Career Advice

career adviceThe Internet is full of career advice.

“Chose a field that pays well.” Doctor or lawyer is the classic answer, though investment banker seems to be making headway.

“Choose a field that’s going to be in great demand.” Gerontology and physical therapy are good bets given the aging of my generation.

“Choose a field with great security.” Work for the city or the state, perhaps.

“Choose a field where you can help people.” Very noble.

And, of course, that old standby, “Do what you love.” Hey, I like doing crossword puzzles, but nobody will pay me to do that.

But seriously, I have one more piece of advice to add to all those good suggestions above and it’s this.

Choose a career that puts you in contact with smart people, good people, positive people, happy people, constructive people, creative people.

Avoid a career that puts you in contact with stupid people, bad people, negative people, depressing people, destructive people, dull people.

If you choose the former, the people around you will help you lead an enjoyable life characterized by perpetual improvement. Teaching is an obvious possibility here, but any knowledge-based field where learning and progress is prized is a candidate.

If you choose the latter, the people around you may prove a burden, your view of the future may dim, and you’ll find yourself counting the years until retirement. Policemen seem to be at great risk here, along with other people who tend to deal with criminals.

In fact, this is why policemen tend to develop such solidarity with their colleagues; it’s to defend against the big bad world they encounter every day. But solidarity doesn’t bring happiness or enlightenment or improvement. It only brings protection, and limited protection at that.

Bottom line: if you’ve got a good brain, and you want to take advantage of it for your entire life, choose a career that helps you make the most of it, where you’re surrounded by people who can make a positive contribution.

Moon Dude

In a world of big, complicated and expensive video games, it’s refreshing to find one that’s small, easy and free—a game you can play on your iPhone or iPad whenever you have a few free minutes.

Moon Dude has one main character, an expressive little orange cuboid with rounded corners who has the uncanny ability to stick to walls. Your job is the shoot him higher and higher by flicking your finger up the screen, moving him from side to side.

moon-dude-arcade-style-platformer-game

Moon Dude, an Arcade-Style Platformer

The higher Moon Dude gets, the less gravity there is.

But watch out for monsters!

Moon Dude, Watch Out for Monsters!

Moon Dude, Watch Out for Monsters!

If Moon Dude falls down, either by slipping off a wall or as a result of touching a monster, you have to start again. But that’s easy.

And as Moon Dude achieves new heights, he gets some new hats to wear. Which is cool.

Last but not least, Moon Dude was created by my son-in-law Nick Jensen and my son, Henry Lutts. Try it. It’s free!


Moon Dude: Available on iTunes
Description:
A new kind of addictive, endless arcade-style platformer. You’re Moon Dude! A funny little cuboid who can stick to walls. Swipe anywhere on the screen to jump, and tilt when piloting your rocket.

Compatibility:
Requires iOS 8.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5 and iPhone 6.

Global Meatballs

All over the world, everybody loves meatballs. But until now, there’s never been a cookbook dedicated to exploring them as thoroughly as this new book, Global Meatballs, edited by my very talented daughter, Adeline Lutts Myers.
Global MeatballsJust published by Quarry Books, the 176-page book has recipes for meatballs made from beef, pork, chicken, fish, lentils, potatoes and much more, many of which were new to me.
poultry-ballsI was one of the lucky tasters of the recipes, and while I can’t say I tried them all, I will say that all the recipes are based on time-tested traditional meatballs from their various cultures, and all have been fine-tuned for today’s American kitchen by Adeline, who’s an excellent cook. So I know they’re delicious!
moroccan-chard-chickpeas-fish-ball-tagineIf you think you’ll be in the mood for meatballs soon, check it out. The book is available on Amazon here. Bon Appetit!

Wildflowers of Cabot Farm

Over the past spring, summer and fall, as Julie and I took our daily walks around Cabot Farm (sometimes two or three a day) with Layla (that’s Layla, posing), Julie picked and photographed every variety of wildflower we encountered, gathered pertinent data about each one, and created individual digital pages describing each flower.Layla In the end, the effort yielded 93 varieties of wildflowers, which though it is probably not a complete collection of what’s on the farm, is certainly a lot.

