Sunday, December 31, 2006

America the not so "overfull"

This morning I read "America the Overfull," in the New York Times (subscription required). The author, Paul Theroux, talks of the lack of solitude in America.
Late at night, in most places I knew, there was almost no traffic and driving, a meditative activity, could cast a spell. Behind the wheel, gliding along, I was keenly aware of being an American in America, on a road that was also metaphorical, making my way through life, unhindered, developing ideas, making decisions, liberated by the flight through this darkness and silence. With less light pollution, the night sky was different, too — starrier, more daunting, more beautiful.
I wonder what Mr. Theroux would think of North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks. I would guess that most people who read the NY Times have Nags Head, Corolla, and Duck in their mind's eye. I doubt most of them have ever even ventured down to Pea Island much less visited Cape Lookout by boat like I described in my post, "The best twenty dollars you will ever spend."

While I will agree that we have lots more people, there is still a tremendous amount of solitude if you are willing to get off the interstate highways. I've lived between US 29 and Interstate 95 when I worked in Columbia, Maryland so I know about the hum of the cities and the night sky that has no stars.

Then we moved to a mountain overlooking Roanoke, Va. While we could hear the city, all it took was fifteen minutes of hiking the mountain behind our house to lose even that noise and disappear in a forest of giant populars which gave way to spruce trees as neared the top of Twelve O'Clock Knob. We often shared the trail with turkey, deer, and an occasional bobcat.

Roanoke, which is pretty laid back in its own rights, is a bustling metropolis compared to our spot on the White Oak River near Cape Carteret, North Carolina. Our cul de sac down by the water is absolutely silent at night. You can often go sit on the boardwalk and be alone with yourself, the wind, and the water unless one of the herons happens to fly by or a fish jumps out of the water.

While I know that our population has increased greatly, most of those people have crammed themselves into cities. Even on the east coast we have seen the recovery of many of our forest lands where trees have reclaimed much of the farm land that is no longer profitable to cultivate.

I know well the feeling that the crowds are winning. I have had that very feeling driving down Route 7 in Tyson's Corner, Virginia. Yet when I am heading to the North Carolina coast, the traffic begins to thin on Interstate forty twenty or thirty miles east of Raleigh. By the time I get to exit 373 where we pick up Route 24, there are very few cars on I40. If it is late at night, when we get on 24 there is almost no traffic. It reminds me of the many nights of traveling Route 11 in Virginia as teenager on my way to or from military school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Even then when I went away to college in Boston, the crowds in the city shocked me.

Still we've got plenty of places to find solitude in North America. I've stood on hill at the back of the farm we used to have in Tay Creek, New Brunswick, Canada and wondered which way was civilization. There was none visible and certainly no noise from any.

When I walk the beaches of the Southern Outer Banks or get up to enjoy the sunrises, I know that there is plenty of solitude left in the world, you just have to know where to find it.



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Thursday, December 28, 2006

The ethical challenge for corporations

Most people have heard the warning, "Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning." We should have one for corporations, but I don't have one that will just roll off the tongue. The best that I can do is where there is options backdating smoke, there is likely a roaring fire that indicates the company is more interested in enriching executives than in returning value to investors or even pretending to care about the common good.

Today's news has brought news about Steve Job's potential involvement in Apple's options backdating issue. Apple investors know that Steve is Apple, and that anything which might cause Steve to leave Apple would certainly be disastrous for stock valuation.

Yet anyone with serious inside knowledge of Apple can tell you that very little of importance goes on at Apple without Steve being involved. There's always a challenge when a company is doing very well. That challenge is not overlooking the problems that might be hidden by the fantastic results being turned in at the company.

Apple is a great example. After wandering for years in the wilderness and struggling with their 3% worldwide marketshare, the iPod has turned the company into a cash generation machine and the executives are heroes. As is often the case, there might be some heroes in there, but it doesn't excuse wrong doing.

But here we're getting into a larger societal problem which one of the comments posted to one of my Applepeels post pointed out so astutely. We glorify winning at all costs. If we aren't holding winning up on a pedestal, then we're worshiping at the feet of great riches. The CEOs of America can do wrong as least as long as they don't get caught.

