Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Special Rose Bowl Edition

35 Bowl Games? RU kidding me? That's got to be a record. Yep, that's right. Thirty-five bowl games.

First, there's the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg where the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (28) will take on the Louisville Cardinals (31). For the birds. Then there's the ever popular Chick-fil-A Bowl from Atlanta, the South Carolina Gamecocks (19) versus the Florida State Seminoles (23). Ho-hum, more birds, this time against some Indians. And of course, no bowl season would be complete without the GoDaddy.Com Bowl , which will be played in Mobile, Alabama. With both opponents unranked, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders and the Miami (OH) Red Hawks should have fun putting on a show for the devoted football masses in HDTV land.

I must have been asleep at the wheel for the last few years, cause I was blown away when I checked the bowl game schedule on the Internet. In anticipation of watching my Badgers crush TCU on New Year's Day, I was looking for the Rose Bowl start time when I noticed the slew of bowl games that filled the page. I'm not sure when the explosion of bowl games actually took off, maybe they've been adding one or two a year for a while now. Back in the age of reason, it was just the Cotton Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and the Orange Bowl. Nice and simple. You knew who the teams were because for the most part they were the same, year-in and year-out. Ohio State, USC, Michigan, Notre Dame, UCLA, Boston College, Brigham Young, Alabama, Florida, Penn State. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Anyway, I didn't really mind when they added the Fiesta Bowl, and it didn't bother me all that much when they snuck in the Little Caesars Bowl and the MAACO Bowl too. But when they introduced the Ticket City Bowl, they really outdid themselves. The unranked Northwestern Wildcats against the also unranked Texas Tech Red Raiders, in Dallas. Speaking of which , Texas has 5 bowl games. That's right, five. They've got the Texas Bowl in Houston, the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, the Sun Bowl from El Paso, the Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas, and the Cotton Bowl in Arlington. Wow, that's actually six if you include the Ticket City Bowl ! My bad.

But when all is said and done, the only game I really care about this bowl season is the classic matchup of the BIG 10 against the PAC 10. The Rose Bowl, the big daddy of em' all. Even though it's not for the national title, the Rose Bowl has somehow elevated itself among the best that college football has to offer. And this year will certainly be no exception. My prediction? Wisconsin by two touchdowns. GO BADGERS!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

For Thanksgiving: Give Me Facetime, Not Facebook

Dear friends and family,

I just got off the phone with a long time friend of mine who suggested I share my thoughts with you because he thought I was onto something that was worthwhile, perhaps even visionary, so here goes.

He was relating a nightmare story of how he had purchased some furniture on the web from a supposedly legitimate entity. Now my friend Dave is no neophyte, in fact, he is quite a tech savvy guy who works in web applications development for a living. Prior to making his buying decision, he spent a considerable amount of time checking out all of the potential problems with his online purchase. Despite positive social media feedback about the manufacturer and claims from the vendor that his purchase was totally secure, the goods have yet to arrive some two months later. Even though the seller insisted that the order had been fulfilled and was being held up by Fed-Ex for processing, it was obvious to him that something wasn't right. Somewhere along the way through the numerous exchanges of electronic data and despite a whole series of system safeguards, the process failed. Which leads me to the reason I am writing to you now. It's all about the dehumanizing effect of technology and how it has taken over our lives. The digital distractions that masquerade as conveniences to make our lives easier are, in my opinion, actually creating more problems than they are solving. It is one thing to ask us to all embrace a new method of social interaction and commerce. It is quite another to incrementally remove human interaction from the equation until we are left with no other option. And all at our expen$e.

