Category Archives: Humor

Investment Wisdom (Compiled)

Risk not thy whole wad

The Best Things Ever Said About Money

(Market Advice for the Needy)

Sixty-plus years ago, I heard my father, Leo F. McManus, Sr., jokingly tell a friend that the secret of making money in the stock market was “The Wall Street Lullaby: ‘Buy Low, Sell High’.”

It took a few decades for the wisdom of that to sink in. In fact, I didn’t really understand it until I started investing myself. Then I realized that playing with the big kids on Wall Street is a cross between tip-toeing through a mine field, and walking on thin ice; or, as Johnny Carson liked to say: “Spanking sharks.”

And so, I became a stock market philosopher. You may have heard the old joke: “How do you get a philosopher off your back porch?” The answer is, “Pay him for the pizza.”

However, I only got humbled and reminded of my mortality, not kilt (lucky me). As I began to rebuild, I remembered Dad’s “Wall Street Lullaby.” I started collecting comments and aphorisms about investing in general, and the stock market in particular. Some I saw in print, and I have credited those. More were told to me by friends and colleagues, also credited where remembered. Others, I just wrote down, hoping they would be as new to you as they were to me.

You can find investment tips everywhere. Shakespeare  for example, said: “Sell when you can, you are not for all markets (“As You Like It”).”

You can even find investment advice in the Bible: Proverbs 21:5 says The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty”.

Interpretation: You couldn’t get rich overnight even way back then.

And King Solomon, the wisest and richest man of all time, had guidelines too: In his book, “Money: A User’s Manual,” Bob Russell quotes several of King Solomon’s words from Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. For example, Solomon’s guiding investment principles included:

1. Diversify: “Divide your portions into seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur upon the earth.”

2. Invest Ethically: Paraphrased in modern terms, Solomon said to stick with investments that are socially responsible, and that reflect your moral values.

3. Seek Good Counsel: Again paraphrased, nobody has all the answers; Read, listen, find a trusted adviser, ask lots of questions.

Finally, in the New Testament (both Matthew and Luke), we find the parable of the talents. A master gave three servants some gold coins to invest for him while he was traveling. The first two servants invested and doubled their master’s money. They received much praise and reward. The third servant buried his coin and, alas for him, although he didn’t lose anything, he didn’t gain anything either. The master called him evil and lazy, took back the coin, and chucked this failure as an investor out into the darkness.

The master clearly appreciated initiative and some sensible risk taking.

My collection of aphorisms can’t stand up to Shakespeare, let alone King Solomon, or the New Testament parables, but here are anyway; my:

 

        Top One Hundred & Twenty-Five “Best Things Ever Said About Money.”

A Warning: Some of these thoughts are wise, funny, and insightful. Others are incredibly stupid. I leave it up to you to decide which is which. Good luck and happy landings!

 

1. Your first loss is always your least loss.

2. No matter how low a stock goes, it can never be less than zero. -Jake Dias

3. When a stock splits it can go down twice as fast. -Jake Dias

4. Bulls make money, Bears make money, Pigs get roasted.

5. You can love a stock, but a stock can never love you back.

6. The market abhors uncertainty.

7. The market always repeats itself: It goes up and down.

8. 1% of something is better than 10% of nothing. –Joe Grammel

9. Patience is an investor’s greatest asset.

10. There’s no such thing as a sure thing.

11. Markets are efficient – just incomprehensible.

12. Buy on the bad news, sell on the good.

13. There’s a big difference between losing money and not making as much as you planned.

14. Heaven helps the Needy, not the Greedy.

15. Nobody ever went broke taking profits.  –Frank Keaney

16. Enjoy the party but dance near the door.

17. There are always more buyers than sellers, unless there are more sellers than buyers.

18. By the time you hear about it, it’s too late.

19. Profits will be offset by earlier losses and higher expenses.

20. Markets are unpredictable, but seldom illogical.

21. Judge the company by what it does, not what it says.

22. The market is about money. It is always and only about money.

23. The only one who really cares about your investment is you. -Johnny Keaveny

24. The market responds to world news, government policy, business developments, and how the traders feel that day.

25. It is hard to tell the truly competent from the truly lucky.

26. Don’t confuse a bull market with management genius.

27. Insider information is always illegal – and often incorrect.

28. Futures and other sophisticated instruments are attractive only if you can’t get to Las Vegas.

29. When the market rises, your stock will not participate. When the market falls, you will be ruined.

30. When the insiders sell some, you should sell some too.

31. The good stuff always comes back.

32. The market keeps a lot of incompetent people busy and out of politics.

33. Any outcome that can be predicted with a dartboard does not warrant serious study.

34. The stock market is a racetrack complete with fast action, touts, and tired old nags.

35. The market reacts to reality – but perception is reality.

36. If it don’t go up, don’t buy it. –Will Rogers

37. There’s no such thing as a “one decision” stock.

38. There are only two kinds of publicly traded stock: Those that have been humbled, and those that have not yet been humbled.

39. Blue Chips are forever.

40. Buy what you understand.

41. Don’t play with borrowed money.

42. Markets reflect current emotions.

43. The long-term trend favors the upside.

46. The market swings between fear and greed.

44. You can’t fight the Fed.

45. You only pay a lot of taxes if you make a lot of money. –Joe Grammel

46. Take the money and run. –Woody Allen

47. When the time comes to sell stock, investors act perversely – unloading winners and keeping losers. –Mark Hulbert.

48. Walk the malls and buy stock in the crowded stores.

49. No amount of expertise will ever match dumb luck.

50. Players are sometimes Flummoxed by the Fickle Finger of Fate, Screwed by the Screaming Scorpion of Skepticism, and Reamed by the Wretched Ramrod of Reality. -Ed McManus

