Saturday, February 28, 2009

things that make me laugh

Mel Brooks makes me laugh. I just finished watching "Blazing Saddles". I laughed out loud and often. I've seen this movie in bits and pieces over the years, over and over. Each time, I know what's coming and I find myself laughing even before the gag happens.

I like to think of myself as a relatively sophisticated guy. And then, I find myself laughing as Alex Karras punches a horse, or when Clevon Little rides into town as the new sheriff in matching Gucci attire on a color coordinated horse. I wonder who thinks of this stuff.

McLovin is my hero. The complete teenage geek who goes out and gets a fake ID and gives himself a name like McLovin with a straight face, like he's Prince or something, cracks me up.

Gary Larsen, the guy who did Far Side has my number. Dinosaurs smoking?? Didn't the Surgeon General post warnings on the packages. The Surgeon General has determined that cigarette smoking will cause you to go extinct.

Harvey Korman and Tim Conway looking at each other and trying to stay in character, never achieving that goal; Now that's funny.

I don't know why one thing is dumb and the next is funny. It just is. Getting hit in the crotch is shocking, but not really funny. Barbara Billingsley (Mrs. Cleaver) speaking jive is funny. Mr. Bill being destroyed each week on Saturday Night Live, or John Belushi as anything, or Land Shark saying "candy gram" are really funny, and they stand the test of time.

There are times when I want my humor to be socially responsible, mocking our leaders as they bumble their way through the day. Rod Blagojovich does make me laugh.

Mostly, I just like to laugh.

Friday, February 27, 2009

this ain't your mother's radio

Recently, I was introduced to something called Pandora. It's an internet radio station.

I like music. I just don't know what I like. I don't know the names of bands, or songs, or song writers. When it comes to music, I'm an idiot. Well, no more.

This Pandora thing asks me to name a style of music I like, or musician, or song. So, I just put in one I like and they take care of the rest. Through something called the Music Genome Project, they've been able to figure out other music I'll like based on my request and they mix it for me. I don't have to know anything.

And, as I hear a song I really like, I can identify the artist and then enter that name to add more music I'll like. It's hard to explain, but easy to like. Try it, you'll like it. You'll thank me later.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


My mother shops at Aldi.

And, being her son, and respecting her opinion, I thought; OK, I should give it a try.

The first thing I noticed was I had to pay a quarter to use a shopping cart. I never thought my mom would pay to use a shopping cart.

The store is very unimpressive looking, but clean. And, the selection, well it wasn't great. It seemed to cover the basics, but not much more. No deli, no bakery, no food samples; this place is pretty spartan. Products are stacked on the floor in original cut out boxes. The prices are simply marked. I really don't recognize a lot of the brands.

What I do recognize are the prices. They are low. As I move through the aisles, I can find most of what I want, even a few luxury food items. I modify what is on my list to what they have. And, as I spend more time there, I start to "get" what they're doing.

Well, it's time to check out. I grab a bag. They charge me for it!! How could they do that? Aren't bags free? Apparently, at Aldi, they're not. So, I change my behavior, no bag. The checker goes through my stuff and I have money ready. I estimate what's there and wait for the total. $16. I've got a lot of stuff here. Are you sure, $16? Yes!

I pull my $.25 cart out the door and head to my car. I unload my stuff, reminding myself to put one of those fabric bags I have in the back seat next time. I return my cart to the cart area and put it back. I see someone link their cart to the one in front with this chain deal and get their quarter back. And then I look at the parking lot, no stray carts anywhere.

Efficiency, it's everywhere at Aldi. They put out less bags, less dents in cars, and reduce overhead. They stock their shelves in an efficient manner. There is no wasted energy. They make you a partner in saving money. This is a business model that makes sense.
Aldi is pretty smart, and so is my mother. Brilliant!!

where's my comb?

This is my high school graduation photo. I ran across it a few days ago. A lot of water has gone under the bridge, over the dam, cows have left the barn, and fat ladies have sung since that was taken. Apparently, I've also eaten a lot of meals.

