Don Thurston Blog

You’ve got me, who’s got you?

Movies are a vast reservoir of quotable quotes. One favorite originates from Superman when he rescues Lois Lane,  saying  “Easy Miss, I’ve got you…..and she  asks…. ”You’ve got me, who’s got you?” The scene portrays Superman rescuing Lois Lane as she was falling from a Metropolis skyscraer.

The question “You’ve got me, who’s got you” is worthy of a conversation.

In the context of Superman and Lois Lane, the action, while wondrous, is a straight forward and timely rescue.

Applying a much broader interpretation of who’s got you takes us to a different place. At birth, hopefully we are helped by health oriented professionals, institutions, family and friends. For many, the journey continues through education, career building, family formation, recreation, spiritual support. A Common denominator is the multitude of individuals lending a hand along the way.

Under certain circumstances Superman might have well replied, “Sometimes no one”, to the question” Who’s got you?” Imagine his  world in which no one’s got him.  No parents, no siblings, no educators, no coaches, no health providers, no artists, no friends or companions.

An environment absent of any supports is like a vacuum, forces are soon marshaled to fill the voids. Examples are with us every day and everywhere from disaster assistance, to famine, to individuals in distress to… any number of tragic circumstances. Organizations abound to fill the voids.  More remarkable is the creation of intervening initiatives reacting to specific circumstances. They can be short lived or the beginning of something long lasting.

Superman had a head start but he has no immunity to unforeseen, troublesome events. His life can be thrown into disarray by circumstances well beyond his control

Situations often take a nasty turn. His attributes such as faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound may diminish. He will become closer to a mere mortal and suffer the consequences. Or Superman could be permanently disabled if Lex Luthor is successful with his Kryptonite caper.

In these cases, a support group will organize.  Batman, The Shadow, The Green Hornet, Wonder Woman and Spider Man among others are only a text away from recognizing the dilemma, quickly marshaling resources to fill the vacuum.

Then Superman can answer yes when asked who’s got you adding, many friends, acquaintances and fans now make up a very robust support group.

 

 

Don Thurston Blog

The, William, Venus, Romeo

The, William, Venus, Romeo

The Last, William Tell, Venus de, Romeo and

Got it yet?

How about The Last Supper, William Tell Overture, Venus de Milo; Romeo and Juliet.

All artistic masterpieces

The common denominators are those elusive concepts of creativity, inventiveness, thinking outside the box, vision, and imagination. Hard work is ubiquitous to them all-success the result of great personal sacrifice and commitment.

Inspiration goes well beyond  the arts.

Inventors such as Gutenberg and his printing press, Margaret Knight and her flat- bottomed paper bag and Kearns and his variable- speed windshield wiper are no less creative than symphonies.

Building great organizations is the result of an individual’s creativity and dedication for the advancement of a cause. Medecins Sans Frontieres is one example, dedicated to delivering medical care with no constraints. New  political movements are founded because of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Mystery cloaks the creative world; easily explained in retrospect, impossible to predict.

One outstanding example of artistic and organizational creativity is captured by the Honens Festival.

Twenty years ago the germ of an eventual artistic masterpiece evoked a journey to international prominence. Far from the traditional centers of music creativity, what began as a piano  competition saw the light of day. Ester Honens loved the piano, and relished the profound benefit to the young artists and their listeners.  Her personal commitments were financial, visionary, and purposeful.

What followed exemplifies the fundamentals of a visionary startup followed by others taking on the legacy. The competition flourished because of the dedication of successors.

Enter Stephen McHolm. Ester Hones was the spark; follow up teams were the fuel; Stephen was the bonfire.

He elevated an already widely- heralded competition into a festival. His guidance merged artistic excellence with the performer’s public persona, resulting in a jewel, capturing the imagination and appreciation of audiences  around the world.

Once again the creative spirit and the devotion to a cause win out. Such a triumph can scarcely be imagined let alone forecast.

 

Don Thurston Blog

BED&BREAKFASTS-R-US

New to the retail sector is a specialty distributor providing furnishings, supplies and consulting services for bed and breakfasts. The firm is well named as BED&BREAKFASTS-R-US (www.bbru.org).

The company’s motto is EVERYTHING FOR YOUR GUEST’S COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE.  Services and products include architecture plans, breakfast menus, furnishings, room designs, decorating, security and amenities.

Searching their website and scanning brochures reveal a treasure trove of information.

