Friday, October 31, 2003

Boo!

Well, it's Halloween.

In recognition, here is a list of things that I'm scared of (in no particular order).

  • Teenaged drivers (including my daughter...sorry honey)

  • My mother-in-law coming to live with us

  • Zedekiah Hatfield burning down my house

  • My boss' pink blouse/red jumper outfit

  • Having to work until I'm 80

  • Hillary Clinton

  • Finding a rubber cockroach in my blackberry cobbler (it's a long story)

  • Not being able to tell the difference between people laughing with me and laughing at me

  • Chatting up people I don't know

  • Picturing Michael Moore naked

What scares you?

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    Thursday, October 30, 2003

    You think?

    Ok. Here's the deal. I either think things to death, or I fail to think at all. Some days I thank God for having the foresight to create autonomous motor functions 'cause I'd be in big trouble if I had to remember to breathe (thanks Dr. Dobson!).

    So, today, I happen to be an over-thinker. In case you haven't heard (you're always the last to know, aren't you?) this week's Carnival of the Vanities is up and running over at Who Censored Blogger Rabbit. So why would that cause me to over-think?

    Well, common courtesy would indicate that, since I submitted something this week, I should reference the existence of said Carnival on my blog (hence, the little hyper-link thingy-ma-jigger up above). Check.

    But that kind of gets old, doesn't it? How many blogs have I visited that all have variations on the theme, "Hey! The Carnival of the Vanities is up at _______'s place!" Do we really NEED announcement number 428? I think it's safe to say, if you saw it at the Puppy Blender's place, the word is out.

    So what are the alternatives? I could ignore the CotV altogether, but that seems ungrateful. Take, take, take. How about giving a little? Or, I could add a spot on the sidebar that features the CotV every week! Hmmm. Great in theory, but not all that great if you fail to keep it updated (and y'all know how good I am at finishing things, right?). Exhibit A - one of my Must-Check-Ten-Times-Daily reads, cut on the bias (sorry Susanna), still has Rhetorica as the host for the CotV (seven weeks ago). Now Susanna is a busy woman and, like most of us, probably doesn't muck around with her template too often, so I'm not trying to rag on her. What I am trying to say is that if SHE can't keep up, what makes me think I can?

    What's an Aardvark to do?

    I think I'll try to do the sidebar thing and if it falls behind, y'all have my permission to mock me unmercifully.

    "Now run away before we mock you again!" (MPatHG)

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    Wednesday, October 29, 2003

    Hey!

    Today's posts may be short, but they're light on content too!

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    The word for the day is...

    Titivate. When was the last time YOU did this? Well, perhaps you should get started, eh?

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    Have a good day

    If you happen to feel snarky some day, the BEST response to, "Have a good day" is,

    "Thanks, but I have other plans."

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    Updated link

    Brian at Terrible Swift Word has moved from Livejournal to a shiny, new Moveable Type site (boy, am I jealous). Make sure you check it out.

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    Tuesday, October 28, 2003

    Assets, and the assessing...

    I visited the second third (already? who knew?) installment of the Carnival of Capitalists, and it got me to thinking (always dangerous). What could I contribute? I spent 20 years in the corporate world, I should have something to say.

    So here goes.

    The ultimate corporate lie: People Are Our Most Important Asset.

    You hear that, you know you've been schmoozed. It's one of those things that we WANT to be true, and so we tend to ignore facts which show otherwise. It is true that people are important, and it is true that people are an asset. It's that little word "most" that turns this platitude on its head. Don't believe me? Here's a test.

    Item A. Doohickies, Inc. offers to increase Boudreaux's salary by 20% if he'll leave Widget Hut and go to work for them (doing the same work).
    Item B. Widget Hut notices an increase in the use of office supplies around the beginning of the school year.

    Which of these items will prompt Widget Hut to take action?

    In my experience, they'll bid Boudreaux "bon voyage" and start locking up the office supplies. Which is why we used to joke (behind the boss' back of course),

    "Carbon paper is our most important asset."

