Friday, December 9, 2016

Micro Globalization

I was in Switzerland this week for CloudBees 2017 planning meetings. One night we went out to dinner and there was a Jazz bar next door.

Our group consisted of French, Swiss, Belgian, American, Indian, and Japanese people.

We listened to an Italian guitar player and piano player sing a British musician's Illegal Alien:

I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien
I'm an Englishman in New York

Modesty, propriety can lead to notoriety
You could end up as the only one
Gentleness, sobriety are rare in this society
At night a candle's brighter than the sun

Takes more than combat gear to make a man
Takes more than a license for a gun
Confront your enemies, avoid them when you can
A gentleman will walk but never run

If "Manners maketh man" as someone said
Then he's the hero of the day
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself no matter what they say 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Small Business Thoughts in the Trump Era

As a small business owner (24 employees), our little company has been on a roll since starting in 2010. We are profitable and growing with thousands of happy customers and growing market share. My tendency has been to continue to invest in the business because the fundamentals are so strong.
For me, Trump brings uncertainty in several ways:
I wonder if other businesses will be a bit cautious on spending and investments until there is more certainty on the moves he will make. That could cause some headwinds that could push us more towards a recession.
While I have been in favor of more government spending, the coming tax cuts promise to be less efficient in terms of the multiplier effect of fiscal intervention. The basic concept is that money going to rich people will not be spent very quickly and therefore does nothing to improve the velocity of money, which is a primary factor in the slow recovery over the past 7 years.
Also, between the tax cuts and Trump’s promised infrastructure and defense investments there is uncertainty around what will happen with interest rates, and the long term impact of the federal budget deficit. While I am not overly concerned with the budget deficit with such low interest rates, and increase back to 5% is another recessionary risk factor.
So I will be delaying hiring and investments over the next 6 months to see how things start to evolve in this new era.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Why I Voted for Hillary

I’ve submitted my absentee ballot voting for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Election. As I did in 2012, I am giving my reasons in case it helps others make their own decisions.

Here are my key reasons:
  • Life long commitment to making the world a better place
  • Investing in major world changes
  • Agree with her Policies and Proposals
  • I like smart people who work hard

Making the World a Better Place

This is probably what inspires me the most about Hillary – she has had a lifelong commitment to making the world a better place.

This video is her commencement speech at Wellesley College.  She was the first student commencement speaker in the college’s history, and you can see from the President’s introduction the amount of respect she had garnered in her 4 years there. Her speech also shows the core values she was thinking about then, and now.

From her early days she has pushed forward to be in positions of larger and larger impact. While most of us are satisfied making little donations to charities or volunteering, she has risen to positions of power where her work has the leverage to have large scale impact. Take a few minutes to scroll thru the Wikipedia page that lists her various activities and accomplishments -

As a politician (including her political partnership with Bill), she has been in a position to have impact and is close to being in a very powerful position again to have a positive impact on the world. With Bill and Chelsea, she has created one of the most respected and impactful non-profit foundations in the world – raising $2B and employing 2,000 employees to positively impact millions of people.

Hillary believes government is not the bad guy, but is instrumental in advancing our country and the world. She has a pragmatic approach to understanding and trying to solve problems. She understands that there is a need for collaboration between government and business.

Investing in Major World Changes

Thomas Friedman wrote two of the best books on the transformations that are taking place in the world, including “Hot, Flat and Crowded 2.0” - Hillary understands these transformations and is embracing them. The world is getting smaller with the US driving much of the change. The Internet, faster and cheaper travel and interrelated commerce means that borders need to decrease and collaboration needs to increase in importance. Moving from fossil fuels to clean energy is an opportunity for the US to lead. Hillary has progressive goals in technology - and in climate change -

Policies and Proposals

Having a liberal view of the world, I support most of Hillary’s policies and proposals - Of particular interest to me are:
I am a bit disappointed she does not talk more about increasing budgets for the State Department, USAID and International Relief efforts (The defense budget is almost 10X the State Department budget). Given her work with the Clinton Foundation, she clearly has a concern for the rest of the world. Her years at the State Department also gave her a view of the positive impacts of investment in education and economic support with other countries. And her famous “Women’s rights are human rights” speech demonstrates that she would balance military strength with more strategic investments.

Smart Hard Worker

Finally, I am voting for Hillary because I like smart people who work hard. She has shown a continued ability to listen and learn and adapt. One of the very interesting articles on Hillary is titled “How Hillary Became ‘Hillary’”. It recaps the 1980 loss of Bill Clinton as Arkansas Governor. Many would have accepted that defeat and moved on to legal careers that had a much higher probability of making money. Hillary figured out what went wrong and made big changes (like adding “Clinton” to her last name 5 years after they were first married).

But What About. . .

