Friday, August 31, 2007

*Tell Me Why!* I Don't Like Fridays

Fridays, while they have their benefits...end of the working week, date night, etc, are about as bad a day as I know. It starts out with me coming in to work, same as usual, and then continues on as great as can be until 10. At 10 we begin the weekly ritual of "I'm going to be on time, screw everyone else." I come in to our management meeting, knowing full well that it won't start at 10 and that it may indeed never start. Today, for example. Right now it's 10:30, so I've been here for a half an hour waiting for the rest of the group to show up. I would do work, but if I get in to anything, I know that I'll end up having to drop it right in the middle as suddenly it's imperative that I get to the meeting ASAP because their time is far more important than mine. From an hourly billing perspective, they are right because they make a lot more than I do on an hourly basis. Nevertheless, you'd think that they'd respect my time somewhat. I think that what Forro and I are going to start doing is the walkout. We meet late and then run through any semblance of a normal lunch hour, sometimes getting out at 2 or at 3. We've started it already, and I think we may take it up a notch here. So then we have this meeting that one of the managers insists on just restating everything and going on and on and blathering about all kinds of nonsense, mainly because he doesn't have a clue what's happening (this isn't just an issue with our management meetings, this is with everything that he does).
Then, after they waste most of my day, I get to cram 8 hours of work into 3 hours, getting done somewhere between 6-7 pm just in time to head out and try to do something with my wife.
Saturdays are great, and even Friday nights. I'm just sick of the interminable waste of time that this meeting tends to be. Really, I think most of it can be targeted at this guy, because when he's not in these meetings, we actually get it done quickly and effectively.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

General Armchair

If there is one thing that I know about myself it's that I'm a huge armchair doing stuff guy. It could be anything - running a company, being president, etc. Sure, I love actually doing things too, but there's something inherently fun about being able to say "here's what I'd do."

That's the reason why, when I play a video game (which is a great little way to pass some time), I love Real Time Strategy games. These are the games that allow you to control a group (in general, a small army) and launch them at your opponent. I do like other games, but to some degree I find that I am a better tactician than strategiest, just ask those I play paintball with. I like controlling multiple groups, running them over terrain, and so forth. On top of that, post WWIII conflicts/conditions have always intrigued me (perhaps that's why I have been a fan of Jericho, for all of it's flaws). That's why I'm so excited about World in Conflict (video below). It has a great pedigree. For starters, Larry Bond, co-writer of Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising (only the greatest World War III scenario ever written) in charge of the story. While I don't want to see that conflict return, it has prevented us from seeing 15 years of World War III scenario games, ranging from WarGames style "let's launch our nukes at each other" to the Company of Heroes version of the invasion of Crimea. Hopefully this will start a series that can lead us throughout a modern, realistic, World War III.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Big Sleazy

What did this Simpsons clip have to do with the post? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Well, other than the fact that people in New Orleans have no respect for law and order. The Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal site has a great article today about the recovery of New Orleans. I remember the first stories after at least part of the city was cleaned up about how crime had plummeted to rates not seen since Le Moyne founded it. Unfortunately with the return of actual people to the city, crime has seen a corresponding jump. From the article:
In fact, since Katrina, New Orleans's murder rate has been higher than that of any First World city. Depending on fluctuating estimates of the city's returning population, it's perhaps 40% higher than before Katrina and twice as high as the rate in other dangerous cities like Detroit, Newark and Washington.

