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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

George Mindling Column 04-22-2006

The Veterans and the Bumper Stickers


While following a Michigan license plate through 776 and Toledo Blade, I happened to notice the black frame around the license plate. On the bottom in big white letters it read “Korean War Vet.” I couldn’t help but wonder if any one cares. Korean war veterans are beginning to die naturally as they reach old age. World War II vets, many of whom also served in Korea, are thinning out as they reach the stage of their lives where their children only vaguely remember the parent’s service.

I wondered if my Dad would have driven around with a license frame that said WWII Veteran? No, I’m sure he wouldn’t. In fact, he quietly poked fun at the Cold War reservists who “flag waved” as he called it, then bellyached when they get called to active duty. To him, it was something he was expected to do.

Few people knew my Dad spent just under four years in the U.S. Army during WWII. He served 21 months in combat during his 33 months of overseas duty. He was never one to talk about his experience, except in North Africa, before El Guettar Pass and his loss of innocence. He laid telephone wires for the forward artillery observers for his 105mm howitzer outfit. And every time a tank ripped them up, he laid them again.

His Company Commander later found out my Dad could type and put him in HQ battalion where his closest friend died sitting at my Dad’s typewriter. FW 190s dropped antipersonnel bombs on the HQ tents during an air raid near Nicosia, Sicily, while my dad was away driving the company jeep on a run to Division HQ. His friend was simply filling in for him.

Noncombatant. The word doesn’t fit. When you put on any of the uniforms that require the oath to defend your country and the Constitution of the United States, you know you have committed your life to your country. If your country sees fit for you to serve behind a typewriter or under a leaky fuel cell, in sub-zero temperature in the middle of the ocean watching ice form on your glove, it doesn’t matter. We served, and still do. We aren’t heroes. We are your next-door neighbors kids that used to bust your mailbox, turn the music up and harass your dog. We marched in parades and posed for photographs in front of American flags. The guy with the Korea sticker is one of us.

Will the Iraqi veterans have to drive around with bumper stickers about being a Iraq Vet fifty years from now to get anyone to care? Does anyone care now, except to wave a flag and clap about heroism? As of Friday, The Department of Defense has identified 2,380 American service members who have died since the start of the Iraq war. Do you care? Will America care in fifty years? Let’s hope it doesn’t take another a bumper sticker.

George Mindling

George Mindling Column 01-27-2006


 Another Old Guy


“Ouch!” I yelped as the lab technician pulled the electrodes off my hairy chest without warning. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to pull those off?” I asked incredulously.

“You would’ve flinched anyway,” She smirked.

No problem! Switching hospitals is as easy as pulling off electrodes, and I did.

Customer satisfaction is measured in different ways, and it is seen differently from different points of view. I was scheduled for minor surgery and had to undergo an EKG as a standard part of the preparation for the operation. The hospital in question had a fairly good reputation from past patients I had talked to, but I didn’t get that warm, fuzzy feeling while filling out paper work among boxes strewn along the corridors and overflowing waste cans. Finally, the single action of a lab technician who was apparently aggravated because she wanted to go to lunch but had another old guy to test before she could eat set another warning flag.

Several weeks passed, then the final flag went up. My suspicions were confirmed when the hospital called me asking where I was on the scheduled day of the operation. My operation had been cancelled by my surgeon and his office because of an aberration on the EKG. I needed clearance from a cardiologist before anybody would fix any part of my aging, but hairy, body. I needed a stress test and further consultation before my surgeon would undertake the operation, and had put the whole procedure on hold until I was deemed healthy enough for surgery.

I answered the phone innocently enough with my standard, “Hello.”
“Where are you?” the female voice on the other end the phone asked.
“I’m here, obviously! Who are you and why do you want to know,” I countered.
“This is the operating room and we want to know why you aren’t here!”
“Because you cancelled the operation!” I answered suspiciously. “Who are you again?”
“Uunnh, Can you hang on a minute…”

The hospital in question followed up with a satisfaction telephone call. I was as honest as I could be while trying to describe the effect of being uncomfortable with what I had seen and felt, rather than actually pushing hard facts and numbers. Attitudes are hard to measure. They can be fleeting as a headache, but as damaging as a personal insult.

I have been assured the procedure that allowed the scheduling oversight has been corrected, and I’m sure interoffice communications has been elevated to a new level to prevent further gaps in scheduling. It was an unfortunate ending to a decision I made based on a lab tech just being rude. Somehow, however, I felt I made the right decision to go elsewhere.

Customer satisfaction is the hard part of the bargain, even for us old guys. 

George Mindling

George Mindling Column 02-24-2006


How to Find Tax Preparation Software


It’s time again for the perennial question: which home PC tax preparation program is the one for you: Turbo Tax or TaxCut? Well, maybe that question only comes up after “How much do I owe?” or “How much will I get back?” The answer to which program is best for you depends on how detailed or complicated your return will be. There are different levels of most programs tailored for your individual needs. Some basic programs, however, are more detailed than others. Annual updates to interfaces and entry screens are a major part to every software package, as are the changes to tax laws. But are they better and more user friendly than before, or do you have to be an accountant to use them?
The giants in the field, Turbo Tax, an Intuit company, and TaxCUT, by H&R Block have been joined by other tax preparation software. One product is TaxACT, by 2nd Story Software, which has a free version of its software (http://www.taxact.com/). Another is TimeValue (http://www.timevalue.com/), a company that has been doing commercial or professional software for several years.
The federal government has joined the ranks of free electronic tax program solutions this year as well. You can check out the free government income tax filing site at www.irs.gov/efile.

