Thursday, October 27, 2011

George Mindling Column 11-24-2004


This Time Chicken Little Was Right


"Could this be the year of the Big Storm?" That was the title of the column I wrote just a few short months ago, in February to be exact. As usual, I caught a little flak from my neighbors about being pessimistic. I think they may have been the only ones to read my column.

Back in January, 2001, I wrote an article called "Bulletproof", where I wrote: "Again, we sidestepped any hurricanes or major tropical storms. That could be a problem in itself." Again, the only responses I received were about being morbid.

In fact, the very first column I wrote for the Charlotte Sun back in August 1999, was one titled "Now What?" The column started: "When finally allowed into the area that used to be your business, the first thing that strikes you is absolute devastation. Where there used to be sinks are only PVC pipes sticking up from the concrete. What used to be a roof is lying across the work and service areas. No windows have glass, and quite often there are no walls."

I wrote that column specifically to assist the Business Services Committee of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. They were trying to hold a disaster preparedness seminar for small businesses. When only two respondents show any interest in the program, it was dropped.

The attitudes here were so bad, I actually had a former county commissioner tell me that it was impossible for Port Charlotte to suffer a direct hit from a hurricane. I could only wonder how Wayne Sallade, Director of Emergency Planning and his staff could ever succeed in preventing disaster if a major hurricane struck Charlotte County. The majority of residents and businesses here had never suffered a major storm and the attitudes of residents and business owners were less than complacent, they were apathetic at best. Even hurricane Donna, the last storm in memory, was not one to cause much concern about preparation or the after effects.

Now that we have been ravaged by Charley, and scared to the point of evacuation by Ivan and Francis, disaster planning and preparation are no longer a discretionary part of the business budget: they are now main concerns. Everyone here knows we can get hit again, even next year, if the atmospheric conditions dictate a hurricane again cross Charlotte Harbor. The naiveté is gone, but, unfortunately, as newcomers move to our area, and the memory of this busy season fades away, the old ways will creep back and the same old feeling of being bullet proof will again dominate the local attitudes. We have already been told by friends that they believe North Port is the safest place in Florida. If the area isn't struck for twenty of thirty years, the "experts" who didn't think it could happen here will again gain credibility.

They should leave it to the real experts, like Wayne Sallade and his team. Any questions about Charlotte County Emergency Management can be found on the website: http://www.charlottecountyfl.com/emergency/.

We can be glad they got it right the first time.
George Mindling  © 2004

George Mindling Column 12-07-2004

How The Cruise Ship Industry Has Changed


"Take it or leave it, that's what it's coming to," the assistant Maitre D' said with a smile. We were discussing the changes in attitudes and policies in the cruise ship industry during the last several years. My wife and I were enjoying our weeklong 40th Anniversary cruise and had booked on the Princess Line's Star Princess.

According to recent newspaper articles, cruising is now at it's all time high in popularity, rebounding from the horrible slump of the late 90's and early "zeros". The industry saw many total failures even before the 9/11 attacks that really put a devastating, almost crippling blow on the industry.

The industry had gone through a metamorphosis several years earlier, with the atrophy of what were called "port of call" cruisers, such as the old Viking Lines out of San Francisco that sailed from Honolulu to Hong Kong, Lima, Peru, and other world ports. Port of call cruising was slowly replaced by "Basin" cruising, such as the Caribbean where the 3 day to 7 day cruises became the prime market for the cruise lines.

The chief engineer of the Norwegian Cruise Lines "Norway" had told me the first thing they did when they acquired the ship as the "France" was to pull out two of the four engines. As the renamed "Norway", North Atlantic crossing speeds were no longer an issue. Cruising at a leisurely pace around the Caribbean was the new mission of the first of the large basin cruisers.

The first person to fully grasp the concept of the new market was Ted Arison.

Ted Arison, founder of Carnival, was famous for introducing "hotdogs and T-shirts" to the cruise industry when he renamed the "Empress of Canada" as the "Mardi Gras" and started competing with his old business partner Knut Kloster out of the old Port of Miami. Kloster had the original "Sunward", a ship my mother had taught housekeeping classes to the crew on when she was the Executive Housekeeper at Lindsey Hopkins Vocational School in Miami.