That's never a good sign. The first rule of thumb in a city is that you have to have law and order. Otherwise, you're going to end up with a broken city. Mayor Nagin, in all his wisdom, isn't bothering to go to the Giuliani/Bratton school of "prosecute and punish," but instead he's from the Ted Bundy school of "crime keeps the New Orleans brand out there." I don't know about you, but I know that the first thing I think about when I choose where to go on a vacation is crime. I want it to be as dangerous a place as possible, which is why my top 3 vacation destinations are Johannesburg, South Africa; Cali, Columbia; and Rio de Janerio, Brazil. Hopefully I could have a layover in St. Louis or Detroit on my way there.
What is Mayor Nagin thinking? The guy is about the least competent mayor on the planet and he refuses to make the tough decisions. Instead of plotting a future for his city, he's busy trying to convince tourists that dangerous is safe and kowtowing to local citizens who live in areas of the city that are so far below sea level that if they see a cloud in the sky they're under 3 feet of water. It's time to put on my mayor hat and list my plan for New Orleans, in all it's never-to-be-implemented glory.
My first duty would be to hire Howard Safir (NYPD Commissioner after Bratton) to run the department. Bratton's cleaning up Los Angeles, so I wouldn't want to take him away from there. I'd let him do his job and stay out of his hair. I would hope that it would include things like nailing people for quality of life crimes, ridding the department of it's complacency, and establishing a real presence in the city. My second order of business would be to destroy the levees. Oh there would be some that I would keep up, but most of the current outline of the city I would raze all together. Based on it's position along the Mississippi, it was never meant to grow to its current level. The reclaimed land that the levees protect is sinking and the original area of the city is the only somewhat safe area to live in. As a result, I would pull New Orleans back to its original footprint, perhaps levee that bad boy, bulldoze every building that's not in that footprint, and let Lake Ponchartrain do the rest. It'd be cheaper to pay full market value for the area underwater than it would be to strengthen the levee system enough for it to actually protect people with the conditions they face. The effects of this would be severalfold. One, the city would be much easier to police. That would reduce crime by a significant amount. Two, the city would lose a lot of population. Play on that - because of the scarcity of land, and you could keep it scarce, then that would increase property values and bring in development of projects that could help the city to regain some of that population. Think of it as a Manhattan of the south. The skyscrapers couldn't be as big, but you better believe that you could get some significant growth by building up instead of out. Three, you'd lose the New Orleans Hornets and quite possibly the Saints. Not a big deal. Sure, they love their football and not as much their basketball, but that shouldn't be a reason to keep the city bigger than nature intended. Four, people would be safe. During Katrina, the water didn't reach into the Garden District or French Quarter for good reason - they're above sea level. You wouldn't see scenes like we saw in New Orleans again.
Why would people be opposed to this plan? They lose their homes, it's seen as a retreat in the face of nature, and it diminishes the importance of their hometown. All of these are valid and would have to be worked on, but at the same time who cares if we retreat before nature. We've retreated from the Viet Cong, Hezbollah, the Japanese, Nazi Germany, and countless other foes. In some instances we've come back to win, in others we haven't. That doesn't necessarily mean that it was the wrong choice. Nature is far more powerful than any of those other opponents and if we decide to give it the middle finger, don't be surprised when it runs over your car with its 18 wheeler of Darwin's Theory. Respect nature and it won't have as big a problem with you. Of course, it's all moot at this point because the abandon New Orleans plan has already been shot down, but if the powers that be in Louisiana were smart, they'd reverse that decision before a Hurricane Dean or Camille comes in and makes Katrina look like a clear sky.
By the way, take a look at National Geographic's article about New Orleans from their current issue. It's very enlightening.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Children Are Our Future

Here is the world's worst answer to such questions as "Are you sane or not." Honestly, this certainly looks like some sort of cruel Punk'd episode or Celebrity Jeopardy. Here's this girl, being asked why 1/5th of "US Americans" can't find the United States on a map. If I was in this pageant, my answer would be as follows:What's worse than that people can't find the US on a map is that people can list the last 2 DUI dates for Lindsay Lohan and the exact amount of days that Paris Hilton went to jail. I'm even guilty of being a font of absolutely worthless knowledge. It's why I like to compete against people on the TV screen during Jeopardy! If they weren't Ken Jennings, I could do pretty good because I know more miscellania than any 5 normal people. Of course, one of those little factoids is "where is the US on a map." What I really liked was the essay-style format of her answer. You could almost see her trying to compose a standard 5 paragraph essay on the spot. Of course, 5 paragraph essays went out of style long ago mainly because they suck. She rambled on for a full 30 seconds like Farah Fawcett did on Letterman a decade ago, not sure what was going on. The biggest difference is that Fawcett was probably on something, whereas our lovely contestant was just confused and disoriented.
What are we teaching people in school these days? I seem to recall the push to more and more academically rigid standards back when I was in high school with the groups younger than mine that forced them into tougher classes. Shouldn't one of these classes focus on things like "what does the US look like and where is it in relation to everywhere else?" How many people couldn't pick the Earth out of a solar system diorama? What about picking their state out of the US? How about their city in a state? Themselves in a picture of people? These are basics that everyone should know, and because they don't, Jeff Foxworthy has his own reality TV gameshow. For shame, US Americans, for shame. Buy yourselves a map.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Travelblog Austria/Germany, The Locations

