live in LA or NY anyway).  If we do not seize this opportunity, it shall be recorded in history as a FOLD by the state at the world poker table that was holding FOUR ACES.


 


Theory of Geographic Relativity

Every county in Iowa has been declared a federal disaster area.  The weather hasn't treated us too poorly since we only had a 3 hour power outage on Sunday evening.  But this entire situation reminds me what it was like in Southern California when LA would have a earthquake or fire and I'd get the calls, "Are you OK?" Of course I am, that's 50 miles away and if I didn't read about it on line, I'd have not known it was happening.

Same goes for what's happening in Iowa right now.  Apparently there are 4 foot snow drifts in Western Iowa and the there are some folks stranded on I-80 and the National Guard has been dispatched to retrieve them...all while I sit and watch the very wet but light snow fall and melt on the street outside my office window. 

It's all relative.  Godspeed to the folks who are suffering and in need of assistance.  For now, Central Iowa is doing OK.

If Charles Ingalls Had Venture Funding (or How America's Heartland Is HOT)

Joel Kotkin, internationally recognized author on global economic, political, and social trends, has written yet another fantastic piece called Little Start-up on the Prairie.  Maybe it's that we in the Midwest are just jazzed when someone notices us or that our geometric shape stood out when flying over it, but the bottom line is that our humble agrarian rooted section of the country houses much of the greatest economic growth potential for the future.  Kotkin's tale begins in Aurora, Nebraska, a town of 4500.  Kotkin states quite simply that,

"Aurora and other places in the American Heartland will provide a critical outlet for the restless energies and entrepreneurial passions of its people. In some senses, such a trend represents a reprise of the region’s role in the evolution of the country and the shaping of its national identity."

In fact, since folks are realizing that on-shoring and in-sourcing are not only economically feasible, but highly desirable, the problems shift from lack of affordable housing...to a lack of any available housing at any price and a dearth of workers. 

Kotkin goes on to mention Iowa and specifically Des Moines many times in the piece highlighting that,

"In virtually every measurement, students in key rural states—particularly the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas—tend to perform better than those in more urbanized ones, as measured by graduation rates, college attendance and enrollment in high-level science and education programs."

The key take aways for me are:

  1. Be bullish on the Midwest (and specifically Des Moines) economies. 
  2. Iowa has a massive amount of talent and future skilled workers from a robust and respected University system so we must cultivate that talent.
  3. We must impart upon these young minds that the best for them does not lie 6 hours away to the north and east.  Rather, it lies here.   There are great reasons to visit other places but even more reasons to build a life here.
  4. The opportunity to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond can accelerate your path to success.  I've lived that coming from Riverside, CA where I was but a simple GPS coordinate on a suburb that extended 250 miles in any direction. 
  5. The talent pool here is immense.  It seems every day that I meet someone new that teaches me something. 
  6. The people here are different.  There's something deeply rooted in much of the Midwestern population, but it's subtle.  It's a pleasant, hard working, almost zen-like kindness that's exuded since years have not been spent strengthening a "coastal exoskeleton."
  7. Buy as many houses and high rise condos as you can.  We will be successful in our quest to convince the next generation (is it Z now?) that staying can be profitable and cool, and someone will need to rent to these people as they flow through the more natural progression of home ownership. The life path of a twenty-something is so very skewed in the large metros where someone graduates college and is faced with the prospect of a $600k starter home 1.5 hours from their job.  We can help break the cycle of thinking that this is acceptable by providing a wonderfully fulfilling alternative.
  8. The ethos does exist that, "If I can't make it on the coasts, I'm a loser compared to my peers that can".  This type of thinking is outdated.  In fact, if making it means spending 5x on housing and generating debt, then yes, you're a loser.  I'll take the label and remain more economically viable.
  9. Renewable energy is perhaps the most clear example of the power of the Midwest economy.  Daily, I read economists and social commentators (I almost used "Socialists") that bemoan the continuing process of discovery and innovation in this area.  "We're starving kids in Mexico" and "we'll never have enough land or corn" are the battle cries.  Thankfully, few have listened and the process of harnessing the true power of the earth goes on.  If we put the brakes on or take one step back in this area, we'll simply hand over the power to those who never stopped believing.  Recently, Iowa State lost a $500 million funding opportunity in renewable energy to UC Berkeley and U of I (Champaign-Urbana).  Maybe we need a journeyman-actor-Governor to lead our charge?  Who would you pick?  I'd pick Brandon Routh since Tom Arnold would have a tough time using complete sentences.

Of course when I executed my geographic arbitrage from CA to IA, I really didn't appreciate what I was doing.   I knew that I loved what I'd seen and I was drunk with joy over housing prices.  It turns out that I'm smack dab in the middle of Ethanol Alley and the heart...of the heartland Renaissance.  Michael Landon would be proud.

Farms vs. NYC Lofts...and the winner is?

Farmland.  Congratulations Iowa, farmland pricing is going up faster than condos in Manhattan.  Just close your eyes and accept that without thinking too much and then read the Bloomberg article.  It's fascinating and cool.

RAGBRAI Confirmed!

  My buddy Luke Manohan just called me and said "I'm in for RAGBRAI".  Actually, he's in for the last few days since he'll just be getting done with a ride ACROSS THE UNITED STATES and can't get here in time to do the whole thing.  Yikes!  Have you ever conceived of riding from say Oregon to Boston?  Want to?  Who'd a thunk there was a way to see America By Bike.  In September, he'll be doing the Oregon to Newport Beach, CA ride so I may find an excuse to visit my former stomping grounds for the last few hundred miles of that. 

I'm in the market for a road bike now too since last year's Mountain Bike adventure nearly killed me.  Granted I have a killer Mt. Bike, it's a very light Trek w/disc brakes and such...but at the end of the day, the riding position and lack of efficiency really got me. (Lack of training was no factor :).  I didn't get any flats...that's for sure.  I did elicit quite a few, "Dude...you're riding a mountain bike on RAGBRAI...woahhhhh".  That made me nervous.  It was not until my left hand was numb for about 4 months that I appreciated their banter.

This year I'm going for the motor home or "chase vehicle" approach.  No more tent crap here.  Last year we ended our trek in Waukee, IA (near my home) and drove to the house about 16 seconds before the sky opened and put on a lightning show that forced all participants into shelters.  I felt as good then as I do when say every flight is canceled except mine...and oh the upgrade came through Mr. Mitchell, Mimosa and a hot towel?...and all we have left today are convertibles and its 72 and breezy.

So, if you're interested in running the last few days of RAGBRAI this year and God willing I get a vehicle pass of my own, and you want to join up, let me know.  This year is supposed to be the flattest on record and that's fine by me. 

Can anyone recommend a stationary bike trainer?  Bike World has a few that look good and I think magnetic is the highest end choice...but I'd love to hear an opinion on what made you happy. 

This is where Iowa's focus should be

A new company was just formed called Prairie Gold, Inc.  The express purpose of this company is for profit marketing of ethanol co-product processes and production. (Article here on the Domestic Fuel Blog)

My continuing message here is that this is the area where Iowa must focus if it wants to lead the nation in bio/renewable fuel and alternative energy.  Promoting and assisting companies with ancillary technologies and processes would solidify our spot at the top of the food chain.  Taking a proactive stance in this area, say by establishing a $100 million venture fund for these types of businesses, is critical to not losing momentum.  Ethanol will be produced everywhere and with many raw materials in 20 years and this is not exciting.  What is exciting is extracting more efficiency out of the process, creating new co-products from production (think duraflame logs from left over saw dust), and pioneering new logistics modes and systems that will squeeze yet more value from every gallon produced.

Iowa Population Growth

Iowa_1 Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau released just before the holidays points out that Iowa may have turned the corner in terms of population loss.  In fact, we may be poised for growth.  Article here in the Des Moines Register.

It was only months ago when the same data showed that Iowa was facing a people drought. I posted my opinion disagreeing with this assumption. 


Now we have data that shows we're in a possible up tick for all of the right reasons that add to the:  Why Iowa? equation

  1. Quality of Life gains
  2. Insurance, banking, high tech jobs gain
  3. Security concerns (Midwest doesn't appear to be high on Islamofacist radar...yet)
  4. Biofuel revolution and creation of Ethanol Alley

My main takeaway is to rarely accept the buzz report of the day, especially on things that "Fly in the face of what your gut is telling you".  You can "feel" that Iowa is becoming a more attractive place to live for more people for all of the right reasons.  I'm very pleased that we've picked Iowa as our home.   

Why Iowa? From a CA expat

I thought I'd chime in this topic that was floated a while ago.  I'm not sure who started it...but here's my two blog-cents.  Why Iowa?