Have you noticed that the TV commercials are pushing the whole I-phone, Facebook, Twitter thing to the point of nauseating over saturation? Well if you have, then you are not alone. Way back in the 80's or 90's or somewhere thereabouts when the whole Internet revolution was still in its infancy, no-one really knew how things were going to pan out. They couldn't have predicted the infectious spread of viruses and identity theft, they couldn't have predicted that terrorists would be using cell phones to detonate bombs, and they couldn't have predicted the evolution of a system that now holds us captive. With marketing budgets in the billions, companies like Microsoft, Apple, Verizon, and AT&T are forging ahead with a relentless onslaught that even the banks and government have bought into. And they are herding us together like sheep to the proverbial slaughter.

Despite the so-called wonders of social networking that is being hailed as a panacea for everything from poor business performance to a vanishing middle -class, those of us who still have some gray matter left between our ears know that this is not really in our best interest. Just ask the parents of the teenager who committed suicide because her peers posted hurtful things about her on a social networking site. When all is said and done, only the major corporations that are heavily invested in this technology will be the winners. They really don't care about our quality of life or making the world a better place to live in. The only thing they are concerned with is profit. They simply will not stop until we are totally dependent upon them for our survival.

Now you may dismiss this idea as the ravings of a disgruntled lunatic who doesn't have the inclination or desire to own the latest droid, I-phone or device du jour they are pushing, and if you are one of those people, then so be it. I doubt you will even take the time to read this post, you are probably too busy downloading the latest app. And that's OK with me, I don't expect you to respond anyway. Ever see a 4 year old girl with an I-phone? There's nothing more telling about the pathetic nature of our society and just how low we have sunk in our quest to be hip. But I digress.

If I sound isolated, perhaps it's because I am. I have rarely felt more disconnected than I do right now. Getting a response from anybody is like pulling teeth.Usually what fills my inbox are out of office auto replies and solicitations for products and services I don't want and don't need. Unfortunately, there is little out there that qualifies as true communication.Virtual relationships are good to an extent, but in my opinion, there is still no substitute for the Real McCoy.

Hey, if you are in LA or DC and I'm stuck in the middle in Chicago, of course we can't just get together for a beer and hangout. But wouldn't it be nice to know that if the opportunity arose, there would be no hesitation on the part of those we think of as our friends to jump at the chance? The sound of a familiar voice on the phone, an unexpected invitation, a card to share some happy news, anything will do. Just let me know that I am in some way still relevant to you and that I am still in your thoughts, because you are still very much in mine. If I have been remiss in keeping up with my end of the bargain, then I offer my most sincere apologies. I will work harder to initiate and maintain communication from now on. Some of you may have recently lost loved ones, you may have lost your job, you may have lost your house or your nest egg. And although you may not be aware of it, I feel your pain. I feel it deeply and often.

So there it is. There is really nothing left for me to say. The ball is now in your court. All the TOOLS of communication are readily at your disposal, the only question that remains is: Does the WILL to communicate still exist, and if so, will you take the first step?

One final note: With the Holidays upon us, it is often easy to be overwhelmed by the needs and demands of others be they friends, family, or co-workers. I hope I have not added to your burden.

Best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving with all the trimmings life can offer.

Yours truly,


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Poor Parenting in Action: When People Need to Shut Up

  Last night, I witnessed some really poor parent behavior in action. The story is worth sharing because if you are a parent and your kid plays football or other team sports, you might run into a similar situation if you already haven’t. It took place at the close of a practice scrimmage for my son’s varsity football team. Here’s how it went down:

  With only a few days left before the start of the season, the coaches decided to have a practice scrimmage against the JV (Junior Varsity) team. The goal is to give everyone a chance to play and see how they fare. All the coaches are volunteers and they don’t get paid for their time and effort, which can be considerable when you factor in the after work commute and all the preparation that goes into planning a practice.

