Saturday, December 06, 2008

Winter Sunsets

Posted by Picasa

Viewing a spectacular sunset is truly one of the great pleasures of life. This picture was taken in one of our favorite spots for sunset photos during early winter.

My wife and I might be called sunset seekers because we are usually lurking somewhere near the water when there is a chance for a great sunset.

We are usually not alone, people tend to congregate in the best spots to enjoy that last flash of warmth and light before the sun goes down. Maybe we are hard wired that way from hundreds of thousands of years living by the light of a campfire.

I cannot pin down why I want to watch the sun go down. It is one of the most spectacular light shows available. Here on the coast often the colors in the sky after the sunset are even better than the ones at sunset.

There is the idea that the sunset marks the point in the day when most of what I have to do is personal as opposed to business related. However, having reached the special status in life of semi-retired or un-retired, I doubt that is the case.

My guess is that it is nothing more complicated than the pure, often warm light, and beautiful colors that attract us. That with the day's activities winding down and the opportunity to catch our breath is all that we need to flock to those places where the sunset is the attraction.

There is a human need to enjoy and appreciate beauty. That natural beauty enriches our lives is a given.

Sunsets are the most cost effective way that I know to personally enjoy and share that beauty.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Seasonal peace on the beach

I only have to think back to last fall to remember the warm days in December when we saw surfers enjoying the beach.

This year is far different from our two previous falls on the shore. The cool weather has come earlier in the year, and it has been more persistent.

That means that walks along the beach are fewer and shorter. Walking on the beach as did last year the first week of December when it was seventy degrees Fahrenheit is much nicer than a stroll when the temperature has struggled to reach fifty.

Tomorrow we are actually supposed to sneak into the sixties. We might try a nice beach walk since we have only been enjoying the beach from a distance since the cooler weather took over.

My wife gives me a really hard time when I start complaining about cold weather. It has something to do with dragging her to Canada when we got married. We farmed for over a decade in a snow belt north of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Our first winter, we watched as we were buried with twenty-three feet of snow.

We came to really appreciate snowshoes. We also got very used to cold temperatures. I can remember unloading five hundred bales of straw at twenty-eight degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Every single hair on my head was covered with frost. My eye brows were even frosted.

Then there was January of 1982 when our youngest daughter was born in the middle of blizzard where the temperatures finally bottomed out at minus forty degrees.

Now I find myself complaining that the temperature dropped to 31.7 degrees Fahrenheit this morning here on the Crystal Coast.

While snow often brought a certain peace to the farm, here on the North Carolina coast cold weather and cooler waters have a similar impact.

Going for a ride in your boat or sitting on the river fishing is not nearly as much fun at fifty degrees as it is at seventy five degrees when shorts are still the uniform of the day.

Still I find that I eventually adjust to the cooler temperatures. I will soon be back out riding my bike on days when the temperature sneaks up into the sixties. I might even still take my kayak out if we can get a day or two in the seventies.

Last year I managed to take our skiff down the river on Christmas eve. I will probably continue running the boat some each week or so, just to keep the motor loosened up.

While the short days and cool temperatures limit outdoor activities somewhat, there are some nice sheltered trails in the area.

Eventually though the call of the beach will be too much, and I will find a warm day for a nice walk. Perhaps tomorrow will be one of those days.

In the meantime you can enjoy the quiet of the winter beach by watching this YouTube video, December Beach Day, that I posted earlier today. If you have the bandwidth, make certain you watch in high quality.

You can read more on the quiet of the beach at my post, The Almost Empty Beach, on Crystal Coast Living. The photo might look a little familiar

Friday, November 21, 2008

Could this be winter?

On Tuesday we headed west from the Emerald Isle, NC area. About one hundred miles east as we crossed Interstate 95 we ran into some snow squalls.

They were short-lived but impressive. As we made our way farther into the heart of the state we could see more of the signature tall white clouds which seemed to merge into the ground.

We came back to the coast on Wednesday night. On Thursday we were over on Emerald Isle and heard that snow flurries had been sighted while we were gone. At the same time our neighbors in Roanoke, Va sent us pictures of the first snow of the season.

Today, I have seen several quick snow showers. It is over forty degrees so nothing is sticking, but I am impressed nonetheless. These are the first snow flurries that I have witnessed on the coast.

With temperatures running ten to twenty degrees below normal daytime highs for November and snow in the air, I must conclude that we are having an early winter.

At one time in my life I relished the first snows of winter. Once the snow came, there were certain things that were no longer possible on the farm. There was a period of shifting gears which actually offered some opportunity for relaxation. The first snows brought an end to the frenzied pace of fall. It was a time to put some things on hold and make up a new list of what had to be done.

The second winter, 1989, after we moved from Canada, we had just moved to Roanoke, Virginia, The snow came early that winter. Five or six inches of snow remained on the ground from before Thanksgiving until after Christmas. We thought we had moved back to Canada.

That was the only fall that the snow stayed on the ground in Roanoke.

Somehow, a cloudy even snowy early winter seems to suit the mood of the country. No one really knows how to fix our problems. Perhaps if we hibernate through winter, things will be better in the spring.

If it were just that easy, there would be no complaints coming from me even if it meant some snow on the ground here on the coast.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

That fall feeling

As the season begins to turn here on the coast, my thoughts are drawn back to previous falls. There are some great memories there.

One fall, probably 1974, I built the first big barn on our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick. I can still remember nailing up the last of the steel siding just before American Thanksgiving.

By then it was pretty cold to work outside without gloves.

In the fall of 1981 we had our cattle dispersal sale. In one afternoon we sold all two hundred head of our purebred Angus cattle. Some went as far away as Alberta. It was an amazing event that I will never forget.

About a year later I went to work in one of the first retail computer stores in eastern Canada. The transition from working outside all the time to a desk job was easier than I thought. It is a wonder that we have any farmers. Still in less than a year, I had helped open four other stores and had a number of employees working for me.

When the fall of 1984 rolled around, I joined Apple Computer for an amazing journey of almost twenty years. For those years, fall always meant a sales conference which in the later years was usually in the California. The early years were wild for a guy used to life on the farm..

