Saturday, January 31, 2015

House Resolution 41

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Federal Government should not bail out State and local government employee pension plans or other plans that provide post-employment benefits to State and local government retirees.
Whereas the Federal Government, as of January 2015, is carrying more than $18.0 trillion in debt, of which $13.0 trillion is owed to the public and $5.08 trillion is owed to Social Security and other trust funds;


therefore, be it Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that—
(1) the Federal Government should not bailout State and local government employee pension plans and other post-employment benefit plans; and

(2) State and local governments should imme-diately institute reforms to their employee pension plans, including replacing defined benefit plans with defined contribution plans.

This is probably just for show.  "Should" is a much, much softer word than "Shall".  We all know what we should do.   Shall we actually do it?  Oft times we fail when it is difficult.

Faux Pas, Eaton Rapids style

It is not often that I brag up the cultural and aesthetic refinements that are available in Eaton Rapids.

I stumbled into this one last night.  I had gone up to the high school to watch Belladonna play basketball.  She stung me for $8 which is a pretty good haul for 3 minutes of play time.  I am currently paying for rebounds, jumpballs forced, steals and blocks.  I am also paying for fouls she commits because she tries to play too "pure" and she is not playing intensively enough if she is not picking up a few fouls.  Mrs ERJ pays for baskets.

Eaton Rapids Winter Fest

Eaton Rapids presented the Winter Fest court between the boys and women's varsity basketball games.  The stands were filled with girls dressed to the nines.  They teetered about on their high heels like third graders on a new pairs of stilts.

The fancy dresses fell into two categories.  One type was loose and gauzy.  Those were typically in bright, fluorescent flower-tones.  In fact, those young ladies looked for all the world like walking bouquets.

The other type of dress is best described as "shrink wrap".  The dresses were short and tight.  By my fisherman's eye, many of those dresses showed 10" of thigh above the knee.  Those girls appeared to be uncomfortable.  They kept tugging the hems of those dresses downward.  My guess is they were feeling drafts in unaccustomed places.

Regardless, all of the young ladies were Fauxes and all the Mas and Pas were proud.

Reloading 9mm Parabellum (aka, 9mm Luger)

The 9mm Parabellum (Latin for "around war") was invented in 1902.  It was one of the very first handgun cartridges designed to exploit the energy density of the newly invented "smokeless powder" of the day.  The FBI recently turned many heads when they re-adopted the 9mm Parabellum as their duty cartridge.

Institutions have the ability to learn and evolve.  It is a simple fact that only hits count.  And even the stoutest farm boy can score more hits, faster, with a 9mm Parabellum than with a more energetic cartridge.  Add the fact that there are many suppliers of 9mm ammo that meet the FBI's stringent terminal ballistics requirements and the decision to adapt the 9mm becomes almost a no-brainer, especially in light of the fact that most agents are not "stoutest farm boy".


One of my brothers is getting old.  He notes the declining civility and the changing nature of his city neighborhood.  The feral human have become brazen.  He asked me what I thought of "concealed carry."

I told him that some people should not carry firearms.  But if the person who is carrying follows "the rules", then it is a good thing.  I also told him that I could not think of a person I would trust more to "carry" than him.

He chose a Glock 19, which is a boringly safe choice.  It is a slightly shortened version of the Glock 17.  It fires the 9mm Parabellum.  This week, it is easy to find full metal jacket (practice) ammo.  It is much harder to find ammo that is appropriate for his purpose.

An additional consideration is that many experts recommend that you run at least 200 rounds of your "carry" ammo though your firearm to ensure it works without a hiccup.  Even if he can find 200 rounds of a good hollowpoint it will put a serious ding in his wallet.

The joys of reloading

This is where I come in.

Over the years I have collected about 15 pounds of 9mm brass.  I also have an embarrassingly large quantity of small pistol primers and Unique powder.

I spent this evening sorting by head stamps.  I told Mrs ERJ, repeatedly, that I could not let her help me...regardless of how much joy, fun and gratification she would have.  Unfortunately, she also read Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.

My plan is to produce about 1000 loaded with the Berry hollowpoints and a muzzle velocity of about 1100 fps.

Efficient cartridges

The problem with "efficient" cartridges is that they present narrow process windows.  The 9mm Parabellum has a Cartridge Over All Length between 1.100" and 1.169".  To help you visualize, the difference between the minimum and the maximum length is the thickness of fifteen sheets of copy paper squished down in the jaws of a micrometer (yes, I measured it).

