Finding Your Center

What with the start of a new semester and exposure to a slightly different weltenschauung, a lot of "philosophy" has come my way. If you follow my tweets, you might have seen the pearls that recently came from one professor on the danger of using a pda or phone in class. Not for her the threat to answer the phone for you, or to take it away for the weekend, or to smash the offending device against the wall. She spoke on a higher plane…"Be where you are, be here now". The point being that we students need to be focused on the present, the classroom, and not on what happened last night or is going to happen later today.

While (ahem) doing some research on the web, I came across the social media pyramid and was compelled to write a post on finding balance in your day. A reader took me to task for spending 9 hours a day on social media, as if the pyramid was my daily routine. Folks, I just post information that I think has value…it is not (always) a reflection of my personal agenda. As the Sage of Formosa has said. "You don’t have to believe what you think".

So, in the spirit of sharing information, and not necessarily expressing my personal, firmly held beliefs, I present the Venn Diagram seen above. VDs (a common shorthand among stats students who spend entirely too much time trying to figure probability from these little monsters) are really pretty neat, so if your personality belongs to one or more of the domains listed, see if the VD matches your preference.

And if you want to know my profile, just look for this post on Twitter.

H/T MarketProcessBlog


Globalization – An Illustration

A new semester means another opportunity to rant about textbook prices – but we’ve been over this before, so I won’t waster our readership’s time. Instead, a tale of global business, intrigue, and, hopefully, happiness.

Some background. That great engine of entrepeneurial opportunism, E-Bay, also operates as another company called specializes in selling used textbooks to poor, desperate students like me at prices that  typically undercut our local "college bookstore" by about 30%. Hey, every dollar counts.

I found out about from a buddy earlier this year; I ordered a book and the seller turned out to be his ex-girlfriend who had just taken the class. The price was right, the service impeccable, she sold the book for more than our "local bookstore" was willing to pay for it, and I saved about $25. As Steven Covey would say, it was a win-win.

Naturally I upped the ante for this semester. I decided to order as many books as I could; in the end, the grand total was 3 books. Patting myself on the back for being thrifty and ingenious, I moved on the next items of the preschool checklist.

School started today and only one of the books is on my bookshelf. It came from Jacksonville, FL. This morning, my mailman dropped off a card telling me that an items is ready to be picked up at the post office, and, by the way, the postage due is $7.00. That order has come from Banning, CA. Still no sign of the third book, although I do have some email correspondence with the "vendor".

The missing book is "Understanding Financial Statement", published in 2009, in the USA.  I sent an email to the "vendor" on August 24, and got this reply:

Hello Agricola,

Hope you must be doing good. As per our order book, the order for the book ‘ Understanding Financial Statements’ was placed by you on August 18,2009. I am glad to tell you that the book was shipped on August 21,2009 using the "DHL" shipment service. You may track the book’s status by putting in the tracking number ‘1329118663’ in the required field of the link ‘‘.

Sorry for the inconvenience. Hope to serve you in a more efficient manner in the future.

Thank You,
(name hidden)


Alarm bells immediately rang. First, broken English. Second, DHL. Aren’t they that Dutch company that ships everything via Air in all of the countries of the world except the US? WTF?

So here is the tracking info:

Tracking history…   Help 
Date and time Status Location Service Area
8/25/2009      1:23 am Transit through DHL facility   Cincinnati Hub, OH
8/24/2009    10:37 pm Depart Facility   East Midlands, United Kingdom
                    10:36 pm In transit.   East Midlands, United Kingdom
                      5:33 am Scheduled to move   East Midlands, United Kingdom
8/23/2009      5:46 pm Depart Facility   London-heathrow, United Kingdom
                      9:05 am Processed at DHL Location.   London-heathrow, United Kingdom
                      8:45 am Transit through DHL facility   London-heathrow, United Kingdom
                    12:44 am Depart Facility   Delhi (new Delhi), India
8/22/2009    11:12 pm Processed at DHL Location.   Delhi (new Delhi), India
                      1:08 pm Transit through DHL facility   Delhi (new Delhi), India
                      3:23 am Depart Facility   Mumbai (bombay), India
                      3:18 am Processed at DHL Location.   Mumbai (bombay), India
                      1:48 am Departing origin.   Mumbai (bombay), India
8/21/2009    11:38 pm Shipment picked up   Mumbai (bombay), India


