Technology Can Drive Us Out of This Fog

Driverless cars, don’t worry there’s a BMW and Audi, too.

“Driverless cars,” what better message to tell government to get out of the way!

“This fog” being the deficit.  In fact we are in a fog and missing the “byte”when we as a country, look towards investing more in asphalt highways, in roads and rail and less towards technology, the information highway to invest in our future competitiveness in the global marketplace.

The future is technology and “smart or driverless cars” Yes, cars that drive themselves. 

Admittedly they have to “learn the course.”  Like on HWY 5 in LA bumper to bumper smart cars will drive at 80 mph during rush hour.  Think about navigating your iPad or reading your Kindle while your smart car drives itself.  Your commute can be cut in half because your car’s the ass who tailgate the car in front of you without getting flipped “the bird” or into a “fender bender.”  Who needs more infrastructure?

Currently we are chasing four economies in global competitiveness, including Number One, Switzerland.  Number Two is Singapore?  Number Three is Sweden and Number Four is Finland.  We’re Number Five.  Number Five!

Read my Blog post India Gets IT! Information Technology that is….  The message should be clear.  Most ground breaking technology (IT)  is spawned by small business.  I know.  I am the founder and CEO of an IT business who has spawned new products that include all the ingredients of a successful small business that can compete globally.

I consider myself a grinder, maybe a lone wolf.  Prideful.  A do-it-yourselfer.  Is that the definition of an entrepreneur?  It depends on who you ask.  Is that the definition of a small business owner?  More than likely the answer would be “yes.”  The difference between an entrepreneur and a small business owner?  None, until the entrepreneur, who is an idea capitalist who chooses outside angel or VC investors.

Everybody has heard of the IPO bubble in the early 2000’s where billions of investment dollars were squandered on ideas.  I pride myself by coining the phrase, “An idea is only worth it’s execution.”  The idea capitalist who decides to  forego outside investors, the grinder, the small business person, is more likely to sustain upticks and downturns in the economy.

We have a 14B deficit.  We have  over 9% unemployment,  We can argue how we might cut entitlements or raise taxes on the rich all day long.  The bottom line is all we want is our cake and eat it too. So I’ll let the experts argue what we need to do to stimulate the economy, reduce the deficit and add jobs.  Afterall they have all the answers, don’t they?

Unfortunately the answer is “no.”  Instead of idea capitalists, we have intellectual genocide where MSNBC pundits who have never had an original idea in their lives, interview (bait) Herman Cain about his 9.9.9 proposal and dismiss it with the age old adage that assumes “poor people” spend more of their  income? on consumer goods than rich people therefore a national sales tax is a burden on the poor.  Since poor people have little or no income how does this equate?  Herman Cain is an idea capitalist.  He is a grinder.  Given the opportunity, he will be successful in helping the US create jobs, lower the deficit and increase our global competitiveness.

The real answer is to increase small business competitiveness in a global economy.  The Obama administration wants to spend billions more on infrastructure.  All I can think of are traffic cones and hard hats standing in our way and in the way of the progress we are making in new technology.  Technology that solves the infrastructure problems and creates jobs.

“It makes little sense for the United States to turn away highly educated immigrants who seek to come here. It makes equally little sense to train talented foreign students in our universities but then fail to integrate them into our economy. Nearly 300,000 foreign students are enrolled in advanced degrees programs here, but the great majority will return home. We are casting away the fruits of our own investment. As has long been our American tradition, we should encourage the world’s innovators, inventors, and pioneers to immigrate to the United States and we should encourage those we train to settle and create jobs here.”  Romney for President (2011-09-01). Believe in America: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth

 Visa Caps for Highly Skilled Workers

As president, Mitt Romney will also work to establish a policy that staples a green card to the diploma of every eligible student visa holder who graduates from one of our universities with an advanced degree in math, science, or engineering. These graduates are highly skilled, motivated, English-speaking, and integrated into their American communities. Permanent residency would offer them the certainty required to start businesses and drive American innovation.  Romney for President (2011-09-01). Believe in America: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth.