Slight decreases in C.O.A.L. result in huge differences in peak pressures compared to "inefficient" cartridges like .38 Special.  Another factor is that your gun can shorten the loaded round as it pushes it up the feed ramp if the mouth of the case is too lightly crimped into the bullet.  One can address that by more firmly crimping the end of the case into the bullet, but the 9mm Parabellum headspaces on the rim of the cartridge.  There are limits to how much the reloader can crimp the case and still have the package function.

A final frustration is the variability of the loading data.  The information from the powder supplier's website is usually the most reliable.  Alliant Powder, the maker of Unique powder, advises that the maximum powder charge for a 124 grain hollowpoint is 5.8 grains.  By way of comparison, other sources list 5.0 grains as a max and a powder with a nearly identical burn rate from a competitor has a max charge weight of 4.4 grains.  5.8 grains is more than 30% higher than the 4.4 grains listed by the competitor.  That is a HUGE difference.

My game plan is to load five round each at 4.0 grains, 4.2 grains, 4.4 grains, 4.6 grains, 4.8 grains and 5.0 grains of Unique with a COAL of 1.125 inches.  I will use Winchester brass because that is the "high runner" out of my stash.  My brother will shoot the gun with just two rounds in the magazine and we will determine the lightest load that makes the gun will cycle.  He has big, beefy hands and massive wrists so it will be a pretty light load.  Then we will shoot over the Chrony and we will stop when we hit the 1070-1100 fps window.

I called Powder Valley to see if they could change the Berry hollowpoints to Hornady XTPs.  I left a message as the office was not open.

Upon closer reading (prompted by writing this post!) I noticed that the Berry bullets are intended for target shooting.  They make no claims of expansion or terminal ballistics.

Picture from HERE.  Expanded bullet penetrated 14" into a javalina.
Good hollowpoints for reloading are hard to come by right now.  Hornady, as a company, has an outstanding reputation of providing very well engineered products that give huge amounts of value for the dollar.  Their XTP line of 9mm pistol bullets just missed the FBI requirements by a whisker.

I cannot speak from first hand experience, but the general consensus on the internet is that XTPs are "hard" and want to be driven fast-to-very fast to achieve the best terminal ballistics.
---End Update---

Friday, January 30, 2015

Construction Trades

I believe that our country is in a crisis due to a drought in new business start-ups.  One path out of this crisis is to look at business sectors that still have large numbers of new business start-ups and tease out the factors that make them special.

Any observer who starts down this path MUST look at construction trades.  My guess is that people in construction trades are five-to-ten times more likely to start a business than the general population.

Total Masonry Maintenance

One of my standard interview questions is:
"Suppose a niece or nephew came up to you and told you they wanted to start a business.  What two or three pieces of advice would you offer them?"

I was very interested in James O'Conner's answer.

  1. Have a little bit of money saved up in case things don't happen exactly as you planned.
  2. Have a plan.  Know where you want to be in five years.
  3. Work hard.

 Have a little bit of money saved up

A decent financial planner will tell you that you need to have between two and six months living expenses saved up.  They recommend two months for those people who have very stable jobs.  The recommend six months for people with erratic income streams;  people who sell on commission, people in construction trades.

In addition to having money saved to live on, the business owner needs money to run the business.  Permits need to be pull.  Payroll met.  Gas put in the truck(s).  If you are starting out your suppliers may want earnest money up-front.  So that six months of savings must also be able to support the business.

Have plan

No builder would consider starting a building without plans.  The plan does not show every brick or every nail but it does have "details" showing how problem areas are to be dealt with.

People in construction trades have a very pragmatic balance of planning and action.  They are results oriented.   The focus is on getting the job done rather than finding a perfect way to do something or whining about inconveniences.  They know that the customer won't pay you until the job is done.

Two electricians show up at a trench that filled up with water over night.  There is an inch of ice on top of the ice.  They flip a coin.  The loser spuds a hole through the ice and climbs down into the trench.  The winner keeps the truck running and keeps up a running conversation with the loser.  When the guy in the trench can no longer manage coherent answers, the winner pulls him out of the trench and warms him up in the truck.

That is just what construction trades do.  They get it done.  A typical MBA would still be looking through catalogs trying to find the best price on a pump when the construction guy climbs out of the trench for the last time.

Work hard

Everybody has work when times are good.  The hard workers, the one's who give their customers a little bit extra are the ones who will have work when times are bad.

Customers ask around.  They might not know any masons (for instance) but they will ask people in other construction trades.  They will get an earful.

You can ask an electrician who they think are the best tin-knockers, plumbers and carpenters.  They will have very definite opinions because they run their wires around and through their work.  They know who works quickly and neatly.  They also know who is sloppy and has to finish the end of the last run with duct tape and chicken bands.