At the end of one early conference in Boca Raton Starship played for us. Then there was the greased watermelon hunt with Michael Spindler on a beach that I cannot even remember.

The year 2004 brought the first fall after leaving Apple. It was a time of soul searching and trying to figure out what to do next with my life.

I ended up doing a couple of years with small companies, but I found that for the most part the only way that young companies learn is through their own mistakes. I actually time to relive corporate mistakes that I have already seen would be wasted.

Then in the fall of 2006 after lots of training I passed my real estate licensing exam for the state of North Carolina. I felt a great sense of accomplishment because I had not been certain that I could go back to school. Old computer guys can learn new tricks. The rest of that fall was spent taking even more real estate classes.

We also moved down to the coast of North Carolina in the fall of 2006. It was a risky dream of mine, but I am glad we did it. I have learned a tremendous amount and met some great people.

Fall of 2007 was a relatively successful real estate time for me. I finished the year strong and was named rookie of the year by our firm. We were actually well on the way to have a good follow-up year until the financial world fell apart this fall.

I think this fall might be remembered as my first fall of serious fishing. Last fall I was learning out to handle our boat, this year I am more focused on fishing.

There have been many pleasant days on the river and along the beach. The weather has been great, and we have caught enough fish to enjoy a few meals and to keep us excited about fishing.

Fall is always when I start to take stock of where I am and what I want to accomplish next.

Real estate continues to suffer, but at some point I know it will recover.  I am not sure that I will hang on those many years.  There are a lot of factors are going to make it a very tough place to make a living. I have my eyes open for other opportunities.

I continue to believe that the Internet will play an ever increasing role in helping people find and sell their homes. My skill set makes me well positioned to take advantage of the Internet as a marketing tool but it might be for something besides real estate.

Update- 2014

While I am still a licensed real estate agent, I stopped actively listing properties in the fall of 2011.  I have published several books and gone back to my roots in technology.  I am now vice president of sales and marketing for WideOpen Networks.  I still managed to keep up a very active writing career on the Internet.  There are lots of links and updated information on my homepage.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Home waters

Our word is strange place these days. Technology encourages us to experience as much as possible as quickly as possible.

Exploring areas close to your home might not seem as rewarding as flying half way around the world to climb a famous mountain, but first impressions can be deceiving.

The picture above and to the left is what I consider my home waters. It happens to be about a five minute paddle from my dock. The water is part of the White Oak River, and I spend a fair amount of my time there either in an outboard powered skiff or my kayak.

While the surface looks smooth, what's below that surface is anything but smooth. Large oyster rocks (piles of oyster shells) can be just beneath the surface. The depth of the river can be anything from a few inches to over twenty feet. In the area where I paddle the most, the river is about a mile and one half wide. Ten minutes by power boat from there, the river is less than fifty feet wide. Then minutes in the other direction and the river joins Bogue Sound and not far from there the Atlantic Ocean. Of course there are also tides and winds to confound a boater.

In fact just to safely navigate the White Oak River, it is recommended that you stay in a marked channel. Sometimes the wind can blow much of the water out of the river. Even in the channel there will be places with only three or four feet of water.

Still Exploring the river is a lot of fun. Maybe in a few years, I will grow bored with the White Oak, but right now I am enjoying learning the river in detail.

The river can be a source of great peace. It can also bring storm surges and heavy waves. It can be a quiet as a pond as in my slide show, Mackerel Morning.

There are days that I push the throttle all the way forward and zoom down the White Oak to Bogue Inlet, but there are also times like today when we throw out the anchor less than five minutes from home.

Learning the river and catching its fishes have become dual passions of mine. It is fun exploring, and since there is no guide book, you have to figure it out on your own.

There is a certain amount of satisfaction in doing that. I might just be the person to write up the history of the White Oak.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Searching for new waters

A little adventure never hurts. That would especially be true when you spent Sunday afternoon in a very quiet real estate office.

Before I left for work, my wife and I decided that we had to get outside on such a beautiful day.

I suggested that we ride up the White Oak River which happens to be the river in our back yard.

She quickly agreed once she learned that any fishing would only be done in an emergency which would be defined as they are almost jumping in the boat.

Besides getting out on the water on a beautiful day, I wanted to check to see where people were fishing. Riding around and watching is a great way to find some new waters to fish.

I made it home after work by twenty minutes after five, and it took us about ten minutes to prepare our skiff and drop it in the water from the lift behind our home.

We have actually been up the river a couple of times, but at those times I was still focused on learning how to boat. Now I am comfortable enough with the boat that I can enjoy where I am going without worrying about what to do next.

We slowly went out Raymond's Gut from Bluewater Cove which is located at Hancock Point. I quickly got the boat on plane, and we headed up river.

There are only a few more channel markers after Hancock Point, but I had the advantage of our GPS system which had recorded a few fishing expeditions that I had enjoyed the previous week with my fishing buddies.

Once you are past the last channel markers and headed north on the White Oak River, mostly you are fine in the middle of the river as long as you avoid the crab pots and watch for white PVC poles which mark some oyster reefs. The river is about four feet deep at high tide in most places.

The river going north is much less complex than it is south of Hancock Point where the channel is marked all the way to Swansboro. In the section from Hancock Point to Swansboro, there are many oyster reefs which can do serious damage to your boat if you stray from the channel and do not know what you are doing.

It took less than ten minutes before Hadnot Creek and White Oak Bluffs came into sight. In just a couple more minutes I impressed my wife by going full speed through a narrow opening in the marshes. Of course I had watched others do it and had checked it out with my depth finder earlier in the week.

After that we could see River Oaks Plantation subdivision on the right. Then the White Oak began to narrow and deepen. As I slowed up, my depth finder zoomed from four feet to sixteen feet.

No long after that the river rapidly narrowed to around one hundred feet wide. Considering the White Oak is close to a mile and one half wide at Hancock Point that is big change.

As the river narrowed it also gave up being a straight river and began doubling back upon itself.

We managed to make it to the southern side of what I like to call the Stella "fishtail" which you can see from this Google Map link.

