Sunday, March 16, 2014

Slo Mo Gamblers

Farmers are the ultimate slo mo gamblers, and I think so because of my short experience with Kiva, and conversations with a praying farmer's wife near Innisfail, Alberta. I likely have farmers on the brain from our field trip to Prince Albert last weekend. There were farmers chewing the fat at the gas station in Turtleford, and grain dominated the news.

If you haven't heard of Kiva before, this is a micro-loan site that matches investors with small enterprises throughout the world. I have helped grocers, shopkeepers and clothing resellers achieve their dreams by investing a few dollars towards their efforts. I was paid back in full every time, and usually within a few months. One payback took longer, and that was the rice farmer co-op in Rwanda. I waited a full year for my investment in seed and fertilizer to be realized. Which gave me my aha moment; farmers wait longer to see their return! My farmer had to wait a full year for his initial investment to pay off. Out of his control are vagaries of weather, social disruption, and the final price of rice that year. Even bumper crops can hurt him, as he won't get the anticipated price for his crop. We are seeing the results of unexpected returns here in Saskatchewan now, with piles of grain standing in the field with no place to go. What should have been a windfall is hindered by a limited infrastructure.

Time Elapse, Wheat

All right, pharmaceuticals might have a longer period of return and higher risk. Even so.

Then there are my fond recollections visiting a Timothy farm near Innisfail, Alberta. My friend described how her prayers changed after years of watching the sky, praying for rain and sun at the right time. Her emotions would follow the clouds, rising and crashing with their fortunes. Her revelation is to pray in trust that whatever may come; rain, sun, prosperity or disaster, that God is in it all.

As an aside, with the increased mobility that phones and apps offer, farmers are leveraging the power of the internet to manage their business, for instance "Cloud for Cows". 

Farmers, the ultimate high-stakes gamblers. In slo mo. Oilmen, you have nothing on them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

To Know a People

The journalist will hunt out the edge of the story; seek out that element that will grab the reader and carry her through. I got thinking about that as I read the full-page spread on the Prince Albert Kennel and Obedience Club annual dog show. Three dogs were highlighted, as the writer sought the edge; a Poodle, a Finnish Lapphund, and a Japanese Chin. As the writer failed to highlight our dog of choice, my daughter's Afghan Hound, I was less interested.  (James racked up an impressive twenty-five points over the weekend, taking Best of Group twice). By focusing in on a few animals, the article did highlight the obsession that drives these breeders and handlers to travel hundreds of miles to show off their animals. The writer quickly lost ground in his brief explanation of the points system, no doubt in fear of losing his readers. For those of us on the inside, though it's all about the points and standings, and for my step-mom and me, a table of the winners and points earned would have served us better.For my step-mom especially, the show allows her to reconnect with old friends, to get the latest skinny in the dog show circuit, to build relationships and create new ones.

Which gets me to the edge of my story, the difference between a quick story and taking the time to really get to know a people.

It was a treat to visit Prince Albert for the first time, a decently sized community on the edge of bush country. It hugs the southern shore of the Saskatchewan an impressive river of joined forces, North and South. But I could not spend the decent time needed to really get to know its people and this place.They have an impressive casino. But I hope that monstrosity does not define this city.

On the five hour drive to Prince Albert, we made a pit-stop in Turtleford, population 525. Race Trac Gas is the place to be, at least for grain farmers looking to chew the fat. A half-dozen plastic lawn chairs are arrayed at the entrance, every spot filled. Is the local colour there for our entertainment or theirs? On the way through I grabbed the town newsletter, "The Arrow", to see if I could get a sense of the place. Weekly events consist of one Yoga class and three Bingo's. Oh my.

What could be found about the people of Turtleford, if I were doing more than breezing through? Is there a beauty to the endless horizons of Saskatchewan, where change is measured in inches?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Farwell to my Aussie Pal

My Aussie cubicle buddy is winging his way back to Australia (no doubt a glorious fall) just as winter releases its' icy grip here. Andy took full advantage of all our country had to offer, hitting the slopes whenever he could. I took perverse pleasure, as all Canadians do, watching him adapt to Really, Truly, No-kidding-around Cold.

Andy, I did not have a chance to send you off properly, so in the spirit of our camaraderie, I am sending you some genuine Canadian snow to remind you of good times.

No worries, being part of a pro-active organization, I've thought ahead to package well to survive the trip down-under.
With the added security of duck tape.
There; that should do it!

P.S. The doctor finally got back to me and sure enough, I had cracked my ribs, fifth and sixth.  The breaks are contiguous, which I take to be a good thing.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The holy grail of workflow solutions

Let's say you have a work process that is tedious, repetitive. Tasks get dropped and forgotten. Approvals get hung up. You are constantly having to go back through your pile to check on the status of your work. It seems with all the electronic gadgetry we have available today, someone should have made an app for that. By now. Surely!

The software solution you are looking for is workflow, and it is an add-on feature of many products including collaboration software (ex. Sharepoint, Alfresco), financial software (ex. Deltek), records management software (ex. OpenText) and others. Workflow is not required of the application but it is a nice-to-have. Developers have also built custom applications based on industry, such as contract signing (ex. Docusign) and facility management.

Simple Accounts Payable Workflow

Countless times I have seen a software demonstration culminating in a workflow example, usually in accounts payable. Oh, so smooth it looks in demo, like watching a knife demonstration at the county fair.
Why is it so difficult to take this concept and apply it to our real-life examples back home? Here's the missing piece you absolutely cannot overlook. You have to know what it is you do now. Excellent software solutions abound where there are standards and a programmer can write to that standard. But what is standard about routing paperwork? Every business does things a little differently. It is our own ignorance of our processes that will send the project down rabbit trails and back.

