Saturday, January 20, 2007

January 20 - Day at Sea

Late this evening the captain announced 14 people had come to the infirmary with symptoms of the flu. Moreover, the majority of them had all arrived in New Zealand on Qantas flight 26 from Los Angeles on the 19th--our flight! Apparently, someone had vomited mid-flight and had contaminated the passenger compartment of the plane. “We want to minimize the spread of the flu on-board,” said the captain, and so he ordered a number of special provisions, among them: all passengers are to wash their hands regularly, indeed, as he put it in one of his public addresses, “maniacally.”

Those who were on Flight 26 are requested to quarantine themselves for 48 hours from the time they deplaned to ensure, to the best of our ability, that we do not spread the disease to other passengers. Since we are eating dinner (in public) when the announcement is made, we decide to finish what we are eating and comply with his request simply to go to our cabin and stay there until the next morning.

“If you who have been exposed to the virus will cooperate with these measures,” the captain says, “we should be able to avoid a full-blown epidemic. If not, then we can expect, within a couple of days, to have several hundred people on-board the ship to be suffering needlessly from it. . . .”

We'll see.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Denver to New Zealand--A Midwinter/Midsummer Vacation

Sarita and I are on a cruise around New Zealand and Australia. I'm hoping to blog some of my observations. Photos will have to come later. It's ridiculously expensive to connect to the web from the ship!

The next several posts will be written in the present tense, even though, obviously, I have had to write them after the fact. Something about time zones and the International Date Line put me up to it. . . .


We left Colorado on the afternoon of the 17th; spent a few hours in LA; then took off shortly after 9 p.m., Los Angeles time, for Auckland. We arrived at 6 a.m. on the morning of the 19th in New Zealand (9 a.m. the 18th in Los Angeles).


Sarita, nervous about having the airlines lose one of her bags, decides to carry-on the maximum possible in Denver.

When we get to the international terminal at LAX where the Qantas counter is, there is a huge line. At first, we think it must be for Lufthansa, since the Lufthansa counters come before Qantas. But something gets us thinking that maybe the line actually is for Qantas, even though we are present a good three hours before the flight is scheduled to take off. We ask one of the people in line. “No. We’re on the Qantas flight.”

Eventually we discover there is a group of 150 people from a single tour Southern California tour group all on Qantas and all scheduled to be on the same ship as we are!

After standing in line for half an hour, a Qantas employee comes our way: “Anyone who has no baggage to check, please come with me!”

We are ushered forward, past most, if not all, of the 150 people in the tour group and then see we are about to be served by the First Class/Business Class attendant.

“Oh!” we exclaimed. “We should have come here right from the beginning! We didn’t have to stand in line. We paid [a huge premium] for Business Class tickets. We could have been through the check-in process almost immediately. . . .”

We get up to the window and the woman informs Sarita that the bag she has saved for bringing onboard cannot go with her. There is a strict weight limit for carry-on baggage and Sarita’s bag is almost twice the limit.

So Sarita loses the right to hold on to her luggage, but we get faster service--the kind of service we should have gotten all along (considering we paid for it).

The agent then hands us a ticket: “After you run your bag through security, please go to Gate 121 and enjoy the Business Class lounge . . .”

The lounge sounds great. I’d much rather sit in a place of relative comfort and quiet than out with the hundreds of raucous passengers in the regular, Economy Class lounge. . . .

The attendant then hands Sarita’s bag back to her: “Please take this down to the baggage security check area. . . .”

There then follows one of those scenarios that drives Sarita absolutely bonkers and concerning which she can’t keep her mouth shut: “This is so stupid! . . .” --And it is.

Why do they have passengers take their already tagged luggage down to a separate line where they have to wait until the scanning staff takes it from you. And then you have to wait until they have scanned your luggage, wait till they place it on a cart, then accompany the cart a few yards further, out to the middle of the hubbub of passengers still waiting to be checked in . . . only then to abandon your bags so you can go through your own security scan?

