Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Wrong Turn

15th Avenue
(all photos taken with my PalmPilot)

I walk this way to work every day. Something I am thankful for now that gas is over $3.00 a gallon in these parts. Besides, I have found out long ago, to really know where you live, you have to get out and walk around. You have to walk in places where you are told not to go.

Between where I live and where I work, there are some very nice neighborhoods and there are some not so nice ones. But regardless, people live in all of them. They are people not that different from you and I. Some have more problems and some have a harder time dealing with them. There are a lot of wrong turns on my way to work.

But just because we are told not to take them, doesn't mean that people don't live down these streets. I know a lot of them show up at this store on the 1st and the 15th of every month. Their primary product comes with a twist off cap. Where ever there is a 'need' there is an entrepreneur ready to fill it on 15th Ave.

I call this the Hotel Overpass, where Interstate 10 goes over 15th Ave before plunging into the 'deck-park tunnel' where they built a park over the interstate. I see one or two of God's less motivated people sleeping here when I walk home. The police don't seem to mind. I suppose they have more pressing issues to deal with than interrupting Walter Wino's afternoon nap.

Most of the ghosts I see walking 15th Ave are waiting for something. Social Security checks. A free meal. Their next rock of crystal meth.

I often see people waiting here as well. This is the cemetery near where I work. Although, I don't like the term cemetery. It seems so cold. I prefer Monument Garden because it more accurately reflects what it is.

I think we are all trained as children to fear these places. They are locations of horror movies and zombies. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They are living history parks that have a thousand riddles. I lament that so many people are cremated these days with no real marker for their grave. I wander the grave stones in this park and realize that each one is the final bookmark in a life with a one page, often cryptic, summary.

Some are inspiring, some whimsical, some funny, others are sad. But they all speak to who ever reads them. "Don't forget me." "I lived once too." "I dreamt.", "I mourned", "I loved", "I wished." They don't have to set the alarm clock anymore. They don't worry about gas prices. They finished the race. I like to think that they figured everything out before they left. Something I am still working on.

After my walks it amazes me how far off course we get. We should all take more lessons from the obvious signs around us. The stress created by greed, envy and expectation don't ever amount to much. They just get you to the monument garden a bit faster. Take a lesson from 'Winker'. The top of the piano is as far as I need to go today.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Dead Butterfly

I was driving home from Tucson on Saturday. I was driving a State Van because I had to be in Tucson on Friday on State business. These vans are the pits because no one ever reads the manual for them. Every stupid knob and latch in the dam thing is busted from people yanking on them the wrong way. It took me forever to get my iPod working so I could listen to my 'Top Rated Rock' Playlist. The dang power outlet had been broken by some previous driver. When I finally did get it to work, I was rocking out to about 400 songs that I had picked out as being 'exceptional' from my collection. I was grooving. Hell, I wasn't paying for the gas, and I had good tunes.

I was just passing Picacho Peak on my way north toward Phoenix, when ... SPLAT ... the Monarch butterfly that was crossing the road, didn't quite make it. He impaled himself right on the windshield wiper arm in front of the driver seat. His little colorful wings were shaking in the 60mph wind that was hitting the front of the van.

I tried the windshield wipers to try and throw him off. But he would not budge. I knew he was dead, but his wings continued to flutter in the wind. I could not help but look at him and the intricacy and delicate patterning of his wings. I guess he never knew what hit him.

It was as though Mother Nature was speaking to me and saying, "Hey, numb nuts, stop paying attention to all the trivial bullshit in life. Look what I create on an everyday basis, and you never notice. Look, here it is right in front of you! Can you help but be amazed at the beauty?"

That little butterfly pounded that image into my mind as I drove the 60 miles back to the house. Those small delicate wings, with intricate designs of color and texture, were impaled on the front of a 2002 Chevy Van. There was some sort of strange irony in the whole thing and after it happened, the music on the iPod didn't sound quite as good.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Interview

Management Competency

As I get older, weaker and wiser some things have become clear to me out of the fog of reality. One of those things is that many of the people that I have worked 'for' (supervisors, managers, directors, etc...) were anything but competent. In fact, many of them screwed up the organization that they worked for more than they helped it earn money or stay solvent.