  1. Agrarian roots seem to give Iowans even long removed from farming a warmth that says, "I've got a pot of coffee on and something in the oven...come in and sit a spell"
  2. Neighborhoods still have "marauding bands of kids of various ages" being kids, sometimes doing bad stuff, but mostly just being curious kids.
  3. There are few walls and fences.  Neighbors talk, see each other, and interact more.  We did not have this in our former home...and we relish it now.
  4. Quality of life.  This is a broad generalization...but the ability to "Pretty much do what you want when you want without having to plan too far ahead" is my definition.  Getting in the car at 5PM and heading into the heart of downtown Des Moines is no problem.  Getting into the car and just getting onto the freeway was a problem where I was from.  I routinely don't remember the last time I got gas, and my wife has halved her petrol usage while doing whatever she pleases.  Everything is just close.
  5. Connectivity to a thriving business community.  I have met more people in the greater Des Moines business community in the last 6 months than I met in all of my career in CA.  From top business leaders to venture capitalists...from business blog coaches to branding experts...from renewable fuel experts to ..you get the idea.  If I'm looking to open the door to something, I've got multiple folks lined up with keys and looking to assist me. I hope I can give more back than I've taken.
  6. Housing.  One can easily procure a 3br, 2ba, 2car garage type home in a very nice neighborhood for $150k.  Additionally, one can find a $80k 2br home and a $500k 5br home.  All of these places could be within the same general area.  At the end of the day the "normal" American progression from starter home...to family home...to big dream home...and everything in between is obtainable. 
  7. Weather. I know, coming from CA the cold has gotten to me a little and frozen a few brain cells!  The bottom line is that I enjoy the differences in weather, the rain, the snow (we've only had 1 inch this year so far), and the seasons.  I've written before that weather is such a small part of normal life when you're busy with the family that it really doesn't matter as long as you can do what you want to.  I enjoy sitting around a fire on a cold night as much as I do around a patio table on warm summer evenings.  Also, if you do your own yard work (as I do now), you have a full 3 month reprieve from doing anything!  It's not as cold and snowy here as up north in Wisconsin...and not as temperate as Kansas City.  I think it's just right.

We chose Iowa about a year ago...and it has most certainly chosen to embrace us, welcome us, warm us, and provide us with new friends and opportunities that we never dreamed of.  It's our turn to give back and we're going to make that a priority in 2007 and beyond.

Thank you Iowa...and that's why.

Sage Prediction for Cleantech by Kleiner Perkins

Paul Kedrosky at Infectious Greed posted some great quotes from the prolific VC firm Kleiner Perkins. Most amazing and encouraging to me is line item number 3.  I write about renewable energy/ethanol quite often...thus I'm very encouraged by Ray Lane's prediction.  Bigger than the Internet!  Yes .  It should be...it will be.

Here they are:

The Internet:
John Doerr (1997-2000): "The Internet is the largest legal creation of wealth in the history of the planet."

Mobile
John Doerr (2005): "[The cell phone boom will be] ultimately be more important and will likely offer a larger wave of investment opportunity than the personal computer."

Cleantech
Ray Lane (2006): "This is bigger than the Internet, I think by an order of magnitude. Maybe two. I'm taking the entire energy industry."

Weather realignment

I've anecdotally noticed a few trends over the last few years and a USA Today piece today confirms some of my observations.

  • Wet California winters with record rain, blazing summers, wildfires.
  • Excessively wet Northwest, adding to their already gloomy weather reputation.
  • Milder Midwest, a few snows a year, milder temps, about the same wild weather in Spring/Summer.
  • Northeast, pounded w/rain, flooding.

Today in Iowa we're having a wonderfully clear 60 degree day (my kind of perfect).  It's been near freezing at night in Florida and it was 95 degrees on Monday in Riverside, CA. 

So I'm not sure what this all means except that whatever is happening, it's making the Midwest look a bit better and probably boosting our statistical likability.   

Red Robin Brand Save!

Some of you will recall a detailed customer service rant about an experience my family and I had at the couple month old Red Robin here in West Des Moines called The Power of One Bad Experience.  I'd like to share with you what's happened since then. 

  • I wrote the piece on Monday October 30 and sent it into RR corporate at 10:05AM.
  • I received an email from Corporate that was copied to a list of additional managers and higher ups at 12:58PM same day, October 30 expressing deep sorrow and regret for what we'd gone through.
  • I received a call from the RR manager at 3:30PM that same Monday 3:30.  Juan Salinas handled this situation as expertly as possible. 
    • He made no excuses
    • Expressed his extreme embarrassment over what had happened
    • Made no attempts to explain away what happened (people calling in sick, etc.)
    • Offered to win us over again and to show us what Red Robin is really all about at our convenience
    • Offered to send us gift cards but encouraged us to come back as a family to be his guests
    • Gave us his cell phone number so he would be sure to be there when we came in
  • We were finally able to schedule our visit for last night the 17th of November.  We arrived and took our booth without telling anyone that we were "the ones here to see Juan". 
  • We were served perfectly by Kristina and introduced to Juan.  He continued to take full responsibility for what happened, explained how he used this as a team building and learning experience, and most importantly...didn't overdose on the "love" giving since he knew it would have come off as "make up love".
  • Finally, the real professionalism and customer service recovery came near the end of our meal when Juan provided us with gift cards and asked that we come back, totally unannounced (undercover) and then report back to him in case our viewpoint was "tainted" by the extra attention we thought were getting on this night.

Now that's fantastic.  Bravo Red Robin!  Let's break this down in simple economic terms...devoid of emotion:

  • Value of a lifetime RR customer:  ~$3k-$15k depending on family size and booze consumption
  • Cost of Recovery for Mitchell's:  $100 (aka the freebies)
  • Net economic gain to RR over lifetime $3k-$15k - $100 = CHA CHING

I would highly recommend that you visit this establishment and please ask for Juan.  Tell him that  you read Doug Mitchell's blog experience and are now certain that Red Robin gets it!  You made a big deposit in the Red Robin brand today Juan and Kristina.

I wish that Bankers Trust would have had a chance to read my post here before my buddy Drew McLellan posted his piece on what a $115 dollar "duh fee" charged to a loyal client can do for your  brand image!  Bankers surely would have understood the economic "lifetime value" of a client...right?

Do you think that Red Robin and Bankers Trust are a bit more interested in what blogs can do to support your branding?  Doing a Google search on Red Robin customer service yields 4th place for me on my original rant. I'm just ahead of a very nice announcement touting Red Robin's use of Six Sigma through partnership with GE Capital to improve milk shake quality.  I didn't try for that or expect it...but it's happening.  I hope this post ranks even higher. 

Dualing web cams

After a year of sitting on my desk, the Mitchgroup web cam II is up and running. Now I will likely leave the stationary home office cam in place and move the other around to different spots.  I know some of you actually DO check back often because when the cams are down...I get emails!

Trump_fired_cam

I've also reduced the size of video window so both will fit nicely on one page.  It should also help with loading speed and video quality.

It took another support call with DLINK that went very well.  Good job DLINK.  It helped that I had the same router brand as the cameras. 

Deer 8 Points: Target 0

Ah life in the big city.  Last week, an 8-point buck (That's a male deer for my CA friends) took a stroll through our local Target.  It was caught on their surveillance cameras and you can see the article and video footage here. Click the play button in the player window upper right.

After the deer left the building, an anonymous manager asked, "So...is it cool if I go to my car and grab my shotgun?"   (Not really, just hoping to further the image so people don't find out how great Des Moines is.)

In an unrelated story, Target has a special this week on Venison sausage, steaks, and shish kabobs.

Deer_2

First Snow

Our first snow of the fall/winter season is coming down as we speak.  Tony the Tiger would be jealous of the size of these flakes.  Check it here live from the Mitch Group Home Office Cam.  I hope my friends in CA enjoy their 82 degree day!  I can't wait to see the look on my boy's face when he comes home with mommy and sis today...we've been waiting for this day for WEEKS!

Picture_4

Kottke on Economic Realignment

Jason Kottke posted a piece on the changing economic forces driving reallocation of corn production.  He points out much of the corn in Mexico is brought in from the US..since it's become too expensive to grow it.  Thank American farming subsidies for that but on to the next issue.   He confronts the looming bidding war between "Americans who want to fill their gas tanks and Mexicans who want to feed their children," and states that, "Odds are the tanks stay fuller than the stomachs." Agreed.  But this is nay a temporary realignment in my opinion.  Corn prices and the massive amount of reallocation farmers are undertaking now (sacrificing soy or other crops to grow the golden money printing crop) will not sustain. 

Scientists know that corn based ethanol production is cheap, quick, and easy...but terribly inefficient.  The transition to cellulosic ethanol production (effectively the same booze made from just about any organic matter) must take over.  That way, we can develop more genetic hybrid crops that grow tall and dense...rather than trying to usurp every bit of arable land to grow a very inefficient crop.

