Tuesday, March 31, 2009

America...what a country!

I'm going to visit my daughter in Washington, D.C. this weekend. When I think of her I always smile. I think because she's always smiling.

Washington is a place I always look forward to seeing and I'm glad to be seeing it with her. Awesome is too small a word to describe this place. The Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, World War II, and I haven't even started on the Smithsonians, Capitol, White House.

Washington is a place where I like to linger....and think....and savor each word. I remember once I spent an hour in the Julia Child exhibit at the Museum of American History. Before that, I didn't know what a cool lady she was. I was at the Holocaust Museum on Survivors' Weekend about five years ago. Being of German descent, I've never felt so much sorrow...and shame.

When I go through Arlington Cemetary, I can't help but feel humbled by the sacrifice others have made for me. Buried under those rows and rows of white crosses lie the hopes, dreams and potential of our children.

I've been to Washington, D.C. several times and each time is different. I come home feeling a little more complete...a little more American.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

good food....

Given a choice between one of those big plates with a little food, a little drizzle and a fancy name or a big, oozing, greasy, char-encrusted cheeseburger, I'll take the latter.

I like mine simple, with a little ketchup, lots of pickle, and sometimes onion. The onion only goes on when I know I'm not going to be working in close proximity with others. And, I really like mine made on a mature, seasoned griddle that creates a little salty, greasy crust on the outside....pure decadence.

To eat a cheeseburger is a relationship. Unlike one of those "fancy" meals, where you can pick with your fork and eat little bites, the cheeseburger requires your full attention. You have to embrace it with both hands, if you've got a good one. You have to pay full attention or it will pay you back with debris on the front of your shirt.

I think my relationship with cheeseburgers started with my dad. He used to take me on trips to Chicago when his work required him to go. He knew I loved to go. We would always stop at the oasis in Belvedere. We always had a cheeseburger.

And, when I was young, cheeseburgers always seemed to be served at places that served the food through a screen and we'd sit down at a table outside, the County Fair, Hap's, Becker's. If there was root beer involved, all the better. Maybe that's also part of the relationship with the cheeseburger, because maybe it reminds me of my dad and the times we had together.
Here's to you, Dad.

Friday, March 27, 2009

design and art....

Do you ever wonder why one sofa costs $600 and another costs $6000? Don't they come with basically the same materials, springs, foam, wood, fabric?

There are disciplines involved in every pursuit, and the higher the cost of an item, the more likely it is that the designer of that product is lazy, or only concerned with their view of furniture as art, not something functional. They want exactly what they want without regard for waste, either in time or materials....or money. Or, they want the exclusivity of exotic materials which have no, or very little impact on how the product works. It's all bullshit!

"So fabric comes in 56" width, my design requires 60". Make me something that fits my needs. I don't care what it costs. I don't care that it's not available. It's my design!!" Half the time I think these people warm up their voices by singing mi, mi, mi, mi, mi while really thinking Me! Me! Me! Me! Me! They are, you know, arteeests.

Something can be beautiful, but a bad design. The argument is not about art; it's about how you make your art useful, without leaving raw materials on the cutting room floor. It's about efficiency.

Great design is inclusive, not exclusive. It takes a problem and finds a solution simply, elegantly, and economically. It isn't lazy; it's diligent and disciplined. It tries to think of every way to use all elements of the product to its greatest potential. It tries to combine what's available with what's possible. Great design is when a little does a lot.

Sometimes we confuse art and design. While connected, they are separate. When art and design are combined, we truly find something special.

OK, I'm done.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

best of show....

I went to the Housewares Show in Chicago yesterday.

Even though I work in the furniture field, the Housewares Show can sometimes bring inspiration.

Also, Pantone runs a booth with the color forecast for the coming year. I always like to double check that my thoughts are in line with what the experts are saying. Sometimes I have to train my eye to accept some colors coming my way.

Anyway, that's not the reason for this post. I'm here to write about what I found to be the "coolest" thing I saw.

And here it is, Sodastream. Sodastream is a device that allows you to make carbonated beverages without electricity. You just put water into a one liter bottle, add some syrup, fill with CO2, and shake a little and voila, you've got soda. You can learn more about it at http://www.sodastream.com/.