  Every few downs, the coaches ask the kids who hasn’t been in the game yet. The players are supposed to stay close to the coaches on the sideline and raise their hand to let the coaches know if they haven’t been given any playing time. Usually this system works OK, but the starters still seem to get more action than some of the other kids. Unfortunately, one kid got passed up last night. I don’t know whether or not he didn’t raise his hand when prompted, or maybe he was just shy. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention, I don’t really know. But I can tell you that the exchange between the father and the coach after practice was not a very pretty sight. The father was obviously very irritated that his son was not included, and he let the coach know in no uncertain terms how he felt. Specifically, he called the coach a “ f***ing a-hole” and a “motherf***r” in front of the whole team as well as the other parents. The coach responded by getting equally pissed off and letting everyone know that he drives an hour each way to give his time every night, and that he doesn’t “need this s**t”.

  While the kid in question is somewhat overweight, I don’t think his being overlooked was intentional by any means. It gets dark earlier now and there are no lights on the field, so sometimes it’s hard to tell who is who. Also, there are four different coaches, and for some reason, the parent singled out the offensive coordinator as the perpetrator of the perceived injustice. Although he is not the head coach, he is probably the most vocal coach and as football coaches often do, they yell. I’m not saying that this is a good thing, but it seems to be part of the game.

  I know that the kid probably felt bad because as a youngster, I was short and heavy and not particularly athletic. Usually, I was one of the last kids to be picked whenever teams were chosen, so I can understand the parent’s desire to be an advocate for his son. However, the ugliness that ensued cast a dark cloud over the whole situation and left the whole team feeling bad.

  Aside from the obvious bad example that the parent set, the situation points to a more pervasive problem that exists with a lot of parents in general. In an effort to make sure that their children are given fair treatment, some parents will do anything, even if it means embarrassing themselves in public. As role models for our youth, this is simply unacceptable. Kids today are constantly being reminded to not bully others and to report bullying by their peers to adults. Through their contradictory words and actions, parents expose their hypocritical nature for all to see. The result is to further erode our youth’s confidence in adults at a time in their lives when they may desperately need to make sense of an often confusing world.

  The really sad thing about this incident is that the kid who was overlooked will probably experience some backlash from the coach and possibly from his teammates. I hope I am wrong. In the end, the father did no favor for his kid by verbally attacking the coach and putting on a public display of anger for everyone assembled. We may even be without an offensive coordinator for our opening game this weekend, and that would indeed be a real shame.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Problem with “No Problem”

If you are a twenty something working in the retail or foodservice industry, then you would do well to take a piece of friendly advice from someone who was once standing in your shoes.

Lately, (actually for several years now) the response I have been getting from store associates and restaurant servers is “no problem”. Notice how I didn’t say clerks or waitresses, it’s about respect. Whether I have asked for a glass of water or asked where something was in the store, I am a still getting the standard, “no problem”. While this is often delivered in a courteous manner, it still falls short of respecting the customer on at least two levels.

First, when you reply with a “no problem”, it suggests to the customer that you are willing to overlook their interruption to your work. The mere inclusion of the word “no” automatically places a negative connotation on the exchange and suggests that you are going above and beyond the call of duty when in fact, you are actually just doing your job.  Second, it is a poor choice of words that sounds canned and impersonal, especially to those of us over 40. If the customer takes the time and effort to say “thank you” for your assistance, a much warmer and more effective response is “Your Welcome”. A nice alternative that also rolls off the tongue is “My Pleasure”.

I am well aware of the huge communication gap that exists between the younger and older generations, and I’m not saying that this is necessary all the time. To be sure, people can be extremely difficult, but when the situation warrants it and you’ve got no better reason not to, why not try smiling as you invoke these time tested winners ? I guarantee that your customers will notice. It may mean a bigger tip for you, a better performance review, or it just may make you feel better knowing that it really doesn’t take much to offer the respect that we all could use a little more of .

