Are you telling your customers (or fans) to go away?

When the phone rings at your store do you just let it ring? When a customer walks through your door do you ignore them? Probably not. But that’s exactly what you’re doing when you don’t reply to business (or fan!) emails. It’s mind-boggling how many companies simply ignore their emails. Over the last week I’ve sent email inquiries to two companies I would like to hand some cash to and neither have replied. Both of these email inquiries were from their “Contact Us” page.  Sadly this response, or lack thereof actually, is more the norm than the exception.

Customers, or potential customers, don’t necessarily expect super-quick responses to emails (although doing so demonstrates your respect for your customers and a high level of customer service), but they *do* expect a response. When you let email inquiries go into the black hole you are telling people, “Go Away!” – a) I’m too busy for you; b) I don’t care about your business; or c) Somebody told me I need a web page but I have no idea how to use it. None of these are great for your business or building your fanbase.

Either use your business email or get rid of it. It’s that simple.

#Occupy

  So here’s the deal: The guys (and gals) who work on Wall Street and for brokerage houses know that they’ve been complicit in the largest redistribution of wealth to the top 1% since before the Great Depression. They’re not stupid. They know the damage it’s doing to our economy, the middle class, heck even themselves. I know a few folks that work for brokerage firms and they sincerely acknowledge that the repeal of Glass-Steagall and other financial deregulation was horrible for their industry and the economy.  And it made a select few of them obscenely rich; they joined the 1%. They see that and many get sucked in to the game. They want to be the guy who makes that multi-billion-dollar score, to move up the ladder, to be one of the 1%.  You can’t blame them, wouldn’t you?  It’s all the more difficult because their jobs, their future, depends on joining the culture that enables this kind of greed.

Imagine you were let loose on the floor of a casino with somebody else’s money and you get to invent game.  You get to make the rules of the game – rules that are so complicated most humans cannot even understand them.  In fact, you don’t even have to tell anyone what the game is.  You make wild crazy bets.  When you win you keep the money, and when you lose, well, it’s not your money so who cares?  That’s EXACTLY what our financial system is.

It’s a system destined ultimately to fail but the greedy just want to extract as much as they can before it implodes. Then they say “The money’s gone. Nothing I can do.” It’s legalized robbery, plain and simple.

No matter how they try to spin it our lawmakers – both Democrat and Republican, Executive and Congress, even the Judicial – have done virtually nothing to change it.  In fact they promote it because they are complicit themselves.  They don’t represent you or me, they represent those who fund their campaigns.

But most people in the financial industry are not part of that. They are honest professionals who know that proper and strong regulation is not only necessary to keep things humming along profitably, as it did for the more than half a century before Glass-Steagall was repealed, but in all reality essential to keep the system from blowing up completely. Again.

But what can those good & honest folks in the financial industry do?

They can add their voice. Speak up against the corruption from the inside.

Get on the right side of history and be proud to tell your kids you took a stand to help make our country great again.

Steve Jobs

I’m not the only person who has compared the loss of Steve Jobs to losing John Lennon. Precious few humans alter the course of humanity with their gift and their genius. Jobs did that for sure. And when we lose someone like that there is Before, and there is After. There is a real and palpable void that can never be filled. And there is that brief moment when we reflect on our own lives, our own mortality and what we have done, or not, to make the world a better place. Hold on to that. Carry it with you every day. Wake up to it every morning.

A few of my favorite quotes from around the web.

“There may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.” – Barack Obama

“If Steve Jobs were alive, he’d be going to work.” – Bob Lefsetz

“It’s one thing to miss someone, to feel a void when they’re gone. It’s another to do something with their legacy, to honor them through your actions. Steve devoted his professional life to giving us (you, me and a billion other people) the most powerful device ever available to an ordinary person. Everything in our world is different because of the device you’re reading this on.

What are we going to do with it?” – Seth Godin

Imagine.

A new CCC

One of the things I’m most thankful for about spending the last couple years with my Mom and Bob before their passing was spending hours talking to them about their lives.  I wish I would have recorded some of it.

Bob told us of looking for work during the Depression.  FDR was already in and had ramped up the great recovery for the nation.  The best jobs were the ones as part of that recovery; building the great dams, roads, bridges.  And those with the Civilian Conservation Corp building our state and national parks, forest roads and other infrastructure.  Bob got a job in Washington state planting trees.  I don’t know whether the planting was done to reforest clearcutting, a fire, or what, it doesn’t matter.