Free File is a free service offered by companies for taxpayers with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $50,000 or less.  Carefully review the free offer descriptions before starting your return. Individual company offers may be limited to specific states and income levels.

Each company has a description of their eligibility criteria for preparing and e-filing your federal tax return for free.  When choosing a company, be sure to link to the company's web site through IRS.gov. By going directly to a company's web site, you may not get the free service.

You are under no obligation to buy any products or services.  Telephone filing (Telefile) is no longer available. Many taxpayers who used this telephone service in the past may qualify to use Free File.

For detailed looks at tax preparation software, one site to check is ConsumerSearch.com (http://www.consumersearch.com/www/software/tax-preparation-software/reviews.html). The page allows you to look at surveys and comparisons of tax preparation software from Smart Computing, PC World, PC Magazine and Home Office Review, among others. They also list comparative prices and availabilities of all tax preparation programs. Most of the tax programs can import your last year’s data from past versions of their competitors. There is no TaxCut product this year for the Mac.

Hopefully, the tax preparation programs and the PC and Internet security programs I have used in the past have learned to co-exist. Turning off the firewall to allow updates seems to defeat the purpose of Internet security. The final filing date for Federal Income tax returns this year is April 17th. 

George Mindling

George Mindling Column 9-24-2005

Something Not Right In New Institute Report


Not many people in Florida today know who LeRoy Collins was, much less Claude Kirk, but both former governors were important in guiding Florida to where we are today. Collins, a Democrat and Kirk, a Republican, alternately steered Florida on different courses. The LeRoy Collins Institute is an independent, nonpartisan and non-profit organization created in Tallahassee at Florida State University that studies and promotes creative solutions to major private and public issues facing the people of Florida. It is affiliated with the State University System of Florida and works in collaboration with the state's public universities. It is not affiliated in any way with the Collins Institute for Public Opinion. On October 4th, the Leroy Collins Institute (http://www.fsu.edu/~collins/) released a 453-page, jointly authored document that may affect all Florida residents.

Called “Tough Choices, Shaping Florida’s Future,” it may not be well received by many in our area. Of special interest to Southwest Florida is chapter 13, “Empty Nesters and Retirees.” I am certainly in no position to question the validity of the awesome amount of work done compiling the data, but something doesn’t seem quite right with some of the conclusions or statements in the report.

Co-Author David Denslow, University of Florida, states on page 387 the distinguishing difference between retirees and immigrants is the fact retirees don’t have school age children. He did note a lower incarceration rate for retirees, however. Another item that caught my eye is on page 406 where Denslow concludes, “…retirees create jobs whose workers do not pay their own way.” The arithmetic formulas and conclusions certainly don’t represent my opinions as a former business owner. Crediting employees with property tax in their work place is a unique view, at best. Finding a business where, again these are Denslow’s words, “100% of the property tax paid by stores at which retirees only shop to retirees, that leaves nothing to credit to employers,” (Page 406). As a retiree, do I qualify only for fire, police and other services funded solely by my property taxes? Besides, I can’t think of a single business that only sells to retirees except maybe the memorabilia stands at the flea markets that sell Red Sox pennants and Patriots banners. Maybe I haven’t been retired long enough.

The report basically concludes that Medicaid is the biggest tax hog in Florida and the voter mandated class size amendment should be abandoned. There are many little adjustments to the tax structure including internet taxes, higher impact fees, and levying small “special purpose” fees and taxes. I ran out of paper downloading the massive document and haven’t yet read every page. I can hardly wait.

But then, I’m just a Florida Boy who has been here longer than ten years, apparently a non-quantifiable profile in the accumulated data. Maybe, just maybe, there should be an in-depth public discussion of the report before the legislature starts changing the tax laws and basically sticking it to the retirees, or even worse, our future students.


George Mindling Column 11-25-2005

A Balanced Community Takes Planning



After visiting the master planned community Baldwin Park in Orlando, I couldn’t help but think of the old Alan Sherman line, “A camel is a horse designed by committee.” After looking at the cramped housing that looks better suited for Massachusetts, I began to wonder if I was in Florida at all.

I still remember the beautiful old moss covered oaks that dominated the landscape while I was stationed at the old Orlando Air Force Base back in the early sixties. The Baldwin community is built on the old Air Force Base turned Orlando Naval Training Center. The Navy turned the property over to the City of Orlando in 2000, after several years of planning and negotiation.

The other planned community in the Orlando spotlight is the Disney planned community of Celebration, now ten years old. Celebration came to life from woodlands not far from the Disney World complex. With a ten-year track record, planners and developers can see where the shortcomings and pitfalls have occurred. They can also see where the planning was exactly right.

Sales have boomed. Florida Trend Magazine recently reported the cheapest property in Celebration was a one-bedroom townhouse that sold for $199,000. The magazine also reports estate homes were going for $3 million. The median income of the 10,000 Celebration residents is twice that of the average citizen of Osceola County, where Celebration is located. One expert quoted in the magazine stated by not setting aside affordable housing and not building enough townhouses, the planners failed to create an economically diverse community. No developer wants to be discouraged from building an upscale community that is a commercial success, even though Disney tried to control property speculation by stipulating that sales by owners of less than one year for prices above the Consumer Price Index would be turned over to the Celebration Foundation.

