Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Audiences Will Be Blown Away

Batman Boulevard- at the Corner of Tragedy Road and Irony Lane

I'm sure you all remember the theater shooting in Colorado this Summer, it was nearly two months ago today. And although the horror of this incident may have been supplanted by more recent global atrocities, there is something really eerie I've been meaning to share with everyone, so here it is. Take a look at the advertisement my friend Dan found in the Chicago Reader dated the same night of the shooting. Pay special attention to the copy and I think that you will, indeed, be blown away.
Life imitating Art? or Art imitating Life? You make the call.     

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Happy 4th of July Phil!

I hope everyone had a safe and fun 4th of July. With the searing heat that seems to be affecting just about everybody, I thought  this might be a good time to revisit what it really means to be an American.

Right now, I'm sitting in the comfort of my air-conditioned home thanks to a guy named Phil, who, in my opinion,  gets the All- American award for this 4th of July.  To be honest, I don't know if Phil is a flag-waving patriot, a Republican, or a Democrat, and it doesn't matter. What does matter is that Phil exemplifies the American spirit by handling himself in a way that many other Americans would do well to emulate.  So what did Phil do for me that makes me think so highly of him? Simple­: He did what he said he would do. Doesn't sound like such a big deal, but when you're sweating bullets and the AC cashes out on you at the onset of  a heat wave, you come to appreciate the value of service like never before.  

You see, Phil runs a small heating and cooling company  and has always been my go to guy for any HVAC work. So naturally when my AC went down, I called Phil.  Phil has a well- established business with a long list of loyal customers and is always busy, yet  somehow, he manages  to always respond to me both  quickly and professionally.  He gives me the kind of personal attention that makes me feel special and has earned my loyalty without question.  To be specific, a lot of AC guys would jack up the price or gouge you for a new unit in the middle of a heat wave,  and it's a perfect example of how some ugly Americans take advantage of their  fellow Americans in a crisis. Fortunately,  I didn't have to go that route or wait indefinitely for someone to show up  because I have Phil. Phil is fair, honest, does great work at a great price, and provides great service. He is, in a word, an All- American.  Instead of ripping people off when the opportunity arises, Phil realizes the value of building a long-term customer relationship so when the need for a major replacement arises, he gets the call. In fact, there is no-one else I would even consider calling because I know I can trust Phil to do the work right the first time, on-time.  No contract, no-deposit, just a handshake–the way real Americans still do business. But let's not just be American on the 4th of July, let's try being true Americans all-year long, just to see what happens.

Sure , you may still get screwed every now and then by those who can only think of themselves, but when you get past them and if you look closely, you'll probably see that you have a Phil or two in your life and you didn't even know it.

Happy 4th of July Phil !

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the City

 I avoided a crash!

Of course, I ripped off the title for this blog post by changing only one word, but here's what I found amusing– As I made my way inbound on I90, traffic was heavy so I actually had a little time to digest the latest in billboard marketing. Between the Des Plaines Oasis and O'Hare, there are at least five billboards. Two of them showed women,  and one some skin.  One for a "gentleman's"  club, one for an exotica festival, and another for electronics recycling with a tag line something to the effect of " we think recycling is sexy". The other two billboards were for a casino and the Illinois Lottery. So, what does that  say about us as a society? Probably that we haven't come very far when we need to resort to showing women in seductive poses to sell products or services. Or– that every driver is male and all he wants to do is have sex and gamble. You decide. Either way, it's kinda sad that these vices vie for our attention along with the texting epidemic that seems to have afflicted the nation's drivers. In a world full of distractions, let's get back to focusing on what's in front of us. Namely, the road. C'mon people, we  can do better. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Kenmore - No More: So long Sears