Thursday, July 8, 2010

That Sinking Feeling

So much for optimism, now it's time for a good old- fashioned whack on the side of the head. What the hell is wrong with everybody? It's as if America has taken one giant stupid pill. I swear, I've never seen any more piss poor driving and rude public behavior than I have lately. Sure the economy is in the shitter and the Gulf of Mexico's floor is gushing oil like a cut jugular, but is that any reason to ignore the most basic of common courtesies? Like putting your headlights on in a downpour. Not only is it the law, but it's the smart thing to do and could save lives, maybe even your own! What most people fail to realize is that although they may be able to see OK in the rain without turning their headlights on, lots of other people cant see them. And how about  a turn signal once in a while? After all, automotive engineers have worked hard to put it literally at our finger tips, but alas, getting people to use it is like pulling teeth. They'd more readily text their agenda to their friends than let an oncoming motorist going 50 mph know that they are about to make a left turn. They'll just sit there and text while the traffic signals are changing and expect everyone else in the intersection to guess which way they are going. Arrogant bastards! Do you know how many accidents you have caused with your self-important attitude? I doubt that you care, but soon enough you will do yourself in with your relentless need to text while driving.
Why don't you give us all a break and concentrate on the road in front of you instead of that puny 2 x 3 screen in your hand? And back to the Gulf of Mexico, BP screw up. If we pass up this wake up call to make a serious move away from fossil fuel, then we are indeed all screwed. Nobody is really serious about getting rid of the internal combustion engine as the model of transportation. If they were, they would have done it already! They've been talking about it for 30 years and still, the best alternative cars they have come up with are the Chevy Volt, an overpriced GM product that has yet to hit the showroom floors of the good ole' USA, and the NISSAN Leaf, which, by all accounts I have read so far is not going to do the trick either. So , if it's going to be business as usual, then so be it. I have tried to convince people of the advantages of car pooling lanes and other incentives to reduce the terrible traffic congestion that haunts us all, but getting people to listen is virtually impossible. So when the shit really hits the fan, don't be too surprised when I say " Told You So".

Friday, April 16, 2010

Is Trust a Commodity Like Everything Else?

 The recent Toyota debacle underscores just how important consumer trust is, and the jury is not out yet on how it will ultimately affect the Japanese auto giant. But one thing is certain; they will spend millions on a well-crafted PR campaign to convince the masses that they would never compromise that trust. The facts, however, belie even the best of spin, and a sharp cookie doesn’t have to look too far to see why.
 Although Toyota has had a history of building reliable vehicles, the truth is that they, as well as many other manufacturers have recalls all the time for everything from defective tires to faulty ignition systems. If Toyota is so confident in their brand image and their products, how come they need to do a mega-million dollar advertising blitz with 0% financing and everybody under the sun appearing in it? Because they are scared, damn scared. Toyota, by its own admission has never offered this type of financing before because its line was always considered a premium brand, it didn’t have to. Now that its backside is up against the wall, they need to compete for sales any way they can, even on price. Toyota says that they are offering this incredible, possibly “never again” offer to reward its customers for standing by the company and continuing to buy its cars. I say not. The real reason is, of course, Toyota’s wallet. If Toyota tanks, Japan is in deep shit. Everything, and I mean everything Japanese is at stake here, and the mighty Toyota will do whatever it takes to avoid that. Even if it means hiring the best god damn American PR firm to clean up its mess. And the American PR firm will gladly take Toyota’s money because Americans, unfortunately, are whores for the dollar. We will even jeopardize our own safety on the road as well as others, if the price is right, by allowing faulty products to be imported with our consent. So if our trust can be bought by a slick ad campaign and a good deal on a car, why are people so reluctant to trust each other on a personal level? It doesn’t make sense. But then again, so many things don’t. I guess I shouldn’t be all that shocked by what Toyota is doing, after all, they’re just using us as guinea pigs in a grand auto marketing experiment to see how stupid we are and how much shit we will take.

