It’s really puzzling

Sometimes I enjoy watching my son think and act.  I sit back and watch his little mind at work.  It’s very entertaining.  Sometimes he impresses, amuses, confounds, annoys.  I especially enjoy watching him put together jigsaw puzzles.  He started months ago putting together six-piece puzzles and has since graduated to 60-piece puzzles featuring characters from "Finding Nemo" and "Madagascar," two popular animated films.  I love to challenge him by upping the ante every time he solves a puzzle.  He solved "Nemo" easily enough.  However, he hesitated to put together the "Madagascar" puzzle because it’s more intricate than "Nemo."  I alwasy encourage him and help him when he needs assistance, giving him a rousing round of applause whenever he finishes a puzzle.  Now he finishes both "Nemo" and "Madagascar" without fail.  I taught him how to put together the puzzle upside down in the frame so he won’t use the frame or the puzzle outlines to solve the puzzle.  Now he does it on his own.
Tonight I raised the bar even higher.  I threw the "Nemo" and "Madagascar" jigsaw puzzle pieces together into a big pile and challenged him to solve both of them simultaneously.  That clever little kid.  He was stumped at first, but then he ended up separating all the pieces into two piles and proceeded to solve both puzzles one at a time.  Drats, he foiled my plan!  Eventually I’d like to see him solve both of them in opposite frames, upside down.  He understood what I wanted him to do, but he did his own way.  I have no doubt that he’ll be able to do it over time, but for now I’m having fun coaching him and watching him grow and learn.
From the "Things that Make You Go…Hmm" Department:  Is there such thing as a boring discussion topic?  I’m really happy that people (well, some people) enjoy reading this blog.  I wonder if I could write about a completely uninteresting topic no one wants to read.  Is it possible to find a completely uninteresting topic to discuss?  What if I write about watching wet paint dry?  Nah, there’s bound to be someone who wants to read about that topic too, such as a professional painter.  What kind of topic do you think would be inherently uninteresting and no one would want to read?   Now that’s a puzzle I haven’t solved.  If you have any suggestions for the most boring, uninteresting topic of all, let me know!

Random thoughts

Tonight my son and I finished carving our pumpkin into Oliver the Train.  It looks pretty good!  I carved the train’s face on the front and the number "11" on the side (Oliver’s number is 11).  On Halloween night it will look great on our porch, welcoming trick or treaters.  I posted a few photos of the final product.
So Dr. Ben Bernanke has been nominated to replace Alan Greenspan as chair of the Federal Reserve.  At least we now know who will be Greenspan’s successor.  While the name "Bernanke" doesn’t quite conjure images of money and Wall Street like the name "Greenspan" does, it appears that Bernanke will not deviate significantly, at least initially, from Greenspan’s policies.  While I believe that Greenspan’s true legacy does not rise to mythos, I do think that Bernanke will have some big shoes to fill.  Unlike the recent nomination of Harriet Miers to U.S. Supreme Court, it appears that Bernanke will easily win confirmation.  I’m glad that the market reacted positively to the news.  After Hurricane Katrina battered stocks over the past couple of weeks, it’s about time that stocks headed upward for a change.
Wow, the Chicago White Sox look like they’re headed to their first World Series victory in 88 years.  Barring a disaster, they may sweep the Houston Astros or win in five games (if the Sox do choke, people might start wondering if the Sox rigged the World Series like they did in 1919, the infamous "Black Sox" World Series).  Although it’s a shame the outcome is so lopsided, it’s good to see some very close games.  And I guess my prediction of the Astros in seven is wrong yet again!  I guess I should stick to investing.
I finished a very important project today.  It’s something I developed from scatch and have been slowly transitioning to a team of people.  It’s a system for managing our operations.  The head of the operation will be heading back to the United States with the project results in hand and will be showing it to the Powers That Be.  If they like it, it could be implemented worldwide.  Now that it’s done, I’m turning my focus to implementing an ISO 9001 Quality Management System in our organization.  This is an even bigger challenge.  I have about one year to put together a team, a plan, and implement the system.  Not everyone is sold on the idea, so it will take a lot of work just to convince people that it is worth the effort.
Kevin, a blog reader, asked if the community association I wrote about in my previous blog is common in Korea.  Yes, and no.  Our community association is an expat community association; I don’t think there are many organized community associations for the expatriate community in Korea.  Most expats here are either affiliated with the military and are under the auspices of by U.S. Forces Korea, teachers, who are active in their schools and universities, and businesspeople and government- or non-government employees, who are usually taken care of by their organizations.  However, there are many Korean community associations.  In fact, it’s my understanding that Koreans who live together in apartment complexes often form community associations.  Some have been accused of price fixing, pressuring those who want to sell their apartments to sell at prices set by the group.  This is an illegal practice in Korea, and the "speculation" that arises from this has been popular in the Korean press.  If someone is coerced into selling their property at a fixed price, I can understand why it’s illegal.  Still, I question why there’s been a crackdown on housing speculation in Korea.
Blog Notes:  Dear Reader, I received my first hate comment today.  It’s been almost a year since I started this blog and have never received malicious comments before.  I never thought this blog was controversial enough to get any at all.  How do you respond to this comment? 