Across the flat marshlands we could see the railroad trestle and the few buildings of Stella. We could have gone a little farther and perhaps turned around at Boondocks which is a paid access point and boat ramp just on the other side of the Stella Road bridge just north of the railroad trestle.

However, the sun was getting down in the sky, and the prospects of navigating the White Oak in the dark kept me on the cautious side of adventure. The old floats that are on the multitude of crab pots are a much harder to spot in dwindling light so we turned around and headed home.

We got the boat on the lift about six thirty. By the time we carried the gear to the garage and got in the house, the sky was turning golden, and the sun was getting near the horizon.

Our little one hour trip up the river was great fun. I am looking forward to going back when we have more time. October is the best month of the year for exploring.

I posted a few slides on the web of our trip.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The joy of discovery

I have been lucky to have been in a number of places that inspire the imagination. Those were places where the landscape can dwarf your ideas.

I can still remember the first time that I saw the Newfoundland barrens from the air. It was a wilderness that seemed never to end.

Now that I am shoehorned into a lot in a very special subdivision, it is hard to stand on hill and see nothing but trees. However, it is even more special to paddle around the corner and visit a pond that had been inaccessible.

This afternoon it did not take a lot of NFL football to get me thinking about doing something outside even with the clouds that had taken away our morning blue sky.

Sometimes I think living in Carteret County creates an addiction to blue sky. We have it so often, that it becomes part of consciousness. When it is not there, we miss it. The good news is that it is there more often than not. A day like today where the sky starts blue and turns cloudy throws me for a little loop.

But I managed to get myself motivated and in my kayak in mid-afternoon. We had a very high tide. It was probably the highest that I have seen while actually on the water paddling my kayak.

When I turned the corner to head out to the White Oak River, I noticed the high water had made accessible a pond where I have often seen Herons. In fact just before I started paddling towards the pond I noticed a Great Blue Heron and a White Heron in the old tree at the back of the pond.

As soon as they saw me heading their way, they moved to another tree across the gut while I explored the pond area.

There's something special about finding and exploring a neat spot like the flooded pond. I have paddled the area for two years and never suspected that the water might get high enough to let me paddle into the pond.

It is even more fun when the hidden area is just around the corner from your home.

I did not stay very long since the idea of dragging my kayak out of there over mud did not appeal to me. I moved on before the high tide started to disappear.

My trip out into the river was an easy one with the wind behind me. I managed to fish a little, but mostly I enjoyed the solitude of the river. Only two power boats came by in the couple of hours that I was out there.

I did catch one fish which was barely as big as the Gotcha lure that I was using. Still it was nice to know that the lure was capable of attracting fish.

I have found some pretty neat spots hiking in the mountains behind our home in Roanoke,Va. On our farm in Canada I can still remember finding a wonderful spring which the previous owner of our farm had mentioned to me. It was such a neat spot that I carried a Sierra Cup back into the woods and left it hanging there for anyone that happened upon the cool waters which flowed so strongly that you could see the steam from it in the woods even with four feet of snow on the ground.

I suspect I will remember this day that the tide was high enough to let me visit the Heron's home pond. It was a special visit where I got to see our inlet from a different perspective. It just shows you that adventure can just be around the corner.

I posted a few pictures of my trip which lets you join me on my visit.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Nature's Power

We can certainly can credit the weather channel with developing our fear of hurricanes.

All of us who walk the beaches can attest to the power of the wind and waves. The beach changes daily even without help from the storms.

Now that we are sitting here waiting for Hurricanes Hannah and Ike, there is the expectation that the beaches will be very different the next time we walk on them.

We went for a boat ride and very nice beach walk on Labor Day. There were some big changes on our favorite beach. One large dune had been cut in half. Of course the waves were somewhat stirred up from all the storm activity in the Atlantic Ocean.

We're not hurricane pros so today we went out and bought some bottled water and battery powered lights. The budget doesn't have room for a generator yet so we have to gamble a little.

If we lose power, we will pack our goods needing refrigeration into ice filled coolers and hope for the best. If Ike continues to gain strength, we might head to the mountains after securing everything.

The Cape Carteret area is in the Cone of Possbility for a hurricane. I hope they are wrong or that at the very least the storm exits quickly,

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Changing times

Our world is changing. Some of the changes are not exactly what I would call positive.

There is no question that the is world is a far different place than when the millstone to the left was working in Styers Mill in Yadkin County, NC in days around 1915 when my mother was a little girl.

People knew each other a little better a hundred years ago. Most people were still on the farm. I still remember my mother telling me about her first driver's license. "The Mount Airy DMV" which I believe was a judge at the time asked her if she could drive, she said "Yes," and the judge told her to give him fifty cents, and he gave her the license.

If the reports about the Prince George's County, Maryland SWAT attack are accurate as presented, we're living in a world where danger might be coming from the people charged with protecting us.

Even if the reports are wrong, why do we have SWAT teams that regularly seem to go after people who are unarmed? On top of that why do the dogs always get shot?

Is the drug war such a priority that people have to face raids like this?

If we have SWAT teams sitting around waiting to be used, perhaps they will eventually find the shootout that they seem to want.

I understand some drug dealers have automatic weapons, but most of the reports that I am reading aren't about shootouts with heavily armed drug dealers.

I am pretty sure that the Labrador Retrievers were unarmed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The bigger view

Sometimes it is hard to take the bigger view of a situation. It is easy to get bogged down in the details.

This picture of Bogue Sound looking east towards Morehead City is truly a large view. Yet when I am piloting my boat on the sound, I end up paying a lot of attention to the next channel marker.

If I do that consistently I generally stay out of trouble. Normally I take short trips on our skiff, but my career and life are much longer journeys. Yet in their cases it is even harder at times to rise above the details and focus on the big picture.

I recently was confronted with a situation where someone did something unethical. Not only was it unethical, but it harmed my income at a time when there is not a lot of income.

The experience that I have had in the business world let me back away from the situation and look at what was really important, my client. I did not lose my cool, I went forward with the situation until it resolved itself without me having to do anything other than the right thing for my client.

It was actually pleasing to watch the problem resolve itself without any real intervention.

The appropriate things ended up happening. I'm not sure if the unethical person learned a lesson, but certainly their behavior only ended up hurting them and the person who decided to play the game with them.

