Oh, the Memories of Hazleton

March 1997. I receive a phone call from my former fiancé stating that our son Jeremiah, who was then in kindergarten, had been disciplined for talking too much by having duct tape placed on his mouth and told to stand in a closet. Thinking that she was surely exaggerating the situation, I called the school principal expecting to find out the real truth. When he started reading from what sounded like a prepared legal statement, I knew this bizarre incident was actually true.

Baring My “Soul” on a Saturday Night

Sinclair SoulIt has been five years since I’d done this and I had sworn it off many times before. I tried doing it during several fits and starts in the early 1990s, but none of those worked. Through the years I was convinced to do it for various causes, once even in a chemotherapy unit to cheer up the patients, but none of those times worked out as planned. But this past Saturday night (08/24/13) I gave it one more shot.

I performed my music solo, without support, without a net, at the Cornerstone Coffeehouse in Camp Hill, PA. Now, for most this may not seem like a big deal, after all the Cornerstone always has solo performers playing on the weekends. But for me this was truly an event. It was a sort of mission and redemption wrapped in one. Long ago, I concluded that my musical talents lie in composing and not performing, although I have been involved in scores of rock bands and have played every major position on the field – lead vocal, guitar, bass, keyboards, drums. However, being a bit of a control freak, bands have always felt limiting and the urge to do it alone has persisted despite the consistent disasters when attempted.

What brought me out this time was the fact that I have composed a whole bunch of new songs but have not had the time nor resources to record it. I had spent five years on my previous recording project, a 33-song double CD international release called Imaginary Lines 33 , in 2009. I was also involved with a band and we recorded an album in 2010 that never got released because of internal disagreements. At that time I was pretty sure I was retired from all things music. But that pesky muse kept bothering me, and soon new song ideas started to form. I came up with the idea of “One More Rock to Roll” as an upfront declaration that this would be my last go-round. I also brought back the fictional “Sinclair Soul”, an alias I had used for years when writing articles as well as on some music projects.

The music was written on piano but had rich arrangements for several guitars and other rock instruments. I was eager to enlist many of the fine musicians I had worked with over the years as well as find a “front man” to handle the dynamic vocals, but as of mid 2013 I had not had any luck getting the recording process started. So I inquired about playing my songs solo on piano at the Cornerstone, a website client of mine and a much better alternative to performing at a bar room or any other “noisy” situation.

So, after all this background, how did the gig itself go?

In one sense it was quite a disappointment. Many of the folks I invited did not show up and I didn’t quite get the capacity crowd I had hoped for. Also, I made some really air-headed mistakes on some of the cover songs I performed (the songs which I , ironically, walked into the gig without performance worries).

However, in a larger sense Saturday’s gig was a tremendous success. I performed 14 brand new “Sinclair Soul” songs (including one so new that it doesn’t yet have a name) and each went off without a hitch. None of these songs had every been performed live for anyone except my dog and these were obviously my main focal point on Saturday’s gig. The dozen or so cover songs and three old Imaginary Lines tunes were really just there to fill up the two hour commitment.

Also, the crowd that was there was tremendous in quality if not quantity. For the first time ever, I performed music with my wife, all three sons, and mother in the audience. The rest of the audience gave me a warm reception, even if many only sat in for a song or two while they enjoyed a coffee, beverage, or ice cream cone. There was a woman in the audience who knitted throughout the first set and gave me the resultant winter hat when she was completed. There was also a tremendously talented musician in the audience named Suzi Brown who stayed for the whole gig and gave a compliment at the end and, of course, the Cornerstone staff was gracious and helpful.

Although I was hoping to perform everything perfectly and fill the place up, it didn’t quite work that way. But getting the new songs out there after all this time kind of made them real entities and not just figments of my imagination, which makes this past Saturday a very special occasion indeed.

~

SinclairSoul.com

Knocked Down by a 15-Year-Old!

My eldest son Dylan started playing football at the age of six. That year he was the youngest and smallest kid on the team, which meant he naturally got the least playing time. I volunteered to be part of the chain crew for home games and would often be on the same sideline with Dylan as he rode the bench in boredom. He soon developed a way to entertain himself. Emboldened by his full football gear, he would charge after me full speed and try to knock me down. He would even get sneaky and covert, coming at me when I’d least expect it or when my back was to him. Still, the little six-year-old was never able to succeed in his mission.