Here's some of the pictures from our trip, in chronological order:
We flew into Vienna via Delta in Atlanta. We got delayed there, although it was bearable as we were in Business Elite instead of coach. If you've not experienced it, save some miles to do so at least once in your life.The Rathaus, ViennaHofburg, Vienna. The tour was distinctive, I'll give it that. I loved the voice of the audio guide, but he was way too long-winded.
Schonbrunn Palace, outside Vienna. Same audio guide, much more succinct, much better. The grounds are incredible here.
St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna. This was cool, but alas, the main spire was undergoing restorative work.
Melk Abbey, Austria. We drove through here on the way to Salzburg and didn't know about it at first. Are we glad we stopped! This was, without question, one of the best cathedrals I've ever been in. It was absolutely incredible and ruined the insides of every other church we went to.
Salzburg, Austria. This was quite possibly our favorite place we went to. The city was incredibly compact, we were able to see everything in about a day and walk everywhere, but it had an amazing feel. The Mozart houses were certainly interesting, although one of them just went on forever. The audio tour felt like "we don't have enough interesting information, so here's 20 minutes of Mozart's music while you're standing around." I have an iPod, thank you. Give me the info and be done, not a concert on my little hand held device. The castle was amazing though, very cool stuff.

Salzburg, Germany. Salzburg's claim to fame is The Sound of Music, for some reason or another. I'm not a fan of it, and I'm less so after seeing a little YouTube clip of the "Do, a deer..." song. My wife's mom had them reenact that song when she was young and they were there, and we did it again, far less seriously. Here I am as Julie Andrews.
Obersalzburg, Germany. This here is Eagles' Nest, the famed gift for Hitler that got turned into a restaurant.
Obersalzburg, Germany again. This is part of the miles of bunkers that run underneath the Alps here. They built them to withstand heavy bombing as well as an all-out frontal assault. They were definitely a highlight of the trip.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany. This castle put every other one to shame. Part of that is because it's newer and part is because they have done a great job with it. The whole thing, from the views of the valley and mountains to the interior is absolutely awe-inspiring. Let me just say that, despite the Wagnerian themes that are used throughout, it's a castle that anybody could be happy with. I don't know much Wagner other than "O Fortuna" so I'm not a good one to ask about all the themery.
Wieskirche, Germany. This was the only other really remarkable interior of a church that I saw. It was amazing, but in a very different way than Melk. Add up the donuts that were being sold right across the way from it and you have a good looking, delicious combination.
Garmisch, Germany. This is the Zugspitze, the tallest mountain(s?) in Germany. The way the clouds got trapped in the middle was very, very cool.
Munich, Germany. Apparently our Lord and Savior is in the Rolex business now, as He has a chain of stores throughout Germany.
Munich, Germany. Go to the Hofbrauhaus, whether you drink or not. It's a true German experience that you have to see (and hear!) to believe. The rest of the city was impressive as well, but not as much so as other parts of the trip.
Dachau, Germany. If there's one thing that everyone on this planet should do, it's visit a concentration camp. There's nothing else that can help you to truly see what Hitler did to the Jews and other opponents nor the true depth of evil that was the Nazi philosophy. This took the better part of a day to visit, and I wouldn't have wanted to do anything else. Absolutely astounding, and this one isn't even that "evil" in the classic, "killed millions of people" way that Auschwitz and Treblinka were.

Nuremberg, Germany. This was a very cool, typical German city. Things were much less expensive here, which I appreciated. They got pretty hammered during World War II, so I was impressed with the restorative work here that kept the feel of an old-timey German town.
Heidelberg, Germany. If anything, this got World War II worse than Nuremberg. As a result, it felt more like Japan to me than any other place we went. From the train station that was the central hub of the city to the somewhat faithful reproductions of everything in site, it reminded me of so much I've seen before
Frankfurt, Germany. (New York + Tokyo + Germany + London)/4. This is the same as any other big city in the world. It was an amazing contrast from the rest of the country that we'd seen. There was very little attempt to old-timey it and they just went straight for Financial Capital of Germany.