Do your implementation team a fair service and be clear how you want the workflow to work. Keep it simple. When it does what you wanted it to do, call it good and be done. For a while.

Excerpt from a reddit conversation:

What's something you can talk about for hours on end?
–]jayzee124 33 points ago
conspiracies, cars and trucks, and the universe and how mind [blowing] it is.
[–]Screwbit 7 points ago
you and I could never be friends.
[–]SharkPanda 3 points ago
Yes but can you talk about all of them at the same time?

Watch for scope creep. Let's say your first shot at workflow solves one irritant. Once you get a good look at what it can do, horizons open up at all the other things you could automate. Tinkering and broadening the scope can kill an otherwise great solution. Take pauses, enjoy the changes and give the new way time to work out its bugs before you automate the next big thing.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Paintings for Pennies

Help me fill in my penny collection. If you have a penny I need, comment on this blog. I will mail you a hand-painted watercolor, 4" x 6" on receipt of my penny. If you want to fill in more, I will send you an 8" x 10" watercolor. The penny does not need to be collector's quality. I'm looking for cross-Canada participation, and maybe a few penny pals. This little project has already received international attention. Who knew our pennies traveled so far?

The Story

Now a little on how this all started. Around about the warm and hazy summer of 2009, I read an article about the upcoming demise of the penny. In 2007 our Canadian Mint sponsored a poll, and it turned out that the average Canadian cares little about the penny. Our little copper companion weighed down wallets, but nobody cared one way or another. I knew then that the coin's days were numbered. Watching out my window at my granddaughter play with her neighbour friends, I hatched my plan. I asked the girls to help me fill in a collection, one penny per year, to fill up my page. Off they went hunting for copper treasures, squinting in the bright summer sun, to see if they had a winning year. I warmed in my grandmother's satisfaction of seeing young ones occupied with a little thing, hardly consequential at all. But so much fun.

Those three energetic girls filled in a lot, but not all, of my sheet. In the past few years the collection gathered dust in the back of my to-do pile, just as my kijiji ad gathers dust somewhere around page thirty. This spring, flush from some personal successes, I decided to finish off the collection. I would broadcast far and wide, and finally complete the penny sheet for my granddaughter, Naomi. These past few months have been more than successful, leaving only five spots left since 1940.

All that is left to fill  is 1944, 1948, 1954, 1957, and 1958. The year 2001 is a shade of it's original form having spent far too long in the water pump of my daughter's washing machine. This has been so much fun I am now moving to fill two more sheets for the two girls who helped Naomi fill in the collection that golden summer a few years ago.

Here are the pennies (and quantities) I am looking for:

1941 (2)
1942 (2)
1943 (2)
1944 (3)
1945 (2)
1946 (2)
1947 (2)
1948 (3)
1949 (2)
1950 (1)
1951 (2)
1952 (2)
1953 (2)
1954 (3)
1955 (2)
1956 (2)
1957 (3)
1958 (3)
1959 (2)
1960 (2)
1961 (1)
1962 (2)
1963 (2)
1964 (2)
1965 (2)
1966 (1)
1967 (1)
1968 (2)
1969 (2)
1970 (2)
1971 (2)


1996 (1)


Here's a picture of Naomi's penny collection so far:

...and here is how the two girls' collection is coming along.

Tickling My Fancy

Besides passing on a story and heritage to Naomi and her friends, I am tickled to instigate a project where items of nominal value are traded to the mutual satisfaction of the traders. Pennies have no intrinsic value. But there is effort on the part of the collector to find a prized year, and satisfaction in discovery. Similarly, there is nominal value in paper and pigment. The artist is offering time and talent in exchange. Funny, the cost of postage outweighs the nominal value of the product we are mutually shipping. Yet there's a feeling of fulfillment between collector and artist; a fair exchange.

Progress To Date

 Two acquaintances from filled in the king's portion of my empty spots. It is a delight to see your packages arrive, and I am so excited about creating some watercolors for you both. Though this project did not go viral, it has been fun. As an added bonus, never asked for but received, Canadian pennies that are older than anyone alive:

And here's an example of my artwork:

By the way, here's the results so far of my attempt to broadcast to a wide audience and reach that elusive tipping point. I posted this request on Blogger, Facebook, Google+, twitter, and No nibbles until I posted on a discussion board I frequent, There, I encountered three generous collectors who radically filled in my board..and then some!

These results inspired me to revisit my Klout scores, which have climbed, with a little more disclosure on my part, to 41.48. 

The first painting heading out, a watercolor of a Great Blue Heron, 8" x 10", based on a nature photograph by Ron Davis. 

 Thank you, Tony, intrepid browser of kijiji, for adding to the collection. This is what you picked:

And the latest painting winging it's way across the continent:

This is the memory of the confluence of the Smoky and the Sulphur rivers with the bold contrast of poplar with Spruce, in an untamed part of our world. 

My next two contributors provided some inspiration, after I learned a bit about their own interests. For a nine year old girl:
This is a mixed media, pen-and-ink, sparkly glue, and some familiar loom bands

And for a seven year old boy, something smells "fishy":
Another mixed media, pen, ink, and Nori. There's room to incorporate a penny if they like. Maybe find a special penny, one that marks the year they were born for instance.

Word of mouth continues to get me mileage. My friends Val and Dailan filled in a king's share for the two friends.