Fifteen percent gratuity is automatically added to each tab to allow for the "oversight" of cruisers who tend to be forgetful when tipping. The staff averages only $33 a month in wages (yes, $1.10 a day!) They make the remainder of their wages on tips. Even apple juice at breakfast instead of orange juice is a two-dollar charge. Want a cup of hot chocolate for the kids? That's a bar item now and will cost accordingly. What used to be unlimited dining is now a charge for a second course on Carnival, but not yet at Princess. Twenty-four hour informal dining is becoming popular, but even the best attended serving line is still at times only a warm buffet.

The change of policy from "Carte Blanche" to "A La Carte" makes cruising affordable to many who would not have gone before. In my book, it is still the best vacation for the buck anywhere.


George Mindling © 2004

George Mindling Column 12-20-2004


It's The Time Of Year For Giving and Receiving


The Christmas spirit is upon us, I can tell by the traffic jams and the long lines at the area malls. Santa must be getting a lot of help in loading his bags in preparation for his annual trip to children around the world. Maybe he's loading up for more than just children. After all, does the new GPS I want count toward the gift statistics the elves put together each year? I was a good little boy, comparatively speaking, and see no reason to get a lump of coal instead of an expensive new toy I would probably buy myself if it weren't for the ease of asking Santa.

Of course, I would have a harder time getting my official "gift request" through family channels during the rest of the year, but at Christmas, we all seem to get special dispensation for our normally difficult or nearly impossible acquisitions.

"Just how far out are we going in the boat?" would be the normal question if I asked any other time of the year. But at Christmas, a request for a world wide, handheld electronic navigational tool that can actually pinpoint your location to a few yards anywhere on the planet is met with a sweet, understanding smile. Even if it is a couple of hundred bucks that could be better spent on other things, like food or gas for the car.

Kitchen add-ons and new refrigerators just don't seem to fill the bill of Christmas giving, even if they are sorely needed. A new dishwasher for the wife will not get the same response as a bottle of Chanel No. 5. Of course, wives know Chanel is for the husband, but at least it beats a garbage disposal!

Husbands used to be resigned to the "new tie syndrome", but lately, men have been wising up as well. Kids have always understood the power of Santa. Requests for toys that would usually draw an immediate "NO!" are pondered with a wry smile by parents this time of year. Kids know they can cash in on their “Santa” leverage. It doesn't cost the kids a cent. Not even one extra chore or minute of household duty. In the spirit of the holidays, we cave in and give, give, give.

We adults, unfortunately, are still encumbered with the actual responsibility of paying the bills. I have heard of one family that has not paid off last year's charges for Christmas, and they are already shopping at a pace that will outspend last year. They have to spend more to give more than they did last year because things cost more this year. That must make sense to the elves who are pumping this stuff out as fast as it can get loaded on a boat, er, ahh, sleigh, bound for the U.S.

But what hey, it's Christmas! Even if I never get out of sight of land, I'll know I'm special to somebody special. Isn’t that’s what Santa’s sleigh is all about?

George Mindling© 2004

George Mindling Column 01-30-2005


Program From Microsoft Fights Spyware


Whenever my PC appears to be slowing down or acting abnormally sluggish, I run my trusted anti-spyware program Ad-Aware SE. It is available free for non-commercial use at http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/. Invariably the program finds some type of parasite program that has snuck in and is stealing resources from my PC to “phone home” or otherwise monitor my PC activities.

I was fairly confident that I was protected from any of these “Spyware” programs as I keep the AdAware database updated. So when Microsoft announced their free “Beta” anti-spyware program was currently free to download, I really wasn’t interested. When a company says that a software program or product is “Beta,” users should understand that there is no support for that program as it is as yet an “unofficial,” or un-launched program. Many companies use Beta programs as final test beds before the production version of the product is released.

But then I had another PC problem that I couldn’t seem to shake. I have had fairly good results with most Microsoft Beta products, and even though the “Free” period usually expires when the final product goes on the market, I will usually try a program if I feel it has merit. I always create a restore checkpoint and back up my data before any new program goes on my computer, especially a Beta Program.

