The Economy

Like him, I really am worried about the economy – and not just the stuff that’s been mishandled, like subprime mortgages, and other monetary slights of hand. We have seen a fundamental shift in the way of the world. We are no longer only competing against other ‘first world’ nations.

I walked into a local business today. It was a place I hadn’t been in before, but the owner knew me from TV.

I didn’t prompt him. He just looked at me and said, “I’ve never seen the economy this bad before.” Then he began to talk about business.

Like him, I really am worried about the economy – and not just the stuff that’s been mishandled, like subprime mortgages, and other monetary slights of hand. We have seen a fundamental shift in the way of the world. We are no longer only competing against other ‘first world’ nations.

If you live in Kansas and answer phones for a living, it’s impossible to compete with someone in Bangalore who will work for 20% of your pay. The same goes for manufacturing and agriculture and nearly everything else.

JetBlue has airplane maintenance performed in Central America. Reuters has financial reporters look at US companies from India. The list is endless. There’s little you can think of that can’t be done cheaper elsewhere.

Then there are the box stores. When they replace 10, 15, 20 local business, they also displace the workers from those businesses. This ‘little guy’ I spoke with, a baker, was very worried about Wal*Mart, Costco and especially supermarkets.

What is the economic impact if his handful of employees is replaced by one or two in a big store?

In the past, labor saving devices made lives better for employees. After all, the forty hour week is a relatively recent arrival. Today, labor saving devices produce higher productivity for employers and if jobs can be cut, so be it.

My bosses, bosses, boss has a legal duty to protect the financial interest of his shareholders. If he puts me first, he’s violating the law!

Globally, we are on shaky ground trying to defend our standard of living to the Indians and Chinese who are taking our jobs. Look where we are. Look where they are.

I have been through recessions before, and we’ve always recovered. I have always been pessimistic going in, but once the economy was properly repriced, growth returned. My pessimism was misplaced.

This time, I am petrified our economic engine will have to be revalued against a world that can do what we do, only cheaper (and in many countries like China, with less kvetching from the workers). It’s a very scary scenario.

Right now, I have no answers, only questions.

Silly Bill Gates

I want to write to Bill Gates. This has nothing to do with Microsoft.

Recently, Gates was in Ottawa, Canada&#185. As Reuters reports, He was asked about his children and their use of computers.

“She could spend two or three hours a day on this Viva Pinata, because it’s kind of engaging and fun.”

Gates said he and his wife Melinda decided to set a limit of 45 minutes a day of total screen time for games and an hour a day on weekends, plus what time she needs for homework.

“Up to some age, to be determined, it’s very appropriate for a parent to get a sense of what they’re seeing out there and be able to have conversations about it,” he said.

“My son said, ‘Am I going to have limits like this my whole life?’, and I said, ‘No, when you move away you can set your own screen limits’,” Gates recounted, to audience laughter.”

Bill Gates, you’re so silly. Sure, you’re the richest man in the world, but controlling your children… C’mon Bill, no one’s got that much pull!

I am told, when Steffie was very small, I claimed I’d never say “no” to her. I’d find a way to discuss and explain. I don’t remember saying that, though I don’t deny it.

What was I smoking?

You see Bill, the problem is we teach them to speak. We teach them to reason. They hear us dispute others in our conversations. Somehow, they feel they should have a free mind and free will.

I know, it sounded awfully heavy handed to me too. Why should a 9 or 13 or 19 year old child have any input when I make a decision? And yet, over time, they wear you out. They push and push and push some more until, finally, you are powerless to stop them.

Bill, it’s going to be tougher in your situation, because you’re surrounded by an army of sycophants who only know yes. They will be outweighed by your children who will only know “no.” Unfortunately, Children can’t be fired or outsourced to Bangalore.

Here’s my biggest revelation as a parent. You can’t teach experience! Your child will have to do everything you know is wrong or foolish or against their own best interests, just the way you did. From time-to-time, you will just have to sit back and watch them screw up.

I know you’re still a little naive. I’ve heard you talk about the incredible stability and security of the Windows platform. Fixing children is much more difficult. And this time, you’ve got to do it in “version 1.0”.

&#185 – When I first visited Ottawa in the late 70s, my friend Howard drove by the US Embassy and said, “That’s where the landlord lives.”

My Camera Goes To The Hospital

I’ve written, on more than one occasion, about my camera and the obsession I have for taking pictures. I’ve taken over 6,000 since getting my Fujifilm Finepix S602Z. In fact, Sunday is the first anniversary of its purchase. Which brings us to today’s little quandry and journey.

Sometime in the last month, my camera developed a very small problem. One pixel, the smallest photo element it resolves, became stuck in the on mode. So, in every picture, there is one miniscule red spot. If I didn’t tell you about, you would never see it within a picture. Since I post process nearly every picture in Photoshop anyway, it was easy to work around. Still, once I noticed it, it was tough to dismiss.

I discovered the problem is February, and since the camera has a one year warranty, I wasn’t too worried. That is, until I couldn’t find my receipt.

I called Bangalore, India (I didn’t know that’s where I was calling at the time) to speak to Circuit City’s support folks. About 10 days later the receipt appeared in the mail, having been mailed from an office in the states.

I wanted the camera for my Chicago trip. Unfortunately, after I returned, I forgot all about the camera’s illness. Yesterday Helaine asked when I was sending it in, and I got a box to prepare it for shipping today.

When I went to finish the project I noticed the one year anniversary of the purchase is Sunday. I couldn’t get it to the repair depot before Monday! A quick phone call verified my concern… If it wasn’t in today, forget the warranty.

So, early this afternoon, I hopped in the car and drove to Enfield. Connecticut is a very small state, but I live in the far south and Enfield is all the way north – over 60 miles in each direction.

I found Precision Camera Repair without too much trouble (only one wrong turn). It is in a low slung building in an office park, across from Enrico Fermi High School. I parked at the end of the lot and walked past one glass door with an arrow pointing to another glass door. Looking inside the first, I saw men, sitting at work benches, working on cameras. Curled tubes on each bench probably supplied compressed air. This is demanding work where dust… and bad eyesight, aren’t very helpful.

Once inside the lobby, I looked into an office with four women sitting in separate cubicles. The cubicles met at a center point – sort of like the spot where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet. A young woman in the back section saw me and stood up to walk my way. She was pretty, and was made more so by the fact that she was wearing a formal dress… as if she were going to some nighttime affair.

It would later turn out that she worked a second job, as a deejay. She was at job number one, but dressed for job number two.

She took my camera, typed a few pertinent notes into a computer, and gave me receipt. She said they’d mail it back to me.

Meanwhile, for the next 15-20 business days (why can’t they just say 3-4 weeks?) I will be without my camera. I still have an older Casio QV-2000UX – but it’s just not the same.

There is a way to check the status of my repair, using their toll free number. Like a sick friend in the hospital, I will call to see how my camera is doing.