Monday, October 27, 2008

The Slashdot Effect Hits the Real World

Hitoshi Watanabe of Japan posted details of his successful diet on a social networking site in Japan, and instead of inundating a website, he caused a run on bananas! They are now, at the moment, hard to come by because of the drastically increased sales.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Notebook

I love my notebook, any notebook really. It shouldn't be too massive, though, because it is too overwhelming at the start, and the really great, visceral thing is when you reach some critical mass of filled pages and now suddenly it is a notebook of substance, and the written-on pages feel different, of course, they're bumpy and dimpled and textured, a regular patina of thoughts and feelings, palimpsets of the soul, and there it is: I. Love. Notebooks.

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Put a Bullet In Your Plans

Plans are fragile. Just ask Robert Burns. His poem, “To a Mouse,” contains this: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” So things are not entirely within your control. But surely you knew that. Everyone does.

But are they as out of our control as we most-times imagine? Take on the role, for just a moment, of the pain management nurse, and rate your pain (lack of control, in this case) from 1 (complete control, no pain) to 10 (no control whatsoever, unbearable pain). Be honest! Write it down.

Now reconsider. Might you be your own worst enemy, a villainous saboteur, blithely shooting down your own “best laid” plans with one of these bullets?

  • Laziness - You assumed too much and didn’t bother to vet your assumptions. These often center in two areas: availability and process.
    • Availability - Four points.
      • Don’t assume that everyone will simply show up. Were they notified appropriately? Was the list complete and accurate? Was there an opportunity to have them sign up, to commit?
      • Don’t assume that the things you want to work on are going to be available. If it’s movable, is it going to be there? Is it going to be in use by another group? Are you absolutely certain that you have permission to tie the resource up for this long?
      • Don’t assume that your time frame matches the required time frame of the resource. Talk to the right people.
      • Don’t assume that the necessary tools and supplies will magically be on site. You may have to make arrangements.
    • Process - Three points.
      • Do you have the necessary know-how? In other words, do you know the process?
      • Do you have the necessary leadership ability? Do you command enough respect to assign duties? Here’s what I mean: if nobody thinks you know the process, they may not believe you know what you’re doing with your assignments.
      • If you don’t have the best handle on process, you might need to hand control over to an expert. Next question: should the control you cede be advisory/technical, or should it be administrative also? If the expert is no good with people, you might need to run interference for him, continuing to be the administrator.
  • Naivete - You underestimated the situation. You ran all the traps listed above, but just underestimated how much trouble some of them could be, or you overestimated your or your group’s ability to handle them. “We can handle it,” are four words that can kill your plans.
  • Denial - You refused to face up to certain truths about your situation. Someone told you something about availability or process, and you said to yourself:
    • They’re lying.” Come on. Really? Maybe you’re not only in denial, but paranoid as well. Why would they lie? If the answer is not immediately obvious, then this conclusion is not obvious either.
    • That’s not true.” You may not be calling them a liar, but what’s the alternative? They’re an idiot? Someone’s lying to them?
    • They don’t really understand the situation.” If you’re told something by someone you thought should know, and your response is, “That’s not true,” then maybe you need to ask at least one more question. Maybe several.
    • That was then, this is now.” This assumes that your information is more current than theirs. Is that warranted? Nail it down.
    • That’ll never happen.” Watch out, now. Never? You know what they say about pride. It happens right before you fall on your face.

I’ve been at several work days over the years at church or school or the ball field, and plans that fell apart through one of these factors were really just as discouraging (and damaging to future recruitment efforts) as no plans at all. So take care not to put a bullet in your own best plans.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bailout Mess

This post at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity makes the most sense of the bailout mess that I've seen so far. Well written, informative.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sandwich Security Breakthrough

In a move similar to taking a Sharpie and writing "Biology Experiment" on your milk container, someone has come up with a clever, non-verbal strategy:
 See the link.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Me and Dudley Try to Commiserate

I have a friend; we’ll call him Dudley. He’s old oil money, not big time, but he inherited quite a few producing wells several years ago and with light sweet crude topping $120/barrel, he’s not hurting.

I think he’s benefiting from this oil crisis.

We were talking the other day over plates of fried eggs, bacon and toast. “Melissa has been after me to get rid of that little old Toyota truck I’ve been driving since Methuselah was on the earth. ‘You’re gonna get killed when some big old Dodge Ram hits you on the road. You need to get you a big one, too.’ That’s all she says, all the time.”

“Put that fork down, Dudley,” I said, trying to spear a piece of egg. “You’re going to hurt one of us.”

“So anyway I’m gonna get a big Ford,” he said, setting down his fork and picking up his butter knife and a packet of grape jelly.

I put my fork down and counted to ten. “I think they ought to outlaw all full-sized trucks and SUVs,” I said in my most reasonable voice.