This one has merit. It only supports Windows XP and Windows 2000 for the Beta, and as soon as I downloaded it and ran it for the first time, I knew the old anti-spyware programs were missing many of the little hooks and parasites that had infected my PC.

The spyware programs are not viruses, and usually are not worms or Trojan horses. We install many of them ourselves as part of real programs. If you read the EULA, End User License Agreement that comes with every program, you may find that you grant that program the right to phone home whenever it feels like it. You sign the EULA by clicking on the “I Agree” button. If you don’t click on the “I Agree” button, the software product will not install! Those spyware programs, as distasteful as they are, are installed by many well-known software companies.

Most of us don’t particularly like having another program telling a big computer in the sky what we are doing or which sites we surf. I like it even less when I uninstall a spyware program and it cripples my machine. That is why a program like the Anti-Spyware program from Microsoft is so nice to have. It can remove the spyware programs that will uninstall cleanly, and quarantine those that are malicious.

Protect your assets and your information. PC users are under constant attack from companies that want to know every single keystroke you make. Using programs such as Ad Aware and the Anti-Spyware program from Microsoft should be a normal part of your PC operations.

The Beta Microsoft program is available from Microsoft at http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx.
Good Hunting!

George Mindling © 2005

George Mindling Column 03-25-2005



If You Ask For Suggestions, Listen To Them


“Dear Dum-Dum, Why are you bothering us? Why are you so stupid? Don’t you understand anything?”

Of course the wording is usually smoother and more professional, but the meaning is clear: keep your nose out of our business! That, basically, is the rejection response to most suggestion program submissions. A suggestion, by nature, is calling somebody’s baby ugly.

There is a manager or owner somewhere responsible for taking action on a suggestion, whether it is a formal, sponsored suggestion program, or simply a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. A discovered fault, or a better way to do something, usually means someone has failed to perform his or her assigned duties.

If you are a business owner, it is time to swallow your pride and take a hard look at the suggestion. It might save you money or even your customers, especially if the suggestion comes from a customer.

It is up to the suggestor to define the new procedure, and the duty of the program owner to defend his or her performance of assigned duties. A suggestion that defines or illuminates an error in judgment or even failure to comply with laws or guidelines may well be rejected by a single review when in fact it is a valid suggestion. Asking a reviewer outside the realm of authority usually results in an unbiased review as is there is no ownership of responsibility.

Whining about status quo is not productive. Neither is it well received by management or owners. Whiners are usually held in contempt because they add to a problem rather than to the resolution. Suggestors should avoid complaining when they in fact have valid improvement suggestions. Often, people responsible for identified problems are aware of the conditions but are prevented from action by budget restraints or even legal issues. A business owner, however, works under a different set of guidelines. Discretionary spending doesn’t have to go before a board for approval. Legal issues may have to go to an attorney outside the company.

A standing joke in the Air Force about finding the easiest way to perform a given task was to simply ask the laziest person you know how they would do that job. The lazy person will always find a way to accomplish a given task with the minimum of effort. Not necessarily time or cost, but it will always be the easiest route possible. Balance that against reality. Prudence must play a role as safety is always an issue, as well as what is legal and what isn’t. People who are not in management positions may not have a say in how a business is run, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t aware of how a given business fails or succeeds.

If you are the business owner, divorce yourself from the “I’m the boss” syndrome and take a look at what your employees have to say. Their suggestions may well be the key to success in your business.

George Mindling  © 2005

George Mindling Column 03-11-2005


A Southwest Turnpike Could Calm I-75


Our winter season will begin to wind down early this year as Easter falls on March 27th, a little earlier in the year than usual. Easter marks the beginning of the annual northward migration as snowbirds begin their annual trek back home, regardless of the late snows and chilly weather hanging on “up north”. Our local roads and highways will soon be a little emptier, and traffic will flow a little smoother than during snowbird season.

However, I-75 will be a different matter. Anyone who travels the interstate regularly can tell when the migration is on. Many of our seasonal residents travel with campers or mobile homes, often towing cars or SUVs behind like faithful puppies.

A transportation Town Hall meeting held at Florida Gulf Coast University Fort Myers on February 19th, addressed concerns and schedules for widening I-75 through southwest Florida. Led by Congressman Connie Mack, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the meeting outlined the need for widening I-75. Obviously, something must be done.

