Vacation On the Horizon

Here it is...September 2009 and I can't believe how long it's been since we took a real vacation.  There have been quite a few "go out to CA and the family does stuff while daddy works all day and night and squeezes in a couple rounds of golf" trips...but no real vacation so to speak. 

So this year, no matter what it takes, we're going to take the first vacation we've had since Steph and I went to Germany in 1998 together (pre-kids).  After that, start up life took over and it's been an awesome ride every since...but I've been married to work/phone/laptop/email/connectivity. 

So, here's fair warning.  December 18-January 3 we're gone somewhere warm and toasty with no work on the agenda except a stack of books and some sand toys. 



Image via WikipediaThere's a wonderful phenomena here in the Des Moines, Iowa metro area, and that's......ACCESS.  I feel so connected to things that were once "out there" like politicians, news personalities, business leaders, and community leaders.  It's really a gift that probably seems "normal" to Iowa natives. But to my Southern CA born and raised brain where LA was a foreign country 50 miles west, it's a real treat.

Well, there's this wonderful event that happens annually here called RAGBRAI.  It's basically an amalgamation of 15,000 of your closest friends who ride together about 450 miles across the state of Iowa in the middle of the summer.  Yeah, I know...something must be poisoning the corn.  But really, RAGBRAI is an amazing time of connection between Iowans and international visitors from all over the world. 

I'm planning a very big team experience this year as we roll across this beautiful state, share stories, and connect with wonderful rural and not so rural communities across the state.

Keep in tune with my blog for updates but this is going to be big.   Just imagine for now the greatest grass roots event in the history of the state.  OK, back to work.

No Planes.....ONE YEAR!


To Airlines: Your Savings Will Kill Us

Image via Wikipedia

This is my opinion...what's yours?

It seems I'm reading daily about issues with airlines facing some kind of unplanned landing.  Whether or not these issues were "real threats" is less important to me than the frequency with which they are happening.  I read a major airline pilot's blog that chronicles issues facing pilots, service crews, and the industry as a whole...and it's not good.  His accounts of "squeezing through storms" and landing in major crosswinds since fuel levels are "critical" are far too common.

I believe the airlines industry is "saving" its way into a disaster.  That disaster will be the deciding factor in transforming an industry that refuses to face reality.  It's going to take a national tragedy to halt the downward spiral of a business that continues to keep prices low when it's losing billions...merger after merger.

The recent grounding of American Airlines MD-80's for inspections that hadn't been completed (no matter who's fault it was AA or the FAA) shows a serious lack of attention to detail. 

Today I read this article that highlights the growing discontent among pilots and the fuel savings issue.  More and more are coming forward to complain that saving fuel by reducing the load on board is causing close calls that will lead to disaster (less on board means more efficiency from what's there through reduced weight.)

In March, for example, an airline pilot told NASA he landed his regional jet with less fuel than required by FAA regulations. "Looking back," he said, "I would have liked more gas yesterday." He also complained that his airline was "ranking" captains according to who landed with the least amount.

Ultimately it's the captain's call on the fuel load (per the above article)...but it's kind of like the "15 pieces of flair" conversation that Jennifer Aniston has with her boss in Office Space.  The implication is that "you can" do that...but "you SHOULD" do this. Pilots can make the call but the mother ship seems to be silently punitive and edgy with pilots that carry too much fuel (ie waste the airline's money).  Call it management by browbeating.

I'm a big free market capitalist guy so I'm tormented by this issue.  Have airlines become "public utilities?"  Do we need to go back to a regulated, government "owned" system?  I cringe at the thought. 

I'm guessing that ticket prices would have to at least triple for these airlines to make a profit.   That would probably cut their businesses by 75%.  At that point, our aging airlines would probably have to ground and sell of 75% of their aging fleets.  These are the same fleets that are very fuel inefficient and have airframes/skins that are technically sound but I suppose those lifespans are engineering guesses?  Wouldn't this be a good thing to thin the herd?  I don't supposed the Wall Street folks have this in mind.