The dry wallers can tell you who runs the best roofing crews.  The rough carpenters can tell you who pours the squarest foundations.

A construction trade person is not only constantly judged by others in their trade, they are also being judged (often times quite severely) by people in other trades.  Slackers are shown no mercy.

Other factors

Can do attitude

People in construction trades have a lot of confidence.  They see buildings go from unbroken sod to tenants moving in.  They have the technique of breaking big projects down into simple, repetitive steps
  • Strike lines
  • Mix mortar
  • Butter a brick
  • Tap brick into place
  • Shave squeeze-out off with trowel
  • Slap squeeze-out where next brick will go
  • Butter next brick (repeat 15,000 times)
You step back after laying the 15,001st brick and you see that you just built a 2800 square foot house.  You built it one brick at a time by following a plan.

State licensing

Uber-libertarians will cough up a hairball on this point.

Licensing makes labor more valuable by turning it into a commodity like a gallon of gas (pumps certified by the State) or a silver coin (content guaranteed by the mint).  The title "Master Electrician" or "Master Plumber" means very specific things.

Union structure

This is another factor that will cause uber-conservatives and liberatarians to retch.

The union hall functions as a hiring hall.  A tradesman might work for 24 different employers in the course of a year.  It is inevitable that any person with gumption will come to the conclusion that they can do better than many of these guys.

Most tradesmen can quickly identify which foremen (bosses) are best at making quotes, getting the crew started in the morning, assigning tasks, coordinating the smooth delivery of supplies, get along well with people, and the one's who never bounce a check.  They can also tell you why those guys are good at what they do.  The trick is to be the boss/business owner who does all of those things well.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Total Masonry Maintenance (small business report)

Total Masonry Maintenance (of Eaton Rapids, 517-819-6813) is a business in the volatile construction industry.

James O'Conner started Total Masonry Maintenance in 2000 after working as a union bricklayer for many years.  The primary reason he went into business was to have more control over his life.  Unless a construction worker is willing to move around the country they are likely to find themselves without work for substantial parts of the year.

Mr O'Conner figured that he had the hustle to drum up enough business to keep himself busy and he could add workers during the busiest times.

There was much business in the 2000-to-2007 time frame and then residential construction fell off a cliff with the credit lockup and the start of the last recession.  That was a scary time.

The recession

His work in the 2008-2009 time frame came through contacts and referrals.  He freely credits God for that work because it came from places he was not looking.

A huge chunk of work came from building and refurbishing apartments. 

The typical path of a family losing their house had them living with other family for a few months but then moving into an apartment.  Furthermore, the stress of bankruptcy caused some marriages to fail.  In that case eviction from a home meant that two apartments were needed.

In many cases, the families moving into apartments had expectations of windows that were not drafty and stairs and walkways that were in pristine repair.  Lower rent apartments found they could compete for these tenants with these modest upgrades.

2010-to-the present

As the economy became slightly more normal, Total Masonry Maintenance was doing more and more restoration work.  Fortunately, Total Masonry Maintenance had an excellent reputation and work found him via word-of-mouth recommendations.

1880-to-1928 was the golden age of masonry buildings in the mid-West.  The original owners of these buildings were creating monuments that were intended to last centuries.
Not every building from this time period was a monument.  Replacing a crumbling rubble-and-mortar foundation with block.
All work gets the same attention to detail, whether it is a monument or a simple front walk.

Another category of work was updating houses that had been built between 1965-and-1985.  Much of this work involved fireplaces.

Yes, they sweep chimneys.
Updating a fireplace to more contemporary facing materials.

Fireplaces require maintenance on a periodic basis.  The chimneys need to be cleaned and inspected on a regular basis. The fires cause thermal cycling that can tear up the fire brick.  In the winter, warmer, humid air from the house interior will move up the chimney and the condensate will rust out the damper.  Unless the chimney has a cap or a flue damper, rain will fall down the chimney and also cause rust.

One of the cool things they can do is bevel or tip the chimney cap to bias waterflow.  They can also extend the form so the cap projects beyond the brickwork like the eve of a house.  Rain runoff will not run down the bricks and make watermarks or cause uneven weathering.
There are many styles of flue dampers available.  They keep out the rain, wildlife and stop drafts.

Total Masonry Maintenance (517-819-6813) can perform all of the fireplace maintenance.  They can install ash doors, flue dampers in addition to all of the masonry parts of the business.

They can do plain or they can do fancy.

Green construction

Bricks are recycled.

Total Masonry Maintenance built this stand-alone pedestrian warmer next to City Hall.  There is a natural gas burner inside the warmer.  The pedestrian warmer used bricks recycled from Eaton Rapids City pavement.

