Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Formal Reception

I'm invited to a wedding. The invitation (the nicest I've ever seen) says there's a "formal reception" afterward. So is that translated to mean that I have to wear a tuxedo? Far back in the recesses of my brain I seem to think that "formal" means tux and "semi-formal" means suit and tie. Please give this dork some guidance.

Enviga

This isn't much of a post, but I just thought I'd share. Isn't that what blogging is about anyway? People sharing things that nobody needs or wants.

I tried the new energy drink from Coca-Cola / Nestle called Enviga. Here's their official site. I guess it's supposed to burn more energy than it contains. Sounds fishy, but I won't bother myself with pondering it because I really didn't like the taste too much. Maybe it's an acquired taste, like red bull or asparagus.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

New Stocks on My Watch List

I've updated my watch list. I currently don't own any of these. I plan to buy into one or more them after closing out some other positions, but that requires either: my gainers to stop rising, or my losers to rebound. So the top contenders on my current watch list are: CHAP (Chaparral Steel), PCP (Precision Castparts), GT (Goodyear Tire & Rubber), SHW (Sherman Williams), and T (AT&T).

I'm not going to get into the details of why I like these. Suffice it to say that they fit my desired trading profile: low debt, steady cash flow, healthy growth (current and forecast), decent returns (ROA, ROE, ROI). That covers the first 4 stocks. Then AT&T is generally touted by many pundits. Even if they don't receive that upcoming huge telco contract from the federal government, they're already growing and future quarters will start to show positive signs from the Cingular acquisition. Plus there's the intangible "iPhone effect" that may show up later this year.

Remember, never buy a stock because I mention it. If I were that good, then Warren Buffett would hire me.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Latest Book I Read: Made To Stick

I just finished the book "Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die" by the brothers Chip and Dan Heath. It currently has 5/5 stars from 54 Amazon reviewers. Here's a link to the book's official web site. Guy Kawasaki blogged about it back in January. I had the book back then, but was in the middle of Paradise Lost at the time.

Made to Stick presents some compelling ideas about what makes an idea stick in the minds of people. It includes a tremendous amount of related stories, applications, anecdotes, observations, and conclusions. Frankly, I think it contains way too much of that. Maybe I'm just easily convinced, and don't need that much supporting information. For the benefit of our sound-bite culture, the authors have even constructed a convenient acronym to help us remember what makes ideas stick: SUCCES. Due to a combination of my own laziness and lack of eloquence, I'll quote from John Moore's blog to outline the meaning of SUCCES.

SIMPLE
“It’s hard to make ideas stick in a noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environment. If we’re to succeed, the first step is this: Be simple. Not simple in terms of ‘dumbing down’ or ‘sound bites.’ What we mean by ‘simple’ is finding the core of the idea. ‘Finding the core’ means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence.” (pgs. 27, 28)

UNEXPECTED
“The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns. Figure out what is counterintuitive about the message—i.e., What are the unexpected implications of your core message? Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audiences’ guessing machines.” (pgs. 64, 72)

CONCRETE
“Abstraction makes it harder to understand an idea and to remember it. It also makes it harder to coordinate our activities with others, who may interpret the abstraction in very different ways. Concreteness helps us avoid these problems.” (pg. 100)

CREDIBLE
“How do we get people to believe our ideas? We’ve got to find a source of credibility to draw on. A person’s knowledge of details is often a good proxy for her expertise. Think of how a history buff can quickly establish her credibility by telling an interesting Civil War anecdote. But concrete details don’t just lend credibility to the authorities who provide them; they lend credibility to the idea itself.” (pgs. 138, 163)

EMOTIONAL
“How can we make people care about our ideas? We get them to take off their Analytical Hats. We create empathy for specific individuals. We show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about. We appeal to their self-interest, but we also appeal to their identities—not only to the people they are right now but also to the people they would like to be.” (pg. 203)

STORIES
“A story is powerful because it provides the context missing from abstract prose. This is the role that stories play—putting knowledge into a framework that is more lifelike, more true to our day-to-day existence. Stories are almost always CONCRETE. Most of them have EMOTIONAL and UNEXPECTED elements. The hardest part of using stories effectively is make sure they’re SIMPLE—that they reflect your core message. It’s not enough to tell a great story; the story has to reflect your agenda.” (pgs. 214, 237)