Mitt Romney, Idea Capitalist

Are jobs coming back to the US?  Case in point.  A big business goes overseas to China  to make an integral component of a product going to market.  The product can be produced at 50% of the cost to produce the part in the US.  The product made overseas requires a delivery timeframe of 12 weeks as opposed to 4 weeks in the US.  The part is produced and delivered but not according to spec.  A US company, TJH Manufacturing, Zion, IL, with a stellar reputation is recruited to re-engineer and deliver the part in time for market.  The big business with the overseas propensity ends up paying four times the originally anticipated product cost.

My vote is for a “driverless government,” but first we have to put Congress and the Administration through the course.  Let’s start by teaching them the constitution.

How fortunate am I?

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around, does it make a sound?

I have been bowed over in anguish over a job lost; I have placed my hands over my face and head, elbows to my knees gasping for breath; I have barricaded myself behind closed doors.

So, I have often wondered, does a job lost make a sound?

If you have asked our government, technically the answer to both questions is , “No.”

I would have to agree.  Neither seen nor heard, you’re  on your own.

I have experienced both, the latter being much more traumatic, although both are deeply disturbing, I would have to say the tree was less personal and the lesser of two evils.

Symbolic in a fashion, like our government, the tree had been leaning.  It’s weight no longer sustainable, it roots no longer able to bear its growth.

I was deeply affected by the sight of the fallen tree in its magnitude.  It’s beauty and majesty held me in awe.  I often crossed it’s path, never imagining it’s demise.

Falling across a sidewalk, in a city park, the tree was swept away in a day; a series of sawing, grinding and chipping away.  At times the noise was deafening.  And then it was gone.

I, too, had moved on.  Picked myself back up.  Started a new venture.  Today I am rooted strongly, my business supported by faith, family and my business.  Supported by partners, fellow employees, suppliers and customers.

How fortunate for me, I am not a tree.

Stranded! Kim Tran, an American Success Story – Part Two

Kim and her family survived one major ordeal only to face new challenges landing on a small island short of the island of Pulau Bidong, Malaysia.  Two days and nights later they would land on Pulau Bidong and begin an eleven (11) month odyssey on the island. Hard to believe their flight and their plight was perceived a blessing, but a blessing none the less.

There were thousands of their neighbors, friends and relatives who were less fortunate.  Young children, who’s parents had bought their freedom fell victims to pirates, were raped, had their possessions stolen, were thrown overboard or perished from malnutrition or starvation.  Those who remained behind in Saigon, with children too young to travel or couldn’t afford to buy their freedom met similar fates.

Pulau Bidong, one of the scenic and uninhabited islands off located off Kuala Terengganu, is often remembered as the temporary home of the Vietnamese boat people who fled their war-torn country in the 1970s. Out of the estimated 800,000 Vietnamese who left their country during this period, the biggest proportion, more than a quarter of a million, landed on their shores.

Although the island has the capacity to provide shelter for 4,500 refugees at any one time it took up to as many as 20,000 people at one stage, at the height of the arrival of the boat people. Pulau Bidong served as a half-way house for these people before they were sent to other countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and several European countries, and it took time to grant approval to those qualified to be accepted as refugees. Those whose applications were rejected were sent to the Sungai Besi Refugee Camp, where they were later forcibly repatriated back to Vietnam after the war.

In the early stages, the refugees, some with nothing except the clothes on their backs, ate anything they could find on the island including monkeys, frogs and squirrels. The wildlife population was decimated. To ensure the refugees got humanitarian aid and better living conditions, the UNHCR through the International Red Cross supervised the activities on the island.

Long-houses and offices made from wood from the local forest were built and the boat people were provided with better basic needs and amenities such as food, schools, workshops, electricity and water. Perhaps to make it just like home, the camp was subsequently turned into a bustling mini Saigon. It had the trappings of a township – post office, church, temple, tailors, hair salons, sundry shops and even disco and bar. One part of the beach was even named Pantai Cina – China Beach – after its more famous counterpart in Vietnam.