51. If you want to sleep nights, buy CD’s and Savings Bonds.

52. Charting is much like Astrology – but less accurate.

53. Investors vacillate between anxiety and confidence.

54. A dartboard has the same long term hit rate as an expensive advisor.

55. When in doubt – do nothing.

56. The market always goes back up – otherwise nobody would be in it by now.

57. Bonds have maturity, not all investors do.

58. You must speculate to appreciate.

59. Never tell anybody that you’re smart. That just tees them off. Tell them you’re lucky.  –Fred Adler, Investor

60. Ethical Advice? Sure: Cross the line, and you’ll do time.

61. Up is always better than down. Unless you go short.

62. Sell on the rally.

63. An incoming tide raises all boats.

64. No tree ever grows to the sky. – Dr. Michael Schneider

65. Some profits are created by circumstance. Others are destroyed by circumstance. If you’re lucky, it’s a wash.

66. This too shall pass.

67. More people have been ruined by hanging on when it was falling, than selling when it was rising.

68. “The tape doesn’t lie” was the sucker’s folk wisdom. In fact, the tape can be made to lie.” – Once in Golconda, A True History of Wall Street, 1920 – 1938 by John Brooks

69. “I have a general rule: Whenever anything becomes worth more than the State of California, I sell it.” -Alan Blinder on Internet Stocks.

70. The market plays the candle to every new generation of moths.

71. Scan the proxy, read the 10K.

72. I bought stock for my old age and it worked! A month later I was old.  -Henny Youngman.

73. Joe Kennedy left the market when a shoeshine boy gave him a stock tip. He knew the market was oversold.

74. Companies do unnatural things to make the stock go up.  –Dr. Mike Schneider

75. If you make money, don’t tell anyone. They will ask you for some.

76. If the bankers are busy, something is wrong.  -Walter Bagehat

77. A bear market is a bull in gestation.

78. “Buy and Hold” have replaced “I Love You” as our three most important words.

79. Mergers make a few people rich, several do okay, most are unaffected, and many are screwed.

80. Make sure there’s only one guy in charge. No company is ever big enough for two. -Leo F. McManus, Sr.

81. Most people trade on the “Greater Fool Theory”: Whatever you pay for it today, a Greater Fool will give you more for it tomorrow.

82. Take calculated risks. That is different from being rash.  –General George S. Patton

83. Never invest your money in anything that eats or needs repairing.  –Billy Rose

84. If you want to win the lottery, you’ve got to buy a ticket.

85. If to the Stock Exchange you speed/ To try with Bulls and Bears your luck/ ‘Tis odds you soon from gold are freed/ And waddle forth a limping duck. -William H. Ireland – 1807

86. I lost my money in the market even though I got in on the ground floor; it turned out everybody else got in at the basement.  -–Mark Twain

87. There are only three safe ways to make money in the market. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

88. I asked the market maker for a statement. He said, “I’m optimistic.”

89. There is no finer investment than putting milk into babies. –Winston Churchill

90. Companies pay shareholder money for investment bankers to write shareholder reports that shareholders cannot understand.

91. The Crash of ’29 Rule: It’s a bad day when the jumpers come out.

92. The trend is your friend.

93. If the people who sell advice were really good at what they do, they wouldn’t have to sell advice.

94. The four most dangerous words in stock market analysis are, “It’s different this time.”      -–Neil T. Naftalin

95. Nobody really knows what’s going on, including you, me, and them.

96. If you’re a serious investor, keep your office in a one story building. You won’t get badly hurt jumping off the roof.

97. It costs a lot to be rich.

98. “Markets are a great way to organize economic activity, but they need adult supervision.”   — Wall Street Journal, August 28, 2003, quoted by Bob Herbert

99. Wall Street never changes. The pockets change, the suckers change, the stocks change, but Wall Street never changes, because human nature never changes. – Jesse Livermore

100. If you own a lot of stock, the stock owns you.

101. “Beware of Wall Street lawyers with their legalistic tricks.  I knew an honest lawyer once; he died in Fifty-Six.” –Ed McManus, “The Oracle and the Entrepreneur”

102. A merger of two losers never made a winner. -Ed de Castro

103. Rely first on what you see;  second on what you know; and only third, on what you think.

104. Things that don’t make sense are most often not true.

105. Don’t over analyze. When all is said and all is done one dollar is as good as another.             -Angelo Guadagno

106. Ask yourself: What’s the worst that can happen? What happens if that happens?

107. It’s okay to be a little fish, until the sharks go into a feeding frenzy.

108. Stock Price Forecasting: Stocks will rise and fall; or fall and rise, or rise and rise, or fall and fall. Guaranteed

109. Buy to the sound of cannons. -–Baron Rothschild

110. I expect the stock market to be less appealing once other forms of gambling are legalized.

111.  Mess with the Bull, you get the horns.

112. Wall Street: Where people in Rolls Royces drive to get advice from people who commute by subway. –Warren Buffet

113. Cut your losses and ride your winners.

114. “Occam’s Razor:” Things are most often what they look like.

115. Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent. – Maynard Keynes, Economist

116. It’s better to be lucky than smart.

117. Don’t trust anyone with a foolproof plan. They’re wrong.

118. The winner is always the person who makes the fewest mistakes.

119. Investing is a triumph of Hope over Experience.

120. Markets never forget, unless it’s in their interest to forget.

121. Shorting is basically buying high and selling low.

122.  Never average down – Jesse Livermore

123. Men go mad in herds  -Charles MacKay

124. Profits take care of themselves; losses never do. -Jesse Livermore

125. It’s only money.

Oh, two more things. If you have a favorite investment aphorism, or guideline, of your own that I missed, please send it to me at Jokesmith1@aol.com.

And finally,  if you make a lot of money using any of these thoughts and observations to guide your investment decisions, email me for the mailing address to which you may send my check.

Thanks, good luck, and if it seems too good to be true, it isn’t true.

1 Comment

Filed under Economics, Humor

I.D.M., Inc.: The Chairman’s Letter

Willy Sellmore

The Chairman: Wharton B. School addresses an analysts’ meeting (1994)

(Willy Sellmore: At our sales meetings, we often used puppet, “Willy Sellmore,” on screen, as the sales force spokesman. Willy raised questions and issues with management that individual sales people might be reluctant to do. Willy was played by writer, humorist, puppeteer Joe Vuotto.)