Charlotte County envisions a more diverse community with its upcoming Murdock Village. Property values in Charlotte County skyrocketed after the start of land acquisition by the County, and may adjust again as the project begins to actually unfold into the local community. Provisions for affordable housing must be included in the design process.

County Commissioner Matt DeBoer wants to insure affordable/workforce housing is included in the master plan for Murdock village by purchasing through the land trust with ownership remaining in the trust. A limited amount of equity should be allowed the renters/owners to promote upgrades to higher value units and eventual ownership in other areas of the Village. Loraine Helber, Charlotte County housing coordinator, would like to see the yet-to-be selected developer include specific plans for affordable housing in the bid process. With the care and concern of involved officials, Charlotte County will hopefully be successful in avoiding the economic lockout of the people needed to teach and care for our community.

George Mindling Column 11-11-2005


Reappraisal Leads to Higher Property Taxes


I had responded to a small flyer enclosed with last years tax bill about the possibility of doing a “kill and combine” on two adjacent vacant lots with my primary residence to save on my property tax bill. My wife and I went through the process of combining the lots into our main tax bill and sighed with relief about struggling to make this year’s payment. However, when we received our new property tax bill last week, we were stunned to see the increase had doubled our taxes from last year. I was told by a neighbor the kill and combine had opened up my primary residence to a new appraisal and our eight-year-old base appraisal had been pried out from under the 3% increase cap placed on homes by the “Save our Homes Act.” I walked into the third floor Charlotte County tax appraisers office with my newly received 2005 tax bill. Answers! I wanted answers!

After the pleasant but totally frustrated Debbie, the woman behind the counter, had printed off several pages of information and meticulously explained how the bill had gotten from point A (last years bill) to point B (this years bill), she decided I needed to talk with the appraiser himself as I wasn’t grasping the heart of the process much less the details. The appraiser was no other than Charlotte County Tax Appraiser, Frank Desquin.

Debbie and I walked across the hall to the offices and after a few short moments, Frank introduced himself and welcomed me into his office.

The “kill and combine” had not affected our primary residence, Frank assured me. Debbie nodded her head in agreement. Indeed, the protected appraisal amount is clearly shown on the printouts. It showed the 3% increase, and that was all there was against the residence. The drastic increase was the reappraised property values, which were added after the first of the year. I had made my assessment on the old taxable values from last year when I had asked for the “Kill and Combine.” That was before Charley and the phenomenal increase in property values.

“The Protect Our Homes Act” applies to the primary residence only, and only if it has the benefit of Homestead Exemption. Ad Valorum taxes are those based on the appraised value of the house, which differs from home to home, owner to owner. The Act does not apply to non-Ad Valorum taxes, such as those assessed by your Municipal Service Benefit Unit. Those taxes are the same for every property owner, regardless of assessment and may increase without regard to the “Save Our Homes Act.”
While no one wants to pay taxes on unrealized gains, which is exactly what increases in property taxes are, we will be protected NEXT year from Ad Valorum increases above 3% from what we pay this year. On the other hand, let me know if you are looking for waterfront property, I just might have a couple of lots.

George Mindling

George Mindling Column 12-16-2005


It's A Jungle Out There


A Bobcat killed a raccoon across the street from us recently. Not directly across the street, but in front of the vacant lot next to us. The raccoon was still alive and in its death throes when I opened the front door about 11:00pm to take our dog out.

Our dog, Daisy, hesitated, then looked out the front door while I was still trying to figure out where the animal cries were coming from. I walked to the edge of the driveway and saw the bobcat struggling to drag the raccoon across the street and into the oak woods on the other side. Daisy joined me, standing silently at my side with her ears up, staring at the commotion going on in the street. Every hair on her body was standing straight out. She didn’t understand what was happening, but she knew she wanted no part of it.

While we struggle with taxes and explosive growth, Florida is still Florida. Many newcomers don’t comprehend how primitive some of our areas still are. Most don’t know the difference between an osprey and a vulture or an otter and an opossum. Many watch nature only on television, or the mechanical variety of wildlife found safely at Orlando’s amusement parks. The closest most get is the swamp tour at Babcock Ranch or the treetops walkway at the Myakka River State Park. They enjoy our wonderful climate and our sub-tropical wilderness and expect to be relatively safe from dangerous critters as they go about their daily lives.

Of course, the most dangerous critters are people like me. Newspaper writers and contributors who have the ability to have their opinions printed (well, some of them anyway) and try to convey their beliefs as public opinion. That has the effect of ad hoc community leadership. While I try to be informative about the business arena, I can’t help but comment on issues I believe to be important. Whether that skirts the business column guidelines depends on the editors. They pulled my column on China, but not other writer’s columns on their political viewpoints. We sometimes forget the goal is not just self-serving, but to satisfy the needs of the readership. In doing so, the readership will continue to grow. Hopefully, without uncalled for attacks on our law enforcement agencies or our County and City Governments.