Dudley didn’t even blink. He finished spreading the jelly on his triangle of toast – he can really paint that stuff on there - and looked at me out of the corner of his eye.

“Are you a communist or something, Emmitt?” he said. He bit into the toast, not taking his eyes off of me.

“No, Dudley,” I said, “I’m as American as you, but this is ridiculous. Everybody’s scared of getting smashed by SUVs and big trucks, so they go out and get SUVs or big trucks, and it’s getting bigger and bigger every year, and the gas prices keep going up… There’s no end in sight!”

Dudley shook his head. “People don’t like to be smushed, Emmitt. That’s the American way.”

“But what about the people that can’t afford to buy bigger and bigger SUVs and trucks, Dudley? What about them?”

“Come on, Emmitt. You know good and well that they go out and get big old cars! I was downtown yesterday and I saw this fella in a 1976 Caddy that was as big as a boat. And those things are heavy, heavier than that Ford I’m looking to get.”

I sat there and steamed.

Dudley,” I said, “I’m not mad at you…” I paused for just a second. “Well, maybe I’m a little mad at you, but that’s not the point. I’m not hostile towards you…” I hesitated again.

Dudley paused from putting together a bacon and egg sandwich with his toast, casting an apprising eye over at me.

“You’re feeling a little hostile, aren’t you?” he said.

I rolled my eyes. “Well, yes, maybe a little. But your attitude is so typical of rich people. You’re totally clueless about the consequences of your knee-jerk spending. The economy’s in a death-spiral!”

“I hear you, Emmitt.” He got up from the table and shook my hand. “I’ll see you later, hear? I’ve gotta run over to Home Depot and pick out the flagstone flooring for that new wing of the house we’re adding on next month.”

“You have a good one, you hear?”

Friday, May 2, 2008

Supply and Demand Still Exists: Found on Vacation in the Virgin Islands

Contrary to public opinion, the Law of Supply and Demand (SnD) is still alive and well and vacationing in the Virgin Islands. Some say she’s been down there for twelve months while others put it at only a few weeks.

Noticeably absent is SnD’s longtime partner, Markets.

Though the exact timeline for SnD’s departure from Markets is unclear, sources say that trouble has been brewing for some time.

“Okay,” said one insider, requesting that his identity be kept secret, “let’s just look at the effect it’s having on the children. They’re always the ones to act out, dear things. They bear the brunt.” The insider paused to wipe at his eyes, then blew his nose and cleaned his glasses. “They bear the brunt.”

“Would one child in particular be a good illustration of this?” I wondered.

“Oil,” he said without hesitation. “Oil is really acting out at this time. Oh, I know, she’s always been an unruly child, but as long as SnD was in the home, she at least knew she had guidelines. That’s all changed now that Markets had taken up with that skank, Scarcity.”


“Yes, Scarcity. Markets think that there won’t be enough Oil, that it’s somehow become under-supplied overnight, and so Markets seeks to keep her under his thumb, and not just for right now, but far into the future, when Markets believes that Oil will be so much harder to find.”

I chewed on my bottom lip, considering. “Isn’t that just good parenting?”

“A child needs her mother. What are you, some kind of Nazi?” He glared at me. “No,” he continued, “it’s not good parenting to shack up with an entirely different model. It’s still the same Supply and Demand this year that it was last year, but Markets is reading the papers, listening to the paparazzi, and now his attitude has changed. He thinks Scarcity is the way to go, so Supply and Demand packed up her stuff and went to the beach. I don’t blame her.”

“Is this all Oil’s fault?” I said.

“It’s complicated. Are you some sort of a Philistine? I don’t know that you can even blame the entire thing on Markets, though he certainly behaved abominably.” He threw up his hands and rolled his eyes.

“Well look at Copper, for instance,” he said, shaking out a pack of cigarillos and hanging one from the corner of his mouth. “Copper’s been saying he was going to grow for years now, and Markets would hold steady, not put big restrictions out there or buy up Copper’s futures ahead of time, confident that his son would come through with the extra production, and there would be plenty for all.”

“I suppose it didn’t happen?” I said.

“No it didn’t happen. And Markets got burned, in some cases pretty badly. He claimed Supply and Demand had betrayed him. He took out a page in the Journal and claimed that Supply and Demand just wasn’t working for Markets anymore.”

“And so Scarcity was the new model?”

“That’s the way he saw it,” said the insider as he lit up and took a drag. He blew smoke in my direction.

“So why even deal with models?” I said. “Who cares about models? We just want things to be right and cost what they should.” I stopped at this point, embarrassed by my outburst.

“Oh for heaven’s sake!” he said, throwing down his cigarillo and grinding it beneath the heel of his patent leather boot. “Where do they get you people?”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Five Ways To Be Happy With Your Job

Most people have to work. Sad but true. So why not grab a little gusto? Make the most of a difficult situation, and continue to be a breadwinner for the family. They'll appreciate it as they sleep in.