 

 Note to Staff: The following letter is being sent from the Chairman’s office to all I.D.M. shareholders of record as of the start of the previous fiscal quarter. It is intended to address the shareholders’ and financial community’s concerns about the company’s recent reports regarding profitability and continuing viability. Please insure that all employees receive copies at home and see it posted on all headquarter’s bulletin boards. -HR

To:             All Shareholders, Employees, Analysts, and Friends of I.D.M., Inc.

From:       Wharton B. School, Chairman, BA, MBA, CPA, Ph.D, MDC*

Subject:   Quarter 4, Year-to-Date, Operating Results Analysis

The company’s recent quarterly performance was not up to your Chairman’s expectations. Specifics will be announced in due course, but the root causes of this shortfall are well known to the business and investment communities. They include the economic crisis in Greece and Italy, the continuing inroads made by the European Common Market, the strength of the Euro, uncertainties in Iran and North Korea, the counterfeiting of U.S. One Hundred Dollar bills in China, and the world wide concerns about unrest in the Middle East, the co-called Global Warning scares perpetrated by the Media, and El Nino. The issue of the American economy speaks for itself.

The company has responded to these challenges by reorganizing the headquarters function and managing several mid-level executives out of the business for performance related issues.

The Chairman will not address the critics and other alarmists who suggested that his alleged quarterly bonus (publicly reported at $75 million but, in actuality, significantly  less) contributed to the profit shortfall. The bonus was earned in accordance with the Executive Compensation Plan approved by your Board of Directors and on file and accessible to the public at our Nome, Alaska office during normal business hours.

Our focus now is on a return to profitability, and to that end we have reorganized ourselves for what we shall call “The Challenge of the New Millennium.” Your Chairman’s background in Human Resources and Finance has given him a unique perspective in developing a powerful, staff-centric, centralized operation. An organization with the support, control, and metrics necessary to call the corporate tune to which the line organizations will dance. We believe that the flexibility and dynamics of the New Millennium Third Generational Functional Mobility plan will enable the company to return to profitable within a forecastable time frame.

In addition, the Executive Compensation Plan has been reworked to help focus your Chairman’s attention on the work at hand. Retention bonuses have been paid to guard against the Chairman’s untimely departure before this important work has been concluded.

The Chairman believes that our future success lies in the continuing down sizing of our customer base to allow corporate focus on the key accounts responsible for the bulk of our revenues. A small group of corporate loyalists is obviously to our greater good than a larger mosaic of clients, each of whom may want something different.

Our Corporate Mission Statement: “To achieve results for our Founders, Principles, Key Executives, Shareholders, and Employees” was never truer than it is today.

A few illustrative examples of this new approach will be helpful:

1. The Research and Development Department now reports to Freight and Traffic. This new group, captained by the Chairman’s long time administrative aide, will encourage our engineers to design all new products to fit standard size cartons and containers to realize the great savings possible in the costly Packaging and Preservation areas.

2. The World-Wide Sales & Marketing Organization will now report to Human Resources. This new organization, led by another trusted and talented corporate loyalist, will recognize the attractive and personable people of Sales & Marketing by establishing a corporate cosmetic standard which will be administered within Human Resources, which your Chairman directed for the first ten years of his employment with the company.

The current corporate sales theme (“Sell Below Cost and Make it Up in Volume”)  came to us directly from the Human Resources Think Tank.

3. Manufacturing and Customer Services will now report to Finance. Quality Control is Number One, at I.D.M. and Quality must be controlled, or it becomes very costly. Hence the involvement of our Finance Staff in these two important functions.

We have identified the party who altered the Quality slogan on our website to read: “The Quality Goes In, Before the Name Falls Off.” This person will be dealt with to the full extent of the law.

The Customer Services function has been expanded to include prompt payment scripts and account status reports to be reviewed with the calling customer. Service contracts will be offered to customers having repeat problems, as we firmly believe that in every problem there resides a revenue opportunity.

With changes such as these, we firmly believe that our Millennium Program, similar in many guises to that of Apple, Google, and Berkshire Hathaway, will likewise result in significant financial gains for the corporation in the intermediate and long term time frames.

At this point, the Chairman took questions from the floor:

1. Reporter: You allude to a huge loss. Exactly how “huge” will that loss be?

The Chairman: At my level, I don’t keep those details at my finger tips. Check the website in the near future.

2. Reporter: There are many references to your, and the Board’s, compensation plans, retention bonuses, deferred compensation, stock plans, expenses, and perks. Exactly how much did you receive this year-to-date, from all corporate sources?

The Chairman: We like to say we’re a public company, run by private persons. The matter of my personal income should not be the subject of public discussion among gentlemen. However, I will say that without my own, and the Board’s, involvement, the losses would have been far greater than what we see today.

3. Reporter: The people who left the firm were not on the decision making level. They were mid-level managers who had little to say about corporate strategy. How does firing them resolve anything?

The Chairman: These people were on the tactical level and, as you know, tactics is the implementation of strategy. In that sense, they were at fault. Rest assured, I feel some responsibility for not having supervised them more closely. However, I am, as my staff constantly advises me, “only one man.”

4. Reporter: How exactly will you reduce expenses without cutting your executive compensation?

The Chairman: We will shortly announce a rigorous cost cutting program. which will touch areas like annual employee increases, employee expense reimbursement, the employee outing, holiday party, corporate giving, and additional layers of travel approval for all non-executive staff.

In addition, several of our busiest Board members have agreed to accept consultant contracts, and to tour our facilities around the world searching out opportunities for potential cost savings.

5. Reporter:  You mention your Board members. I see from their resumes that they share with you long term relations dating from school days right up through your current private club memberships. Do you see any conflict of interest here?

The Chairman: No.

6.Reporter: It was reported on a television investigative program, that over the past year you have spent nearly $25 million on vacation homes, boats, and sports cars  How can you justify such personal expenses in light of your current and on-going corporate losses?