I don't know if Steve Jobs did anything illegal regarding stock options. What I do know is that Steve and other CEOs like him have created a climate in our corporations that isn't healthy.

The fact that who know is more important than what you know or what tasks you can do should be of great concern to anyone who hopes that American business can still provide broad based prosperity to our country.

I'm very concerned and written a number of posts on it including, "The inevitable organizational failure," "Fortune 500 workplace ethics," "Cult of the Buddies," and "True leadership."

It is certainly not just an Apple problem. It's a problem with many of our companies. We need to figure out how to fix it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Time for reaching out

One of my favorite magazines, "The Week," takes two weeks off this time of year. I'm not sure if there is some significance to the timing or not.

As someone who used to work at trying to sell the federal government, I can testify that this is a dead time of year in that world. Most of the agencies don't have their new budgets so they don't have anything to spend.

Even President Bush is taking his time making an Iraq decision. A lot of folks are also starting in new positions so they are generally listening instead of starting new initiatives.

Traditionally this is something of a slow time of year unless you are in retail. It is a good time to step back and do a few things that might not have gotten done last year.

I hope this hiatus in our busy lives actually gives us time to enjoy what is important in life. In my mind that is our relationships with others. Our time to spend walking this earthis limited so making sure that we keep all of our circles of friendship intact is important.

This is the time of year to reach out to others and hope that they reach back. If need be, now is the time to do that apology that might be owed.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Time to sit a spell with family & friends

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Winter Sun on the Southern Outer Banks

We're almost at the shortest day of the year, and we're still basking in warm temperatures. Today along North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks temperatures approached seventy degrees Fahrenheit.

It was amazing relaxing out on our deck out in the sun this afternoon. Late fall and early winter is one of my favorite times to take photos the light seems to have a golden color to it. Looking out over the pool for our subdivision towards the White Oak River, I am wondering how long it will take the sun to get to the point that is setting just opposite Raymond's Gut which runs over to the river from the subdivision Now that will be some photos worth taking.

As I'm typing, I'm listening the Jay Leno's monologue. He just mentioned the latest trend being sending family DVDs instead of family newsletters this year. I don't think I would jump on board with that trend, but I had just published 'The magical tools of our digital world" whi which talks about how powerful Apple iLife tools are for creating memories on a DVD.

It is pretty amazing the tools we have today to build memories. Our little virtual worlds touch many people, I think we'll see a continuing refinement of online communities. Maybe sharing the warmth of a late winter day will one day be as easy as pointing your video conferencing camera out the window. I'll have to get back into video conferencing, maybe the tools have matured to the point that Macs can communicate with PCs.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

The bypass conundrum

Today I got into a discussion about someone about small towns and highways. He mentioned that Hampstead, NC used to be such a nice small town until the road through down was widened to four lanes.

I started thinking about small towns that I like. It turns out that the ones on my list all made the decision to have the bypass actually bypass the town instead running the main road through the middle of town. Small towns are a delicate balance. You have to have enough life in the town to attract traffic, but there has to be enough traffic to create some life.

I am sure there are places that thought they would die if the they were by-passed. After all look what happened in "Cars" the movie, the town almost died when the Interstate by-passed it.

One of my favorite towns, is actually my home town, Mount Airy, NC. Due to geography, the town actually being on a hill, the main roads by-passed Mount Airy quiet early. Yet the downtown survived somehow and now thrives. Another good example is Lexington, Virginia which compares pretty favorably in mind to the shopping mecca of Tyson's Corner, Virginia which is built around roads. Now they aren't the same scale, but I guarantee you getting from one end of Lexington to the other is more fun that getting from one end of Tyson's to the other.

Local places in coastal North Carolina that have survived by being out of the four lane zoo include Beaufort and Swansboro.

I've lived in Columbia, Maryland, planned community, where the Mall food court ended up being the center of town. The follow-up to Columbia with lessons learned was Reston, Virginia. The Town Center of Reston is a wonderful spot assuming you can find a parking place. Of course parking isn't exactly easy in Beaufort or Swansboro. Beaufort's Front Street is at least wide enough for two vehicles which is more than you say for Swansboro, but I would not trade their quaintness for all the parking in a giant parking garage.