Metropolitan block was founded in 1902.  Their peak year of production was 1923 when they shipped 92 million pavers.  Pavers are exceptionally durable bricks.  They are very dense so they absorb almost no moisture.  They almost ring like metal when you bang two of them together.  Incidentally, a good mason can tell you much about your bricks after they handle them a bit.

There are some historic neighborhoods and business districts where it is imperative that every building be picture-book perfect.  Unfortunately, those buildings are just a likely to be damaged by snow plows, delivery trucks, falling trees and lightening as any other building.

This is concrete rather than a brick.  The left and top were exposed to the weather.  Leached area is grayer than right bottom portion.
The problem is that weathering changes more than the color of the brick.  It changes how the light penetrates the brick and reflects.  That means you cannot just match the color and have the repair look "right".

One way to solve this problem is to harvest some brick from a less visible area like the back of a garage or from where landscaping will hide newer brick.  Then to make the repair larger than the damaged area and mix the harvested brick in with the native brick.  It is a lot of labor but there are some circumstances where it is warranted.

So give James a call at 517-819-6813 if you have a masonry job you want quoted.  One of the beautiful things about smart phones is you can snap some pictures and send James a text.  Then he can tell you if he is interested in the work or he can recommend some reputable masons for your consideration.

Previous small business report
Next small business report

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Eating Algae

I spent most of my formative years avoiding green foods.  It had been my experience that food that had turned green and furry did not taste as good as the food that was not green.  Nothing was wasted when growing up in a large, rowdy family.  Green, furry food is that cat's meow for binding to open, supperating wounds.  It is very absorbent.

These are green pills that I approve of!

Mrs ERJ does much better when she eats green foods.  It may be the placebo effect or the Hawthorne effect.  We no longer discuss it.  She does not try to get me to eat green foods.  I ignore the little green pills.

Little Green Pills

Chlorella: Super Food of the Orient
I really don't want to know how much these cost.  The important thing is that they make her happy.

Pollution in China

 Pictures from Zerohedge.  Hat tip to Coyote Blog.

Fishermen row a boat in the algae-filled Chaohu Lake

Algae bloom

These fish might dispute the life prolonging effects of algae...if they were still alive.
I think I will stick with the M&Ms.


I am not as tough as I thought I was.

The roads are icy so I am walking instead of running.  Until today I have been successful in avoiding popped blisters.  I picked up a few on the soles of my feet over the last few weeks but they did not pop.  I was surprised to get them because I don't get blisters running. 

After thinking it through, it became apparent that I flex my feet much more when walking than when running.  Flexing causes sliding, a fact which is easily demonstrated by bending a deck of cards or a phone book.

This is a reminder of why vehicles get the right-of-way, even if they are not entitled.

Yesterday I took a different route for the sake of interest.  Part of my route was to walk around Section 22 of Eaton Rapids Township.  The west leg of that segment is along Canal Road as it crosses the muck fields north of town.  Canal Road has narrow shoulders backed up by steep embankments.  It takes a lot of fill to run a roadbed across muck fields.  Canal Road is also one of the busier roads around here.  So I made several trips off the road bed and part way down the embankment as traffic when by.

I do not trust drivers.  They pay more attention to their electronic toys than to the road.

I was a bad boy for the south leg of the Section 22 segment.  I cut back to the Bentley Drain and walked it upstream.  Technically, I may have been trespassing even though there was no signage where I entered the property.

Michigan has a body of riparian law that is misunderstood.  The public has the right-of-way below the high-water mark.  There are several functional definitions of high-water mark that have been successfully argued in court.  One definition is "Where no crop of corn has been successfully grown."  Another definition depends on the sharp break that defines the cusp of a valley.

The entire purpose of drainage ditches is that they redefine the high-water mark.  The farmer wants to drain land so he can produce crops on all of the land he is paying taxes on.  Drainage ditches (including natural streams) are continually maintained to make them deeper and the sides steeper.  That is, maintenance moves the cusp of the valley closer to the center of the stream.

Most of my bushwhacking was below the pre-drainage era high-water mark.

I saw some ducks.

I also saw this deer blind.  Pretty cool.

And I had a popped blister on the bottom of the toe next to my pinkie.  That is going to put a crimp in my plans.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015



verb - To make soothing sounds without saying anything

noun - A male bee that does no work but lives a life of luxury off the efforts of others.  A male of any species with similar attributes.

Elephant Graveyard:

noun - An ancient myth in which all elephants unerringly go to a secluded, protected place to die.

One picture that ties all three definitions together.

This device was found on the White House lawn.