I would like to propose an alternate route. I realize that I-75 must be widened. There are no alternatives to that fact. There are, however, alternatives to the nightmare of being stuck on I-75, no matter how wide it is. Two serious accidents last year closed down the Interstate completely, showing the vulnerability of having only one evacuation route.

The Florida Turnpike, a toll road, leaves the Orlando area and heads toward Ft. Pierce on the east coast. I would like to see the Florida Turnpike split at that point south of Orlando, and a new turnpike built to service Southwest Florida. It would connect the center of the state with either Ft Myers or the Naples area.

First and foremost, it would offer an alternative evacuation route to the central Florida area without clogging up the Sarasota/Tampa area, especially the I-4 interchange.  Much of the land or property needed is currently either unused, or underused, and would be economically feasible to acquire in the short term.
It would relieve I-75 of most of the traffic headed or returning from the Orlando/Central Florida recreation areas, almost all of which is personal vehicular traffic. The Orlando area directly supports or implements vacationing in Southwest Florida. Many of our visitors and tourists include at least one trip to the Disney/Orlando complex.  The Southwest Florida Turnpike would remove these vehicles from I-75 through the Sarasota/Manatee/Hillsborough County areas.

The opening of the Southwest Florida Turnpike would be the economic shot in the arm for all of central Southwest Florida that has not benefited from the easy access afforded by I-95/The Florida Turnpike on the east coast, nor the narrow economic expansion areas bounding I-75 on the west coast.

As a Toll Road, it would generate revenue to offset construction and operation costs. I would gladly pay the toll to be able to drive to Wildwood without the worry of “mile-per-hour” commercial vehicles or the plodding campers. Even if they are my neighbors.


George Mindling © 2005

George Mindling Column 2-25-2005


Recovering County Hitting Home Runs


Just before Christmas, the Charlotte County Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department has received a $15,000 grant award from the Florida Sports Foundation for the Second Annual Port Charlotte Invitational 2005 College Baseball Classic, which will be held February 26 through April 2, 2005 at the Charlotte Sports Park, Charlotte County painfully realized there are too few places to stay for the fifty visiting college baseball teams. Hurricane Charley removed many of the rooms that were available in 2004. In fact, only two of the hotels or motels listed in the Williams College homepage are in Charlotte County. Check http://www.williamsrecord.com/portcharlotte/ for information and schedules about the games, which were a huge success for everyone last year. The returning teams and families have found a friendly, comfortable area to visit and play baseball. They will see the fallen light tower at the main stadium that reminds us of our past year.

Our County employees suffered just like everyone else, but their response has been pretty much above and beyond just “normal.” Many had their homes completely destroyed; almost all suffered damage of some kind. Just about everyone with the County has been pretty much stretched to the limit, and still doing what we expect them to do everyday, and often more.

We have a County Commission that has dealt with the unexpected crisis of a natural disaster while trying to implement a bold, if controversial economic and cultural expansion of the county. The voters last fall said, “Yes!” and the direction Charlotte County has taken is forward while holding true to the comprehensive planning and growth plans.

We now have one of the finest Sheriffs in the State. Someone the entire department and the community can respect. The Sheriff’s Department has suffered from the inappropriate actions of a few, but the others work even harder to erase those effects and have proven to be more than worthy.

Charlotte County School Board and all the teachers and employees have earned the respect of educators around the state. The juggling and rescheduling has been monumental. The students and parents who have endured the rescheduling and the travel have been as patient and hardworking as anyone else.
Many of our development problems resulted from sales planning for maximum profit per available acre. Those decisions were not made by or for the people who are now Charlotte County. Now, we have the people and we have the direction. The decisions aren’t easy. Developers want to maximize profits from available properties while homeowners want to see their neighborhoods protected against change. This has been, and will always be, the battle for Florida

Traffic may double before your 4th grader graduates from high school. That is a simple economic forecast. Don’t blink, that 4th grader will be asking for the car keys the next time you turn around. Hopefully, he or she may want to drive to the stadium to watch a College Invitational baseball game.

George Mindling © 2005