Travelblog Austria/Germany, The Observations

I just got back from my trip to Austria and Germany, one that cost less than $1500 for my wife and I for 9 days. How you might ask?
  • Frequent Flyer miles: I do enough business travel that this builds up, but there are always little tricks knocking about like the "eat at 25 restaurants on this list, spend over $25, get 35000 miles" one that helped put me over the top.
  • Hotel points: These are the red-headed stepchild of travel benefits, but in terms of how much they are worth, they can be more valuable than airline miles.
  • Cheap car. I can drive a stick shift, and so the car wasn't too expensive. Unlike on a typical business trip, you don't want to get a big car because gas is a small fortune in Europe and the roads are small, so the smaller the better. Fortunately small=cheap.
I'm nothing if not a miles/points scrounger, and so I've been able to do a couple of these in my lifetime. Right now I'm low on hotel points, but I could do another flight easily. Some of my general observations:
  • If you're on a toilet paper run on the Germany/Austria border, spend the extra time to go to a German store. All things considered, even the toilet paper in public bathrooms in Germany beat the toilet paper at 5-star hotels in Austria. I wouldn't have thought that was the case, but I experienced it.
  • German drivers are just as bad as those anywhere. Don't let anybody fool you, even though they can certainly build a sweet road (if only I had my car over there instead of the piece of crap I did - it was shaking like a Mexican space shuttle when I hit 100 MPH), they still are prone to gawk, rubberneck, cut off, and get in an accident.
  • The Autobahn is a driving mecca. Give me some of this action, US! I don't know how it works, but it does work with people going at 120 MPH and others going 60 MPH. I think the key is that you don't pass on the right and that if you are slow in that fast lane you're likely to have a BMW permanently attached to your rear bumper.
  • Anarchists must not have great spacial reasoning skills, at least those who feel it's their duty to spray paint monuments and other assorted masonaria. This is the first, and in my opinion greatest example I saw of it on my trip:
  • Engrish is not just an Oriental phenomenon. I had thought this during my previous trips to Europe, as the English was pretty good. However, I saw a couple of examples that almost put Japanese Engrish to shame:
  • I don't think I'll whinge about US gas prices for a good long time. We payed the US equivalent of $7/gallon in Europe. If that doesn't make $3/gallon look good, I don't know what will. What really annoyed me is that I didn't fill up before leaving Austria, because their gas was a solid .20/liter cheaper than in Germany. Dar you not having internet!
  • Everyone spoke English! It was crazy, but I never felt like I had to break out my non-existent German skills. I seem to recall this from past trips to Europe, but this was certainly a nice reminder. I don't know if that makes me an ugly American or not, but I was quite happy with the not having to speak German or relying on a system of pointing and mispronouncing to be somewhat understood.
  • I loved this trip. We were going to take our little girl, but we decided about two weeks before we left to not. It was the best decision we made. Our daughter loved staying with her grandparents and we loved having the freedom to do whatever we wanted on the trip. Every parent should plan to have a few days away from their kids at least once every couple of years. You need it...they don't so much, but it helps you to focus on your relationship rather than you + the kids.
  • Driving in Germany was much easier than anticipated, even with the insane amount of oblivious bikers. I'd not want to do it for a living or anything, but it gave us far more freedom than the original plan of a rail pass did, plus it was cheaper, even when you factor in the cost of gas and garaging the car.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sorro's Voting Manifesto 1.0

This will probably be followed by a 1.something pretty quickly, as I don't have as much time as I anticipated before my flight and I refuse to take a laptop with me on a vacation. Without further ado, the Manifesto!
1. If you don't vote, you can't complain about how the country is run. This is by far and away the least partisan thing here. The fact is that right around 40-50% of people vote in national elections, and far less vote in local ones. There can be and are lots of reasons why that is the case, but they're all bull as far as I'm concerned. Whether you like the candidates or not, whether you're interested in politics or not, get your lazy butt out of the barcalounger, do a little reasearch and go over to your local polling place. It takes 20 minutes to cast your vote for the person you decide that you want to influence your life more than anyone other than your immediate family or boss for the next so many years. If you don't feel like taking that little bit of time (amoritized, it's seconds a month) then either your life isn't worth very much to you or else you're just an out and out idiot. There's no MTVization of this here - if you don't vote, you deserve what you get, and don't come whining to me about it.
2. Less is more. I want candidates who will get less involved with my life, not more. This is in every aspect of things. I want less regulation, less big-brotherism, less taxes, less hand-holding, and so on. Even though I'm a Republican by party orientation, I'm a libertarian at heart. I want to see the unfettering of every bond imaginable. Make this nation truly free. Free up the markets, allow people to try new things without having to jump through a bunch of hoops to get it. Case in point: the government has laws where doctors can't refer patients to other health care organizations in which they have a substantial stake. Yet I can do that in any other area of business. If I'm JP Morgan Chase, I can refer a banking client to my investment group without the government hauling me away to jail. If I was PanAm, I could have refered someone to Intercontinental Hotels (which I owned, before I went belly up). Why do we have that law in healthcare? Why do we have laws that protect big agribusiness at the expense of everyone else in the nation? I don't want them to get paid to not grow wheat or to dump milk, I want them to get paid for what they produce on the market. No more, no less. If things are too up and down in that market they'll do what other people do and hedge their bets. It's not a difficult concept.