Four lane roads make travel easier as do by-passes. Four lane roads turn city centers in never-ending strip malls. The trouble is that by the time you figure this out and try to do the planning, it's too expensive to make it happen until something breaks.

I hope places like Mt. Airy, Lexington, Swansboro, and Beaufort continue to thrive and keep their main streets alive.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Finding their own way

I cannot find where I read it this morning, but there was a reference on rojo to a site where there was discussion on how to cool a can of soda quickly. It seems they came up with putting it in ice with salt and water and turning the can.

While this might seem like a revolution to some, anyone who has turned the crank of a White Mountain Freezer to make some homemade ice cream can tell you how well it works. I figure if you filled the ice cream container with coke instead of ice cream mix, you might make yourself some homemade slushee.

It's funny to watch a new generation "discover" things for the first time. Granted doing homemade ice cream might have been something done only in a few areas in the last few decades, but it should be part of our cultural knowledge. At fifty-seven, I don't feel that ancient, but somehow it seems part of the way we lived is being quickly forgotten.

It takes everyone some maturity before they want to learn from those who learned before them. I can remember being in my mid-twenties and wanting to know how to do some things. I was lucky to have my mom around then and until 2004. She remembered making ice cream with ice they cut from their mill pond and stored in a saw dust filled hole in the ground.

I wish she was still around there was lots that I never learned from her. We did learn how to make her fried chicken. She also schooled us in a number life's lessons. Unfortunately we can never learn all that we need to learn before our elders are gone. Well maybe our blogs will survive for a while. If my kids ever need to know how to grow tomatoes, I have it written down in a post, "The spring tomato ritual."

Who knows the way the weather is going, we might be growing tomatoes a lot earlier.

The reflection of the trees picture was taken behind our house in Bluewater Cove on NC's Crystal Coast. I have a site dedicated to interesting photos and prints that I do.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The glue for the modern world

Our lives continue to change. While my mother grew up in a very rural North Carolina where horses were the default mode of transportation and most people farmed. While my life has spanned 57 years, I cannot remember a time when people didn't go off to work in factories from their suburban homes.

How we connect with people has changed massively as this move off of the farm has accelerated. People used to know their neighbors well. The local stores had people who lived near you. Much of your information came from your neighbors or relatives.

As stores became larger and centralized in shopping malls, the likelihood of knowing any of the stores' employees decreased geometrically. Family and friends ended up being scattered by the demands of modern life. While there are exceptions to the rule, many people probably live in neighborhoods where they have only a passing acquaintance with their neighbors.

As this has happened, the need for locally significant information has increased greatly. Often adult children are at a distance from their parents and may actually work for companies that don't even have offices or where the necessity to work hard and socialize little has been become the norm.

Perhaps that is the explanation behind the great success of online communities like MySpace. While I believe that blogs provide a significant connection and community for some, the reality is that many bloggers might feel more community spirit with other bloggers than they do their readers.

In spite of that, much of the information and opinion provided by bloggers fills in the cracks left by the dissipation of family and friends across the country. You might not be able to get local information from mom or dad but you might be able to find answers at a local blog that you respect.

The information and guidance you can pick up from someone not trying to sell you something is well worth the effort. You can likely tell quickly how valuable the information is by the author's posts. The fact that Google and others index all this information and keep it at our finger tips makes it even more useful.

Some of our local personal relationships have disappeared only to be replaced Google's ability to recreate them by providing a virtual hook to the local area from neighboring people we have never formally met.

I have only met one of my favorite blog authors, yet I feel like I know all of them in spite of a few being anything but local.

I think you will enjoy reading Fragments from Floyd, Seans's Horse Farm and Family Blog, Loose Leaf Notes, NosceTipsum, and Leaves of Grass. My first stop if I cannot find information about Floyd on Google would be Fred, and Sean would get tapped if were looking for something in Boone's Mill.

Today you can find some virtual communities that are more formal such as the ones done by Backfence. The first done by Backfence are in California, northern Virginia, Illinois and Maryland. This areas need a lot more glue to hold them together than we do in southwest Virginia or coastal North Carolina. We still do talk to our neighbors down here.

As we have more and more online content to fill in the cracks in our information overwhelmed world, blogs provide a valuable link to others. We have a need to communicate and get information from sources that are more than just anonymous voices. Fortunately on the web, we can strive to be more than just unknown outposts of sometimes useful information.