    There are any number of reasons why this happens (and I happen to disagree with most of them). One of the big drivers for corporations, large ones in particular, is their salary structure. Many big companies will pay new hires the minimum market rate (or less if they can). They figure that there are plenty of able candidates out there that will be willing to work for them to gain experience. Working four or five years for Widget Hut looks great on a resume and so they're able to hire 'em cheap and work 'em hard. As a result of staking out the low end of the market, many of the top-tier candidates look elsewhere. So, depending on the job market, you wind up looking for the best of the rest. Most of the time you get what you pay for, but sometimes you find a gem. The problem is, once you realize you've got a gem, your options are limited on how you can compensate them without trashing the pay scale. Which is why Boudreaux is let go without a fight. You can't match Doohickies, Inc.'s offer unless you're willing to re-evaluate everyone else in comparable positions, which may mean that keeping Boudreaux will wind up costing you 200% instead of the 20%.

    The total irony of it all is that, since Boudreaux has been with Widget Hut for five years, the market rate has increased to the point where he still is not making much more than an entry level salary. So you wind up paying the next drone (I can say that, I was one) only slightly less than you were paying Boudreaux, which promptly upsets the rest of the people who've been with Widget Hut for three years and now make less than the new guy. Quite a return, don't you think? One experienced, trained worker for a newbie who has to be trained and won't contribute much for the next six months and a bunch of existing employees who are pissed because a) their three years of experience aren't worth squat to the company and b) they will be the ones that will have to train and carry the new guy until he gets up to speed.

    By the time you factor in the loss of morale (which results in more turnover and less productivity) and the loss of efficiency (experience v. newbie), letting Boudreaux go probably cost the company the 200% (or more) and now they have unhappy workers to boot. When I got into management, I had a boss who flat-out told me that the company WANTED a certain level of turnover as it helped to hold down payroll costs. Productivity and morale were not an issue (The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves). There's a reason Dilbert is popular in the corporate world. Dark humor flourishes when morale is low. I used to joke with my management team, "Why don't we just get a big banner to hang over the entrance to the office that says, 'Welcome to Hell'."

    We once had an annual meeting for all IT employees. It was billed as a celebration to acknowledge the value of our employees. I witnessed the CIO stand in front of her employees and say, "Our people are our MOST important asset. We couldn't do what we do without you. We appreciate you." The next day was the first scheduled budget meeting to prepare the following year's budget. Since we had several large projects nearing completion (meaning they would begin depreciating the next year) the increase in fixed costs ate up more than the allowable increase. At which point she said, "Well, I don't see any other way, we're just going to have to cut people." So much for important assets. I left the company not too long after that.

    This mentality is a direct result of the shift in the corporate world (that began in the '70s, but really picked up steam in the '80s) to emphasize stock price over everything else. I don't blame the companies per se, it's we, as investors, who have become impatient. "What have you done for me lately?" we ask. "Enhancing Shareholder Value" and "Maximizing ROI" are the slogans of the day. Everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) is focused on the next reporting period's results. Two years out? Five years? Ten? Can't think about that, we need to worry about THIS quarter, THIS year. So you find companies doing things that are stupid in the long-term because they yield a desired result in the short-term.

    Case in point. Widget Hut had a big write-off one year for one (there were many) of their failed business ventures. Estimated impact <$0.23> EPS. So they worked a deal to sell off their in-house service contracts to a third-party provider (with absolutely ZERO experience in this product). They went with this provider over a more experienced (read that realistic) one because they were willing to offer a better deal to get their foot in the door. The deal basically boiled down to this. Widget Hut collects all the money for the service contracts they sell and ships it off to ABC Insurance Company to hold for them. When service is needed, Widget Hut still has to validate the contract, and verify the claim (basically, no change in the supporting cost structure). They then ask ABC Insurance Company to send back some of the money Widget Hut had sent them previously. For the privilege of holding Widget Hut's cash, ABC gets 5% off the top plus any interest on the large pile of cash (tens of millions) they're sitting on. In the long term, Widget Hut makes LESS money than before, but they do the deal anyway. Why? Because it yields a ONE-TIME, up-front gain of $0.23 EPS, magically offsetting the impact of the write-off. Presto! Short-term financial objectives are met (and all executives receive bonuses as a result).

    This short-term mentality has created the environment for the Enron and WorldCom scandals (among others). CEOs can come in and manipulate the numbers for a few years, collecting large wads of cash in the process, and then are gone again, leaving behind, if not a withered husk of a company, then a company that is in much worse shape than when they came. Until we, as investors, become willing to forgo the "quick hits" and focus on slow, steady long-term growth, I can't see anything changing.