Office Supplies

Have you checked out some of those new Post-It thingies? Awesome, baby. Just sticking a couple on my flat screen brightens up the morning immediately. And now Sharpies come in all these amazing new colors - even personalized! Now, imagine this: writing stuff on the Post-Its with those Sharpies!


Juan Valdez is an American hero! And he's Colombian! Office workers like caffeine!

Think about it. You get up and go get some coffee. Use a mug, not a styrofoam cup. Styrofoam clogs landfills, and besides that you don't get to stand at the sink and wait for the water to get hot, then rinse out your mug - do a good job! - then find something to dry your cup with. You get the picture.

And hey, be a good cubicle neighbor, and make another pot if at all possible. Plenty to feel really good about: protecting the environment, having a clean mug, serving the people around you...

Now go outside and take a smoke break before you work yourself to death!

Smoke Breaks

You don't have to smoke to enjoy a smoke break. Those are some nice people, and they get to waste - oh, nobody knows exactly how much time they waste - anyway, go out there and visit a little bit. Management by walking around!

Try to stand upwind.

Sharpening the Saw

I borrowed this sub-title from Steven Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It's code for Reading in the Restroom. It's best if your restroom is for one person at a time. That way you can just lock the door, displaying the little "Occupied" sign, probably in red, and shut out the world. For, you know, concentration.

Next problem: getting quality, saw-sharpening reading material into the restroom. Some people are blessed. They just don't care what anybody thinks, and they take an entire armful of reading material to the restroom right in front of everyone.

We're not all so bold. If your desired reading material can be printed out, then by all means do so. As long as it's not too many pages, you can simply fold it up and put it in your pocket. If it's the size of a magazine, you can wrap it around your ankle, sticking it in your sock. All your paperbacks need to be mass market size, because these can be easily put in a back pocket or a purse.

If it's really too thick of a printout, divide it into two piles. Get some rubber bands. Now take your shoes off and wrap the piles around your feet, securing them with the rubber bands. Walk to the restroom like you mean it. If someone challenges you on the way, just tell them the Tony Robbins thing didn't go so well.

Me Time

After all that, you're probably exhausted. Rest well, brave warrior! If you have an office door, use it. Print up a banner that says "Power Hour!" and put it on your door from 1:00 to 5:00. This will fend off all but the most cynical.

When someone does breach your defenses, transparency is widely respected. Let your shoulders droop and even let the outside corners of your eyes sag a bit (this takes practice in front of a mirror). When you have the look just right, tell them, "I just need some alone time." Woggle your head slightly. Don't overdo it!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Calling Geraldo

Where is Geraldo Rivera when you need him?

Here's an msn article by John W. Schoen, senior business producer. In it he mentions that "since some traders have no intention of ever using the oil, prices can also move on just the potential for future changes in supply or demand." Then he goes on to say, "Right now, oil producers — both countries and companies — are among the biggest winners."

I fell out of my chair. Bob, my cubicle neighbor, began to laugh.

"You just read that article on oil prices," he said.

"It's the traders!" I squeaked. "They're traitors!"

"What about the oil companies?" said Bob. "They're raking in the dough, too."

I sat there in the floor, contemplating my navel. It was my x-ray vision that allowed me to see it through my shirt and tie. You know, I like a shirt with a little bit of rayon in it. It hangs better - the extra heft is comforting as well. Oh, sorry.

"Why isn't Geraldo on this?" I said.

"Hey, you're right!" said Bob, snapping his fingers. "It's so obvious that..."

"The oil companies..." I said.

"Have an incentive program," said Bob.

"To futures traders..."

"To artificially run up prices..."

We just looked at each other, frowns creasing our sweaty little foreheads, marvelling over this diabolical bit of brilliance. Obviously, consumption is about as high as it can be... Oh, quibble all you want, but fluctuations at this point are going to be marginal.

But if you can double your pricing in two years without increasing cost very much... Of course, consumers would crucify you - crucify you unless you can blame it on something high and mighty, something the public holds in awe, something pure and yet wholly obscure, something that defies logic and reason, a veritable holy grail... Market Forces!

Market Forces are widely believed to be infallible, infallibility historically being the Pope's province, located somewhere in a broom closet in the Vatican. Market Forces are therefore the perfect foil; in a Market Forces vortex, accountability levels go to zero!

I relayed all this to Bob in a breathless rant. He handed me an unopened water bottle.

"I'll email Geraldo," he said. "This is big."

This is big.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

To Do List Seeks Amnesty

My to do list is sorry.

"What have we learned?" I asked it the other day. It would barely look at me.

"My eyes were bigger than my stomach," it mumbled.

"I'm sorry, I couldn't make that out."