There is an excellent section on building designs. Space is always limited and can be preserved with ingenuity. Construct stair wells to be just wide enough to accommodate luggage and no more. Eliminating banisters saves space as well. Bedrooms should be large enough to contain a double bed and not large enough for a queen sized. Two elements to guard against are easy access to windows and closets. Make sure to limit room for suitcase storage.

Lighting is important. In the bedroom for example bedside illumination should be barely sufficient to read by, making it very difficult for a quiet interlude. Faulty switches are a design bonus. Make sure wall switches are some distance from the bed thereby necessitating getting out of bed before sleep.

Some of these principles can be followed for lighting in the common room. Be sure to provide just enough lighting to read large print brochures about tourist features in the area.  If guests wish to watch TV, the remote must be in evidence. It does not necessarily have to work. The TV can be from another era, and in a distant corner as well. Poor reception helps, discouraging watching too much TV and using excess power.

Furnishings follow the simple attributes of stuffed chairs and sofas and slightly wobbly tables. Vintage family photos provide a home like ambience and do not have to be authentic. A nice touch is the addition of knock-off Tiffany lamps.

Selecting appropriate reading material is very important. One readily available source is used book stores where  volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica’s  can be acquired simply by carrying them away. Magazines provide excellent diversions. Plan carefully and collect out of date editions; one expert advises doctor’s offices are good sources. Titles such as the Ladies Home Journal and Popular Mechanics are known to have universal appeal.

Our current counsel is to stay away from internet service. More on this subject is forthcoming.

Careful attention to bathroom facilities goes without saying. Shower taps need to be very difficult to operate, extra toilet paper is compulsory but stored in the most remote place as possible, fresh bar soap is a nice touch but virtually impossible to unwrap. Pay attention to safety measures by way of small bath mats and the exclusion of door locks.

Turning to the breakfast menu, quality-creep and a wide level of selections are in evidence. Too many operators continue to provide excellent and varied meals using quality ingredients. These tend to reduce profits. Prudent shopping practices will reduce costs with hardly any diminution of variety and quality.

Please refer to our more extensive review of this new firm in our June issue of  Guide for the Complete Hotelier.

BED&BREAKFASTS-R-US are available for franchising opportunities. Consult their website for additional information.

Don Thurston Blog

Entrepreneurs cannot be grown by others; they can only grow themselves

Silicon Valley is legendary as a world center for entrepreneurship and business startups (and failures). So much so that conversations about making technological advances and money will frequently be summed up by saying “like Silicon Valley”. Attempts at cloning are underway across the world. The question remains, cloning what?

Perhaps it is the infrastructure, including transportation systems, schools and arts facilitates that attracts the startup crowd.

Perhaps it is a system which will encourage the accumulation of great wealth including an accommodating tax regime and a sympathetic patent system.

Perhaps it is the availability of professional services such as legal, accounting, investment banking and tax management

Perhaps it is the availability of capital for all stages of the enterprise.

Perhaps it is the availability of skilled people.

Perhaps it is the presence of universities that harbor excellence in research and graduates who are able to provide related talents.

Perhaps it is a covey of like-minded people all looking to create products and services and build successful businesses around them.

Perhaps it is education programs and mentors, helping to lower the inevitable barriers to success.

Perhaps it is the opportunities that are available, allowing for existing technology to be adapted to new applications.

Perhaps it is a culture that embraces the creative spirit, tolerates individuals who are not   compliant and who are disdainful of the status quo.

The conundrum remains, why are some people so creative and entrepreneurial? Research continues. Insight remains in short supply.

More likely than not an entrepreneur cannot be grown; he or she will grow themselves. What is possible is the provision of helpful circumstances to enhance the process. Prepare the potato patch and the potatoes will grow themselves.

 

 

Don Thurston Blog

The Great Horsepower Scandal

The great horsepower scandal has recently been brought to our attention. An article in the Journal of Mechanical Engineers (January 14, 1911 pages 47-53), written by Harold Abercrombie, reports that engine manufacturers routinely claim higher horse-power ratings than what is actually delivered. This fraudulent practice puts the whole industry under scrutiny and in particular the Acme Steam Engine Company.

A short review follows. James Watt is credited, not with the invention of the steam engine, but for modifications that made it truly useful. To demonstrate the engine’s benefits, Watt developed comparisons among his invention and the work provided by horses, which were the main source of power at the time. Through experimentation he determined that a pony could lift an average of two hundred and twenty pounds, one hundred feet per minute over a four hour working shift. He also postulated that a draft horse was fifty percent more powerful than a pony. He called this one horse power which became the standard power rating tool for all engines.