Could we possibly move to a system where there's not 8 flights a day to Chicago to connect me to Anywhere USA...but maybe a couple times a week direct from Des Moines to major cities?  Could the VLJ (very light jet) market fill in the blanks here with connections, hassle free short hops, and daily "air taxi service" from Des Moines to Sioux Falls?   Other business models have been very successful reducing choice and simplifying things for consumers.  Maybe it's time the airlines gave us fewer options, increased prices, reduced their gargantuan size and faced the economic realities that have stared them in the face for over a decade. 

Your business model is flawed and you will probably ask us for some type of bailout again someday and I simply don't want to pay.  Make travel as outrageously expensive as it should be...and something will step in and provide a solution. 

Until then, I'll be content to drive or stay home and do things virtually.

My Badge of Honor

President George W. Bush, White House Chief of...

Image via Wikipedia

I have added a "Time Since Last Flight" count up timer under my picture in the right sidebar.  I wear this timer as a badge of honor.  Just take a glance to the right if you on my site or click here if your in a reader.

Being able to accomplish your goals by leveraging collaboration software, video conferencing, skype, etc. is an amazing new business reality.  Fuel prices and economic upheaval have caused companies to dig in and find ways to reduce travel expenses.  They're not just "reducing travel"...they're actually investing in ways to ensure the travel doesn't have to happen again.

Think about the "road show" seminars or sessions you do with potential clients, business partners, or employees.  What if you had a means to video some of those sessions and have them produced into a multimedia message that can be distributed around the world in no time flat?  If each seminar costs you $50k to put on...the thought of spending a few bucks to produce one that can be uploaded to an Interactive Learning Environment and seen globally seems well worth it.

We used to see travel cost fluctuations that affected business very cyclically.  However, it's now more likely that we're living a new reality that won't be "going away in a few quarters."  Airlines are headed for implosion, fuel prices are way up, business is down, and people are nervous. 

The counter punch however is that bandwidth has never been cheaper.  There have never been more free tools available to help business get things done across borders.  There have never been more inexpensive software applications available that enable business people to achieve without breaking the bank.

Although all of my frequent flier status's are expiring since my constant travel days are over, I don't lament.  Rather I celebrate the power of multimedia, video, and affordable software that have virtually eliminated travel expenses, time waste, and hassle from my business life. 

With honor I say:

The Drive to CA

I can't remember exactly where...but somewhere on the North side of Las Vegas...headed down into the desert abyss, the driving started getting more aggressive.  Then the traffic began to build.  It wasn't slow traffic rather a mass volume of cars going 80+.  As we entered the north end of the Las Vegas strip area, I probably had no fewer than 6  "Holy !%!$#%@# that was close" moments along with seeing 2 accidents in a 1 mile stretch.

"Honey, we're not in Iowa anymore."

I've written before about it taking a little while to get back into the aggressive kill or be killed driving mentality present in the big city.  I've lost that attitude now that traffic in Clive means waiting an extra signal at 5PM on workdays. 

You Knew This About United Didn't You?

SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 11:  A United Airlines passenger has his identification checked at an empty security checkpoint at San Francisco International Airport August 11, 2006 in San Francisco. The Department of Homeland Security raised the terrorism alert to Red on Thursday, the highest level, for commercial flights from Britain to the United States because of an alleged terrorist plot on airline flights. The U.S. government banned all liquids and gels from flights effective immediately.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I can proudly say I haven't flown since about September of 2007 and holding out best I can.  There is a scathing and painfully entertaining post over at Conde Nast's called Worst Airline Ever.

Let this quote heat up your areas.

One thing that isn't in doubt, however, is the financial wherewithal of the airline's upper management.

Tilton and his top executives emerged from the bankruptcy with 8 percent of the new United Airlines and a fast-vesting bonus plan that the New York Times called "insanity squared." Many of United's management team have been flipping their shares as soon as they vested, yielding tidy profits as the airline's shares topped out above $50. But rather than curb their enthusiasm now that the market has soured on the airlines in general and United in specific, Tilton et al will pitch a new executive-incentive plan at the airline's annual meeting in California on Thursday. If approved, it will create 8 million new shares for the benefit of the top brass.