The Chairman: I believe our employees, and the shareholder public, are well pleased with my personal acquisitions.  I believe it shows my faith in them, and in our company, that I am willing to take on such personal financial obligations in any otherwise stressful time.

7. Reporter: Shareholders and the press alike complain that there is so little information available on your website. What is the best way for people to stay current with your operations?

The Chairman: My advice would be to read the website for my periodic  letters and reports. What is key here, is that the public listen to what we say, read what we write, and not obsess over what we do.

8. Many I.D.M. employees have lost their jobs, and investors lost their money, due to what has been called by the Wall Street Journal a “mismanagement crisis.” Do you think you owe the employees and investor community any sort of an apology for this situation?

The Chairman: I am never too proud to acknowledge concern. I can truthfully say that if anyone feels that what I did, offended or harmed anyone, I am sorry they feel that way.

Thank you, and good day.

At this point, the Chairman’s son, “Tuck” School, recently appointed Vice President of Public Relations, thanked the media and shareholders for their attendance and interest, closing the meeting with a non-denominational prayer for the welfare of the United States of America. An open bar, buffet, and entertainment followed.

*MDC: “Member, Diner’s Club”

Ed Note: Many of the Chairman’s sentiments are based on actual executive comments I’ve read and heard over the past several decades. I worked for a CEO once who was telling us we all must take a voluntary salary cut, or the company might spiral into bankruptcy and our jobs lost. One of the executives asked why, if that was the case, did the CEO recently purchase an estate and speed boat on Cape Cod. The CEO’s answer was much the same as the Chairman’s: “You should be pleased that I believe in our recovery enough to take on such financial burdens.” People say such stuff, and sometimes, they get away with it.

Finally, the I.D.M. story: In 1964, I was moonlighting as a business writer, and met three young men from the Harvard Business School who were introducing their new company’s first product: It was a numbers pad that could be attached to your computer keyboard (the early computers did not all have built-in number pads as they do today). Their president, Jan, wanted me to write press releases and get them placed in trade magazines. I agreed. I asked Jan, “What does I.D.M. stand for?”

Jan replied, “It Doesn’t Matter.”

I said, “Probably not, I’d just like to know.”

Jan replied, “You don’t understand. I.D.M. stands for ‘It Doesn’t Matter.'” He told me this story:

“When the three of us started the company, we had a big argument over the name. I had a strong opinion, my first partner had a strong opinion, and our other partner kept saying: ‘Guys, it doesn’t matter.'”

“We settled on I.D.M.: ‘It Doesn’t Matter.'”

I thought that was funny. I kept it to myself and wrote and published several news releases for them.

Nearly two years later, Jan called and invited me to lunch to discuss an issue.  I joined him. He told me that a company had offered to buy them out and they all felt this was a good time to exit the business. “The problem is,” Jan said, “their lawyers asked me what I.D.M. stands for. I said, ‘It Doesn’t Matter.’ The lawyer said, ‘Yes, it does. If you want the deal, call me tomorrow with that information.'”

Jan and I sat there for a while, munching sandwiches and drinking beer, before we came up with the meaning of I.D.M.: ‘Interactive Data Management.’ Jan pitched that to the lawyer, the lawyer bought it, and the deal went through.

Both I.D.M. and the company that bought them are long gone now, but every so often I think of I.D.M. and say: ‘It Doesn’t Matter.'”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Humor

How to Make Ice

An August Reverie: How to Make Ice

ice cubes man-taking-ice_~255-417851

Clip Art: Explanatory Exhibit: Am Ice Cube Tray (retro)

In my little summer home, I welcome guests including family, extended family, and friends. I even provide drinks, asking only that the guest mix such drinks themselves, after the first drink is provided by the host

All of this works well enough, except for the ice. Later in the evening, when I reach for a few ice cubes, there is nothing there: It is a stark reminder of the sad, old “Mother Hubbard Phenomena:” The cupboard is bare. No one but me ever makes ice. Perhaps some have lost the recipe. A few might think that ice is a natural byproduct of the refrigeration process. Most may have simply forgotten.

To rectify this, I am posting this helpful little notice on the freezer door:

How to Make Ice

Follow these simple steps and you will enjoy the independence and satisfaction of creating your own personal set of matched ice cubes:

1. Take an ice cube tray, or other appropriate mold, and fill it with cool water (approximately 60 degrees F) up to the lip. Do this in the sink. Try not to spill the water, either on the counter or on the floor. Remember to turn off the faucet when the trays are full.

Note: Do not use hot or boiling water for this purpose. In addition to being more dangerous to handle, scientists tell us that boiling water, while possibly purer, takes longer to freeze than cool tap water.

2.Make sure the tray compartments are equally, but not overly filled.

Note: This can be a teaching moment: As you fill the ice trays, watch the water flow gently over the top of each compartment to fill successor compartments. This is the principle that sank the RMS Titanic in 1912. The great ship had water tight compartments, and heavy hatches or doors, but the compartment walls did not extend to the above deck, so the water simply flowed over them, water-fall like, filling successor compartments, and eventually sinking the great ship. People will never tire of hearing this dramatic and demonstrable story.

3. Gently place the filled trays on the freezer shelf, and close the freezer door.

Note: Do not expect immediate action. Depending on the temperature of the water, the temperature of the freezer, and the number of times people open and close the freezer door, the process could take 4 – 6 hours. However – this does mean that you can repeat the process at least twice, or even three times per day.

4. When the trays are finally frozen, visually check for water bubbles in the ice, which may indicate imperfect or incomplete freezing. If properly frozen, you may immediately use your new ice cubes, to the delight of your friends and yourself. Now, repeat the process.

Note #1: The number of cubes you can make it limited only by the water available, the ice cube trays, and some sort of freezing machine and power source. The rest is up to you, requiring technical knowledge (as contained herein), and your personal effort. I’m sure the latter will never be in short supply.

Note #2: I occasionally find ice cube trays in the freezer, empty. This could be caused by someone lazily picking an ice cube or two out of the tray with their finger nail, and putting the finally empty tray back in the freezer.

