Brian's midwinter reflections

By Brian Ochsner Well, what do you know. I just talked to a guy, my uncle’s brother, who went to the World’s Fair held in Chicago back in 1933 and got to see a prototype of a television set – about 20 years before they were mass produced. You learn that kind of thing over the holidays, and this recent Christmas was one of the best ever. Gifts and food were in abundance, and it was good to spend time reconnecting with family and friends. Along with the witness to prehistoric TV, I also discovered a cousin of mine has been on an outdoors program on ESPN. Ryan’s an avid fly fisherman and conservationist (not an environmental wacko). He’s also a skilled talker, and likes to argue his point to anyone who will debate him. The folks at Senator Conrad Burns’ office (R-MT) thought he argued a little too forcefully, and threw him out.

I also spent time at a friend's house Monday night, watching the last episode of ABC’s Monday Night Football. Brought back some great memories, and was fun to hear ‘Dandy’ Don Meredith sing a final rendition of “Turn Out The Lights.” The Dandy One broadcast MNF games back in the 1970s, and would break out in song when the game he was calling was finally decided.

Looking back at 2005, the Best Phrase of the Year was uttered by General Russell Honore to reporters in the aftermath of Katrina: “Don’t get stuck on stupid.” Those are the wisest words I’ve heard in several years.

This past year has gone by extremely fast. Almost everyone I talk to - whether they’re in their 20s or 70s - agreed on how fast this year has flown by. I don’t have any other awards or standout moments from the past year. The one thing I did notice is that common sense and common courtesy seemed to be in decline in our society. I hope they make a much-needed comeback in the New Year.

Gazing into my crystal ball for 2006, it’s somewhat hazy. I see a lot more questions than answers. Will energy prices stay where they’re at, or will supply and demand factors force gas and utility prices higher? Will the US get tough on illegal immigration? Will the President and Congress get serious on controlling federal spending?

Will rural areas -- such as my home region of northwest Kansas -- continue to decline in population and commerce? Can anything be done to reverse this trend?

In my investing crystal ball, I don’t see most stocks or mutual funds providing great rates of return – with the exception of energy, metals and mining stocks/funds.

The next big thing in investing? Commodities. I see the US going through a similar bull market that occurred in the 1970s, because of supply/demand fundamentals, and the Fed’s inflationary monetary policy. Don’t just take my word for it. Jim Rogers – former partner of George Soros (yes, the same left-wing lunatic) – thinks so too. Jim’s a polite, smart guy from Alabama – don’t hold his association with Goofy George against him. His new book, "Hot Commodities" is a great read that tells you the fundamental reasons why commodities are the next great bull market.

I did really well with my gold and silver predictions for 2005. My early forecast was for the price of gold to end the year at $525/ounce, and silver at $8.25/ounce. As of Thursday morning, Dec. 30th, gold was trading around $517, and silver at $8.82. My calls for 2006? Gold to finish at $637.50, silver at $11.70.

This will provide great opportunities for college graduates who are applying for geologist or engineering jobs in the petroleum or mining sectors. Most geologists or engineers are at or close to retirement age, and with rising commodity prices, these companies will be eager to fill these spots.

Job security in 2005 wasn’t what it used to be, and I don’t see that trend changing. Best advice I can give is to keep your skills sharp, constantly hone your communication and interpersonal skills, and stay in touch with people in your network. Make sure you give as much (or more) than you get from others. You never know when a job change may occur, or an opportunity may arise.

Toastmasters is a great place to improve your communication skills. Yours truly is looking at getting back into TM in 2006. If you haven’t already, check out the book "48 Days To the Work You Love" by Dan Miller. It’s a great resource for college grads, or more seasoned workers to help find your calling in life.

Most importantly, stay in close contact with family and friends. This is your most important network of all. Take the time to talk and listen with friends, family and strangers (friends you haven’t met yet). It’s amazing what you can learn from other people. Listening can be the best gift of all that you give someone in our hustle-and-bustle world.

This post was written off the cuff, I apologize in advance for any grammar errors or rambling. I want to thank readers of my and other Backbone bloggers’ posts in 2005. Best Wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2006!