Of course Hillary is the best known woman in the world. Being at a position of power for so long brings on lots of slings and arrows. And in building a long resume, there are always losses and things that were not done right. So let me go thru the common issues that people bring up about what they do not like about Hillary and how I make sense of them.

The biggest thing she has going against her is that she is a woman.  A smart woman.  A driven woman.  A powerful woman.  And the first woman to break the glass ceiling in a very big way. The fact is there is a cultural bias against strong, successful women.  Women won the right to vote less than 100 years ago. Male/Female pay is still greater than 1.  Think back to high school and how kids made fun of the “smart girl”. At the 1992 Republican Convention:

"Patrick Buchanan derided Clinton’s “radical feminism.” Marilyn Quayle — a lawyer who gave up her career to support her husband’s — presented herself and Dan Quayle as an alternative vision of the husband-wife partnership. “Most women do not want to be liberated from their essential natures as women,” she said. But the convention drew poor reviews; The New York Times’s conservative columnist William Safire complained that “the party displayed the basest of its base.” From then on, the Bush campaign team confined its direct attacks to Bill Clinton."

I’ve got nothing but respect for a person who has stood up to that sort of headwind her whole life. And I think her success is a watershed for future generations of women. Both of my daughters told me how meaningful Hillary’s Democratic Nomination was to each of them  earlier this year. As Sarah Vowell said:
“When the D.N.C. rolled that montage of non-dame presidential faces I wept so hard I had to open a new box of tissues. Feeling represented does matter in a representative democracy."


As a person with 6+ email accounts – I have some sympathy for Hillary on this count. Sometimes I send CloudBees or RunSignUp or Running store emails from my personal account of vice-versa.  Like Hillary, my emails are a thing of history and momentum and familiarity (I still use Outlook and not Gmail on my computer for example).

Of the 62,000 emails, only 110 were classified at the time of sending. If you add the number of communications that were sent via State Department mechanisms over her 4 years as Secretary of State, the % of classified emails on her server was very, very small.  I tend to think of these as mistakes, not something she was purposely doing to put American security at risk.

In addition, the State Department has been hacked to such an extent that people with security clearances and their families have been advised to protect themselves by doing things like putting freezes on their credit reports. So it is likely her personal email server was less likely to be attacked than the State Department.

This article has a fuller description of the email issue based on (and including links to) the FBI study.


To put the blame for the tragedy of Benghazi on Hillary is shameful. Clearly the blame goes on the people who attacked the State Department outpost that night. Were there things that could have prevented it? Of course.  Were there better ways to respond? Of course. Are there things that could be done today to improve the security of all of our foreign outposts? Of course.

The sad fact is that there are dangerous places in the world and the US has a presence in those places for our own interests as well as in the interest of making the world a better place, like Chris Stevens and his team were trying to do.  But bad stuff can happen, and it did.

This article is a pretty good summary of the hearings and has links to the raw hearing conclusions (actually there were three of them).  Anne Stevens, the sister of the Ambassador, had this to say:
"It is clear, in hindsight, that the facility was not sufficiently protected by the State Department and the Defense Department. But what was the underlying cause? Perhaps if Congress had provided a budget to increase security for all missions around the world, then some of the requests for more security in Libya would have been granted. Certainly the State Department is underbudgeted.
I do not blame Hillary Clinton or Leon Panetta. They were balancing security efforts at embassies and missions around the world. And their staffs were doing their best to provide what they could with the resources they had. The Benghazi Mission was understaffed. We know that now. But, again, Chris knew that. It wasn’t a secret to him. He decided to take the risk to go there. It is not something they did to him. It is something he took on himself."


My perception of the Wikileaks information shows what is really happening in the Clinton organization – what happens in every organization.  Understanding the competition, evaluating alternative plans, getting feedback from the electorate, making friends with the right people, etc.  In fact, I like many of the things that have come out in terms of her interest in having government-industry collaboration.  I like her discussions about breaking down borders.

To quote Thomas Friedman again, "Hackers exposed Clinton as a smart politician with a vision and a pragmatic approach to getting things done.” - Or as the Washington Post says “Scandal! Wikileaks reveals Hillary Clinton to be . . . Reasonable.” -

Bill’s Infidelities

A woman is not responsible for her husband being an idiot.  Period.


I’m a proud supporter of Hillary Clinton for President.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bickel Cabin - Frank & Mary

After my Great Grandfather Lou established our family cabin, My Grandma and Grandpa (born in 1900), Frank and Mary inherited it. They also lived in West Virginia and would make the long trip up in the summer with their children Bob (my Dad) and Barbara (my Aunt, who has since passed away at a way too early age).