There was no collateral damage and for that I'm happy. Maybe being able to go for a walk on the beach makes it easier to see the big picture. That is one of the great benefits of living where we live.

Here are some shots of a perfect beach trip which might help some folks step back enough to focus on the big picture.

If that doesn't work, some visit us on the Crystal Coast and take a real walk along the beach.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Treating customers right

Most people are aware that the real estate business is not booming these days.

While the market is changing things are still challenging. We certainly are not the only industry under the gun. Airlines, automakers, and restaurants just to name a few are all having their problems surviving the economic downturn.

Realtors® are not different than others, our costs are rising, and our incomes have certainly tanked.

I have often quoted Dennis Waitley's famous phrase, "Crisis is an opportunity riding dangerous wings." I believe that change is inevitable in most business. You either change or you go out of business.

However, change has to be carefully considered. Need jerk change can often be harmful. We have become a very value conscious society. If you bump your prices up and don't deliver more value for the money, you will likely have a problem.

On Monday, I gave some potential long term clients a ride around the county. I probably spent $25 dollars in gas. Yet I was able to show them in a couple of hours what might have taken them a couple of days to find and see.

I didn't ask for a buyer's agency before driving them around because they aren't ready to buy. I could have charged them $100 for being a tour guide, but that didn't make a lot of sense either.

It made the most sense to do what I have being doing all along, differentiate myself through the value and hard work that I bring to my clients

Trying to provide value to my clients has served me well, and I hope that the word of the extra efforts that I provide my clients continues to spread.

In the long run that will be worth more than $25 for gasoline

Monday, July 07, 2008

The proof is in the sandwich

In the tomato business, I think the real proof is in the sandwich, but it does not hurt to have some nice numbers on the digital scale.

So far this is the largest tomato that we have harvested from our three plants this year. It weighed an impressive 1.335 pounds on the scale.

I also took a picture of the tomato beside a tape measure. It measured around five inches across and was about 3.5 inches high.

Still the end result, this plate of tomatoes, was the key to some great Bacon, Letture, and Tomato sandwiches which we enjoyed on a recent trip to Reston, Virginia.

I continue to be surprised that are people in the world who do not like tomato sandwiches. Even my own son won't eat them. It is a good thing he is my flesh and blood, or I would have been checked out for not loving tomato sandwiches.

At our house on the coast, there are not many days during tomato season, June 1- December 19 that we don't have a tomato in something. In the heart of summer that something is usually a tomato sandwich of some sort. I even like toasted bologna, cheese, and tomato sandwiches.

Then there are boiled ham sandwiches with Swiss cheese and tomatoes. Tonight we made a pasta dish with grilled Italian sausage, fresh mushrooms, asiago cheese, three cheese spaghetti sauce and of course some fresh tomatoes. It was great on top of some bow tie pasta.

I even enjoy tomatoes in omelets. The tomato scare has not caused us any problems, but we are at the point with our crop that we have to either find more people to take some of them or start canning or freezing some.

We are very proud of the tomatoes since they are the best tomatoes that we have ever grown and by far the earliest. We have already enjoyed them for a over a month. I just put another tomato plant in the ground last week with the hopes that we will have fresh tomatoes into January.

Who knows what will happen? I still would really like to beat my December 19 date from last year. It is a noble quest, fresh homegrown tomatoes from June 1 until January 15.

So if you see me around, be careful, I might slip a bag of tomatoes into your car.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The great coastal tomato crop

It is hard for me to not smile a little when I read about tomatoes disappearing from store shelves.

I took this picture about a week ago. It is a great start on our 2008 tomatoes especially considering the challenges others are facing. It is a very tough year even for small growers.

Tomatoes are among the easiest of vegetables to grow. They also have great diversity and taste if you grow them yourself.

We had practically given up growing tomatoes in Roanoke, Virginia where the deer seem to have defeated all attempts at having gardens.

With the well drained sandy soil of North Carolina's coastal plane, I just dig a hole and put in some top soil, Ozmocote, and water liberally. At some point I have to attack the nasty hornworms, and stake the plants.

All in all it is agreat way to help the food budget. My plants went into the ground on April 3 this year.

It did not seem long until June 1 when we picked the first tomato. We have been getting them in quantity for about ten days.

Maybe it is all the years I spent on the farm, but there is something very satisfying about bringing in a great crop even if it is just tomatoes.

Just tomatoes, what am I saying. There is no better use for bread than in a tomato sandwich.

I didn't know about the little micro-climate beside our garage when I bought the property, but I am glad it is there.

I know that my competition in the tomato contest is already hungry for the next year, and I think that I have the spot that will defeat these pretenders to the tomato crown.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The easy way in today's society

Sometimes I wonder if there is more free labor in the economy than paid labor.

While our beach towns still do lots of work promoting the area, there is a whole other world of blogs and free sites that will often sing the praises of an area for free.

I know that there are still photographers out there, but much of the photography that we see these days is done by amateurs like myself.

Not long ago I was writing for a free magazine. The theory was that my articles would bring recognition to me and that would be my pay. That works great but it helps if the magazine lasts more that six months.

We live in a world of free services like Gmail and Flickr. Sometimes folks think more of the free services than they do of the ones which come with a fee. A good example of that would be .Mac the $100 per services that many people believe are inferior to Gmail and other free services.

We even have people who want to sell their homes themselves. They can use Zillow and Trulia for sites like "For Sale by Owner."

All this is probably a healthy trend unless it get out of hand. I am a Realtor® which I consider to be one of the transitional professions. We work as independent contractors.

We get paid on what we sell. If we don't sell anything, we don't get paid. Actually it is worse than that since we have to pay fees every month to work. From those fees you might get a desk and some access to office equipment and some advertising support. You also end up sharing your commission with your company. In good times in works fairly well. These days it is a challenge.

Still I don't see the current real estate sales system changing massively I do see consumers making similar changes to what they did in the early days of computers. That could herald some real estate changes.

I doubt the changes will be the same as in the computer industry, but there are going to be some changes.