Our Board of County Commissioners has undergone stress and trauma, due partly to a hurricane, but mostly to bad legal advice and a relentless attack by writers who honestly believe they are upholding the moral requirements of their media positions in front of the uninformed public.

As I look forward to next year, I hope we can maintain the atmosphere of managed growth and a true concern for our citizens in the spirit of the Commissioners who have served us well in the incredibly trying times of hurricane recovery.

It will be an interesting year!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

George Mindling Column 9-9-2005


Fill Up Now; Gas Prices Will Continue Rising


Watching the spiraling gas prices that seem to go on endlessly without a public outcry has me curious. Why aren’t you up in arms about gas prices? Because this time around you pay for it with your bank credit card. While listening to Dave Ramsey on CBS’s “60 Minutes” I realized why the doubling of gasoline prices in less than 10 months has been accepted by most of the American public with only minor grumbling. We simply don’t feel the pain! It just gets added to the nebulous world of the “minimum payment due” and life goes on.

The last major gas crisis was felt a little differently by consumers. There were few self-service gas stations in 1974, more in 1979, but most of us paid with cash. There were gas company credit cards, but in those days, stations didn’t honor competitor’s cards. Master card and Visa were not accepted at gas stations just a few short years ago. Paying out of your wallet is real time pain. Paying by credit card is just the new way of American Life: “Debt up to your eyeballs” as one television commercial puts it.

I have even heard defense of the price increases using the fuzzy logic that they pay more in Europe! If we paid what they pay in gasoline taxes, we would have a highway system to rival the Germans. Imagine a world without potholes and drainage running down your neighborhood streets. The taxes Europeans pay on their gasoline helps fund a social infrastructure we don’t have. Let’s compare apples to apples, cost versus price, or markup. Why would you pay for gasoline what the Europeans pay without the benefits they receive?

With the coming automotive explosion in China, the demand for gasoline will increase while the price continues to climb. Even the inscrutable Chinese have imposed minimum fuel economy standards for new cars sold in China. By 2008, cars there must get 43 miles per gallon. There is no “Fleet Average” the way we do it. The car must get the required mileage, period! There is a sliding scale, but it is far tighter than ours. Don’t count on many US made SUV’s being sold there. Volkswagen Germany, incidentally, now sells more VWs in China than in Germany.

Matt Savinar, who maintains the Life After The Oil Crash website at: http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/Index.html, expounds the phenomenon of “Peak Oil.” He quotes Dick Cheney, who in 1999 while CEO of Halliburton, said:

By some estimates, there will be an average of two-percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three-percent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional 50 million barrels a day.” 

Whoa! Give me back that credit card application I just threw in the trash. Quick, call up the banks and raise all my credit card limits. I have some serious topping off to do.

George Mindling

George Mindling Column 7-8-2005


Don't Let Your DVDs Turn into 'Saucers"


Many people have found that VHS videotapes may be less than a perfect way to save old memories. Many of my old VHS tapes are already stretched or distorted leaving me wondering how long before they are useless? What about the DVDs? How long before this “new” medium becomes unreliable? If you put paper adhesive labels on DVDs, you may have a problem immediately.

Writing DVDs, or “burning” as it is commonly called, no longer requires a personal computer. There are now DVD recorders that burn a blank DVD without any need for a PC. Many of today’s new DVD recorders have both VHS and DVD capabilities in the same unit and can copy from DVD to tape or tape to DVD. Making a copy of your last vacation video now only requires putting in the tape and a blank DVD. As usual with technology and competing companies, there are different format DVDs just as there was BetaMax and VHS. The difference is almost all new players will play back both the DVD+ and DVD- formats. The R/W formats may be different so checking the manuals is a must!

Almost all label manufacturers claim to overcome peeling and adhesive problems with CD/DVD labels, even the issue of imbalance has been minimized. What has come to light recently involves heat and the distortion of the disc as it heats up in the DVD player.

A quick check if you have this problem with a labeled disc is to take a disc that fails and hold it between two good, factory labeled, or even new blank disks. Hold the three disks between your thumb and forefinger and look at the disks from the edge. The distortion of the center disc will be obvious. The center disk has become a "saucer."  The distortion pulls the media out and away from the pick up laser.

Both CDs and DVDs write from the inside out, just the opposite from the old vinyl record players of the past that put the tonearm on the outside of a disc to start playing. As a result, a full CD or DVD has the end of the program material on the most susceptible portion of the disc, the outer edge. The outer edge of the disc shows the most distortion as the DVD or CD heats up. Letting the disc cool off seems to always temporarily fix the problem.

The problem does not appear to be limited to DVDs either. Home labeled CDs used in car players have always had problems playing an entire CD without skipping or dropping out after they got hot. Basically, one side of the disc expands, the other does not, resulting in the saucer shaped disc that won’t play back.

Marking up your precious DVDs with a marking pen will solve the problem and is a sure incentive to better penmanship.

George Mindling

Monday, October 24, 2011

George Mindling Column 10-29-2004

Handle Credit, Debit Cards With Care 


Not many messages left on your telephone answering machine are as distressing as the message from your credit card company's security division that asks you to call immediately. 

A quick telephone call and we were relieved to find the credit card company had stopped a series of transactions initiated on line by someone who had pilfered our account number. Whoever used our account number didn't have the expiration date, so our company disallowed the charges and froze the account. 

