Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Practical Solar Electric Power for Your Home, II

I mentioned yesterday that I came across a company that claims to offer you solar electric power with . . .
  • No upfront costs. (Actually, they do require a $500 security deposit 1 --returned with interest when your contract expires.)
  • No maintenance costs ('cause they take care of the entire system for you).
  • Up to a twenty-five year fixed-price guarantee at your current (non-solar) price.
The name of the company: Citizenrē.

And how and why does Citizenrē think it can afford to offer such a "deal"?

Their business model relies on what are called "net metering laws."

If you live in any of the 40 states where utilities offer this, you may have heard of it. The idea is that electric companies credit their customers' bills for any "excess power" they may generate from wind, PV (photovoltaic), or other electric generation systems they may own.

So Citizenrē provides you with a PV system that produces more power than you can use during the day, when energy requirements are at their peak. The extra electricity flows into the power grid and your meter spins in reverse. At night, you pull power back from the grid. The Citizenrē Solution is designed so that, over the course of a year, the electricity you send to the grid is very nearly equal to what you pull back from the grid--thus your cost to the utility drops close to zero, and you pay Citizenrē the "same price" for the energy you acquire from Citizenrē's system as you would have paid the utility.

A few key points:
  • Notice that you are still connected to the grid. Citizenrē is expecting you to utilize grid power at night.
That has a further implication:
  • While your ultimate cost for power from your local utility should drop close to zero, you will still have to pay whatever the utility's at-that-time current connect fee is.
  • Customers are charged by how much energy their system produces, not by how much they use.
         If you decide to accept bills for actual power produced, this could mean you wind up paying for "excess" power during some months. Example: say you go away on vacation in the middle of the summer. Your PV system will produce plenty of electricity, but you won't be using much of it.
         You still have to pay for the power your system produces--just like you pay your cable bill and mortgage when you're absent. However, you can use this "excess" energy that was flowed to the grid later. Your energy production and energy use should balance out by the end of the year. Your system will be designed to meet no more than 100% of your historical annual usage.
         To make the situation even easier, Citizenrē offers an "Even-Pay" plan so you can get an even payment all year long. The final month, they figure, may vary somewhat, but not by much.
  • What happens if you sign up for a certain usage plan, but then your energy needs shift dramatically: say, you have more kids, or your kids get older and run more electrical gadgets, or your kids go off to college and your energy needs drop significantly?
         Citizenrē monitors the energy usage daily. If a significant drop is registered, the local franchisee will remove one or more of the panels and adjust the contract. Same thing in the other direction.
  • And one more scenario to give you a full sense of what they are talking about:

    What happens to the contract if a customer sells their house?

    There are three options:

    (1) The Customer has the right to transfer the system to the new home — as long as it is within our service territory — at no cost to the Customer (one time only). Any additional moves during the contract period, the Customer will be billed a recovery and relocation fee.

    (2) The Customer has the option to transfer the contract to the new homeowner, so long as the new homeowner is willing to accept the terms and conditions of the agreement. The contract will often have a value because it is locked in at the rate of when the contract began. For example, if the seller started the contract 10 years ago when energy costs were 20% lower, the buyer could enjoy those savings if they take over the contract. This could potentially add to the value of the house, similar to someone transferring a low rate mortgage during the sale.

    (3) If neither of the first two options is available, then the Customer will forfeit their Security Deposit — which is the recovery cost to us. In addition to the recovery fees, we may charge additional fees if the Customer is uncooperative with us and does not allow us to recover the system in a timely manner. These additional fees may include collection fees, overdue service fees, early cancellation fees, late fees, and other fees that are described in the General Terms and Conditions of the Forward Rental Agreement. (Just like if you cancelled your cable and would not give them back the box and refused to pay your bill).

    Our service is: producing clean power with

         1. No upfront cost.

         2. Same rate--with a 25-year fixed price guarantee.

         3. No worries.

Citizenrē is in the midst of building what they claim will be "the largest manufacturing plant for clean energy in the world." The plant is due to come on-line late in 2007 or early 2008. This facility--that, they claim, will cut production costs in half--is a key component of their strategy.

The fact that the facility isn't ready yet means that, at this time, the company is selling a concept more than a real product. But I emphasize the words "at this time." They claim to have well over half a billion dollars in funding and are set to launch.

In the meantime, they are trying to get potential customers to sign up to register interest in the concept by means of what they are calling a "Forward Rental Agreement" ("FRA").

What does that mean?

If you sign an FRA, the will call you to schedule an initial site review by one of its engineers. At this site review, the engineer will talk with you about the engineering, procurement and construction process. He or she will also talk about the operating and maintenance of the system once it is installed. And then the engineer will answer any questions you may have about the system, or the Company, or solar power and electricity in general. But the most important subject will be your power consumption habits.

The engineer will determine what your historical energy consumption has been, how you use electricity, and actually suggest ways you might be able to decrease your power consumption.

At the same time, the engineer will review your site. The most important actions in the site review are site measurements, establishment of orientation, and identification of roofing materials and shading factors. From this and the historical energy consumption, the engineer can design the system right there, on the spot.

S/he will present you with an AutoCAD design for your approval. You will have the ability to discuss alternatives with the engineer if the design is not to your liking. The engineer will work with you to find a solution. HOWEVER, you need to know that they will not install a system of less than 2kW peak capacity.

The site review process should take no more than two (2) hours. At the end, you will have to either approve of or decline the plan. Upon approval, you will be required to make the security deposit. At that point, Citizenrē will begin to procure the necessary components, permits, and approvals for construction of the system.

Sounds so neat. But . . .

What if????

What if . . . anything?