My 3 Sons
My 3 sons in 2011. L-R: Jake, Bryen, and Dylan
Later that same year (1997), Dylan’s twin brothers Jake and Bryen were born. Through all the following years of football, wrestling, slap-boxing, and Ricky-ball (don’t ask!) these boys would also try to knock me off my feet, to which I would reply; “You kids have been trying to knock me down since your oldest brother was six years old, and no one has ever succeeded.” I must admit there were some very close calls where I stumbled and nearly lost my balance, but there was no clear-cut “knockdown”.

Until this morning, that is.

My now 15-year-old son Jake had gathered together a pile of old video games to re-sell to Game Stop, which I then grabbed and jokingly told him I was going to throw in the pool. He moved to block me from getting out the door and half-heatedly swiped at me as I kept the video games out his reach. Then I started to “trash talk” saying something like “you know I can get past year you whenever I want”. To this, Jake calmly lowered his shoulder, wrapped his arms around me and “pile-drived” me right into the couch.

Now in my defense, Jake is not built like your typical 15-year-old. At a doctor’s visit a week and a half ago he measured in at 6′ 3″ and 242 lbs (and that was a week and a half ago, he may have grown since then!) But the fact remains, although it took 15 and a half years, I can no longer brag about none of my boys being able to knock me down.

Keep chasing your dreams kids, anything is possible!

 

Spring Is Here!

It is a great time to be optimistic at 33 Dimensions we have plenty of things cooking which are very exciting. First, we are now developing websites using responsive design, which adapts and optimizes for any screen size – desktop, tablet, or mobile. We’ve also partnered with some great companies to provide more convenient transactions for our customers, including Fresh Books for invoicing and expense reports and Stripe for accepting all major credit cards. We have also recently added Google Analytics and Webmaster tools for each of our customers at no additional cost.

Best of all, we have some great new websites launching in the coming weeks as well as some interesting new initiatives in the works. Stay tuned for more great stuff!

Ric Albano
Owner and Creative Director
33 Dimensions LLC

Death, Taxes, and Social Media

Facebook goes public in 2012News broke last week that, despite bring in over a billion dollars in profit last year, Facebook owes no taxes for the year 2012. Actually, the company will be getting a refund of close to a half billion dollars. This is due to a provision in the tax law that allows companies to discharge all previous losses, from their date of inception, during the year that the company goes public, as Facebook did in 2012. However, this is not necessarily a one-time windfall as Facebook may continue to get monster tax breaks in the coming years. And Facebook isn’t the only major social media company with no federal tax liability. This week it was revealed that LinkedIn has paid no federal income tax over the past three years, in spite of an estimated $160 million in profits over that time span.

The irony here is that much smaller businesses and/or individuals who promote these large companies through their social media services get no such tax breaks. In fact, I know of fellow small business owners who are struggling to meet their tax obligations at this time. Of course, social media is just one example, as similar situations exist in all trades and industries.

Politicians try to exploit such unfairness with lofty talk of “ending tax break for millionaires and billionaires.” The richest of the rich, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, often avail themselves as props for such proposals. After all, who has more to lose than the richest of the rich? And if they are in favor of higher rates, why shouldn’t we be?

But when the rubber meets the road, such as in the fiscal cliff agreement less than two months ago, these same politicians advocate that the top tax rates be raised on those who make $200,000 per year (hardly millionaires or billionaires). So the brunt of the burden is carried by the small businesses on the lower end of the spectrum and, even for those of us who don’t quite make $200K, many of our clients and customers do. As for the likes of Buffett, such rate increases make no difference because these wealthy entrepreneurs have armies of tax attorneys to offset any meager rate increase. In fact, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has been fighting the I.R.S. over an estimated $1 billion in back taxes for over a decade (how many small businesses can afford to do that?).

The only real solution is to throw out the current tax system, which is loaded with loopholes for the crafty and traps for the less-connected, and replace it with a simple and straight-forward system for absolutely everyone. Such a common-sense solution will be vehemently opposed by tax attorneys and politicians who rely on the current convoluted tax system to grant special favors, but it would unleash an era of growth and certainty for everyone involved in commerce. Then even Facebook could “invest” in the infrastructure of our country.

Stirring Up a Hornet’s Nest (Literally)

This article was orginally published at Strella Social Media on January 23, 2013.

Hornets NestThere’s an amusing little story that I’d tell my kids when they were younger. Although I did tend to exaggerate or embellish on some of the dramatic details, the core of the story is absolutely true and profoundly relevant to my small business services today.

When I was younger, I worked a lot of construction jobs, mostly exterior work that required me to climb up and down ladders most of the day. There was this one job in McAdoo, Pa. where we did extensive work over several months – a new roof, siding, soffit, guttering; the works! We practically remade the entire outside of the house, and it was a big house. If you are familiar with northeast Pennsylvania, many homes in that area are large, vertical, and have steeply pitched roofs.