Photo by Bob Elbert/Iowa State University
Verkadeoshel01_

Iowa State University, among others, is working hard to develop enzymes and other chemical compounds that will facilitate the rapid breakdown of organic matter into basic sugars. On Tuesday, an article came out discussing a 40 year old breakthrough made at ISU that was just "dug up" and is being researched full steam now.  Scientists figured out back then how to cook up some compounds that, "break down the tough cellulose that forms the structure of a plant’s cell walls. Breaking down the cellulose can release the simple sugars that are fermented into ethanol. Making that happen could add some value to Iowa crops or the fibrous co-products of ethanol production."

The bottom line here is that we can genetically engineer the heck out of some grass or ultra dense, super high growing plant instead of using corn.  This will happen, it must.  For now, farmers are just happy to be getting insanely high rates for their corn.  The ethanol plants are virtually printing money by making alcohol.  And, the people of Midwest are trying understand what capturing this moment and not letting go could mean to the region.  It's the heartland's chance to shine. 

It's not nearly as glamorous as Silicon Valley or the Tech Coast...but our own little Ethanol Alley, and if the politicians don't mess it up, we'll be the epicenter of energy independence.  Be warned Mr. Chavez...we're armed with corn cobs and grain alcohol...and we mean business. To the hungry citizens of Mexico, hold on.  It's only a matter of time before we'll replenish our supply.

Fall In Iowa

You now my wife said to a friend of ours while I was in her presence, (referring to Iowa), "You know, the kids would have never been able to play in the leaves and have this kind of seasonal fun if we didn't move here". That warmed my heart since I know this move has been tough on her. 

Here's what my boy thinks of Iowa.  Gosh darn I love this place.

Leafpilefeet

A Key Observation about the "Ethanol Boom"

A piece in the Des Moines Register , written by Anne Fitzgerald called:

Ethanol growth helps spur jobs in wide array of fields

really sparked my interest since I've read conflicting reports about ethanol's ability to create jobs.  In fact, I've heard that it only takes about 13 people to run a $100 million gallon ethanol plant.  Instead of lauding that "efficiency", most have decried ethanol's inability to create "more jobs".  This piece however highlights the diverse background of people that a particular plant in Nevada, Iowa employs.  (In Iowa, it's a long A vs. sin city's home state). 

Here's a quote:
Economists disagree on the ripple effects of an ethanol plant. John Urbanchuk, an economist at LECG Corp., a California-based consultant, says a 100 million-gallon ethanol plant can generate nearly 1,600 jobs across several industries.

This is a very accurate assessment in my opinion.  When you extend the reach of an ethanol plant, you really do touch on a multitude of industry segments, science disciplines, and technologies.

The key piece in the article, and the one that I'm most focused on is the following:

"Call any trucking firm in Iowa and see if they're hiring truck drivers, and the answer will be, 'Yes.' There are a lot of reasons for that, but the biofuels industry is a big part of it."

Each day, thousands of semi-trailer trucks deliver grain and other products to the plants, while tanker trucks and railcars haul fuel to market.

Tanker_1


BINGO!!!!  The million dollar observation.  The key component in the ethanol business right now and for the foreseeable XX years is transportation.  This is about the first article I've read that touched on this point.

Getting the supplies in, the by-products and production out are a massive part of the equation.  If someone were to give production facilities the edge in this aspect of their business with a technology platform that reduced transport expense and created the kind of logistics infrastructure that automated much of the process and paperwork around it...I think that would be rather valuable....and fundable...and "growable" into "The logistics platform for the segment". 






e-85

Corn2 Iowa has 3 new E85 ethanol pumps opening today that brings our state total to 51.  We're getting there.  If you're in Iowa, traveling through, or just have some good old fashioned curiosity, click this link to the news story and you'll find a listing of all pump locations in our wonderful state.

The Heartland

Two things I'd not yet experienced occurred the other day as I was driving from Des Moines to Peoria, IL.

1.  Frozen windshield washer squeegee bucket.
2.  An E-85 ethanol pump

Both are pictured below.  Life is like a cob of corn...you never know what you're gonna get.

Img038 Img037_1

100 things

The Des Moines Register put out it's 100 places to visit in Iowa before you die list last week.  My bike ride across Iowa this summer crossed a few off my list.

There used to be a list like this for California...but it was discontinued due to inability to actually get anywhere.  The list was subsequently changed to:  "100 places you can visit on the web or between the hours of 11PM and 3AM"


More Ethanol Alley

It was an amazing few days for Ethanol news around Iowa. Here's a story of an overturned tanker clogging the roads...most notably..check out the last section about "replacing any plastic pipes underground because the seeping ethanol would corrode/degrade it.  Corrosion is a problem that if solved...will make pipelines possible.  Right now, it's tankers and rail cars.

Our friend Chuck over at Domestic Fuel posted on 89 octane gas at a Hyvee in Iowa...being LESS expensive than the 87 octane NOT blended with ethanol.  This caused me some trauma when I first moved here too.  I hope Chuck found the folks here in Iowa as friendly as I have.

Here we see that the Northern Iowa Railway company received a big chunk of change to build out some of its infrastructure to facilitate smoother operations...sparked of course by the massive ethanol/bio-diesel output increases and continued growth projections.

Of course the political candidates are spewing about how they'll do better to promote biofuels, etc. but I don't believe any of them truly grasp how important this is to our state...and our nation. 

You'll see my blog ETHANOL ALLEY soon offered as a NAV BAR link on this blog.  I will begin posting on this site only within the next few weeks.  If you visit Ethanol Alley, you'll still see all the posts from the past and all future ones there as well.  It's just too much for me to manage 2 blogs and 2 sets of this and that. 



People Drought

Today, the Des Moines Register posted an editorial piece entitled:  The Issue:  The People Drought.  The piece highlights the major challenge that Iowa (like most of the non-coastal cities) will face in the coming decades.  According to demographers and other experts, we'll face a massive shortfall of workers here.  It's estimated that by 2012 (only 6 years from now mind you) that we'll have 150k more jobs than workers to fill them. 

It’s estimated that Iowa will have 150,000 more jobs than workers by 2012, and it could get much worse thereafter. Rather than new businesses coming to Iowa, the specter is of businesses leaving Iowa because they won’t be able to hire enough workers.

Living in California all of my life until 2005...I never had to face an issue like this...nor do I think we'll have to face it here.

Here's why.  These dire predictions of worker shortage seem to rarely if ever come true.   The statistics assume that at "retirement age", baby boomers will perform a mass exodus from the work force.  Wrong.  Using the same statistics, I'm sure we'd find that a majority of those boomers have under capitalized their retirements..and thus will be changing careers, filling in at mall jobs part time, and the uber professionals will be called in to perform their acts of gray haired wisdom at companies around the state. 

No one here is throwing illegal immigration into the mix either.  You can continue to put off the inevitable by allowing unfettered immigration to "fill the jobs"...but what job deficits are we really talking about here?  Are we facing a lack of 150k skilled workers, burger flippers, or doctors?  No one ever really makes that clear when they speak expertly.

The core of this insane political football remains:

  1. If education was the priority of this state above all else...we'd have the best starting point of ANY state from which to build our foundation.  End of discussion.
  2. If Iowa and the Midwest puts its full force behind becoming the scientific and ag/biofuel technology leader...we'd have no trouble attracting smart people and entrepreneurs and venture capital after the initial ethanol hangover wears off.
  3. Stopping illegal immigration will force the economy to realign itself with the proper market forces at play...this will throw all formulae off by an order of magnitude.


Fall Colors

We're approaching the milestone of our first full year in Iowa.  We moved into our Des Moines metro home last year just about the first week of November and had missed most of the leaves dropping.  This year, we've had numerous leaf pile romps and much to my surprise (being a CA kid) the leaves don't all change or fall at once.  They do it in stages and the mix of colors just in my own back yard is breathtaking.  If you have a moment, check out the Mitchgroup.com Iowa Home Office Web Cam while it's still sunny outside.  I've positioned the camera in the backyard where you'll see what about 48 hours of leaf dropping has done to my grass.  It's about 42 crisp degrees today, clear, and beautiful. 

We're starting to see the neighbors' houses again...which we'll see until March when the leaves explode again. 

Tom Evslin on Ethanol...and then there's Doug's Opinion

I love reading Tom Evslin's blog.  There's always a fresh perspective to twist your synapses a bit.  He posted a wonderful piece entitled:  Ethanol:  Boon or Boondoggle?  This subject is near and dear to me as I'm smack dab in the middle of Ethanol Alley.  Evslin's piece talks about the science, environmental impact, and efficiency (or lack thereof) of producing ethanol.  I propose that although this part of the discussion is valuable...that the most important piece of the ethanol discussion is the mental shift that the citizens of the United States have undergone in the last 12 months regarding our energy independence. 

The debate has shifted away from "Can we, should we" to "How can we, what technology should we use".  Over a billion dollars of venture capital has poured into my humble Midwest ( that my family and I adopted last October after executing geographic arbitrage to Des Moines, IA from SoCal) and there's no sign of slowing. 