It took a lot of time, but as a labor of love, it was fun.

What wasn’t fun was transforming those 93 digital pages into a useful physical form—but Julie did it, and the result is this beautiful book, Wildflowers of Cabot Farm! (actual dimensions 6” x 8.5“)

wildflowers-150 copies of the book were printed and bound by Staples, and Julie and my mother then distributed them among various family members and other people who appreciate wildflowers.

Below are a few sample pages.

wildflowers-2wildfowers-2awildflowers-3wildflowers-4wildflowers-5wildflowers-6

Without doubt, in the years ahead we will discover some varieties of flowers on the farm that are not included in the book. At the same time, it’s almost certain that some of the varieties in this book will disappear from the farm in the future, and thus the book will be very useful in monitoring the changes in flora over time.

I think it’s a great book and I’m very proud of my wife!

For more of her work, check out julieshawlutts.com

And, her digital app, The CuRiOuS Alphabet, a free app in the Apple app store here.

Comprise

Once upon a time, the word “comprise” was rarely encountered.

It had a special function, and that function was infrequently required by writers.

But over the past few decades (by my unscientific measurement) the word comprise has become far more common, not because its specialized function has become more needed but because it’s been slowly usurping the word “compose.”

For example, historically, one would say, “The United States of America is composed of fifty states.” or “Water is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.”

But nowadays, you can easily hear or read. “The United States of America is comprised of fifty states.” or “Water is comprised of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.”

So what’s wrong with that?

Well, comprise, until the past few decades, was never followed by “of.”

comprise

Comprise, in its original meaning, meant “embrace” or “contain” and thus the proper way to use comprise would be “The United States of America comprises fifty states.” or “Water comprises two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.”

Comprise, used in that sense, is an active verb. To use comprise properly, you would remember that the whole comprises the parts. Alternatively, if you wanted to write in a passive sense by using compose, you would remember that the whole is composed of the parts.

In short compose and comprise have traditionally been two very different—and not interchangeable—words.

So why have people increasingly been using “comprised of” instead of “composed of?”

Because it sounds smarter.

In the same way, some people choose the word utilize instead of use. (Fortunately, unlike compose and comprise, those have roughly the same meaning)

Similarly the previously incorrect phrase “between you and I” has become accepted; it sounds more intelligent than “between you and me.”

Why does it matter, as long as you are understood?

Some people (including me) learn the language rules when young and never forget them. For us, the phrase “is comprised of” will always be grating. The most irritating of these rule-bound people are known as prescriptivists, as they are always prescribing how language should be used. (I try not to be one of them.)

But other people either forget the rules far more easily or just find it easier to ignore them, and it’s because of these people, whose language is most fluid (and whom I’ve noticed are generally the most socially adaptable people), that the English language evolves, just as society evolves.

This is actually a good thing. Few of us would like to be speaking the language spoken in England 1,000 years ago.

(For example, in 1014, Wulftsan, Archbishop of York, included the following in one of his sermons.)

La hwæt, we witan ful georne þæt to miclan bryce sceal micel bot nyde, and to miclan bryne wæter unlytel, gif man þæt fyr sceal to ahte acwencan.

Technically, that was English, but only a scholar today would recognize that what we was saying was this:

Lo, we know full well that a great breach of law shall necessitate a great recompense, and a great blaze no little water, if one is to quench that fire at all.

Linguists who are not bound by rules but simply accept language the way it is used today and try to keep track of all the changes are known as descriptivists.

To them, the English language is alive, and its ability to adapt to the times is one of its greatest strengths. And even though by nature, I’m the type to remember the rules I was taught, intellectually, I embrace our language’s ability to adapt to our evolving civilization——and even, perhaps, to be the last language standing, as the forces of globalization continue to make marginal languages less valuable (but that’s a topic for another day).

The Curious Alphabet

A few months ago, my wife launched the world’s first digital artist book.

What’s an artist book?

