Archive for October, 2007

31
Oct
07

Reporting A Scandal: When Everyone Knows

I came across a post today that related a story about a supposed scandal brewing concerning a presidential candidate. I don’t care about the scandal. I’ve mentioned before that personal antics are of no interest to me. However, the language used to describe the situation is interesting:

So I was down in DC this past weekend and happened to run into a well-connected media person, who told me flatly, unequivocally that “everyone knows” The LA Times was sitting on a story, all wrapped up and ready to go about what is a potentially devastating sexual scandal involving a leading Presidential candidate. “Everyone knows” meaning everyone in the DC mainstream media political reporting world. “Sitting on it” because the paper couldn’t decide the complex ethics of whether and when to run it. The way I heard it they’d had it for a while but don’t know what to do. The person who told me (not an LAT person) knows I write and didn’t say “don’t write about this”. (link)

These phrases stuck out to me: “everyone knows,” “sitting on,” and “complex ethics.” Everyone knows? If everyone knows, then how complex can the ethics can be? And when you add “sitting on” to “everyone knows,” the contradictions just keep piling up.

Maybe this kind of thinking has played a role in why we’re paying less attention to the MSM and  more attention to people who are invested in ideas bigger than “everyone knows.”

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27
Oct
07

If We Like You, You Can Buy An iPhone

I’m always intrigued when a company puts limits on how you can buy its products. Most recently, Apple instituted a policy that only allows buyers to purchase two iPhones (previously five) and they must do so with a credit or debit card to track the purchase.

“Customer response to the iPhone has been off the charts, and limiting iPhone sales to two per customer helps us ensure that there are enough iPhones for people who are shopping for themselves or buying a gift,” Kerris said. “We’re requiring a credit or debit card for payment to discourage unauthorized resellers.” (link)

Huh. Apple is notorious for “caring” what customers do with their products and software after purchase, but the verbiage in this case is so interesting. The new policy is couched in terms of protecting potential iPhone customers from dangerous, “unauthorized resellers.” I don’t recall Apple attempting to protect its customers from itself when it sold the iPhone for $600, then dropped the price a few months later.

Perhaps I’m drawing a connection where none exists, but Apple’s attitude that only it can use market demand to advantage is funny. Why didn’t Apple’s new policy simply state, “Depending on our mood, we’ll sell you an iPhone.” Better yet, “If we like you, we’ll let you buy an iPhone.”

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26
Oct
07

Stirring Up History

I’ve mentioned a few time my love of books. More accurately, it’s the love of stories contained in the books. Occasionally, certain stories resonate more than others. This post isn’t a book review by any stretch. Instead, it’s more of a prompting to ask yourself when was the last time you read a book that resonated?

To give you some context, I most recently finished a book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, A Breath of Snow and Ashes. It’s the sixth book in the series, and given the length of the books, I can’t begin to do the story justice. Suffice to say for my purposes today that it’s historical fiction set in the mid- to late-1700s.

Gabaldon is an author who revels in the details, so her stories tend to overflow with the minutiae of everyday life during this time period. This latest book is placed right at the beginnings of the Revolutionary War and reminded me of the fact that we take the United States existence for granted. I say taken for granted, because at the time, the likelihood of a successful rebellion against Great Britain wasn’t a given. Despite the bigger populations in cities like Boston and Philadelphia, many settlers were spread throughout the 13 colonies in the backcountry. I can’t begin to imagine the difficulties of forming said individuals into fighting militias, including the arming, feeding, and moving of them.

Even more interesting, I was struck by how everyone—men, women, and children—were caught up in the conflict, without regard to class or age. History tends to place the leaders of the past on pedestals, perhaps stripping them of their humanity. Within the stories told by Gabaldon and other authors, both fiction and nonfiction, such characters are brought back to life, making clear both the good and the bad. I believe this fact is why I was so struck by this story. Granted, I thought some sections of this particular book a trifle overdone, but overall, I was left wondering, “Could I survive in that world?”

I’m a big proponent of modern life. I like my technology and conveniences, but I also think we’ve lost something important. We’ve strayed away from the notion that there’s something bigger at stake, that certain ideals hold a value beyond money. When did that happen?

I’m not blind to the gray areas that make up most of history. Few things, if any, are black and white. I’m not trying to gild the past either. It was dirty and dangerous with no certainty of what the future held. But I’m saddened that we’ve moved past the point of writing and speaking about the “truths [held] to be self-evident.” We no longer write documents like the Declaration of Independence that declare:

…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (link)

These words that stirred men to historic achievements now pop up in advertisements, and we don’t seem to care. Santayana had the right of it, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (link) Based on what I’ve seen, I believe he’s right. Heaven help us all.