One morning I was first to arrive at the job site. I started to set up when I was summoned by the woman next door. She was an elderly and kind person with whom I had spoken with several times before, but this time she had a grave look of concern. She pointed up towards the eave below the ridge of her roof where a huge bee hive had formed. She asked me what if I could do anything to help her. Now the older and wiser version of me might have referred her to a good exterminator or some other expert, but I was twenty-something with loads of bravado and a big ladder. So I simply said “I’ll see what I can do.”

To this day, I don’t know exactly what my plan was. I climbed the ladder with a broom stick and the intention to simply knock down the hive. But upon the first gentle poke, hundreds of hornets were stirred into action and for the first (and only) time in my life, I literally slid down the exterior of a ladder in order to escape.

My embellished version of the story has the bees chasing me for blocks down the street. But the reality was actually much worse. The bees swarmed and swarmed all day, causing us to lose a great deal of production because we were constantly looking over our shoulders. We were the talk of the neighborhood as people walked by all day to observe and talk about the swarming bees nest and the kind old lady next door was more stressed than ever, especially when a removal expert arrived but couldn’t do anything until the bees settled down. And I was the fool who had caused it all.

Today I run a web design business and specialize in a group of specific skills that I’ve work hard to perfect. Still, many people assume that if you’re an expert in anything technology related, you’re proficient on all technology issues. I’ve received requests to do work outside of my scope of expertise. On a few occasions I’ve accepted, either as a gesture of altruism or with the idea to meet a new challenge. These decisions proved unwise as modern day hornet’s nests were stirred, ultimately causing more harm than the good originally intended.

So the moral of the story is to stick with what you do best and learn how to say “no” in those situations where you’re not highly confident in the outcome.

Why You Should Own Your Website

This article was orginally published at Strella Social Media on December 19, 2012.

Big WWWA professional website is the most crucial marketing tool that a small business owner has at his or her disposal. Establishing and retaining full ownership and control of your website is equally important in the rapidly shifting online world.

There are scores of “out-of-the-box” options out there from large, well-known companies that offer an easy and (seemingly) low-cost gateway towards establishing their own website. Such options can be very attractive to those who have little or no experience with websites because they often including editing tools where business owners can create their site. However, beware of some potent fine print that accompanies these “great” deals.

The first common issue is a lack of control over updating content or expanding the site. When a site is new, it is also small. The handful of pages and/or features you get with these “out-of-the-box” deals is usually sufficient for a start-up, but inevitably a business’s needs will change or grow (or both). This is where the large, well-known company makes their real money, often charging exorbitant amounts for additions or simple changes. For those old enough to remember, think about the old “12 records for a penny” deals. These club memberships were great upfront, but you were committed to buy each month for a couple years at whatever “regular club prices” they decided to charge you.

The second typical issue is ownership. Depending on which company you’re dealing with, these issues could range from simple challenges like being unable to control the Twitter handle that appears when a reader selects the “share” button to more complex difficulties such as site copyright. I had a client who ultimately didn’t own anything on his existing site even though the images were of him and his staff and the words described his business. Lack of ownership can also have an adverse effect on search engine optimization (SEO) as limits are placed on how pages are constructed and the types of tools available to help improve your SEO.

As a website designer who specializes in creating custom websites, I obviously have an interest in promoting well-built websites. I have several clients who were entangled in these “out-of-the-box” schemes and the limitations were so severe that we were forced to rebuild the entire site to make even basic enhancements. Building your site organically may be a slower and (initially) more costly option but you will reap the rewards in the long run by maintaining ownership and control.

~

The Uphill Battle Facing Small Business

This article was orginally published at Strella Social Media on November 19, 2012.

Uphill Battle Facing Small BusinessNext Saturday, November 24th has been deemed Small Business Saturday, positioned between Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the post-Thanksgiving shopping spurt. On the surface, this is a very good thing. It brings widespread awareness to small business in general and should cause consumers to think of the little noticed shops they may routinely pass on their way to the big box store.

I must admit, however, that I have some skepticism about this initiative. First, it was launched by American Express, a multi-billion dollar, multi-national, corporation that may be about as far from “small” as one can get. AMEX has also registered the terms “Shop Small” and “Small Business Saturday,” which means that an actual small business may get into trouble if they used these terms in this context without permission or sanction from AMEX. I don’t mean to dump too much on American Express as I still think this is a great awareness campaign for small businesses, but let’s be frank; it is a big advertisement for their financial services.

