Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pick a number, any number.

I would like to share with you a magic trick that I came up with. It will take something that you do every day, and turn it into something, well, “magical”.

Our neighbor is in the Boy Scouts and he was selling popcorn to raise money for his pack.  The total came to $30.  Instead of writing a check for $30 I wrote it for $33.  PS: I am convinced that the kid who lives next door will become President of the United States one day (fodder for a future blog….).

I gave a presentation to college students the other day, regarding their futures and careers in business. Afterwards, some of us went out for pizza. When the bill came, I added $0.33 to the end to make sure that the bill had a “3” in it.

Whenever I go out to dinner with friends and family, I pay. They know not to fight for the check.  And, when we go out we almost always have a great time (even when the food turns out to be less than great).  I always make it a point to “round up” the tip so that the bill ends in a 3, or at least has some form of “3” in it.

Every year at Christmas and Easter we give a little something extra to our Church. I make it a point to write a check for $333 (and not $300).  Same goes for the local soup kitchen; there is a “3” in the check guaranteed.

What is going on here, besides the fact that I might have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? 

Online Banking is a part of our lives, and it is not going away anytime soon.  So why not make those online statements more useful?

Every day we have the opportunity to do things – things that will make a difference.  And, every day (just about every day) we spend money.  Sometimes the money is on something very simple like buying gas, or paying a toll to cross a bridge.  But sometimes when we spend money it is connected to “a moment” in our lives.  A perfectly documented and permanently archived online moment in our lives.

That kid in the Boy Scouts next door is going to be someone great one day, I can just tell.  I will see the $33 on my bank statement and for a minute I will think of him (and other kids like him).  Seeing $30 would not ring any bells or make me to pause, but seeing $33 on my computer screen will make me stop and think - and also remember my own two sons who were once in the Scouts.

When I see the $333 in our bank statement, it is a trigger.  I will remember that I live in a country that allows me to worship the way I want, when and where I want, and to believe what I choose to believe, and to have the religious freedoms to financially support my beliefs.

The holidays are almost here, and that means that my two sons will soon be home from college.  This will also mean that my debit card will be getting a work out, usually from around mid-November through sometime after the first of the New Year.  This year, the three Capone boys will be going to the mall on “Black Friday”. Which will mean getting up at 4am, standing in lines with other crazy people, and getting ridiculous discounts on many things. My sons and their college friends (and my debit card) went to Black Friday last year without me, and they had a blast.  This year, I will not miss out on the fun.  And this year, there will be some receipts ending in $0.33 to be sure.

Mobile banking, eWallets from PayPal and Google, and various forms of electronic statements are the future of banking; it will only get even more automated and ingrained into our lives.  And, all of this ecommerce technology creates an archived “electronic diary” whether we realized it or not.  Electronic parking receipts, restaurant receipts, receipts for holiday purchases, medical bills, they are all a bunch of “digital breadcrumbs” and journal entries into the diary of our lives.  My little trick of embedding my favorite number into these electronic entries becomes a visual trigger for my brain and an easy way for me to remember the important moments of my life.  When I see the online receipts from Walgreens each month, it reminds me that it is a true miracle that I am still alive, as I beat “the widow maker” last year.  It is also a safe bet that I will be adding $0.33 to end of the receipts when I pick up my PLAVIX® for quite some time.

My favorite number is 3.  I think that is because I have a wonderful wife and two great sons and the three of them make my life worth living.  Maybe it is because I am Catholic and it makes me think about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity which defines God as three divine persons.  Or maybe it is because my wife makes it public knowledge that she has to ask me three times to do just about anything. 

We all have magic numbers in our own lives; memory trigger numbers worthy of embedding into our archived digital breadcrumbs and electronic fingerprints. 

Why not put your own magic number to work for you?  Three pennies for your thoughts on this blog…

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rolodex Watches

I own a Rolex® and I also own a Swiss Army® watch.  The Swiss Army watch keeps perfect time, and it never needs winding as it has a battery.  If I do not wear the Rolex every day, it stops working and you need to set both the day and the date (which is a pain in the ass). And, the Rolex does not keep perfect time.  The Rolex is worth several thousand dollars and the Swiss Army is only a few hundred bucks, brand new. 

One is a tool that helps me to get to business meetings on time.  The other is a tool that helps me to look successful and important in said business meetings.

Yesterday, my wife and I went shopping for a new kitchen. New cabinets, new appliances, the works.  We are overdue for a new kitchen, so I am cool with all of this. My wife is a miracle worker when it comes to shopping. She found online a family in our neighborhood that was moving from a brand new home, and they were “selling their kitchen”.  I did not know that you could do this, but I have since learned that this is not uncommon.  I knew all about garage sales, but kitchen sales?

