Conveying a simple message

In the manufacturing business as in the military, communication, particularly between two speakers of the same language, is not simple nor should anyone assume what you say will be understood by the recipient of your message.

This is painfully obvious when dealing through email.

An email sent to a group of people, including two managers, a technical peer, a manufacturing engineer, a logistician, and a quality assurance engineer, was received very differently. At least two managers told me my report was, in a word, unintelligible. My basic mistake? Adding too much detail, and confusing the recipients. I tried to answer / direct my answer to 3 separate audiences in one email.

To correct this, a man I respect offered this simple formula. In the email, subject line:” <project> <problem> will require < new part/ software/ repair/ test”. In the email body: “Approval request to issue a replacement <widget part number> for <internal customer/ test/ troubleshooting>”. (Period)

In a new paragraph, “DETAILS:”

And keep it specific to that ONE issue. And brevity is key.

After I cooled off, the situation reminds me of the time, long ago, when my Division Lieutenant asked me for a status on some equipment on his problem report. When he stopped me ( I was really a greenhorn then), he asked me to state my response in ten seconds or less:

” System requires a new <part>. $10,000 with exchange. Will arrive next Tuesday.”

first lessons:

a business mindset

I tried and failed at business ventures three times before. With a couple years of technical training, I tried earning a second income as a small appliance and home electronics repairman. It was cheaper to buy new than repair “old”. The next venture was selling solar-heated hot water systems. People could just as easily put garden hoses on their roof (it was southern Arizona) and save the expense of a metal system up there. And then, last year, I saw how my father-in-law’s young relative was making six figures in a health-focused business. She has Amazon- and Facebook- founders-level intensity which produces her ongoing results (building over the past 8 years). I was not interested, youth-focused, or charismatic enough to do what it takes. My prior ventures were great personally, just not rewarding financially for me.

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the importance of a “niche”

This year, my wife and I found a “niche” business. A “niche” is a product or service need, that is not widely available, nor really has much awareness outside of the profession. But is necessary nonetheless. With a lot of support, name recognition, and professional experience, my wife one evening reported to me that a business opportunity was offered to her – that she wanted to do. This was due to pending retirement of the principal operators in the niche market. The business requires unimpeachable ethics, scrupulous attention to detail, military-like precision with clients and retaining or bringing on skilled employees (or contractors).

do not quit your “day job”

A mistake of many new entrepreneurs, is to launch a business enterprise with little financial resources. They then have few options when mistakes are made or customers are slow to provide payment. Then there is even more emotional and physical stress learning the “do’s” and the “don’t”s of operating a business. In just the few weeks after initially deciding to engage in this business, the guts required to seriously and diligently apply ourselves to learning,- particularly with family and job requirements always keeping you busy, is challenging.

In the United States, working for yourself, with the intent to make a profit – to separate your enterprise from what the taxman (the IRS) would label a “hobby” – requires record-keeping, talent, and effort. Depending on the venture, every business has local, state and federal tax statutes regarding individual, partnership, and incorporation to stay within the law. Similarly, there are permits, licenses, and fees with all the aforementioned, to conduct business.

With certain businesses, providing products or services, there are many regulations, certifications, and insurance to purchase and renew yearly. While trying to classify whether there were workers considered by statute as employees to consider, we need general business and professional liability insurance. And probably, workmen’s compensation insurance: California is very strict on business operations. If you are still determined, you have done homework on your competition in the niche market, and calculated the profit versus expense projections before the first customer dollar is received – there is one consideration you may miss. You may find that your business needs to be funded almost entirely from your own “primary” income for a time. One of the first “rules” I have learned is to avoid going into debt while learning the “ropes”. Do not quit your day job before it sustains you.

seeking advice from experienced mentors

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I have only just started to explore the business banking relationships we will need for our venture. We will explore and weigh options on credit, payment processing, and loans. Similarly, I have only attended one seminar run by the small business education group, SCORE, (there are chapters in most communities) taught by people with decades of experience in all aspects of business. But for the entrepreneur, anywhere you find someone to help with the pitfalls to avoid, is great. One can then make all new mistakes to learn and develop as a business person.

your “why” has to be bigger than your fear

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After a career in the military, another in private industry, and still looking for challenge (and change), our own business will prove to be well worth it. After many years of doing without asking why and making someone else’s careers and dreams possible, you also can make your dreams, as well as those of your clients, become reality. But it takes ethics, drive, humility, implementing what others can teach and eagerness to keep pressing on to the goal.

hiking veterans

Wearing a “veteran” ballcap starts conversations.

