Some days are diamonds, some days are gravel

April 30, 2013

There is an old John Denver song – Some Days are Diamonds and Some Days are Gravel.  Well my day Monday was both.  Summary: I took a bike ride. I rode into a truck. Now, I  hurt to breathe and sneezing is out of this world.  I don’t believe any ribs are broken. Other than that I have a few bumps and bruises.

I woke Monday  morning (April 29)  ready for a brand new week.  When you are on a 7 day weekend you like Monday’s as much as any other day of the week.

I decided to take a long bicycle ride.  The morning was perfect. The temperature was 57 degrees and there was no wind.  No wind in Texas Spring is as rare as the Cubs winning the World Series – so maybe this is the year.  I decided to ride the bike through East Allen and Lucas.  That area is mostly rural so no lights and very little traffic.  Up until 2 hours into the ride I was having the best ride of the year.  Then disaster struck! I turned onto a new street.  All of a sudden there was a pickup about 2 feet in front of me.  I just had time to start to say a very bad word but never finished it because I slammed into the truck doing probably 15 mph! Of course the bike and I bounced off the pickup. For the first few seconds I thought my jaw and ribs were broken and the wind was knocked out of my lungs so I could not breathe.

After a minute or so I could breathe again but my ribs hurt like nothing I’ve ever felt before and blood was spurting out of my chin.

I managed to get the bleeding to stop holding a handkerchief against the cut but my ribs were not getting any better.

Then I saw my bike.  It was in no shape to ride either.  The front wheel was bent and the handlebars were turned the wrong way.  By the way the pickup was parked when I hit it and did not have a scratch. I secretly believe the pickup jumped out from the curb and hit me.

It’s the day after now and I feel like a train ran over me.  Oh, well. This too shall pass.

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Retirement Part II

March 28, 2013

This is my second and final post on my thoughts on my impending retirement. The first post spanned from birth to hiring onto E-Systems.

My first big shock at work was working on a team and interacting with other people.  I toiled virtually alone at all my other jobs from driving a tractor on the farm to repairing microwave transmitters for Continental Electronics.  My first assignment was with a group of around 7 of building computer system based on a 24K mini-computer with 7 level paper tape as the only IO device.  My, how technology has changed!  My cube-mate was Sharon Horton.  Steve McNeil sat in the next cube. He knew more cuss-words than anyone I ever knew and used them in a very casual manner.  Jim Snow was our lead.  After that project I moved onto another one lead by the Sarge, Dave Scott. Other members of the team I will never forget are George Hall, Dave Hooker, Jim Dunn, and, Roland Rentz.

After a couple of years I volunteered for an assignment in Alice Springs Australia. We lived there for five years. I was a maintenance programmer there instead of building systems. The kids went from babies to just young enough they don’t remember anything except what we tell them. We formed some great friendships there and camped out bush a lot. We learned to enjoy soccer, rugby, and Aussie rules football. We saw the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney, Hawaii, Fiji, and our favorite – Adelaide.  We returned home with mixed feelings but I was bored with work and the kids were getting older.

After returning from Australia I was talked into switching from Software to Systems.  The  switch was promised to be temporary but lasted the remainder of my career. I enjoyed the Systems journey. It was a journey literally. I traveled most of the rest of my career- Australia, West Coast, Denver, East Coast, State College, San Antonio, Florida.  Other than I traveled I can’t really say much about what I did except:

  • I made money
  • I had fun
  • I did something useful

I did get to know many really good people. Also, some of them were really nerdy. Like let’s calculate the gravitational effect of a proton on Halley’s Comet on the Earth at Midnight GMT April 23, 1587. I’m not going to mention any names because at my age with my memory I’ll leave someone out and wake up at 3AM in a panic.

Meanwhile on the home front the kids grew up, we grew older, and our previous generation passed away.  We, mostly Gwen, must have done okay because the kids all graduated from Texas A&M, started careers, got married, and procreated.

They say its the journey and not the destination.  I really enjoyed the journey and am ready for another one.

