Sunday, December 14, 2008

Motab and Beer

Unfortunately, this morning I had to work.  As I was sitting in my big rig, I was flipping through the stations to find something good to listen to.  I wanted to find something uplifting, but didn't think I would, considering the lousy radio reception we get in our rail yard.  However, before long I found that 101.9 fm plays the Music and the Spoken Word broadcast from Salt Lake.  I listened to little of it, as most of my job this morning was outside loading.  I did happen to catch the tale end though.  I heard the classic farewell from Lloyd D. Newell in Salt Lake City just before the radio station went to a commercial break.  What was the first commercial to be heard?  Budweiser - real men of genius.  It made me laugh.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Political Ideology

Three Types of Morality
In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis describes three types of morality. First there is the morality that deals with interactions among others. One tries not to cause harm to others. Thus a thief, cheat, and liar would be immoral.

The second applies to individual morality. One must be good to ones self. The comparison here is that you treat something differently if you own instead of rent it. Since we were created by God, and even more so because we are bought with Christ’s sacrifice; We have a duty to be good to ourselves and the body’s we “rent.” There is also the philosophy that it is difficult to avoid harming others, when we don't care if we harm ourselves.

The third type of morality deals with group morality. The fact that individual members of the mafia are good to themselves and generally get along with other members, doesn’t make the mafia a moral institution. In order to be moral with the third type of morality, the group must be going the direction God instructs.

C. S. Lewis described these three types of morality by giving the example of a fleet of ships in formation. The first type of morality instructs each ship to avoid collisions with other ships and to stay in formation. The second type of morality deals with making sure the ships are in good working order.

Lewis pointed out that the first two often work together. He said, “what is the good of telling the ships how to steer so as to avoid collisions if, in fact, they are such crazy old tubs that they cannot be steered at all?”

Lastly, C. S. Lewis described the third type of morality by explaining that if the ships, on a whole, were chartered to go to the New York, but instead went to Calcutta, it wouldn’t do much good. Since God has chartered this journey on life, we need to go where he directs. Lewis essentially put these three as one man’s relations with others, himself, and God.

Now so far I haven’t touched much by way of politics. It isn’t easy for me to put into words how the above has helped me describe to myself my idea of proper politics. I’ve been working on it for days.

Political Morality
In Doctrine and Covenants 134, God gives us “a declaration of belief regarding governments and laws in general.” Most of this section has little to do with my purpose today. There is one thing in the first verse of this section that is key in extrapolating the three types of morality from an individual level to a government level. This is, “We believe governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man.” God has rented us the ships, and now we need to steer them the way God would have us steer them.

The First Political Morality
We need to, as a government, avoid harming others. That is, our government needs to avoid colliding with other governments. This is true regardless of how big our government is in comparison. If our ship is the Queen Victoria II, we should not only be careful to avoid hitting the other ships our size (i.e. China), but it would be just as immoral to collide with and crush the smaller vessels in our path (i.e. Rwanda, Tonga, etc.).

Also in line with this, our government shouldn't incite, encourage, or condone its citizens colliding with each other. The government should offer a level of protection to its citizens from immoral individuals seeking to harm others for personal gain, or even those who are just not concerned with avoiding harm to others.

The Second Political Morality
We need to make our internal mechanisms work properly. C. S. Lewis said, “What is the good of drawing up, on paper, rules for social behaviour, if we know that, in fact, our greed, cowardice, ill temper, and self conceit are going to prevent us from keeping them?”

An excellent talk was given by President J Reuben Clark Jr. on the eve of Italy’s declaration of war on England and France. In it he discussed the need for all of the American hemisphere to be living righteously to avoid being “swept off” as it says in Ether.

In the second type of morality, not only do the people who administer the government need to be moral individuals, but the system itself must be moral. In Doctrine and Covenants 101 the Lord declares that he established the constitution of the United States (thus making the constitution a moral system).

President Clark goes on to expound upon how various elements of the constitution are inspired by God. The most important of these is of course the protection of basic human rights. President Clark said that these principles have been carried into the formation of other independent nations and although other governments aren’t identical to ours, “their fundamental document is a replica of our God-given instrument.”