An artist book is not a book about artists. Instead, it’s art that is book-like in some way. For example, it may have a narrative, or have elements that function as pages. You can see one-of-a-kind examples of these on her web site. Some of them are kind of expensive.

Julie Shaw Lutts

Her digital artist book, though, was designed for mass consumption, and the price is very reasonable. In fact, it’s free! All you need to do is go to the Apple Store, and download the free app.

Titled The Curious Alphabet, it consists of 26 short, stop-motion animation videos—one for each letter of the alphabet.

It’s guaranteed to make you smile, whether you’re 5 or 95—but kids in particular love it.

It works on an iPhone but it’s best on an iPad, because of all the detail.

Here’s a still from the letter A.

Letter-A-Julie-LuttsAnd here’s a link to the free download, at the Apple Store: The Curious Alphabet

Just note, it’s a relatively large app, so it takes time to download—you’ll want to be on a WiFi network. But it’s worth it.

FYI, my favorite letters are K (for the mild violence) and Y (for the animal).

To date, The Curious Alphabet has been downloaded by people in 34 countries, including Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Nepal and the United Arab Emirates. But she wants more people to enjoy it!

So download it. Share it. And please rate the app. You’ll make my wife very happy!

“The artist brings something into the world that didn’t exist before and he does it without destroying something else.”

-John Updike-

A Few Thoughts on Communism

I haven’t been to Russia, North Korea or Cuba, so I have no first-hand knowledge of heavy-duty communism.

But I have been to China, Ukraine and Grenada, so I have some experience with communism-light.

Grenada?

It’s a little island in the Caribbean, down toward Venezuela, with a flag that looks like this. I was there this winter for a very relaxing one-week vacation.

granada flag

The country’s chief business is agriculture, particularly spices like nutmeg, mace and vanilla. But what most folks remember about Grenada—dimly—is that the U.S. once invaded Grenada.

To simplify, back in 1983, the government of Grenada was leaning toward communism, abetted by Russia and Cuba, among others. But some people in Grenada were impatient with the country’s leaders, thinking they should change faster. So there was a coup—in which the Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, was killed. This worried the leaders of the neighboring islands, so they asked for help, and Ronald Reagan obliged, sending in U.S. forces just six days later.

After a few days, the rebels were ousted, and less than two months later, all U.S. forces were withdrawn from the island.

The following year, the island’s airport—whose expansion had been a factor in justifying the U.S. invasion—was completed, and unveiled by Fidel Castro. It was renamed for Maurice Bishop in 2009. And today, communism is nowhere in sight.

In fact, the government—which follows the British model (people drive on the left, too)—is rather conservative. People have seen the prosperity that tourism can bring, and today Grenada’s GDP per capita is a substantial $12,000.

As to other Communist countries:

China I visited in 2007, when it was already well along in its transition from communism to something I might call capitalist socialism. Today it’s even further along—buying more cars than the U.S., for example—and trends are very positive, economically. GDP per capita is $6,800 and climbing, not least because the Chinese are so industrious. But the country retains a very strong culture of imperialism, and there’s no sense that its leaders are even considering the benefits that a truly democratic free society can bring.

Ukraine I visited in 2010, to attend a wedding that was absolutely marvelous. But fear of the government was high in the country because corruption was a fact of life. (A car we were riding in, for example, driven by the cousin of the bride, was stopped for no particular reason; policemen were just looking for bribes.) So today, as Ukraine works to break free from the grip of Russia, I sympathize, and I wish them well. Last year Ukraine’s GDP per capita was just $3,800.

Russia, by contrast, has a GDP per capita of $14,600, in part because of its mineral wealth. But Russia is losing power, because it is not evolving.

Venezuela also has a relatively high GDP per capita of $11,527, thanks to oil.

Cuba, close to the U.S. geographically but oh so far politically, has a GDP per capita of $6,500.

And North Korea is particularly poor, with a GDP per capita of just $1,200.

Note: technically, Russia’s government is a Federal semi-presidential constitutional republic, while Venezuela is a Federal presidential constitutional republic, Ukraine is a unitary semi-presidential republic and North Korea is technically a hereditary single-party state.