Who is that guy? What's he thinking? Do I know him?

Recently, since I started writing this blog, I think I've gotten more acquainted with this guy. He had a lot of dreams and ambitions. He was brash and bold. Nothing could stop him. No mountain too high, no valley too low, no cliche too trite could keep him from his appointed task (had to throw in the mailman as well).

What happened in all of those years (I think 34 since this was taken)? In a word, life. Marriage, kids, homes, businesses, successes, failures, friendships, pets, hockey games, airports, births and deaths have all served to put their imprint on my face, my brain, my heart, my life.

This all makes me reflect on if I've delivered on all of the promise this photo indicates, make that promises. In retrospect, I've delivered on some, failed at others. But one thing this photo does is remind me to continue to strive to deliver. The 17 year-old in this picture is going to teach me a lot.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

china doll

Over the past few years, I've had the privilege of traveling abroad for work. The bulk of that travel is to China.
And, over that time, I've also had the privilege to get to know some terrific people. Anny is one of those people.
The person in the picture attached to this post is Anny. I must admit, I've never seen her this way. Most of the time she's wearing jeans, t-shirt, tennis shoes and a backpack, ready to take on the world.
On a moment's notice, she'll get on a bus, take a train, stand on her head if needed to make sure she's done the right thing for our company. I never worry that she's got other motives than to do the right thing for us.
I've watched her evolve from a naive person starting a business to a tenacious business woman. And, I count her as my friend.
Over time, my opinions on whether we should put up trade barriers between us and other countries has evolved. At first, I felt it was important to keep Americans employed. I still do. But, I've also learned that all people should have work if they're willing. They deserve to build a life for themselves, no matter where they're from. Knowing Anny has somehow taken the lines off the map and allowed me to think that everyone deserves opportunity, not just people who look like me.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Nelson, Martin, Mahatma and Me

I was just reading the newspaper this morning and saw an ad for the circus coming to town. Used to be the circus was a big deal. Elephants, people being shot out of cannons, sword swallowers, clowns; it was and is great entertainment.
Over the past decade or so, the circus has become an also ran in entertainment value. For some reason, these things that used to intrigue us no longer hold the place in our hearts they once did.
I think I understand why. Just look at TV. The weird, stupid, crazy, unbelievable happens right before our eyes on 24 hour news stations. I googled "blago" and was able to come up with a bunch of stories and photos of impeached governor Rod Blagojovich. I didn't even have to know how to spell his name.
I guess, when a guy who tries to sell the old senate office of the new President of the United States to the highest bidder, eyebrows will be raised, even in Illinois. And, when the same guy imports drugs not approved by the FDA for its citizens, or holds up funding for a children's hospital until those campaign donations come in, one can think something must be up. And of course, when he compares himself to equally dubious characters like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela, one must take notice. Governor Rod is the new Barnum and Bailey.
P.T. Blagojovich; isn't he the one who said "There's a sucker born every minute"? The old style circus doesn't have a chance when we have one this good.

I'm going to be rich!!!