You make me sick. Cancer is God’s way of getting rid of parasites on planet Earth. If you have Cancer I hope you die soon!!! If you have a problem with this, you’re a retard. Stop by my space and learn more retard. Ryan Benedetti

I could delete it, but I won’t.  I think it’s really sad.  It seems he just wants to use this as a platform to advertise his own blog.  He doesn’t really say why I make him sick and why he wants me to die.  I do take exception with how he treats cancer–it’s extremely inconsiderate of those who actually suffer from cancer.  He could very well have spammed a bunch of MSN blogs with his vective just to get attention.  He claims on his blog that someone else is spamming other people’s blogs and misusing his name.  If so, if I were him I would shut down the blog and start over rather than becoming a target for people’s ire.  Interestingly, his handle is Canadiankick.  I thought Canada was a peaceful nation.  Oh well, thanks for stopping by anyway, Canadiankick.

Weathering the proverbial storm

Late last month I took over as chair of our community’s association.  The association serves our expatriate community and manages the community’s myriad assets.  We have a large facility and lease space to several vendors, including Quiznos Sub and Starbucks.  We manage some extended-stay suites, event hall rentals, a business center, and merchandise sales.  We have many revenue streams and offer many services to the community.  We also host social events throughout the year, and we plan to invest the association’s excess cash so that we can meet the future needs of our community.  We’re a non-profit entity, but because we have so many revenue streams, we function like in many ways like a corporation.  It is truly an amazing operation.  I don’t use my MBA much on the job, but as part of the association’s Board, I am able to put my business skills to work.  I enjoy it very much.
Lately, the association faces several big challenges.  We haven’t had a cafeteria since last March, and we just lost an important vendor in a messy divorce.  Our business center vendor’s lease is almost up, and our facility desperately needs some maintenance.  We have to put on several key events for our community.  We’re losing some valuable employees.  Our association has a full-time general manager who’s been working hard to manage our operations.  However, I think her job is too much work for one person to handle.  She has a small staff, but each employee is assigned to a specific function.  As chair I’ve tried to work closely with her and her staff to make sure we do everything that needs to get done in the next six months.  Although some people in the community think a Board chair should sit back and take a passive role in the association, letting the GM function like a CEO, I prefer to be much more activist and as involved as I can be.  The GM appreciates this.  Corporate boards that serve at the whim of the CEO (in this case the GM) are not doing their jobs.  Corporate governance experts tend to agree with me.  I also see the chair role as a that of a visionary, where I help instill a vision of what the future of the association will look like and work with the Board and general manager to make it happen.  Many of the best boards in the corporate world are led by dynamic Board chairs who guide their companies and ensure the best interests of shareholders are served.  In this case, I need to look out for the interests of our community.
Right now the association faces several daunting challenges.  Last night, the association hosted a major reception for the community.  I emceed the event.  I don’t like public speaking, but I did fine addressing the crowd of about 160 people.  The reception was a culmination of the joint efforts of many people who worked to make sure everything was perfect.  I was really happy to see how we all pulled together to make it happen.  Today the Board approved the new business center vendor, who will offer Vonage phone service and business services to the community.  They will also build the association a professional web site which will serve as a portal for our potential customers.  If they deliver what they promise, the community will have a viable, alternate phone and Internet service provider.  For the next few days, we need to focus on finalizing the divorce from one of our vendors and finding a replacement vendor.  I hope we can accomplish this within two weeks.  The new vendor will offer food and coffee to our customers, and the absence of the previous vendor has been conspicuous.  Next, our attention will turn to reopening the employee cafeteria.  At the same time, we will sell merchandise at the upcoming APEC Summit in Busan in mid-November, and we will host Halloween and Thanksgiving events.  We will also finish facility maintenance before winter arrives, and we will invest our excess cash in low-risk, high-yield municipal bond funds.  Juggling all of these commitments is a momental task.  It feels at times like a perfect storm.  While overwhelming, we must weather these challenges and persevere.
When the dust settles and the smoke clears, our vendor contracts will be in place, and we will have given back in myriad ways to the community.  It’s a lot of work, and at times my wife asks me why I expend so much effort volunteering on behalf of the association.  It’s because someone needs to do it.  At this critical juncture in the association’s existence, we need to get through the challenges and outlast the storm.  And after my term ends in five months, I hope that the next association chair will be left with a tidy ship and calm waters.