Whatever you call them, they are not countries that we envy, and they are not countries that attract immigrants.

China has a bright future because it has changed its government in recent decades, and Ukraine as well can prosper if it can get free of the grip of Russia. But change takes time, in part because changing the mindset of a country’s populace takes time.

Field Trip to the Chocolate Factory

Whenever my company, Cabot Heritage, achieves a business goal, we have a celebration, which can be anything from a lunch to a brewery tour to a harbor cruise to a shopping spree at the mall. For our latest celebration, we took a tour of Harbor Sweets, Salem’s famous chocolate company, and at the end, everyone got $100 to spend on chocolates.

Plus we all got free samples to taste—several times!

chocolate factory visitHere we are in our stretchy paper hats, to make sure no hair gets in the chocolate.

Harbor Sweets was started by Ben Strohecker in 1973, just three years after Cabot was started. Today, under the guidance of current owner Phyllis B. LeBlanc, it employs about 50 people in the slow summer season and ramps up to 120 at the peak of the holiday season.

Most of the work at the chocolate factory is still done by hand, and the results prove it’s worth it.

The company’s best-selling product is the original Sweet Sloop, an almond butter crunch sailboat with a white chocolate jib floating on dark chocolate, with pecan sea foam washing the sides. The company can churn out 28,000 Sweet Sloops a day. Also in the Classic nautical-themed line are Sand Dollars, Barque Sarah, Sweet Shells and Marblehead Mints.

Here’s some Sweet Sloops in production.

sweet-sloops

Years ago, Phyllis introduced Dark Horse Chocolates (Peanut Butter Ponies, Trophy Assortment, Equestrian Fabric Box & The Milk Chocolate Hunt Collection) to cater to dark chocolate lovers, and this year the company rolled out a new line of hand-crafted truffles called Salt & Ayre. Made with 70 percent dark chocolate, the new line includes Chai, Café au Lait, Hazelnut and Espresso, Caramel with pink Himalayan Sea Salt, Crystalized Ginger with Thai Ginger Sea Salt, and Almond Buttercrunch Toffee, garnished with Chipotle Sea Salt.

My favorite is the ginger, but they’re all delicious.

So if you find yourself in Salem, stop by for a look, and a sample. Harbor Sweets is a great local small business, and its products are miles better than the mass market chocolate churned out by Hershey, Nestle, Mars, etc.

The Economy

A recent Huffington Post Headline read, LEAST PRODUCTIVE CONGRESS EVER. To some people—those who rely on government to solve their problems—that might seem like bad news. But to me it’s good. I think we already have too many laws. When I see a law, I see red tape that slows productivity. I think that every time Congress makes a new law, they should also take one away.

In any event, there is an upside to this bickering partisan Congress. Fewer new laws means less new spending, and the result is that as federal tax revenues have grown in recent years, our national deficit has been slowly shrinking.

Take a minute to study the table below, especially if you don’t consider yourself a “numbers person.”

Federal Revenue, Spending

Receipts is what the Federal government brings in, mainly through taxes. Outlays is what it spends. And the deficit is the amount by which those expenses exceed those revues in one year. Spending more than you earn is not something you can do for long in your own household account, and it’s not something a country should do for long, either.

But the U.S. hasn’t had an annual surplus since 2001, and the increases in spending beginning in 2009—to fight the financial meltdown—resulted in deficits vastly larger than any seen before.

Happily, those deficits are now shrinking, and if the government can stay dysfunctional long enough—and thus fail to enact new expensive laws—we may actually get back to a surplus again, which would be a wonderful thing for the world to see.

Driving the Tesla Model S

by Timothy Lutts

Do you remember the first time you fell in love?

The first time you had sex?

The birth of your first child?

That’s the feeling I have right now, a week after taking delivery of my new red Tesla Model S.

my-tesla

Admittedly, some of the pleasures of driving the Tesla are slightly more intellectual than those earlier pleasures. But they’re no less enjoyable!