In Kim’s own words…

Later I had learned the aid ship following us was a World Vision Missionary ship.  Approaching land, our boat had stopped once the propeller had stuck in the sand.  The boat had begun to tilt.  Someone had yelled “get off the boat as quickly as possible.”   The boat was taking on water.   The men got off the boat and assisted the women and children toward the shore.  I remembered as I walked toward the beach, my head felt heavier than my body.  Once everyone had gotten to shore safely, each family cleared an area for their family and settled on the beach.  The women used whatever spare clothing they could find to cover the sand, so the elderly and children could sit down. While everyone was busy setting up camp for the night, I looked out at where the boat had been.  Within minutes, it had sunk tail first.  I could not believe it.  We were all stranded on this small island with limited food and water supply (of course, I was too young to worry about food or drink, I just thought of how lucky that I did not drown).  Some people from our boat started to look around the island and search for help but did not see anyone else on the island. The men continued to look around the island and talked among themselves.  The women were asked to occupy the kids.  Our caretaker, Anh, told us stories to help us sleep but I could not sleep that night.  I heard too many strange noises close by.  I stared into the sky.  It was clear with plenty of stars out.  I looked again to the horizon.  There was no remnant our boat had ever existed. 

As the sun rose a boat with Malaysian soldiers approached.  The soldiers told everyone on our boat to surrender all of our gold and valuables to them for safe keeping.  They assured everyone that these items would be recorded and returned to us, once we had been accepted by and ready to depart to a new destination.  Most of the people on our boat were skeptical and didn’t want them holding their valuables.  Finally, the soldiers demanded that if no one surrendered their valuables, we would have to stay on this island until they got what they wanted.  So families started to bring a few pieces of gold to the soldiers.  My dad quickly told my sister, My, and other sisters to keep some gold hidden under their clothes.  My family gave up approximately 50 pieces of gold to the soldiers.  At the time, we didn’t know the exact value of the gold.  The soldiers wrote something down (in Malaysian) and had each family sign.  We had no idea what they had written on those documents.  We believed that the gold pieces were as good as gone.  My dad just considered it payment so we could leave the small island in peace, a down payment on our future.

After this, they left us alone and told us that they would call for assistance.  At that moment, everyone was just relieved, happy and excited that everyone had found FREEDOM.   Later that day, someone was stung by a poisonous sea urchin.  The poison spread so quickly that she went unconscious.  The soldiers called and asked for immediate rescue.  That evening, the rescue boat came.  It only took her and her family and to leave the island first.  They would not take anyone else who had been stranded.  The soldiers pushed the others away from the motor boat.  Someone explained that more boats would be back tomorrow for the rest of us.   That news calmed the remaining people.  One more night, we spent on this isolated island.  The next day around noon time, several boats arrived.  We all packed whatever belongings we had left and we headed toward these boats.  I remembered treading through the clear blue water and attempting to avoid stepping on jelly fish of all colors and sizes that had covered the island’s shoreline.  Luckily no one else got hurt that day.  It was a short ride to a larger island called  Pulau Bidong, where my family would reside for approximately 11 months.  There were plenty of adventures and obstacles to come.

 As we approached new land (Pulau Bidong), we saw the wood dock.  We could see the people on the beach that were Vietnamese by their clothing, which got us all very excited.  Side note:  We all had thought the boats were taking us to main land of Malaysia.  Come to find out, this new home for us all was a refugee camp.  After all of us had gotten off the motor boats, each family looked for a spot for our family on the beach to settle.  Hunger finally hit my family fast and hard.  We were starving. We hadn’t eaten food in several days.  We had only drank water or something close to it.   