Those that have poo poo'd the inefficiency of corn based ethanol are sitting back now and watching hundreds of millions more gallons be produced from this method.  Additionally, our beautiful and humble state of Iowa is "getting it" by helping the Universities pursue the technologies, methods, and breakthroughs that will likely spawn the next generation of cellulosic ethanol production (making fuel from any plant/vegetable matter like corn stalks, grass, or ground up trees). 

Additionally, home grown Iowa start ups will provide supporting technologies and platforms to solve the other inefficiencies in the process of creating ethanol and getting it to the market place (distribution, logistics, etc.) (Contact me via email directly if this last sentence intrigued you)

The bottom line here is that we've begun the transformation and it will only take a hero to make it happen in a respectable time line.  I had a great conversation with my dad last week (I'm so stoked that my parents live a 12-hour drive away now versus 2500 miles).  During that conversation I found myself again stumping for an icon, a Presidential candidate that will arise and cut through the BS of the political process and promise us a Kennedyesque Man On The Moon Plan (this link contains my revisions to the speech appropriate for this discussion) to become 75% independent within 8 years (if we choose to re-elect him/her).  I'm a pretty fiscally/socially conservative guy...and I find myself passionately begging for a progressive tax levy on all Americans that will create an energy Independence race fund to drive our global dominance in this category.  Every single person I've talked to is in favor of such a levy.  Is this our rallying cause?  Is this the scientific area that the U.S. will dominate in this Century? (Stem cell is too much a political football) Is this my calling to run for office? I think not.  Where's William Katt when you need him?

Venture Capital Flowing in Iowa

Yesterday, I attended a fantastic conference put on by the Iowa Economic Development Department.  The conference had the dual purpose of announcing the winners of the John Pappajohn Business Plan contest that has been in process for months here in Iowa.  John Pappajohn is very well known here in Iowa, using his fortune to found 5 John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers around the state.  I'm going to hit a few topics here so I'll break them out to make some sense of this post.

  1. The 1st place winner of the biz plan contest has developed a "geometric search engine".  A demo was given that shows a bunch a 3-dimensional spheres and when mousing over them or clicking on them, a relational database of "similar parts" (I think automotive was the example used) became visible.   Here's the deal.  I'm fairly smart but really didn't "get it".  My sense was that the room didn't "get it" either.  I'm sure this business is fantastic and very sexy to investors looking for the next big search tool...but this idea collided with the very premise that was preached over and over again at the conference...your business must be explainable and understandable to the venture community and to the people who'll use it within a paragraph, a few sentences, or a few slides.  Sorry.  Maybe it's just me...but my thoughts were echoed through my ad hoc survey.  I'm certain that this business is deserving and they'll probably be in the news soon as a breakthrough disrupter but I'll be standing by wondering what I missed.
  2. There was a wonderful talk given by Tom Bedell.  Tom took over his father Berkley Bedell's  (Berkley & Company) business at the age of 29 after the company had begun to suffer from systemic management malaise.  Tom described how he reinvigorated the company, helped it rise to meteoric heights...and ultimately how he sold 80% of it to a private equity firm when he "Wasn't able to do his job effectively anymore because the company had grown too large. (honesty)"  Now the company does in excess of $300 million and is called Pure Fishing.  Tom's main point was the leading a company to simply "build shareholder value" is wrong and ineffective over the long run.  Tom strove to make the company a good place to work, took a genuine interest in his employees and their families, and too chances challenging those around him to dream about what could be instead of limiting themselves to what's "possible". 
  3. There were 4 Tracks of break out sessions to attend.  The first track I attended was called "Writing a Business Plan to Attract Capital".  The session was presented by David Hensley of the University of Iowa.  The session gave some good information but the same I've heard for years now.  One thing that made me chuckle was the Mr. Hensley's comment about numbering business plans.  He said that once he received a "#47" business plan and that he was offended for being well down the list and very skeptical since theoretically 46 others had rejected this plan before him.  I would take the opposite approach (remember how many people gave google the boot before someone listened?)
  4. My second session was called "Branding with Sparks" and was given by Nancy Garberson of Marketing & Communication Strategies, Inc
    Now this session was VALUABLE.  The demographic of the room was tilted in the twenty-something direction due to a slew of college students...but otherwise, I'd say the balance were thirty-something and up professionals.  Guess what?  The rules and stats about "How many people know what blogs and RSS are held true!  I was clearly surprised when only a handful of people said that they actually blogged.  Only 2 people in the room knew what RSS was!  That was about the 2% that I've heard but having to explain it and what I do with it (since I was called upon) was like explaining fire to homo habilis!  Ms. Garberson spoke of YouTube (which people knew because Google is buying them), and the changing face of marketing and communications.  She kept it "marcom 101", not diving into "tagging" or really getting deep into what "blogs are"...but that was PERFECT.  I am amazed every day (and my mouth waters at the opportunity) that even many PR/Communications/Marketing firms don't know about these tools and how they are driving today's marketing efforts if you pay attention.  There was a gentlemen at this session that runs an aircraft hanger development company called Carousel Condos in Clear Lake, Iowa.  He participated in the session and answered/asked many questions posed by Ms. Garberson.  Notably, he asked, "What's a blog" and explained that he used direct mail to drive traffic to his website.  I believe that after the session and after I had an extended chat with him about blogging and what it means to connect with customers, the industry, and potential customers...he left with the spark.  That's the spark to know more and explore the foreign world of organic marketing done by having dialog with the world at large.  I'm guessing that he'll become an advocate and pro-blogger in no time.  Besides, he's just gotten his first blog link to let's all pound his site and show him what blogs do for traffic generation!
  5. I had a wonderful lunch conversation with a table full of entrepreneurs.  First, I chatted at length with Barbara Rasko of Make Mine Wine Magazine.  Her new magazine is focused on the "good life" here in Iowa and the surrounding states.  She highlights the 62 wineries here in Iowa and writes informative articles about the states viticulture and rich history of producing some of the world's finest grapes for wine production.  I brought up blogs and away we went!  She needs to build buzz and gain eyeballs so advertisers will pay her bills.  What better way than to have conversations with Iowa wine enthusiasts and watch that spread around the world.  I gave a little "Blog 201" about tagging and how searches for Iowa Wineries could be owned by her if with a little editorial effort.  She concurred and I hope she reads this entry to see what a random meeting with her meant to the blogosphere.  Again, pound her site for me so she'll see what a traffic spike 1 link means.  Also, subscribe to the magazine if you're in the Midwest and enjoy local wines like I do.  Her first issue looked beautiful.
  6. Next I met 3 guys from Defyance Watercraft.  They're building a personal watercraft that is purely electric powered.  It's a small craft and will fill the "no gas motors allowed" niche for smaller lakes.  They tell me they have an abundance of "willing prototype testers" in the wings and I'd like to add my name to the list.  They hopped on the blog conversation and we chatted about building buzz, building an audience, building a community that investors would eat up as "validating the model".  Man that was fun!  The guys are working in a garage (it still happens) and need the money to build a prototype and launch the company.  Doesn't this sound more fun than another Web 2.0 software company right now? 
  7. I also met a mom looking to re-enter the workforce after growing her child and while taking care of her ailing mother.  She said, "I don't see starting a blog anytime soon" after our group's embrace of the concept.  I countered that she's exactly the type who SHOULD be blogging...about her situation, her desire to enter the workforce, etc.  If she engaged the world in conversation through blogging and reading blogs, she may find herself sifting through offers or finding the perfect situation that she didn't know existed.  Heck, if she'd had a blog, I'd have link to her here and who knows what would happen from there?
  8. My final encounter was with Eric Branson.  He's started his own Human Resources Management firm.  He's the ideal candidate for blogging about his industry, his business, his life, etc.  People recommend and hire based on relationships.  Start engaging your world in conversation and see what happens Eric!

When lunch ended and we got up from the table, I told everyone there that, "I'd love to link to your blogs when I do my post on this event...but you don't have them, so get started on them right away!..I think it struck a chord.  It was a pleasure meeting all of you and I hope we continue the conversation(s) soon.

One final note.  Isn't it dandy to be immersed in so many people with ideas and enough chutzpah to come to a day of start up talk?  However, if you're there and pitching yourself, or just meeting people that may someday be a part of your life, have a business card! They're $30 for 1000 at Office depot but 30% of the people I met didn't have them!         

Honored

I was honored to have some commentary on Boutique Cities from a recent post...published on Joel Kotkin's website.   Thanks again Joel and I look forward to a Des Moines visit sometime soon.

Here's a snippet from Joel's Bio.
internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends,
Joel Kotkin is the author of the newly published, critically acclaimed THE CITY: A GLOBAL HISTORY from Modern Library. He is also author of the widely acclaimed, best-selling book, THE NEW GEOGRAPHY, How the Digital Revolution is Reshaping the American Landscape (Random House, 2000).