To ensure that engine manufacturers were representing correctly and not exaggerating the horse power of their engines, the Department of Measurement and Standards was established. Test stations were soon built. In instances where the engine could not be moved the horse was taken to the engine.

An employee from the Department of Measurement Standards attended the tests and cared for the horse as well.   The procedure was simple. The engine would pull four hundred and forty pounds one hundred feet and if the time required was one minute, then the engine rating was confirmed. The horse would duplicate the process to make sure that the calibration was correct. This was necessary to take into account differences in environmental conditions that would influence power delivery.

Over time, the Head of the Department of Measurement Standards noticed that engines at the Kingston on Thyme station were reporting horse power produced by the engines and the horse were exactly the same.  This was contrary to outcomes elsewhere where such consistency was unusual. Eventually an inspector was dispatched to review the results.

He identified that the employee was lowering or increasing the weight pulled and using drugs to enhance or lower the horse’s strength. In so doing the engine rating would always match the engines performance. The engine supplier and the employee of The Department of Standards were clearly in cahoots.

One can only imagine the resulting consternation throughout the industry. Most alarming was the extent of the conspiracy well beyond the Kingston on Thyme location.

Repercussions were and are severe. Lawsuits blossomed, encompassing compensation for the engine buyers and legal actions against the manufacturers. Corruption within the Department of Measurement Standards is under investigation. Sadly several horses have passed away because of ingesting illegal substances. Humane societies are now investigating as well.

The Government Minister of Measurement and Standards has vowed actions that will prevent this from ever happening again.

Don Thurston Blog

Influencers do have their constructive moments

As was their custom, the movers and the shakers of the community convened over refreshments and discussions about the major issues of the day. Over time these forums intensified. What began as social gatherings were morphing into something less than a movement but decidedly more than benign chats.

Participants were from many walks of life. All held positions of power, circumstance and possessed much wealth. They also shared an increasing sense of unease. Their anxieties intensified as political, social and economic conditions continued to deteriorate. Action words became more frequent in meeting minutes. Eventually several broad issues were selected as critical and worthy of pursuit.

One recurring observation was that there seemed to be widely differing applications of the law depending on the status of the offender. Over time those with the most influence were treated less punitively than others. One law for the rich and one for the poor seemed to be more and more prevalent. Worse, some very high ranking citizens were above the law altogether.

About three quarters of the group agreed that the time required to bring an alleged criminal to trial was way too long. Due process was recognized as vital for a well-functioning legal system. A shortened course was badly needed.

Not surprisingly, gender inequality was a contentious subject. Both laws and customs worked against female participation in almost all walks of life.

A weakness in the system was how alleged law breakers should be judged. Imagine arriving at the decision that this could be fairly determined by a group of his or her peers.

Deliberations continued about these and some sixty additional issues. Remaining was the development of processes to realize change. After eight hundred years, this difficult to define process is still very much alive and well, not withstanding many starts, stops and setbacks.

Three cheers for  Magnificent Charter

Don Thurston Blog

T’aint my fault, youse guys were here first

The scene was akin to a Keystone Cops episode. Two cars collided at a busy intersection and as the drivers were awaiting the police, a third car added to the chaos by careening into the wreckage. The driver of this auto stepped out, shouting “T’aint my fault, youse guys were here first”!

Out of this somewhat comical event, we can ask a challenging question. Does the late-arriver have any responsibility for the actions of the those who preceded him? In much the same fashion do successive generations have a responsibility for actions by their by forebearers?

Post-colonial cultures across the world are increasingly aware of the levels of responsibility, if any, from generation to generation. Canada is now immersed in the issues resulting from decades of questionable colonial practices.

Many of the actions, some of which were accidental and some deliberate, resulted in the destruction of robust societies. Blame is not the issue. What happened may be a collective fault in retrospect but not for today’s generation. Memories are the issue. Before, residential schools, forced migration, starvation and disease could not be imagined. After, we now know that we are capable of such behavior.

The physical evidence is unequivocal and so are the memories. Like it or not the colonial period is now part of our psyche and we shall always be worse off for many of the transgressions.

In the case of the cars colliding, all the  participants were involved. The late arrival carries no blame for the first accident and  his observation “T’aint my fault, youse guys were here first” is perceptive. The memories remain, however, and life after the collision is different from before.

Don Thurston Blog

What the %&#@?* does exponential mean?

Our visitor from a distant galaxy wonders at the number of things, ideas and events on planet Earth that are reported as growing exponentially. No day goes by without reference to the demand for a product, the incidence of white collar crime, debt growth, or a particularly virulent disease all increasing at an exponential rate.

