Three Siblings and a Funeral

Working as a computer consultant gives me a chance to interact with all types of businesses. I’m not just referring to the product or service they provide but to the company structure as well. The common denominator is that I usually deal with the owners or company controller- rarely with a lower level management type. Not bragging- it’s just the nature of the work I do. But, that’s not the reason for this story- just a referential lead-in. Continue reading “Three Siblings and a Funeral”

An Elegy For The “World’s Largest Store”: Sears

by Larry Teren

There was a time when Chicago was considered the capitol of the retail industry. Headquartered here was Sears Roebuck and Company and Montgomery Ward as well as one of the largest catalog houses, Spiegel, which started out as an emporium in 1865. (It seemed as if every television game show always gave out prizes such as furniture and appliances from the Spiegel Catalog.)  Continue reading “An Elegy For The “World’s Largest Store”: Sears”


While driving, I heard a newsradio report about someone who committed a heinous action but was given absolution. That last word struck me as sounding very much similar to the word “absolute.” So, I checked out a dictionary definition of “absolute” and it read “free from imperfection, complete, perfect.” Now, wait a minute! How can someone who did a no-no in the eyes of the law (and maybe even a higher jurisdiction) be free from being imperfect”? Huh?

In mathematics, they talk of the absolute value of a number. That refers to its core value regardless of the sign. Doesn’t make a difference if it is a 1 or a -1, the absolute value is still 1. But, -1 is less than a 1, so how can that be a perfect solution to a value? Hey, if I can get away with this logic, maybe I can convince the bank that a
-100.00 balance in my checking account is absolutely 100.00 and to lay off the fines and penalties and bad credit ratings.

Of course, there are mathematicians who will explain that it really means to indicate the distance of the number from zero. I will kindly suggest to those geniuses that they ought to go out in 30 degrees below zero weather as opposed to 30 degrees above and still try convincing themselves that it is all absolutely relative to zero and it makes no difference.

In philosophy, they say that absolute is an objective reality that replaces the concept of there being a Deity. Well, you try saying ‘absolute damn it’ several times when you bump your knee into a chair.

I understand that astronomers use the expression “absolute magnitude” when measuring the radiance of a star. Why can’t they just say the “brightness”?

Linguists talk of absolute construction of phrases. Don’t ask me what that means but I understand that using the expression, “all things considered”, or “this being the case” are prime examples. Absolutely. Trust me.

The Insurance Thing

By Larry Teren

Let’s talk about life insurance. No, I’m not trying to sell you any. But, if Dad were still alive and in his working years, he would attempt to sell you into buying an insurance policy. He tried to get me to sell life insurance just as he did for more than thirty-five years. I would always tell him, “I’d rather buy than sell the stuff.” Continue reading “The Insurance Thing”

Finally, an Award!

The other day, I received an email that stated the following:

“I am pleased to announce that (name of my business) has been selected for the 2011 Best of (village of my business) Award in the Computer Software Consultants category by the US Commerce Association (USCA).

I’m sure that your selection as a 2011 Award Winner is a reflection of the hard work of not only yourself, but of many people that have supported your business and contributed to the subsequent success of your organization. Congratulations on your selection to such an elite group of small businesses.

In recognition of your achievement, a special 2011 Best of (village of my business) Award has been designed for display at your place of business. You may arrange to have your award sent directly to name of business by following the simple steps on the 2011 Best of _______ Award order form. Simply copy and paste this link into your browser to access the order form: ______________ .”
(It lists a website url with special coding at the end to take me to a specific section.)

Now, anyone who follows this blog knows very well that I have been begging for more than recognition and responsive comments, but for an award. But, I was thinking more like PULITZER! Believe me, I have nothing against winning an award- but when I deserve it. It is true that my numbers were up this year compared to the previous year, but then, who’s wasn’t? The economy did come up for air just a teensy bit, right? And I know of a couple of other colleagues situated in the same village who are much larger than my one-man operation and provide great service.

By the way, when you judge the performance of a given year, aren’t you supposed to wait until the entire year is over? This action here in the middle of December is like giving the World Series championship over to the team that manages to win the first two games, figuring the other two must be a cinch.

Anyway, I decided to check out the validity of the link provided without actually clicking on it. I went to two very popular search engines and pasted the link into their search boxes. Nothing showed up- not even close. I then checked the link without the parameters being passed at the end. Again, nothing, nada, zilch.