Getting Attention...in Des Moines

Thank you Mike Sansone for pointing out this wonderful piece in the Wall St. Journal on the changing face of PR and "Attention Getting" in the blog era.  I promise it's worth the read.  The article points out many truths about blogging and getting noticed. 

One of the key points established in the article is that in blogging, "There's also etiquette involved. For starters, once you find an appropriate blog community, you can't just expect to jump right in and have it instantly hawk your wares or link to you. "It's like going to a dinner party," says Mr. Rubel of Edelman. "You don't just come in and start selling your product. You listen to what other people are saying and find a way into the conversation."

Very accurate.  After you've been blogging, linking, making relevant comments, trackbacks, etc...you will begin to get some "street cred" if what you have to say adds to the conversation.  My efforts (pleasures) have yielded links from a few A-List bloggers that have driven a ton of traffic to my blog.  In turn, that traffic and those links have driven a few key topics that I discuss (and my name) to first page google results.  I'm fairly confident that I could not have paid for this publicity...and it all happens between about 4:30AM and 6AM each day here at Midwest Command (home office in Des Moines)...rather than in a high priced PR firm in NYC.

Like most things in life...you must simply start doing them and seek out those who already do them well...and model their behavior to increase the velocity of your success.

Boutique Cities

I was just introduced to a blog written by Ben Casnocha.  Anyone who lists Burn Rate as suggested reading on their blog is a web friend of mine :)...so nice to meet you Ben.  Also, I grew up in Glendora just to the west of your new college.  Claremont's downtown will provide you a sliver of the "feel" you probably have in SF without all of the madness (and without all of the digerati...because no matter how far up on the list LA County moves in terms of VC funding and tech start ups...it's too spread out to have tangible collection spots for these these types).  Try Winston's if you haven't already.  It's a wonderful place to have breakfast on the patio (in December).  If you ever bump into John Tulac downtown, tell him Doug Mitchell says hello.  He's a fantastic lawyer, educator, and mentor that had a massive influence on my life and my entrepreneurial spirit.

Ben recently posted a piece called The Emergence of Boutique American Cities.  His post along with the quotes he provides from Joel Kotkin do a good job of explaining this phenomenon. 

America now consists of "boutique" cities -- Boston, San Francisco, and New York City -- which house educated, elite, and wealthy residents at the exclusion of most everyone else. In boutique cities the debate is over where to put the next sushi bar, or if one neighborhood has too many coffee shops, or how condos should be regulated...not how to solve the affordable housing problem.

What boutique cities leave behind, however, is the "incubation of social mobility" that metropolises historically have provided. Houston, Charlotte, Orlando, Phoenix, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis: all these cities are now better "aspirational cities" for middle class people. The problem is they're all trying (and failing) to become boutique cities by introducing slick cultural ammenities.

I have a much greater clarity on this subject since I executed my Geographic Arbitrage to Des Moines, Iowa from Southern California.  Des Moines is attempting to become more "boutique" (albeit at the slower Midwest pace), by renovating many of the old warehouses and complexes downtown...creating flats and condos within walking distance to downtown jobs and restaurants.  We already have the "Court Ave. District" with enough restaurants and coffee shops to support the demand. 

I believe Iowans are realistic about their slim chances to rise up among America's hot boutique cities.   We have about as much chance to become boutique as finding a cup of coffee in San Francisco for less than $1.  We still have a 3 hour a day show on the number one AM talk radio station here dedicated to AG business (that's AG for agriculture for my West Coast readers).  Heck, 30 minutes outside of the Des Moines metro you'll find only corn fields and a bit further east...the I-80 World's Largest Truck Stop. 

Unlike the boutiques...Des Moines is not full of elites and those who service them.  It contains a rich blend of wealthy folks and common folks and plenty that lie between.  The metro provides the opportunity to "move up" in life's ranks and progress from modest beginnings to the penthouse flat.  The people here in Des Moines seem comfortable with this reality.  I've mentioned before in postings that Des Moines social events often produce a collision of cultures yet all seem to blend quite well.  (The farmers don't wear overalls to the Embassy Club for the Cigar dinner and the elites don't wear suits to the state fair). 

I think a key success factor for the smaller metros today is the wide availability of broadband...making  workers "location independent" (read Karlgaard's Life 2.0 for a primer).  One can find numerous small metros now that have scaled down versions of what the big ones have.  My beautiful metro has enough to keep me and most I know satisfied.  There's upward mobility for the corporate types...and if you look, you can find the technology/start up culture.  There's probably not enough choice for true big city metro elite but I can now live in the burbs and get downtown in 15 minutes to eat in the more elite restaurants, giving no concern to traffic or crowds.  Now, if we could just get In-N-Out to come out this way.

Iowa Labor Shortage Forecast

Earlier this month, an article popped up in the Mason City Globe Gazette highlighting an anticipated labor shortage in Iowa through at least 2011.  The article discusses the usual excuses for a shrinking labor pool.  But as usual, there are major inconsistencies that lend themselves to the continual propagation of this problem of "brain drain".

  1. The article brings up the point that "Companies don't want to hire older people because young college graduates are cheaper." In the same breath, the article mentions that young people leave immediately upon graduation because they want to "get out of the Midwest", make more money, etc. Which is it?
  2. The article talks about ways to solve these problems like raising the minimum wage and creating government programs to help this cause.  Wrong.   Minimum wage has nothing to do with keeping young talent and other professional jobs in the state.  Government business funding programs typically make it easier for bad ideas to get funding.  That doesn't stimulate anything but higher taxes and political football passing at election time. 
  3. What this article and the leadership of Iowa isn't getting is that they need to court those who wish to come back and bring their skills, family, and higher wage expectations to Iowa.  It's the late 20 and early 30something crowd with 2 kids that begin to crave this lifestyle after they've "seen the world" out there in the big city and found that they don't really care for it as much as they thought they would (now with their mitigating circumstances like a 120 minute commute and a 2 kids under 5). 
  4. Almost nothing is going to make people flock to Iowa.  Period.  It's wonderful and beautiful and I love it...but for this area to boom, it will take vision.  As I've mentioned plenty on my Ethanol Industry blog Ethanol Alley, a place like this must take what it can get.  Right now the humble Midwest has the chance to become the scientific leader and key producer of all things bio-fuel related.  Will we seize this chance of a generation?  I still don't believe that our leadership understands that this is Iowa's silicon valley lite opportunity.  If our state government did its job, we'd be looking at initiatives that the people would vote YES on...that would give permission to the state to plow money into the breakthroughs leading to energy independence.  How about $1 billion to start...and watch the VC money flow like wine at a 1990's dot com launch party to follow. 

To gain true perspective on what it takes to become the next Silicon Valley or even just a hot bed for job and tech growth, I suggest reading one of my favorite tech/biz essayist Paul Graham.  His piece called "How to be Silicon Valley" is a wonderful primer on this topic.  The opening paragraphs state that, "You only need two kind of people to create a technology hub:  rich people and nerds."  Do we have many of either here in Iowa?

California Summer

I had forgotten how brown, hazy, and bleak it is in Southern CA during the roasting inland summer.  I'd compare it to the way Iowa looks in winter really (except for the haze).  I'd also forgotten about traffic at all hours and in all places.  I've slipped right back into the routine of listening to talk radio, checking the traffic reports to limit my pain.  My rage at California politics is back in full swing as I listen and seethe at the radio...wondering how this state will survive the massive (and always growing) strain that illegal immigration has put on its infrastructure. 

You can take the kid out of California....(you know the rest).

Live Season Change Cam

I've added a link to my live Clive Iowa home office streaming web cam to the blog.  The link appears just under my photo on the upper left of the blog.  I think this is a java deal so some of you may have trouble if you're working in corporate America.

Enjoy watching the leaves change and the first snows hit the ground.

A Norman Rockwell Moment

I did a turn around trip the other day.  No, not the Vegas turn arounds that dotted my youth.  This day, it was a day trip to Peoria, IL from Des Moines, IA.  It's about 280 miles from here.  It was a beautiful day.  I left before sunrise and was able to click this picture on my new Motorola Q phone from the driver's seat.  Just another reward for executing my Geographic Arbitrage.
After a fruitful day of business, I headed back out on the open road.  The air was clean, the temperature was mild, and life was good.  I stopped at a Dairy Queen for a late lunch on the way back.  DQ not only feeds my habit for banana malts...but it feeds Warren Buffett's pocket which in turn feeds the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

I was in Galesburg, IL which could just as easily been named, "Main Street USA".  I sat down after ordering my meal and was followed in shortly by an elderly couple.  They sat across from me as I played with my cell phone, still wearing my sun glasses.  They must have thought I was a real city slicker.  After a few moments, I put down my phone, put on my regular glasses, sat back, and marveled at this couple.  He had a hearing aide and used a cane.  She looked well put together for a woman obviously in her 70's.  They chatted as they nibbled their frozen treats. After a while, she told her husband, "I'm a bit chilly and the air conditioning is blowing right on me."  As if he had wings, the husband sprung up and went to the car to retrieve his wife's sweater.  He didn't use the cane and he moved about twice as fast as he did when entering the building.  He put it on her with the care of a mother swaddling her newborn.  My heart was warm.  They sat for a while as did I.  I wanted to strike up a conversation with them but thought better of interrupting their moments together. 