It's no secret that I like male genitalia nothing that is sold in the US is made in the US, and we're constantly being implored to be patriotic and buy American. So why am I bitching? Because when I try to buy American, I get screwed.  Sears is a perfect example. Once a brand that was the undeniable flagship of American manufacturing, Sears too has fallen on hard times. Its stores are closing left and right, and its attempt to become a major player in the online retail world doesn't seem to be working. But before we go there, I'd like to tell you all why I personally will no longer shop at Sears.  A couple years ago, I purchased  all new appliances for my kitchen. I bought all Kenmore, with the exception of the dishwasher,  a Bosch which the salesmen recommended. Recently, the $900 refrigerator stopped working, so I called the Sears service hotline. The next day, they sent out a tech who told me that the compressor was bad and that it would cost $1,200 to fix it. Naturally, I declined, because as is the case with most everything these days, it's cheaper to buy a new one rather than to fix the old one.  I chatted with the repair tech about my refrigerator and found out that although it said Kenmore on the front, it was an LG product (an Asian company) that was assembled in Mexico.  RU kidding me? Sears? Made in Mexico? Via Korea or wherever, it just proves that American companies are just as deceitful as any other when it comes to full disclosure.  Perhaps, it was my fault for not asking the salesmen where it was manufactured, but Sears had always been my "go to" brand for appliances because of its reputation for quality and reliability. I just assumed that anything Sears would be made in the USA, apparently I was wrong. So much for brand loyalty. Sears, you will never get me back as a customer because of your crummy warranty and your lousy product. I'd tell you where to stick your Craftsmen wrench, but by now I'm pretty sure you know where that would be.  So long, Sears.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Time to Reinvent the Wheel

Consumer Spending Model for Growth Simply Doesn't Work

We've all heard for years that consumer spending accounts for about 2/3 of GDP, and although it has traditionally been a solid driver of the economy, the time for change is indeed upon us.  I look at it this way. Picture you, the American consumer as a sponge, and let's make water debt. Now, as a consumer, your ability to absorb debt cannot last indefinitely. At some point the sponge needs to be squeezed and the water needs to be removed. Squeezing the sponge regularly to keep it dry and clean is like paying your bills on time.  You remove the burden of debt  from your life just as you would  moisture from the sponge. Those who fail to squeeze their sponge regularly carry around a lot of extra water (debt), get waterlogged, begin to deteriorate, and eventually lose their ability to absorb. At this point, the consumer can usually declare bankruptcy and get  issued a new credit card with which he can start accruing more debt right away, which he will eventually be unable to absorb again. Thus the cycle of creating more debt is ensured, as long as the "wheel" of consumer spending continues to turn.  

Well folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the ''wheel" is broken and it needs reinventing. Not that I'm advocating we don't go shopping; we all need food, water, and shelter to live, but it's the conspicuous over consumption of products and services that we really don't need that is driving us deeper into the abyss of debt.  And there seems to be no end in sight. So, here's the challenge. How do we move away from a consumer based society when that's all we've ever known?

A tall order to be sure. I haven't got the answer, I wish I did. And apparently, none of the geniuses at any of those Washington "think tanks" have either. Nobody from Harvard or Yale has been able to do much about it as well. So, if any of you reading have got any ideas on how to fix things, I'd sure like to hear from you. In the meantime, squeeze your sponge regularly. You never know when the next tidal wave is coming.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Two Horse Race with No Winner

Now that we know it will be Romney vs. Obama for the future of mankind, we can all rest assured that regardless of the outcome , there will be no winner. The American people certainly will not win, that is nothing new. We're used to getting the short end of the stick. Being conditioned to accept mediocrity and malfeasance from our elected officials has led us to where we are currently, and although the occupy Wall St. movement may be a good start, I fear that it will be too little too late to make much of a difference. I hope I am wrong.

But the predicament we are in goes far deeper than the traditional conundrum of having to choose the lesser of two evils. You see, no matter who sits in The White House, our fundamental problems will continue to haunt us until someone has the courage to step up and break the mold. For all of his good intentions, Obama has not been able to do it. Blame it on the Republicans if you will, but whatever the reason, he just hasn't gotten it done. And if you think Romney is up to the task, you're going to feel like you're in a dream from Nightmare on Elm St. if he gets in. So where does that leave us?

Pretty much holding the bag again, being forced to endure the lousy decisions and policies that have dogged us year-in and year-out for decades. Because the two-party system allows only a choice between candidate A and candidate B, it's always a crap shoot. Even if your candidate does get elected, there's no guarantee that he/she will be able to deliver on the campaign promises they have made. Competing agendas from the right and the left bring power to bear with an unsavory medley of lobbyists, politicians, and  money. And until this stops, there will continue to be no winners.  Unless lobbyists and their influence peddling coffers are removed from the equation, we simply will not be able to move forward as a nation or a society. 