All joking aside

There are parts of the world where drones are seen as instruments of political oppression,  a symbol that stands for political assassinations.  In a word, the 2015 equivalent of the Roman crucifixion. 

So does that make crashing a drone on the lawn the 2015 equivalent of burning crosses?  It makes you think.

Stupid Map

Time magazine published an interactive map regarding the most dangerous places to live with regard to "natural" disasters.

They failed to normalize it on a per-capita basis.  That is, counties that have high populations and their attendant high property values are most likely to have deaths and property damage.  The map fails to correct for that tendency. Duh!

This is a fine example of an information dead end caused by "push" reporting.  "Oh, this looks cool.  We should publish it."  Push reporting is an artifact of reporters and editors who are out-of-touch with their readers.

"Pull" reporting would involve interviewing real people to learn what decisions they face.  A good reporter would then find and package information that is germane to the decisions they face..

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hoar frost

Do you want a sure-fire recipe for hoar frost?  Ask her if she takes credit cards.

As always, click to embiggen.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Using the Investment Map

This essay is intended to be a quick tutorial on how to use the Investment Map.  This is a distillation of what you might hear from a decent "Fee Only" financial adviser during the first half of your earnings career. This is information that is available in a thousand other places but I have never seen it explained using the Investment Map.

See the bucket?  That is where you start out saving.
Many fine plans fail because they cannot be seen through to the end.  So the first part of the plan is to figure out how much money is reasonable to have in your emergency fund.  For the ERJ family it is about $2000.  That is the cost of an emergency car repair (transmission).  Those funds should be placed in a very safe place that the owner can write checks against.  Most savers will put it in a non-tax-defered account because easy access is critical.

If one makes $10 an hour and saves 10% of their gross it will take more than a year to save $2000.  If it is any comfort, it is much easier to get rich slowly than to get rich quickly

Keep saving.  When you are very, very comfortable, move your "extra" money to a higher risk, potentially higher return investment vehicle.  Remember,  higher risk is guaranteed while the potentially higher return is a matter of faith.  I show the bucket of money being moved to a large stock, mixed fund like a S&P Equity Index fund.  Strongly consider placing this in a tax sheltered IRA or 401-k for reasons too numerous to elaborate on.

So every time your emergency fund gets "plump", you will spill the extra money to the right while taking care to always keep at least $2000 (or whatever amount you decide) in your emergency fund.

Guess what:  At some point your bucket in the middle of the map will be pretty big.  At that point you will want to exploit "the efficient frontier".

Points that are farther to the left have less bounciness while points that are higher have greater returns.  Portfolios that are 10%-90%, 20%-80% and 30%-70% International-US stocks have historically show LESS bounciness and MORE return than 100% US stocks.  Picture (and a pretty good article) from HERE.

Studies have shown that overseas markets do not move in lock-step with domestic markets.  That can exploited by having some percentage (most studies suggest 10%-to-30%) of your portfolio in overseas markets and by rebalancing your portfolio every year or so.

This model was suggested for the first twenty working years.  The last twenty working years involves locking in those gains by gradually increasing the percentage of money you have squirreled away on the left side of the map.  So you start out on the left, then the center-of-gravity shifts to the middle or slightly to the right of the middle.  At mid-career you start gently shifting the center-of-gravity to the left of center.

The problem with this kind of map is that the map is ALWAYS outdated.  Sadly, it is not possible to buy "past performance".  In the dry language of legal disclaimers, "Past performance is no guarantee of future results."

The benefit of this map is you can become lost with confidence.

Walking Property

My brother invited me to walk some property he is thinking about buying.

It is approximately thirty acres and is all wooded.

About 25% of the canopy is hawthorn, a genus that awkwardly cannot decide if it is a tree or a bush.  The ground looks suitable for other fruit trees so much of it would be flipped to apple trees and chestnuts with Ladino clover as a ground cover.

There are a few hickory, a few black walnut, some oak, ash, beech and maple.  Most of the trees are young.  Most are less than 8" diameter at breast height.  But there are also a few snags.

Two drainage ditches come into the property and join in the middle.  It looks like somebody attempted to either mine something or make a pond as there is a scraped up ridge, like an earthen dam downstream of where the two ditches join.

The property comes with a car!

Do you suppose this car ever went to a drive-in movie?
There were about ten deer blinds on the property and that is one of my brother's concerns.  Some people figure that "squatter's rights" have legal or moral standing. He will have to figure out a way to "uninvite" them if he buys it.

Some of the stands show much creativity in the use of materials.
One of the most aggravating things about trespassers is the booby traps they leave the land owner.