Best advice: He that is not busy being born is busy dying.

Best moments: 

  • Fixing a righteous problem in a component I developed.  Talk about immediate high
  • Flying home after a long and successful installation

Worst moments:

  • It’s Friday afternoon at 4PM. We are trying to install a new System.  The head Customer dude tells us if our System crashes again this weekend to turn it off, tear it down, and go home.
  • Its the day before Thanksgiving. Both sets of parents coming to visit – mine for the first time.  My VP tells me to get on a plane and fly to Australia tonight to fix a problem or turn in my badge.

The best moments dwarfed the worst moments by far.  And it’s true: If you love your job you will never work a day in your life.


Retirement Part I

March 1, 2013

I’m retiring a month from today and…

I was born in 1946 along time ago in a country far away called the Midwest.  It was quite a different place and quite a different time.  In the place where I grew up everyone was a farmer or had some connection to farming.  We thought diversity meant Lutherans, Catholics, and Methodists attending the same school.

Fast forward to 3 years of school in Chicago – what an eye opener.

I discovered Polish saugages, Wrigley field when I needed a day off from school, and roomed with good friends from exotic Pittsburg who had never seen a cornfield.

Then, fast forward to Fort Worth — another eye opener.

My only previous connection with Texas was John Wayne movies.  I imagined mountains, cactus, sage brush, and cattle. However, after graduating from DeVry Institute I found myself and my two Pittsburg friends driving Southwest to Texas to start work at Generous Dynamics building F111 aircraft.  Mile after mile we kept expecting the scenery to change.  We were really excited driving through the Arbunkle Mountains (actually small hills) in Southern Oklahoma.  Well, we thought we are finally getting close to Texas: plenty of red rocks, cactus, hilly, and everything looks dry. How disappointed we were when after a few miles the landscape returned to close to the midwest.  It was a little drier, the weather was a little drier (in March), but otherwise looked much the same as the Midwest.

My first August I wondered why anyone lived in this hot hell hole. But then January came and I could play golf.  I was hooked on Texas.  As Daryl Royal used to say “Son, after you’ve worn Florsheim’s you never want to go back to Tom McCann’s.

My three years at General Dynamics did not change my life substantially.  I was still a Midwest nerd, single, and, my idea of a good time was driving around aimlessly all night – going nowhere, seeing no one, and doing nothing. I was laid off from that job along with 30,000 or so other people.  So, I went back to school.

It was at school that I meant Gwen, my future wife.  At the time I thought she talked to much and was pretty naive because she had never heard Simon and Garfunkel sing Sounds of Silence which by that time was the anthem of my generation.

Nothing much happened until one Thanksgiving week. I was home studying like usual (probably proving the set of real numbers given the set of integers. I always liked math).  Gwen called my roommate because her battery had died. He was out at a bar so I hopped in my car and repaired her battery. The rest is history: love – dating – marriage – kids – grandkids.

Back to retirement. When we tied the string I was still in school so I hired onto Continental Telephone in Useless Texas.  I attended UTA in the day and repaired microwave transmitters at night.

During my senior year I interviewed with a number of companies. I was a math major with minors in physics and computer science. At the time there were no Universities in Texas offering degrees in Computer Science so the high tech companies were hiring math majors to fill their positions. My two most memorable interviewes were EDS (Ross Perot’s company)  and E-Systems.  EDS want me to cut my hair and wear white shirts and ties.  E-Systems did not care as long as I produced so I went to E-Systems.  I remember May Sue Thorton, Ed Redwine, Jim Snow, and John Harris interviewed me.

I graduated in December 1973. On January 2, 1974 I started my employment at E-Systems in Garland Texas and moved to beautiful John Glenn Drive in Garland Texas. A few days later on February 2 our first child was born – Claudia. Meanwhile I was sitting in the E-Systems leper colony. But that is a story for another day.