Is there some new employee “safety” regulation in place that relieves the ticket counter personnel from having to be able to drag 40kg bags from the weigh scale at the side of their stations to the conveyor belt behind them? (The conveyor belt on which they used to always place your bags is still there. Not moving, but still there. . . .)

Maybe they figure they want to keep you close enough to your bags so that, in case you’ve hidden a bomb inside, you will be close enough, prior to scanning, to potentially suffer injury yourself?

Whatever. The inefficiency of the “system” causes Sarita to fume. . . .

By the time we get through the luggage security check, we have “only” 45 minutes to go before it is time to begin boarding. Should we go to the Business Class lounge? “Yes!” I say. And so we do. . . .


After take-off, I am shocked to discover New Zealand is functionally only 4 hours behind (actually, 20 hours ahead) of us in Colorado--three hours behind/21 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Put another way, they are closer to us, longitudinally, than we are to England! Yet it takes us something like 7 hours, on a direct flight, to get to England from Denver. It takes 12 hours to get from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand . . . which is where our travels began. . . . .

Truly, I was thinking we were going to be closer to fully “on the other side of the world” than we are--closer to Australian time, which, for whatever reason, I had understood is 14 hours ahead of us. I mean, New Zealand is “right next to” Australia, isn’t it? (Actually, Auckland, New Zealand, on the north island, is almost directly east of Melbourne, Australia, and is about as far away from Melbourne as Denver is from New York City!)


To escape jet-lag, I change my watch to New Zealand time pretty much as soon as I get on the plane in LA, eat dinner when they serve it (about 11 p.m. LA time/8 p.m. Auckland time), then determine to stay up as “late” as I can stand--hopefully, about 2 a.m. Colorado time. Jet-lag really shouldn’t be too bad: a four-hour time differential? I do that at home: one day I’ll wake at 3 am, the next day at 7; or one day I’ll go to bed at 10, the next at 1. No big deal. Right?

To help me stay awake, I watch “Who Killed the Electric Car?” an ode, more or less, to the EV-1, a General Motors vehicle I have never heard of before, and an investigation of why the vehicle was developed in the first place, why “no one“ ever heard of it, and why there aren’t any more on the street today.

The film impacts me deeply. In fact, I think I will create a separate blog entry for the movie on its own. (2/11/07: Now added.)


After our Thailand trip a few years ago, when we were on planes for more than 24 hours each way, Sarita suggested we splurge and pay for “Business Class” seating. Wow! On Qantas, that is quite the privilege! (When I went to India with my brother two years ago, the Business Class seats weren’t quite so nice.) The seats are cushy and pretty much infinitely adjustable. In fact, they lay down almost flat. You can almost sleep in them the way you would sleep in your own bed. Not deeply. But well enough.

I wake up every hour or two, but figure I get six or seven hours of sleep. About my normal. And completely different from the norm in the Economy section of the plane.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Passing on a "method" . . .

I've been trying to make myself unnecessary at Sonlight Curriculum, Ltd.

I love the company. I love what I do. But I realize that, if things remain as they are right now, when I die or when I am incapacitated, a lot of things I do will not be done--or won't be done "properly."

I have found myself astonished, shocked, dismayed, amazed at the difficulty I and the people around me seem to face as we try to transfer my "way of doing things" or "way of seeing" or "way of thinking" to others.

Yesterday, the members of our extended family--twelve of us--went to a local photography studio, Monty Nuss.

Now, I should note: there is not a photographer in the area I'm aware of who produces the consistent quality they do. They charge more than others, and we have been successfully tempted to go elsewhere for some of our kids' senior/graduation pictures, and each time, we were disappointed. Majorly.

Somehow, Nuss gets the "sparkle." Somehow, "his" photos stand out.

So, in the two (?) cases where we actually paid someone else to take photos, we wound up having them reshot by Nuss.