Recently, I've decided I'm going to become rich, crazy, stupid, wealthy rich. And, all I have to do is buy a lottery ticket and bingo, I'm rich!
As a kid growing up, I was always taught that gambling is a bad thing. I was told that work, study and savings were the true way of becoming financially secure, and if I did really well, wealthy.
And then, a chink in the armor. I heard my church was offering bingo as a way of fund raising. Innocent enough, I thought. God will look the other way while the Church is raising the funds to spread His word.
And then, a raffle for a car. My goodness, someone I know is going to win a car, a brand new car. And for a chance, all I have to do is plunk down $5 and I'm in the game. Fantastic!! Should I pray for it? Hmmm.
Then, in 1988, the State of Wisconsin figured if it's good enough for God, why can't we get in the game? So began the Wisconsin Lottery. Why would the State get in the game? For education, of course. How could gambling be bad if it funds education? Hmmmm.
But, the State Legislature, in a lucid moment, thinking some might object, mandated that advertising for the lottery must be informative, not promotional. Well, that could make it more, well, moral, they thought.
So, as I watched the ads, I saw talking cows in the Moo-Lah game, very informative. And crazy rich people in limousines touting Megabucks. Interesting. I guess the informational part there is you will get rich if you play. And then, at the end of the ad, in print that only an electron microscope could decipher, the odds, the risks, the rules, all of those informational things the State mandated scrolled down the screen. Well, I guess they passed the informational test. Hmmmmm.
So, when I go to the convenience store and I see the car running outside, the kids in the back and mom playing scratch off games inside; is this what the State considered? What choices are being made to play the game. Is it milk or Moo-lah? Is it pancakes or Powerball? Granted, for most, it isn't, and this is a cliche scenario. But, how does something become cliche?, because it never happens??
I still have trouble walking through casinos without thinking that a good portion of the people there are losing money they can't afford to lose. They gamble because they have to, because they can't stop, because it's beyond an urge. Didn't the State consider this when they instituted these games?
Sometimes I just wonder.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

this is a sofa....really!!

In the "about me" portion of this blog, I speak of making furniture that can ship via UPS. This is what I'm talking about.
A sofa, like anything else is comprised of a bunch of smaller parts. Usually, they are connected together with staples and screws to become a sofa.
What I try to do is figure out how to take all of these component parts and make them so they can be assembled to become a sofa at the consumer level.
There's a lot of stuff involved like structural integrity, style, comfort, packaging, reassembly and much more. Furthermore, since we are trying to be efficient, we try to load as many of these things as possible on a trailer or container to reduce the amount of fuel and cost used.
Why do this instead of shipping a standard sofa the standard way? Well, for our purposes, we can ship 138 sofas on a container vs. 39 built the standard way. From beginning to end, we can demonstrate a savings of over 10 gallons of diesel fuel in transit, plus reduce the warehousing space needed by 70%, plus being able to deliver this by UPS instead of a dedicated delivery truck with two people, plus the ability to strip the product down at the end of its days for recycling. I think those are pretty good reasons.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Each week, I go over the numbers. How much did we sell? How many should we produce? What do I think will happen going forward?
Honest answer? I don't have a clue.
And, each week, I begin to understand how powerless I truly am with the events that are going on in the world. I watch the news with some of the most influential, intelligent, and insightful people bumbling and stumbling to come with solutions to our fiscal mess.
As a guy who likes to know what's going on, these times are very uncomfortable. These are the times my parents warned me about.
During the past presidential election, the theme of change was everywhere. I just didn't know it was this kind of change they were talking about. Save your pennies.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

ooh la la........

On Monday morning, on my way to the office, I started seeing email traffic on my Blackberry about some gift boxes filled with chocolate. I was about an hour away when the first missive hit the airwaves, and shortly after, more came.
How beautiful said the emailer. How wonderful, how thoughtful. I won't divulge the name of the sender, but I will say this. I know this person is a friend of mine. It was a thank you gift.
When I arrived at the office, there was a stack of blue and brown, perfectly arranged with a ribbon ascending to the top where a simple, elegant bow peered above perfection.
One could only hope the contents matched the presentation. They did.
Everyone's day turned brighter. Everyone's laughter was louder. Everyone's spirit was raised. The gift of chocolate brought an even greater gift, the gift of people coming together, enjoying one another, and sneaking just one more taste of decadence.
Now it's my turn. Thank you.