Perhaps you should look at bloggers as lighted guideposts to find your way to your way in this very complex world when you have exhausted all of your local sources

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

An open window in mid-December

We actually had a cold streak of weather last week down here on the North Carolina coast. As I was getting ready to mount a thermometer outside one of the windows, I happened to come into my upstairs office. The sun felt like spring so I opened the window and set the thermometer in the corner. It didn't take long to come up from the downstairs temperature of sixty-five. Since I took the picture it has risen close to eighty degrees.

The challenge of keeping cool in the winter is lot easier to handle than the challenge of keeping warm. I was thinking recently of how cold I was in December during a couple of trips to NY City and Montreal.

The city streets seem to amplify the cold. Once the giant buildings get cold, it takes a lot of heat to warm them. In the winter they radiate cold while they often prevent the suns warming rays from reaching the ground. Here in the country we're more at the mercy of the weather. The large bodies of water nearby tend to moderate the temperatures, but once they get cold they also take a long time to get warm.

You often hear about how the pace of life here on the coast enables even the most harried city person to relax. Our open spaces and relaxed way of life might also ameliorate a population trend that cities seem to enhance. I read this in a post, "Bigger Cities, Fewer People," by Stephen Johnson.
Demographers now believe that the earth’s population will peak in the middle of this century, at somewhere around 8 billion people, and then start decreasing.

Cities turn out to be a driving force behind that correction. Keep in mind that we have shifted, in just two centuries, from a planet where 3 percent of people lived in cities to a planet where 50 percent of us do. When people move to cities, they have significantly fewer children for several reasons: women tend to work, birth control is more readily available, and space limitations make children an economic liability.
While we often hear about the stress that our planet is under, we rarely hear about things coming into equilibrium. One of the most interesting things that has happened this century is the reforestation of the eastern United States. According to this USGS article ninety percent of the Northeast was covered with forest in 1700. That number had dropped to thirty percent by 19oo. Today the number has recovered to eighty percent. At the same there is something of a trend in the US for people to move to low density spaces. I suspect there is another trend for some folks to move to city cores.

I wonder if any of the movement out of the cities will slow the drop in the birth rate. Perhaps the reasons for many children outside a city are no longer there. In fact the more children you have, the more trips you have to make to the city. I wonder if suburban family sizes are smaller or larger than those in the city?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A reflection of us

The picture of the small channel or gut running from behind our house to the White Oak River is a nearly perfect reflection. The White Oak River is a blackwater river. I am guessing that make the reflections less or a rarity, but that is only a guess. I know that I regularly capture deep reflective images here on the banks of the White Oak in coastal North Carolina.

I make no effort to hide the fact that I am addicted to local newspapers. I find them fascinating. I recently wrote about this love of newspapers in a post, "The morning newspaper."

Here on the coast of North Carolina newspapers seem very local. I was surprised to find out that you can't even get home delivery of the Raleigh News and Observer.

The newspapers that I read are all over the map in opinions. As I mentioned in my other article, one even regularly features Ann Coulter. Of course much of the news is local news, but I am surprised to find that I get more of national and international news without having to resort to a larger paper. Yet I still do not really have a handle on the three or four North Carolina newspapers that I regularly browse.

As a local newspaper goes, I always found the Roanoke Times to be a paper that seemed to have a very balanced approach on its opinion page. What I enjoyed even more was the active commentary for local people. There were many very articulate opinions pieces penned by people from the community.

Our local newspaper reflect the communities around them. Perhaps sometimes they get out of sync, but I that does not last long.

If each of the opinion sectors is a little unhappy with the local newspaper, then they are probably doing a pretty good job.

I have noticed that the Washington Post has started letting readers who are registered with their website post comments. The Santa Fe newspaper, the Free Newmexican started doing the same over a year ago. I think it is a great idea.

In these days of politics being too sensitive to discuss in polite company, maybe we can get back to reasonable discourse through written debates within our local newspapers.

That will certainly allow the newspapers to paint a more accurate picture of their communities.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

On to the producer society

I drove down to Wilmington, NC earlier this Saturday morning for a class. As I zipped down the road, I stopped to take this picture of the the frost on the marsh running out to the White Oak River. The marsh grass looked like it had a dusting of snow.