    My boss once told me, "Aardvark, you know what your problem is? You still think like an employee and not like management." He meant it as constructive criticism. I took it as a compliment.

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    Monday, October 27, 2003

    What!

    My wife is very much a traditionalist. Some things you do, just because you've always done them, and that's ok with me as long as it makes her happy. ( 'cause if Momma ain't happy...)

    Every year, we have a family portrait taken for Christmas. So our appointment is for yesterday afternoon, and my wife has purchased matching shirts for the ladies and a complementary (not the FREE kind) shirt for me to wear. Everything is planned and scheduled, just the way she likes it.

    Imagine my surprise when, on the way to church, she pipes up with, "Hey. Why don't we all take a funny hat with us this afternoon when we get our picture taken?" Shock and awe, baby. Shock. And. Awe. What a GREAT idea!

    "Who are you, and what have you done with my wife?"

    So, we all took hats. A couple of normal pictures of the kids together. A couple of normal (at least by Aardvark standards anyway) family shots, AND THEN...grab the hats!

    My wife is wearing my Mountie hat (or Aggie hat, whichever). My oldest daughter has her black and white "cow" cowboy hat (great camouflage for hiding in a dairy). My youngest is wearing a multi-colored propeller beanie (with a hippo on it!). And me? I'm wearing my pirate hat (Arrrggg!) with an additional prop ('cause it really IS all about ME!) of the pirate cutlass (to clench in my teeth).

    It turned out to be a hilarious picture and a VERY entertaining experience as well. We started to get up from the sitting and the photographer (who was as tickled as any of us silly Aardvarks) says, "Wait! I have an idea!" She sits us back down and hands the cutlass to my wife who holds it at my throat while I make a face. Who knew I looked so much like Rodney Dangerfield when I bugged my eyes? By far, the best picture of the day.

    Of course, we had to order a gazillion of 'em. We decided to get some put on Christmas cards too. Oh, the thrill of imagining friends and family opening up our card to see my wife with a (plastic) knife to my throat and the inscription, "Peace. Joy. Love."

    We signed a release for the photographer so she could put it in her album at the front of the store and she said she was going to submit it to the home office for the contest they had running. Hey, is it too early to start thinking about a merchandising deal?

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    What?

    So, it's Saturday evening and we're on the way to TGI Fridays for my daughter's birthday dinner. We pass a car dealership and she asks, "Why do they have the trunk and hood and doors open on those cars?"

    My answer?

    "Well, honey, one of the salesmen ate beans for lunch and..." THUNK!

    I'm interrupted by my wife's fist hitting my chest. I wonder what that was all about?

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    Friday, October 24, 2003

    Making the news

    I think it's safe to say that no one would accuse me of being a big Wal-Mart fan (see here and here).

    But I think they're getting a bum rap from this latest "illegal worker" incident (link via Dawn).

    First off, the people arrested don't work for Wal-Mart, they work for the cleaning companies Wal-Mart has contracted with. Big difference.

    Secondly, look at the scope of this operation
    21 states
    60 stores
    Wal-Mart HQ
    and take a guess at the level of resources it took to pull it off. How many investigators were involved? You know they sent more than one or two per location. It's not too difficult to imagine that there were more people involved setting up and pulling off this operation than they managed to round up.

    Not a very efficient or effective use of resources, is it? I guarantee, they could pick up more than 250 illegals in Fort Worth if they took a day to hit all the lawn maintenance, roofing contractors and construction sites here in town. So the point is obviously not in getting the illegals out of the country (something I'm FOR, by the way).

    So, why do it?

    Publicity, pure and simple. What has been a consistent beef about the INS, particularly since 9/11? They aren't doing a good job of protecting the borders and keeping people out of the country who don't have permission to be here. When was the last time you heard some good news about the INS? I can't remember the last time I heard something positive. So what do you do? You make (literally) the news.

    If you pull off a local operation, you'll make the local news, but that doesn't really get you any traction nationally. What you need is to pull off a BIG operation in multiple states and make sure you tie it to a BIG company to get maximum exposure. Hey, what do you know! The INS just busted a bunch of illegals in 21 states all working for Wal-Mart!