In the early days of computers, few people understood them so a local computer store was a source of not only computers but also knowledge. People came to the stores to get an education so that they could be informed consumers.

Stores paid sales people to answer questions and hopefully sell computers. As computers began to be available online and through mail order, people would come and learn all they could from a computer salesman in a store and then go order online.

This is one of the reasons that there are almost no computer salesmen left.

As a real estate agent, your knowledge of your local area is your greatest resource. When you have people who want to talk about an area, and the same people are unwilling to commit to work with you, you are likely be set up for hard fall.

People do the same thing with cars. They learn about them online, then visit the actual dealership to see the product and then order the product from an Internet dealer.

While a manufacturer might be providing much of the information about an automobile or a computer, the information on houses that are listed in MLS systems is there as a direct result of the effort of agents who list the house and are paid when the house is sold.

However, potential home buyers have figured out how to work the system. Buyer's agents only get paid when a client signs up with them and then buys a house.

Some clever real estate consumers are gaming the system and using buyer's agent as a free source of information about the area and about homes that are for sale.

If you drive around a potential client without getting a commitment from them, then you are likely providing information for free with little hope of getting paid.

People are getting their feet wet in an area by wading the shallows with the aid of buyers' agents.

I recently heard of a buyer's agent who would drive people around unless sign an agreement with him. On top of that he charges than a $300 fee.

There is no free lunch for most of us. Wasting the time of a professional without the intention of working with that professional isn't very fair.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Not ripple in sight

There are days when you feel extraordinarily privileged to be on the water.

We had one of those days last week when we came back from Bogue Inlet. Bogue Inlet is the water between the green arrow and Bear Island on the Google map.

Since it changes all the time, it doesn't look much like the Google map, but you get the general idea.

Bogue Inlet is where a lot of currents meet, and almost all of the time there are lots of waves. There are also lots of fish. The general area is a great place to fish, but navigation can be challenging.

There are days when it is just nice to skim across ripple free water at top speed. The White Oak River in the picture in the post offered us a very smooth ride and a lot of fun.

It was nearly pure fun since there no obstacles in our path because we know that water very well. The passengers, especially my wife, always enjoy a smooth ride.

The one problem is that avoiding the waves often means I am avoiding the best places to fish.

So there is a balance between finding water you can enjoy which supports fish you can catch.

Finding good fishing water with no waves is a little like finding markets where you can be successful with customers who readily buy your products. You can also look at smooth water as taking the easy way and keeping as many people as possible happy.

As is often the case in life, the areas with the most challenges are the places you find the biggest rewards. The bigger the fish, the greater the challenge.

Yet not everyone has to catch big fish. Many of us are happy with what we catch in the much calmer sounds. A lot depends on your stage in life. When you are trying to rise to the top, the risky waters with high rewards are appealing. Later in life, smooth sailing looks pretty good.

You may have fought as many battles as you can take. Perhaps the risky water belongs to others who still have a thirst for the challenges.

As you work the waters of business, sometimes it is good policy to try not to create a ripple because you want to be unnoticed. You just want to do your job without causing any problems. You might want to slide through a particularly touchy area without upsetting anyone.

You need to understand what waters work for you at different stages of your life and how best to navigate them.

The older you get, the more likely you are going to see situations which offer you a choice.

You can make some well-needed waves and still not change a situation. You can ride the waves and sometimes get to where you want or you can slide through a situation without a ripple.

I don't think there are any perfect rules. Now days as someone approaching sixty, I try to achieve as much overall good as possible, and if it can be done, to make sure whatever I do doesn't harm anyone intentionally.

I had a colleague the other day who made a mistake which resulted in some extra work for me.

There were some choices open to me, I could just tell our boss who would then correct my colleague. I could send an email note to my colleague and cc: our boss. Or I could do what I did which was do the extra work and just send a note to my colleague and suggest the problem get fixed before someone else notices.

Everyone who works in an office faces these choices. While there are times to make waves and stand up for what you believe, there are other times making as few ripples as possible is a good decision.

It is nice to out there working in the waves where all the opportunities live, but it can turn out to be a place where a lot of good people get hurt especially in very competitive businesses.

Unfortunately a lot of our corporations believe that internal conflict makes for better employees.

I think most companies are better served with a cooperative and supportive work environment. I have seen both types and the human cost of the dog eat dog inside the corporation is very high. It takes away people's humanity. A lot of people trade money for friends pretty quickly in today's corporate world.

In the end it is better for the company and the customer to have team members working together towards a common goal.

The fishing in that environment ends up being pretty good.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The power of being present

Sometimes you have done something so many times, that it is automatic.

In fact I often do things and then try to remember whether or not that I have actually done them. The more times you have done something, the easier it is to fall in this trap.

I think that is one of the advantages of pushing yourself to try new things. You get out of the rut and have to pay attention to what you are doing.

I actually like being challenged. I like to try new things, but life is not all new stuff.

Probably the most boring thing in life is sitting through a lecture on something that you already know and which is being read from a teacher's book.

I absolutely hate being in a situation like that. My brain immediately starts shutting down and sending signals that I need to grab a few winks.

Because I came close to perfecting the ability to sleep sitting up with my eyes open while in military school, I have to really try not to slip back into my evil ways.

It seems so wasteful to listen to useless material we have already learned. I have plenty of things that need to be done and sitting in classroom that is historically boring isn't the way to make things happen.,

Still I try to focus on the present. Just like when I am having a conversation with one of our kids, I make every effort to hear them out and give them my full attention.

I have found being present opens up many other opportunities for communication. Living in the moment with your brain in gear is one of the way to keep that brain healthy.

A few days ago I managed to tune out for a few minutes while sitting near the beach. It actually felt like I was clearing cobwebs from the brain.

The whole experience was magical. It made me really appreciate living so close to the beach.

I took some pictures before we slipped into meditation. I also posted some pictures of the adventure.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Understanding the value of being open

We were at Tryon Palace this past weekend when I snapped this photo of a gate. It reminded me that gates were more than just decorative in the past. In colonial times, gates were a serious affair.

Actually with the resurgence of gated communities, I guess we can say that lots of folks believe that gates will protect them. There are some interesting philosophical points on open and closed gates.

