about the universe forum commander Shop Now Commanders Circle
Product List FAQs home Links Contact Us

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Steve Cole writes:
1. In the basic doomsday scenario, society collapses into anarchy. We see this happen today in limited areas, usually in a war-torn country but sometimes in a limited area (e.g., the Rodney King riots in LA, or the Katrina mess in New Orleans, or the hurricane in New Jersey). In the limited situations we have seen, there is plenty of stable area outside of the chaos which can send help. Doomsday prepping assumes that there is no stable area outside from which help can arrive, that everything goes bad everywhere (at least, everywhere in the US). There would be no police, and everyone would have to fend for himself. The collapse of society means the collapse of the food distribution system, and within three or four days, entire cities would be empty of food and full of hungry desperate people. A hundred million Americans will die of starvation the first year.
2. National Geographic is just full of interesting things I had never known. Tens of thousands of elephants are murdered for their ivory every year, despite the ban on ivory trading. Hundreds of thousands of songbirds (the size of sparrows) are killed every year migrating through Africa, where they are considered delicacies. (Each has about two bites of meat.) About 2.5% of our DNA is Neanderthal. For Australian aborigines, another 5% of their DNA is another (previously unknown human-ish species called Denovonia (known from two teeth and a tiny piece of bone.) The latest theory on solar system formation says that Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune formed much closer to Jupiter, were pushed out by its gravity, and the effect of those moving gas giants on the Kuiper Belt caused the infamous Late Heavy Bombardment.
3. The first step to starting a business is to understand What a Business Is. A business is where you do, make, or sell something that people pay for. The difference between what it costs to do, make, or buy that something and what you can get paid for doing it is not the profit; it's the margin. The profit is what's left after the margin pays the cost of overhead (rent, salaries, insurance, taxes, utilities, advertising, shipping, equipment, and everything else). Worse, some of the profit has to be kept inside the business for emergencies, replacing worn-out equipment, investing in new things to do, and so forth. That's the theory. The problem is that the overhead expenses are going to keep going whether you sell anything or not. Let's say you have a huge collection of baseball cards. You rent a store and offer them for sale, but nobody buys any. Well, the rent on the store still has to be paid, as do the utility bills, and your own personal rent (or mortgage) and utility bills also have to be paid. That's the trap. If you don't pick a business where enough people buy the thing (product or service) and you don't make enough profit on each thing, you'll fail.
 4. For the Zombie Apocalypse, let's talk guns. Zombies mean you need a gun, preferably two or more, those being a good rifle (preferably a semi-auto assault rifle with multiple magazines) and a good pistol (preferably a semi-auto with multiple magazines). The problem is, the optimum weapons will cost you over a thousand dollars. If you don't have lots of money to spend, you can get a good solid used 30-caliber bolt-action rifle (e.g., a Mauser or a Mossin-Nagant) for about $100. It might keep you alive if you don't confront too many zombies at once. Another choice might be a twenty-two caliber long-rifle weapon (.22LR) as a semi-auto version can be had for about $100. (Avoid the tube-fed ones as they take forever to reload. Get a magazine-fed version and buy several extra magazines, each with as many rounds as you can find. But get a real rifle, as it's iffy to assume a .22LR will penetrate a human skull or do enough damage to kill a zombie.) For a cheap pistol, get a .380 automatic (maybe $250). A revolver is better than nothing (but takes too long to reload and can be considered only an emergency backup gun). Shotguns are not good anti-zombie weapons. Buckshot is likely to miss the brain and slugs are heavier than rifle bullets. You're better to carry a magazine-fed assault rifle, but if a shotgun is all you have got, use it. Given tons of money, you might consider getting a rifle and pistol that use the same ammo. There are endless 9mm pistols out there and you can get a 9mm carbine or MP5. If you prefer .45acp there is an MP45 that uses that round. A zombie that is more than 50 yards away is not worth shooting, and your odds of a miss or a non-killing hit are too high.
5. Sometimes the boss assigns you a gigantic task that will take forever. The first step is to REMEMBER THE EIGHTY-TWENTY RULE: This rule says that in any project 80% of the goal takes 20% of the effort while the last 20% of the goal takes 80% of the effort. Maybe you need to ask your boss if eating 80% of this elephant is good enough. Remind him that in the same time you could completely eat one elephant you could eat 80% of five elephants. If nothing else, do the easy stuff first and hope that something else distract him before you waste a lot of time doing the last 20%. Pick out the very easiest parts and hand them to an intern to do. Since any given mountain of work will contain some stuff that is laughably easy, do that part first as at least you made some progress on the overall whole.