We took a drive with our dog Bella in tow, to check out this slightly used kitchen for sale. *neither the wife nor the husband were cooks; the range was never used except to boil eggs.  I’ll speed up this tale: if you paid retail to duplicate this entire kitchen from scratch – all new cabinets, all new appliances, etc. it would be around $50,000 plus the professional labor of plumbers, carpenters and electricians to install it all.  Here’s the kicker: the Sub-Zero® refrigerator (alone) would be $14,239 if you bought this make and model of refrigerator brand new. 

Now, I am not qualified to compare or contrast the pros and cons of one brand of refrigerator vs. another.  But I do know watches, and I know that my Swiss Army watch keeps better time than my Rolex. I know that my Rolex is not as much a watch as it is a “billboard”.  I have caught myself many times in business meetings, making sure to hold my arm in such a way that people could see my expensive watch.  I don’t do this as often when I am wearing my cheap watch.

We currently have a Kitchen Aid® refrigerator, which new from Sears cost less than $1500 installed and delivered. It works fine; keeps the food cold and it never needs maintenance, except for a water filter that needs changing every three months.  I learned yesterday that the Sub-Zero brand also requires annual “check-ups” from the Sub-Zero doctor – who of course charges for house calls. 

Our three year old Kitchen Aid keeps the food at a constant 39 degrees, and it has just enough digital bells and whistles to remind me that it is a modern appliance.  For an extra couple of hundred dollars, we could have purchased the model with an Internet connection, and a TV screen in the door.  But spending more money on a refrigerator seemed quite silly at the time.

And yet, our good neighbor paid well over $15,000 for their icebox.  Yeah, I called it an icebox because no matter how you slice it, the purpose of today’s modern refrigerator did not change that much in the past 100 years. Food goes bad sooner or later, but if you keep it cold, it will last longer. That’s about the extent of it; not a very complex process, and not that many moving parts.  In fact, should a dishwasher with all of its complex moving parts and various cycles not cost more than a refrigerator? 

The new kitchen “relocation project” did not work out; their range was gas and we need electric. We could have bought the entire kitchen for around $4,000 delivered; we would take it from there.  This of course was including the Sub Zero.  This morning it came to me; how do we get enough people into our kitchen to see the new Sub Zero to make it all worth it? What good is a “billboard” if no one ever gets to see it?

I feel that all technology purchases are like this as well. Think about it: is the cell phone that you use a useful communications device, or a status symbol?  Do the people that stand in line to purchase the absolute latest iPhone® or iPad® keep it hidden away in a protective case, or do they go out of their way to show off their new purchase? Is a new tablet PC a smart purchase and must-have business tool, or will your three year old laptop do just fine? Maybe a $50 upgrade in RAM and a good cleaning is all you need to triple your speed.

When I get dressed in the morning, I still catch myself thinking about which timepiece I will wear for the day – do I need to dress to impress?  Will I be in any business meetings with materialistic people who will judge me and judge my company by my brand of wristwatch?  What if I bought my Rolex at an estate sale (used and cheap) how would they judge me then?

I don’t want to bash any brand, but I wonder if the name “Sub Zero” is trying to make some sort of reference to temperature, or the IQ required to make the purchase of their brand.  On the way home from our new kitchen “safari” my wife pointed to a billboard from McDonalds® that said “$4 for a cup of coffee is dumb”.  And then I paused and thought about why I decided to wear my Rolex on a Saturday afternoon where the only “business” meeting I had for that day was to check out the used kitchen. 

Especially since I started out my day wearing my Swiss Army. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Remembering Steve Jobs

Like many other corporations across America who benefit daily from the technology that he helped create, we at MTP were saddened to hear of the passing of Apple founder Steve Jobs. 

As a foremost visionary, he led a mobile computer revolution with the creation of popular devices such as the iMac computer, iPod portable music player, the iPhone and the iPad tablet - all of which changed how digital content is consumed.

But in addition to teaching us better ways on how to use and implement modern technology, Steve Jobs will be remembered for teaching the world some hard-hitting lessons about the realities of life.

He Wasn't Afraid Of Rejection

Steve Jobs was given away by his biological mother as a newborn infant and adopted by an Armenian family living in California. Later in his career, Jobs was ousted as the CEO from Apple by the very same Board of Directors that he brought in to help the company expand.

But despite these two life-changing forms of rejection, he didn't let these setbacks get to him. Rather, he took an optimistic approach to it all. In fact, Jobs claimed that being fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to him.

"The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything," he said. "It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life."

He Believed In Following His Dream

Jobs gained a reputation as a driven and stubborn person who oversaw almost every detail of Apple's products and rejected prototypes that didn't meet his exacting standards.

But that wasn't because he was a nasty human being; it was because he was brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and strong enough to follow his dream all the way through, despite the criticism and scoffing of naysayers.

His far-reaching visions created industries that many thought would never exist, including the iPod and iTunes which radically transformed the consumer electronics and music distribution industry; and the iPhone which completely changed the way consumers interacted with mobile phone devices.