The aggravation of having a new account number and waiting on new cards is well worth the security of not having to worry about being billed for someone else's criminal intent. We had considered debit cards, and had decided to stay with our credit cards instead. The difference between credit cards and debit cards comes into sharp focus on the BCSalliance.com web page. 

According to BCSalliance.com, known as Best Credit Solutions, "The biggest advantage of debit cards is convenience. Not only do you not have to carry cash, you don't run up interest charges like you would with a credit card. The major disadvantage of using debit cards is that they might not afford you the financial protection that credit cards do as regards fraud. 

If your credit card is stolen, you will only be required to pay $50.00, if you must pay anything at all. However, if your debit card is stolen, a thief can use it at many locations without being required to have access to a PIN number. Money lost from your bank account in this manner is not refundable. 

And thieves don't have to have your actual card. If they acquire your number, they can drain your checking account entirely. However, both Visa and Mastercard offer a $50 limit on liability on fraudulent charges made with the debit cards they issue. But does your local bank?" 

The "easy pickings" people are looking to take your money every way they can. There are several hints for every debit or check card transaction: 
  • Verify the amount that has been punched in by the cashier before completing the transaction; 
  • Ensure that you are using the correct debit or check card and that there is cash in the account. At some banks a charge is incurred when a transaction is declined for lack of funds;
  • Make sure that you are fully aware of the charges that will be incurred for each transaction; 
  • Ensure that you receive a bill and a copy of your transaction record. Keep your records and make your entries into your checkbook register as soon as you can.
  • Always keep your Personal Identification Number (PIN) confidential. Do not disclose it to anyone.
  • Make sure your choice of card protects you in case of account number or card theft. You can minimize your losses by carefully choosing the card that best suits your needs and finances while offering loss protection. The difference between a $50 charge and having your checking account cleaned out is something to weigh carefully, especially of your savings account is used as overdraw protection against your checking account.

George Mindling © 2004

George Mindling Column 10-15-2004


Cell Phone Sellers Don't Need Deals


The young girls in front of us screamed and jumped up, cheering as if they had actually watched the really great combination lateral and forward pass that scored a touchdown for the Port Charlotte Pirates football team. They were among many of attendees at the game who were there for something even more socially important: The Great American Cell Phone Flip and Call Contest!

Cellular phones were everywhere, especially in the crowded lawn between the stands and the ticket booth. No one could see the game from there, but no one seemed to care. The social interaction under the old oak trees on this beautiful early autumn evening was at an epidemic proportion. Chatting and laughing, punching numbers on tiny, lighted telephones and plugging fingers into open ears was the order of the evening. Rarely was a group of kids seen without at least one member being on a cell phone. Sometimes every one in the group had a cell phone held tightly against their head, totally oblivious to the world around them. The sea of youthful exuberance represented what cell phone companies love, a sense that if you didn't have a phone, you need to get one.

With the saturation of the domestic U.S. cell phone market changing the way cell phone manufacturers and service providers market and bill their customers, many of the old incentives for signing on with a given company are gone. The old free phones with signing a long term contract has crept up to now only partial reimbursement for a phone, often less than 50% rebate for signing a contract. Often the phone itself is an obsolete model that won't be offered next year.

Some special deals are based on one or two-year contracts, but read the contract carefully. The charge for breaking a contract seems to be an industry standard of $175.00.

Most cell phones have a one-year warranty, so be careful with a two-year contract. A special warranty or insurance package for the telephone is usually around $6 a month in addition to your regular service charge, but there may be a $50 deductible for a replacement telephone, depending on your policy. Without the insurance, the replacement telephone is strictly up to you. You just can't buy any cellular phone and expect your cell phone service to work. The phone has to be one the carrier services. You can bring your old number to a carrier, but not your old telephone.

If you haven't signed up for a wireless calling plan, check the J.D. Powers page for a customer satisfaction survey about wireless service at: http://www.jdpower.com/cc/telecom/index.jsp

According to the J.D. Power survey released September 9th, 2004, "overall satisfaction performance with wireless service providers has increased 5 percent over 2003, the first time a significant increase has been achieved on a year-to-year basis in three years."

The survey also states the average reported per-minute cost has lowered to 14 cents. Tell that to the parents who foot the bill for the newest, must-have cell phones when the first bill comes.

George Mindling

Saturday, October 22, 2011

George Mindling Column 02-10-2006

The Bedbug Letter

Note: The following article was published in the Charlotte Sun Herald, but has been omitted from their on-line archives

Sending an irate letter has always been a wonderful way to blow off steam. That’s exactly how some executives view complaint letters they receive but have no intention of addressing, especially if responding to the letter will needlessly cost them money. The executive concept is to simply throw some oil on the troubled waters with a response that shows remorse and regret and go on about business as usual without changing anything. The oil is called “The Bedbug Letter.”

Variations of the letter have been around for years, and have even been a subject of a book by John Bear, “Send the Jerk the Bedbug Letter!” The original story, according to Snopes.com, dates back to 1889 when a Mr. Phineas P. Jenkins wrote a letter to George M. Pullman complaining about bedbugs found in his railway coach. Mr. Pullman’s response letter to Mr. Jenkins was heartfelt and apologetic, but unfortunately also inadvertently included the memo Pullman had written to his secretary. The memo said: “Sarah – Send this S.O.B. the bedbug letter!”