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24
Oct
07

Tipping the Balance

The last three days have been a perfect storm of client projects, thus no blog posts since last week. This imbalance in my life triggered the notion that we place a lot of emphasis on having balance in our lives. Balanced diets, balanced checkbooks, balanced opinions. We even use scales and a blind woman to represent justice.

I’d pose that balance doesn’t truly exist and that our pursuit of so-called balance only leaves us wildly out of whack. For instance, my fear of not having written a blog post since last week (mustn’t blow the schedule even more) had me writing a draft of this post (see below) while my hairdresser cut my hair.

Notebook

I strongly suspect that I’m not the only one who questions what living a balanced life requires and the cost it exacts. Failing to recognize this fact falls in the same category (IMO) as saying that women can have it all with no caveat added to address the good and the bad (that’s another discussion).

Balance is also equated to neutrality (see: scales of justice), which I find equally ridiculous, if admirable in aim. For instance, Fox News makes a point of saying “fair and balanced.” Please, hold the laughs for a moment. The bigger question isn’t whether they’re honest or not when they say this but rather why network executives assume viewers want “fair and balanced” in their news?

Am I too cynical when I say that I believe no one individual or entity is capable of true balance or neutrality all of the time? Last I checked, humans, including reporters, aren’t exempt from all the quirks of humanity, including personal opinions. Would we like/respect the press more if we knew what personal biases might be in play?

Coming back to balance in our lives…some weeks, I will physically (and mentally) not be able to keep my posting schedule of five per week, but that won’t stop me from trying to meet my goal. Maybe this idea is the true definition of balance.

As Marc Andreessen points out, “There’s always more demands than there’s time to meet them, so it’s constantly a matter of trying to balance them.” (link) The other thing I’d add—try spending more time weighing the value of the demand versus the time it requires. Few scales will ever truly balance. Perhaps they aren’t supposed to.

Comments?

19
Oct
07

Masterly Skills

Varying stories about masters of their craft have floated around for years. My friend Penny recently highlighted the masterly skills of a cobbler who saved her favorite shoes:

This cobbler is a master of his craft. I’ve now had him rebuild the soles of two pairs of my shoes, neither pair were “easy” cases. Today I picked up my beloved work shoes. He stitched them back together. They have nice new heels and rubber soles. They look amazing don’t you agree? It took all of my energy not to hug him and I really do not this he charges enough for his amazing work. He laughed at me because I gushed at length about the work and praised him. I think I embarrassed him. Good. He knows what he’s doing and he does it well and with pride.

We have so many channels available to us for sharing our skills and talents, but the ease has made some people careless. What saddens me is how few individuals seem to take pleasure and pride in being masters of what they do. I’ve worked with so many people who subscribe to doing the bare minimum to get by, then justify their actions by saying, “No one notices anyway. What difference does it make?” Other thinking includes, “Everyone else gets away with it, why should I put myself out?”

I’ve decided that these trends are somewhat reversed in this new world I’ve chosen to join. I find myself surrounded by talented, driven people, many who would do what they do out of sheer love, even if it didn’t come with a paycheck. About two years into college, I finally figured this very thing out, courtesy of my dad.

After changing majors seven (yes, seven) times, my dad sat me down and started asking some pointed questions.

Dad: “Why have you gone through every engineering program the school offers?”

Me: “Well, there’s a demand for women in engineering, and I’d make good money?”

Dad: “Do you like engineering?”

Me: “Not really, but I want to make a lot of money?” (Yes, at 19/20, I was seriously interested in making money.)

Dad: “But what is it you really love to do?”

Me: [stumped]

Dad: “Did you really like writing in high school? You seemed to enjoy writing for the newspaper?”

Me: [light bulb starting to flicker]

Dad: “I can’t tell you what to be, but I can tell you that if you’re doing something you love, success and financial security usually follow. When you’re doing something you’re good at and enjoy, people can see that and respond to it.”

Me: [My dad’s brilliant.]