Somebody decided to use this Swamp White Oak for a fence post.  It will play hob with anybody who takes a chainsaw to it.
I will keep you posted.

What is happening in the bond market?

One of the charts that shows up on the right side of my blog is the US Treasuries interest rates.

OK, the interest rate is falling off a cliff, but what does that mean?
It might mean that the smart money is scared and are fleeing to the left side of the investment map.

Click on the picture to embiggen.
It ain't how much you make.  It is how much is still in your pocket when the game is done.


I am completely unqualified to give investment advice.  I am, however, functionally literate and can perform rudimentary mathematics.

If you are lucky, investment advice is worth what you paid for it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

When Money Dies

From Zerohedge
When Money Dies

The time to make adjustments to your speed and direction are BEFORE you are into the icy curve.

I learned something about Craigslist

I reposted the Craigslist ad for my neighbor who is selling firewood.  I went into Craigslist to double check....and I could not find the ad!

Then I noticed that the default sort (in the upper, right corner) was set to "relevant".  I switched it to "newest" and the ad showed up.  Switched it back to "relevant" and it disappeared.

What a puzzler.

I finally got it to show up with the default "relevant" sort after adding "firewood" in the body of the ad in addition to the title.  While I was at it I also added "fire wood" because the search in Craigslist looks for exact word strings.

I learn something new every day.  The trick is to not forget one important thing every day.

Cutting and dragging brush

This week is dedicated to cutting and dragging brush.

I was chainsawing and dragging for about 90 minutes today.  I am whipped.  Tired and chainsaws don't mix.

I wish I had a higher end use for my brush.  Some people burn it in bonfires.  Some people pile it for wild life habitat.  Some people reduce the larger pieces to firewood for heating.  Some people chip it for mulch.

I am not really sure what I will do with all of my brush.

Friday, January 23, 2015

End Games

In Michigan prep sports the boys' and women's teams alternate on a yearly basis who plays first on Friday nights.  This year, the boy's varsity basketball team plays before the women's varsity team. 

We caught the last fifty-five seconds of the boys' game.    Eaton Rapids was two points behind the visitors.  It took six clock minutes to play and Eaton Rapids lost by 12 points.  There were many, many referee interventions.  There were both intentional and unintentional fouls.  There was at least one technical foul.  It was painful to watch.

The end of the women's game was a different kettle of fish.

This has not been a great year for the women's varsity basketball team.  This game was different.  Every ball Eaton Rapids threw up in the air went through the basket.  Every ball the other team shot missed.  Eaton Rapids was up by 25 points going into the last two minutes of the game and the visiting coach decided to play the game rather than the refs.  The last two game minutes took about 150 clock seconds.

Larger life lessons?

I acknowledge that I am severely biased.

My visceral reaction is that kids (and coaches) who "play for the refs" are setting themselves up for a massive fail later in life.  The bullies and the predators come out after the refs leave the court.  Many, maybe even most kids will not be brutalized by bullies and predators at some point in their life.  But some will.  And their lives will be forever be referenced as  "before" and "after".  Hope is not a plan.

Play hard.  Play clean.  Play through the whistle instead of "for the whistle".  Watch your teammate's back.

And if the refs are not seeing the cheap-shots, then they are saying it is "OK".  Bullies are cowards.  They stop when they know they will get as good as they gave.

I wish....

I propose a rule change where any foul made in the last two minutes of any basketball game results in the automatic award of two point to the team that was fouled.

It is simple math.  A typical high school player makes 65% of their free throws.  That noodles out to an average of 1.3 points for a two shot infraction and 1.07 points for a one-and-one.  While most teams shoot about 50% while the clock is running their performance is "streaky"  The team that is behind commits fouls knowing that they will be giving up between 1-and-1.3 points on average in the hope that they will luck into a hot streak of better-than-50% shooting.  It happens often enough to seem like a viable plan.

And the fans suffer.

Awarding two point for every foul would force the team that opts for intentional fouling (basically letting the refs run the game) into three point shooting to close the gap.  I just don't see many teams choosing that route since any team with a smokin' hot three point game is unlikely to be behind.

Laid-back Friday

Belladonna took me out to breakfast this morning.  I was a good boy.  I ordered oatmeal with cran-raisins.

I repaired a couple of cheap "promo" shovels that I bought this spring.  The manufacture used a couple of brads instead of a single, through rivet to attach the head to the handle.  The taper of the head flexed and spit out the brads.

I drilled a through hole and used an annealed, 16d nail as a rivet.  I did not smash the free end but used a hammer and anvil to bend the free end over.  It HAS to be better than the two brads.