According to Rosalie Maggio, author of “How to Say It,” a secretary’s bible, the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, receives over two thousand complaints a month. She also mentions a multifoods corporation that receives over three hundred thousand complaints a year.

No executive in this day and age of instant communication wants to be the recipient of damaging negative publicity. One of the first actions Bill Cobb took as the new President of eBay North America was to put his e-mail address on the site to address complaints. He also reduced the automated e-mail responses and replaced them with real people answering the e-mails.

If you complain about a problem or poor service, how do you know if the response letter you get back is a real response or simply a “Bedbug Letter?” Not every letter you write or e-mail you send will stand out from the others that may also have been sent. Maggio suggests putting yourself in the place of the person receiving your complaint letter. Unless your goal is to just blow off steam or get revenge, a little thought about what you say may make a considerable difference in what the response will be.

First, be factual, and have your supporting documentation ready. Include copies that are appropriate. State clearly what action or solution you expect as a result of your complaint. If possible, give a reasonable deadline for action. If you have names of witnesses or any other details about the incident to support your complaint, include them in your letter. There are several other variations of what to include Maggio says, but make sure to express confidence that the matter will be taken care of to your satisfaction.

State the problem briefly and fairly, but avoid accusations, sarcasm, or abuse, and do not threaten to sue. Leave that announcement to your attorney. Unless, of course, all you really want to get is a “Bedbug Letter.”

George Mindling

George Mindling Column 03-15-2002

More Than Just Numbers


Note: The following article was published in the Charlotte Sun Herald, but has been omitted from their on-line archives


Sarasota, Lee and Collier counties are having economic expansion that Charlotte County does not share. What do they have to attract business? How are they doing it? Take a look at Lee County's Web site at http://www.leecountybusiness.com/. With 15 full time members on it's staff, the Lee County Economic Development Office takes full advantage of everything from the International Airport to the sunshine and water. Cape Coral advertises itself with the phrase, "You'll like the attitude in Paradise," with a half page ad in the Florida Small Business magazine. Simply stated, as a community, we have to have the desire for economic growth, the attitude that says you'll love it here and we'll do our best to prove it, and that is the critical first step.

According to the Economic Development Office, the average salary in Charlotte County last year was $23,845, up from the previous $22,554. That is salary per wage earner, not the family median income, which according to the latest HUD figures, is around $43,000. According to those figures, every wage earning family in Charlotte County has to have two wage earners. Either both husband and wife work, or as is the case with many families, the single parent has to hold down two, sometimes three jobs. There are many such families in Charlotte County. The average income in the United States was $35,305, and the average income for the State of Florida was $30,038! The average income in Charlotte County is over $6000 less than the state average!

It was discouraging to listen to the Economic Development Office's annual presentation to the County Commissioners on February 26. The presentation, done in the standard Microsoft PowerPoint format, was available on line at as an agenda item on the updated County Commission Web Page. The Economic Development Office only presented the first five slides before handing the podium over to the President of the Chamber of Commerce, only four minutes into the presentation. The information was presented in single slides of Business Environment, Enterprise Charlotte, Representatives, and one of "Visioning." There were four more slides on S.W.O.T., or Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and then the show was turned over to Janet Watermeier, executive director of the Economic Development Office of Lee County. Janet did the bulk of the presentation, finishing with slides that were not included in the on-line agenda. There was no warm, fuzzy feeling realizing Charlotte County couldn't give its own report.

After the presentation, Commissioners thanked the EDO office for all the wonderful work, but only Matt DeBoer added any substance to the presentation. DeBoer, as a member of Enterprise Charlotte, had attended the subcommittee workshops, and even commented on impact fees and utility connect fees. The current practice of not disclosing impact fees until the time the Certificate of Occupancy is awarded is but one of many problems. More than one commissioner responded with blank stares. If only one Commissioner does their homework, Charlotte County is in deep economic trouble in the future. It will take more than one Commissioner to make that critical first step.

George Mindling
Port Charlotte, Florida

George Mindling Column 12-20-2002

Killing The Goose



Note: The following article was published in the Charlotte Sun Herald, but has been omitted from their on-line archives


We slowed and turned off US-41 at Monroe Station onto Loop road, the fifteen mile dirt road that years ago had been a logging road back into what is now part of the Big Cypress Preserve. We thought we would help the South Florida economy by taking a Thanksgiving weekend vacation in Key West, and we were going to show our friends who had accompanied us a different view of the glades by taking a short detour off of the beaten track. We had only gone a few, slow, dusty miles when our friend Joanie jokingly asked if we really "saw wildlife back here." No sooner had she asked when a bear blustered onto the dirt road not thirty feet in front of us. The bear looked up, than scampered across the road into the hammock leaving only ripples in the shallow water next to the road. It took several seconds before everyone yelled, "A Bear!!!" It was gone before anyone could open a camera bag.

You might as well tell people you saw a skunk ape as tell them you saw a bear, no one is going to believe you. I didn't want to tell anyone anyway, especially the Park Service. They might pass a rule requiring 37 per cent fewer driveways as a means of reducing automobile traffic that endangers wildlife.