The Third Political Morality
As a cluster of nation-ships, we need to work together to sail in the direction God has chartered us. This is the most difficult of the three to expect, let alone demand, of the governments of the world today. We know what God’s chartered destination for us comes from Moses 1:39. How can governments collaborate with each other toward this end?

Organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank are a step in the right direction, but they are incomplete. Of course I also believe that the church’s form of foreign aid and missionary work helps in this direction even better.

Each nation including our own often gets hung up with unrighteous ethnocentrism. This will often lead each nation to violate all three types of morality. If however, one country is on the right course by avoiding harm to others, they establish a moral structure, and they are heading in the proper direction, such a country has a duty to share this morality with other nations as much as possible.

As President Clark says, “this destiny of ours is to come not through bloody conquests of war and the oppression and enslavement of our fellow-beings, but by conquests of peace and the persuasion of righteous example and Christian endeavor.”

World Citizenry
As a citizen of the United States, I know I have much to be concerned with domestically. Despite this, I consider myself a world citizen first and foremost, and feel that other Americans should be focused on citizenship in a similar way.

We are all God’s children. I don’t believe that the United States is the only land of opportunity. Even President Clark said that other nations “basically framed along the lines set up by our Constitution are bringing other lands to enjoy our [same] blessings.” The keys to any of our blessings that we have enjoyed as a nation, or hope to continue to enjoy are based in these three types of morality.

Making it Work
This is my political ideology. I understand that it in the modern world, this philosophy cannot stand alone, because it draws much of its contents from a religious ideology. However, I think that with slight changes, this can be reasonable, if not acceptable, by all.

If we were to take away the direct references to scripture without changing the content, I don't think that the intent of the meaning is lost. Then we need to create a new chartered destination based on debated and agreed upon principles (instead of Moses 1:39). The Millenium Development Goals are a good start, despite sometimes being vague and hard to track. I believe this ideology is a powerful recipe for positive, progressive politics in the modern world.

Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
Doctrine and Covenants 134, 101
America’s Divine Destiny, J. Reuben Clark Jr.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Why I Like Cincinnati (Part 2)

Unusual History

I'm  a nut for unusual history.  I like to know all the unique tidbits that make a place interesting.  For example did you know that Cincinnati is home to worlds first fireman pole?  It's things like this that bring character to the place I love to call home.

1.  The Queen City - Going back to about 1850 Cincinnati was the fastest growing city in the country.  This gem among all the cities in the midwest made many people start calling it the queen city.  The phrase "queen of the west" was started in a book titled Cincinnati written by Benjamin Drake and Edward Mansfield.  It was later cemented into use by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Catawba Wine."  The "queen city" has been given many other nick names as well.  Cincinnati was the first major american city away from the original 13 colonies and the influence of Europe.  Cincinnati's population wasn't even surpassed by Chicago until the 1860's.  Because of this Cincinnati is sometimes considered the first truly American city.  Another nickname given to Cincinnati is so unique that it deserves its own bullet point.

2.  What's up with the flying pigs? - I grew up 80 miles away and had never heard of the flying 
pigs.  I guess if I was a marathon runner I would have known earlier.  When I moved to Cincinnati I thought it was odd to see so many flying pig statues around the city.  For those of you who don't understand, here is the scoop.  Cincinnati grew very quickly in the 1800's partly because of their huge pork processing facilities.  It quickly became the largest pork processing city in the world, earning itself the nickname "porkopolis."  The flying pig thing supposedly came from the barges that carried the pigs across the river.  In the early morning, fog would cover the barge and all you would see are the pigs floating over to Cincinnati.  The phrase "when pigs fly" has been around longer than Cincinnati.  

3.  Chili is just chili right? - Across the US ask people what makes a good chili.  I doubt that 
very many people would include cinnamon, cocoa, or spaghetti noodles in the list of ingredients.  Then ask people in Cincinnati.  Again, even growing up 80 miles away I never knew that Cincinnati made chili any different from the rest of the world.  Cincinnati Chili began when an immigrant from Macedonia named Tom Kiradjieff decided to make a chili using spices from his homeland to boost the business of his Cincinnati restaurant the Empress.  Skyline chili's founder started in the chili business as a chef for the Empress.  When I worked at Lunken Airport near downtown, I saw one family fly in to eat at Montgomery Inn.  When they returned to their jet a couple hours later they were carrying boxes and boxes of Skyline's Cincinnati chili.  