6. A guy called me one day offering to sell me a software system where all of the mail orders on my webstore would be forwarded to local game stores. He could not understand why I told him "no thanks." Let me try again. First, anybody who wants to "order on line and pick up in person" is already doing that because the local store has that on their own website. Second, we don't want to send orders to stores because we would lose most of the profit and go out of business. (His theory that we'd sell more total games this way ran into the reality that there just aren't enough wargamers in this world to expand the customer base at will.) He theorized that it would be swell to do this because the stores would be forced to stock every product we had in order to take advantage of orders that might appear. I advised him that every game store was a mom and pop operation and did not have the cash or space to stock more than they are stocking.
7. Colonel Custer of the 7th Cavalry wasn't as stupid as most people think. The conventional wisdom is that Custer raced to get to the Indian camp before the rest of the Army in order to get all of the glory for himself. (Fair enough, but he was also concerned that the Indians would try to get away from the trap before it could close. He had no delusion of defeating the Indians, but if he could accomplish his plan to scatter or captured their horses, he would win the campaign for his boss. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that he stupidly divided his force, his plan was to distract the warriors and attack the horse herd, which would have immobilized the Indians while the rest of the Army closed in. While Custer is regarded as an idiot to attack 3,000 warriors with 600 cavalry, the Army was convinced (and had convinced him) that there were only 1,000 warriors, a force his disciplined cavalry could have dealt with.
8. I watch the show SISTER WIVES about that guy Cody and his four wives. The new season started and the story of the first episode focused on the failure of their internet jewelry business. (Two of the wives like the business, the other two and Cody aren't that interested. This isn't what caused the failure, but it has caused friction as the two who like the business don't understand why the other three don't want to be part of the "fun" of running it.) What I can tell them is that the jewelry is too expensive and the designs have a limited appeal. Certainly, the four-women logo pieces appeal only to groups of four women (sisters, sister wives, friends, or whatever). I can feel their pain. I have walked into trade shows with great expectations and known within an hour that I wasn't going to sell anything and was stuck sitting there for two days, wasting my time being miserable. The standard sales pitch ("This is the one I gave my sister wife for her birthday") is singularly ineffective.
9. I was recently offered a deal in which I would get $1500 up front, and then might or might not get $7500 at some future point. The problem was, the deal depended on my doing a couple of weeks of work first, and it had to be the NEXT two weeks, not some two weeks at some future point when I wasn't pushing against a deadline. The bottom line was that I'd break even on the cost of my time, but doing this would delay every product I was working on by two weeks. In the end, the Board voted to prohibit me from working on that deal, requiring me to focus on projects already on the schedule. For anything to get on the schedule and go straight to the head of the line, it has to be some combination of very quick to do and/or making a lot of profit in the very near term. Breakeven deals (or deals that only make somebody else money, which is why that guy was pushing me to do it) do not go to the head of the line.
10. Advice to Young people: You're focused on getting to the day after graduation, but you need to have a good idea of where you're going to be at age 25 and how you're going to get there. At age 25 (plus or minus), you should have finished school (and perhaps a term in the military), paid for your education, married your forever-spouse, bought a house, and planted some trees. Do you have the job skills to get a job that affords that house? Are you serious about who you're dating and would they make a forever-spouse? By the way, get to age 25 (true adulthood) with a clean credit history and no police record.
11. There is endless debate over who was the greatest general in all of (Earth) history. I have long ago settled on Genghis Khan. He was a national leader (which lets out the likes of Patton, Montgomery, Lee, and Grant) who conquered a vast empire (only Alexander the Great comes close). Genghis made more military innovations than Alexander (who made none other than lengthening the spears his father had issued) and the empire of Genghis survived centuries after his death while Alexander's crumbled within months.
12. The worst German mistake in all of World War 2 was the failure to destroy the British Army at Dunkirk, which might well have caused the fall of the Churchill government and resulted in a peace agreement.