    Guaranteed that the next time the INS comes before congress, you'll hear about the GOOD JOB they've been doing lately. After all, they busted Wal-Mart.

    Smoke and mirrors, baby. Smoke and mirrors.

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    See the Donkey?

    He's over there on the right. Lee is back at his original site. The link has been updated.

    One of the differences between Lee and I?

    If that were my site, I'd have to post under the name Hotay.
    .
    .
    .
    .
    Donkey? Hotay?
    .
    .
    .
    .
    (Groan)
    .
    .
    .
    .
    Grin.

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    Thursday, October 23, 2003

    Breathe in...breathe out...

    Excuse me, just a moment. I feel the need to get something off my chest.

    The radio starts playing every morning at 5:00 AM. We keep it tuned to KLTY, the local Contemporary Christian station. Frank Reed is the morning DJ, and he's ok. No where near as good as when Jon Rivers had the morning show, but hey, not everyone is a Jon Rivers. Frank is just a little too saccharine for my taste, but then again, I'm not in the target demographic (women from 25 - 40), so that's probably ok, too.

    What really irritates me, are the little Focus on the Family (FotF) Commentaries with Dr. James Dobson. Dr. Dobson seems a nice enough fellow. I know folks who think that he's the best thing since sliced bread. If it comes for FotF or Dr. Dobson, you should agree with it, because if you don't, you're a tool of Satan (or some such). Like I said, I find him to be a nice enough man, and I feel pretty sure he's sincere in his beliefs, but I don't think you could peg me as a rabid devotee or anything.

    So anyway, he comes on with little "One Minute" (more like 30 seconds after the obligatory plug) commentaries a couple of times every morning. I've been listening to them for years and I have yet to hear him tell me something that is really insightful. Most of the time is stuff like, "If you want you're marriage to work, you're going to have to communicate." Well thanks, Doc, I don't think I could have figured that out by myself. I realize there's not much hope to do much more than that with 60 seconds, but if that's the case, why bother at all? Unless of course, it's really NOT a "feature" offered by the station, but a paid advertisement for FotF. I certainly hope the station isn't PAYING FotF for this drivel (a nice racket, if so, eh?).

    My wife and I have started spoofing Dr. Dobson's spots.

    "Hey, you missed the FotF spot this morning."

    "Oh, really. What was it about?"

    "Well, he said to breathe in. And then he said to breathe out. And then he said to repeat that throughout the day and we'd feel better about ourselves and be more energetic."

    After breathing a couple of times, "Hey, I think he's right. I feel better already!"

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    Wednesday, October 22, 2003

    "phenomenons of space"

    Somebody just Googled the above phrase, and much to my surprise, your humble servant is the number one hit (out of four. Four! Come on people, "phenomenons of space" should have WAY more hits than that!) for this search. If that's not odd enough, the same person CAME BACK 30 minutes later. I find a visitor who returns voluntarily is WAY more weird than any "phenomenons of space".

    I have it on good authority that over 95% of my regular readers have been sentenced to reading this drivel as some sort of community service condition of their probation (something the Alabama Department of Corrections dreamed up, I'm sure). As to the other 5%? Well, there's no accounting for taste.

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    Tradition!

    I don't know where it came from. Maybe one of the kids brought it home. But the Aardvark's have a "Birthday Button." It's about 3" and has a little electronic gizmo in the back that plays "Happy Birthday" when the contact is mashed. So the tradition is, whichever Aardvark is having the birthday, they must wear the button all day. Not only that, but they must be awakened on their birthday by the playing of the birthday tune accompanied by the other three Aardvarks singing along.

    Which is why I found myself at 5:15 this morning standing in the dark, singing "Happy Birthday" to my youngest daughter. It was mostly an a cappella version this morning though, as the aforementioned birthday button chose this moment to, how do you say? Fritz out..."De de deeeeeerrrrrwwwwweeerrrrrrennnnnnnnngggggggeeeeerrrr" or something along those lines. Just as well. I have to take the battery out before the kids can take it to school anyway (don't want them making unscheduled trips to the office, or anything. No telling what kind of whacked-out zero-tolerance policy is in place for tune-playing buttons). Of course, this means that I'll now be obliged to purchase a NEW battery, which means that the button is going to be around a while yet (somehow, when it's MY turn, the button always winds up in my jacket pocket once I leave the house...shhhh, don't tell).