While many people believe that closed software or perhaps more properly proprietary software is at less risk to being hacked, the evidence is exactly the opposite. A recent contest showed that Linux or "Open Source" software was most resistant to hacking.

So do closed gates make us safer? I seriously doubt it. I doubt that building walls or gates is a long term security solution. I actually believe that a close knit cooperative community is the best security that there is. Certainly we have evidence that it works in software. It just might work in human society also.

The gated theory can also be applied in management. There are managers who are afraid of their employees and keep their doors closed. Then there are managers who have a true open door policy where employees are always welcome. No only are they welcome but they are valued partners in whatever task that needs doing.

One man inside a walled palace is not nearly as safe as a man walking among many friends who will do whatever is necessary to help each other.

Sometimes it is better to open the gates and figure out how to work together for the common good than it is build a palace just for the pleasure of one man.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Positive thoughts can snowball

The other night I was walking into a grocery store, a young fellow asked me for directions to a local restaurant. I managed to come up with some intelligible ones for him.

He was really happy to get the info. It occurred to be that in this world of GPS, text messages, and omnipresent cellphones that asking someone for directions is a little unusual.

I found it nice to have human contact on a mission where I could easily have had little or no human interaction.

I was feeling good as I walked into the grocery store and someone commented on how nice it was to see a LL Bean sweat shirt as far south as Roanoke, Va. It was a young guy stocking the shelves. We had a little conversation over how much Freeport, Maine had changed since my first visit in 1967 when LL Beans still had a potbellied stove in the tiny store.

Once again, a conversation where I had not counted on one keep the good feelings going.

As I got up to the automated checkout, it occurred to me that I had forgotten my grocery identity card. I was going to skip the discount, but the young girl watching over the checkout managed to force feed my telephone number into the computers to save me the forty cents that I was due as a loyal Kroger shopper.

She could easily have been preoccupied with a cell phone call, but she took the time to do her job pleasantly which left me feeling really positive about what was a routine shopping trip.

I had actually ended up talking to three members of the millennium generation (or pretty close to it) without having any text messaging involved. No one had taken a cell phone video and posted it online. There had been no emails. We had talked.

I had ended up with a totally different perspective than I would have if each of the people had been on their cellphones, playing a game, or too busy listening to an iPod to make contact.

Isn't it amazing what human contact can do for us. It can snowball and renew our faith in the next generation.

When I saw this mornings' Dilbert cartoon, my experiences the night before made me smile. Just maybe this generation will turn out alright after all.

That experience was a great prelude to a nice trip from Virginia through North Carolina. Even better than the trip was finding tomato blooms when we got home. That might give me a shot at winning the great tomato race. I have to let those positive feelings roll.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Staying True to Yourself

Sometimes you do not want to cause any waves. Occasionally the situation demands that you have to jump out of the water.

By the time you get close to sixty years old, some pretty strong ideas have become your close companions. They turn out to be great friends especially in tough times.

In those few decades you have also likely decided which battles are worth fighting and which are better ignored.

In my business career of nearly forty years, I have not seen many meetings that mattered much in the long run. The organizations where I have seen real success really do not need meetings to get their job done. They sense what needs doing, and it gets handled.

In these cases, the leaders of the teams spend most of their time running interference so that the team members can focus on their important tasks.

However, meetings happen, and there is not much you can do about them since so many organizations believe that you measure progress by meetings or by Powerpoint presentations.

It was always my theory in my fortune 500 career that the longer you could go without a meeting, the more likely things were working well. On the flip side, when times get tough companies demand more meetings to figure out what is wrong. Most of the people at the customer level already know the problems, unfortunately they do not have the power to fix them.

Sometimes organizational structures do not even allow executives to see these real problems.

In spite of my distaste for meetings, trying to prevent them is not worth the fight. It is much easier to go to them, try to learn something, and hope they do not last very long.

While I might not ripple the water over a meeting, I will jump out of the water over being instructed how to handle my clients.

I have never cared what sales promotion is in place or what bonuses are being paid, I am going to do what is best for my client or customer. That is the way it is supposed to be. If I have to make some waves over treating my clients right, I will. That is a fight worth the effort.

This is not a new philosophy, it is just the way I operate.

One of my simple rules is to never ask anyone to do something that I will not attempt to do myself. If manure needs shoveling, hand me one of the shovels.

The second rule is to treat everyone like you would want to be treated.

My third rule is to respect the work of every individual no matter what they do.

The final rule is to ask more of myself than I ask of anyone else.

Of course in order for these things to be effective, you have to deliver on them.

It is important to say what you are going to do and then do exactly what you said.

That's how I stay true to myself.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Using "Dip" thinking to review decisions

It is always easier to be the quarterback after the plays have been run.

Still once in a while it makes sense to evaluate what has happened and the context surrounding major events.

I like to do it because it helps me learn from my mistakes and successes and the ones of others. I have never been ashamed of learning from others, either what to do or what not to do.

One of the big turning points in my life started in the summer of 2003 when I was director of federal sales for Apple. My team had been on a tear. We had grown sales massively in the very tough federal market. We had done it with very few resources and lots of hard, smart work.

Yet it had been like pulling teeth. We seemed to be taking Apple into a market which the company really did not want. It was hard to get Apple to even acknowledge that a federal team existed.

It was then that I learned once again that you should always be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

August of 2003, Apple appointed an enterprise VP. It was actually the beginning of the end of my career at Apple though I did not know it at the time.

Our efforts at selling to the federal government had flourished as a skunk works but was about to die from the company trying to help us.

I have pondered how this could have been played differently. After all I had been successful through nearly twenty years in Apple's very challenging sales environment.

The reality was that I should have left Apple at the moment that Apple half-heartedly tried to help the enterprise effort with a vice president who was not only toxic but clueless to the point of embarrassing us in front of key customers.

I recently read the post, The Big Dip: Ten Questions with Seth Godin. It provides an interesting framework for figuring out why my efforts at hanging in there at Apple during a tough time was exactly the wrong decision.
It’s time to quit when you secretly realize you’ve been settling for mediocrity all along. It’s time to quit when the things you’re measuring aren’t improving, and you can’t find anything better to measure...
I knew in the summer of 2003 that our numbers were not going to match what the company wanted. The biggest reason was the shortage of G5 systems during the critical buying season.