Grandpa, Dad, Grandma, Barbara

My Dad took my Mom up when they were dating in high school.
Mom & Dad
My Mom and Dad would take us up as kids. This was a very important influence on me.  The anticipation of going to Canada each summer - making the two day trip - my parents letting me out of the car a couple hundred meters before the cabin so I could run ahead of the car - helping Grandma pick blueberries and make pies - helping Grandpa fill the generators to pump water or light the house each night - family fishing/picnic trips "down the lake" - quiet hours doing nothing but waiting for the fish to be ready with my line in the water next to my Grandpa - borrowing my Grandpa's worn pocket knife (still a cherished treasure) to whittle some wood or scape off some birch bark to write a letter home. I was so lucky.  

Mary Ellen and me on the "MaryFrank" big white wood boat with the 18 horse Johnson
Mary Ellen and me with a "string" of bass in front of an old wood boat my Grandma would plant flowers in each summer.
We were good fishers!

Gotta clean those fish if Grandma is making dinner...

I learned patience in waiting for the marshmallow to brown perfectly and evenly on all sides...
One year we overlapped with our cousins - Barbara and Woody's kids - Brian and Marianne

Unconditional love for and from a Hillbilly
My favorite picture. I would always sit next to Grandpa and he would teach me everything.
While we were fishing, Grandpa had ideas to keep Mom and Dad busy building a boat house...
Dad had hipster glasses before they were hipster...

I always hated this time. I was usually crying. We were leaving Canada for a whole year...
When I was in high school I got to go up just with my Grandparents to help them open up and do some running.
This is how I remember Grandpa. Guiding the big white boat down the lake with a pipe in his mouth and a smile on his face.
Here's another great one by the fish cleaning rack.
Grandma loved staying in the kitchen. That is the old wood stove where she used to make breakfast and dinner every day.

In 1979 the cabin was struck by lightning in the early spring and burned down to the ground. We lost all the old stuff like that wood stove. The real "ice box" that my Dad filled with blocks of ice when he was a kid (we had an ice house in the early days where Canadians would cut blocks of ice out of the lake during the winter and drag them up with horses to the ice house). An old long two handled wood saw used to cut down the old wood forrest that created the town of Blind River. And many more.

My Grandpa was determined to build the house exactly like it was. I graduated in June of 1979 and went up to Canada to help for a week.
Grandma and Grandpa outside the rebuilt cabin.

"Deed" Latarout rebuilt the cabin. He was a good friend of my Dad.
Our dock with the Beaver House on the far side of Bickel Bay.
While I was growing up, my Grandma and Grandpa spent their whole summers in Canada. While they did not have much money, they were happy...

Grandma and Grandpa

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bickel Canada Cabin Beginnings

Bickel cabin in the fall
My parents are in the process of handing the family cabin over to my sister and me this summer. We went up this past week to plan an addition and some updates. I took a bunch of pictures of the pictures that were hanging in the cabin, and wanted to post them in phases. This is Post 1. You can also see Post 2.

My Dad wrote up this history of the Bickel (now Bickel-Cross) Cabin:

"My father, Frank, and his father Louis P. Bickel, went up in 1937, for a stag party organized by Glen Law, a wrestling coach at Marietta H.S. and Illinois. He was at Marietta when Al Rupp senior was the principal. My father and granddad had a connection to Glen thru Glen's relatives in the Oil and Gas business in WV. Granddad was starting to retire, loved the area, walked around the bay, chose our little bay, and bought the land from Al.

Bickel Land Purchase
Al went there in 1930 to visit friends from Ohio Wesleyan in the town north of Columbus. The Ohio Wesleyan people started an enclave on Dubourne about 1900, and they are still there. Descendants actually. I think they call it Battle Point because of supposed Indian battles in the area. Probably found a lot of arrow heads.

Al liked the area, went around looking, and came upon what is now Rupp Bay. All of the land was owned by the Spooner family, and Al bought all of the area from Spooner including the land on the western side of Little Lake.

Granddad cut in in current road and built the cabin in 1938, and we were there that summer when I was four. The rest is history.

Cabin and Powerhouse/Pumphouse from Water Tank Cliff
Lou cleaning fish
Lou with my Dad
Dad on right, Aunt Barbara (his sister) on left

Lou with my Dad on right

Lou was in the oil business

Grandpa Fishing in Bickel Bay

Grandpa (Frank) and Al Rupp Senior
Walleye were the fish on Lake Lauzon in those days

Glen Law, Frank
Bickel Bay

Larry, Ivan, Evan and Verna Shanahan from left

The old fireplace
Grandpa on the left and Lou next to him.
This boat was built by John Emil Carlson

Glen Law and Grandpa
Grandpa on left and Al Rupp on right
Lou Bickel
Knew how to pick a site for a cabin...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Continuous Delivery and Jenkins 2.0

There are some exciting things happening in the Jenkins community and at CloudBees.