So there it is folks, read it and weep. Obama's got his money behind him and Romney's got his. When all is said and done, whoever wins will still be beholden to the interests that put him there.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Friends Worthy of Praise

Although some of our friends may let us down from time to time, the huge importance of friendship should never be taken for granted.  The feeling I had after receiving three calls in one day last week was a stark reminder of who my friends are and what they mean to me. I hadn’t been having a particularly good day, but somehow, after talking to them I felt like I was on top of the world.  If you are lucky enough to have three friends like these in your life, you are lucky indeed. You see, I am pretty close to all of these people despite the fact that I may not see them that often. Some live close, others farther away. Yet, I have managed to remain in touch with them and can always rely on them to come through for me in the clutch. Whether it’s helping haul supplies from the local home improvement store, fixing something around the house, or just sharing some good conversation over a casual lunch, I  realize that the nature of my friendships is much bigger and much better than I had thought.  Just being able to talk about things in an open manner without being judged or having to worry about my trust being betrayed is priceless in and of itself. But when you get the feeling that your friends are actually offering the support and validation you need, then it’s icing on the cake. On the other hand, it’s nice to not be too needy too often, then your friends may start to think that you are taking advantage of them, and that’s when trouble begins to brew. So, if you feel like I do about your friends, make sure you acknowledge their efforts on some level, and let them know that you really appreciate them being there for you. And although it may sound corny, sometimes just giving up your time to be with or talk to someone is the best thing you can do.

Perhaps Mickey Rourke said it best in Barfly– “ Bartender, drinks for my friends”

Gratefully yours,

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


While my title may suggest a walk down TV’s memory lane, I’d really like to address the topic of working for a family owned business. If you are lucky enough to get a job offer in this tight economy, there’s a good chance that it will come from a small business which can often be a family business as well. But before you accept any offer, you might want to consider a few things I (and many others I’m sure) have learned along the way about working for a family run operation.

Personally, I have worked for three during my career and I’ve noticed some similarities that I think are worth sharing. Whether there are more pros than cons depends on your specific situation, but generally, here’s how I see it.

First, the money probably won’t be as good as if you worked for a larger company with bigger profits and a bigger payroll. Owners tend to be stingy and infrequent with pay raises, and make sure the family is taken care of before the employees. I can’t really blame them, but it still bears mentioning.

Next, your chance of moving up in the ranks isn’t very good because the ownership likes to reserve the management positions for family members only. They do this to retain control but can carry it to such an extent that little gets done because of internal bickering. Often, the son has inherited the business from his father and they don’t see eye-to-eye on how things should be run. In a lot of cases, offspring are pressured into “keeping it in the family” because the parents “have worked so hard to build the business”. Many times, they grudgingly accept the responsibility and end up running a business that their heart is just not into. Ultimately, customer service and the bottom line both take a hit, adding problems to an already dicey situation.

Additionally, many owners are so emotionally attached to their business that they fall prey to poor decision making and impulsive moves when things start to go south. They insist on using outdated and inefficient methods of doing things because they don’t know any other way, and are usually unwilling to accept any advice from outsiders. Thus, the “nobody’s gonna tell me how to run my business” attitude prevails and the owner ends up shooting himself in the foot because he can’t swallow his pride.

On the up side, family employers are usually more flexible when it comes to work schedules, and the environment is more casual too. Dress codes tend to be lenient and if you need to talk with the boss, you can sometimes do so directly without going through the long chain of command found in larger organizations.

Now I’m certainly not advocating that you don’t take a job just because it’s a family business, this is no time to be picky. But just remember that when you go into a family business if they aren’t happy there, you’re probably not going to be happy there either.

Caveat Emptor!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

V is for Virtual

With few options and even less time, Jason reluctantly reached for the screwdriver and began to remove the tower's cover . All he really needed to do was to cash the hard drive to cover his ass, the RAM and peripherals wouldn't give anybody enough to put him away, but it didn't matter. Even if he managed to slip out of his predicament, it would be way too risky to try anything again. Effectively, it was game over. As he removed the drive from its harness, he felt the presence of someone behind him and the touch of metal to his skull.

"I'll take that" said the voice of a woman. "And don't make any sudden movements either, I'm a little edgy right now."

"How in the hell did you get in here?" demanded Jason

"What do you care? Shouldn't you be asking who I am, and why I'm here?" she responded coolly.
Her confidence was obvious. She was a pro who had done this at least a few times before if not many. What the hell did she want from him anyway? He was in deep shit for sure, so why didn't she just bust him and get it over with. He couldn't figure it out.

" Are you a federal agent, part of some task force on cyber-crime or something?"
His naiveté produced a slight chuckle from her.