Well, unfortunately I am out of time. If I can return to this along my travels I will. If not, expect another version shortly after I return.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Incompetence with a captial IRS

I get stacks of junk mail, literally stacks of junk. Usually sorting the large piles of post bearing all sorts of variations on my name is rather boring and uneventful. The other day, however, I received an ominous looking letter from the IRS. Whenever I see something from the IRS my heart takes a little skip. In my mind it is either going to reveal really good news in the form of money, or really bad news in the form of an audit. This letter had neither, rather a letter notifying me that I had not filed for 2005. This came as a shock, as I happen to know that I did file for 2005. In fact I remember it quite well because I happened to owe a tidy little sum to the federal government. Whenever you send payment of four digits or more to the feds it scars you just a little inside, making the details easy to recall.

I called the IRS hoping to quickly resolve the matter. The previous sentence should shed some light on my naivety. Nothing is quick with the IRS, and anyone who thinks otherwise need but wait on hold just once to agree. 30 minutes of crackling Hayden, Liszt and Chopin and my call was answered. As a side note I think someone needs to invent a system where you can pick the genre of hold music...IE my Dad could pick doo-wop and my Mom could opt for Yanni while they wait. For me, monster ballads would have made the 30 minutes fly by. In any case, half an hour of poorly recorded classical favorites led me to a half bossy/half friendly IRS representative who reminded me a little bit of Nurse Laverne Roberts from Scrubs. I explained that I had filed and that I had also confirmed that the IRS had received the electronic payment. She pulled up my account and said "Yes, I can see that we did receive your [massive] payment." I foolishly jumped to conclusions with my reply of "great, then the matter is all taken care of". The matter, of course, was not all taken care of. She informed me that I would need to refile my return. I pointed out that if they received my payment then obviously I had indeed filed. I felt that I had a solid argument. However the IRS apparently doesn't subscribe to the same logic that most of America calls common sense. In the minds of the IRS because they didn't have the paperwork I must not have sent the paperwork. After about five minutes of attempting to argue my point I realized that it was a hopeless case. I joked and said I hope I don't have to refile my payment as well, no laugh, I became immediately nervous. Realizing the solving this over the phone was a lost cause and Nurse Laverne wasn't the type to push my luck with I said "well thanks anyways" and planned to hang up. I was wrong again. I could almost see her wagging her finger through the phone as she said "now you hold on there honey, I have to update your account". She put me on hold for about two minutes. During the silence I wondered what she was updating...I thought about hanging up, but the IRS is not a group I want to mess with, I have a fear that they can make life uncomfortable.
It isn't so much that refiling my return is THAT big of a deal, but just once I'd like to hear a story that ends with the IRS saying oh sorry we screwed up, let's fix that for you. I wanted that to be my story, but no. The IRS doesn't have my paperwork, I must not have sent it.