What if . . . I decide at the last moment that I just don't like the system? Say I sign the FRA and then, next March or July or whenever, I see the design and I just hate it? Then what?

According to Citizenrē, you can back out at any time for any reason prior to installation. Even if you decide to move forward, it is still possible that:

(a) The utility company might refuse to approve an interconnection agreement.

(b) The local buildings and codes department might refuse to issue a permit.

(c) The mortgage lender might refuse to sign a letter of acknowledgment.

Citizenrē claims (b) is unlikely to occur, but (a) and (c) may occur. Personally: I think I might wind up with (b) problems: our local community association is picky-picky.

But, whatever. I'll go with Citizenrē's promise that I can back out at any time.

Moreover, as they state time and time again: your maximum exposure at any time--unless you deliberately sabotage the equipment--is the $500 security deposit.
Normally if you install a solar system and something better is developed, you are out of luck. You just invested $40,000.

With Citizenrē, if there is a new technology, or if [the] customer moves to Guatemala, or they want to cancel the contract for ANY reason that you can imagine . . . their total risk is the Security Deposit (provided that they cooperate with us when we remove the system, the system is not damaged, and they pay their bill).
Citizenrē anticipates that its manufacturing plant will begin producing panels at the commercial scale by the end of 2007 or early 2008.
Upon meeting such a milestone, the Company will begin installing systems on residential customer homes. It is with good probability that those Customers choosing to sign an FRA early on will in fact be some of the first Customers to receive a system on their home. Furthermore, the early signing of an FRA allows the Customer to lock their contracts with the best electrical rates for up to 25 years. We plan to have a tool where a customer will get an estimated installation date based on their order of sign-up.
So. According to the company, the benefits of signing an FRA include:You lock in the current energy rate. "Even if the rates are higher when their system is actually installed, the customer will enjoy the lower rate of when they signed up. If, by some miracle, the rates actually go down before their installation, the customer can choose the lower rate."

They get their installation sooner. "If a customer waits till the plant is completed, there will be tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of customers who will get their system before them. Also, there is no disadvantage. If the customer decides before the installation that they do not want the system, then they simply cancel. No penalty."

With all those reassurances, I've signed up for service.

If you're interested, you can go to Citizenrē's website.

They have all kinds of information there. Dig as deeply as you want.

I should note: Citizenrē offers an affiliate program that they call the "Powûr Network of Ecopreneurs." As they explain, they can imagine, five years down the road, they could have 500,000 homes using their solar solution. And then the power companies might send their lobbyists to Congress: "Hey, we can't compete with the sun. This isn't fair. They are taking too many customers from us. This save the planet stuff was great . . . but we didn't think anyone was going to really do it!"

Citizenrē then hopes the Powûr Network will be motivated to "lobby to keep Congress and Big Business honest. Imagine the power of 10,000 highly trained, business savvy environmentalists who know how to network!"

I hardly need another job, but. I did sign up to be an affiliate. All of my linked references to Citizenrē, above, use my affiliate ID. If you want to sign up on your own, I am happy. Feel free to do so. The un-"affiliated" [!!!] link is here.

1 "$500.00 for all REnU systems with capacities of 5 KWp DC or less. For systems larger than 5 KWp DC it is $500 plus 10 cents per Wp DC for every Wp DC greater than 5 KWp DC." Return to text.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Practical Solar Electric Power for Your Home?

I wrote, in my Who Killed the Electric Car? post that I have always been interested in environmentalism . . . to a point. Specifically, I'm not interested if it "doesn't make sense" economically.

Last Friday I saw an ad for solar electric power:
"If you can afford to pay your current electric bill, you can afford solar power."
Intrigued, I followed the link the guy provided and watched a short video.

"Why hasn’t solar power been a viable option in the past?" the speaker asked.

  1. Because of the enormous up-front investment required: $40,000 worth of equipment, on average.
  2. You have to put this complex system together and maintain it yourself.
  3. When all is said and done, you wind up paying more--significantly more--than you would if you "just" used the power generated by a standard power facility.
"You've got that right!" I said to myself.

I've looked into going "off grid." I've looked at solar heating. I've looked at hybrid cars. But none of these options has looked good. For these kinds of reasons. But most especially because of the costs.

I'm willing to spend a little to "do the right thing," as it were, for the environment. But not so much that I'm put at a major disadvantage compared to "everyone else."

Imagine, the speaker suggested, if the mobile phone industry required you to pay $10,000 in equipment costs up-front, and it was your responsibility to maintain the network: would you own a cell phone?

What transformed the cell phone industry? The "free phone with a two-year service commitment" offers.

So this company is proposing to provide the solar energy equipment equivalent of the free phone . . . as long as you're willing to pay them for the energy you consume at the same rate you paid your electric utility last year.

For how long?

More or less: "For as long as you want . . . up to 25 years." [Actual options: 1 year, 5 years, or 25 years. But if you sign up for a one- or five-year plan, they get to recalculate your rates to match your local utility's current prices at those times. . . . Hey! What am I thinking? When was the last time I heard of electric energy prices actually going down on any long-term basis? (But even if that happened, the company has an awfully nice answer. . . .)]

My head was snapped around!
  • No upfront costs?
  • No maintenance costs ('cause they take care of it for you)? And,
  • Up to a twenty-five year fixed-price guarantee at your current (non-solar) price?

But they've got me believing enough that I've signed up to be "one of the first" potential customers when they come online in 2008.

(More later.)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pricing as Marketing Strategy, Part II

I want to finish writing notes about Lisa Wagner's article from the Marketing Money Map from which I just quoted.