As I became more confident of myself and my abilities, it sort of dawned on me that many of the questions that I was asked in job interviews were asinine. They were obviously created by some idiot legal / psychology team to try and find the ideal job applicant based on bizarre questions concerning my personality. (If you were a tree what would you be?).

Since I know from experience just how incompetent some of these managers that interview me are, I have developed a list of interview questions of my own. I get to spring these at the end of the interview when they ask the final question which is always "do you have any questions?" At that point I pull out my list and start asking. Needless to say, I have not gotten many job offers lately but that is OK, since I don't want to work for some moron that can't answer these.

The Manager Interview:

What is your Degree and from what School? Good to know if degreed from the school of hard knocks or just went through the motions to get a sheep skin.

Follow up: Are you doing any continuing education? Real question shows if they are moving forward, trying to learn more and advance or if they are just dead wood taking up space.

What is your tenure at this job and what did they do previously? Lets you know if they have come up through the ranks and really understand the job or if they were appointed by someone as a favor or are someone's second cousin.

Free word association. Hummer or VW Beetle? The question if obvious to all but management. One shows practicality, frugalness, and outgoing personality. The other shows brute force, fear, intimidation. Who would you want to work for?

What is the turnover ratio in your division? A question that any manager should know, but many have to think about it and or don't want to talk about it.

What is your favorite TV show? Trick question. Those that watch television are influenced by television and television lies to folks. I don't want to work for a manager whose favorite show is Friends or Survivor.

What Is Your Worst Trait? I am so tired of being asked this question in interviews that it is fun to see how management answers it. Since they like to consider themselves as infallible and are always worried about getting the company sued, they never want to answer it and then have it used against them later on down the road.

What is your idea of a 'Team Building' exercise, and what have you done recently to promote one? Again, this is something that makes folks cringe unless they are actually doing it. The best are things outside the office, such as team sports or seminars, etc. Office parties are the worst, since those are basically charades in office dress. No team building in the office shows malaise and deadwood. The manager isn't thinking pro-actively.

How long do you plan on being here and what are your carrier goals? Some managers will say they are going to sit still until they retire. Not a very dynamic work environment and they will be adverse to anything that rocks the boat.

What is your favorite way to pass the time / what is your hobby? Beware the person that has no hobby or passion for anything outside the office. They have given into the dark side and their job is their life and they will make it yours as well.

If publicly traded, ask what the NYSE or NASDAQ stock ticker is and where you might be able to get a hard copy of the last annual report. If they don't know this, then they really don't know their company, nor do they care.

Ask them the difference between Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer. If they don't know, then they don't know the nuts and bolts of how the automated office works. They are figureheads that have little knowledge of what is going on.

Is there an office procedure manual and how often / when was it last updated? Big management no-no if they don't know this. The correct answer is that is should be updated continuously and there should always be one person assigned to it and there needs to be a process where ALL employees get updates and are instructed what has been changed.

Free word association - Vacation or Money. What would you rather have right now? Everyone wants vacation. If they want money, they are not good planners and are living beyond their means. Everyone wants to get out of the office and have a life unto themselves. Those that don't, have problems.

Ask them what their favorite search engine is. If they don't know, bad answer. It is the basic way you find information in the computer age. If they can't find information, they rely on others to get it for them. Google and MSN searches are most likely. Yahoo is also up there, Ask Jeeves and DogPile shows some forward thinking and knowledge of the net.

Ask them if they know the definition of the 'Peter Principle'. This is sort of extra credit and could get you into trouble, but will show you if the manager is competent, a people person and has a sense of humor. The Peter Principle is an axiom in business that states; "In any given organization, every employee will rise to the level of their own incompetence." It basically means that every one will get promoted until they get into a job that they are totally clueless about.

Ask them what the one thing that they would like to do that would make their office/organization run better, but that they have been unable to do / implement. This is dual question, because it will show the failings of the organizational structure and the honestly of the manager. (Follow up; what are they doing to get around this?)

Ask them how fast they can touch type. If it is less than 40 wpm (or they don't know), then they have no hands on experience doing any job, or are a hold over from the days of secretaries. It is very likely that they are incompetent.