The first thing is that Kohsuke Kawaguchi has announced the start of the Jenkins 2.0 Roadmap
"Jenkins is over 10 years old, and it came quite a long way. I still remember the first few plugins that I wrote by myself, and now we have close to 1100 plugins. What's started as a hobby project that had run under my desk today boasts more than 100K installations driving half a million-ish build machines.
. . .
So I propose we do Jenkins 2.0 to fix this.

There are three important goals that I see in Jenkins 2.0.
  1. We need to claim our rightful place in Continuous Delivery. We have lots of pieces that address these modern needs, but we are not communicating this very well.
  2. We need to revisit out of the box experience, so that Jenkins itself speaks that story and makes it clear what we are aiming for. Our software needs to speak for itself and tell people where we are going, so that the community can better focus efforts on the important parts.
  3. And we need to do this while keeping what makes Jenkins great in the first place, which are the ecosystem, the community, and the extensibility that recognizes that one size does not fit all and let people do what they want to do."
The second important thing is that the advent of Docker and containers is making this transition MUCH easier. CloudBees has contributed significant efforts to the open source community with the release of Docker plug-ins that make Docker and Jenkins work together very nicely to make Continuous Delivery real.

And I love this animated GIF:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Patrimonial Capitalism

This notion has been stewing in me for quite a while, and yesterday Paul Krugman wrote an article about this topic of Patrimonial Capitalism.

"...the political spectrum now instinctively accords much more respect to capital than to labor, at a time when capital income is growing ever more concentrated in a few hands — and is surely on its way to being concentrated largely in the hands of people who inherited their wealth."

This is somewhat related to my earlier post of how I wish things were - with a balance between owners, employees and customers - called Capitalism and the Three Legged Stool.

In Krugman's article, the basic premise is that since wealth and income are concentrated increasingly in fewer people's hands, the society at large is dependent on the patrimony, or direction, of the 1% (or maybe the .1%).  Decisions like Citizens United help to reconfirm this, as those with large wealth can now invest to shape the government.

These topics have been beaten to death, but I wanted to expand on my own experience of how this plays out in helping to determine the probability of financial success.  I want to point out two examples of how the tax system is set up in a way to help people with wealth.

Capital Gains as a Tax Break for the Wealthy.
This is the primary issue that Warren Buffet is referring to when he talks about income inequality.

I am lucky to have been a small part of several companies that either went public or were sold. The primary way I have made money over the past 15 years is via capital gains, which were taxed at either 20 or 15% rather than the marginal tax rate of 35-39%.

In two ways, that seems fair. I chose to be paid in stock rather than income, therefore taking the risk these companies would not become valuable.  Second, I was part of teams that created something out of nothing and created jobs, which is what the American Dream is all about.

However, it bothers me that people that chose to work at these companies did not have a similar choice.  First, because only the top people are offered this type of incentive. But also because they did not have enough money to forgo a salary.

Also, most of the venture money came from either wealthy individuals or from non-profit funds like private and public pension plans and University endowments.  Obviously the non-profits would have invested no matter the tax rate. And the wealthy individuals were looking for those big 10X returns as the reason they funded these companies, so tax rate was a relatively minor part of their investment thesis.

My point is that this capital would have been available to fund these companies even with a higher or non-existent capital gains rate.

Capital Gains Treatment Does Not Encourage Building Businesses for the Long Term
Although the Capital Gains tax is designed to encourage long term investing, there are a number of ways it does not.  This is seen today in venture capital backed companies.  The VC backed companies are mostly designed to grow fast and be attractive to a buyer so that the principles can cash out with low tax rates.

Let's take it from my view as the founder of RunSignUp.  Unlike my other companies, this one is not venture backed, and was funded solely by me (another advantage of having money).  We have grown fast and are now a profitable company.  Since I own it, that profit is now taxed at the marginal tax rate of 39.6%.  For me, that is fine and I am happy to pay that given the fact that the company would not exist without the wonderful infrastructure, people and wealth of our amazing nation.  I also happen to really enjoy the work we are doing and want to continue for hopefully a couple of decades.

But we have already been approached about being acquired.  Think about the advantage of the 20% Capital Gain rate.  Greatly simplified, it would allow me to keep an extra $20 out of every $100 of value of the company to sell it.  And if I were the type of person to maximize my profit, I would try to grow the business unnaturally for today and leave future investments until someone else had to worry about it to maximize the sale price.

That does not sound like the basic idea of building long term businesses via a capitalistic system to me.  It sounds like a system that maximizes the wealth of the wealthy.

To bring this back to the topic of Patrimonial Capitalism, the wealthy who are looking after the interests of the country have seriously stacked the deck in their own favor.  I see this personally, and like Warren Buffet, it bothers me.  And I just wanted to get that out of my system...