going green......sort of

A hot topic recently has been the "greening" of America. In an effort to get into your hearts and homes, we, the manufacturer, try to lure you to buy our stuff with sometimes legitimate, and other times suspect aspects of our products.
Green is an ambiguous standard that researchers tell us will make you feel good about the products you buy, and hence, more of them. But, those same researchers tell us that you won't pay more. They say it is a feature that is a "good to have", not a "must have" feature.
So, as a "good" manufacturer, we are "efforting" to bring you those products that will help you feel better when you buy. But, we still want, no, need you to buy. Because we have to make enough "green" to get green.
Greening is something we need to think of throughout the supply chain. It isn't all about the wood used, or the recyclability of the fabric, or deforestation. Moreso, it involves practical matters, like finding suppliers who are close to our facilities, reduction of package size, elimination of non recyclables in packaging, reduction of the amount of materials that will be landfilled after use, and efficiency in manufacturing.
Many times, I read about how a special wood or green fabric has been used on a piece of furniture. But, often that element or elements have been shipped great distances, totally negating the positive effect of the "green" aspects of the product.
As we go forward with our green initiative, we will continue to be more efficient in the use of raw materials, reduce the amount of post use landfilled materials, reduce the cubic size of the materials shipped through efficient packaging, offer more ways to get the products to the end user with the least amount of fossil fuels used, and find alternative materials to get the desired benefit to the consumer.
While this isn't the sexiest way of going green, it is the most responsible to the environment. And really, isn't that what this is all about?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

the answer is simple....

I was working today on a project to make a chair easy to assemble. My goal was no tools, little time, small box....simple, right??

Looking around, there are examples of simplicity in nature everywhere... efficiency in design, and magnificence in result, like the egg. Not only does the egg do a job, it does it with class and beauty, an elegant design with no wasted energy.

In literature, George Orwell may have written more completely about human nature than anyone, and it was in a 125 page book. The simplicity of his writing belies the clarity and power of the message delivered.

A rainbow, created with simple light passing through droplets of water offers seven wondrous ribbons of color. How does a colorless liquid combined with light create a perfect arc of happiness?

Now, that is my challenge; create a product that delivers on the promise of comfort, beauty, and above all, do it with simplicity.

Monday, February 16, 2009

this old house

It's time to move on. This old lady is going to have to be the home to a new family. I've decided to move on to a condo. My new life requires me to travel more than this house will allow.
While this home is beautiful, it needs the time and effort of someone who can take care of it. I'm not that person anymore.
So, if you're interested in a relationship with a house, this may be the one.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

this is home

A lot of times, people ask me why I live in Fort Atkinson. I think the better question is "why would you want to live anywhere else?" Just walk the streets and try not to say "hi" to someone.

an inspiration

I just finished visiting my folks at their winter home in Arizona. I'm very lucky to have both my parents still living.

As I get older, I realize what a treat it is to have them around. No longer the authority figures of my youth, they are now people, with hopes and dreams and many of the same worries I have.

Mom is 85 (I hope she doesn't mind me exposing her age). She's as youthful as ever, always moving, never really taking time to sit down. I guess having six kids created lifelong habits that are hard to break. She loves to poker. Who would have guessed the person who could make a meal out of a bone would have ended up in a casino. Good for her.

Dad has been struggling with his health for the past few years. An incredibly alert and smart 88 year-old with opinions that are as strong as smelling salts, Dad refuses to give in to physical ailments that would have grounded most men long ago. Watching him get up from a chair is both painful to watch and rewarding for the courage it takes to never give in.

They lived through some of the most difficult times in our nation, and they survived. Those skills to do more with less are needed more than ever today. We, as a people, can learn a lot from my folks. I certainly have.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Talent - Nothing is wasted more in our society than talent. Because talent, without desire is an empty promise, nothing more.

Well, tonight, I got to see talent realized. Our local high school, Fort Atkinson High School, held its 14th annual Show Choir Showcase.

Show choirs are basically song and dance troups that stage professionally choreographed events. They have a 30 minute window to set up, check sound, do a 20 minute show, and then tear down.

I put my eight bucks on the table and got a wrist band. For four hours, I got to watch kids (it's hard to call them that after watching them perform) give every ounce of their being to entertain a packed gymnasium of interested family, friends, and fans. I was and am a fan.

I am amazed by the level of commitment and the quality of entertainment. When I think about the future, I feel better knowing it's in the hands of these kids. Talent - yes. Promise - Realized.