It was a beautiful scene to have in your mind at the beginning of the day. Wilmington is the shopping mecca for the Crystal Coast. I guess that's good for us since it is closer than Raleigh, Charlotte, or other more urban places.

Buy as I cruised by Best Buy today winding my way through parking lots to find a lunch spot, I had to wonder if it is good for any of us. The swarming crowds reminded me of the holiday buying frenzy. We live in a consumer society where in theory the consumer is king. We have a multitude of choices, and we buy what we want.

The problem is that we end up buying stuff we do not want and part of the stuff we do want and or need ends up being defective. This may be a consumer world from one perspective, but from another it is certainly a producer controlled world. I have not tested the old LL Bean's warranty lately on the one on Sears' Craftsman tools, but beyond those I think there is little hope for the consumer.

We are in a world full of consumers. That is the good and the bad news. If you become an unhappy consumer, it is likely less expensive to ignore you and fill your space with another consumer. Satisfying unhappy customers is an expensive business. I just read about the Volvo throttle body recall. That's worth a good laugh. I paid nearly a thousand dollars to have my Volvo's throttle body replaced. It was a well known problem and Volvo fought a recall tooth and nail. Probably most Volvo owners ended up like me, getting rid of their cars and being stiffed by Volvo.

Despite all the customer surveys, does Volvo really care that they have lost me as a customer for life? Probably not. I'll run out of good, reliable products long before Volvo runs out of customers.

The manufacturers or producers of product are running the world, not we consumers.

Thoughts of LL Bean

This morning the temperature was 24 degrees here on the western side of Carteret County, NC. We are less than five miles from the beach so when it gets that cold this close to the Atlantic, it classifies as cold weather.

The scene to the left and the LL Bean sweatshirt that I put on this morning brought back memories of trips to Maine my freshman year in college.

That would have been 1967. We were in school in Cambridge and Freeport, Maine was only a couple of hours drive. I can still remember leaving the dorm around ten pm and getting to Bean's at just after midnight. There were bunch of true natives around the wood stove in Beans. The store was a far cry from the giant modern store that anchors Freeport these days.

It was a great introduction to Maine. I am sorry it has changed so much.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Living in Carteret County Coastal Website up and running

Back in August when I last did an entry, I was working hard to get my new website going.

I have worked hard to get a site built with content that readers might find useful. CoastalNC.org targets people who are interesting in living on the North Carolina coast or newcomers who are looking for more information about the area.

I am an avid photographer so there will be plenty of photography on the site with links to much more.

When you move to a new area, there are always many questions about services and products available. I hope to provide a personal perspective on those. Being someone who born in North Carolina but who has lived in Canada, Boston, Maryland, Mount Airy (NC's inspiration for Mayberry), Northern Virginia, and Southwest Virginia, I can relate to most people's situation.

Being an ex-cattle breeder who spent eleven years working outside, I am always interested in the weather so I have started a weblog on my daily observations of the weather with pictures to highlight the conditions.

As new residents to an area that we have long loved, I am looking forward to providing my perspective on the area.

Carteret County is not one of those places where I hope that we are the last people into paradise. It is very obvious that this area continues to grow.

As someone once told me the Crystal Coast is becoming one of the favorite retirement homes for "OPALS."

OPALS are "older people with active life styles."

This a great area to be active. The weather stays warm for much of the year. The roads and streets are uncrowded most of the time except a few weeks in July and August when it is too hot anyway. I have really enjoying biking now that I do not have to load my bike on the back car.

Then there is the water for kayaking and boating of whatever type you can dream. I hope that a can be a friendly resource for people looking to move to Carteret County. In many respects it is a dream place to live especially in years when the hurricanes ignore us.

Being from the Southeast, I have some memories of childhood and more recent hurricanes. One of my deepest memories is evacuating from the Outer Banks one summer and seeing our car drive through axle deep water. More recently I have had trees fall on our house in Roanoke , Virginia from hurricanes that have moved inland.

We live on the water, not on the beach. Hopefully our carefully selected housesite will provide some protection for us. If not, we'll head for the mountains which aren't that far away.