Blowing Up The Market

I've probably got 2 posts left in me before I head to Austria and Germany on a well deserved (at least in my opinion) trip with just my wife. Hopefully that will tide people over before I get back. The first one is my mandatory "what happened on Wall Street!?" spiel and the other is my Voting Manifesto 1.0. I really want to get that one out, but we'll see what happens. Anyway, it's looking like the heads of some of these trading houses and/or mortgage firms might start doing the honorable thing like that Chinese toy manufacturer did any day now.
I'm sure that there is going to be intense pressure, especially if this ends up bringing down the bull market (we're only about 6% away from a bear market right now) for the whole mortgage industry to be regulated. Of course, all that will do is raise costs and eliminate some of the things people have been able to use to get ahead in the world. I'm the first to say that 90% of the mortgage options out there are lunacy. You have your ARM, where you get the low, low teaser rate until it goes variable, at which point if you haven't paid it off then you're in for some 80s style rates. You have the 40 year fixed, where you'll work most of your life to pay it off, then when you finally did, you'll turn around and get a reverse mortgage to get the money back. There's the no money down mortgage, where you can give the homeowning life a try without anything to back it up other than your name. Take a chance with the interest only mortgage, where you pay no principle for the first x number of years and hope for the best, and so on. The point is that while some of these are madness to even try to get in my opinion (I'm a straight 15 or 30 fixed man), but they have worked for people who aren't me.
Let's look at some of the benefits of all these different options. We have the highest rate of home ownership in the history of the country right now and people's net worth is higher than it's been in quite some time. However, there are people who have lost everything as well. While on the macro level, this has still created (and will continue to create) more than enough wealth to make it worthwhile, there are certainly problems on an individual level with foreclosures, bankruptcies, and so on. The solution to that isn't to regulate what kinds of loans can be offered or who can get them. If you're going to legislate risk, you might as well do away with investment vehicles like options, calls, and so on. After all, it's more risky to bet on an option than on real estate (in general).
What should happen is people should be more educated about their choices. A lot of that falls on the individual and if you choose not to learn about things, you choose to be ignorant and headed for a fall. There could be something from the SEC or someone that is a sanctioned information source, but I would stop there. If it's something that works for people and for lenders, let them go ahead and do it. They both take the risk and both share in the rewards. If we choose to start protecting people from their idiocy let's start with something far more basic, say banning cutlery or stoves or electrical appliances. That's where the real danger is.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Farbeit for me to ever criticize my favorite car company in the whole world, BMW, but I must. They're bringing the 1-series to the United States. That in and of itself is not bad news, I'm all for more sweet Bimmer action. The problem is that they're setting this car up to cannibalize the 3-series. If they put smaller power plants in them (the old 1.8 from the mid 90s, the 2.3, the 2.5, maybe topping out at 2.8...something like that) then it wouldn't matter, they'd be in a different segment. However, they're putting their 3.5 in these bad boys (sidenote: that's how they get the model number xyy is series, engine displacement, in this case 135). It won't be as big as the current 335i, nor as heavy, so this thing is really going to move in more ways than one. It's cheaper than the 3 series by about 10 gs which will certainly give it more selling power. We'll see what happens - BMW's only option might be to raise the displacement across their product lines, leaving us with the 340i, the 550i, and the 760i as their products so that they can keep the 135i as the base product. It's a bit too much too soon for the car, but they should know what they're doing with all those years of being the Ultimate Driving Machine.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Look Closer, You're Dead

File this one under the worst billboard of all time. In theory, it's quite clever. They did replace it before I could get a good picture, but this recreation is pretty close. You have a very faded picture of a something that, upon closer inspection happened to be a doctor. Very clever, if you don't mind causing accidents. You should never have to closely examine a billboard, even if they mean for you to only do it in rush hour. Otherwise, everyone else behind you will get a nice view of it as they wait for the police to clean you up off the road along with that eighteen wheeler that you caused to jackknife.

Twister 2

This is an incredible idea from Canada. The Freakonomics blog mentions that an engineer from The Great White North thinks that we can harness the power of tornadoes to create energy. It's an amazing thought actually, and it's certainly possible. The more pressing question is while it's possible to do so, is it smart. The source article actually has a nice little joke about it, but it's a legitimate concern. If you have it remote enough, say the Outback or northern Canada, I suppose it would run out of steam before hitting anything, but it just seems dangerous. It's like all of the nanoengineering we're doing. Sure, bacteria and viruses are tiny and we can engineer them to, say, eat 1 million times their weight in feces, but who's to say that they won't take on a life of their own and mutate into some sort of horrific disease?
Nevertheless, it's certainly an idea worth looking into. I'm all for these cleaner energy sources, like the turbines that use tides and/or waves to generate electricity or the splitting/fusing of atoms to power cars, it's just a matter of giving it the old college try. Of course, just like every other "clean" power source, you can bet that someone, somewhere will complain about it. Be it the environmentoniks in Massachusetts complaining about wind farms off Cape Cod or people whingeing about the salmon in the Columbia, it's a case of NIMBY. We'll see what people say when we start running those giant tornadoes over the equator.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Oh How It Was Almost Different

Long story short: we have 2 management meetings here. One is for the top 7 people in the company and one is for them + the people below them. The worst ones are the second, bigger meetings. They can go on for about forever. Today, however, was different. Everything was set up for it to be a nice, quick meeting. Our ultra-long winded EVP was out of town for the week and I was in charge of the show (which is why I didn't do my running diary of the meeting. I am looking forward to breaking it out in September though.) so it should have been easy. We did the agenda, I kept things tight, and we were on track to being done in under 2 hours, which is such a Herculean feat that I never thought I'd see it in my lifetime. Unfortunately, real life crept in and on the last item of the agenda, everything spiraled out of control. Now we're close to 2 hours of discussion on that issue alone and I'm going crazy. I've downed half a protein shake (8 oz) and 44 oz of water, took a massive pee break, and messed around with TGFQ. (Hence the blog updates and the post.) Meetings shouldn't be something to be dreaded, but when we always always always run them right through lunch, I get sick of it. You should be eating 6 small meals a day for the optimum metabolism level and whatnot and so I'm on a pretty darn good schedule...7, 9:30, noon, 3, 6, 9. However, when the meeting blows through one of them, it causes a scad of problems, especially when it's Smokehouse Friday. Short of using one of those little chess timers, a battery, and jumper cables, how do you stop people from yapping so much?