... in closing...
“Those are the six principles of successful ideas. To summarize, here’s our checklist for creating a successful idea: a Simple Unexpected Concrete Credentialed Emotional Story. A clever observer will note that this sentence can be compacted into the acronym SUCCESs. This is sheer coincidence, of course. (Okay, we admit, SUCCESs is a little corny. We could have changed ‘Simple’ to ‘Core’ and reordered a few letters. But, you have to admit, CCUCES is less memorable.)” (pg. 18)

I recommend the book to anyone who wants people to remember their message. Beyond the obvious people in marketing and related spin-doctoring fields, this also includes professors, teachers, managers, executives, attorneys, engineers, parents ... well, almost all of us!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How Did My Stock Picks Do?

Back on December 30, I blogged about 4 stocks that made it to my watch list: MTW, PCP, PCAR, SHW. So now after a quarter, I thought I'd share how those stocks performed.

MTW has gone up 3.4%
PCP has gone up 30.3%
PCAR has gone up 16.3%
SHW has gone up 5.7%

Overall, not too bad. I had not purchased any of these, although in early January I regretted not having bought into PCP.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mojave Desert Walkabout

Yesterday I took off to visit a few places in the Mojave desert that I haven't yet seen. First up was Bristol Dry Lake. According to the Center for Land Use Interpretation, the lake has been actively mined for salt since 1909. The lake bed is just south of the tiny town of Amboy, CA which sits on the historic Route 66. The first picture I show here is approaching the Amboy area. You can see the dark shape of the Amboy Crater in the photo. The northern edge of the dry lake bed is there in front of the crater.

The northern end of the lake is tan colored and crunchy to walk on. My feet sank about 1.5 inches into the crusty surface. I walked around looking for any small dark rocks that might be meteorites. Then I drove several miles furher south, where the lake bed takes on an entirely different shape. Here the top inch of surface is crystalline salt. It was very hard and my steps didn't break the surface. It was also extremely rough. This is hard to explain, but I'll try. I sat down to take some pics from a lower perspective. The surface was so very rough - as if covered with tiny jagged points - that it scraped up my hands. Same with my pants. You certainly cannot slide on that stuff. There were other visitors who also pulled to the side of the road and wandered about, so I didn't feel out of place. Here's a Google maps link that shows Amboy and you can see the large dry lake bed south of town.

Then I headed north west to visit Broadwell Dry Lake. Again, I was hoping to look for meteorites. It's an easy 6 mile drive from I-40 on a BLM road that takes you into the western end of the Kelso Dunes Wilderness Area. As you can see from the photo, I had zero chance of finding any meteorites. All those dark rocks are lava. They were very light weight. They were everywhere. Earlier in the day I visited the BLM visitor center in Barstow to pick up a new National Parks pass. At $80, it's more expensive this year, but it covers National Parks, BLM lands, and even USFS National Forests. I also attempted to drive an off-road trail to a place called Kramer Arch, but that's a story for another post.

A Good Book on Business Management

I recently listened to the audio version of the new book by Ram Charan titled "Know-How - The 8 Skills That Separate People Who Perform From Those Who Don't." It currently has 4.5/5 stars from 10 Amazon reviewers. I was hesitant because it's pretty long (9 hours on 8 CDs), but I was pleasantly rewarded with a rich diversity of interesting case studies that support Ram's list of know hows. I recommend this book for people interested in business management. Even if you don't agree with the listed know-hows, you might find it interesting to read about why Ram thinks they're important. If you'd like a sample, then you can listen to the podcast from Havard Business Review Online on January 25, 2007 (Episode 27). Here's a direct link to the MP3 file.

Here's the list of 8 Know-Hows:

1. Positioning and repositioning the Business to make money
2. Detecting the patterns of external change
3. Managing the social system of your business
4. Judging people
5. Molding a team of leaders
6. Setting goals
7. Determining priorities
8. Managing non-market forces

I appreciated his differentiation between goals and priorities.