4.  The U. S. Playing Card Company - Ever since I was a kid I always thought it was cool that nearly every pack of cards I ever used said Cincinnati, U.S.A.  This and going to a Reds Game constituted my entire childhood connection to Cincinnati.  I just thought it was cool that the largest playing card company in the world was so close to home.  You would think it would be in Vegas, but since 1881 these cards have been manufactured right here in ohio.  Over the years the U. S. Playing Card Company has produced some products with interesting history.  According to their website, "during World War II, the company secretly worked with the U. S. government in fabricating special decks to send as gifts for American prisoners of war in German camps.  When these cards were moistened, they peeled apart to reveal sections of a map indicating precise escape routes."  There is even significant symbolism in the ace of spades.  The image is of "a woman who rests her right hand on a sword and shield while she holds an olive branch in her left.  The image was inspired by Thomas Crawford's sculpture, "Statue of Freedom," which, in 1865, had been placed atop the Capitol Building in Washington, DC."

Cincinnati is full of quirky history.  Did you know that Jerry Springer used to be the mayor of Cincinnati?  How about the fact that Cincinnati is where the first cooperative education program in the country was established.  Did you know that Cincinnati is the first and only city to own and operate a major railroad.  Cincinnati is home to the country's first Jewish Hospital, first licensed public TV station (WCET), and first professional baseball team (without any unpaid players).  The list could go on and on.

I like Cincinnati.  In part because it is such a unique city with some unusual history.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Leadership Journal

Many of you know or at least knew at one point that I am studying Organizational Leadership for my Bachelors degree.  My interest in leadership really began on my mission as a district leader.  I was interested in how to lead my district with principles of righteousness and without being over bearing.  As I discovered these principles I wrote them down in my journal.  Over the past couple of years I have gained tidbits here and there on how to lead and the importance of leadership.

In the past couple of weeks I have decided to start a leadership journal.  I want to have one binder that holds all of the tidbits I have about leadership.  I also want to make a call out to others that may have some tidbits to pass along.

Since I decided to create this journal, I have been promoted at work to a management position.  Now I can apply some of the leadership principles I have learned.  It is nice to now be in an environment where I can hone those skills I learned on my mission.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Lessons Learned From a New Baby Girl

On September 4th at 11:37 my life changed again permanently. Renae Autumn Brooks was born to us. She is a precious child that truly brought a new level of love and joy. Here are a few of the things that I have learned in the past 36 hours.

I know the difference between Renae and Nicholas. I truly thought that a baby is a baby and that I would have a hard time distinguishing between Renae and my memories of Nicholas. Although that may be true if I were looking at another's children, I can truly see the difference in their look, their attitude, and their spirit. It is neat.

I still love Nicholas as much as I did before. Both Becca and I wondered if we would have to remove some of our love for Nicholas in order to accommodate Renae. This has not been the case. Renae is her own unique person whom we love and adore, and yet when Nicholas comes to visit, we see him as another bundle of joy. We are very happy with both of our children.

It's fun being a dad again. I thought I would find the process boring or even a little repetitive, but this isn't so. Renae is fun in her own way and has spawned a completely different sense of fatherly love and affection. I'm becoming something better as I now care for two nearly helpless beings.

I love my wife even more than before. Becca has gone through so much since we met about 30 months ago. It seems crazy and yet perfect that we already have two lovely children. My life is blessed constantly by her affection and attention to detail. She is a hard worker who is constantly going above and beyond what is required of her. This latest chapter in her book of selfless service has shown me even more of how far she is willing to go to do what is right for our family.

Love and life are great!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why I Like Cincinnati (Part 1)


Cincinnati has some wonderful architecture.  I love going around town and seeing the art of the buildings all around.  It is truly one of my most favorite parts about Cincinnati.

The Scripps Tower is Headquarters to the E. W. Scripps Company which owns over 15 newspapers, multiple local TV stations around the country, and several cable channels including HGTV, DIY Network, and the Food Network.