However, if someone believes that ice will form in an empty ice tray, perhaps by spontaneous combustion, this is not true. M.I.T.’s Lincoln Labs tested approximately 750 empty ice cube trays (of rubber, plastic, and tin construction) in a variety of freezers, and found that in no case did ice form spontaneously, or even over time intervals ranging up to 48 hours.

Their conclusion: There must be water in the tray in order for ice to form.

Now you have both the technology and the mechanics of making ice cubes. Please use it wisely and appropriately.

This is one of those few times we may safely say: “Try this at home.”

2 Comments

Filed under Humor

Reflection: On Gambling

Sleight of Hand

       Illustration from “SLEIGHTS: A Number of Incidental Effects, Tricks, Sleights, Moves, and Passes (1914)”; by Burling Hull; given to me by Dad’s friend, Levi Lashua (Auctioneer, Table Tennis Hustler, and Parlor Magician Extraordinaire) in 1947 on my 10th birthday

I am not a gambler.

Well, I suppose everything you do in life is some kind of a gamble. I’m not a gambler in the sense of Off Track Betting, or even frequently purchased lottery tickets. In fact, a statistician once told me that your chances of winning the top prize in a national lottery is about the same, in a practical sense, whether or not you buy a ticket. You lose the distinction in the rounding off of the odds. Of course, without the ticket you have no chance at all, microscopic though such a chance might be, but – when it comes to the lottery, you’re not buying a ticket anyway, you’re buying a dream.

Over the years, I have known a few heavy bettors, but never anyone who made real money over the long run. There are too many skilled gamblers out there, and the odds are against you.

A while back, I ran corporate events and recognition programs all over the world, including resorts throughout Las Vegas, Reno, the Caribbean,  and on cruise ships – all of which feature casinos. They are a magnet for the high energy,competitive, aggressive types who seek thrills and endorphin highs at every opportunity (especially with a few drinks under their belts). Meeting Managers always kept a special eye on these guys to try and make sure they didn’t go off the deep end. It didn’t work all the time, and a few Happy Campers on a sponsored vacation trip, ended up going home sadder, poorer, but hopefully wiser. In general, casinos are not desirable destinations for corporate recognition programs.

People in jobs like mine, Meeting Managers, rarely gambled. They were not heavy drinkers, or heavy anything-else either. One colleague, a senior Meeting Manager from IBM I met on the road, and I talked about that one night over dinner. I shared my insight and he said, “Absolutely. Look around at the Meeting Managers you meet out here: There aren’t many old men in our business. If you want the fast life, don’t take this job. You’ll kill your fool self, burn out, or get fired within a year.”

I smiled at the memory of the old nuns in parochial school back in the Forties gravely warning us about “Occasions of Sin.” I guess a casino might qualify.

I learned a few new things about casinos too. They will attract business using every tactic, and trick, in the book. For example, resort casinos are designed and built so that you cannot get from the lobby to your room without walking through the casino, or at least walking past the casino. You can’t go in or out without hearing the laughter, the music, the clank of coins hitting the winner’s tray, seeing the dancing colored lights – everything that appeals to the senses. Why are slot machines so noisy when they dispense coins into the winner’s tray? That noise is designed in, and it’s special. It cries “Winners Over Here!” And the would-be winners come. Once, in Las Vegas, I saw a big bus pull in one morning loaded with area senior citizens. Their luxury bus ride was free, as was a nice lunch at the casino, and then they had 4 hours to lose their money. The buses arrived every morning.

A few of the elderly women carried white, canvas work gloves. “Why is that?” I asked.

“Because,” the floor manager said, “they don’t want to develop calluses from pulling down the slot machine handle several times each minute.”

I worked for, and hung around, with Texans on the road for a while. I always found Texans and Germans to be the most raucous partiers. They were both loud, funny, story tellers who, after hours, enjoyed a drink with friends, telling, and listening to, each other’s tales. And – you better have something new, because they had heard them all.

Like the other successful people I met, they knew their own limits and paced themselves accordingly. One night a bunch of Texans got going on the subject of gambling and “Pappy’s advice.”

One guy said he was told: “If you ever find yourself at a bar, sitting next to a slick looking dude with a deck of cards, who wants to bet you 20 bucks that he can make the Jack of Hearts jump out of that deck and spit cider into your ear, don’t take the bet! You’ll just be out 20 bucks and have an earful of cider.”

Another guy said, “Just look at these casinos. They’re like some temples the ancient Romans built. These casinos are palaces, and people don’t built palaces to commemorate their losses.”

Another told the story of the Texas gambler who: “…..came to Las Vegas in a $50,000 Cadillac El Dorado, and went home in a $250,000 Greyhound Bus.”

And finally, my favorite, the story about two Texans who ended up in a small border down that allowed no gambling whatsoever. They had to find a game, and eventually the bartender steered them to a private room in back where betting games of every sort were available. The two split up and when they got back together an hour later, one of them said: “Every game in this room is fixed.”

His friend replied, “Shhh! If they hear you say that, they won’t let us play!”

And, people take their gambling seriously. One night in Las Vegas, a group of high stakes poker players invited me to swing by their suite after a late night event for a nightcap. I agreed, and showed up after the game for a drink and a visit. Everybody was talking and laughing, and I picked up the deck of cards that was on the table and, unobtrusively  “rigged it.” I had learned a magic trick from an old book (see illustration) whereby you can quickly and quietly stack a deck of cards so that you know all the cards, rank and suit, in order. You can even let someone cut the deck, and you can still pick up the “read” within a card or two. It’s an easily learned memory trick.

I quietly stacked the deck and, during a conversational lull, conspicuously put the deck on the table. I felt the back of the top card as though was searching for something. I said “Six.” I flipped the card over. It was a “Six.” Then I said, “Jack, Eight, King, Three.” I flipped those 4 cards face up: They were “Jack, Eight, King, Three.”

The room grew quiet. I looked up and everybody was gathered around, looking very serious indeed, and watching my performance. I knew it had been a high stakes game, and one of the guys, sensing my unasked question, said: “That’s the deck we’ve been playing with.”