Now, according to the pitchman, there are no preservatives in this soda, lower amounts of sodium; he almost made it sound healthy.

As a kid, I would have killed for one of these machines. I guess I want one now. Maybe I still am a kid.

the first step....

President Obama has a big job to do. With a just proposed $3.6 trillion budget, he is proposing to completely overhaul our government.

It seems about every 15 years, our country has to go through a "reset" as GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt put it. We went through recessionary periods in the 70's, early 80's, early 90's and now. We had a little bit of a recession foisted upon us by 911 as well.

In each of these cases there were buttons that could be pushed to get things rolling. This recession is different. This recesssion isn't caused by us not having enough stuff. It's caused by us having TOO MUCH stuff and the value of those things being devalued because of over supply. We have too many houses, too many cars, too many ipods, too many wants, too many needs.
And, our government and many businesses now have all kinds of legacy commitments to health care, Medicare, Social Security, and all kinds of rules that have to be followed that cost money, big money.

The first step in our recovery as a society is to recognize that we live longer and we can be viable in the work force for a longer period of time. Paid retirement at 62 or 65 is no longer feasible in today's economic environment. We can't afford it.

We can't have pensions start after 30 years of work at the same place. People are too young and too big a liability to our society. GM has a $2000 bill to pay on every car it produces for these pensions. It's just too big a burden for GM to pay. GM didn't know people would live an extra 10 years when they negotiated these contracts. The same is true with teachers and government contracts.
If we move retirement age back five years, assuming the average retiree costs $20,000 a year, we would save $300 billion a year. And, those workers would be producing tax revenue to make the impact even greater.

Over the years, we have been asked to pay for people living longer. You might say people are outliving their warranties. When the potential of retirement time can legitimately last longer than a person's working years, there is something wrong with the system

In a few short years, two average workers are going to have to support an average retiree. And, we all know, as people grow older, they get much more expensive to care for. And, statistically, older people buy less stuff to support those workers. It's a formula that cannot work.

Until we get the politicians to get up the courage to say no to "early" retirement, and risk losing the vote of the largest and most reliable voting block, we won't have any kind of solution to our economic problems.
President Obama, it's time to act.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

the beginning of grade inflation...

I've always felt that those who talk in terms of giving 110% are the same people who coined the term superstar, as if being a star isn't enough. The hype that fills our airwaves and boardrooms has gone over the top.

Words like "good" have been replaced with "fantastic" and "bad" with "disastrous". Every kid's a prodigy. "Look at my Mikey!!!! Isn't he great??" Even I'm buying in with mulitple exclamation and quesiton marks, as if adding more than one makes it louder or more "questiony".

The world has gone deaf to this type of bravado. In fact, when I coached, kids would come to me and tell me they'd give me 110%. I'm sure they saw it on a T-Shirt somewhere.
Sometimes I asked them what that meant and they said they would give me everything they had. I would respond, "so I'm going to get 100% of you?" "YES!!!", they would reply. I would tell them if I could get 88%, that would be good, no fantastic! So, here's to 88%, a real number that would get winning results.

A friend of mine, Nancy, recently sent this to me as sort of a measuring stick to percentage of effort. It rings pretty true.

What Makes 100%? What does it mean to give MORE than 100%? Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%? We have all been to those meetings where someone wants you to give over 100%. How about achieving 103%? What makes up 100% in life?

Here's a little mathematical formula that might help you answer these questions:
If A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
is represented as 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26,

then H-A -R -D-W-O -R -K, 8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%.
And K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E, 11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%.

But , A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E, 1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%.

And, B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T, 2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20=103%.

AND, look how far ass kissing will take you.
A-S -S -K -I -S-S -I -N-G, 1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7=118%
So, one can conclude with mathematical certainty, that While Hard work and Knowledge will get you close, and Attitude will get you there, its the Bullshit and Ass kissing that will put you over the top.
-Thank you Nancy

Saturday, March 21, 2009

natural birth control....