"Did you see that on TV? Come on, you're smarter than that."
He knew she was right,  but he still felt like a dumb shit for getting caught.
"Yeah, well if I'm so smart, how did I let all this happen?"

"Oh, that's easy. Same as always. Just couldn't keep it in your pants could you? Had to let the little head rule the big head, eh?" He sighed with a deepness that unburdened his breath.
" I guess it was kind of lame, thinking that I could go on forever without somebody catching on. "

" That's OK" she replied. "You see, Jason, it seems that we might have a need for someone with your unusual set of skills in our organization." 
" Are you recruiting me?" he wondered aloud.

"I like to think of it as more of a leveraged buyout, considering the circumstances."
 " So... what are you offering?" he asked hesitantly.

"That depends on how things go in the next few days. We'll need to look at your hard drive and see exactly where we are at."

" You mean how much you can blackmail me with?

Again, she couldn't conceal her laughter.
" Oh, my. You really do have an overactive imagination ".

But that's exactly where things were headed with this mysterious Madame x, he just had to play along until he saw a way out. As long as they had his hard drive they had a huge bargaining chip, and he had zip. It was getting late, and he was spent from all the excitement the evening had produced.  Although he was tired, he felt like he needed to do something and at least make one last ditch attempt at an  escape. Should he wait for a moment for her to drop her guard and try to overpower her? Did she have backup waiting outside to fly in and rescue her if things went south?  All unknowns, and it didn't help with his decision making either, which was getting exponentially more critical with each passing second. He lunged for the gun in her hand and it was lights out. He never saw it coming.

He awoke several hours later with a good size bump on his head and the accompanying throb of a recent wallop. These guys were pros to be sure. Her stealth and that of her accomplice proved that he was  dealing with some heavy-hitters, but he still couldn't figure out what the hell they wanted with him.  As far as he was concerned, he was small fry.  Just some guy who wanted to hunker down on his PC and get off.  And what was so wrong with that anyway?  In his eyes, it was still sort of a victim less crime. As long as he was providing pleasure for his virtual partners, where was the harm in that? Of course, he knew that society would frown upon such a thing even though it had created more grotesque perversions  of its own. But that was the type of inherent hypocrisy that got him going in the first place. Pedophiles and pornographers were all over the internet anyway, and he wasn't selling anyone's pictures or videos for profit either. In the grand scheme of things, he just didn't think it was a big deal. But obviously someone else did, or he wouldn't be sitting where he was right now.  In need of an ice bag and lots of answers.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jason Reloaded - Source Code Part 4

He kept a keen eye in the rear view mirror but really couldn't tell much about the car or the driver because of those damn new xenon headlights, just that it was a small luxury SUV, maybe a BMW or a Lexus.  He decided to take a detour and head for the seedy part of town, past the railroad tracks and out by the trailer park.

Whoever it was that was trailing him, they took the bait. Now his heart was beating faster, but not from fear. The adrenaline rush of the pursuit had made his mind razor sharp again and he was firing on all eight cylinders.  After a long winding turn where he was able to lose his shadow's lights for just a few seconds,  he quickly pulled off the pitch black road behind some brush  to avoid detection. It worked. The car slowed and lingered for a moment , but then went on.  Now he was the predator instead of the prey, a position he was more accustomed to.

He pulled out after a short minute and eventually caught up with his mystery driver just before the trailer park. He was almost close enough to read the plates when some drunken yahoo from the trailer park pulled out onto the road in his old pickup and nearly caused an accident. Jason had to lock them up to avoid a collision and that was just enough of a diversion for Racer X to get away.

Deciding to call it a night, Jason pulled a UEY  and headed back to town for his apartment. On the way home, he began replaying the night's events in his head , just to make sure he kept things straight. He was pretty sure it was a woman behind the wheel, possibly blond. And there was a good chance it was the same woman he saw at the gas station.  For now, that's all he had.

As soon as he got home he checked  his screen. A tap of the space bar resuscitated the machine back to operating mode. Still no change. Damn! How long would his luck holdout?  And exactly what would happen  if and when his server's location was revealed?  Would an FBI Internet Fraud Team come after him? Would they kick down the door to his place? Would he go to prison?
Though he had managed to turn around tonight's situation and was feeling good for the moment, the anxiety and paranoia continued to gnaw at his underbelly.

He still had this humongous technical problem to deal with and some difficult decisions to make. Normally, he was more proactive in his defenses and would never have allowed something like this to happen. But if he could stay just one step ahead of his trackers, he'd be happy for now. At least that's what he was telling himself.