However, there were a number of other reasons, and most of them were related to settling for mediocre support from Apple when trying to achieve our goals.

We were promised key executives who would regularly visit Washington. It never happened. We ended up with an Oracle retread who could not have sold half priced new Mac products at MacWorld.

Apple promised us that we would be on the GSA Schedule, but ended up changing their mind and delaying it until years after I left Apple.

We were told that we would get publicity and interviews in federal trade papers. What we got was near invisibility in the world's largest IT market.

I could go down a whole list of promises made and broken by the corporation when it came to the federal market, but the truth is that Apple had no intention of really pushing their products in the federal market. We were living a pipe dream.

In my mind I knew that sales would improve in 2004 because we would have product again, but what I did not understand is that Apple's commitment to the market would never improve.

My mistake was using sales growth as a measurement. What I should have been watching was the company's delivery on its promises which turned out to be abysmal.

The "Dip" in 2003 was actually something that I should have realized as a signal to get out of Apple. I did not see it, and I wasted ten months when I could have been doing something else instead of being a target.

I encountered another "Dip" in late spring of May 2006.

I eventually got put into one of those situations where I had little to do in spite of being a VP. I could have worked at hanging around and trying to find a way to contribute, but who wants to work where their skills are not appreciated and their efforts are not acknowledged? I certainly had no interest in doing that, so I left.

The theory of the "Dip" has been a good way to understand when to continue fighting and when to move on to another set of challenges.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

How do you map your life?

We face decisions every day which can impact both ourselves and others.

We live in an Internet world increasingly filled with content filtered by people who are not paid to do the job.

Not only are they not paid to do the job, they are often self declared experts. Unfortunately there is little or no supervision. Error checking is almost not existent.

The only check to the system is that if you don't like the rules you can set up shop yourself and create your own rules.

There are social sites with moderators. I have found it interesting how some people gravitate towards these sites to find information on critical decisions regarding their own lives.

I am actually a little baffled that people would go to people they have only met online and who are operating under assumed screen names for important information like where to move.

In a simpler time, people vacationed in an area. If they liked the area, they might get a second home or retire there. Now it seems they no longer have time to vacation and need someone else to tell them if the area is nice.

I wonder if we have become such a virtual world that people no longer want to trust their own judgment.

I have found that trusting yourself works really well unless you get in over your head. Finding someone who knows more than you can be a life saver.

I considered living in Newfoundland back in the early seventies.

I read some travel books and got in my Toyota Landcruiser with some maps and headed to Newfoundland.

At one point my wife and I flew in to the area in a small plane with floats and camped for three days. Hiking across the barrens is a little more personal way to experience Newfoundland than surfing on the Internet. I figured out living in Newfoundland might not be my cup of tea.

As I read posts of people asking where to find the cheapest beach property or the area with the best schools, I know in my heart that plenty of real information is online and available with minimal Google skills. I have been on forums, seen a question, done a Google search and responded. Have I helped or hurt the person who should have been able to do that on their own?

I also know that forums are full of experts who have driven through an area and some who live in an area but may experience it only through a forum. Forums also seem to have a bias against people who might make money if someone talked to them. It is as if money corrupts the information. I guess if we are on the Internet the information has to have no money attached to it.

The problem is that the best information often comes from people whose job depends on them knowing the right answers. If you want to know whether or not is possible to purchase a home for under $200K within seven miles of the beach, you are more likely to get a correct answer from a Realtor® who makes his or her living in that area.

I bet most people who go to a forum for advice have political opinions held so fiercely that a boat load of experts writing in whatever newspaper you choose cannot change them one iota.

Yet off they go eagerly seeking opinions from people who might never have seen an area.

Even those who have experienced an area have widely varying views. I can put two couples in my car, two beautiful days in a road, show them the same neighborhoods and get completely different opinions.

My kids can go to the same schools as yours, and we can totally disagree on the quality of the schools.

So why in the world do people let people they hardly know help them make like changing decisions.

I hate to say it, but I think people would rather live in these virtual worlds of what ifs than actually get out and do something about their life.

For every person who has the courage to make a change in their life, there are probably a dozen who spend days lost in the virtual world of forums discussing the possibility of moving.

The people who really want a change look for clues and then bravely head out on their own to do their own research without any filters. They end up being guided by someone like we were when we came looking for a property on the coast.

It is actually the only way to do it. You can head in a certain direction based on what you might have heard but we each need to make our own decision of which way to turn at the "T" in the road.

The direction you go should be based on what you feel, smell, taste, and think on your own, not on what someone who hides behind a handle on a forum tells you is best, or the content permitted by some unknown moderator operating under rules designed to make the forum money.

I love to empower people with information to help them make their own decisions. It is a whole lot easier to do that in person than on a forum.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The pleasure of having the last word

Often it is late in the evening when I have time to find some time to catch up on my writing.

I have a number of websites and blogs which demand constant feeding if I want to keep my readers interested.

Most of the time I am in the grove and really enjoy putting together a post. Sometimes I get a comment which tweaks my interest. I try to be fair when I reply to a reasonable comment.

Occasionally I get a comment which just begs for a response. Yet I know from past experience that the person making the comment will respond back with another comment that still misses misses the original point of my article.

I have learned over the years that you don't win those arguments. Some people have such a high opinion of their own opinions that no else can possibly be right.

Maybe I have some of that in me, but I have always worked at learning from others except when the other person is overly full of himself.

I don't like people who look down on others. I get irritated by those who expect everyone to fall over in awe when they grace us with their highly suspect thoughts.

Unfortunately I have just described the dyed the wool Apple believers that challenge me the most.

I am pretty good at a few things, and I have nearly twenty years of inside the spaceship views of Apple, the guys who decided to take computer out of their corporate name recently.

As an admitted sucker for Apple product, I know that it is awfully easy to rationalize spending a premium price on Apple hardware products.

I also know that you can make a Mac work almost anywhere even if you put yourself in a mostly Windows world. Sometimes a Mac in a foreign environment lets you thrive.