He talked about having a toe-sack full of seedlings and a kind of a long bladed hoe.  You would take a few steps, whack the hoe into the ground to make a small hole, put a seedling in the hoe, then step on the divot with your other foot – all in one fluid motion; 50-75 men heading up a hill in a line all doing this same dance, the seedlings replenished when their sacks were empty.  They were told the trees would be ready to harvest in about 80 years, right about now in fact.

That was the mindset of that time:  We’re putting men to work now, creating something that our generation will not benefit from, and maybe not even our children but their children.  It’s good for us and it’s good for the country.

How far we’ve gone off course from that kind of mentality.  If it doesn’t work right now, today, then we shouldn’t do it.

The truth, of course, is that short-term fixes rarely work now or tomorrow.  Why do we keep trying them?

As I drive around Summit County, Colorado, certainly one of the most beautiful places on god’s earth, everywhere you look you see the forest devastated by pine beetles.  In some places 3/4 of the trees are dead.

This year I see there have been some (I assume) US Forest Service crews cutting the dead trees and stacking them in large piles.  This has only been done in a very few areas easily accesible by vehicles.  On the one hand it’s kind of weird to see large acreage devoid of pine trees, with just a few firs, aspens and other non-pines.  On the other it looks like an amazing opportunity to do just what our grandfathers did when they put people to work in the 1930’s.

We need a new CCC.  There are many thousands of men and women ready to build this country back up again.  Let’s put them to work.  One project, of a grand scale but worth every penny, would be to cut the dead trees.  Make biofuel energy from them. Replant new trees.  It’s a multi-year project with both long and short-term benefits.

Why can’t we think big any more?

The Give-A-Shit Button is mostly off, it seems

Seems like a majority of people I run into on a daily basis just don’t give a shit – about their job, about customer service, about doing the right thing, basic courtesy or pretty much everything. Not everyone but most folks. Just this morning I was treated to several examples of this, two in the same store (Academy on Research Blvd); a situation that would make one believe the give-a-shit button is turned off at the management level as well. If you run a business you depend on customers. If your customers do not feel like they matter why should they shop at your store? Seems pretty basic to me but apparently it’s an advanced concept in today’s world.

Buyer’s Remorse

Primary Obama 2012

Man, I’m so disappointed in our President. Obama has proved to be essentially a Trojan Horse – worse than a Republican because he’s given them more than they ever dreamed. What happened to the guy we voted for?  He’s gonna take your Social Security and Medicare; even W couldn’t get that done. Only answer is a primary challenge to Obama with all the vigor we expended getting him elected in 2008. What fools we were.

The Myth of Ubiquitous Internet

Apple will release OS X Lion tomorrow. From all advance information it will be available only as a download directly to your computer through the Mac App Store. This underscores something I’m seeing a lot these days: they myth of ubiquitous internet. Companies assume all locations have access to broadband internet when it’s just not true. For example at our home in the Davis Mountains we have internet but it’s not broadband (it’s satellite). Download speeds are okay, not really fast, the latency is excruciating, but the real problem is the bandwidth caps. We get 17GB per “rolling 30 day period” – a stupid and confusing method of doling out bandwidth – and typically, even though we do not download movies, don’t do file sharing or anything else that would be bandwidth intensive, we are almost constantly hovering at 75-80% usage. If something makes the usage trip the 90% mark our connection is throttled to below dialup speeds (we can’t even use our bank’s web site at these speeds). We have three Macs at the house and I would like to upgrade each of them to Lion. Can’t do it. Sure I can take our laptops to town but what about the Mac Pro? How do I update that machine?

Unprepared

Bird the dog went ballistic this afternoon at the door. I looked up from my desk and saw three guys with backpacks on my porch. This is strange for at least a couple reasons. First my place is 3/4 mile from the highway behind a locked gate. Second, we had experienced three guys with backpacks coming through here a couple months ago but they weren’t hikers, they were almost certainly drug smugglers. These guys were white and looked benign but you never know. I opened the door and they said they were lost. They said they had been trying to find the quaking aspen trees on the Nature Conservancy preserve and got lost going back to their truck, which was parked at Madera Canyon roadside park. They said they had been walking for 8 hours, that they had to stop and rest under a Ponderosa pine somewhere up canyon. They were wearing tennis shoes. I gave them water and told them I’d drive them back to their truck. Still… I put a pistol in my pocket as I got my keys. On the way to the truck I stopped and said, “I just gotta ask: You guys didn’t have a map?” “No” “A compass?” “No… I guess we didn’t think it was that big a deal… We were kind of unprepared…” While driving them back I told them they were lucky nobody took a shot at them, that we have had smugglers in this area and that there was an article in the paper this week about a rancher in Hudspeth County who shot two guys trespassing. That they would have been fine had they gotten permission from the Nature Conservancy, checked in and got a map. They were lucky nobody got hurt.