Lord’s soldier

The “San Diego Chargers” jersey worn by a twenty-something man I met near the summit of Angel’s Landing trail prompted me to ask whether he was a Los Angeles -based fan or one from San Diego. From Temecula, Californi, he and his buddies were up in Zion for a “men’s retreat”; among the faith community, that is “code” for a spiritual bonding time. We talked about our respective churches and our military service. As a Navy veteran, he asked me whether I had been to the Philippines; his father had joined the Navy from there. Eugene was an Army veteran. I told him about my son, an Army veteran. Eugene knew Fort Bragg. He and my son, were sort of, but not quite, following in each respective fathers’ footsteps. One of his companions was a veteran of the Iraq war. Both were now college students. As we talked, I encouraged him to endure the bureaucracy of the VA medical evaluation process (he had gone once and was discouraged by the red tape) to get service-connected injuries treated – or compensated. Being young men of faith as well as warriors, these newly encountered Brothers encouraged me. Like me, though my friends and several dozen people attempted the narrow and very physically-demanding ascent to the “Landing”, I knew these guys had nothing to prove to themselves. Military services do the difficult every day. The impossible generally takes just a bit longer.

DOD recorder

There weren’t but one or two available seats on the crowded shuttle bus from the Temple of Sinawawa stop in Zion National Park. It was a thirty-minute ride back to the parking lot. Looking tired and a little irritated, the large man ( solid, not stocky) squeezed into the last available seat, directly across from me. He looked at my ballcap and thanked me for my service. We chatted. He was taking in Zion while his wife was at some military event in San Diego. He is a civilian archivist for the DOD, which lead to talking about history, this blog, and travel. Apparently, Lake Powell should be on my “bucket list”. One of the things that all this military reminiscing lead to was to get some coffee prior to starting back to the hotel in St. George.

View of the Virgin River in Zion NP. Angel’s Landing trail.
Though some start, few finish the ascent to the very top

“Airdale” trucker

Tomahawk night launch, Red Sea, 1993

On Saturday morning, the motel cafe was busy. All eight little tables were occupied. At one table, a man about my age wore a Desert Storm veteran ballcap. I asked him what service, and he responded Navy. I was also a Desert Storm veteran. He offered me a seat. Mike had been an Navy “airdale”, the Navy nickname for a member of the aviation support community. An aviation ordnance technician, he served a carrier airwing in the Persian Gulf during the conflict. We chuckled about engineers who design but never actually tried to use some things in aircraft he worked on; trying to remove an assembly where you could neither lay flat or reach overhead comfortably, but in one case having to crouch the whole time removing it. My companion, a retired DOD engineer, feigned dismay. A couple of comments he made, however, suggested he was a little more ‘dismayed’ than he let on. The trucker at the table across from us was also a military veteran, though from the prior conflict. As Mike and I chatted about the Navy, missed advancement opportunities (if only those darn Master Chiefs would retire so others could move up the career ladder!), and life after the military, the more I got to thinking how a community, a brotherhood, sisterhood, or more accurately – a large extended family one can meet all over the country.

Community. Often it starts with a ballcap, a veteran-themed t-shirt, or other, and an interest in getting to know someone.

Desert signs

Retired sailors I knew moved too become desert dwellers. “Seen enough ocean, “they say. “Here there’s only beach!”

On the way to Zion NP, flowering Joshua trees, and one bored alien – extra terrestrial type- wave at my buddies as we travel east. Maybe, aliens find the same relief on their journeys?