The New Coffeehouse Investor Book Review

April 18, 2012

The New Coffeehouse Investor by Bill Schultheis

This is the book for investors that don’t want to or can’t spare a lot of time and effort investing. The New Coffeehouse Investor’s theme is a simple threefold approach:

  1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket (asset allocation)
  2. There are no free lunches (approximate the stock market average)
  3. Save for a rainy day (save)

Let’s tackle the three basic principles one at a time starting with asset allocation.  The basic premise is to divide your savings into 3 buckets (cash, stocks, and bonds) thereby lowering your risk  Over a long period stocks have historically done better so start with a larger percentage in stocks.  Bonds on the other hand are less volatile and they don’t usually move in the same direction. In practive the two tend to counter balance each other.  Therefore when you are young should should place a larger percentage in stocks when you can afford the additional risk.   As you grow older you should increase your bond  percentage because you are depending on a steady, predictable income from your retirement nest egg.  For someone my age (65) the author recommends:

  • Conservative investor
    • Cash 10%
    • Bonds 70%
    • Stocks 20%
  • Aggressive investor
    • Cash 10%
    • Bonds 30%
    • Stocks 60%

The second rule is to approximate the stock market average.  The premise here is that most of us are not going to be able to pick stocks and make money.  The “efficient market” theory states something similar to “The market has already taken into account breaking information before you even know about it.” Therefore, unless you spend more time than you have studying the market the market is smarter than you and any advantage you discover it has already been taken into account.  Therefore we should invest in stock market index funds that cover the entire stock market or a large sector of the stock market.  Instead of just picking one fund the author recommends allocating to the following types if you are lucky enough to have a robust 401K with lots of choices:

  • large-company,
  • large-company value,
  • small-company,
  • small-company value,
  • international, and
  • REITS.

An aggressive portfolio might be large company 40%, small company 25%, and International 35%.

Of course unless you save money you have no money to invest. That is why “save” is the third principle the author covers in this book.  For you young people start saving early in your life so you can reap the magic of compounding.  For people my age it is too late now for that kind of magic.

The last major section of the book covers living a long time after you retire and not running out of money by keeping your burn rate low.

One liners of other themes in the book:

♥ Eliminate the risks you can control and reduce the risks you can’t.

♥ There are two types of investment risk: Inflation and Marker Volatility.

♥ Past performance is not a good indicator of how a stock or mutual fund will perform in the future. Don’t pick funds based on past history because more often than not they will return to the norm and under perform after you buy into them.

♥ The less you pay in expenses and taxes, the better off you are.

♥ Most of us don’t need a financial adviser.  Most of the time they do no better than you can.  How hard is it to pick an index fund anyway.  Many of them are more interested in the commission they receive for selling you the stocks, funds, or whatever.  After all they want to retire too! (Okay, so this is not a one liner)

Summary: The bottom line to this book is for 99% of us the best thing we can do is go pick s0me Vanguard (they typically have very low expense ratios), save as much as you can, and check/re-balance your asset allocation at least once a year.  And, almost forgot, after you retire keep your burn rate no higher than 4%.

Credits:

Schultheis, Bill (2009-04-02). The New Coffeehouse Investor: How to Build Wealth, Ignore Wall Street, and Get on with Your Life (Kindle Location 1061). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.


My Avocation

April 19, 2010

I am reading a book “Work Less, Live More” trying to determine how to wean myself from working for 40 some years and figure out what I am going to do when I retire. I see too many people retire and do nothing! Anyway, the book has numerous exercises. The current exercise is on Avocation. I always thought my Avocation was my job but I was wrong. The dictionary definition is: “An activity taken up in addition to one’s regular work or profession, usually for enjoyment; a hobby.” So, my Avocation can’t be Systems Engineer — why not? Activities besides work I enjoy a lot in no particular order are:

  • Programming – a creative act
  • Gardening – another creative act
  • Photography
  • Exercise
  • Reading

In theory, I need to work on enablers to turn my Avocations into a revenue stream to help in retirement. I believe the most likely candidate is “programming” and then maybe “gardening”. “Reading” does not often pay much unless you are an editor. I am studying PHP and plan on becoming proficient in that area. In parallel I will network to find some volunteer work in this area.