Worn out by all the heavy work, I fit nap into my schedule.  

Tonight I get to watch a high school basketball game.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Athletico (small business report)


Writing about a business start-up is much like gushing about a high school Valedictorian.  One can point to great promise.  One can point out markers of potential greatness.  But one can never be sure that the candle that burned so brightly and clearly in the sheltered halls of academe will not flicker and fade in the buffets of “the real world”.

---End editorializing---

Athletico (517-781-4999) is a business start-up on the south side of town.  Athletico’s main business is physical rehabilitation. This is usually initiated by a trip to the patient’s doctor who will diagnose an issue and write a prescription for treatment.  The script is written for a specific number of visits over a period of time and is usually paid for, at least in part, by health insurance.



Most of the medical service providers in Eaton Rapids are clustered near the hospital on the south end of town.  Athletico is no exception.  They are located in the Family Fare Plaza.

The work space is well lit by natural light.  This photo also shows the generous spacing between the equipment and the uncluttered floor space.  The bowl shaped object is on the ground because Dr Zigler had just demonstrated how to use it to improve secondary, stability muscles.
The facility is located at ground level and has ample parking, both factors that make it easy to physically get into.

The space is fronted with north facing windows.  Artists favored north-facing windows for a reason.  Because they face north, there is no reason to install shades or to have them heavily tinted.  The space is flooded with natural light that makes it seem even more spacious than it is.

The equipment is new (duh!) and is intentionally spaced far apart to make access and egress trouble free.  Many patients in physical therapy are recovering from issues that impact locomotion. The body does not always move the way the mind commands it to move.


Dr (Ph.D, Physical Therapy) Mitch Zigler is the manager of the facility.  This Athletico is his fifth successful business start-up, so he definitely has ideas worth listening to.


Dr. Zigler chose the franchise business structure.  The value of a franchise is that the franchise frees you from many of the trivial, mind-numbing tasks and decisions of running a business.  The entrepreneur can then focus their efforts on solving their customer’s problems.

Among the services the franchisor (the licenser) might supply include helping the owner get access to capital, access to insurance, legal support, market analysis, accounting, payroll services,  pre-approved suppliers with accounts already in place.  They can work with the landlord.  They can supply you with floor plans, right down to the colors to paint the walls, of how to lay out a successful enterprise.

The downside of franchises

The typical physical therapy patient walking through the door represents four customers.  The actual patient is a customer.  The doctor who prescribed the therapy is a customer.  The health insurance company who is providing reimbursement is a customer.  The franchise structure results in one more customer, the franchisor.

I asked Dr. Zigler, “How do you make them all happy?”  I figured a guy who had four successful start-ups under his belt must know some secrets.

He told me there are two things he does every time a patient walks in for a session.

He asks them “What do you want out of this session?”  A patient might be recovering from shoulder surgery and be doing physical therapy so they can get back to work.  Those are the reasons the doctor and the insurance company want the therapy but those might not be the prime reasons for the patient.  The patient might tell the therapist that it just kills them to not be able to swing a golf club or to not be able to pick up their child.

So in addition to building up the strength needed to go back to work, the therapist will enhance the therapy to ensure it works on the strength, flexibility…and sometimes techniques…needed to swing a golf club or pick up a small child.

Dr Zigler holding a gage that measures range-of-motion

The other thing Dr Zigler does is that he always measures some key physical performance characteristics before and after each session.

Physical therapy can take a patient to the threshold of discomfort.  Physical therapy is not always fun.  But most patients are willing to put in the work when they can see the results. 

And to be frank,  some patients are recovering from severe accidents.  They lost massive amounts of physical capability and the road back feels like swimming across Lake Michigan; the swimmer cannot see the far shore so there is no way to “see” progress.  It can be very discouraging.

The proper instrumentation will show progress of even a few degrees more flexibility or a few more pounds of grip strength.  That builds motivation.  Effort and steadiness of purpose leads to results.

The other benefit to all of the measuring is that it validates the patient if they have been doing their exercises between sessions.  Physical therapy is a bit like piano lessons.  Much of the improvement is due to the repetitions done between formal sessions.  Anything that improves the frequency and fidelity of the practice has a huge multiplier effect on the effectiveness of the therapy.

Another way to keep patients on-course is to supply some creature comforts that help them feel at home.  Complimentary refrigerator space where a patient can keep their sports drink cold is an example of this.

Everybody benefits when the patient stays in the therapy for the full length prescribed by the doctor.  The patient makes the maximum gains and the franchisor is happy because it improves their reputation and maximizes their revenue.

Fixed costs

Successful businesses watch fixed costs like a hawk because they know that fixed costs are what destroy businesses during downturns.