I want "simply" to note the most salient and thought-provoking points I thought Lisa made.
  • The biggest barrier to success that most entrepreneurs share when [they] first get into business is the fear of raising prices. . . .
  • [The point she was attempting to illustrate with the story of her grandmother, the day-old bread and the placemats] The PRICE a person is willing to pay depends on how much they VALUE what they are buying.
  • Price-shoppers always value the DEAL over the item they are actually buying. They will glow about the "price" they got, and not the "thing" they acquired. With this focus, quality and service are afterthoughts, and there is no loyalty. The lowest price will always get the price-shopper.
  • Quality-shoppers value the QUALITY of the selling experience and the item, and price is not part of the conversation. . . . Not that they want to waste their money; they just place a higher value on the delivery of quality in the goods and the services.
  • Some people like the "status" of purchasing certain services and products from certain providers. There's something nice about going into an exclusive restaurant and being treated as royalty, or getting those floor seats at the Laker's game. And in special occasions, you will splurge to have those experices because price isn't what's important, the experience is. [On a small scale, Starbucks is a great "price of spending" example. . . . If the outlets were packaged differently and at lower prices, it would not have the level of success that it has. The price point is part of the attraction.]
  • Remember the coffee commercial where an instant coffee was "secretly" replaced for their usual coffee in a 5-star restaurant and they interviewed the customers who said it tasted great? --They used the commercial to say that their coffee was good enough to be served in an exclusive restaurant. What they failed to say was that these customers EXPECTED to taste great coffee.
    When you go to a 5-star restaurant, you expect great food, and great service, and, of course, great coffee. Clients come in with a complete set of expectations for having a great experience, which, unless something out of the ordinary happens, they will have.
    The same coffee served at McDonald's would have had a different set of expectations, and people would have been more particular about deciding whether they really liked it or not. They might have said it was okay or good, but not 5-star "great."
  • If the price you are charging for what you do is too low compared to your market, then you will attract price-shoppers who do not value what you do and are just trying to get an end result in as cheap a way as they can.
  • [Your business] becomes a commodity only when you decide that you are going to price yourself so that you only work for price-shoppers.
  • Companies [that] advertise based [solely] on price [are] not a source of high-paying jobs and benefits for employees.
  • If everyone bought on price, specialty stores would simply not exist.
  • Customers want to feel appreciated and taken care of, and there is enormous value attached to that--one that needs to be reflected in your price as much as the technical quality of your work.
  • If you are the BEST in your business, in craftsmanship and service, then not charging a price that reflects that [quality] is a crime.

Pricing as Marketing Strategy, Part I

Not exactly "History, Religion, Epistemology" or any of those other subjects I said this blog would be about. But maybe I need to shift my title.

Marketing is a form of communication. So maybe I can get away with these "side lights."


Our extended family has been meeting every Sunday afternoon for more than a year at a local Thai-Chinese restaurant. Their food is amazing. And amazingly inexpensive.

Then, a few weeks ago: Disaster!

Friday evening, a group of us went to the restaurant and the service was terrible. No one took our order for a good 20 minutes. Normally, they are so solicitous. That evening, they didn't even give us water for 20 minutes!

Eventually the food came . . . dribbling out over a longer-than normal period. And one member of our party never got served.

Twenty minutes later, after everyone else had finished eating, her meal came.

"Excuse me?!?"

We asked for take-out packaging and the person who sat through everyone else's meal headed out for her next engagement.

Well, we went back Sunday afternoon, hoping for a much better experience. But it was not to be. Terribly slow service once more, and one of our party got skipped again for 15 or 20 minutes.

I spoke to the proprietor.

"We have had a hard time getting quality help," he said.

"I think we will stop coming for a while until you can get your organization back in order," I said.

And so we skipped a week.

Meanwhile, I got thinking: They need to raise their prices! They've got great food. But they are going to go out of business in a flash if they can't get it served right. It's simply not acceptable, socially, to enjoy your meal while another member of your party sits hungry. And if you don't eat it when it is served, you can't enjoy the food as it is meant to be enjoyed.

So last week I spoke with the owners: "You need to raise your prices!"

"We've been thinking about that. Maybe 25 cents an item."

"No!" I said. "You can . . . and should . . . raise most of them far more than that!

I am deeply concerned that if they don't raise their prices . . . significantly, and soon . . . they're going to go out of business.

I need to get them a copy of Larry Steinmetz's How to Sell at Margins Higher than Your Competitors.

Trading Up . . . Trading Down

I don't know who first alerted me to Trading Up by Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske, but I've had the book on my shelf for a couple of years, and I've been pretty aware of its message:
  • "New luxury" retailers (companies like Victoria's Secret, Panera Bread, Callaway Golf, Trader Joe's, etc.) do exceedingly well in today's marketplace. Why? Among other reasons, because . . .
  • Luxury purchases are not [or, perhaps, no longer] the province, solely, of the very wealthy. The reason? Because . . .
  • Almost everyone in today's society "trades up" in one or more purchasing spheres while "trading down" in others.
It is that last phenomenon that has attracted my eye. As Silverstein and Fiske summarize their findings (pp. xiv to xv):
Now that most [American] consumers can afford to buy the goods that fulfill their basic survival needs and still have cash available, they will [trade up and] buy products and services that are emotionally meaningful to them. . . .

Trading down is when consumers choose the low-cost alternative in product categories of little importance to them, and it is an essential part of the larger phenomenon [of trading up]. Without the availability of low-cost alternatives and commodity goods in a very wide range of categories, many consumers would be unable to afford the New Luxury goods they want to buy in the small number of categories that are most meaningful to them.

