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Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Steve Cole's pick of the 10 most important items in his last 50 blogs (in no particular order):

1. The oldest military ship in service is the Russian VMF Kommuna, which is used to salvage submarines and to operate smaller submersibles. The 2,500-ton catamaran was built in the Netherlands and entered Russian service in 1915. It still works just fine and the Russians have kept her in service. VMF Kommuna became the official oldest military ship with the retirement of the British light cruiser Caroline, which was built in 1914 and served at Jutland. Caroline had been tied to the dock as a training ship for many years. The oldest US ship is the carrier USS Enterprise, which has served for 48 years. (This doesn't count the two-century-old USS Constitution, which is only in commission in a honorary sense.)

2. A symptom of Overworked Entrepreneur Syndrome is using a system in which "If I am waiting for somebody else to do something, it's not my problem." With too much to do, anything we send to someone else (such as a request for information, or instructions to do something) is no longer on our overloaded "to do" list. Sooner or later, the requested information or work will arrive and the overall project will go back on our "active to do list" but until then, it's just not our problem. The problem is that this assumes that everybody else is less incompetent and less busy and less disorganized than we are, and can result in waking up the day before (or after) the Big Deadline to find that we never finished a major project because somebody else never answered the request for information or sent something we needed. [My solution here is to keep such directives and requests in my Email outbasket until the designated person answers the question or does the thing. Every week I ask people I am waiting for to do what I asked them to do.]

3. As with any game company, we have more ideas for games than we have time or money. An outside design is going to have to be really special to be published, not simply a fun game that actually works. Remember that virtually all publishers are designers who could not get anyone else to publish their game.

4. Biggest money mistake: OPERATE WITHOUT A BUDGET: You don't have to be nitpicky, but set up some general categories. Always know when the next big bill is coming, always have an emergency fund, invest in some savings and retirement, and avoid spending more than you have. This applies to singles but especially to couples (and especially to non-married couples). Know how much each person is allowed to spend (and actually spends). If your girlfriend/roommate is buying expensive stuff, will that person have the rent money when it's due? (If your spouse is spending wildly, will YOU have the mortgage payment when IT'S due?) Now, normally conservative people don't need much of a budget plan since they unconsciously just don't spend a lot of money, but if you tend to splurge a lot or ever come up short at the end of the month, you need to set a written budget and stick to it.

5. I have written a lot of magazine articles on a lot of subjects, most of which my customers never saw and never heard of. One that was never published, however, is the one that my mind keeps coming back to. I had written a couple of minor articles on stamp collecting when I pitched an article about "collecting stamps on your vacation" to a major stamp collecting magazine. They gave me a green light on the outline and I sat to work, even doing some field research. My advice (which covers a lot of collector fields, not just stamps) was partly practical (how to find stamp dealers in an epoch before the internet was invented, setting a total budget, visiting a dealer while the family sees something else) and partly tactical (how to negotiate the best prices). As with any collectibles, there are no fixed prices for stamps. There are only so many of them and catalogs list an official market price, but only the dumbest of collectors pay it. Most stamps are sold for about half of the catalog price, but condition varies (and the seller's opinion of a given stamp may be a higher grade than the buyer's). I recommended that a vacation buyer should take his list of the stamps he wants to add to his collection (every collector maintains a "want list") and do research with mail order lists in stamp newspapers and catalogs to determine what something was really worth. My article recommended making sure the dealer knew you were from out of town, meaning he had one chance to get your money, but that any sale he made to you was good because you were from outside the circle of his usual customers. I also included hard-nosed advise on bargaining, insisting on a better deal than the mail order lists, and perhaps on package deals for several wanted stamps at an even lower price. I frankly thought it was some of my best business writing. The stamp newspaper refused to publish the article because they feared it would upset the retailers who carry the stamp newspaper on their shelves. They wanted the article rewritten to say you should build a relationship with a dealer by paying more than the going price. I pointed out that this was ridiculous in the case of a dealer you would meet only once on a vacation, and frankly wasn't that smart even in the case of your local dealer you buy from all the time. They told me not to submit any more articles.
6. I don't think anyone who has never run a business has any concept of what it takes to do that. Most of my time goes into things that don't produce money (many of them spend money). So when you ask why I haven't finished designing this or that new product yet, take a moment to consider what else I have been doing. I'm delegating everything I can, but I've done that and now I'm down to things that take more time if I delegate them to someone I have to supervise.