The Famous Union Terminal was finished in the early 30's, and has become a symbol of a bygone era of rail travel.  It now houses Cincinnati's Museum Center.

Although the Roebling Suspension Bridge isn't a building, it's architecture still adds quite a bit of character to the river front.  John Roebling later designed the Brooklyn bridge.

The Cincinnati Music Hall was dedicated in 1878.  It has been the home to the Cincinnati Opera, and Orchestra for over 100 years.  At one time it was threatened along with Union Terminal to be demolished.  Thank goodness it is still around for us to admire.

The University of Cincinnati started master renovation plan in 1992.  It's focus has been to draw top architects to redesign the campus as an architectural Mecca.  In many ways they have succeeded, and I love it.  Here is a view from Tangeman University Center looking toward the Steger Student Life building (Left) and the Stadium (Right).

St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica in Covington is one of the finest examples of religious architecture around Cincinnati.  Although Cincinnati has dozens of beautiful churches, this one is dramatically impressive.  The Cathedral completed in 1915 has multiple Mosaics made from hundreds of thousands of bits of colored glass.  It also has the largest church stained glass window in the world.  Here is a view from the alter looking toward the west end.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Journal Entry

Here is a journal entry from back when I was single.  I have a digital journal like Doogie Howser, and at this time I wanted to write something inspirational.  I let the spirit guide my thoughts.  Here it is.  It may inspire you, like it has me.

December 23, 2005

one thing thou lackest

I have recently been greatly impressed by the story of the rich young ruler when he approached the saviour and asked what lack I yet? the response was immediate, yet mostly unimportant to me today, the important aspect was "one thing thou lackest" after expounding upon that one thing, what was the young mans response? He turned his back on the call to serve, he left the savior and his opportunity to show his metal. my mind was drawn to the fact that despite this young mans worthiness (easily enough for a temple recommend) he still lacked one thing. many of us here, whether recommend worthy or not, are lacking at least one thing that is holding us back from our various calls to serve.

the half question half prod to gospel action the saviour used, was "if thou wilt be perfect." is perfection our goal. is complete spotlessness our only drive. I am sure that if the young man had asked the savior's help in overcoming his desire for wordly things, that the savior would not have turned his back. However the young man felt guilty that he couldn't give it all up at once and therefore left the savior for good. What good is repentence if it is a one time cure all.

my point in this matter is that we each are lacking in our commitment, yet not in our desire. there is no hope for one who has the potential to be perfect, but no desire to do so. on the other hand there is much hope for one who struggles and struggles yet with great emphasis and love for the saviour exclaims "I want to be good." this simple phrase has helped me see the savior's loving arms through the clouds of my own sins on many occasions. the things that I lack seem to be a stain I cannot remove, yet the lord has promised "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
I struggle, and I'll be the first to admit it. we each have our own challenges, but no one has ever struggled as much as our savior.

the straw that didn't break the camels back

our savior knows us. he knows each of us so well, that it is a true wonder. if you feel that nobody understands what you are going through, or nobody could understand the pains you are feeling, whether physical, emotional, mental, or stress, then look to the savior. you would be right to feel that no mortal fully understands what you are struggling with. Jesus however is there. he lives to help. he is the ultimate encyclopedia of life that we can turn to in our darkest hour. however, this encyclopedia is not one that can be rummaged through by topic. it must come by intense study, prayer, and fasting. I have often felt that my sins are too much to get me into heaven. There was the straw. that one that broke the camels back. The difference in this story is that the camels back won't break. It can't. he has overcome the world. we may try. we may feel that there is no more hope, I have used my last chance. I don't believe god looks at it that way. there is a lyric to one of my favorite christain songs, that has often provoked me to tears. - can I be the one to sacrifice, or grip the spear and watch the blood and water flow.

what are we doing to our lives. it is a question that we must each ask ourselves. i pray, that we are striving and loving the way that the lord strove and loved. there may be straws of trials and afflictions placed on our back. they may be mountains of hay, or they may be small bales. the question is, are we going to let it break our back, or make us stronger?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Top Ten Songs

Here is a list of some of my most favorite songs.  Although I narrowed it down to ten, it is impossible to say these are my only favorite songs.