In category after category, the entry of a New Luxury brand, combined with trading up and trading down behavior, has caused its category to polarize. Both the growth and profits in the category move to the high and low ends of the price spectrum, while companies offering conventional goods get "stuck in the middle" and struggle to succeed and even survive. . . .
Well . . . I was reading a marketing newsletter late last year and came across a wonderful example of what Silverstein and Fiske are talking about.

This is from Joe Polish's Marketing Money Map newsletter. Polish's partner, Lisa Wagner wrote,
One day I took my grandmother to the grocery store, and she insisted on buying herself day-old bread in order to save a few dollars. I told her she didn't need to do that, and she told me that she wanted to be smart about her money, and that the bread wasn’t that much better fresh anyway. So we dropped the topic.

Then something interesting happened. . . . We checked her mail and her Neiman Marcus catalog arrived. She immediately saw a set of placemats, a set in a shade of red that would go great with her décor. I asked the price and she said, "$200. . . . Hmmmm. . . . These are good quality and that is a good price."

And on the same day that she bought day-old bread, she turned around and bought a set of pricey placemats!

Getting bread for herself is not important to her, so the price she was willing to pay was low . . . but entertaining others is very important to her, so the price threshold of what is a "good price" was much higher.

When I was a "starving" student in college, and Top Ramen was one of my food groups, I always managed to save up enough money to see my stylist on a regular basis. I didn't think twice about scrimping on the quality of the food I was eating, but my hair . . . --Are you kidding me? Risk a bad haircut or color at a discount shop? No way!
In our family I have seen the same behavior.

Back when we were so poor that we bought virtually everything as cheaply as possible, there were a few depths to which we would not stoop.

One: We would occasionally buy ice cream. And while it seemed we enjoyed almost every other form of "unbranded" food, ice cream was not one of them! If we were going to buy ice cream, we would wait for Breyer's or one of the other premium brands to go on sale.

Similarly with fruits and vegetables. Sarita likes fresh. Canned and frozen are . . . for other people.

So even in the middle of the winter, we would buy those fruits and vegetables we could afford fresh. Nothing less would do!

So how is it with you? Where and how do you trade up . . . and down?

Who is/Who was my Dad?

I woke up this morning still thinking about . . . still feeling . . . nostalgic.

Who is/Who was my Dad?

Last night, just before we went to bed, I had Sarita read my "Please Come to Boston" post and the ones that follow.

"Did you ever pine for your mom that way?" she asked when she had finished reading. "Did you ever wish for a deeper relationship with her?"

I thought about it. Answer? Honestly? No. I don't think I ever did.

Was it because my mom and I were already close?

No. I don't think so. 'Cause I don't think we were particularly close. In fact, we weren't. We weren't far apart. But I wouldn't say we were close. We "just" kind of . . . coexisted, I think.

But not so with Dad.

So who was Dad to me? Why is it important to me that we somehow be "close"? . . . What might that even look like?

I don't know that I could answer all those questions!

[Maybe this is part of my attempt to pre-figure out what I might say, in eulogy, about my dad. As I said in A little more nostalgia, for some reason I have been feeling the strong need to think this through lately. . . . Is it because I am having a premonition of his death? . . . Because I have a premonition of my own death? . . . Because I want, if at all possible, while there is still the opportunity, to "get things right"? --Who knows? I don't really care "the reason." . . . I "just" feel the need. . . . And so I will seek to fulfill it.]

Sarita's question, as I said, got me thinking.

First, I think I ought to note that, despite whatever else I say, Dad has always engendered strong feelings within me.
  • When I was in kindergarten--and then for at least a year or two--I remember I would tell my friends: "I hate my father!" It was during a time when there was great upheaval in our family. We had just moved to Syracuse. I have no idea why, specifically I would say such a thing! But I know I felt that way and would say it out loud!
  • Sometime a bit later--I don't remember when (it could have been as early as third grade, but, then, in confused fits and starts for years afterward) I realized that the upheaval in our family was not "just" Dad's fault. . . . Oh. He could drive all the rest of us absolutely crazy. But it "took two to tango." And Mom definitely enjoyed playing "the martyr" against whatever "evil tyranny" he may have exerted over her. . . . --I think my point is: I came to realize he had plenty to answer for. But so did she. And it wasn't fair for us (Mom and the six kids) to blame him for everything that went wrong. . . . Still. He did drive us crazy. . . .
And then,
  • I remember (and this contributes to my sense that I began to come to this realization [that "it takes two to tango"] as early as about third grade) . . . I remember walking home with Dad from church "early." This was in Syracuse. And our house was a good three miles from the church. Dad was in his strong skeptical period. . . . He would come to church with us, play his cello during one portion of the service, then "take off" and return home. . . . And I would accompany him. [The reference in Manilow's "Two Ships" to his dad--"did he say,/'Hold my hand'?"--resonates deeply with me. Dad would say . . . he did say . . . by his actions, if not in words . . . --Dad would say, "Hold my hand." And we would hold hands. . . . We held hands at that time, back when I was in third grade, while we walked down Glenwood Avenue and then cut across the Bellevue Country Club golf course on our way home. . . . We held hands later, too, when I was 10 or 11, and we--he and I, just the two of us--used to go for walks on the Stanford campus. --But I'm getting ahead of my story.]
  • I remember later, after we returned to upstate New York; I had to have been at least 13, since we moved back between my 8th and 9th grade years: my parents dropped me off at Camp Pattersonville for a summer "junior counselor"/dishwasher job. As they got ready to leave, Mom waved goodbye. Dad kissed me. In public! . . . I was discomfitted, to put it mildly. Yet . . . (I thought at the time, and have thought many times since) Why shouldn't a dad kiss his son? . . . But why did Dad kiss me and Mom didn't? Was it that she was more sensitive to the "needs" of a teenage boy to show his mature independence while Dad was "insensitive"?