Another guy, the host, became visibly upset: “Guys,” he said, “the casino sent that deck up with the refreshments. I don’t know anything else about it.”

I saw where this was going. I said, “It’s a trick! I stacked the deck while you all were talking!”

There was a pause. “You stacked the deck while we were all around you?”

“Yes,” I said, “It’s a magic trick, and you weren’t paying attention because your focus was elsewhere.” I then broke the Magician’s Code and showed them how the trick was accomplished.

And I had to show them again, and again, and yet again until they could all do it themselves. Then, everything was calm and fine, and I had learned another rule about gambling that the Texas boys’ great grandfathers had probably learned a century or more before in the Old West:

First Great Rule of Gambling: Gambling, Magic Tricks,and/or Sleight of Hand, never go together.

1 Comment

Filed under Business Insights, Humor

I’m on a Help Line: Help!

Okay, let us now consider Help Lines in the context of both utilitarian assistance and self-abuse.

It starts when you call the 800 number. If you are lucky enough to hear a human being, or think you hear a human being, you probably have either a person speaking English-As-A-Fourth-Language, or a young person speaking English as though…hewasrecitingaGilbert&Sullivanpattersong.

Me: I didn’t understand a word he said; is there a way to record it and play it back later at a slower speed?

And that’s if you’re lucky. Most often you’ll end up with a helpful computer doing automated responses. Don’t bother pushing “O” for operator. It will ignore you as it chants:

1. “Please listen closely as our options have changed.”

Me: They have not; I called 6 months ago and you said the same thing.

2. “If you’re calling about the allegations of embezzlement and tax fraud against our CEO and the Board of Directors, please hang up now and call our Law Department as 1-800-NOFAULT.”

Me: I wonder where they’re being held.

3. “If you wish to manage your account, you can  find this information by visiting our website. Find the ‘account’ logo and click on it; then find ‘manage your account,’ click on it; it will often take you to ‘services,’ where you can read our ‘Frequently Asked Questions’. If the website crashes again, it is only because we’re helping others.”

Me: Your  website is impenetrable, and nearly as useless as your 800 number.

4. “We are currently experiencing a higher than normal volume of calls.”

Me: You say that at 10am, noon, and midnight.

5. “Our associates are all busy helping other callers.”

Me: I think this means you don’t have enough people on the phones; or, maybe your stuff is so flawed, no one can figure out how to work it.

6. “Your waiting time is less than 10 minutes.”

Me: Beautiful! You’re not trying to scare me away, are you?

7. “Please key in your 12 digit account number now.”

Me: Huh? I just want to know how to turn the fool thing on.

9. “For security reasons, please enter the last four digits of your Social.”

Me: The last Social I attended was over the holidays.

10. “Please say your answer to one of the following security questions:

1. What is your cat’s maiden name?

2. Who was your first boss’ wife’s older brother?

3. What did Marilyn Urquhart say you did at the Senior Class Reunion of 1987?

Me: Marilyn Urquhart is not to be believed. I’ll go for the cat’s maiden name: Is it…Kitty?

9. “I’m sorry that is not correct. Thank you for calling us. Please check the website. We’re pleased that we could be of assistance to you. We value your business. Press 8 if you’d like to hear about our new product offerings, or arrange a contract maintenance session with one of our staff engineers. Please have your credit card ready. If you’re willing to take a two minute survey, please stay on the line. Have a great day.” (Click)

Me: Hello? What was that website address again?

Leave a comment

Filed under Humor

The Pharaoh and the Agriculture Minister

 “The Pharaoh and the Agriculture Minister:” I started this piece shortly after “The Fall of Troy” was published, in Rogue Magazine, Spring 1963. It was lightly based on a big story at the time wherein an important Texas politician was buying up storage silos so he could overcharge farmers, and the government, for storing surplus crops. Then Cleopatra’s asp worked his way into the story, as did Joseph and his many colored coat, the Biblical Seven Year Famine, and the Hittites: All together at last. None of it is historically accurate, but it sounds good. Naturally, I had to keep coming back to a favorite subject: Bureaucracies.

Pharaoh

 

 

Stock Photo: Ramses II (1279-1213 B.C.)

Correspondence: The Pharaoh and the Agriculture Minister

            The following correspondence was found during the 1970’s by a Cairo Museum and Smithsonian Society archaeology and excavating team. The correspondence was on a papyrus roll, in a sealed earthen wine jar, hidden in the wall of an as yet unidentified Egyptian tomb When translated, the scroll was found to be an exchange between the Pharaoh Ramses II (aka “Ramses the Great”) and an unidentified Agriculture Minister, whom authorities suspect may have been Merneptah, who later succeeded “Ramses the Great” as Pharaoh. The time seems to be in the later years of Ramses rule.

The issues discussed, and the positions taken, are a testament to the eternal and unchanging nature of our governing bureaucracies.

 

From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

It has come to our exalted attention, through the efforts of the visiting Hebrew shepherd soothsayer called Joseph, that a seven year pestilence and/or famine will shortly descend upon our Mother Egypt.

We hereby direct and command that you make adequate provision for the sustenance and well being of your exalted Pharaoh, and his divine family, as well as for the sustenance of your exalted Pharaoh’s people, insofar as this second priority does not conflict with the first, during this period of national emergency.

 

To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From:  Minister of Agriculture

The unworthy one is flattered by the gods to receive a personal directive from his exalted and beloved Pharaoh.

However, the unworthy one would remind His Magnificence that two-thirds of the arable farmland is in the Pharaoh’s personal soil bank, while most of the remaining land will not be of value until the Sacred Nile overflows its banks in five more years of our exalted Pharaoh’s glorious reign. Precisely what does your Magnificence suggest the unworthy one do?

 

From: Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

If the exalted Pharaoh felt it was his duty to formulate detailed plans for the Minister of Agriculture, the Pharaoh would not have need of a Minister of Agriculture. The soil currently in the Pharaoh’s soil bank was placed there to maintain the prices of figs and dates which, the Minister hopefully knows, are staples of Mother Egypt’s economy.