Obviously, I don’t need to explain that if I had clicked the email-embedded link, it would have probably triggered something unpleasant. I do have a software guard up against such intrusions, but one never can be perfectly safe. Even if it would not have been an opportunity for a viral attack, I suspect that the award would have cost a lot of money. And if it was for an insignificant amount, why should I pay to receive an award? C’mon! When Sally Field spoke, “they really like me!”, she wasn’t saying it if she found out that the Oscar® came along with an invoice.

While attempting to do research on what commerce associations do, I checked to see if the village of my business has a chamber of commerce website. It so happens that there are at least two competing sites that do not seem to recognize the other. I’m thinking of starting a third and handing out my own awards. Uh, can I have your email address and tell me exactly what you do? And have a good day.

Parking Is Not For Cheapskates

There was a time when parking was a simple chore. I can remember as far back as the late 1950’s living on Chicago’s West Side on Jackson Boulevard where there was not that much competition for curbside parking. Although we lived in a large apartment building complex there seemed to be more than adequate space on the street for my father to park his Plymouth. Very few, if any, of our neighbors had more than one car in the family.
Continue reading “Parking Is Not For Cheapskates”

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch or Newspaper

There is no such thing as a free lunch or, apparently, an online major metropolitan newspaper. Just the other day, the Chicago Sun-Times announced that they are no longer providing free access to their online website. Visitors will be able to see the front page to any section or category but will not be able to click into the story link unless they have ponied up a monthly fee.

To tease the visitor to anteing up the monthly fee, the Sun-Times is allowing up to 10 article views a month. That obviously does not go a long way. But, here is the deal- the newspaper operation is not getting my money. Will I miss getting the news or reading my favorite columnist? No. Is that direct enough? The writers are all opinionated- no better or worse than my own. And there are other ways to get the news. For example, if I want to know the score of a Cubs or Bulls game, I can go to their websites and get all the details without jaded observations and comments.

The thing is that some mogul at the news media conglomerate decided that it is better to not give away information for free. I will argue in return that they are not giving it away because there is advertising plastered all over the website. Hopefully they are making money on that advertising. Of course, they will return the argument and say that they have paid advertising on their printed copy and they still charge for a subscription or a purchase at a newsstand.

I will politely counter that the rules have changed. There is an extra cost in delivering a hard-copy edition of the news to a store or a residential doorstep. There is no extra cost in delivering the news to any and every potential internet reader. When you put something up on a website, the cost is the same for one or one hundred thousand to view it. Okay, you can make an argument that the more visitors to a site, the larger the bandwith is needed and the more powerful the webserver. Granted, but that is something that can be taken care of with online advertising.

Yes, this a case of miscalculated greed. I predict that they will not acquire the number of paid subscriptions as they hope. Even if the Chicago Tribune, its major rival for news attention in the Windy City, should go with an online paid subscription policy, it still will not force Internet users to spend the money for the news. Historically, the model is not there and will not change overnight.

Good luck to the Chicago Sun-Times. It was nice reading you online. I won’t cry over not reading Rick Morrisey and his buddies. I’d rather spend the money on lottery tickets.

Where is Justice?

A 27 year old lady kills two people while driving a car under the influence of marijuana and can end up getting probation for her lapse in good judgment. I didn’t write the word alleged because she has already been convicted. Now, she is awaiting her sentencing. At the worst she can get 6 to 8 years in the clink. But, a softhearted judge can decide to suspend the sentence and give her probation. Only because this is a first offense- no priors. Forget that she killed two people by knocking them off a motorcycle. (Let’s not go into the discussion on the stupidity of riding an open-air motorcycle.)

The judge who administered the conviction apparently feels sorry for people who smoke marijuana and then go and kill people. According to the news broadcast of this story, she has been given only a $5000 bond and is therefore able to be out in the free world until sentencing. Continue reading “Where is Justice?”

Eviction is a Foreclosure Conclusion

There is a recent news story how a certain individual is being forced out of his house and a bunch of do-gooders are going to bat for him. Now for the rest of the story, as a certain newsman used to say.

The man in the story is retired. He used to be in a branch of the military. Retired from it. He is also good with his hands doing carpentry type work and the like. Sounds like someone who should have saved up some money along with being employable, right?

He says that he can afford to pay $800 to $900 a month for a mortgage, not the $1200 to $1500 he is either paying now or the bank is willing to re-finance to. His mortgage is in excess of $250,000. Hey, wait a moment? How does a middle aged guy end up with owing $250k on a mortgage. This can be usually one of two reasons:

a) he traded up to a house more expensive than he could really afford
b) he got greedy and decided to re-finance in order to have spending
money on something else.