More later, I think.


PS. I should provide a link to an aerial photo of Camp Pattersonville. The light blue rectangle in the lower left of the photo is the pool where I learned to swim between first and second grade. (I wasn't quite 7 years old, but they let me into camp "young.") The light green open patch in the center is the playing field where we used to play Capture the Flag.

What amazes me, as I look at this map/photo, is how close to the New York State Thruway the camp is! . . . Yet it seemed as if we were on the "other side of the world."

If you zoom out and/or move south and east on the map, you will find the creek we would "hike" down once a week during camp. (It was a big deal to make that hike!) . . . Follow the creek north and east and you come to the Mohawk River.

As you follow the creek, you can see a number of old culverts and dips. For some reason, when I attended camp as a child, I was told those culverts had to do with the Erie Canal. Now as I look at them as an adult, I realize not only were they "traveling the wrong direction," but it makes no sense that someone would go to the trouble to build a canal when a perfectly fine river was running only a few hundred yards away!

Oh, well. The wild dreams of youth! . . .

Friday, March 23, 2007


I received another email yesterday. Two, actually. And a third today. All about a guy just about my age. Another friend who is "more acquaintance than deep friend"; but I have felt privileged to know him and to have had him even call me up on occasion to suggest we might spend some time together.

Here. If I quote from the emails, you might catch a bit of the impact of what I read.

Email #1:
Steve Hawthorne had a heart attack last night. Praise God that he came out of surgery and there was no damage to his heart. Continue to pray for his recovery.
--Steve is one of the prime editors of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course, founder and president of WayMakers, and one of the most dynamic speakers I have ever listened to.

Email #2:
Steve Hawthorne had a heart attack while working out at the gym with his daughter Sarah last night (Wed 3/21). He told Sarah that he did not feel well and that his arm hurt, she told the desk to call 911 because her father was having a heart attack. Steve passed out and fell on his chin, but Sarah was right there to help him. The EMTs rushed him to the nearest hospital and within a few hours they had cleared the blockage and inserted a stint.

The good news is that his heart movement and blood work showed very little sign of damage to his heart. He is in ICU. He had called and left a message for me only a few hours after coming out of surgery and may be released to go home as early as tomorrow.

Steve is as passionate as anyone I know about glorifying Christ "in this body." So when he was going under because of the anesthesia, it was not surprising that the last message to his family was - "Philippians 1:21"

Philippians 1:20-26, NIV.

Steve is one of my best friends and a great mentor in my life. So I along with his family and multitudes of other people can rejoice that Steve remains in his body and that his fruitful labor will continue. (After a time of recovery of course.) Today there could be great sorrow, instead because the quick action taken by Sarah and the expertise of others, we can rejoice in Christ Jesus that Steve will continue with us "for our progress and joy in the faith" for some time to come.

Bruce Koch
And then Email #3:
I found out from Barb (Steve's wife) this morning that the type of heart attack Steve had (the largest artery on the heart and 100% blockage) is colloquially referred to as a "widowmaker" by doctors because there is only a 2% survival rate. Most are gone before arriving at the hospital. Barb said it was a miracle. It was a very close call. While none of the muscles are dead, they will not know how much they were weakened by the loss of oxygen for weeks to come.

Everyone in Steve's family slept last night, but they sound exhausted by the trauma. I talked to Sarah as well (It was her quick action that saved his life). Barb said Steve had been complaining about not being able to think clearly the last few weeks. So this would explain that. She also said his color already looks better than it has in a while.

Steve does have a small fever and is on antibiotics, so they are watching that closely today. He is still in ICU and they have not gotten him up to walk yet. They may move him to a regular room today and possibly release him as early as tomorrow.

Bruce Koch
World magazine prefaces its obituaries with the phrase, "Man knows not his time."

I am reminded once more: "I know not my time." . . . But I feel my mortality. May I live my life purposefully . . . as if each moment might be my last!

A little more nostalgia

Okay. So thinking about "Please Come to Boston," I figure I might as well get it all out of my system: all the Boston songs that seem to grab me by the heart and cause me to want to cry.

So how about Barry Manilow and "Time in New England":
Last night I waved goodbye.
Now its seems years.
I'm back in the city
Where nothing is clear.
But thoughts of me holding you
Bringing us near
And tell me . . .

When will our eyes meet?
When can I touch you?
When will this strong yearning end
And when will I hold you again?

Time in New England
Took me away
To long rocky beaches
And you by the bay.
We started a story
Whose end must now wait.
But tell me . . .
Somehow, that song has always caused me to think of my dad since soon after my mom died in 1985. I wonder if he has ever heard that song? If he did, I'm afraid it would break his heart.

But this Manilow song [what follows] breaks my heart. It's just too close to the truth, I'm afraid!
We walked to the sea
Just my father and me
And the dogs played around on the sand.
Winter cold cut the air
Hangin' still everywhere.
Dressed in gray, did he say,
"Hold my hand"?

I said, "Love's easier when it's far away."
We sat and watched a distant light.
We're two ships that pass in the night.
We both smile and we say it's all right.
We're still here;
It's just that we're out of sight--
Like those ships that pass in the night.

There's a boat on the line
Where the sea meets the sky.
There's another that rides far behind.
And it seems you and I are like strangers:
A wide ways apart as we drift on through time.

He said, "It's harder now, we're far away.
We only read you when you write."

We're two ships that pass in the night.
And we smile when we say it's all right.
We're still here;
It's just that we're out of sight--
Like those ships that pass in the night. . . .
Dad keeps saying it's all right.