In other words, no matter how rough the ride for United's employees and passengers, it will continue to be smooth sailing in the executive suite.


A Journey Back to the Heartland

I was contacted yesterday by someone from the Orange County Register News Paper, my paper of choice when living on the Left Coast.  Apparently I have a blog reader out there that found me and thought I'd be interested in this feature by Tom Berg called, "A Ride Back In Time to the Corn Fields".

The tale begins with Paul O'Brian, a Seal Beach, CA resident and successful designer trying to ready a 1935 Ford pickup for its trip back to Grand Mound, Iowa.  O'Brian's trek to the heartland is just something he had to do to reconnect with his father's legacy of values and work ethic.  Life sure wasn't easy back then, but the elder O'Brian set Paul on the right track with a steady dose of agrarian practicality and appreciation for what's important in life.

If you have family roots in agriculture, you'll surely appreciate this story.  If you don't, it will make you wish you did. 

Enjoy.  Thanks for finding an expat OC'er living the dream in Iowa.

Top 10 observations about California and Iowa

The last two days have peaked out at about 110 degrees out here in the "Inland Empire" of CA.  Lately there's been a 40 degree differential between the beach and the inland areas where we used to live.

Here's the Top 10 list direct from the home office in Corona, CA:

  1. The question, "How far is it from here?" in Iowa elicits an answer with "miles" in it.  In CA, it's "minutes" because there's absolutely no direct correlation in CA between the two.
  2. In CA, pork is mostly served as Carnitas in mexican restaurants.
  3. When it reaches 109 degrees, the people here even stop saying, "Yeah but it's a dry heat".
  4. Thunderstorms here (there have been some while we've been here) are still a novelty item.
  5. Golfers in CA and IA are the same.  We played when it was 110 in the shade out here...and in Iowa, we've played through downpours.  Golf rules.
  6. Trader Joes still absolutely ROCKS.  I'm going back today to procure more inexpensive cases of vino for the man cave wine keller.  Please get us on the radar for a store in Des Moines Trader Joes Management.  I think the closest currently may be Chicago.
  7. Mexican food restaurants and markets here have an exponential advantage over what we still have in Iowa.  With a growing population of Mexican/Central/South Americans entering Iowa, perhaps this will change.
  8. Ahhh the breakfast burrito.  Never have I encountered one better than at Farmer Boys here in CA.  I think if I could replicate that taste and put a little burrito cart in front of the Principal Tower in downtown DSM...I'd increase the business for dry cleaners everywhere and grab a few hundy a day in profits.
  9. Note to Iowa:  Good salsa doesn't come in a jar.
  10. Note to California:  Is it really worth multiple hours per day in traffic gridlock to avoid having 4 seasons?  Based on the numbers...I guess so.

Road Trip

Here's a couple of things I learned on our road trip.

  1. Colorado gives great rest stop.  They've spent good money to make facilities that look more like parks and nature preserves.  Iowa and Nebraska have not. 
  2. It's well worth it to stop by and visit family along the way if you have them.   We did this time and our kids met their great uncle for the first time as non-infants.  They are still trying to connect the synapses on uncle being "Grampy's Brother".
  3. Bringing the bulk of your own food is best.  Most trips in the past, we've eaten 2-4x per day at ridiculous fast food joints A, B, and C because it was "convenient".  The net result was feeling absolutely ill by 8AM daily and carrying that through for days at a time.  No more.  We arrived feeling energized and saved at least 2 hours a day on a long drive day (700+ miles). 
  4. More and more hotels are becoming pet friendly.  We stayed at a Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express that accepted pets willingly.  One charged $10 and the other didn't charge a thing.  We brought our two 60lbs beasts, stayed on the ground floor close to an exit door, and had a very convenient stay at both places.

Cheers from CA.