There was very little rice left to feed my family of 16 members.  We had to cook rice in a broth to have enough for my family to share.  We shared a small half bowl of white rice soup between us.  We passed the bowl to each family member in turn to sip.  My family had never suffered hunger.  This was a very humbling and frightening experience.  We were a proud family living comfortably to a family starving within a span of 4 days. 

Since the boat that transferred us to Pulau Bidong was the 23rd boat that had arrived at this camp, it was labeled number 23.  The population on Pulau Bidong Island at that time was roughly 40000+ people.  Our boat was assigned to the D or B area of the island.  This was how the island officials would divide and find the families.   That night we slept on a bank along the shore of the island.  The next morning, each family was shown to where we were to live.  When we got to our new home, it was just a patch of dirt.  It was up to us to build a shelter.  Unfortunately for my family, we didn’t have the skill nor the know how to build a structure of any kind and we would rely on other refugees to assist us.  We were tired, fatigued and hungry.  We slept with a plastic tarp for cover.  That 2nd night, thunder and lightning woke us, the rain water soaking us beneath the tarp.   We picked up our belongings to avoid the rain from ruining them.  The rain was so heavy, it poured down the hillside.  We all stood till morning and then we had were provide help to start building our new home. 

My dad and brothers went up the hill to gather woods and branches.  My family had many restless nights in the beginning.  To top it off, I had chronic Asthma attacks.  My family could not get me immediate medical attention.  We had to wait until our family was officially registered into the refugee residential list.  It took two days for the process to be completed.  We were helpless.  We went from a well-to-do family to doing things for ourselves.  It was very difficult life-altering event for our whole family.   Though time was all we had, my family was forced to quickly adapt to our new lives. 

Life on Pulau Bidong – finding clean water was a problem

My family life on Pulau Bidong:

My siblings and I shared one bed. There were 3 beds total in our home.   All of our beds were made with multiple and  uneven branches tied together.  But it was better than the dirt floor.  It was very difficult for my elderly grandmother.  She could not sleep on these beds.  Later on, she bought a wood plank that came from a wrecked boat.  This was used to make a more comfortable bed for her to sleep on.   For cooking, we dug a hole and mounted several rocks for a fire pit.  Other appliances and supplies, we had to buy with gold or money depending on the sellers.  All families received some supplies from the United Nations like rice, instant noodles, and beans.  Note: This is why I dislike beans, especially kidney beans.  To earn a living, my older siblings would buy and sell fresh fruits and others products from a lady, whom was the longest survivor on this island.  This lady would buy her inventory from Malaysian civilians that sail by our island.  The island was deemed a gold mine; for without gold or money no one would survive the hard life.  There was plenty of price gouging.  For instance, one bottle of Coca Cola, which cost 34 Cents, was sold for a $1.00.  This was just a small example.  There was no employment on the island. So, people created their own jobs. 

Some climbed the hill and cut trees for trading with those in need of lumber for shelter or for firewood.  My oldest brother, Jimmy, took on a risky business.  He swam offshore to where Malaysian fishermen boat drifted by.  The fishermen would bring different items to sell items such as axes; hand saws, tents, even cookies, which were in demand in our camp.  Malaysian police patrolled and would beat or kick the sellers and the buyers of these goods.  They would chase off the fishermen. One time, Jimmy had bought 20 axes as the policemen’s canoe was approaching.  Jimmy had to jump off the fisherman boat. The weight of 20 axes sank Jimmy to the bottom of ocean floor.  He panicked but would not give up.  He managed to drag the axes to shore.  Lucky for Jimmy with the weight of the axes he sunk quickly, otherwise the policemen would have beaten him with their sticks regardless if he had surfaced too quickly. 

For drinking water, there were only a few public wells which supported the large population on the island.   We would travel for miles, stood in a long line.  It could stretch for miles and we waited our turn.  Once we reached the well, we would gather a bucket of water.  Public wells soon went dry.  People started to dig their own wells.  Before the water system was built, most private wells were only used for bathing and washing.  The island was undeveloped and not ready to handle people especially large populations.  No sanitary system existed.  Heavy rain would contaminate the water supply and jeopardize the fresh water supply, which made everyone’s life more miserable.  Later on, the United Nations brought in piping and helped build a water system that transferred fresh drinking water for everyone on the island.   