It's not all right by me. I don't say it's all right. And I don't smile. Unless social conventions require me to. (Like at his upcoming wedding.)

Mostly I grieve the lost opportunities. And the possibility that there will be no future opportunities . . . because, I'm afraid, mostly, he's been unwilling.

More and more, I think: I wonder what I'll say at his funeral (whenever that will be)? [--I don't look forward to that day at all. But I sure wish I didn't feel as if I was "passing my dad in the night" right now . . . while he's still alive!]

--A reminder once more of Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle":
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."
When will "then" come? . . . or will it?

Just heard Dave Loggins' "Please Come to Boston" . . .

. . . and I'm feeling blue. . . . Or something.

Every time I hear that song (you can catch a snippet here; click on "Play Sample"), it seems to tear my heart out.

I get this sense of nostalgia. An overwhelming sense of . . . sadness. Loss. . . . But it's not my loss. I know it's not mine. I think it's my sense of loss for my parents. . . . I think a lot of it may have to do with my parents and their relationship.
Please come to Boston
For the springtime.
I'm stayin' here with some friends
And they've got lots of room.
You can sell your paintings on the sidewalk
By a cafe where I hope to be workin' soon.
Please come to Boston.
She said, "No. Would you come home to me?"

And she said, "Hey, ramblin' boy,
Now won't you settle down.
Boston ain't your kind of town.
There ain't no gold
And there ain't nobody like me.
I'm the number one fan
Of the man from Tennessee.
My dad wasn't quite the "ramblin' boy" the way Loggins' song speaks of. But he met my Mom in "Boston." At least close enough. She was from Quincy--an almost-suburb of Boston. And I think we always spoke of Mom as being more-or-less from Boston. When we'd go back to visit her mom or her brother, I don't think we referred to Quincy. I think we spoke of Boston.

I think, too, there was always some kind of wistfulness in my parents' relationship. Maybe I'm projecting that onto them. There has certainly always been a wistfulness in my mind toward my parents' relationship! . . . I had always wished they had been more "whole" in the way they treated each other.

I think, too, there was more of a longing on the part of my Mom toward my Dad than the other way around. As I said, Dad wasn't quite a drifter/rambler the way Loggins' character was. (Though we sure moved around a lot as I was growing up!) But/and, though he says he never actually consummated a relationship with another woman while they were married, I think Dad had a bit of a wandering heart . . . always wishing for "something more."

But I'm not sure he sought it in his relationship with Mom. Or, maybe, that is/was part of his character.

I never realized it until the last few years. Dad has always been a hopeless romantic: a pie-in-the-sky dreamer, I think. (I had always figured he was the ultimate rationalist. Partially because he was an electrical engineer. Partially because he seemed so emotionally dense around the rest of us: always, it seemed, causing so much pain, but never, it seemed, being able to recognize how he could have caused any of it.)

But now I'm wondering if his real "problem" had more to do with what I'm beginning to see as no strong drive, on his own, to get wherever he wanted to go. (One minor piece of evidence: He wrote a paragraph recently about his relationship with Mom and it was totally in the passive voice; whatever happened had to be her doing; he took no responsibility. . . . But the pie-in-the-sky dreamer thing, too: I don't think he had outlandish dreams (though I don't recall him ever really talking about them); but his dreams, I expect, were "just out of reach." And so, I think, he lived a kind of tragic life. --I think of his mother's phrase. "Poor Ernest!" I'm told she always said about him. My uncles, meanwhile--younger and making far less money than he did, lived well. . . . But Dad was "poor." Our family was "poor." At least, that's the way we kids were always taught when we were growing up: "We can't afford that" (whatever it was).)

Anyway. Back to Dave Loggins and "Please Come to Boston."

I think there is and always has been something very romantic in Dad's mind about Boston--Boston in the springtime, especially. Maybe, again, I have projected that thought onto him because of my recollections of Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings. --Dad always made sure we knew the pond in that book was real. The swan boats were real. Everything in McCloskey's book was real. Mom and Dad once took a ride on a swan boat. How romantic! . . .

But there was, I'm sure more to it than hopeless romanticism. Dad and Mom courted near Boston. Dad was a student at MIT at the time--in Cambridge, just across the Charles River from Boston proper. Mom would "come up" on the weekends from Framingham Teacher's College. . . .

Well, the feelings keep coming related to this song. . . .
Please come to Denver
With the snowfall.
We'll move up into the mountains
So far that we can't be found
And throw I-love-you echoes
Down the canyons--
And then lie awake at night
'Til they come back around.
Please come to Denver.
She said, "No. Boy, would you come home to me?"

And she said, "Hey, ramblin' boy,
Why don't you settle down?
Denver ain't your kind of town.
There ain't no gold
And there ain't nobody like me.
'Cause I'm the number one fan
Of the man from Tennessee.
Uh. Yeah. John Denver. "Rocky Mountain High in Colorado. . . . I've seen it raining fire in the sky. . . ."

And we live there. . . . Uh. Here.

It's not quite as "rocky cathedraled" as John Denver wanted to make it out to be. But there is something we love about the Rocky Mountains. . . . Could the love of a woman--"the number one fan of the man from [wherever]"--make up for someone struck with wanderlust?
Now this drifter's world
Goes round and round
And I doubt if it's ever gonna stop.
But of all the dreams
I've lost or found
And all that I ain't got:
I still need to lean to
Somebody I can sing to.

Please come to L.A.
To live forever.
A California life alone
Is just too hard to build.
I live in a house that
Looks out over the ocean
And there's some stars
That fell from the sky
Livin' up on the hill.
Please come to L.A.
She just said no.
"Boy, won't you come home to me?"
Been there, too. Lived in the LA area for almost 10 years.