Yes, you read the report correctly. My $65 textbook (used) is coming to American from Bombay, India. Somehow, this entrepeneur will sell a book, published in the US in 2009, ship it back to the US, paying the air freight charges, and make a profit. Is this a great world or what?

I just hope it is written in English…


The first day of classes for the fall semester. A heavy load of business oriented classes, mostly as a requirement for my minor. The most daunting is Taxation, an upper level accounting course. The professor is a seasoned veteran of the public accounting wars who returned to the (relative) safety of academe to earn her PhD. in Accounting. Tax, she proudly proclaims, is her baby. To set the tone, she provides in the syllabus her most favorite quote:

People think taxation is a terribly mundane subject. But what makes it fascinating is that taxation, in reality, is life. If you know the position a person takes on taxes, you can tell their whole other philosophy. The tax code, once you get to know it, embodies all of the essence of life: greed, politics, power, goodness, charity. Everything is in there. That is why it is so hard to get a simplified tax code. Life just isn’t simple. – Sheldon Cohen, former IRS Commissioner

I open the book and see 29 chapters, 13 appendices, tables on inside front and back covers, a glossary that’s about 15 pages, all written in a font that requires my most powerful reading glasses.

She also points out that accountants learn, on the one hand, to maximize wealth in order to impress bankers, while simultaneously minimizing income to deter the IRS…

This ought to be good.


A Sunday Drive

The land of the free and the home of the brave.

I was warned earlier in the week that we would be taking a Sunday drive in lieu of vacation. The route would be left up to me, with the caveat that the final waypoint should be a nice place for lunch.

Forewarned means prepared, and assistance came in the form of my South Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer, a great tool for finding the road not taken. Fortunately, my wife enjoys exploring as much as I do, and our comfort with the uncertainty of what the next curve brings has yielded many wonderful sights. And there are always surprises when you take the backroads and byways of your home turf.

So we found ourselves on Steed Creek Road, a quiet, smooth two-lane blacktop that cuts through the Francis Marion National Forest. Heading west, we came upon a sign with an arrow and the words: "Shooting Range".  All it took was a shared glance, and down the trail we went, coming soon to the Twin Pond Rifle Range.

Pulling into a parking area filled with cars and trucks, we shared a common concern; were we about enter the territory of drunken shooters, tattooed men with faces hidden by beards and topped with unruly mullets? Was this ground to be our final resting place?

Not to worry. What we found were, well, Americans…nice, friendly, normal looking people. Yes, they were shooting guns, and there was plenty of noise, really big noise. But a lot of the shooting was being done by wives and girlfriends, learning how to handle a pistol. A few hunters were zeroing their scopes, and the hobbyists were practicing their skills on their winchesters and other unidentifiable long guns. The atmosphere reeked of order, safety, expertise, and cordite and the volume of noise mixed with the power of the gunfire was somehow reassuring instead of frightening. Guns used not to intimidate or to murder, but to defend and protect, or to feed. 

We could have stayed, and maybe even had an opportunity to pull a trigger or two, but the blacktop beckoned. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Twin Pond, and there may yet be some friendships made in the pine forest of the Francis Marion.

Hardly settled into our seats and still processing the thrill of proximate gunfire, another opportunity presented itself with an intriguing sign.

Not a dirt road this, but a grassy track that led deeper into the pine trees. Apple Old Field Cemetery. A quiet place, and small. Neat and well tended, with a pretty, white picket fence to keep the animals and vandals away. A sunflower garnished the barrier, perhaps to soften the warning.

One gravestone stood taller than the others, with a  small Confederate battle flag placed alongside.