"My eyes were bigger than my stomach," it says, eyes flashing up at me.

I raised my eyebrows and pursed my lips. "Do you think that's really called for?" I asked.

There was no response. We sat there for several minutes. I whistled a bit, feet up on the empty guest chair in my cubicle. I checked my watch; scrolled through the phone book on my cell. The list began to stir a bit, rustling it's wrinkled pages.

"I just wanted..." it began. I looked up from clipping my fingernails.

"I just wanted to do my part," it said. "I just wanted to make a contribution, to give you some direction, some inspiration..." It paused again and looked at me. I was studying my fingernails.

"Umm," I said.

"I thought," it started again. "I thought if you had a big list - you know - a really comprehensive list that... that each of your next actions would really become clear - self-evident, really."

I looked up sharply. "Have you been talking to the inbox?" I said.

"Never mind all that," it said, ignoring me. "I'll be good from now on." It seemed to make a swallowing sound.

"I promise."

My Inbox Wants to Be Free

"If information wants to be free," says my inbox, "then why can't I be included in that?"

"Have you been reading Getting Things Done again?" I say. "You know that makes you cranky."

"I'm cranky now? Is that it? Am I Tibet to your China? Why don't you say it to my face?"

"I just did."

"No, I mean now. Say it now."

I sigh. "David Allen makes you cranky. There. I said it."

"And why would that be? Hmmm? Ever think about that?"

I think about ordering up an order of bacon from the restaurant next door. They make a good western omelet, too.

"You're thinking about food again, fatty," says my inbox.

"That's personal," I say. "And how do you know what I'm thinking about?"

"I know you," it says. "I read your mail."

"Oh boy," I say, shaking my head and rolling my eyes.

"And read it and read it and read it some more. It just sits there in my inbox and uses up cycles and disk space, and not to mention all the 'open loops' in that wrinkled little thing you call a mind."

"It's 'open loops' today, huh?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" says the inbox.

"It was 'next actions' last time," I say.

"Those are important, too!"

I decide to close Outlook. The disk churns madly, its LED blinking so rapidly that it goes solid for a moment. Then something like a quiet burp, and a blue screen silently swims into view. General protection fault. Freedom doesn't come cheap.

Monday, April 21, 2008

My Fantastic Survey Experience

She had just talked to my cubicle neighbor, who refused to take a survey over the phone. Then my phone rang.

"I bet this is her," I said.

"Probably," said my neighbor. I picked up the phone.

"This is Emmitt."

The nice lady said she was with some company I had never heard of from San Diego.

"Are you by any chance," I interrupted her, "a survey taker?" I was using my most pleasant voice.

"Ah, sir, this is a follow up to information we received last year from your company..."

"Okay," I said, "that's a good point because I'm afraid that the original contact may have been an illegal survey. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Well, sir..."

"And for quality assurance purposes," I continued, "I may have to record this conversation. Are we clear on this?"

At this point the aliens pointed their fantasy vortex ray at my head and turned on the beam, because what the nice lady seemed to do was really unlikely. In fact, maybe somebody shot me with Douglas Adams' improbability gun from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

"Sir, I'm sorry for any hassle," she seemed to say, "and I want to apologize for any inconvenience I may have caused you. Have a very nice day. Goodbye."

She had hung up. I sat there listening to dead air over the speaker phone. People were clustered in the doorway of my cubicle, and I looked at them, expressionless. They began to cheer.

Is Impatience One of the Seven Deadly Sins?

There are famously two kinds of people in the world: the patient and the impatient. One is a virtue and the other is a pain in the neck. Just how you view this lack of patience usually depends on the identity of the person lacking it.

When it's me, it's simply that I'm frustrated. When it's you, you're being unbearable, unreasonable, and some unsavory type of toxic something. In fact, when I'm the impatient one, good reasons exist and have caused me to lose patience. I'm late to work and someone's vehicle is in front of my vehicle and is preventing me from achieving an acceptable cruising speed and normally I would be glad to give them all the sightseeing time they feel they need, but right now, today, time is the one thing I don't have, and so would you get your vehicle out of my way right now?

I need to just pull over and get some coffee or something. Not gum, because tooth action just begets violence. There's enough of that in the world.

I wonder how much violence is the result of impatience...

I could pull over and just call the office and let them know that today is not a good day so far, and in a brave, bold attempt to head off certain disaster I am simply phoning in my intention to get there as quickly as possible, without killing anyone first. That means something to me, and I would think that it might mean something to them, especially if they want to see that database updated anytime soon.

I could even - and this is a worst case scenario - I could tell them that I will stay late by however much to make up for it. The point (and this is in a totally David Allen, GTD kind of way) is to simply eliminate the toxicity (tox - iss - it - tee) from your body. It's like a psychic anti-oxidant!

My response to the bad ju-ju of impatience? Just let it go.