He loves her.  She loves him.  On this day, things were very right in Galesburg, IL.  I felt a sense of contentment the rest of the way home that doesn't come in a pill or a bottle.  It's a sense of love a man has for his wife, his family, what's happened in their life together...and what's yet to come.            

Best Quality of Life - Iowa

Forbes released its "Best States For Business" top 50 list recently, and Iowa faired 25th.  Right in the middle...and typical for Iowa :)

But guess which state came in first in the Quality of Life category?  You guessed it....Iowa.   It's tough to describe to people what "Quality of Life" means but you just know it and feel it when you live here. 

An article in Today's Des Moines Register discusses the results a bit further.

Iowa Is NOT Flat!

I formulated my grand strategy to ride in the U.S's most celebrated bike ride soon after moving to Iowa.  I'd get in shape, see the state that I now call home, and learn how to become comfortable in spandex biking shorts.  The ride is called RAGBRAI, the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. 

Now in its 34th year, RAGBRAI attracts over 15k people from across the United States, and some from other countries.  I personally saw folks from the U.A.E, Italy, and from the most exotic of countries...Southern California.  RAGBRAI is really a melange of stimuli:  25% bike ride, 25% state fair, 25% camping trip, and 25% Mardi Gras.

The ride's route changes annually but it tends to cycle from Northern, to Central, to Southern Iowa.  It begins on the Western half of the state and moves Eastward every time.  The reasoning for this directional choice seems to be a belief (misbelief?) that prevailing winds are Eastward this time of year.  This year the route was through Central Iowa stopping in the town next door to mine.  This gave me an excuse (and probably a life saving one) to stop after the 3rd day versus going the full 7.   The idea is that towns host "stopping points" along the way...some mild some wild.  The big draw of pie and pork chops was not overblown in the media.  Every church and senior center in Iowa prepared delicious pies and a bevy of other food and goodies to keep riders right as rain.

This year, Lance Armstrong decided that he'd been wasting his time all those years by spending July in France.  He rode the last 4 days of RAGBRAI giving talks along the way as an advocate for cancer research spending.  He's committed to doing the entire ride next year and has hinted that he may bring along some celebrity friends.  Surely this will become the Sturgis of the cycling world.  Get ready for Lance-a-pa-looza.

Day 1
54 Miles:  Sergeant Bluff to Ida Grove (Map)

My first day I took special care not to overdo it and try to outrun my ability.  I was warned by the newspaper, websites, and other blogs that the first few days had hills.  If you've only been to Central Iowa, you'd have a tough time believing this as did I.  Much to my chagrin, all of those sources were right.  I often found myself peddling just a bit faster than some were walking their bikes. I refused to get off my machine...opting for granny gear, head down, no talk, sweatiness to reach the next peak. Other times, I was blazing downhill at 35 mph.  This route was balanced.  Ups led to big downs and a cool off and welcomed rest period.  Amazingly, 54 miles went pretty quickly.  I never peddled to exhaustion, rather I seemed to be in cardio heart rate mode for about 8 hours of the 10 it took to get there.  Upon arrival and set up of our campsite, my buddy and I began to find a prone position out of the sun.  Prone yes...out of sun no.  For 4 hours I lay there sweating through clothes and trying to understand my physical condition.  I felt "off"...I had trouble completing thoughts.  I was exhausted mentally and physically.  My water/Gatorade/fruit smoothie consumption was very high all day so I knew I was not dehydrated.  Additionally, I had eaten about 5000 calories to keep me going all day so "bonking" was not an issue. I was simply SPENT of all energy.  Weighing in at a scale tweaking 250lbs on a 6ft. 1in. frame was the core problem and I was paying the price for my penchant for 20oz rib eyes and dipping pizza in bleu cheese dressing.  We spent a night of tossing and turning in my 2 man tent trying to find comfort in the hot Iowa night.  Rain drops cooling my skin at 5AM woke me and day 2 was on.



Day 2
77 Miles: 
Ida Grove to Audubon (map)

I will never forget this day.  Just the ride out of town began with leg paralyzing hills that never seemed to go back down.  This day provided the most feet of elevation climb of all.  Top this off with a stiff headwind that was gusting to at least 20 mph.   A rider's reward for this hilly pursuit was a robbery of downhill speed and rest due to wind resistance.  There was little conversation between main stopping towns, only pain and sweat.  Riders cursed under their breath.  A man from Illinois was heard saying, "Does Iowa have a headwind in every direction? #[email protected]#%$$%@"  There was simply no relief.  We began this day at 6:30AM and arrived at our destination town at a little before 8PM.  I had spent 10+ hours on a bike and had the redness to prove it (in more than one spot).  Again I had more trouble moving, thinking, and doing.  Another buddy of mine Tom met us at the campground that night, hooking up so we could do the last leg together.  We had a couple of beers, walked the town square, ate as much as possible and headed back to our mobile domicile.  At 1AM, I woke again, scrambling along with many other campers to put our rain fly on. It looked clear when going to bed and the forecast was for "partly cloudy skies".  That's Iowa speak for "It could downpour but we really don't know."  I should have gone with my gut but my body and mind would not execute.  After some frustration we simply draped the rain fly over the tent and by then, the rain had stopped. We woke at 6AM and began to tear down.  On the way out of town, we were again met with grinding hills.  Gerard quipped, "Is every town in Iowa built in a sink hole expletive expletive expletive!"

 







Day 3
68 Miles: 
Audubon to Waukee (map)

Ah the home stretch but not so fast.  This day like all others began with more hills.  Mike legs ached and burned as though I'd been riding for over 100 miles.  Just getting to the outskirts of the town where breakfast was being served hurt badly. A raspberry white chocolate latte and some muffins procured from the local Methodist Church and we were on our way.  Tom was fresh and spry but that would all change.  The route notes indicated that the first 26 miles of this 68 mile day were as hilly as before..but HUZZAH!!!, the wind had subsided a bit and there was little net elevation change, i.e. downhills follow uphills that allowed for rest.  The first 26 miles didn't pack the severe punch of day 2 but tell that to "The new guy", Tom.  Eight miles into this day, Tom's bike somehow broke a spoke and we spent nearly 40 minutes at the mobile bike repair station getting a new wheel.  Imagine a corn field, a bunch of bike riders, and a truck with everything one needs to get fixed up.  What a sight.  The prices were exactly what you'd pay in their shop too.  Thanks to good Midwestern values and a desire to help its fellow man, the bike shop got us on our way again with no complaints.  At about mile 40, Tom began to get annoyed with Gerard and I.  His physical discomfort was obvious, no longer praising his cycling shorts and seat for comfort, rather cursing most things including Gerard and I for "Just leaving him behind, etc."  I recognized this behavior since I had done it with Gerard the day before.  Step 1, anger.   We began to pace each other, trading off the lead position, and began to make some progress.  The last 20 miles or so were FLAT.  Even with our energy stores depleted, we could maintain a 15mph pace.  Oh the joy!  If Tom had moved past the anger into acceptance, I think we really could have cruised.  I had energy again...the inevitable boost one receives from knowing they're nearing the end.  This leg ended on my "home trail" west of my town of Clive.  I felt like a confident tour guide at this point, sharing my local knowledge with Gerard.  My wife called and arranged to meet me along the route with the kids.  As we got closer, Gerard and Tom pulled back in true Tour de France style allowing me to bask in the glory of my home town.  They gave me my moment.  Approaching the mini-van, I saw the kids and they were holding signs!  The signs read "Go Daddy" and had hand prints all over them.  If not for the emotional exhaustion of the ride I surely would have crumbled and wept.  In an instant my pain and strife were gone and I'm standing in front of my beautiful wife and children. The thoughtfulness of my wife never ceases to amaze me and I'm truly blessed to have her.  After plentiful hugs, kisses, and greetings from fellow riders, we set out to reach the final destination.  We arrived, met the wives, loaded our gear, and it began to downpour.  Mother nature winked at me just then and put a tick mark in the Doug column.  That night as lightning lit the sky and thunder rumbled across the heartland, we broke bread together (topped with cheese, sauce, and toppings) and had plenty of liquid bread (beer) to nourish our bodies.  We sat around and told tall tales of our adventure while the kids played..and life was good. 

Although our bodies were weak, our spirits had already been lifted by friendship, love, and the buzz from achieving a physically and mentally demanding goal. I hadn't felt that physical sense of accomplishment in a very long time and I'm craving it again already.  Bring on the hills.  Bring on RAGBRAI 2007!