Miles from the nearest town, hidden in the vastness of a national forest, remembered still for his service to that old ideal, lies Elias Cumbee, born in 1846, died in 1923. After a little research, I think Elias Cumbee served as a private in Company D, 23rd Regiment of the South Carolina Infantry, also known as Hatch’s Coast Rangers, part of the Tramp Brigade. Here is a bit of the history of that regiment:

23rd Infantry Regiment [also called Coast Rangers] was assembled at Charleston, South Carolina, in November, 1861. Most of the men were from Horry, Georgetown, Charleston, and Colleton counties. After being stationed in South Carolina, the regiment moved to Virginia and during the war served in General Evans’, Elliot’s, and Wallace’s Brigade. It participated in the conflicts at Second Manassas, South Mountain, and Sharpsburg, then was ordered to North Carolina and later to Mississippi. The unit skirmished at Jackson, was sent to Charleston, and in the spring of 1864 returned to Virginia. It continued the fight in the trenches of Petersburg and around Appomattox. During the Second Manassas operations, August 6-20, 1862, this regiment lost sixty-eight percent of the 225 engaged, and all its field officers were wounded. It reported 10 killed, 22 wounded, and 5 missing in the Maryland Campaign, totalled 297 men in October, 1863, and had 49 killed or wounded at the Petersburg mine explosion. The 23rd had many disabled at Sayler’s Creek and surrendered 5 officers and 103 men.

Private Cumbee saw the worst of that war, and somehow survived. How many friends did he see die? Here is a more complete history at the regiment…

Just a few steps away we found a smaller headstone, bearing the name LeVaughan Cumbee. Carved in the stone, just below his name, is the legend "Tec5", the highest rank he held while serving in the army during World War II. Mr. Cumbee was born in 1917, and died sometime after the war (the date was unreadable).

No flag graced his final resting place, but his service to our country was considered important enough by his family to earn a prominent place on the headstone. It struck us that the grandfather would serve the Confederacy, and the grandson would then serve the United States. Buried within feet of each other, equally proud of their service, both willing to risk their lives to defend the ground they lie in. Different flags, different times, shared sacrifice.

The land of the free and the home of the brave.

The Death of Serendipity?

I found this quote while visiting a site that has been in my reader for a couple of years. Honestly, it has not had a continuous presence; I enjoy it for a while, remove its feed, and then some other great site mentions it and I am drawn, like the unsuspecting fly, into the nearly invisible spider’s web of great information.

For some reason, while travelling, I’ve really noticed how I’d fallen into the bad habit of relying on Twitter and aggregaters like TechMeme to channel content for reading. While everyone is warm and fuzzy about WOC, recommendation systems,etc., frankly they scare the innovation right out of me. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, what gets things to the top of the pile is only partly what I vaguely call inherent value. A good part of what is going on is the force of social value, which, IMHO, can be the death of serendipity. (emph. mine)

What has drawn me to the great inter-tube, and has kept my interest for the past 5 years, is that each visit brings the likelihood of learning something new, or being exposed to a different perspective which might open me to new possibilities, or just giving me something else to think and chew on. Rarely have I been disappointed.

Recently, my friend Xark mentioned that he was, if I may paraphrase, reconsidering his usage of his reader, which I took to mean that he was reducing his reading of blogs in response to the powerful force of social media, i.e., Twitter, Facebook, et al. The further implication being, to my ears at least, that blogs might not be as good as the newbies in terms of delivering timely, relevant information. I hope he will straighten me out if I have misunderstood his meaning.

But I get Matthew Hurst’s point in the quote above. To wit, humans self select social relationships. These relationships extend to our business contacts. As we dig ourselves deeper into that web of contact, are we in fact, unintentionally, removing the possibility of serendipity?

To quote the Wikipedia link above:

Serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely unrelated.

That is the value that the inter-tube brings to my experience. The richness of new information, new ideas, and new friendships (near and far) is the most important characteristic of the form.

It’s not worth giving up. Keep the reader, folks!