Sometimes, when I go to China, I wonder if women actually kiss men. They seem to keep a safe distance with rarely, if any, hand holding. I don't think I've ever seen a public kiss. Cuddling up, not in public. I've always wondered how that country with one point three billion people got to be, well....a country of one point three billion people. One thing for sure, they're not adding to that number.

I think I have the answer, and it comes in multiple parts. Chinese men are jerks. While I was waiting for breakfast the other morning, I noticed about a dozen men waiting. Everyone of them was smoking. And, it seemed there was a pusher there who walked around the table to make sure each of them had their smokes, like a clown distributing candy during a parade.

There were also three women there. They were not offered smokes. Maybe, according to the men, it makes their mouths taste bad.

Then, as things get going, a new sort of competition seems to be festering....spitting. These diminutive people can make noises that would scare a serial killer with gurgling and hacking and this one noise I can't compare, except to a garbage disposal when it's sucking down water. First you'll hear one, then another, then it's like pigs snorting and sniffing, sucking and spitting and gurgling and hacking. I wonder if this spitting jag is related to the 6 unfiltered cigarettes they just chain smoked.

And, at the end of the day, at least for the business people, they go to Karaoke where the boozing and smoking and sex is offered (at least it seems like it's being offered) until all the money is gone.

There you are ladies, at home, waiting for your man, lounging in your bed, in your finest nighttime attire, something slinky, something silky, just barely covering up whatever treasures that may be hidden, when this Shrek-like, chain smoking, expectorating, excreting, pint sized, chemical oozing machine shows up. Sounds like romance to me. Turn up the music. Turn down the lights.

And they had to make a law enforcing one child per family.

Friday, March 20, 2009

nice legs!!

Well, I'm done. There's this feeling of exhaustion and euphoria when you put everything you have into something and it's over. I want to go to sleep, but I can't. Well, maybe I can. I think sleepy is beginning to take over happy and the other five dwarfs right now. Good night.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

yes! me worry!!

It's Wednesday evening in Haining, Zhejiang, China. For those of you who don't have a clue where that is, it's about an hour and a half southwest of Shanghai. And, if you don't know where that is, it's in China....Asia, the place where your head pops up when you dig through the earth...all the way. This blog was supposed to be about something completely different, but this just got interesting to me.

OK, back to the topic. On Monday evening, I arrived in China expecting to see mostly completed work on new products. I saw something a little different. But, then again, I always see something a little different.

Many of you might know what a Chinese fire drill is. Well, that has been our mode of operation for the past few days. And, I'm glad to say, it's worked.On Friday morning, I will be photographing over 25 pieces of new furniture, great looking, interesting stuff with a point of view.

I'm very proud to have worked with some very dedicated people, and I want to thank them, specifically Mr. Ng, Mr. Wang, Vicky Mi, all the sample makers and Lily Tian. These people have labored and slugged it out to live up to their well earned reputations as excellent business partners, artisans and friends. They have gone above and beyond going above and beyond. Mr. Wang did not go home last night, making sure our samples were going to be ready on time. And Vicky and Lily were drawing patterns to assist in the manufacture of products that were only approved minutes earlier.

Thank you, everyone.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

no peeking....

I'm on my way to Shanghai this weekend to finalize a bunch of new furniture products for a new line to be unveiled later this year. This is THE exciting time for me.

Will it be groans or greatness? Will the assumptions on paper translate to a three dimensional piece of furniture?

When my butt hits the cushion, will it smile or snarl? Will it be electric or ordinary, or will it just plain suck? This is the apprehension I feel each time, and each time it seems to work itself out.

But, this time is special. This time the stakes are higher. This time will change the game. No pictures you ask?? You'll just have to wait.

Golden Agers

I eat breakfast at McD0nald's, two breakfast burritos, hash browns, and milk or coke. I don't know how this started, but this is how I start my day.

I travel all over the world and one thing is constant, McDonald's. And another thing that is constant with McDonald's is older, retired people getting together at McDonald's each morning.

Sometimes I eavesdrop a little to hear what they're saying. Sometimes it's about their kids, or grandkids, or the game, or politics, or this person or that person. But, it's always something.