    Another birthday tradition is for the birthday Aardvark to select a restaurant for us to eat out in their honor (Mrs. Aardvark REALLY appreciates this, her not having to cook and all). I'm just thankful that my youngest has outgrown her fixation for Applebee's (Motto: Our service may be slow, but our food's not that great either!). Occasionally, I luck out and she picks Chinese (mmmm. I'll take the MSG plate, please!), which is one of my favorites. We will probably defer the birthday dinner to Saturday or Sunday night. Friday night is the big sleepover with three of her church friends. Last year, she had about eight friends with a mix between church friends and school friends, which led to some awkward moments at times, as the pecking order had yet to be established. This year I put my foot down (gently, of course) and limited the festivities to three. She decided which three, although my wife and I encouraged her to either make it all school or all church.

    Unlike some of her friends parties, this one will be a) heavily chaperoned and b) heavily organized, with my wife providing both a) and b). She's not one to turn the kids loose to their own devices. A recipe for trouble, she says. That, plus she's very much the planner (which works great for us: I provide the chaos, she provides the order and we usually spend most of the time somewhere in the middle). She will have a schedule planned for the whole night, including what time the lights go out (yeah, we're mean that way). She doesn't make them sleep. They can talk quietly, but the lights are definitely going out by 3:00 AM. Anyway, there'll be snacks and goodies and movies (heavily screened in advance, thank you very much) and games and some type of craft (T-Shirts, I think) and Polaroids (so everyone can take home a picture) and sodas and doughnuts (mmmm...doughnuts) and...well you get the picture.

    Me? I try to stay hidden in the back room as much as I can. If there's one thing that 13-year-old girls do NOT want at their party, it's some old guy telling lame jokes. Sniff...I know where I'm not wanted. I'll get my revenge around 7:00 AM when I get up and start making a lot of noise getting the morning's java juice. Nothing like being Mr. Cheerful to a bunch of sleep-deprived teenagers. Heh.

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    Tuesday, October 21, 2003

    Can you bottle that whine?

    Gamal Abdel-Hafiz was on the news last night.

    Who is Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, you ask? Why he is the nation's first Muslim FBI agent. You've heard of him before, shortly after 9/11 when other agents accused him of refusing to tape a conversation with another Muslim. "A Muslim does not record another Muslim," he is quoted as saying.

    Lies. All lies. According to Gamal. He never said those words. He thought it was too risky to wear a wire and that's why he didn't record the conversation. He didn't say why he refused to record a TELEPHONE conversation with Sami Al-Arian (the University of South Florida professor tied to Islamic Jihad) before that, though.

    Anyway, it seems the FBI promoted him (after the complaints) because of his linguistic abilities to be the FBI liaison to Saudi Arabia, stationed in Riyadh. Then in February they suspended him. Now he's been fired.

    RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION, he claims. He's a victim of a witch-hunt. Yada, yada, yada.

    What led to his firing was much more mundane, but that won't get you on the evening news. The reason he was fired? He falsified his application when he was hired. Came to light as part of a routine updating of backgrounds (prompted by the Robert Hanssen fiasco). Seems he pulled an insurance scam and lied about it under oath. His ex-wife ratted him out. His application said he'd never been involved in any court actions. Oops. Falsifying your application is a criminal act and can be prosecuted as such.

    But we're supposed to ignore all that and believe he was fired because he is a Muslim. Sure he was. The same way Terrell Bolton was fired because he was black.

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    It doesn't seem that long ago

    But it will be 13 years ago tomorrow morning at 12:10 AM. My youngest daughter came into this world squalling (and nothing much has changed in the interim). I almost lost my wife that night. She delivered by C-section (after trying to deliver naturally) and had a rough time in recovery. From the way the nurses were acting, it was obvious that something was wrong. Drastically wrong. The nurses had to call the doctor to come back from another hospital because the bleeding hadn't stopped and her kidneys had shut down (from shock, I think). I had gone down the hall to check on the baby and by the time I came back, I thought they had switched my wife to another bed...the woman laying where my wife had been was all bloated and puffy. Then I looked again and realized this WAS my wife. Not a comforting feeling. About that time, the doctor got back and they took her back to do a D&C. Evidently, part of the placenta was still in place and that's what was causing the trouble. A couple hours later and everyone was doing A-OK (all things considered). Some folks probably would have got all lawyered up, but everything turned out well and my wife's OB/GYN is a good doctor, not to mention a fine man.