I took his advice and have tried to become a master of my craft. If I’m lucky, this will be a lifelong pursuit, and I share Penny’s sentiments:

On my walk home in the rain with my renewed shoes, I began to think about the details in my work. I strive for perfection the first time. I’ve prided myself in the quality of my work. As I’ve gotten older and/or “more comfortable” with what I’m doing I’ve gotten both sloppy and slightly lazy, allowing mistakes to creep through. In honour of my cobbler’s work, I’m renewing my desire to improve on the little details, with fibre, foods, photos, and words. I have a very long way to go before I feel I can call anything I do “master” quality. I hope one day to be worthy.

Do you feel like your a master of what you do?

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17
Oct
07

For What It’s Worth: GOOG-411

In support of Google’s efforts to take over the world, they’ve “graduated” 1-800-GOOG-411 from the labs. In theory, it’s a great idea, and I’ve seen other posts highlighting the new service. Perhaps I should have waited until I had more experience, but my first interaction was so frustrating.

I must note that the service offers the option of using your keyboard to tap in the name of what you’re looking for. However, I was driving at the time and figured talking on the phone was bad enough. Anyway, GOOG-411 got my city and state with no problems. Then came the name—Salon 720.

I tried pronouncing the name I don’t know how many ways. The results never even came close to the business name. Voice recognition systems seem to struggle with “sssss” sounds, and mine had two. I’ve noticed this issue in my parents’ OnStar system when voice dialing a number with sevens. However, I’d called AT&T’s information line the week before and had no problems with their voice recognition when I asked for the same listing. (You may be asking yourself, “Doesn’t she write anything down?” In answer, once again, I was driving at the time.)

Finally after five tries, I called regular information, got a human and was connected in under 20 seconds. So, for what it’s worth, try the free GOOG-411, but proceed cautiously if your desired listing contains “sssss.”

Comments?

16
Oct
07

Keeping Time

Who decided that day was, well, day, and night was night? Let me phrase it another way: who decided that day was when things got done and night was when we slept? I’m a night owl. More accurately, I function better during the twilight hours. However, for business reasons, I push myself to conform to the standard hours that most of my clients observe.

Frankly, if you’ll pardon the pun, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done. Recent stories about delays in the airline industry pointed to three big issues: (1) antiquated air traffic control systems; (2) bad weather; and (3) increased passenger traffic. There’s one other factor that gets mentioned regularly—airlines are trying to takeoff and land at the choicest times, creating a logjam on the runways. Ideal times only exist because we’re forcing our days—and our lives—into a box.

Metric Time

Back in 1987, The Economist published a piece saying the world should metrify its timekeeping. Instead of 24 hours, we’d have 10, 100 minutes a piece, with 100 seconds per minute. They argued:

Long-distance travel will become simpler with decimalisation…Decimalisation will ease the problems of jet lag by cutting the number of time zones. Dividing the 360º globe into 24 means having bands that are are just 15º wide. This gives the continental United States (without Alaska) four time zones; the Soviet Union an absurd 11. A ten-hour system calls for 36º bands, yielding just two zones for America and five for Russia.

The introduction of a new unit for the working day should make it easier for people in successful industrial countries to reap the leisure benefits of higher productivity. It will suit several rich countries to encourage shorter working days in future. The longer decimal hour will helpfully disguise this change from unwilling workaholics. Four o’clock (new style) sounds an aggressively early time to start work; seven o’clock sounds a satisfyingly late time to go home, and a mere three-quarter hour lunch-break seems spartan. Actually, such a four-to-seven working day will be 23% shorter than the old nine-to-five with one hour off for lunch. (link)

Beyond switching to metric time (which makes for interesting conversation), I wonder why we’re so resistant to utilizing the entire clock. There’s 24 hours. Subtracting your minimum 8 hours of sleep, that leaves 16 hours that could be placed anywhere on the clock.

Potential for Overlap

We assume that certain functions need to be performed on a 24-hour basis (hospitals, police, firefighters, etc.). Why doesn’t the rest of society function that way too? Consider the market exchange systems throughout the world. The Asian markets are functioning while American markets are tucked away for the night and vice versa. How would it change the industry if the markets overlapped even by a few hours?

Ultimately, I wonder why we don’t create time tables that suit our lives. Jumping out of bed at 4 or 5 in the morning, ready to start day, doesn’t automatically mean you’re a better person. But the way we’ve set up time, there’s a perception that we’re slacking if we aren’t up bright and early, ready to work our full “day.”

Since I’ve gone from a traditional 8-5 schedule to a more flexible schedule, I know I consistently work more hours and later into the evening. However, my work is better, and I’m doing amazing things with my time. Given that time is finite, I hope we can become smarter about how we use it and understand that the way we’ve managed it to date may not be possible in the future.

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