There are no stars--certainly none that fell from the sky!--living up on the hill.

Somehow, I just find this whole way of life--living with a never-satisfied yearning for something that is never to be . . . --it drives me nuts!

I think back to the beginning of the song:
You can sell your paintings on the sidewalk
By a cafe where I hope to be workin' soon.
--Yeah. Right! He hopes to be workin' there, soon! --Another empty "dream" . . . with no commitment to follow through and make it happen.

And so what does his number-one fan really see in him? Did she--does she--finally give up on him? Or does she eventually join him in his gypsy ways?


Our family moved . . . a lot . . . while I was growing up: Berkeley, San Jose, Syracuse, Palo Alto/Stanford, Schenectady. . . . And as I think about it, I think my Dad always had nostalgia for "someplace else": always regrets. "Oh, if only!" "If only I had not sold our house in San Jose!" "If only . . . !"

I don't want to live with regrets. I want to live purposefully and decide, if there was a better choice I could have taken ("if only I had known"): "Too bad!" --Too bad for the person who wants to bemoan the fact; not too bad for me! I didn't know. And I couldn't have made a better choice considering what information I had in hand at the time. . . . So no use "crying over spilt milk." It's time to figure out how to move ahead into the future. . . .

A visual palindrome?

I love palindromes--words or phrases that can be read forwards or backwards:
  • Mom

  • Dad

  • Pup

  • Madam

  • Ma'am

  • . . . And so forth.

If you are willing to excuse the intervening punctuation, you can find some pretty amazing palindromes:

  • Madam, I'm Adam. [What Adam said to Eve upon first meeting.]

  • A man, a plan, a canal: Panama. [To the Honor of Ferdinand De Lesseps, the great canal builder of the 19th century (he is the one who led the Suez Canal building, and the man who conceived the Panama Canal but had to give it up due to overwhelming obstacles).]

But when I saw this in the latest issue of MultiChannel Merchant, I was duly impressed:

[Click on the image itself to see it full size.]

I'm so bummed they don't seem to have reproduced the image in their online version of the article to which it was attached!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Quaker Oats . . . and the Moody Bible Institute?

My brother put me onto this book. The Cereal Tycoon by Joe Musser, published by Moody Press, tells the story of the primary founder of the Quaker Oats Company . . . who was also a key contributor to the Moody Bible Institute in the 1920s to early '40s.

Crowell's legacy is still alive today in the form of The Henry Parsons Crowell and Susan Coleman Crowell Trust. Sadly, Musser takes too many of the first 20 pages to describe Crowell's childhood. He then neglects many of the smaller details one could wish were left in the story about the founding of Quaker Oats, the revolutionary food processing and merchandising methods he pursued, the corporate battles he was involved in, how, specifically Crowell's religious convictions impacted his business decisions, and so forth. But Musser tells enough of Crowell's story and combines enough social history to whet one's appetite to know more about this titan of American business during that period of American history when some of the large corporations were put together and fortunes were made.

If you had no idea that the founder of Quaker Oats was a firebrand evangelical Christian, this book is a real eye-opener. And if you would like to learn about a potential "hero of the faith" in the business realm, Crowell may just be your man.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

"The revenge of the failures"

The Superintendent of Public Edition for Mississippi recently urged greater regulation of homeschoolers. Bruce Shortt, the guy who instigated a proposal that all Southern Baptists should remove their kids from public schools, wrote an acerbic reply. I've copied, below, probably the most useful tidbits:

[T]he same education bureaucrats who consume an annual cash flow of roughly $600 billion to achieve previously unknown levels of semi-literacy and illiteracy among otherwise normal American children feel compelled from time to time to abandon their diligent pursuit of intellectual mediocrity to offer proposals for regulating homeschool parents.

The latest outbreak of education bureaucrat compassion comes from Mississippi.


[I]f Bounds really wants to characterize a failure to educate as "child abuse," then what is to be said of him and his bureaucrats who are responsible for a school system in which a catastrophic failure to educate is the norm? According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, often known as "The Nation's Report Card," Bounds' bureaucrats have failed Mississippi's children and taxpayers as follows:

1. Reading: 82 percent of Mississippi's fourth-graders cannot read at grade level, with 52 percent not being able to read at even a basic level. By eighth grade, 82 percent of Mississippi's children still cannot read at grade level, with 40 percent being unable to read at even a basic level.

2. Mathematics: 81 percent of fourth-graders are below grade level in math, with 31 percent lacking even a basic grasp of mathematics. By eighth grade, math illiteracy is burgeoning in Mississippi: 86 percent of students are below grade level in math, with 48 percent lacking even a basic understanding of mathematics.

3. Science: 88 percent of fourth-graders are below grade level, with 55 percent lacking even a basic knowledge of science. By eighth grade, 86 percent of Mississippi's children are below grade level, with an amazing 60 percent lacking a basic grasp of the subject.

Lest anyone be under the impression that the NAEP has unusually high academic standards, testimony before the Board of Governors for the NAEP indicates, for example, that the "advanced" mathematics questions for the eighth-grade NAEP are at best comparable to fifth grade questions in Singapore's math curriculum. [That's one of the math programs our company, Sonlight Curriculum, carries! --JAH]


And just where does the performance of Superintendent Bounds' Mississippi education bureaucracy put Mississippi's children nationally? Dead last in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math (tied with Alabama), and third from last in fourth-grade math and eighth-grade reading. Note that Bounds' schools manage to produce these prodigious levels of academic failure by spending roughly $7,000 per student per year, an amount that would pay tuition at many, many excellent private schools. One shudders to think what Bounds' "educators" might accomplish with even more money.