 Trust used to be an inherent part of a relationship, but now that it is bought and sold, it conforms to the laws of supply and demand the same as any other commodity does. Right now the demand for trust is very high, and the supply is low. But don’t worry, Toyota’s got deep pockets, and they’ll be glad to throw in a Camry or two to sweeten the pot.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Source Code: Jason - Part 3

Settling in for some serious trouble shooting, he wondered if there was indeed a way around revealing his identity or was he just kidding himself. He was frustrated all- right, aside from a few minor scares at the onset of this virtual foray, everything had worked like a charm. Back to square one. It still all came down to the choice of running the debugging scan or not. It was the only way he knew to tell for sure if he had been infected. Again, but without result ,Jason searched thousands of submenus in the hopes of finding an answer. It was getting light out when he noticed a small line of code tucked away on a secondary drive that didn’t look right. Suspicious, he went in for a closer look at some file directories and that’s when he discovered how they got in. Son of a bitch ! They came in through the back door. The secondary drive was a backup system only and it didn’t contain a crucial link to the main OS that would have prevented entry. He fucked up. Boy wonder had fucked up. He was in deep shit now, much deeper than he’d been before There was no way out, his identity was being held in some hidden cache that would open a link once he executed the scan. If he didn’t, the operation would time out and open it automatically. But the only question really was, how long ? How much time did he have ? It was impossible to predict, and given that lady luck had been on his side so far, he wasn’t feeling all that bad. Should he venture out ? Staring at the screen anxiously wasn’t helping matters and he didn’t have any food in the house. He got himself cleaned up and headed into town. The real world seemed like a scary place to Jason sometimes. Customers, salespeople, his boss. What the hell was their problem anyway ? Always complaining about this , that, and the other. Fuck them ! He didn’t need to listen to their trivial tales of woe. All he needed was a dedicated high speed connection with a secure server and he was in play. But that was off limits to him tonight, so reality it was, like it or not. He noticed a new place driving in that looked pretty good and pulled into the lot. They served cocktails and had a full menu, just right. Thankfully, the dining room was somewhat full. You couldn’t say that the joint was jumpin’ but it wasn’t dead either. With the surrounding buzz providing just enough anonymity, he found a dark corner near the bar to sink into. He hated eating alone! Especially outside. It was his admission to the world that he couldn’t get a date, that he was a failure with women. But he was in need of a good hearty meal. All this recent stress was taking its toll on him and he could use some serious chow to revive himself. He hadn’t enjoyed much for a long time, not outside his sordid little world. He’d been burned, and badly. When he discovered his fiancĂ©e banging his best friend it was too much for him too take. That’s when he retreated into the cyber chasm of his making. Virtually cutting himself off from the world except for work, he avoided socializing like the plague. He could get away with it, lots of guys get reclusive after a snub like that. Nobody would think it was anything else. And why should they ? Surely there were bigger fish to fry. That was his thinking anyway, until this latest twist. The waitress was polite, but after his third beer, she reappeared suddenly with her pen and pad ready to take his dinner order. The management didn’t like guys hanging out and drinking without ordering food, this was more of a family place. Jason listened to his server rattle off the specials and decided to go with the pasta. The waitress scurried off to the kitchen and that’s when he caught sight of the same chick who’d given him the slip at the parking lot. This time, he thought, he’d play it cool, real cool. Avoiding direct eye contact but keeping her in his field of peripheral vision, he began to scan her more closely. She was a good forty to fifty feet away and it was dark. Was it the same girl ? If it was, and she was spying on him, why was she being so obvious about it ? Did she want to meet him? Or was she on a different mission, perhaps a clandestine meeting to resolve some unknown issue? He could only guess at what the answers might be. He didn’t want to create a scene in the restaurant that would only bring unwanted attention. As the waitress approached his table with a steaming plate of hot pasta, his focus drifted just long enough for her to make her move. Whoosh! Gone. As if she had never been there. The sight and smell of real homemade food brought much needed comfort and a brief smile to his face. There would be other opportunities to unmask the mystery lady, and right now he needed to be as cautious as ever. On the way home, Jason noticed some headlights that seemed to be tailing him. He was suspicious, but not scared. Actually, he liked a good caper, and this was quickly turning into one.