 

Beautiful Des Moines

USA Today highlighted why Des Moines is a pretty nice place

I already knew this, and it's a big reason why we moved here from CA.  There is a big "downtown" living movement that is catching on...but people are still clamoring for nice suburbs. 


Wall Cloud

It seems like every time I drive on I-80 (this time West bound from Chicago back to Des Moines), I cross a massive storm.  Today it was tornado warnings and blinding rain.  I had to stop.  The track of the highly probable tornadic activity was to the southeast staying out over more rural areas.  When I could actually see through the rain again, I put the hammer down and bolted.  As I approached Des Moines, it was sunny and 90 degrees.  The humidity level right now is 22%...approaching California Santa Ana conditions.  It's just different here in the Midwest.  You can have incredible t-storms and hail 20 miles from your house where it's dry, calm, and pleasant.  I'd like to get into storm chasing...but right now, I'll stick with "storm outrunning".

A Nice Drive To Chicago

I never thought I'd have the ability to "Take a nice drive to Chicago" but I find myself in that position now that I live in Des Moines.  When I lived in Southern CA...a 6 hour drive seemed impossibly painful.  Planning would ensue at weeks before and traffic was a constant concern no matter the direction or the day.  Today, I hopped in the car at 11:30AM and was at my hotel about 10 minutes west of O'Hare airport in 5.5 hours.  I experienced some slows downs once I reached the Chicago metro area...and yes, I grabbed the wheel and cursed a bit.  Some things will be tough to abandon.

The interesting thing about living in a "central location" like Des Moines, means that I can be in a lot of different states and "big metros" in a few hours.  Minneapolis, Kansas City, and a lot of others can be reached very quickly and with zero stress.  I know these cities and this concept must seem a bit "hick-like" for the coasters...but that's OK. 

When the kids are a bit older, I think we'll enjoy seeing what the great United States has to offer.  As I was driving, I heard Paul Harvey say something like, "Why travel outside the U.S. when there's so much to offer here."  This is so very true.  I think that for the next 5 years, we'll focus on the heartland and all of those "little things" that make it so nice.  I'd have NEVER known about Living History Farms, The Amana Colonies, and Pella if I'd not moved to Iowa.  Imagine what I still have to see and learn.

Getting Reflective

I'm sitting here on my deck in the perfect breezy Midwest Saturday afternoon, kids napping, wife on a well deserved weekend scrap booking retreat about 1 hour away from Des Moines.  I'm having a few well crafted beers and am finishing up what will be the first cigar of about 3 today, a Cusano 10th anniversary BOLD cigar that spares no tastebud.  I'm in a lounge chair that happens to be directly across from the french doors that lead from the house to the deck.  One of the doors is open...one stationary and I can't help but clearly see my reflection in the glass. 

I don't often take to blatant narcissism...but I found myself staring into the reflection.  I noticed my gray hair, now pervasive.  I noticed that I looked like two kids' daddy. I looked like a devoted (and sometimes lazy) husband.  I contemplated how far I've come in the last few years, what I've learned, how I've grown...and I was satisfied.  I was satisfied to sit there and stare knowing that I've accepted what I've done...and that I still have the fire in my belly to learn, do, and become. 

My time was interrupted as is often is by an 18 month bounding toward me, smiling so brightly, saying "daddy daddy".  I picked her up, squeezed her hard and whispered....I love you baby in her ear.  She wont remember this...but I will for the rest of my life.

Las Vegas is the SAFEST place to live (not for your wallet)

A great piece appeared on The Weather Guys Blog today discussing the safety ratings of states by the probabilities of natural disasters hitting.  This is a perspective that I had not thought of.  You'll love this article.  There's a fantastic interactive graphic here to check out the 18 natural disaster events that they compared.

I went from a FOUR to a SIX...Yikes. 

I want someone to factor in these 18 things, then crime, then education quality, then unemployment data, then ????? and come up with the absolute best place to live "statistically".  I bet we'd all be surprised at the results...further demonstrating how statistics can be used to prove or disprove ANYTHING.

A Moment of Clarity

Dr. Wayne Dyer's reputation as a master of self precedes him.  His books are requisite reading for anyone headed down the often bumpy path of "Trying to be the best YOU you can be" whatever that means for YOU.  There was a great article appearing on Forbes.com today that highlights some of Dr. Dyer's teachings from his new book Inspiration (the newest release among his 29 titles). 

Dr. Dyer describes the concept of reinventing oneself and how difficult it is to actually look inward instead of finding outward things to help your brain avoid the truth. 

He says, "You have the power to reinvent yourself. The difficulty lies in the objectivity and honesty you need about a very subjective topic–yourself. You’re fairly objective about improving or upgrading things, like your car, or your stereo, or your golf clubs. Reinventing  yourself requires a similar objective assessment of the most important thing of all. Your life. Buying a hybrid car, or a cutting-edge computer or communication system, or changing investment choices, or even trying out a nontraditional style of sexual relationship, are often unconscious substitutes for the inner signals urging you to change something about your life. It just seems easier to do something in the outer world."

Of his list of suggestions for "Accessing all the moments of your life and implementing quantum changes," I find 2 that I focus on with regularity.

Notice What You Really Want In Life
Dr. Dyer says, "Take the time to notice the moments of your life that make you smile, laugh, feel happy, meaningful and valuable, the times you look forward to, the times that you are so lost in a project that time vanishes."

How blissfully true!  When I have these moments...I actually acknowledge them and it literally "buys me peace, happiness, and love for extended periods of time.  I can literally feed off the energy from playing with my kids and lovingly laughing with my wife.  By accepting that spiritual "rightness" of that moment when it's happening, you can fill yourself with joy.  Any parent (or husband and wife) knows that these moments can be interrupted shortly thereafter by the reality of married life,  kids fighting, whining, crying, etc...but it's far easier to deal with those things when you have acknowledged you've got what truly makes you whole in life.

Get back into balance
I encounter this lack of balance so often in life that I fear that the only people left in balance are writers of Personal Development books. Dr. Dyer describes this process of analytical "realignment". 

"Thoughts and behaviors that don’t balance are the items that need your expertise to balance them. Desiring a stressless tranquil life while thinking, “I can’t be peaceful with so many demands being placed on me,” is a misalignment."

In the modern era of alleged multi-tasking, crack-berries, and email overload consuming lives, so few people seem to practice this.  It amazes me how difficult it is to keep balance with so many things pulling and pushing our attention here or there.  I'm beginning to believe that folks like us that work at home may be the "ruling class" of business down the road.  We tend to be less caught up in the day-to-day since we are not part of it.  We enter it here and there and truthfully, it feels good to catch the "buzz" of the normal business world.  However, I think we have the capacity to think about things, keeping the focus on what's important..and still stopping to notice the blooming flowers, chirping birds, and daily visits from Berger the Squirrel (My boy named him Berger for reasons left to the cosmos to figure out).

Go down the list of families and friends that you interact with.  How many of them seem to be in balance, calm, aligned?  I'm guessing that you'll find a large list of over tired, completely run ragged people who are stressed out from shuttling the kids, making ends meet, and just "getting through until the weekend".  I know that's the way my list was before moving to Des Moines.

I've found that it is much easier to maintain balance here.  Maybe it's the lack of traffic. Perhaps it's the energy created by the change in seasons (it's palpable),   It could be the fact that it's just easier to do everything here because there's less people and it costs far less to manage a household.  (You can find a very nice home for $150k...step up to $350k and you're living large).  However, I'm going to attribute my balance to the following which I will call for lack of a better term: My Balance Mantra.

I achieve balance in my life by focusing on what's good and right with my wife and kids.  I step outside myself by communing spiritually with my God as this sustains me.  I see birds, trees, flowers, animals and activity constantly throughout each day from my home office  window reminding me that life is not an office or cubicle.  The cool breeze that flows into my office nourishes my soul.  I stop in the moment as often as possible to dance with my kids through the house.  "Make music daddy" is the siren's call from my kids...making me launch into my best funky baseline imitation,,,watching them dance  through the house without a care in the world.  I sit on a patio surrounded by trees and just notice the clouds and how fast they move across the sky.  Finally, my work is not work.  It is the place where I channel my thinking, my creativity, and my mind.  It is where I am acknowledged on many levels including monetarily for contributing my unique skills and my time. 

By focusing on these things, I will keep life in order and not get pulled into improper decisions or wasted energy. 





Take A Dip...The Cheese Feels Wonderful

Before moving to Des Moines, I had witnessed the slow growth of a chain of Fondue restaurants called The Melting Pot out in SoCal.  I never went there...but the concept intrigued me.

Now, we have our very own Fondue restaurant in West Des Moines called Crave.