But there is one thing: We have never met Monty Nuss. We have always been served by others. Monty, I am told, is semi-retired and lives half the year in Florida. But, somehow, he has successfully cloned himself. Or so it seems. (His staff says that, even today, he is extremely hands on and reviews every photo. But even still, I am unaware of anyone having to be re-shot in order to get the "Monty Nuss look." So the photographers have been trained at some very fundamental and significant level. No amount of "review" can correct a photograph that, at root, was shot incorrectly.)

So how did he do that? How did he pass that "method" along to others?

Yesterday, several of us commented on the details the two photographers paid attention to. I, myself, tried to attend to the process they followed:

  • Get studio set up:
    • Backdrop
    • Lighting placement (in general; this is adjusted as necessary once figures are placed)
    • Camera placement (same concerns)
  • Place central figure:
    • Standing or sitting?
    • If seated, on what: Greek Revival-style roll arm chair? Stool (High? Low?)? Large wooden-armed upholstered chair? . . .
    • Facing forward? Right? Left?
  • Place next figure:
    • Standing? Kneeling? Seated?
    • Left side? Right side?
    • Facing at what angle compared to central figure?
    • In general: Legs and feet placed where? Hands and arms where?
    • General distribution of weight:
      • Upper body:
        • Leaning on elbow? Forearm?
        • Not leaning?
      • Lower body:
        • On which leg (if standing)?
        • On which buttock (if sitting)?
  • Place all subsequent figures with similar considerations.
  • Now attend to refining the physical details for all the figures:
    • Torso positions:
      • Leaning to left or right?
      • Leaning forward?
      • Relaxed?
    • Position arms and hands:
      • Seen or not?
      • Of those that are to be seen:
        • Where (forward/back, out/in) compared to bodies of persons who own them?
        • Where in relation to other figures in picture?
        • Exact angle of upper arm, forearm, hand.
        • Hand open? Shut? Partially open? Which finger(s) extended? How?
    • Position legs and feet--same considerations as with arms and hands.
    • Exact tilt of head up/down and right/left.
    • Angle of face to the viewing plane (generally expressed in terms of "move your nose to the right/left").
    • Drape of fabric.
    • Ties in place: Up all the way? Hanging straight? Covering buttons?
    • Etc., etc.
  • Now attend to the faces:
    • Smiles? What kind?
    • Etc., etc.
  • Iteratively make sure all the details mentioned above have been taken care of.
  • Take the picture.
And I've only summarized, as an untrained witness, what I saw them doing. I haven't suggested any specifics of how to make decisions. I've just mentioned most of the decisions I could discern that they were making!

I commented on their methodology: "How did Monty pass this along to you? . . . "

They didn't really have much to say other than that he selects his protégés very carefully and he speaks of training each new photographer as a "project."

So . . . Now I'm trying to pass on my "ways of doing things." And I'm feeling pretty stymied. I realize I do all kinds of things very "second naturedly." The things that I believe contribute to clarity, trustworthiness, etc.: they seem so "obvious" to me. But--as I am being shocked time and again--they are obviously not obvious for others!

Example: I wanted a new chart for our next-year's catalog. I had expressed in words what I wanted. My designers seemed not to understand what I wanted.

A few weeks later, I saw several "perfect" examples in a PC Connection catalog. I brought in the pages and thought my staff would now understand what I was looking for. But when I finally saw the result, I realized that, too, was not the case.

I expected them to "catch" what I had meant when I kept repeating the word "small." But they wound up using a serifed font twice as large as the sans-serif PC Connection example I gave them (and what I finally used). They included, easily, two times the white space PC Connection (and I, eventually) did. In the body of their chart, they used relatively content-free checkmarks instead of communicative letters and numbers (as PC Connection did and I eventually did). They added one- and two-point thick lines around every cell in the chart when the original/example had only a single quarter- or half-point line between the headers and the body. . . . And their chart took up . . . a lot more space than I thought it needed to. . . .