Ask them what is more important, assigned parking or a corner office. The answer is 'neither'. These are nothing but ego boosters for those that live for such things. The right answer would be assigned parking for employee of the month or having a corner break room to promote moral.

Free word association: Stoking the fire or greasing the wheels. Managers NEVER stock the fire, the paycheck does that. Their only job is to grease the wheels and make it easier for others to do their jobs. If the wheels are rusted, it does not matter how much heat is under the boiler.

Friday, September 2, 2005

The Big Easy

Reporting Live from Louisiana

I just had to share this with you. If you don't know who this is, his name is 'Foamy'. He is a little, opinionated, animated squirrel that has been on the Internet for a couple of years. He appears in little Flash cartoons from time to time, some of which are very funny and some of which are just strange.

This is his take on the devastation after Hurricane Katrina. I have to admit, that he is pretty dead on for a little Squirrel. If my vote counted, this little guy would be the replacement for Peter Jennings. Click on the icon to watch his report.

(Flash Macromedia Player Required / Strong (but appropriate) Language)


"Rich" and Famous

While riding the bus home from work several months ago I noticed a young urban black man who was intensely looking over the rap CD that he had just purchased from a local music chain store. I found this rather amusing because I knew I could go home and obtain that same music for free by downloading it from newgroups on the internet. This young black man did not know how to download music and was forced to pay the fee of over $14.00 for a shiny pressed piece of plastic they contained the music that he so desperately wanted to hear. It dawned on me at this point that the value of the music was not the $14.00 he had spent. The value was in the young black man's ability to obtain it. The music was not worth $14.00, the price for his ignorance was $14.00.

This has been in the back of my mind for some time. What is the concept of art and its value in terms of money? I know that what I'm about to say will cause a lot of people grief and anger. I believe that this grief is due to the blinders that we tend to put on because society tells us to. We are told by Capitol Records and their lawyers, "It has simply been this way in the past and therefore it should always be this way into the future."

With the advent of the Internet and the compression of global society the idea that artists can make money from selling reproductions of their art and live from the royalties seems somewhat arcane. Anything that can be digitized, such as music or video or artwork cannot really be controlled or profited from in this day and age. The ability to duplicate, cut and paste, and e-mail any type of digital artwork means that its value is only that which is related to one's ability to obtain it. If I can download 10,000 songs, all of which I enjoy listening to, how much are those songs worth? Ninety nine cents a song? $10,000? $100?

However, the unseen benefit to being able to obtain these songs for a nominal fee, or for free, is that I get to experience a broader range of music and have the potential to hear and appreciate music I otherwise would never have heard. Thereby, wanting to experience more music (artwork) than I otherwise would have been able to afford.

This gets back the concept of the value being in the performance, not in the royalties from the reproduction. The value to the performer would be the performance on the song, or the original piece (such as a signed photograph) or a commissioned work. I don't believe that Beethoven got 25 Viennese Francs every time the 9th Symphony was played, but he is considered a great artist. Chritine Aguilara gets $2 for ever CD she sells and we think that she will be remembered in 300 years?

The people that don't want you to think this way, are those that are already entrenched in the old system and don't want it to change. They see the 'rights' to music as a commodity. Michael Jackson bought the Beatles music catalog as an investment. Not for it's artistic value. There is a difference. The record companies have vested infrastructure in promoting and reaping the royalties from radio station and the like. But this has all been leap-frogged by the Internet. Instantaneous digital duplication has made music distribution obsolete, unless you are that poor urban black man on the bus, who was paying a price for his ignorance.

The written word can be considered the same way. Does J.K. Rowling really deserve the millions of dollars for writing was is essentially an ornate children's book, while Noam Chomsky goes almost un-noticed? The ability of a great writer comes in their ability to create the great work. Books are available to be printed on demand over the Internet from many authors now and are also available on e-books (particularly fun to read on a Palm Pilot), in which the author makes direct profit from his work, as long as it is fresh and inspiring.

This is just part of the new world order. The digital planet. A place with no middle men. There are those that will resist this violently. But it is a death struggle and they cannot win in the long run. But as long as they keep fighting, I am going to open up a Rap CD store in the poorer part of town. There is money to be made in ignorance. And lord knows, 50 Cent and Nelly need all the royalties they can get.