Turns out the decision was made for him by someone at the other end. As his screen suddenly went black and rebooted on its own, Jason knew exactly what would happen next. The operation timed out and initiated a series of programs that would eventually lead back to his server, and ultimately, his account.  But again, the nagging question. How long? How long would it actually be before the walls really began to close in on him? Minutes, hours, days? There was no way to be sure. Should he try to make a run for it? That would be foolish and only draw attention in a small town where everyone was nosy. And besides, where the hell was he going to run to anyway? The nearest  town was over forty miles away and the nearest airport was over two-hundred miles. He was fucked. He either had to stay put and destroy all his files, all his computer gear and basically shut down the whole operation, or he could take his chances on the lam.  The sound of a train whistle in the distance momentarily gave rise to the thought, but he quickly dismissed the option as a bad choice.

Feeling the squeeze coming on, Jason searched feverishly in his head for a solution to his dilemma . He had tens of thousands of his hard earned dollars and a lot of sweat invested in his cybersex system. And even though it ultimately failed him, it had taken a long time to develop  the software that  allowed him to roam the internet with impunity, and he was emotionally attached to it. It wasn't going to be easy to let go of his baby.

Click here to read part 1 , part 2, and part 3 of Source Code: Jason

Monday, January 30, 2012


I'm not in the habit of writing obituaries or in memoriams, but an old friend passed away recently and I felt a special need to share it with all of you.  You see, Bob and I had been good  friends back in the day, but I hadn't seen much of him over the past few years. Ironically, I had been thinking about Bob over the holidays but I never bothered to pick up the phone.  The last time we spoke a few months prior, he was outside his office downtown grabbing a smoke. Bob was just beaming as he told me of his son Henry's acceptance into a top- rated high school on the north side of Chicago. No easy feat with the highly competitive academic requirements. It was great to hear from him and to hear the genuine sound of joy in his voice at his son's accomplishment.   And while we had grown apart over time, we nonetheless could still pick up a conversation as if it was just yesterday. It was especially sad for me to hear of Bob's passing, of course, because he had recently been in my thoughts.

At the funeral home there was no casket to view. Just the small but elegant wooden box holding his remains from cremation.  I saw people I hadn't seen in a long time, we all sat close together upfront near the podium, right behind Henry and his mom, Anne.  A group of Bob's co-workers were a few rows behind us.  After his family said their goodbyes and told some funny anecdotes about Bob, his  sister Alexandra faced the room and asked if anyone else would like to say a few words about Bob.
There was a long and somewhat awkward pause, so I got up and said a few kind words about how Bob had been such a good buddy for letting me crash at his place when I lost my keys during a night of misguided drinking.  I felt like an idiot afterwards, with all the things I could have said. But following, many others paid their respects  with consistent references to his generous nature,  his kind character, and his devotion to being Henry's father.  It turned out to be a really nice tribute for a guy who didn't have an easy life, battling severe physical issues, who somehow managed to pull it all together with the help of his family, friends, and co-workers. But most of all, it was Bob. He was the one who took on the challenge and met it head on. Nobody else.

So here's to you Bob, it really was great to know you and we are all proud to have been your friend. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Word of the Year for 2011 - Robust

While it might be a little late, I'd still like to nominate robust for the Word of the Year 2011.

The adjective's  ubiquity has been  unequaled in its use this year as a modifier for everything  from robust computer platforms to robust cell phones, and the trend shows no sign of stopping. A quick search revealed more than  147,000,000 results on Google alone. Did you know that you could have Robust Statistics?  And you could have some robust coffee while perusing those stats. And if you ever need to know how to design a robust monitoring system, fear not, for it too is out there for those willing to take on such a challenge.  Too technical for me.

I'd rather sit back and read a report about the robust earnings my investments were making, if only it were true. And if you really wanted to get technical, you could speed up your robust features for a better understanding of  the convergence of visuals and imagery. Even the restaurant industry is reporting robust action in the highly competitive pizza and bakery markets.  And hospitals are taking  robust measures to battle disease and save lives. How about a robust shopping cart for your blog?  As you can see, the possibilities of robust pursuit are everywhere around us.

So here's to you robust, you've truly earned top billing in my book for Word of the Year. You and all your bad ass Robustness,  BTW , by Thomas J. Sargent, Winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Economics.

Now, don't you feel smart knowing you have made a robust decision ?