Another example: Yesterday, I "happened" to see a photo caption for the new catalog. It was, to my way of thinking, very different from any photo caption I have ever written for our catalog in the past. And I wondered what "possessed" the author to write something like that?

Once I saw the caption, it was pretty obvious to me how the author's "style" differed from mine and I could explain the differences and what, specifically I didn't like about it. But internally, it left me shaken: Are these things not "obvious"? (Apparently not. Just as all the specific points I mentioned above about the chart--points I thought should have been obvious--were not.)

And so the "fact" that these things must not be obvious got me thinking: Now that I have mentioned the specifics, will that be enough? (I am beginning to doubt it.)

So how do I/we get these things worked into our copywriters' psyches? What kind of training program do we need to put in place? What kinds of expectations do we need to create for ourselves--I of my/our employees and they of me?

I thought that maybe I should think of my new production people as "kind of like" back-up quarterbacks (the Denver Broncos' Jay Cutler being back-up to their original starting QB Jake Plummer). It seemed to make some sense emotionally, anyway: "We sense you've got the stuff to make a great quarterback. But for a while, at least, we're planning to have you sit on the bench during games. You'll be at practices. You'll work hard. You may make a few plays during a game. Once in a while. But mostly you should plan to be on the bench."

That sets an expectation.

If we don't set such an expectation--on the part of the employee and on the part of management--I think there are going to be a whole lot of frustrated "players."

I don't know, however, if we have ever thought of things in this manner.

I think, in general, our company (i.e., the owners--Sarita and me and our managers) and our new employees have expected the employees to be productive pretty much from the start. But, apparently--I am beginning to realize--that is an unrealistic expectation. For those who have to express a privately-held company's "personality," such a thing is virtually impossible.

So while we can hire people who are already excellent copywriters or curriculum developers, there is a whole lot more to copywriting and product development than technical proficiency or technical capability. People who are going to fulfill these functions effectively for us need to learn our "method" every bit as much as the photographers at Monty Nuss have to learn Monty's "method." Only Monty (and the photographers he trains) seems to be able to produce the Monty Nuss "look."

At this time, sadly, it appears, only John and Sarita Holzmann seem to understand their "method." But we've got to get other people to understand and follow the "method" as well. Or our company dies with us. It cannot perpetuate itself.

Monday, January 01, 2007

More on goals . . .

As I wrote back on December 2, in "Defining One's Personal Mission: On- or Off-Purpose?," in The On-Purpose Person: Making Your Life Make Sense, Kevin McCarthy urges us to create 8 want lists: one list in each of the following areas:

  • Physical/Health/Recreation
  • Finance/Material Possessions
  • Family
  • Vocation/Career
  • Social/Community
  • Spiritual
  • Mental/Intellectual
  • Other
I think it's time for me to continue my list. I've already dealt with Physical/Health/Recreation, Finance/Material Possessions, and Family. So let me attempt "Vocation/Career."

This is a tougher area. Indeed, it's so tough, I'm afraid I'm not ready to approach it frontally. At least not here. Not yet.

I want to talk a bit about some things I got thinking about over the weekend--a little "pep talk," if you will, to get my nerve up. . . .

I've been reading a book that, to me, has a terrible title (I am embarrassed to associate myself with such a title) but great content. I purchased it not because of its title, subtitle, or cover art (at all), but out of respect for the man who wrote it, Dan Kennedy, and on the basis of strong recommendations from friends I respect.

Kennedy is one of the wisest marketers I know. The book I've been reading: No B.S. Wealth Attraction for Entrepreneurs: The Ultimate, No Holds Barred, Kick Butt, Take No Prisoners Guide to Really Getting RICH. (As I said, not a title I want to be associated with!)

But Kennedy offers great advice . . . and great stories.

For the purposes of what I want to say here and, truly, for the purposes of what Kennedy has to say in his book, the idea of "wealth attraction" is really at the center of his message. As he says on p. 8: "The opposite of wealth attraction is wealth inhibition"