1. America - Simon and Garfunkel
The opening harmony on this song is simple yet beautiful.  The Plot is about two young people that go off looking for America and soon run out of money and food.  The emotion in this song is why I put it at number one.

2. Like a Child - Jars of Clay
My second CD ever was a Jars of Clay CD.  They are a christian pop band that uses a crisp acoustic guitar sound with family-friendly, Christ oriented lyrics to make some incredible music.  This is one of my most favorite songs and one of their greatest.

3. Classical Gas - Mason Williams
This is the second song I ever learned on guitar.  I would often ask people who claimed to be guitarists if they could play this song.  Most of them said no.  I felt that if I wanted to be a guitarist I needed to follow the standard I set for others.  I played it for the Hales Christmas talent show last year.

4. Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town - Pearl Jam
My older brother kept trying to get me to like Pearl Jam when I was younger.  I refused to listen to him until he moved out of the house.  Then as I became a fan I came across this song and quickly fell in love.  I think the reason why I like it so much is because it reminds me of my small town and the "hearts and thoughts [that] fade ... fade away."

5. Sospiro - Franz Liszt
I fell in love with the movie Shine when I was younger, and not because it is about an Australian.  The piano music  and the story line I was introduced to in that film have always inspired me.  This song is especially beautiful.

6. Hide Your Love Away - The Beatles
The Beatles had many hits that were contenders for my top ten list.  This song however is simply a graceful ballad that highlights the Beatles prodigy in song writing.

7. Take It Easy - The Eagles
This song highlights my desire to be more laid back.  It is a pick-me-up feel-good song that has always put me in a good mood.  It also has some incredible banjo playing!

8. I Wonder - Louis Armstrong
This is a gem that I quickly fell in love with.  The jazz styled piano and trumpet are mesmerizing.  Not to mention the thick Louis Armstrong voice that made him so popular.

9. Sunshine of Your Love - Cream
I really began humming the main guitar riff in this song while on my mission.  I didn't even know what song it was, but I knew that when I got home from my mission I would find out what song it was.  I also knew then, long before my first cell phone that it would make a perfect ring tone.  That is all Becca knows this song as.

10. Big Girls Don't Cry (Personal) - Fergie
This one may surprise a few people.  This song reminds me of the humid pacific breezes and the gorgeous scenery of my first deployment.  I first heard this song when I was traveling to the beaches on Guam with some military friends.  It takes me back to the wonderful weather, adventures, and sea breezes of Guam and Hawaii, which is why it is on this list.

If any of you would like to hear some of these songs, you might be able to listen to them online.  If not, let me know and I will try to get you a copy of these great songs.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Live in the World and be not of the World

I have been contemplating this phrase recently.  It seems that we are to avoid the influences of the world while still maintaining standard interactions with the world.  Here is my question:  What is the line between being in the world and not being of the world.  The predicament:  I have been a member of the military for a couple years now.  I am therefore required to interact with people that don't share any of the standards that I do.  It can be extremely degrading sometimes.  We are often told to be examples to others as well.  When I try to be a positive force and encourage others to hold higher standards it often comes across that I'm being a prude and that I'm treating them as less-thans.  This is not very conducive to being a positive example and often backfires in my face.  On the other hand I don't want to participate in many of their conversations because of the negative things they talk about.  So I am often stuck wondering what I should do.  Another example is going to bars with them on deployments.  When I refuse to go and try to encourage others to not drink too much they think I consider myself better.  I have been to several bars with them to be the designated driver and have had some positive conversations with these people that I would consider my friends.  Am I doing wrong by going to the bar?  Should I be more forceful in asking people not to talk about things I don't want to talk about when I am around.  I am asking for suggestions, because I don't feel that I have all the answers.  I hope I get some good feedback on this.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Be Careful What You Ask For!