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No Dan, Joshua trees aren’t pine

green hitchhikers

club for erudite Old Salts

A Thursday evening discussion with an acquaintance over cigars, as retired Navy Chiefs, we were amicably discussing the Navy “salty” life, adventure, and places familiar to each of us around the world. With a lifetime of experience including travel to the same parts of former Soviet bloc countries, we then opined on 21st Century socialist nations. While rigid politically, some tacitly approve of workers ‘capitalist’ use of an underground economy to support their families. He illustrated discussing the merits of fine Cuban cigars he obtained. Skilled cigar rollers have access to tobacco, paper and other accessories to make – after the day’s production was completed and inventoried – some personal cigars to provide under-the-table income. He learned of accessing such side channels during global business travel. And tonight, the ‘entrepreneurial’ wheels in my mind started turning. In a Progressive future, there will always be those who obtain – and those who will then purchase – a premier cigar.

126 years young

It’s a birthday celebrated by a whole lot of people. Navy people, specifically, and to whom, the shortened form of applicable address, such as “Good Morning, Chief”, “Senior”, “CMC”, etc is heartwarming even to a Chief retired now for nine years. On April 1st, 1893 the United States Navy formally instituted the paygrade of Chief Petty Officer (CPO). How does one become a Chief? To echo a Brother Senior Chief many years ago, posing the question of a “Selectee” (and then answering her bewildered look), “I decided to work and act like a Chief Petty Officer. Then waited for the uniform to catch up.”

Together with rating examination scores, selection eligibility criteria, and a service record review by a board of senior Chief Petty Officers, candidates are selected. And once selected, a process of mentorship, instruction, leadership exercises and camaraderie ensues. This had been, and after a brief adjustment period, was reinstituted: the CPO initiation. Those of us who were selected to the rank of CPO, in whichever specialty rating we served, whether male or female, Active Duty or Retired, are all Brothers and Sisters in a worldwide fellowship, the Chief Petty Officer Mess. And in the grand scheme, the CPO takes care of the enlisted, mentors junior officers, executes the mission, all while leading from the Deckplate level.

For more on the history of the Chief Petty Officer, see this link to the Navy publication All Hands.

Navy Chief, Navy Pride!

Tax disincentive

There are two certainties in life: Death and taxes. And a third, “if it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t true”. But there is also another truth. Politicians, bureaucrats and their backers (the news media, bankers, billionaire investors, or celebrities), all stir up chaos for their opponents, whip up groups of like-minded people by pretending to care for them, and make all sorts of speeches promising better times ahead.


The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.

Will Rogers, via Brainyquote.com

While people my age have heard all this nonsense before and are less inclined to go along, the palaver is not meant for my age group. Psychological journals, in various published studies, revel in the obvious. Young adults between 18 – 27, are more idealistic, much less structured in goals, exhibit more fluid work ethic, and are more motivated by income “fairness” and other talking points they read on social media. By the time men and women reach their Thirties, with stable jobs, goals, and families, these issues, rhetoric, and ‘social-justice’ activism become much less an influence. But the common talking points in social media and in politics today is how unfairly wealth is distributed. As a child, I was raised that hard work, skilled effort, ethics and morals would, over time elevate my station and economic success. There was plenty of room for anyone to become wealthy and provide for their families without blaming and taking from others. What changed?

Paying their “fair” share?

In 2019, I fear that people who have contributed to the economic well-being of the country for the least amount of time or produced the least amount of economic goods and services are being made fools of, by the wealthiest, least added-value members of society: politicians and bureaucrats funded by taxpayers. It is not that young people are in any way less important or less credible in their contributions and feelings, but forty percent of the Congress is far wealthier than those they represent. While every taxpayer in the United States can voluntarily contribute more to fund the Government, donate to charities for causes they feel strongly, and volunteer to aid those they feel are under-served, are there any who voluntarily give more than they are legally required? But most demand that Government support causes and constituents that are better served through local donations. And despite all the rhetoric we hear, does any public servant reside in public housing, use public transportation, or donate salaries and perks to the underprivileged?