For example, one of the pleasures is showing people what’s under the hood. There’s nothing there, just a big empty carpeted space that could easily hold a ten-year old child. Then I show them the trunk in the back, which has even more space than the one in my last car, an Audi A6. That’s when they ask, “Where’s the engine? Where’s the battery?” Because none of that stuff is visible. The battery is entirely under the floor, between the four wheels, yet the car sits as low as a normal sedan. And the one big motor that drives the rear wheels sits right above the real axle. Somehow, it’s under that great carpeted trunk.

The best comment I’ve had yet after this show came from my nine-year-old nephew Peter, who commented, “This car should have wings.”

And it’s not just kids who are impressed.

A few days after I received the car, I took it to my local garage for the state-mandated inspection. You would think a guy working in a garage would know about Tesla. But this guy, who was perhaps 35 years old, had no clue! He asked if Tesla was a new company. He asked if the car was purely electric, like his computer said it was. And then he affixed the inspection sticker, without inspecting anything! Not even the brakes, horn or lights!

Tesla Mileage StickerHere’s the Federal-mandated sticker that came on the car.

It’s nice to think about saving $8,100 in fuel over five years—and the $7,500 Federal Tax Credit is nice, too. But the truth is, the car was expensive, and I know too much about investing to even pretend this car is a good investment. If I wanted fiscally sensible, I’d buy a three-year-old Toyota.

But here’s what I get with the Tesla.

The ability to never pump gas again, especially in inclement weather. All I do is plug it in every night (in my garage), just like I plug in my phone and my iPad.

Simplicity. I’ve been maintaining gasoline-fueled cars for nearly four decades, and it’s nice to have a car that’s so simple, the only fluid it will ever need is windshield washer fluid!

A 17-inch touch screen that controls all of the car’s functions except the windows the brake and the accelerator (I’ll get to that key item in a moment).

Those functions include:

Navigation by Google Maps, with live traffic updates showing where traffic is and isn’t.

An energy graph showing energy use over the past 5, 15 and 30 minutes.

A web browser, using the car’s 3G Internet connection.

Music, from either my phone—via Bluetooth connection or the built-in USB port—or old-fashioned AM/FM radio or my new favorite, Slacker Radio, which comes in over the Internet connection. I push a button on the steering wheel, say “Play The Rolling Stones” or “Play Beethoven” and that’s what I get. It’s almost magical.

Best of all, however, is the driving experience.

Like the Toyota Prius, the Tesla starts out quiet. (In fact, the Tesla’s coefficient of drag is even less than that of the Prius.) But unlike the Prius, which has its engine kick in eventually, the Tesla stays quiet, with only wind and tire noise growing as speed increases. I like quiet, because my music sounds better, and I really like to listen to music when I drive.

The Tesla feels really solid, in part because it’s heavy, 4700 lbs, and in part because it was designed to be stiff and strong. No doubt that helped it get the highest crash test rating in history from the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration.

Because the heavy battery pack is under the floor, the car’s center of gravity is extremely low, which makes it feel extremely stable, with very little body roll, even in tight corners. The guys at National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration couldn’t flip it.

Yet because all that electricity is on tap to drive that motor as quickly as your foot can give it instructions, the car’s response to the accelerator pedal is almost instantaneous. Zero-to-60 is 4.2 seconds, and even at highway speeds, you can mash the pedal and the vehicle will leap ahead. And that’s really fun. It’s also really different from any gasoline-powered car, which is hampered by combustion cycles and gears and all that outdated internal combustion machinery. Furthermore, the car not only accelerates really quickly if you ask it too, it also decelerates fairly quickly when you ease up on the accelerator, taking the kinetic energy of the car and turning it back to electricity to put back into the battery! This regenerative braking takes a little time to get used to, but it’s a lot of fun when you master it, and it’s a key factor in the car’s rating of 89 miles per gallon equivalent.

Earlier this year, Motor Trend named the Tesla Model S the 2013 Car of the Year and Automobile Magazine named it the 2013 Automobile of the Year.

They did the right thing.

Related: Buying a Tesla