As it turns out, in a basic battery of tests that included writing and mathematics, homeschooled children whose mothers hadn't finished high school scored in the 83rd percentile while students whose fathers hadn't finished high school scored in the 79th percentile. Bear in mind, too, that children in Mississippi public schools do not on average come close to doing this well on any legitimate, nationally normed test.


By attacking homeschool parents, Bounds is playing a familiar game. The goal is to distract the public's attention from the abject failure of the public schools for which he is responsible. After all, no government school system so thoroughly fails to educate as Bounds' schools. . . . Bounds wants the public to believe that the same bureaucrats who daily busy themselves producing massive illiteracy in Mississippi's public schools should have more power over homeschool parents, even though homeschooling parents are already doing a magnificent job with their children.

For the complete article, see http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=53622

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Please post where and when you receive your 2007 Sonlight Curriculum Catalog . . .

Friday, March 09, 2007

Legacy Planning: Questions, Part 2

I don't intend to copy many more of the questions from the Legacy Planning book. But I understand this question will become key to our planning:
From the following list of values and virtues, mark the 5 MOST important to you with an "M" and the 5 LEAST important to you with an "L."
Aesthetics/BeautyMaking a Difference
CareerMental Intelligence
Connecting/BondingPhysical Health
CreativityPersonal Power
Emotional HealthRecognition/Acknowledgement
EnvironmentRelationship w/ Family
Financial SecurityRelationship w/ Friends
FreedomRelationship w/ God/Higher Power
My "M's" included
  • Making a Difference
  • Openness
  • Passion
  • Relationship w/ God
  • Integrity.
My "L's":
  • Approval
  • Recognition/Acknowledgement
  • Financial Security . . .
and then, without quite such confidence in the "correctness" of my answers:
  • Solitude
  • Personal Power.
I'll be curious to see how these answers work themselves out into a Family Vision Statement! (????!!!!)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

S*x Sells . . . NOT!

Warning to all advertising execs: A fascinating article in the March 3rd-9th The Economist, "The Big Turn Off," seems to show that "s*x does not sell anything other than itself."
Ellie Parker and Adrian Furnham of University College London devised an experiment to test three ideas. The first was to confirm that men and women alike would struggle to remember the brand of a product that was advertised during a break in a programme that contained s*x. The second was that commercials that had an er*tic element would be recalled more readily than those that did not. Finally they wanted to know whether people would remember the advertisement more easily if its theme contrasted with the programme into which it had been inserted.

Test subjects who watched advertisements included in the middle of a particularly "hot" episode of "S*x in the City" were "less able to name which brands had been advertised than were the groups that had watched 'Malcolm in the Middle,' whether or not the advertisement tried to be s*xy. Even when the researchers prompted their recall, by naming the type of product that had been advertised, the viewers of 'S*x in the City' failed to remember what they had seen, compared with the groups that had seen more mundane scenes" [emphasis added--JAH].

The Economist's report said Parker and Furnham's work is detailed in the March 2007 issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Legacy Planning: Questions, Part 1

So Sarita and I are working through this legacy planning process.

Our advisor gave us a 20-page booklet full of questions for us to answer. Some are relatively easy. But many are thought-provoking, and some cause me consternation.

I'd like to share some of the questions with you. I hope they inspire you as they have me. . . .

The questionnaire begins with "Childhood Reflections":
  • Where do you fit in your family's birth order?
  • Did you have your own money as a child?
  • If "Yes," how did you acquire it?
  • When you were growing up, who controlled the money in your household?
  • As a child, what lessons did you learn about money . . . and from whom?
  • What was your family's money motto?
  • Name your family's greatest priorities.
  • What do you think of those priorities today?
  • Name what was least important to your family of origin.
There are a bunch more questions. But these--especially the fourth and following questions I've listed here--got me reminiscing pretty fiercely! And for some of the questions, I'm not sure if I'm remembering accurately or fairly.

But here's what I wrote in answer to the questions:
  • Where do you fit in your family's birth order? --2nd
  • Did you have your own money as a child? --Yes
  • If "Yes," how did you acquire it? --Worked for it
  • When you were growing up, who controlled the money in your household? --Dad (for family) . . . and me (for myself) . . . though mom made purchasing decisions within limits.
  • As a child, what lessons did you learn about money . . . and from whom? --Parents: It's scarce; hard to come by; be frugal; live cheaply. Me: Money is (relatively) easy to come by if you'll work for it. It's not worth fretting over.
  • What was your family's money motto? --I can't remember any real "motto" . . . unless it was the regular refrain: "We can't afford it." . . . So I guess that was "our" motto.
  • Name your family's greatest priorities. -- a) Education. b) Following Jesus
  • What do you think of those priorities today? --I "buy" them still, today.
  • Name what was least important to your family of origin. --???
Interesting: We got talking with a couple of our kids and their spouses about "family money motto" question.

Our son and daughter--two years apart in age--"remember" very different "mottoes" even though they agreed they had not actually heard any of the "guiding words" or thoughts from us directly.

Our son-in-law confessed some anger or resentment or some such toward his parents because they had always been--or, at least, acted as if they were--so poor. . . . But as we discussed his family's living situation, it suddenly dawned on him that they had been "poor" because his parents were paying to send him and his siblings to a private Christian school! . . . And that led us all to ruminate on how parents might serve themselves and their children well if they would take the time and effort to "sell" their kids on their (the parents') values and priorities.

This particular son-in-law's parents, apparently, failed to "market" their vision to their kids . . . and, apparently, inadvertently permitted a root of bitterness to grow. . . .