I have also been to the point of almost giving up on Apple because of problems with my MacBook.

Surprisingly I have become more satisfied with my Macs now that I have a Windows laptop which keeps me from having to force my rounded corner Mac into a square PC hole.

Still Apple is far from a perfect corporation, and most Apple users take whatever product Steve decides to sell them even if it is at a premium price for not so premium specs.

Apple users are perhaps the only consumers who will defend the higher prices they pay to the death.

It seems a little weird that someone buying a product wants to pay a higher price for that product. Yet that is often the inescapable conclusion when it comes to Apple products.

It is not like Apple is unprofitable or about to go out of business. Yet people will make the argument that Apple products are worth the price.

If you complain that Apple's prices are high, expect to be taken to task.

The same people would probably haul an Internet invoice in on a car and beat the dealership down to $50 over cost if that was possible. Yet they have no problem with Apple making hundreds of dollars profit on an under $2,000 laptop.

Perhaps it is because Apple was so in danger of disappearing that Mac users are so quick to come the company's defense.

If any of them had seen the inside of Apple and heard where customer opinions rank, they might have a different opinion but somehow I doubt that would even work.

I have seen Apple employees so in love with the technology that they would work for abusive bosses for years at a salary they could easily beat in another technology company.

Perhaps that's Steve's special power over the masses because no hardware or software is worth that kind of abuse.

But to get back to the point on having the last word. There is no rational argument with some Mac lovers. I have written about the Reptilian Apple Fans whom I just ignore.

However, there are some very smart Apple users out there who still can't see the forest for the trees. When I unfortunately get engaged in a discussion with one of them, I know they will not give up. There is no persuading them.

So the only solution is to have the last word and leave them dangling. I rarely even read their responses. It's not worth it.

In the end Apple users who pride themselves on being discriminating buyers because they have bought a Mac are only partially right.

They have gotten a great product, but it would be an even better product if they worked at getting Apple to listen to customer feedback.

I wonder how much customer feedback went into the MacBook Air. It pretty clear to me and to Businessweek, Building the Perfect Laptop, that Lenovo likely has a more competitive product at least in hardware. Of course OS X makes up for a lot of sins.

Lenovo refused to accept that style had to win over function. They managed to get a DVD in their machine and even Ethernet.

However, I am sure that I am about to hear from some Mac users who are convinced that the world no longer needs DVDs or Ethernet ports.

I would not expect anything less for the dedicated fans of Apple.

But I hope they remember that I do have the last word.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

At what cost development?

We have lived in Roanoke, Va. since 1989. Before that we lived in Columbia, Md. which is one of the more famous planned communities

Halifax, Nova Scotia was our home before Columbia. It was our first stop after we left cattle farm in central New Brunswick where we didn't even have to bother with fences at the back of the property.

Today we split our time between Roanoke and North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks where it seems much of the world including us is interested in living. Development is happening rapidly on the coast, but things like storm water management are rapidly becoming a serious challenge to developers.

The wonderful mix of mountains and scenery along the roads attracted us to Roanoke. I don't think we measured services too hard when coming to Roanoke. We wanted girls' soccer and boys' hockey but any shopping is more than you get on a farm twenty miles from town.

While Roanoke is in no danger of becoming Charlotte, NC which apparently has twenty five high rise cranes at the moment, there is some significant development in Roanoke like the Keagy Road site pictured above.

As usual there is even more significant debate on how to get Roanoke alive and if not thriving, at least growing reasonably.

There certainly is an effort to create trails along the Roanoke River which has seen a significant improvement in water quality. However, with a $70M flood control project by the Army Corps of Engineers well underway, I have to wonder if anyone is paying attention to the root cause of the flooding.

When you start stripping away huge areas of forest in the mountains, like in the picture of the development on Keagy road, someone had better start paying attention to storm water management.

It is a huge issue on the North Carolina coast. In our area of the Southern Outer Banks, it recently took several extra months to build a Walgreen's Drug Store because the store had to figure out how to retain up to eleven inches of rain before releasing water in the storm water drains.

I am pretty sure no one in Roanoke County has considered the storm water impact of the development at and around Keagy Village.

While the development in Roanoke rages over how to attract young professionals, it is pretty clear that if they don't start paying attention to storm water management, the Valley's crown jewel, the Roanoke River, will see more than one Corps of Engineers project as keeping flooding under control will become a hamster wheel.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The pleasure of visiting a great bakery

There are few nicer recipes for a great Saturday than a morning breakfast at your favorite local restaurant followed by a visit to the farmer's market and the best bakery in town.

In my book, that is the way to start the weekend even in January when farmer's market are at their low point.

We came away some "Winter Wine" soap, homemade bratwurst, and of course some freshly baked bread.

I have great memories of freshly baked bread from when we lived on a farm in Canada. My wife would often bake eight loaves at a time. There is nothing greater than coming in from a cold day's work on the farm and smelling fresh bread baking especially with the knowledge that you will get to enjoy some as soon as it is done.

One of the few things that I have not been able to find along North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks is a good bakery.

Roanoke, Virginia does not have that problem, nor does Blacksburg.

When I used to work in Blacksburg, I often enjoyed the bread from Our Daily Bread.

During our days of living full time in Roanoke, many Saturday we took the time to visit On the Rise Bakery down at the Roanoke City Farmer's Market.

I love bread made from whole grains. On the Rise is a great place to find it.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 04, 2008

A sign of things to come

Today I read David Brooks' NY Times article, The Two Earthquakes.

While I might not be quite as optimistic as Mr. Brooks, I do think people are ready for a real change.

We put the Democrats in power, and we still seem to have an endless war in Iraq.

Whether you agree with the Iraq war or not, it is pretty easy to agree that government does not have much to do with the common man today. Money equals access to government today.

That's about as deep as I want to get. I try to stay away from political posts on my blogs since there are lots of people who pay more attention to politics than I do.

Still I would love to see government become a place where the lobbyists don't make the decisions for our politicians.

I like seeing the people jerk the politicians around. Just maybe the politicians will figure out who pays their checks.

Read the David Brooks article and hope that he is right.