The Pharaoh hereby directs and commands that the Minister make hasty preparations for the successful cultivation of the remaining farmland.

 

To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From:  Minister of Agriculture

Again, the unworthy one’s ancestors rejoice with him that he has received another personal directive from his beloved Pharaoh.

The Bounteous One is, as usual, correct in all particulars. Figs and dates are indeed a staple of Mother Egypt’s economy, and the Exalted One acted wisely when He protected their prices. The unworthy one is certain that the Egyptian people feel blessed by the gods that Pharaoh would take upon His Glorious Self the burden of owning all such commercial vineyards, and who would sell these commodities to His people at such reasonable prices, when all facts are considered. Also, the Illustrious One is correct in directing His unworthy minister to cultivate the arid land available, for the Exalted One, no doubt, intends to command His brothers, the rain gods, to flood the Sacred Nile, which is about the only way the unworthy ones sees of salvaging anything from the desert sand of which His Magnificence speaks.

The unworthy one will now retire and wait for this latest miracle and tribute to his Pharaoh’s majesty and status among the gods.

 

From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

The word “retire” has caused the Pharaoh to reflect upon his future plans for the Minister of Agriculture. However, for now, the Pharaoh is reasonably certain that the minister meant “retire,” as in retire to one’s duty, as opposed to “retire,” as in retire to join one’s rejoicing ancestors.

The Pharaoh does not consider it appropriate to trouble His brothers, the rain gods, with a trivial management problem which could be handled by a competent minister of agriculture, such as is currently being interviewed by this office. This latter candidate mentioned in passing that a simple trench-type irrigation system would be of inestimable value in drenching dry soil and rendering it arable.

The Pharaoh awaits the first positive progress report from the current minister of agriculture.

 

To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From: Minister of Agriculture

The unworthy one has read between the lines of his Exalted Pharaoh’s latest missive and senses the anguish of the Magnificent One as he considers His exalted future, and the future of His people, where possible.

The suggestion of a trench-type irrigation system was considered early on by the unworthy one. However, the approach is challenging, application-wise, as the land to be irrigated is some twenty rods higher than the Sacred Nile; the unworthy one has encountered his share of difficulties in encouraging the water to run uphill.

The Abacus Division of the Pharaoh’s Data Processing Division has processed this problem into the Sphinx and has been advised that only a personal directive from the Exalted One’s brother gods can make water run uphill.

Interim positive action, however, has been undertaken. The unworthy one has sent thousands of slaves wading into Mother Nile, and directed them to splash water on the shores. This project has enjoyed some success and the unworthy one is proud, yet humble, to report that in certain places at least three feet of river bank is moist enough for the cultivation of certain crops that grow well under arid conditions.

In addition to this, runners have been sent into the field bearing skins and baskets of water which they splash about in certain defined areas. This approach too is having its share of rewards, even considering the 85% water loss due to spillage and evaporation.

Should the Pharaoh be talking with his brother gods soon, He might point out that a flood would be greatly appreciated.

 

From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

Truly, the minister’s suggestions and accomplishments are worth of a report to Pharaoh. Continue the bank splashing and runners with leaky baskets. Within a short time, the banks should be moist enough for excavating the final resting places of all involved in the project.

Fortunately for Mother Egypt, a Hittite General, Corps of Engineers, is in Karnac visiting Pharaoh’s sister, the Royal Princess. He has consented to sail down to your area and advise us of a workable solution to what has been mismanaged into a major national crisis.

 

To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From:  Minister of Agriculture

By this time word has reached Pharaoh’s exalted presence of the unfortunate incident regarding the overturned barge. The Exalted One was very wise to have his family instructed in the noble art of water treading, but it is a pity about the handsome Hittite officer and his heavy, cumbersome armor. He certainly would have made shore otherwise. My staff advises me, however, that he went down for the final time praising our Exalted Pharaoh’s glorious reign.

As the Illustrious One has heard, the unworthy one was not in personal attendance that day for, in accordance with long standing custom, the day was spent in prayer and fasting at the Sphinx for the well being and continued reign of our Glorious Pharaoh, as the unworthy one’s staff will testify to a man.

Undoubtedly, the Pharaoh’s noble sister, the Royal Princess, will find happiness, perhaps with some Egyptian Noble, at some later date. Under separate cover, the unworthy one is forwarding the princess the gift of a pet to help fill her lonely hours; a pet which so well symbolizes the stoic determination and fierce courage of our Mother Egypt under the inspirational leadership of our Glorious Pharaoh.

 

From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

This directive would have come sooner had not Pharaoh been fully involved in avoiding a major land war with the Hittite Empire.

After much reflection, and dialogue with brother gods, the Pharaoh has decided to allow cultivation of all arable land in the Pharaoh’s personal soil bank. However, since this land is in the trust of the gods, it must not be defiled by passing into mortal hands. Therefore, the land remains in the Pharaoh’s ownership and all goods produced will be stored away in silos against the day when our Mother Egypt will require a healthy and capable Pharaoh, and Nobility, to provide leadership in such times of stress and crisis.

The Princess sends along her thanks for your unusual gift. No one at court had ever seen, or heard of, a trained asp.

 

To: Office of the Pharaoh

From: Minister of Agriculture

Once again the Pharaoh proves his gifted and inspirational leadership with His latest decree. What a solace it will be to the hungry multitudes when they realize they are being considered by their Beloved Leader when He sips down to sup.

The first crop has already been planted. Has Exalted Pharaoh considered the availability of the storage silos mentioned? There is no time to build new ones. If the unworthy one may, he respectfully suggests His Magnificence look into the matter of the silos.

 

From: Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Minister of Agriculture

The minister’s latest missive caused Pharaoh some minor puzzlement. Mother Egypt has countless storage silos spread throughout the land. Then, the Pharaoh checked and learned that all such storage facilities, and silos, had been purchase by an unidentified minister, possibly with Hittite, and other outsider, financial backing. Agents further report that some of these silos appear to be poisoned, others not, and only the purchasing party knows which is which.