Since I missed out on the 70's era Fondue craze (born in 1972), and can't yet appreciate how much of a pain it probably is to have a lot of pots and pokers and Sterno cans around the house...I'll probably go here at least once to enjoy the "Roaming and Socializing" effect that only a meal consisting of 1/2 oz portions dipped in sauce can provide.  Maybe this is the secret to me eating less. 

It's hard to fathom actually.  (start the spinning spacey sound effect and the swirling screen wipe as the author slips into a dream sequence)

ME:  "I can't wait to eat that incredible 24oz Prime Rib-eye on the bone, medium rare, with a side of asparagus, a bowl of lobster bisque, and some garlic mashed potatoes...and don't forget the creme brulee for desert."

WAITER AT FONDUE PLACE:  "Sir, your vegetable and small beef chunk fondue will arrive shortly.  You'll be dipping in cheese author's note: OK not so bad.  cheese good. and for desert you'll dip fruit in chocolate. 

ME:  "Um, I think you have it wrong...why don't you bring me the entire piece of meat...don't cut it up, and bring me a fondue pot w/boiling water...I'll cook up some potatoes and some asparagus...but please...do bring the pot of boiling cheese, and some bread...because I'm definitely going to need something to wipe the bowl and my finger off.

(end dream sequence)
I wake up and find that I've stopped at Culver's for a famous Butter Burger and a Peanut Butter Sundae on the way home from my first fondue experience)

The Heartland "Can Do"Attitude

Jim Owens, Caterpillar's CEO for the last 2 years, said the following in an article,

“Personally, I can think of no faster path to a worldwide recession than for the twin engines of the global economy -- the United States and China -- to turn against one another. Both countries need to make an extra effort to ensure that we treat each other with mutual respect. Rather than threatening protectionism, leaders must redirect their energies toward improving competitiveness and opening markets.” Full story.

This is fantastic stuff!  It's rare today to hear a CEO make any kind of statement that's meaningful..let alone one that puts the ball back into the courts of American firms to "figure it out".  This is no different than any other challenge we've faced before.  Wages in India have risen...and "in-sourcing" has started to occur.  China's wages are rising fast.  Quality issues are forcing companies to reevaluate the cost of lost customers due to "the overseas customer service guy not understanding me in the least". 

Although we could be on the cusp of a global upheaval that will render the United States a has been...something tells me we'll figure this out like have so many times before.  Our economy is in the process of shedding that which is artificially propped up (airlines, auto manufacturers, labor unions, employer paid health care).  We've sat back too long during this stretch of prosperity and we're reaping that which we've sown.  Wake up and smell the ethanol!

You Just Never Really Know

The day was probably like any other, but when Lorin Goepfert got up Sunday, he sure didn't think it would be his last day on earth.  Mr. Goepfert was the second Iowan killed by a bull in a week.  It's a funny thing living in Des Moines.  The large metro paper has stories like this next to stories about the President coming and government scandals, etc.  The Midwest is wonderful that way. 

RIP Mr. Goepfert.

Our First Tornado Warning

We went through some severe weather today for a few hours. We got about 2 inches or more rain during that period with some occassional hail. It's amazing how unprepared you feel when something like this finally occurs. It has calmed for now but it remains unstable through the early AM.

I drove through this stuff (twice)

On my way to visit a client in Omaha...I drove through severe weather on the way...and on the way back to Des Moines.  It's always interesting when a lightning bolt strikes nearby, the thunder is immediate, and the hair on your arms and neck stand up immediately.  Yikes.  This article describes the mayhem.

Severe storms spawn tornadoes throughout Midwest

Corn Fed and Shade Grown

A short time ago, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the "Winter Smoker" put on by a local cigar shop here in Des Moines.  It was held at the Principal Financial Tower downtown...and at the Embassy Club.  Very swanky.  Great views, etc.  When we exited the elevator, I felt my wife's pulse jump since there were no females within site.  As we got closer to the registration table, it was clear that we were at a 98% dude event.  Never fear.  The chance for us to be out together period is rare so we took full advantage.  I gave her tidbits of knowledge about the smokes we had and like a trooper, she took it all in.  Flip the tables and put me in a 98% female event doing a distinctly female activity (you fill in)...and I'd be headed for the door.

This event highlighted something very special about Des Moines for me....the crowd mix.  We sat a table with teachers, farmers, meat processors, and attorneys.  The table behind me had a local TV personality.  It was really a neat feeling.  As we devoured our Iowa tenderloins of both beef and pork, we probed the farmer at our table to allow a "tour" for our family.  Since it's simply work for him, he couldn't really understand what California City Slickers would get out of slogging around Hogs and such...but he invited us to come out.

As we puffed away on Cusano Robustos with 18 year old double Connecticut shade grown wrappers, we chatted and belly laughed the night away.  It was wonderful.  It brought a distinct sense of peace to know that we moved to a wonderful place where farmers and TV types kibbutz together over scotch and fine smoke. 

Few things bring the world together like beef, scotch, and cigars. 

The Spring Snow

We were met here in Des Moines with about 4 inches of snow accumulation on the first day of Spring.  I actually caught myself wishing for snow a few days before since we'd seen so little this winter.  The month of March is often an "in-betweener" from what the locals tell me.  Tornados and t-storms one week...snow the next...both eventually fading into warmer days and nights.  The snow was wet, also a first of the year.  Gavin and I shoveled the drive (the neighbor had graciously snow blowed the sidewalks) and then began to toss snow balls at each other.  Later, we went to the backyard and used our super snow board sled (bottom covered in non-nutritive cereal varnish of course) to head down our "hill"..it's really more like 30 feelt of gentle slope...but ENOUGH to send a 3 year old boy down the Death defying hill of super hero sled racing fastest most amazingest unreal coolness run.  I heard only "Again daddy" for the entire time we were out there. 

My parents have pictures of my dad doing the same with me when I was about 3 at our home in Pennsylvania.  That's one of the first "memories" that I think I have.  That hill seemed SO BIG to me then.  When I was about 12, we visited that home and when I saw the backyard, I couldn't believe how small it was.  I learned something that day about how BIG the world is and how incredibly important the super human figure of DADDY is to a boy.  (Girl centric posts coming don't worry). 

If you're lucky enough to be a daddy of a boy, accept, love, and embrace the fact that you are EVERYTHING to his development and maturation as a good man.  We daddy's aren't perfect and we (I) often tend to slip back into selfish thinking.  But by spending more time and energy investing in your boy with days like the above...you'll build a cache of memories that will serve to guide him through life, however subconciously....as those memories are guiding this post right now at the age of 34.

Goin' back to Cali...Cali...

I arrived in Ontario CA last night at about 10:30PM...my first trip back since we moved to Clive, IA in early November.  It was a pleasant drive actually so I'm guessing that the local schools must still be out.  It's forecasted to be 82 or so today...and presently at home it's a balmy 29 degrees.  As I walked into my office and said hi to everyone, I was instantly overcome by a sense of peace and calm that comes from knowing you made the right decision.  Nothing has changed here.  Nothing is different.  Nothing stopped or was altered when I left.  And that's the point.  My decision to leave and whisk my family away to a new land where we know few people and have to deal with cold weather has changed ME for the better.  It's not been without its bumps.

Recently, Steph sat me down and effectively said, "OK, enough is enough with the planning stages of this new house, new routine, new life," etc.  She told me, "You need to start executing on what you want to do and make this happen because I'm tired and overwhelmed." 

I couldn't agree more.  It's amazing at how men can get of course, immersed in what's important for them, and focused on nothing in particular.  What's more amazing, at how much a committed wife can support you through this phase and can set a course correction with a 15 minute conversation. 

The magic number 52

Today was magical.  The temperature in Des Moines eclipsed 50F and actually topped out around 52 degrees.  Wow.  It was as though spring had thawed the brains and bodies of our neighborhood.  People were actually giddy with excitement as you could easily wear a light long sleeved shirt and in the sun, I dare say you could have exposed skin!  I met 2 neighbors at the community mailbox, I met the trash guy, and our neighbors directly across the street came over and introduced themselves with Christmas cookies.  So in 1...1 hour session, we today we met as many people as I have over the last 2 months (I've met 3 while shoveling snow)  Every SINGLE person says, "Well you know I just love Iowa...and this neighborhood is GREAT, and it's a GREAT place to raise a family"  Today Gavin played with 2 neighbor boys and we all got to walk around outside and interact.  It was truly a delight.  You really do appreciate the nice weather more when you have to stay inside and wear a lot more clothes.  I'm really liking it here.  I've driven 100 miles in the last 60 days aside from business trips (yes I can DRIVE to Chicago in 5 hours which saves me the bird flu, regular flu, and the impolite coughing contagions flying around in the aluminum tube).  I used to drive 130 miles in 2 days.  Now, my commute is 32 steps from bed to office.

Living in Iowa has been wonderful so far...and I can't wait to experience a full cycle of seasons to explore even more of what God's country has to offer.