Many, like one of my old college buddies, are worked up frequently about the lack of fairness and greed exhibited by members of a certain American political party, though there is plenty of blame to go around. Tonight, I am more worked up by my miscalculation on our annual income tax returns for Federal and State. We owe a large amount of income taxes due to the change in the approved deductions and income limits for other deductions. This is due to the “Trump Tax Cut” enacted in 2018. Researching the new tax policy, there are two ends of the economic spectrum that are benefiting, though the wealthiest Americans are benefiting far more.

Who benefits from the new tax plan?

With change in the standard deduction, doubling it to $24000 for those who file a joint return, many do not have to file complex returns. While there is some who think that increasing the “standard deduction” will reduce the incentive to make charitable contributions by lower middle-income workers, the tax policy really changes the taxes owed by the higher wage households- reducing the graduated scale of highest earning workers from 39 to 37 percent. And if those individuals are business owners, the rate may drop to 20 percent.


The people are hungry: It is because those in authority eat up too much in taxes.


Lao Tzu

For those caught in the “middle”, such as older taxpayers whose grown children are no longer family deductions, their seniority at work may elevate their incomes to higher tax brackets, and all the expenses of living and home ownership, there are disincentives to continuing to be an employee. But retirement also may come at a cost. Withdrawals from qualified retirement plans prior to age 59.5 incur income taxes and penalties. Some states like California tax retirement pensions, and with public service pensions largely unfunded, these states increase taxes to provide benefits and sacrifice the maintenance of infrastructure – roads, schools, and vital services.

Entrepreneurs and tax sense

Like many, I chose security of being an employee over most of my working life. But being a “worker” and not a “business owner” in 2019 has its tax disadvantages. Fair, ethical, and legal provisions used in the last twenty years have been significantly changed. While younger workers at lower wages and with young families may find some benefit from new tax provisions, others in the “Middle Class” are not as fortunate. Older, still working, married adults with now-adult children, who may still be providing for certain of their needs – no longer can claim them as deductions for tax purposes. Those fortunate to own homes in high property tax states, are limited in the amount they can claim federally- basically paying taxes a second time on the same income. Others, such as small business owners have complex tax rules to follow. The “Trump Tax Cut” seems to be flawed.

Some regulations should have come with bold print. With retirement savings such as employer 401K plans, IRAs and healthcare savings accounts available, these come with certain stipulations. Pre-tax income placed in flexible health spending accounts must be used within the calendar year or are lost; certain employer health plans can place pre-tax earnings in an account which can grow year after year, even into retirement, but must be used for medical expenses – or are taxed heavily. And for higher wage earners, traditional Individual Retirement Accounts, money invested for the purpose of reducing income taxes does not provide the immediate benefit sought.

The wealthiest Americans are fairing a lot better in 2019 than before. While true that the top 20 percent of all wage earners contribute the largest share of the revenue to fund the Government (50 percent of working Americans pay little income tax, while three percent contribute most of all), the overall taxes for those wealthiest Americans – many of whom are business owners – dropped significantly. I’m beginning to think that wealthy politicians are being disingenuous. They are not feeling nor acting in private like the outraged they claim to represent.

If people want to participate more fully in the “American Dream”, operating a successful business seems to be the vehicle to do so in 2019 and into the future. Except perhaps in California, or should the country decide to follow the anti-capitalist and anti-constitutional policies that have been voiced since the President’s election. A look at statistics indicates that the country is not in jeopardy of an economic crisis as some suggest. In the United States in 2017, the median family income was $61,000; in California, $81, 000, according to the US Census Bureau. While there are many who are at the extremes in California and elsewhere, there are many who have gained wealth and property through operating successful businesses.

Paying closer attention to income tax, balance sheets, and government policies that affect income is necessary. But that comes with age and the acquisition of property. All the rest is just politics.