Becca and I knew that money could be a little tight this summer because I wouldn't be in school.  Part of my military contract grants me the Reserve Montgomery G. I. Bill.  This piece of Legislation grants me an extra $650 per month while I attend school.  This summer we prayed for a way to get through the summer without depleting our money reserves.
Then a friend of mine at the airport told me about a job posted in the newspaper.  It was even closer to home than the airport (only 2 miles away instead of 5).  It also came with a significant pay raise and a good opportunity to work overtime, which would suit me fine during summer.  I applied and was virtually hired on the spot.  They needed a background check and a drug test before they could hire me and I passed both within a couple days.  I put in my two weeks at the airport and started working at Bulkmatic Transport Company on the 1st of July.
The 1st was a Tuesday, and within 3 1/2 days I worked 39 1/2 hours.  The following week I worked about 60 hours, 54 the third week and I just finished a 74 hours work week yesterday.  To top it off I still worked a couple night shifts each week at the airport my first two weeks at Bulkmatic.  Then on my third weekend I had Drill with the Military and worked about 20 hours at the base.  The month of July this year is more than making up for the last year when I took 3 out of 4 weeks off.  I have worked more hours than I thought was possible at one job.
Our prayers have been answered, and we are more than making up for the $650 from the military.  Now we are praying that it will slow down when school starts, because when school starts I will be working full time, going to school full time, and I will have a part time military gig on top of being a father of two.  Life will be hectic, but I know that with God's help we can make it through.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Funny Sign

Whoever does artwork for road signs must have had a fun time with this one!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mc Cash will be in town

Senator John McCain will be visiting Cincinnati next week.  If you want to join him for dinner at the home of Carl Lindner III tickets are readily available for $50,000.  If you would rather just attend the VIP reception without the meal, the tickets are drastically reduced to $10,000 (most likely because there is no meal involved).  For the average Joe who cannot afford $10,000 for the VIP reception, the general reception is only $2300.  This really connects him to the average person on the street, considering hardly anybody in Cincinnati will be able to afford a glance at him.  I'm sure a few Republicans may be alienated by this.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

High enough to sky dive from? - Almost

Recently there has been plethora of new high rises proposed that are stunning the engineering world with their height. Burj Dubai is currently under construction in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This building when finished will be somewhere between 800m and 950m tall (2625-3115 ft) about 150% the height of the Sears Tower in Chicago. It is already the tallest man made structure standing. This seems stunning, but when you hear about some of the other buildings that will top that, you wonder when it will stop. Wikipedia links you to the websites of several other buildings that have been proposed. In the world of Architecture though, proposed and built are a far cry from each other.

100 years ago, The Singer building in New York City broke the record for the tallest building at 612 ft and 47 floors. Not too long after that, the Met-Life tower bested this by another 88 feet. This was bested by the Woolworth building followed by the Trump Building and the Chrysler Building. The Chrysler building topped out at about 1047 ft. When the Empire State Building was built, it set a new precedent. At 1250 feet, it held the top spot for 40 years (longer than any other). It has never been taken off the list of the top ten tallest buildings in the world.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the next record breakers collapsed into history. The world trade center towers broke the Empire State Buildings record in 1971. The Sears tower then took the title away from New York City in 1974. The Sears tower held this spot for 24 years. When the Petronas towers were finished in 1998, it marked the first time the tallest building in the world was outside the United States. Most likely the United States will never see the tallest building within its own borders again. Taipei 101 finished in 2005 currently holds the record for the tallest completed building.

There are buildings under construction in New York and Chicago that will be taller than anything ever seen in North America. These designs still pale in comparison to the towers they are building elsewhere.

A standard static-line sky dive is done from about 3500 ft. Burj Dubai when completed will be near this magic number. People jump off of Angel Falls at about 3200 ft. Some crazy person will try jumping from Burj Dubai. I wonder what type of skyscrapers will be built in 30 years? They may even start building them with a sky diving platform.

This image compares completed buildings with notable ones under construction (in red).

This is an image of Madinat al-Hareer - a major development proposed for Kuwait

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The 401(k) Crock

I was recently propositioned at work to buy into the company 401(k) plan. I listened to the disquisition offered and thought the whole time, "what a crock." I guess maybe I've had too much training in the field of financial services (at one point I wanted to be a financial advisor), or maybe I just don't get it. Why would I want to put all this money away for later when I can't afford the now? Here are some of the reasons why I think retirement plans are a crock.