Does the minister of Agriculture have any further knowledge of these proceedings?

 

To:      Office of the Pharaoh

From: Minister of Agriculture

Perhaps. The unworthy one has long realized how difficult it must be for one Pharaoh, a brother of the gods even, to control the entire domain of our beloved Mother Egypt. This, on top of grieving for his beloved Sister-Princess whose unfortunate demise is still unexplained as she slept under guard, alone, with only her trained asp for company.

The unworthy one senses the need for Pharaoh to spend more time with His brother gods and leaving the actual burden of administration to a capable and trusted prime minister, such as is currently advising his Beloved Pharaoh in this missive. A man like myself, unworthy as he might be, who has no other aspiration than to serve His Magnificence, and Mother Egypt, in this endeavor.

This is meant only as food for thought. Food and Thought; Alas: Both perishable commodities.

 

From:  Office of the Pharaoh

To:      Office of the Prime Minister

cc:       All Nobility

All Ministries

Public Readings

Hittite Empire (Executive List)

Your Beloved and Exalted Pharaoh is pleased to welcome a new member to the family of the gods. A proven and trustworthy leader whose sole interest is to serve Pharaoh without thought of personal status, power, wealth, or political gain; a man who will speak for the Pharaoh and act for the Pharaoh in all matters, sacred and profane.

We welcome you to our exalted bosom: Prime Minister Merneptah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Humor

My Computer, My Electric Drill, The Druids, and Me

Druids cover

                      Cover Art by Mark Grammel

This is the cover of my (unpublished) book, “The Druids as Entrepreneurs.” It’s all about the people and activities of a mythical high-tech manufacturing company, named “Binkley’s, Inc.” It was named after its autocratic founder, C.T. Binkley. It’s about the people who populated this business, by department, their human aspects and their corporate aspects, good and bad, funny and sad.

The second part of this two-part essay is my book’s introduction to the computer industry. It is called “The Computer at Stonehenge.”  An early computer indeed, Stonehenge was built between 3100 and 1550 BC in a remote and beautiful location 13 KM North of Salisbury England; where it may still be seen today. My poem was originally published in the computer magazine, Datamation, circa 1975.

First, the essay on my current status in the wonderful user’s world of computer technology and marketing:

I have a computer. I use it for email and word processing. I have an electric drill. I use it for creating holes of various sizes and also as a power screw driver. Both of these machines are of equal value to me. Before I had the Black & Decker electric drill, I had a Craftsman manual drill and screwdriver. Before I had the computer, I had an IBM electric typewriter and before that, an Olivetti manual typewriter. I still have those machines in the cellar and could go back to them with only moderate inconvenience.

What I like about the electric drill is that it’s even older than the computer, but still works as easily and professionally as it ever did. No one has come and told me that I must buy an update, or even a new drill, because of changes the manufacturer made, that I don’t need or want, and without which my electric drill won’t work.

Nobody has installed an electric drill update, so that if I squeeze the handle and jerk the trigger at the same time, the drill goes blank and forgets how to drill holes.

Nobody has called and asked me to join an electric drill users club, or spend time on a drill chat line, or buy expensive and mind numbing games that can now be played on my electric drill.

Sidebar: One of my favorites anecdotes about Albert Einstein happened in the late Forties when he joined Princeton University in New Jersey. He bought a Volkswagen to get around town. He was observed driving it,  and was shortly called by an enthusiastic young man who asked the professor if he’d like to join the Princeton Volkswagen Club. Einstein asked what that was. The young man explained that it was a club consisting of Volkswagen owners who met monthly and exchanged Volkswagen ideas and experiences.

Einstein thought for a moment, and then asked: “I have a toothbrush too. Is there a club for that?”

So, ladies and gentlemen of Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Dell, and all your peers throughout the industry, hear this plaintive and sincere request:

1. Don’t let your bright young techies go wild and add features and benefits that we really don’t need so that when I inadvertently hit two keys at the same time, the damn computer jumps off the desk.

2. Support the stuff that’s out here. I have a 1973 Mustang Convertible and I can still get parts and support for it. It still works like it always did, and goes as fast as it ever did (and no, I don’t want to join a Mustang club).

3. Acknowledge and respect the fact that there are technically challenged seniors out here who would like to use your product without needless complications. You can make those complications, or “improvements,” available to those who want them (and – at extra expense too!), but do not force such things on those who do not want or need them.

4. Feel free to use me as a Beta test site. Send me the instruction manual and the device and let’s see how well I do setting it up and using it. I am the perfect test subject. As someone once said: “Nothing is foolproof, because fools are just so damn creative.”

5. Finally, as I learned in the Army, when involved in any development or strategic plan, remember the Factors of KISS: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Write for my shipping address and phone number.

 

And now: “The Computer at Stonehenge”

There are strange things done,

To Be Number One

In selling the computer.

IBM

Has their stratagem

That daily grows acuter.

And Apple & Dell

May compete like Hell

But the story’s missing link,

Is the system old,

At Stonehenge sold,

by the firm of Druids, Inc.

 

The Druids were

Entrepreneurs,

And they built a granite box,

That tracked the moons,

Warned of Monsoons,

and forecast Equinox.

Their price was right,

Their future bright,

The prototype was sold;

From Stonehenge site

Their bits and bytes,

Would ship for Celtic gold.

The riggers came

To move the frame,

It weighed a million ton!

The traffic folk

Thought it a joke,

Their wagon wheels just spun.

“We’ll nay move that,”

The foreman spat,

“Just let the wild weeds grow.

It’s Druid-kind,

Over-designed,

And belly up they’ll go.”

 

That man spoke true,

And thus to you,

A warning from the ages:

Your stock will slip,

If you can’t ship,

What’s in your brochure’s pages.

See if it sells,

Without the bells,

And strings that ring and quiver.

For Druid repute

Went down the chute,

Because they couldn’t deliver.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business Insights, Humor