There is also a bit of cynicism with the term “small business” itself. It has been volleyed around the political world in recent times as a mere catch phrase, well focus-tested and positive. In a way, saying you’re in favor of small business is like saying you’re for “world peace,” a great sounding concept, but totally meaningless unless you’re willing to look at the finer details needed to achieve such a lofty goal.

In the past political season, we’ve heard both sides speak how they were in favor of “small businesses” or the “middle class.” But when you look at some of the finer details, you see that the opposite is true. When the IRS audits a large corporation, they receive an average of $9,173 per man hour in recovered tax revenue. When small and medium size business are audited, that figure is only $702 per hour, a ratio difference of about 13 to 1 in actual dollars for the U.S. Treasury. Yet small-and-medium-sized-businesses are audited about 30% MORE than large corporations. Why?

The answer is that small businesses are easier targets. They don’t have the resources to properly fight these audits, so they are “low hanging fruit” for bureaucrats who are more concerned with their own success rates than actual dollars recovered for the taxpayers and, of course, this proves devastating for many small business owners. This stat alone should make you furious but there are many more examples of the deck being stacked against small business.

The point is, small business is a great attribute in a free society but there are many unnecessary burdens that inhibit our growth and survival. Most people agree that they want small business to thrive and it is time we all take some responsibility in challenging these burdens.

Drifting Into the Alternative Universe

This article was orginally published at Strella Social Media on October 14, 2012.

Drifting Into the Alternative UniverseA few weeks ago, I made a mistake of omission, which set off a chain of unforeseen events. It caused a lot of problems for my client as well as a few dozen unplanned hours of problem-solving for myself.

Initially, it did not appear that there would be much of a disruption to the client’s service. After this initial mistake, the lesson learned was quite simple and straight forward – I should have done my due diligence and communicated better from the onset. However, things began unraveling with new issues seemingly arising out of nowhere. In my frustration, I found myself doing something that I absolutely loath when done by others. I started using the “alternative universe” excuse.

“If I had been told to ‘B’, ’C’, and ‘D,’ then I certainly would have approached ‘A’ much differently and all these problems would have been avoided.” This was certainly a true argument, as many of the subsequent problems could have been avoided if the client had disclosed all of the relevant information. Still, this was totally irrelevant, as it’s impossible to jump into that alternative universe where all problems are averted.

This foray into the scientifically unproven domain has become a trend these days. You hear it often from the losing side of a sports contest, and most especially, in the political world. “If I had been in charge, we’d now be in much better shape…” or “things may be bad now, but they would’ve been so much worse if not for my brilliant policies…” These statements are made as absolute fact and as a way to divert attention from the reality at hand.

The truth is, we only live in this one reality and we have to own the decisions we make here.This is especially true for small business owners like myself who don’t have much luxury for academic exercises and hypothetical situations. Not all our decisions will be correct, but once made they must be embraced either as building blocks for best practices or lessons learned for the future.

Clear and Unfiltered

This article was orginally published at Big Blue Bullfrog on October 3, 2012.

First Presidential Debate in DenverYesterday was the final day of the regular season in Major League baseball, and what a regular season it was. Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers won the triple crown (finished first in home runs, RBIs, and batting average) a feat accomplished for the first time in my lifetime, the Oakland A’s won their division on the final day, the Washington Nationals became the first team from DC to make the postseason in merely 80 years, and the Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. But the baseball regular season wasn’t the only thing that ended last night.

With the first presidential debate last night in Denver, the fog of deception that was fabricated to make Mitt Romney look like he is an unacceptable choice for the highest office in the land has been permanently dispensed. In fact, some of the more enjoyable moments of the debate were those when President Obama appeared absolutely lost because Mitt Romney refused to accept the caricature of his positions created by the left. But Mitt Romney is not a caricature and his legitimacy shone brightly in contrast with the president last night in this debate which focused exclusively on domestic policy.

Without the filter of campaign commercials or slanted media analysis, the candidates were presented bare (without teleprompters) and had to rely on their own knowledge and wits. In this setting, it was clear who had command of the issues of the day and that was the challenger. A long running CNN poll, which has been taken after every Presidential debate since 1980 had Romney winning by an astonishing 67% to 25%, shattering all previous margins.

A lot of the initial analysis of the debate claimed that Romney won because he was more “aggressive” and one analyst actually said Romney got the edge in time using a football analogy. Actually, President Obama clocked in with nearly five more minutes than Governor Romney and it only felt like Romney spoke longer because his words had so much more substance than Obama’s well used platitudes and stereotyped preconceptions.

There are still two presidential debates remaining this month along with one vice presidential debate, so this race is far from over with 33 days until the election. However, anyone who paid close attention last night has got to like Romney’s chances at this point.

~