13. The worst Allied mistake in World War 2 was the failure to take seriously that war was coming: The British and French disarmament movements of the 1920s had left an opening for Hitler, which the rearmament programs of the 1930s were not enough to overcome. One can include here the failure to give the Germans an equitable peace at Versailles. (Instead, the French insisted on crippling reparations and on ignoring Wilson's 14 points which were the basis of the armistice. The Germans felt betrayed, and they were.)
14. Never marry a girl without meeting her mother. That's what you're going to be living with, so check it out.
15. Myth: The US won the American Revolution wearing buckskin and hiding behind rocks and trees shooting at the stupid British wearing bright red coats and standing in a straight line.
Truth: The US won wearing bright blue coats and standing in a straight line; we just learned how to shoot faster, the French helped, and the British had an ocean in the way of their Army. This myth seems to have originated in a Bill Cosby comedy routine.
16. I am annoyed by the use of the word "hero." A hero is someone who risks or sacrifices something for some greater purpose, such as risking his life to save others or risking his career to speak truth to power. I hate hearing about "sports heroes" (although "sports legends" are fine). I am tired of hearing about someone who is "a hero" who didn't really risk anything, but just did their assigned job very well. Such a person might be a role model or a paragon, but not a hero.
17. If you own a business and you watch X-factor, American Idol, and The Voice but don't watch Restaurant Impossible, Hotel Impossible, Kitchen Nightmares, Bar Rescue, Tabitha Takes over, or On the Rocks, you're doing it wrong and your business is not all it could be. Owning a business includes the obligation to continually improve your knowledge of business and make your own business better.
18. One constant problem around this place is that there are too many jobs chasing too few people, and not enough money to hire new people. Getting Jean was supposed to help, but she seems fully busy and the only part of my job she took off of my list of too many jobs were jobs I wasn't doing anyway, so I'm just as busy as I ever was. One aspect of too few people is that constant delay of small but worthwhile projects that just get lost in the cluster. Between doing what it takes to keep the company going and producing entire new products, these smaller projects just never happen. That makes the very creative people who sent them in very upset that they aren't getting any love. It also means some things that are entirely internal also aren't getting done. These are not the "very small" projects where somebody wants something and I take ten minutes and do it; those are one-time things that just get done. I started calling these things quangos (which is a British term meaning something entirely different and unrelated) but finally decided to call them SmaPros, SnapRows, or Small Projects. Looking over the list of things on this list I see an very interesting app somebody sent in that I never had time to look at (it ran afoul of the lack of a device that could run it, but Jean put it on her Xoom), finding the files for JagdPanther #7, getting the damaged drywall fixed in the back room, and about 30 other things.
19. On cop shows (and other action shows) you eventually see the bad guy grab someone (usually an attractive woman) and hold a gun to her head (or a knife to her throat) and order the good guy to put his gun down and kick it away, which the good guy does because he's, well, the good guy. In the real world, people who carry guns are taught to never put the gun down in such a situation. That gives the bad guy the opportunity to kill both of you. Instead, you tell the bad guy: "Hurt her, you die. Try to take her with you, you die. Stand here until I get tired of humoring you, you die. The only way you leave here alive is to surrender."

20. Nobody (beyond the professional military) realized that the allies in World War II were not a happy united family. All of the allies distrusted each other, most of them were out for their own post-war benefits, and most of them hated each other. The Americans thought the British wanted to use US troops to build the British Empire. The British considered the Americans to be "Colonial amateurs playing at war." Stalin was convinced that Churchill wanted the Germans and Russians to bleed each other white so the British could take over Europe. The British tried to assassinate Free French leader DeGaulle. The US Army and Navy hated each other more than they hated the Japanese or Germans, and some American generals hated each other even more.

21. Myth: Columbus believed the world was round when everybody else believed it was flat.

Truth: Everybody knew the world was round, the argument was about just how big it was (and how far away China was if you went West instead of East). Turns out, Columbus was the one who was wrong, and the diameter that the Greeks calculated in 300BC was right after all.

22. I was watching Shark Tank and some woman said that her business was not making money and she desperately needed cash from the sharks to keep going. Let me get this right. Your business is steadily losing money and your plan is for us to give you money that you will use to cover the losses and your living expenses until somehow your business starts to make money. Do you actually have a plan to change what you're doing into a profitable model? No? Then you don't need an investor. You need a psychiatrist.