The fact is not everyone deserves to own his own place. He (or she) cannot budget himself accordingly.
Society does not need to reward him. That is what caused the big run-up in real estate values that eventually caused the housing market to crash. We let anyone and everyone buy a house because in America it is supposed to be an entitlement, like getting a driver’s license.

Well, it shouldn’t be. I bought my first place- a townhouse- around 1984 and paid $56,000. My real estate agent talked me into getting an FHA loan. I was embarrassed. She said that I shouldn’t. Everyone did it and it allowed me to pay only 5 or 10 percent down instead of 20. I fooled her and put down 15 percent. I felt like a mogul. The other benefit, she explained, was that it meant that the Federal Government would insure the loan and back it in case I defaulted. I couldn’t argue with that logic so I did apply for the FHA loan and got it.

Feeling a little richer, I put down 20% on my current place. I’ve refinanced twice since the original mortgage was taken out and have lowered the rate and monthly amount to pay significantly. I am not a man of means but one who takes his obligations seriously. I bought within my budget. The current value of the place is appraised less than the purchase price of 14 years ago. But, that’s okay- everyone’s is. One day it will come back. And even if I never make a profit when selling it, I still am ahead of the game because I have a roof over my head. Do-gooders please stay away. Okay, I’ll call you if I need you. Hopefully not.

Going Postal

Here we go again. The U.S. Postal Service is threatening dire actions unless the U.S. taxpayer bails them out for the umpteenth time. This time they say they will close many processing centers around the country. This will result in no longer promising to deliver the mail the next day in the same postal zone after it is put in a mailbox but adding a day or two to the length of time. Like that has been a lock for the past several years until now, right?

The Post Office complains that businesses have cut down on the amount of junk mail they send out. Yah, sure. They also say that our use of email has killed their business model. Well, whoopee do!
That’s life. Do you think that the president of the buggy whip association back in 1905 went to Congress and demanded that we all continue to buy accessories for no-longer-existent horses in the backyard barn?

As a society, we are paying our bills more than ever online. Let’s face it. It is faster and a better chance of getting delivered than by the Post Office. And you can tell the bank when to remit the payment rather than releasing the funds immediately.

Those of us who are baby boomers in our 50’s (ahem) can faintly remember that yet in the late 1950’s the Post Office delivered the mail to businesses in Chicago’s downtown area as well as other key locations twice a day . Postage stamps back then cost a mere 3 cents. A new car about $2000, a newspaper 7 cents for a weekday edition, a new house about $20,000, and a movie ticket about 75 cents for an adult.

Today, everything listed about is most likely more than ten times that amount but with all except mail delivery you get the same product or even more for the higher price than back then. Today, a single postage stamp of first class delivery is 44 cents. But, delivery has become less often and shakier. And heaven help you when your mailman (well, at least mine is a guy) goes on vacation and they send out a substitute. Email and electronic transfer of financial data is a good thing. Hey, it’s called progress.

When we first moved into our current office building after the turn of the century (this one- hey, watch it!), we immediately recognized that it had a very important amenity- a mail box pickup location inside.
A sticker posted on the lid you open to drop in the mail listed two pickup times. One around 10am and the other 4:45pm. This made sense as it gave us a chance to compose important business communications, run it through the postage meter and as we went home and dropped it in the mail chute, we knew that by the next morning it would already be on its way to getting processed.

This is no longer the fact. Last year- in a cost-cutting action, the post office decided to reduce pickup to once a day. Fine. No problem. Doable. However, the geniuses decided to make the pickup at 10am and dropped the more beneficial 4:45pm. Presumably because it was beneficial for the paying customer but not their pampered employees who loathed making a pickup late in the day when they preferred to be heading home. What this means is that if I get to the office after the 10am pickup, I have to advance the date in the postage meter before I slide an envelope through. Why? I am a firm believer that the next morning when the mail is brought to the processing plant that a postal employee will see the previous day’s date on the metered envelope and put it on the side to teach me a lesson in ruining that person’s karma.

The U.S. Postal Service has not raised stamp fees from 3 to 44 cents and dropped delivery from twice a day to barely once only because the cost of living that has skyrocketed in 50 years.. It is out-of-control pension plans, vacation and personal leave benefits that our “all types of weather” letter carriers get. But, hey- that’s progress. I tell you what- I quit when my computer starts asking me for the same considerations.