Our daughter and her fiancee flew in from Atlanta on the newly inaugurated daily non stop flight to meet us Thanksgiving evening and helped us celebrate my coincidental birthday. I couldn't help but tell of my marvelous birthday present of seeing the bear. My daughter has spent time out there with me in the past, seeing alligators and otters, tree snails and pigs, a multitude of wading birds, but never a bear. We began to discuss the future of our beloved Florida and the wonder of ecological recovery. We had made trips years ago to see the wood stork, then endangered and remembered not too long ago when even alligators were endangered. The discussion turned to the organizations that supposedly exist to protect and enrich our environment when the subject of phosphate mining came up.

All of the so called "environment friendly" 501C3 tax free organizations are conspicuous by their absence from the fight against phosphate mining, yet oddly enough, these tax exempt organizations are beginning to dictate how the average citizen will live on a daily basis.

Florida's precious future is more important than a few ill conceived laws designed to restrict rights of individual property owners and taxpayers. There is room here for people and the creatures that make our state so unique. Every boater I know has gone out of his or her way to avoid porpoises and manatees. What is more thrilling than watching wildlife that can be seen in your own backyard or from your own boat. Hopefully, Florida will respond with the intelligence required to balance growth and our environment. But that has to be now, not in the future.

George Mindling 

George Mindling Column 6-10- 2005

Caveat Emptor



Note: The following article was published in the Charlotte Sun Herald, but has been omitted from their on-line archives


An upset customer was in front of me, perplexed and mad that she had been sold an empty box. The box should have contained an electronic device of some kind, I couldn’t tell what. Perhaps a cell phone or a personal digital assistant of some sort, but when she got home and opened the box she found it was empty.

The young salesman was apologetic, and almost as confused as the customer. After watching from the back of the sales counter for several minutes, the manager finally walked over and without saying a word, replaced the empty box with one from under the counter. After opening the box to prove this one contained the product, the customer, still upset, placed her receipt and the new box back in the shopping bag and left.
The young clerk began telling the manager he had no idea he had sold the box from a store display unit and that it wouldn’t happen again. The manager said dryly, “Too bad she opened it!” He was quite serious as he carefully replaced the empty box back under the counter. He turned and walked away, leaving the salesman with his mouth open.

Caveat Emptor was definitely the business model for this retailer. Latin for "Let the buyer beware", Caveat Emptor is the idea that buyers take responsibility for the condition of the items they purchase and should examine them before purchase. If you don’t have a written warranty or guarantee when you buy a product or service, you expose yourself to this type of problem.

With today’s consumers spending more time doing Internet research before entering a store, retailers find some customers are well informed of prices and features before they ever enter the store. On line buying is slowly becoming more popular, especially when free shipping is offered. Even with the traditional retail outlets, consumers are arming themselves with competitive quotes and comparisons before talking with salespeople.

The more expensive the product, the more likely on line research is used prior to actually making a purchase. According to an article in the April 2nd-8th 2005 issue of “The Economist”, even Ford Motor Company is finding that eight of ten customers have already used the internet to decide what car they want to buy and what they are willing to pay before they arrive at the showroom floor.

No amount of planning or research, however, can take the place of caution or prudence when making the actual purchase. Knowing what recourse you have with the retailer should you be dissatisfied with your purchase should be a major part of your decision to do business with any store or seller. Dealing with an individual seller is a matter of personal risk. From goats to go karts, bargaining has always been part of dealing with individual owners and sellers. When it comes to a nationally known retailer though, customers tend to not be as skeptical with a purchase. Caveat Emptor indeed.


George Mindling 

George Mindling Column 01-14-2005

Are Retirement Cruise Ships a Good Idea?


As a realist, the idealistic argument by Drs. Lee A. Lindquist and Robert M. Golub for permanent retirement cruising immediately draws my interest. Particularly since my wife and I love to cruise.

The Northwestern University doctors have proposed permanent retirement cruising as an alternative to assisted-living facilities on land. I have already written about several issues I see as problem areas in their plan, but have since re-evaluated parts of my position. Even realists can be flexible.

However, my new opinion is based on one, very basic change to their proposal. That change is the retirement cruise ship never leave port. Kind of like the battleships USS North Carolina in Wilmington or the USS Alabama permanently anchored in Mobile Bay. An almost floating, permanent structure that serves as a retirement home without actually running the engines. We now have a use for the S/S Norway, rotting away in Bremerhaven with a blown boiler.

No longer interfering with paying passengers who are actually enjoying cruising, the “semi-floating” retirement cruise ship could be operated for considerably less money than a real cruise ship and offer a whole new experience to it’s occupants.

One offside is now we would have to pay scale for the hired help instead of the $1.10 a day the average room steward makes at sea. Paying for trained personnel to take care of elderly residents would now be on par with land-based establishments, and would run the operating costs up drastically, but, hey, the inland establishments won’t have as much fresh air!


Also on the positive side, no one will get seasick! No more worries about “Cruiser’s Flu!” And you can always abandon ship without getting wet. Well, if you get off on the right side, anyway. No more life boat drills, or as I call them, the “Parade of New Shoes!” A Captain would no longer be needed! The formal dinner can now be replaced with a super-sized meal from McDonalds! In fact, you could save money by taking out the radar and ships computers. They won’t be needed.