According to the numerous apocryphal urban dictionaries, to be "dooced" is to lose one's job due to the content of one's blog. The word came to be back in 2002 when Heather B. Armstrong lost her job because her online journal at contained satirical stories regarding her workplace and coworkers. (As an interesting segway Armstrong is a resident of Utah, so once again Utah is recognized for pioneering, although this time it is for pioneering employment law).
As you can imagine Armstrong's doocing sparked quite the debate over freedom of speech. Somewhat surprising , in my opinion, the company won out in this situation, although the rehash of that debate is a whole post unto itself.
What got me thinking about it was what would happen if people from work started reading this blog. Often times it becomes the venue for our expose on the idiocy we see in the company. Sorro and I use codes and nicknames to "protect" the true identities both on the blog and in the office, but anyone from our company would have little difficulty deciphering who we are talking about. The potential consequence is stiff, but even so I think the risk is worth it. I for one would be quite sad to lose my outlets for frustration and even sadder still to see Sorro's weekly leadership meeting review discontinued. Dooce or no, I think I speak for Sorro and myself when I say it's all worth it. And I sit with some satisfaction knowing that if we get dooced our EVP will having to start doing some actual work.


Ryan over at Grades Matter pointed me towards this blog post by Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner and company about panhandling. Long story short, they talked about what would you do if you came to a street corner with a Hamilton in your wallet, a hot dog vendor on one corner and a hobo on the other. I think I actually like Mark Cuban's answer the best, but I thought that I'd stick my response in the pot as well.
First things first: I wouldn't give anything to the panhandler. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I am completely against panhandling in all its myriad forms. I think that it's a relatively easy way to make some money. Easy in the following sense: anybody can get into some dirty clothes, write a pathetic looking sign, and stand on a street corner. Depending on the area you choose, you can make just a little (not enough to survive on it alone) or you can make a lot (like the panhandler I ran into in SLC who was riding a brand-spanking new Trek mountain bike. Not one of those low-end jobs either, it was a nice bike). I've witnessed first-hand people who have turned down food even though their sign said "will work for food. " That's the gateway to having someone talk to you long enough to have you give them a little something for whatever they want the money for, be it a bottle of Colt .45 or to send the kids to college. I used to feel bad for them and I still think that it's the most degrading way you could possibly make a living. However, it is a lifestyle choice whether it's degrading or not and it's one that I don't feel good supporting.
I do want to help those who are less fortunate than me though, so I give a goodly amount to charities that help to feed and clothe the poor. I feel that that's where my good deed money should go instead of to some guy who is going to do who knows what with it. The second reason that I wouldn't give to a panhandler is because I want to provide an economic disincentive to doing it. I like my streets clean and non-threatening. If you have to walk through an army of panhandlers it is neither. Call it my own personal version of the Broken Windows theory.
Would I buy the hot dog though? It depends on if I wanted it. Remember that we must be in New York City if that is the case, or possibly Chicago. I think I'd get a dog in Chicago, but New York ones aren't worth the money. I'd go to the next corner, get me a gyro and a Diet Pepsi and possibly a pretzel or something if I couldn't just keep the change (after all, that gyro and Pepsi cost me $7 already).
While I'm on the subject of panhandling, I heard something about what people would do in the panhandling capital of the world, Calcutta. Apparently people will disfigure themselves to get ahead in the game so that they look more pathetic. I couldn't believe that was true, so I did a little digging around and came across this article about it. Apparently at the end of the day giving people that money is just providing an incentive for organized crime to continue to make life miserable for people.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Classic Music Videos, Part the Third: Special Hoff-dition

I didn't anticipate coming out with another set of videos so soon, but I can't wait on this next batch of classic videos from The Hoff. I think he might appeal to tone deaf people, but I'm not quite sure.

Secret Agent Man:

It's a little known fact that before Daniel Craig got the role as James Bond they were going to give it to David Hasselhoff. They saw this video and thought better of it.

Limbo Dance:

Here's Mitch Baywatch, knocking about with a bunch of people and in general acting like an idiot. After seeing just how many music videos the man's come up with you have to wonder if he just has a skewed sense of what's cool, like someone from another planet, or if he's got the strangeness going because it's part of his sex appeal.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Classic Music Videos, Part the Second

Another night at home crusing YouTube, another batch of the best of the worst.

"Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" - After seeing this I wonder why anyone was surprised when George Michael came out of the closet. I mean honestly, he's just this side of Carson Kressley here. There are certainly worse videos out there, but we're warming up.

This is more like it! The Hoff with "Hooked on a Feeling" and "Jump in My Car." This has to be one of the worst ideas of all time. It's things like this that make me wonder why I loved Knight Rider back in the 80s. Was it naivete, the lack of 200 channels or had I just fallen under The Hoff's spell?

It somewhat pains me to include Journey's "Separate Ways." It must be included, but at the same time Journey is one of my favorite bands even 20 years after their heyday. I think that they might have the dubious honor of being the biggest band that didn't have a clue how to do a music video. Here you have a random girl in a shmullet walking around the most musically talented worst group of porno actors you've ever seen. From Steve Perry's over emoting to Jonathan Cain's famous Wall-O-Keyboard to Ross Valory's tapping the bass on his closeup, there are few videos that combine the success and crap factors as successfully as this.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Nothing Bad Happens In America!

I hate the line "this shouldn't happen in America!" It's usually used with respect to some sort of disaster as opposed to something like child pornography or murder. It was bandied about after Katrina quite a bit as New Orleans remained a cesspool for far too long for some people's sensitivities. Never mind that as a city in general they didn't try to help themselves, instead they decided to go all Lord of the Flies on everything. You can't help people who don't want to be helped. Anyway, after the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, you could hear the cry again, this time from Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. I believe the exact quote was "A bridge in America just should not fall down," as though perhaps a bridge in Zimbabwe should.
A couple of bridge facts: bridges are structures that are built to transport massive amounts of weight across rivers, canyons, and so forth. Bridges will fail over time, as things like currents, natural disasters, normal wear and tear, and design flaws or inefficiencies all take their toll. People who inspect bridges are indeed just people. Sometimes they miss something or just plain screw up. In a government bureaucracy, that can only be amplified. Is it tragic? Just like all other deaths, they are. Is it something that is fundamentally un-American or unbelievable? Not in my opinion. As long as there are bridges in this world there will be bridge failures. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't work to minimize them, but bridges in America will just fall down every so often. They should, and they will.
Speaking of the bridge collapse, can the cable networks stop with the wall-to-wall bridge coverage already? Give me an update on the half hour or hour and shut up about it. You're just saying the same thing over and over again. I would say more, but that's another blog.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Yanking Your Chain

I'm a Yankees fan. I have been ever since the days of Don Mattingly and the perpetual management merry-go-round of Lou Pinella, Bucky Dent, and Billy Martin. They were a mess, but they were a storied mess. I say all this because I don't want people to get the impression that I'm a bandwagon fan.
Anyway, at the beginning of the year things seemed to be going right badly for the Yankees. They were old, sucking wind, and everyone and their dog was getting injured. It seemed like they might be on the ropes and that Steinbrenner would return to form and wipe out the team like he did in the good old days, trading for aging superstars past their prime. A funny thing happened on the way to the bottom though. The Yankees turned it around. After being 15 1/2 games back they're now almost to the wild card and within certain striking distance of the AL East title. Some Yankees fans might have been afraid, but I think most felt that they would turn it around. After all, they always have during the Joe Torre era. That right there is the biggest difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees. The Yankees feel like they are always in it. Even after the World Series, it seems like most Sox fans are still waiting for the other shoe to drop because it always does. I am not quite sure why that is the case for the Sox. Other than their spectacular 2004 postseason performance, they're always falling short. I think that part of it might be because they derive everything in how they are versus the Yankees. When I was wandering around Boston a few weeks ago it seemed like every t-shirt shop had "Yankees Suck" or something similar on their t-shirts. I don't know of any other team that have as many t-shirts that are anti their chief rival as are pro their team. They might be playing not to lose as much as to win. As a result, the other shoe is always close by. It's like football teams that are ahead towards the end of a half or game and they suddenly go into a prevent defense. They've been playing solid D the entire game, but decide to go soft to prevent the deep ball. Suddenly they end up on the ropes. You have to play for keeps, and that's what they don't do. They did in 2004 and then they went back to normal. That's why my delusional newish Red Sox fan sister-in-law will never understand...they're not normal. With any other team I would believe that a 15 1/2 game lead would be plenty. But not with the Sox and not with the Yankees. I'm looking forward to things unfolding this month. It will be exciting.