7. We all know the story of the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack and that the Merrimack should be called the Virginia and that while the two ships fought for hours neither one did much damage to the other. There is, however, something not many people know. The Union knew that the Monitor was the only ship able to stop the Virginia from destroying any wooden Yankee ship and breaking the blockade. For them, a tie was as good as a win and a loss would be devastating beyond all calculation. For this reason, the crew of the Monitor was told to use only "medium" charges of gunpowder in their two 11-inch guns. Back in those days, metalwork was not the science it is now, and a charge of gunpowder that would burst one cannon might work just fine a thousand times in an identical cannon. The factory making the cannon would test a few to the point they exploded and then tell the government not to use more than 2/3 of that much gunpowder. In the case of the Monitor, they used only half of the "suicide overload" charge of powder. Even so, the Monitor did crack the Virginia's armor, and (as the legend goes) maybe using the heavier 2/3 charge would have seen cannonballs going through that armor. The Union would not risk it, as the maximum 2/3 charge sometimes (one out of a hundred or so) blew up the cannon, and for a cannon to explode inside the small turret would mean that the ship was out of business and the blockade would have been broken. Something that almost nobody knows is that the Virginia challenged the Monitor to battle on two subsequent occasions. In the first, the Monitor remained docked under the protective guns of a Union fort. In the second, the Monitor ran away when the Virginia showed up. What does that tell us?

8. I enjoy watching DOOMSDAY PREPPERS but find most of their plans impractical. Most of them plan to travel a couple of hundred miles to some remote fortress, which will be difficult when everyone else is fleeing in panic. Plus, you'll get there to find that the construction crew who built it for you have moved in and they have guns. Seriously, people do need to prep, but more for the short-term disasters (say, hurricane cuts off power and supplies for 10 days) than anything else. Buy one of those hand-cranked radio/flashlight things, get a good first aid kit, keep two weeks of your prescriptions on hand, and stock a few cases of canned food in the bottom of the pantry. (Eat a can or two every week and buy a few new cans once a month. Mark the date and rotate your stock. Over time, you might increase this to an actual 10-day stockpile for your family. While I can eat canned stew every meal for a month, you probably can't, so stock some variety.) You might even want to buy some three-gallon water bottles, fill them, and put them in a back closet. [At our office, we have two of those but primarily for times when the pipes freeze and we use the water to flush toilets.]

9. Recently, scientists said that they would be able to produce a cloned Neanderthal within a year or two. Obviously, we should do this if only to answer questions about them. (Can they speak? Just how intelligent are they? Do they have phenomenal memories? Can they invoke the ancient spirits of nature?) But then comes the big question. Neanderthals are not Homo Sapiens, but are they close enough to be called human and to be given human rights? (They made tools and fire, so they're clearly much smarter than chimps. They did not make clothing but did wrap themselves in skins. They buried their dead with flowers.) Would Neanderthals be a protected class under the Americans with Disabilities act? While no Neanderthal was ever in North America, would a Neanderthal clone born in this country to an American woman (you have to use a surrogate) be an American citizen? Would a Neanderthal be a "special needs child" under the laws of the state where it was born? Would we want to create a few dozen Neanderthals and create a place they could have their own community? Would doing so be segregation?
10. I wonder if anybody out there understands how this business (or any business) runs if they haven't run a business. There are lots of categories of things to do, and it's hard to balance them. Some of them are "get to it as fast as you can" and there is a list of those and when not doing anything else I go to the top of that list for my work. Some things magically appear on the list from time to time and go right to the #1 spot. Some of those are predictable (e.g., Communique that has to be done before the 7th of any given month so the staff can report before it goes out on the 10th) while others are less so (I got a set of ACTASF cards from Matthew and had promised him that whenever he sent a set I would drop anything other than an emergency to check the cards right away and fire the required fixes back to him; those cards get this treatment because they've been delayed too long and because we need the fixed cards to get the revised rulebook out). Some new items that show up get to start their march to the top of the list from a higher or lower spot (e.g., a possible big money deal for a project goes to the highest part of the list). That, unfortunately, means everything else goes down a notch. Then there are the fires the blow up or break out. Recently, something that should have been a simple yes/no decision ended up being a major multi-hour project involving phone calls to outside parties. That kicked other things off that day's schedule. (I had promised one guy on Thursday afternoon that his thing was now #1 on the list and would obviously get done on Friday. Then a fire broke out Friday noon and pushed his thing to Saturday.) Other things happen.