I asked Dr. Zigler for his thoughts on this.

He replied that Athletico gave him a lot of freedom in how he set up this business.  For instance, he wanted more floor space than the template so he could have extra space between the equipment.  The downside of that is that his rent is higher…more floor space = more rent.

His plan is to cultivate additional, non-PT business to utilize that extra space.

For example, he has a batting cage in the facility and one of Dr. Zigler’s passions is “imaging.”  His plan is to set up video cameras to capture the biodyamics of the athlete’s swing and then to be able to compare them to know, good hitters.

Need help with your golf game?   Mitch is a certified Nike 3G0 Instructor.

He wants to reach out to area coaches and involved parents so they are comfortable referring promising athletes to his “cage” for fine-tuning of their batting, golf swing, ball throwing, shot-putting/discus throwing…whatever. Phone number relisted for convenience (517-781-4999)

He also wants to use his space to host area instructors who specialize in physical fitness/health.  All of his equipment is easy to move so he can make large, carpeted open spaces available.

I want to offer one example to put flesh-on-the-bones of how physical fitness classes might be integrated into his core Physical Therapy business.  Dr Zigler suggested that he would like to offer “Fall Protection” classes to senior citizens.  

Fall Protection is not just about balance.  It involves strengthening all of the little muscles that stabilize our bodies.  It involves increasing flexibility.  It involves improving reaction times.  It involves repetitions of recovery actions so they will be done instinctively (like dropping your packages to save yourself!)  And if there are enough mats available, the class could actually practice the drop-tuck-and-roll moves to minimize damage due to falls that cannot be avoided.

New Businesses

A town that does not incubate new businesses will die.  Old businesses will close without finding new buyers to take them over.  Technology will make other businesses obsolete (remember camera stores?).  It is imperative that many new businesses be started to ensure the continued vitality of a town.

Dr Zigler's new business is a great addition to the Eaton Rapids business community.  It is "high end" and enhances Eaton Rapids as a health destination. It is configured to be customer friendly and will help fill some niches that are under-served.

So if you have a few spare minutes, drop in and say "Hi" to Eileen (the office manager) and Dr (call me "Mitch") Zigler.  Let them feed you a few cookies and a cup of coffee. 

Tell them Eaton Rapids Joe sent you.

Link to previous small business report.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Today’s  adventure was to drive to Grand Valley State University with Mrs ERJ and fill out “paperwork” for FAFSA.  FAFSA is the on-line, Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  

FAFSA is a mandatory monopoly.  You really don’t have a choice in the matter.  Your kid cannot even apply for student loans without a current FAFSA on file.

We had been through five years of FAFSA with our oldest child.  The entire system is hostile to users.  I heartily dislike this task.

I was pleasantly surprised to find it easier this year than in, say, 2008.  There were more drop-down message boxes and there were “by-passes” that kept us out of some messy areas.


There are certain assets that are “hidden” from the financial aid system by law.  For example, the equity in your house, assets in IRAs and 401-k type retirement plans.  In 2008 we were required to list everything, down to the dollar, under penalty of perjury.  In 2015 we were told to estimate our assets, less those categories.  Then, if the amount was less than $48,000 we were not required to list a single item…we were under the limit.  Much, much easier and far less stressful.


Most Universities tell you that early FAFSA application increases your chances of financial aid.  They make it sound like a kettle of porridge.  First come first serve.  And you are SOL after the kettle is empty and you have not been served.

The recommended cutoff date is well before one must file for taxes, which is where most of the information comes from.

They do allow estimates, generally the income and taxes you reported on income from two years ago.  That is, you apply for aid during the 2015-2016 college year based on 2013 income.  That is problematic because Mrs ERJ and I are both retired and 2012/2013 will be our lifetime earning high-water mark.

It was worth the drive

The people in the financial aid office were helpful.  They showed us a branch in the program where we could override the 2013 information with more accurate 2014 information.

The people in the financial aid office also told us where we could safely ignore the verbiage.  There were several places in the override where the word “estimate” was left out of the directions.  I was tearing my hair out…I would not be in the estimating branch if I had those values!  Also, the software tries to be helpful and identify the lines on the various 1040 forms where specific values can be found.  That does not work very well when one is attempting to stitch together a quilt from 2013 forms (line numbers must change year-to-year) and shreds of 2014 information.

They advised us to make our best estimates and to update our FAFSA as soon as the “official” numbers are available.  Filling out the application was still a PITA and still stressful.  But it was a great relief to have an "expert" say, "Yeah, that question was very poorly written.  You need to put blah-blah-blah on that line."

To be continued...