He Didn't Concede To Failure

The life of Steve Jobs life was marked by many successes - and numerous failures as well. 

He enrolled in Reed College in Portland in 1972 but dropped out after six months. He was thrown out of Apple during the 1980s. His following venture, a pricey computing system called the NeXT Workstation, never caught on with consumers. His personal life was also fraught with failures including a divorce, a liver transplant and the lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer that ultimately claimed his life.

But despite it all, Steve Jobs forged ahead with his chin up and never let the failures of life extinguish his spirits. He went on to build the revolutionary Apple empire that has permanently changed modern technology and the world we live in.

What We Can Learn From Him

"Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor." Apple said in a statement on its corporate website.

As for the rest of us in the world of small business, we've lost a person who has shown what it means to make the most of every situation and utilize complex challenges to achieve the highest pinnacles of success.

Think different.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Happy Birthday to me!

Today, I turned 51 years young. I have figured out the secret to celebrating the best birthday ever, and I would like to share it with you:

Be alive to have it.

Last year at age 50, I had a heart attack.  I never smoked; I exercised every day, and was not (terribly) overweight.  Well, the “heartburn” that I was having led me to see the family doctor, which led me to see a gastroenterologist.  I told him that I had terrible heartburn, but only during exercise. Next day, I am getting a stress test, which I promptly failed. I went directly to the hospital. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Next thing I know, I am getting a stent installed in the main artery of my heart. I had just beaten “the widow maker”.

A widow maker is a nickname used to describe a highly stenotic left main coronary artery or proximal left anterior descending coronary artery of the heart.  The term is used because if the artery gets abruptly and completely occluded it will cause a massive heart attack that will likely lead to a sudden death. The blockage that kills is made up of platelets streaming to the site of a ruptured cholesterol plaque. Even a small amount of plaque in this area can (for a variety of poorly understood reasons) rupture and cause death; bypassing chronic blockages or trying to open them up with angioplasty does not prevent heart attack but it can restore blood flow in case of a sudden blockage or heart attack.

An example of the devastating results of a complete occlusion of the LAD (Left Anterior Descending) artery was the sudden death of former NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert. From the minute a widow maker hits, there is a five-minute window of time to get to a hospital or receive emergency care.

Technology saved my life.

As I was awake during the procedure to install the stent in my heart, I watched (and listened) to the doctor work his magic. I had 100% blockage of the main artery of my heart. 100% blockage! How I was not dead, is truly a miracle.  I usually played 3 hours of tennis indoors, every Friday night. Well, on this Friday, I was in a hospital. When a doctor says outloud “Wow, I did not expect this!  You have a full and total blockage!” while watching him snake a wire and scope from your groin to your heart, you never forget those words.  Ever.

I should have been dead.  I walk my dog Bella in the park, every single day, a nice brisk walk.  I could have dropped dead in the park – I should have dropped dead - lying next to Bella.  Every time I walked fast with Bella, I got heartburn.  No, it was not heartburn. It was the “widow maker” tapping me on the shoulder.

I am alive today, because my very wise and astute gastroenterologist suspected something going on, much more than just heartburn. I am alive today, because modern medical technology allowed skilled doctors to remove a clot from the main artery of my heart, by snaking a wire up to my heart from my leg – with me awake and watching in high definition. I am alive today, because I happen to live in a country where the medical technology to save my life was available, ready and waiting for me.

It has been almost a year since my heart attack. I now take pills every day, to keep me from ever having another clot. My second miracle: according to my doctors, I did no noticeable or lasting damage to my heart. Even though my main artery was completely and totally blocked, the other veins and arteries of my heart “stepped up” and produced enough blood flow to make up the difference. According to my doctor, if another physician looked at my tests and studied the digital images of my heart pumping (without knowing my medical history) they might never guess that I ever even had a heart attack.

Not only did I beat the “widow maker” but I kicked its ass.

I am 6’3” and around 255 pounds. Yeah, I could lose a few, but who could not lose a few?  I was an athlete in college, and I still played tennis every week. My condition was genetic; it could happen to anyone, at anytime.  Guess what: my doctor who installed my stent – my cardiologist – he had a stent installed just a few months ago!  Folks, it can happen to anyone.

I say it again; technology saved my life.

And now I am hoping that another type of technology will save yours; the Internet. 

I am blogging about this event in my life to hope that it does some good. I want everyone that I have ever met (virtually or in person) – and everyone that THEY know – to read and share this blog. Get tested, especially a stress test if you are over 50. Get an annual physical. Pay attention to your symptoms. The world is full of wonderful technology that can do some pretty amazing things.  But you need to use technology, you need to embrace technology, and we all need to share our knowledge with the world.

My birthday wish: that you are here to read my blog next year. Please make your health the number one priority in your life, as nothing else matters, period. 

Oh, and Bella will thank you for passing this blog on to other dog owners.  Off to the park we go!