The foreign port shopping centers such as St. Thomas will be only a distant memory. The ship can always show videos of old, prior trips! Most customers won’t care anyway, just put on QVC or the HSN. The home shopping networks are clobbering the traditional tax-free shopping centers as it is.

Now the issue of visitors is solved! Since Homeland Security won’t be concerned about leaving the country, visitors will be allowed on and off without being screened! And the kids can leave whenever they want. No more waiting to return to homeport to end a reunion gone wrong!

If the ship were docked in Mississippi or Louisiana, the old casino could be put to good use. That in itself would give some developers the taste for a case study. Plus, the prestige address of living on a cruise ship must be worth some marketing up-lift. The good doctors from Northwestern may be on to something after all!

George Mindling 

Friday, October 21, 2011

George Mindling Column 9-24-2004

Dealing With Damaged PCs


As Internet cable and telephone services are slowly restored to our hurricane damaged area, people once again turn on their PCs and attempt to log onto the Internet. E-mails are backed up beyond capacity for many users as some people haven’t checked their messages since August 13th.

Some Personal Computers were waterlogged and many were covered with debris from collapsing ceilings. A few people actually covered their systems with garbage bags before the storm, a simple but effective way to protect personal computers and printers from contamination. Most PCs, however, were not protected from Hurricane Charley.

While many people simply brush off the unit and plug it in, PCs that were subjected to the elements should be checked by someone qualified to say whether or not a unit is safe to power on. Powering up a PC subjected to obvious water contamination is a good way to fry a power supply or a system board. A hard drive is usually pretty safe, although I had one fail yesterday. Connectors and cables may show signs of rust or corrosion that will lead to premature failure. In the case of a hard drive that comes back to life after being subjected to the elements, don’t be surprised if the life expectancy is shortened considerably. If you are lucky enough to get your machine to cooperate, copy the hard drive’s data to a back up source as soon as possible. The best bet is new hard drive at worst, a new PC at best. Saving your data to CDs or DVDs is almost mandatory. A PC that has been sitting idle for an extended time may not power up without groans of protestation as the hard drive tries to attain operating speed. Sometimes the noise is a bad fan, but that is another problem that will lead to overheating the processor chip or the memory chips.

There are many ways to back up your systems, from the older tape drives to RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Drives) disk arrays. I use a mirror hard drive to back up my programs and data. In other words, I have two identical hard drives in my PC. One used normally, the other is an exact duplicate of the main drive. I use a commercially available disk copy program to copy the data from one to the other.

I hadn’t backed up the complete system since April, and yesterday my C, or main drive, failed completely. The drive motor died and nothing will make it spin again. Effectively, the drive is useless. I had backed up my financial data on CD the day before the hurricane, so reloading current data was no problem. I had to load several program updates that weren’t on the back up drive, but that only took a couple of hours and I am again writing on my PC. Now I need to backup the new drive. I know it will fail eventually, I just don’t know when.

George Mindling ©  2004

George Mindling Column 10-8-2004

Groups Must Step Up


The first thing to catch my eye was a stack of bumper stickers stacked neatly on the corner of the reception desk. “I’m Pro-Business and I Vote!” the red, white and blue message proudly proclaimed at the office of the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce office in Watkinsville, Georgia.

I had stopped by for a local map, and ended up intrigued by this small, unassuming county just south of Athens, Georgia. I wanted to find their quaint old-fashioned covered bridge featured in their local brochures, and instead found an active, involved Chamber of Commerce (http://www.occoc.org). What a pleasant surprise to talk to the woman who put her purse back on her desk and chatted with me even though I had walked in to the office right at the closing hour.

The attitudes of the local merchants and Chamber members seem to reflect the commitment found in most Chambers of Commerce. What I saw as a major difference was the involvement of their economic development committee in the highway planning of a major artery in their area. They are actively engaged in the highway planning process, especially whether to adapt a policy encouraging a toll on the major four-lane divided highway between Atlanta and Athens. Its development is an important piece of future economic growth. Four different government agencies and committees attended a recent highway development forum held by the Committee. That kind of involvement will result in the community reaping benefits that might otherwise be lost.

The economic and business profile of Charlotte County will get a face lift following Hurricane Charley, but whether it gets a major overhaul is doubtful. The dependency on small, service-oriented businesses will not change. Our current workforce is generally stressed to make the financial obligations incurred as a result of Hurricane Charley. Many are on unemployment and will not find work in their old locations for months to come. Many cannot even afford the deductibles on their homeowners insurance.

The simple truths about home ownership here will dictate some changes. Not all retirees on fixed incomes will be able to afford the expected increases in home and hurricane insurance. The assessed values on homes will continue to increase, and many may find the cost of home ownership here beginning to feel like the rest of Florida. The areas devastated by Hurricane Charley will have more than a few homes subjected to the 50% rule, where the current structure must be demolished and rebuilt from scratch in accordance with current building laws. The new homes will reflect newer styles and facades and may entice new builders to the damaged neighborhoods. Unfortunately, many home sites will sit abandoned for extended periods while insurance and mortgage companies resolve issues with bankrupt owners who simply move away.

Hurricane Charley will be the catalyst that pries our community, like it or not, out of the past and into the current state of Florida. Now is the time for all business organizations, from the business alliances and the Chamber of Commerce to take real leadership roles in our rebuilding process. 

George Mindling