It’s amazing to me how people get out in nature and have no idea what to do, how to prepare, how to get out of situations. You hear about it on tv all the time. Sometimes it seems like people have lost a certain human know-how that we, from another generation, seem to take for granted.

Renewing The Pioneer Spirit

About 50 yards from my home in Elbow Canyon is an old abandoned telephone line.  Two wires on a 10- foot pole that leans almost to the ground.  The wires go up and over the hill back towards Fort Davis and over the ridge in the opposite direction to points west.  I like to think of the conversations these wires carried half a century or more ago, the news they brought––joyful and sad, the wonder and satisfaction of hearing a voice on the other end of a handset for the first time. The men who set the poles were almost certainly ranchers putting it together on their own, no phone company involved, literally bringing the future to their homes, tying the ranches, town and families together.  Creating community.

A few evenings ago our town displayed something very different from that spirit of community.  Rather than utilizing the opportunity at our Town Hall meeting to honestly and constructively discuss, analyze and learn from the many things that went right and the few things that went wrong during the Rock House Fire, we apparently chose instead to re-enact the familiar yet worn-out theater of “locals vs. newcomers”.

We should ask ourselves: How many years does a resident of Jeff Davis County have to call this place home to be seen as a legitimate member of the community?  At what point does their voice matter?  Five years? Ten years?  Fifty years? If so, perhaps we ought to make that number known to families thinking about putting down roots here.  Or maybe there isn’t a number but only some intricate web of family ties and acres owned that bestows the crown of legitimacy on a citizen, like feudal societies of the past.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I always thought our system of representative democracy was designed so all citizens could have a voice and that each voice mattered; that the decisions of our elected officials were supposed to be made in transparency for the public good and with the public’s involvement in the process, and that asking questions of our representatives is not only a right but a duty. You know: “Of the People, By the People, For the People.”

A common chorus in the above-referenced theater is “This isn’t Houston/Dallas/Austin/whatever.” I believe newcomers understand that, and I don’t believe people who move here want to see this place become like those places.  After all, they come here for a reason.  At the same time does that mean we should close the door on progress?  Sure, there’s a conversation to be had as to what progress means and how that should manifest, but by having that conversation we are then working together towards a common goal, not alienating our neighbors and perpetuating divisiveness in our community.

Honestly, look at our main street.  How many businesses have come and gone over the last decade or so, and are struggling to survive today; how many buildings are idle or underutilized?   How many of our kids have had to leave to find simple work, let alone careers?  Sure, times are tough, but we cannot be willfully blind to economic decline while trying to put the brakes on “change.”

One thing is certain: change is inevitable. It can either be for the better or for the worse.  We can’t stop change; we can only try to influence it in a positive direction.  As sad and tragic as the wildfires have been for our area they also brought us an extraordinary opportunity to renew and revitalize our area by articulating a vision of the future and working together to achieve it.

Regardless of where they settled, when our ancestors laid the first rock for a home’s foundation, drove the first fencepost, dug the first well, cleared the first road or built a rural phone line, they were all creating change––bringing “progress” to an area that benefited from their vision and hard work.  When we cling to the unattainable stance of “I like things the way they are,” we are, in truth, failing to honor the pioneer spirit and very real efforts of our forebears, who toiled and bled to make a better place for their children and their children’s children.  Isn’t that what we all want?  A place that’s better tomorrow than it was yesterday because of our efforts?

Our tomorrow can be a model of community with our feet firmly placed in the rich and proud past, our eyes looking forward and our hands working together today.

The only thing we lack is a renewed pioneer spirit for Jeff Davis County––an attitude that welcomes the energy and expertise of people who want to call this land home, who have come here to build their lives and a more vibrant community––like our ancestors did so many years ago. The people of our county––at this moment––have an incredible opportunity to renew the pioneer spirit that built this wonderful country and to share a common ground of respect.  Let’s start today.

It’s cold

Coldest day ever here at Elbow Canyon, at least the coldest since I’ve been here (10 years almost).  Pretty sure it’s a record; will have to check.  Real temp -2 this morning; wind chill -11.  The whole North side of the house has no water; I’m sure the pipe is frozen in the ground.  South side is okay.  Kind of struggling to heat the place; have the heaters and the wood stove going strong but it’s still in the low 60s inside the house.  Light snow falling and no sunshine so I’m having to run the generator for a while, and it was pretty hard to start.

There are many wonderful things about living up here and living off-grid (rest of Texas and much of the US is enjoying rolling blackouts for electricity) but we’re really not well suited for these kind of extreme temperatures.