These people have raised their families, sometimes their grandchildren, fought in wars, worked on assembly lines, typed memos, volunteered, ran companies, stayed married or got divorced, planted gardens, sold appliances, paid taxes, partied hard or not at all. Some are rich and some are not. In a way, they represent all of us.

So, each time I walk into a McDonald's I wonder about these people. They all sort of look the same to me now, but they arrived at this location from many different walks of life. There isn't one more important than the other. They aren't defined by their jobs or their money. They're just a group of people talking.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


About 35 years ago, I found out the real meaning of commitment. I was a junior on my high school football team. I played a little, but wasn't any kind of a star, just a body to put out there when the real players weren't available.

And then, in practice one day, I just decided to go for it. You see, when I went to make a tackle, I used to come up to the play, break down (that means getting your butt down in a prepared position), and get run over. And, everytime it hurt, a lot.

This time, I decided the way I was doing it wasn't working and I just ran as fast as I could. I was going to be a missile, well at least in my mind. So, the play came my way, two blockers and a running back. Uh Oh! Well, here it goes. Run through it, I thought. I did. They went down. It didn't hurt. I made a tackle and everyone went nuts and the lights went on.

I learned about commitment that day, on the football field, not the classroom. I was put in a position to do something now and do it right. That day changed my life. It changed the way I look at things. It made me an attacker, not a passive person broken down ready to be run over.

As we look at our economy and school budgets, there are going to be calls for cuts to extra curricular activities, things often described as not being part of the core curriculum, and not really necessary. That would be a mistake.

Kids learn in school, but they find themselves in these "unnecessary" activities. Sometimes it's music, sometimes it's sports, sometimes it's acting, sometimes in forensics, but it's always something. They find their leadership abilities. They find their courage. They find their conviction. They find themselves.

So, as our school boards attempt to balance the budget, like some quarter-to-quarter CEOs trying to create the best balance sheet, let's find something else to cut, or find the commitment to get the funding, like those kids.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I'm investing with this guy...

To many of us, this man represents what is worst in the world of investing, a shark who preyed on his own doing something called affinity scamming, taking advantage of those who are like you, those who are most likely going to trust, most likely not to investigate. He is one of you.

To me, he might be the shrewdest investor, creating returns far greater than many Wall Street lions. Bob Ruben, the guy whose name is on the currency of the United States, former Treasury Secretary of The United States, former chairman of Citibank, ran a company that could return a whopping 2% of your total principle if you invested five years ago. Why isn't he doing a "perp walk" along with Bernie Madoff? Based on today's stock quote, he'll return less than Uncle Bernie will.

AIG, the giant insurance company that is bringing the financial world to its knees, has a stock price that will return less than a penny on a dollar invested. And, instead of them all dodging cameras on the way to the courthouse, they're getting billions on top of billions of bailout.

And good old WaMu (Washington Mutual), those friendly investors who managed to take all of your money and throw it away, has a stock value of exactly zero, nada, zip, bupkus (did I spell that right?). Good job WaMu.

So, you see, if I invested my money with good old Uncle Bernie, I at least have a shot. With the others, the ones that are walking free today, I've got none. Bernie, you bring me hope.

Monday, March 2, 2009

excuses, excuses.....

I can't tell you how many homework assignments the average dog has eaten as an excuse for homework not being done, or how many grandparents have died in the line of duty as a student's excuse for not being being in school (I always used a real dead grandparent in case someone knew the real live grandparent).
Over the years, I got a lot more creative killing off friends of my parents (it made me look more sensitive), cousins, great aunts (they're always good because they're hard to confirm or deny), and second cousins, once removed (nobody really knows what that is, but it sounds good). The key is to keep track of who you killed off for whom. You never wanted to kill off the same person to the same teacher.
Speaking of dogs and homework; If my dog ate enough of my homework growing up, could he have gotten lead poisoning from all of the papers he ate? Now, that would be cool, combining two excuses into one. My dog died because he got lead poisoning from eating my homework assignment.
And then my fat, great aunt tripped over my dead dog breaking her leg, landing on my second cousin crushing him on the spot. That could be good for a week!
There isn't any lead in pencils? OK, my dog choked while eating my homework assignment.... We'll call this the Ferris Bueller defense. Research for some of these excuses is harder than homework.