Exponential is defined as when the growth increases at a fixed rate over time.  For example the number of crows in a murder of crows is doubling every day, or house prices are increasing three fold every five years,  or new cases of Ebola are quadrupling every week.  Our alien friend is further puzzled by an article in a communication’s magazine, stating that the use of cell phones is growing exponentially.

Using her ultra-modern communicator,  she asks home base, many light years away, about this conundrum on planet Earth and how this growth rate of cell phones would manifest itself.

She receives a graphic,  displayed above. The horizontal red line indicates the surface area of the planet, water included; the blue line indicates the area covered by typical cell phones if they double in number every day and are laid down in a single layer side by side. The vertical axis is the surface area of the earth and the horizontal axis is the number of days over which the doubling occurs.

Ms. Alien is very concerned because planet Earth will be completely covered by cell phones in about forty days. Predictably she flees the planet, recommending to her superiors that this is not a place worth colonizing.

Canadian Crises; Pennies, Poutine, Maple Syrup, Hockey

This is no time for Canadians to hide behind a wall of false security. Bankers are forever heaping praise on the high quality of the country’s financial affairs. Resource exporters cannot pass a microphone without a speech about an ever expanding Chinese demand.  Now the technology world is on Canada’s side as Blackberry goes through a renewal.

Beware; complacency can be a greater evil

The Canadian penny is a case in point. With the demise of the penny match, no one needs the currency any more. The result is the reduction of the maple leaf as one symbol of the Canadian identity.

Thieves drove another nail into the Canadian psyche with the theft of a huge amount of maple syrup. The stage was set because a marketing board saw fit to store excess product to stabilize the price. Unfortunately crooks  drained the storage tanks.  Imagine Canada without maple syrup or worse to have to buy it on the black market. An ancillary caution is to protect the national supply of pancakes, particularly as Shrove Tuesday approaches.

A recent news item reports that fire destroyed an Eastern Ontario factory which produced a very high quality cheese used for poutine production. Headlines screamed “Factory fire means poutine lovers facing withdrawal”. Further into the article is found “Once French fries and gravy are mixed with the cheese, poutine,  the Quebec-born signature dish is created”. Suppose Ontario now needs to embargo the export of the special cheese in order to protect domestic markets? This places the pipeline crisis into second place as a national issue

An under appreciated part of the hockey world is the traditional use of alley ways for hockey rinks. Winter time in Montreal releases these byways for other purposes. With winter’s arrival roughly 475 kilometers of back alleys which have inspired writers and artists over decades, become snow covered and deserted.  What better use than man made outdoor rinks? Authorities want to end this tradition. The extended hockey strike was bad enough, now practice rinks face elimination.

Poutine, maple syrup, pennies and hockey are bastions of the Canadian way of life. Dramatic headlines may herald good times; however the fine print spells out a different story.

A Zambian farmer pushes the envelope

Farming in North America during  the early part of the twentieth century was no picnic. Would-be farmers arrived for self employment, because of limited opportunities elsewhere, forced relocation, adventure and as remittance men. Some would gladly have abandoned their farms but remained in place only because there were no alternatives.

The environment was harsh: there was little or no infrastructure and no safety nets.  Agricultural methods were primitive and horse power was really horse power if available at all. Only the very determined survived. Some prospered.

From today’s perspective we see the application of advanced technologies:  new fertilizers and chemicals, new products, infrastructure, education, marketing agencies, health insurance, capital availability, and economies of scale.  So common is this vista, there is difficulty in imagining the industry in any other condition.

Now realize that there is a farmer in Zambia working under circumstances very similar to the North American world in the early part of the century just finished. His name is Tangson.  By North American standards his maize farm is small and primitive. It is  complete with a number of animals including milk cows, cattle, goats and chickens.

Tangson has accomplished much. He has built and maintains a first class water source, his animal husbandry is of good quality, his housing is more than adequate, he has excellent dietary practices and hygien is first class. He is a commnity buider and leader. Family is paramount. Education is high priority. His children children walk long distances to school as did many North American families. The only hint of today’s technology is a cell phone.

Tangson’s farming enterprize is the result of hard work , forward thinking and the intelligence to adopt best practices. Successful farmers in North America more than a century ago faced very similar conditions. To be sure there are differences in size, crops and climate. What are the same is the determination, the necessity to succeed, the pride of accomplishment and community support.

Tangson has carefully considered his next move to expand his enterprize. Now dear reader, what would you do if you were Tangson?