My family tried and gradually adjusted to the lifestyle on the island.  Yet we would continue to pray and hope for a miracle that some country would sponsor us.  My family was low on the list for sponsorship for several reasons.  We were not a part of US military services or affiliated in anyway.  My family was not classified as a priority at that time, the US delegates could not process the sponsorship right away.  My family could only hope and wait for acceptance based on a religious sponsorship.  The biggest problem was the size of my family.  Most groups did not have the financial funds to sponsor 16 people. Our lives on the island were like the movie Groundhog Day and seemed hopelessly mundane.  We all lived day-to-day as  best we could. Churches and temples were built.  W donated wood, tree, and tents.   My brothers, sisters and I would spend our spare time by studying Basic English at any church or temple that offered free classes. 

Who is the shy one? Kim and family – USA – airport

When the last of these boat people left the island in the early 1990s, what remained were mute reminders of recent history: charred wooden buildings and rotting huts which once housed about a quarter of a million boat people since their first arrival in 1978.

Today, the only welcome for visitors to the beach of Pulau Bidong is a barren beachfront stall and glimpses of buildings heavily hidden by overgrown brushwood and bushes. Only emptiness, signboards with Vietnamese characters and names are still on display – ghostly reminder of the past.

Kim recently celebrated her 10th anniversary at Integra Business Systems, Inc.

See Part One…

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“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay

Business is improving, despite all the obstacles in this unpredictable economy that remain and those ahead of us.  This is largely self-fulfilling prophecy as our engine runs on premium personnel and our management team isn’t half-bad either.

We have invested a great deal in new products and new markets.  I’m a big fan of Alan Kay’s expression, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Klondike Bluffs mountain bike trail outside of Moab. In the background, Arches National Park and the La Sal snow-capped mountains (click on the photo for a better view)

This message comes somewhat diluted by events such as 9/11, and the BP oil spill.   Natural disasters are somewhat unpredictable but they are going to happen.  I have seen the raw and gut-wrenching affects as they unfold.  We are certainly not exempt from the fallout.

There’s little one can do in the moment but there is much that can be done to either prevent an occurrence or deal as effectively as possible with the results.  Unless of course, your government gets in the way.  That’s a whole other topic.

We believe we are as well prepared as we can be to limit the impact of most natural disasters.  Arguably we are and will be impacted on a financial and personal level as well.  To what extent will be born out by the actions, performance and lessons learned by others.  Certainly, we are far more fortunate.

There is still no consensus on when and where the economy will improve.  I spend a great deal of time measuring and evaluating circumstances as they may affect our business.

We can watch Fox News or CNN but our success or failure has little or nothing to do with the economy, politicians or other outside factors.  It has to do with you and me.  It has to do with the quality and functionality of our products and services.  It has to do with how we deliver our products and services!  It has to do with how we choose and treat our customers and our partners.

We are nothing to big business or big government in terms of our success or failure.  We are everything onto ourselves.  We will not succeed or fail due to outside influences.  We will only fail if we are cannot deliver excellence on all levels, products, customer service, implementation and ongoing support. 

Conversely, big business and big government need us to succeed, Their’s has become a global problem.  Because they have simply ignored the entrepreneur; unless, of course, the entrepreneur is holding the glass slipper.

Small businesses are mostly carriages of pumpkins and mice out there delivering the goods.

There are very few Cinderella stories.  Once delivered, the glass slipper still fits but we are working well past the ballroom festivities which has become just as intended, a fantasy.  We are soon  forgotten.  When the carriage and horses are stabled and the cats are away, the mice, small business people, you and I, will come out to play.  Small business can be very resourceful, if left alone.

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