1. How much money do you need to save for retirement? There has been a rather clever commercial lately for one of the investment banks asking essentially if you are carrying around how much you need to save for retirement. The point of the commercial is that you don't have to worry about it, if you let us manage your retirement for you. This is ridiculous. I'm not opposed to people wanting to save for retirement, but to think that letting others manage your money will ensure a good retirement is bogus. You can put money into retirement, but don't expect it to take care of itself. ALWAYS, keep an eye on it.

2. Plan for next year, before you plan for retirement. Don't worry about retirement, if you can't afford to fix your car if it breaks down next month. If that money was in a regular savings account, it would be much more accessible than a 401 (k). The presentation was for a 401(k), not for a strong financial base to then plan on retirement.

3. I loved the aspect of the 401(k) presentation that talked about the fees assessed to your retirement account quarterly. I quickly flipped through the list of possible funds and found that the smallest fee was about 1% of the account balance. They take this out wether you gain money or lose money. So if you lose money, they still get paid. Sounds like someone I should trust with my nest egg. There do exist no fee funds, but not through my 401(k) plan.

4. Beware of the matching daemon. The one benefit 401(k) plans often tout is that employers can match some of your contributions as their way of helping with your retirement. Matching can be great if it covers the "fees" from the provider, and it can be an excellent way for you to "double your money," but don't get fooled. Matching has its problems, mainly (a) the employers then shed most of the responsibility for your retirement and get tax incentives for it, and (b) the amount they put into your retirement is only proportionate to how much you put in.
a) In days gone by, nearly every good job contained a pension. It was a standard amount dependent upon how long you have been with the company. There are companies that still do this (the US government being one of the most notable) but they are few and far between. On top of this, the US government strongly supports 401(k) plans with tax incentives to both the employer and the employee.
b) Many people are struggling these days to meet their monthly obligations. Wether this is caused by their own mistakes or society is an issue for another time. The problem is that many people do not put anything into a 401(k) plan, even if there is a good matching program. This results in many people not ready for retirement, and the company giving you a pat on the back and a "thanks for the 30 years of slave labor."
These are matching problems that could come if your company even offers matching. One of my coworkers asked about our company's matching program. The person giving the presentation said that our company didn't match anything. Wonderful!

I'm not saying don't save for retirement. I have a retirement account through the military. I'm just saying be smart about it. I would rather enjoy my early years while my family is young than to strap myself for cash now and have a rich retirement. If you are smart about it, you can probably have both.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Super Sonic - The next step for aviation

I love my job. I work around some of the greatest and most technologically advanced machines ever created. The aviation market has produced some beautiful and powerful machines. I work mostly with the business aircraft that carry 4-12 passengers. I have my favorites: Cessna's Citation 10, Beechcraft King Air 350, and the Lear 45. But even with these amazing aircraft coming in and out all day, I greatly look forward to the day when I see my first Super Sonic Business Jet. Called SSBJs, They have been in the works for a couple years now. The leading contenders are Supersonic Aerospace International's (SAI) QSST (Quiet Super Sonic Transport), and Aerion. SAI has the benefit of getting all of its design from Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works. This is the same team that developed the F-22 raptor, and the F-35 Lightning II. Their design is a highly impressive looking aircraft that boasts speeds up to Mach 1.8. SAI doesn't have the backing of a team like Skunk Works, but they boast of over 22 new patents that boost super sonic performance and fuel economy. Gulfstream and Cessna are also thinking about building SSBJ's, but their plans aren't as far developed.

The biggest obstacle in making a SSBJ, is the issue with Sonic Booms. This isn't the feeling in your gut after eating at the drive up fast food chain. According to US Law and law in many other locations of the world, it is illegal to break the sound barrier over land because of how disruptive it can be (I've heard that they used to break the sound barrier over Wright-Patterson and it often would shatter the large living room windows in Dayton). SAI believes that they have found a solution to this barrier. Through advanced technology they have developed ways to reduce the force of a sonic boom. They claimed it would sound about as loud as a car traveling 70 mph on the freeway from 100 yards. The company believes that when they can prove to the FAA that sonic booms don't have to "boom", then they will gain the ability to fly supersonic over land too. Until then they will still travel at Mach .99 which is much faster than the .85 Mach of the fastest business jets today. One of the contenders claimed it could even travel just over the sound barrier without producing a Sonic Boom that would reach the ground. Which of course would be even better for those time crunching business people.

Why do we need a super sonic business jet? I don't, but there are some business people who could greatly benefit from going to London and back from NYC within a day, and still have a solid day of work in London. One website claimed that a group could leave Paris at 8AM for a breakfast meeting in NY. It is amazing. A flight around the world to Dubai would save up to 14 hours. The other reason is the more obvious one: because we can. The business aircraft industry has been virtually stagnant for the past 40 years. Yes, newer technology has made business jets quieter, more fuel efficient, etc, but there haven't been any major advancements. This is the next big step, and corporate carriers are ready.

Orders have been made. The first SSBJ's will be built between 2011 and 2013. At that time, the FAA will certify it, and they could be mass produced by as soon as 2015. That would be cool. Until then, I'll keep pumping gas into the plain old multi-million dollar Gulfstreams, Lears, Citations, and Falcons.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Google Sketchup - CAD for the masses

In recent years, Google has created a plethora of online and downloadable programs.  Blogger is one, Google books, Google Earth, etc.  One of these programs that quickly became one of my favorites is Sketchup.

Sketchup is a Computer Aided Design (CAD) program created by Google.  Sketchup has been designed to be a fully functional CAD program that combines a wonderful ease of use with a low price tag of  $0.  I found Google Sketchup when I was getting my military training in Pensacola FL.  I just searched for freeware CAD programs and was stunned to find one backed by a company as notable as Google.  I immediately downloaded it and began "sketchup-ing."

When I first started I took the introductory tutorials and then began experimenting.  One of my weaknesses is that I would rather figure things out by trial and error than by just reading the instructions.  This made Sketchup much more difficult for me than it had to be.  It really was as easy to use as they claimed.

Don't mistake ease of use with lack of features, however.  Google packed Sketchup with tons of features including easy texture application, shadow and fog control, style and backdrop settings, and integration with Google Earth.  There are few features in the Pro (bought) version that are not in the free version.  All the features are for various uses from simple scribbling of ideas to movie-set creation complete with scene and shot control.  Google Sketchup has made a stunning program to make CAD available to virtually anyone.

You may have even noticed some of the benefits of Sketchup without even knowing it.  People have used Sketchup to create plans for furniture.  Sketchup has also been used in architectural renderings of future buildings, such as the freedom tower being built on ground zero, etc.  Even the set of the movie "Good Night, and Good luck", directed by George Clooney, was completely designed using Sketchup.  Probably one of the most viewed uses of Google Sketchup however has been its creation of the 3d Warehouse.

The 3d Warehouse is the place for all the Sketchup-ers in the world to upload their designs.  It is a great way to get feedback on your ideas, and a great place to download excellent designs by others.  Whirlpool has uploaded every model in their lineup for people to "try out" when using Sketchup for re-modeling ideas.  As people upload quality renditions of real buildings, they are then added to the database for Google Earth.  In recent editions of Google Earth, 3d Warehouse support has been added.  This has made the Google Earth experience so much better.  You can also add your own designs to your personal copy of Google Earth.  This is great to kind of get an idea of how jealous the neighbors might get when you upgrade to a double-wide.  All told, the 3d Warehouse has added a new dimension to CAD.

Simply put, Sketchup is Amazing.

After several months I created this "house," and this afternoon I downloaded the Arc de' Triomphe.  If you have any desires to design a dream home, remodel your house, create a movie set, do some novel landscaping, etc., then download your copy of Sketchup.  It is the ideal program for the average Joe to do any of these things and more.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Welcome to the Eclectic Blog.

This blog is not intended as a snapshot of my life.  Instead, I want to discuss some of my favorite topics.  These range from Architecture, Technology, Travel, Aviation, Finances, and much more.  I want to write on here some of my ideas, thoughts, and aspirations about these topics.  However, I want my posts to read more like magazine articles than journal entries.  I may not be fully unbiased as in most magazines, but this is done simply to generate discussion.  Please comment as much as you would like.  If the post becomes a hot topic, I might incorporate it into newer posts.  If there is a topic you would like me to address, just let me know.