    Anyway, tomorrow is my daughter's birthday. She'll be a teenager indeed (instead of a teenager in deed - a title for which she already qualifies). She started the countdown about a month ago.

    "Dad, did you know there are only X days 'til my birthday?"

    "Oh, I didn't tell you, honey? We decided to call off your birthday this year. We're not going to have it."

    "Daaad, that's what you said LAST year!"

    "Yeah, but this year I mean it."

    "You said THAT last year, too!"

    What can I say? She's on to me. And since she'll be a teenager, it's my new responsibility to be a predictable old fart. (Hey! The same as my OLD responsibility! Woohoo!)

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    Monday, October 20, 2003

    It's a "W" but it wasn't pretty

    "It's just a fantasy,
    It's not the real thing.
    Sometimes a fantasy,
    Is all you need"

    TCU is ranked 13th in the ESPN/Coaches poll and 15th in the AP poll this week. Let me tell you something. I was at the game Saturday and there is NO WAY this team should be ranked that high. IMNSHO, there have to be at least 30 - 35 teams that can beat this team without too much problem and another 15 - 20 teams where the outcome is a tossup. The University of Alabama - Birmingham was supposed to be a team we could beat. Easily. We barely escaped with a win.

    The difference between this TCU team and teams of 5 or 6 years ago (other than LaDainian Tomlinson) is that this team can squeak out the win in close games. Four of our games this year have been won by margins of 3 points. In past years, these wins would have been losses. We are notorious for not being able to hold a lead. In September of 1998, TCU played Oklahoma (before they got really good) and led 9-0 with 2:30 left in the game. Final score - Oklahoma 10, TCU 9. I remember that night well. If this year's team had played that game in '98, we probably would have had the win. My wife and I have been known to look at each other when TCU is up by three touchdowns with 5 minutes left in the game and say, "Don't count it yet. It's not over."

    The problem with TCU isn't one of talent. We've got good players. The problem is coaching. Coach Patterson is a defensive coach at heart. That's his background, and that shows up clearly on the playing field. The offense however, leaves something to be desired. If they ever get in synch, we'll truly deserve a top 25 spot. But so far this year, they've fluttered and sputtered and shown few signs of greatness. I blame the lack of production on the play calling by the coaches. In addition to the clock management problems that have shown up in past games, they made several calls on Saturday that just leave you scratching your head.

    The defense has held UAB for most of the game (only giving up the occasional big play) to 3 and out situations. We have the ball on UABs 37 yard line with a 4th and 3. Too far to realistically attempt a field goal. So what do you do? I leave my offense on the field and try to pick up the first down and get some points. Worse case is UAB takes over on downs at around the 35. TCU calls for a punt. The good news is the ball stops dead on the 1. The bad news is that it doesn't matter because the next play goes for 40+ yards. Later in the game, it's 4th and 8 from the 33. We punt again, this time into the end zone for a touchback. Net yardage difference - 13 yards.

    Another head scratcher: the option play to the short side of the field. Called several times in every game this year, but has YET to be effective. UAB defenders are over-pursuing the ball: total number of screen passes/reverses - 0. TCU has had success running the ball straight up the middle all night. Every other running play? Called to the outside for little to no gain.

    I told my friend, the Bigdog, that I've finally figured it out. TCU's offense doesn't have the killer instinct. They don't play to win. They play not to lose, and that's a big difference in philosophy.

    Walking out of the game, there were a bunch of people talking about rankings and BCS standings and bowl bids and the like. Some of these dreamers think TCU has a legitimate shot at a BCS game if we win out. The song lyric at the beginning of this post is dedicated to them. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see TCU win out, and I'm tickled that we're in the top 25, and it'd be great if we went to a BCS bowl (unless we got slaughtered once we got there), but the team I watched on Saturday wasn't THAT good. The potential is there, but so far it's unrealized.

    How crazy is it that when I attended TCU, a GOOD season had 3 wins, and now here I am carping about a team that's 7-0. Heh. You just can't please some folks.

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    Friday, October 17, 2003

    Jack Fang

    I used to work with a guy (we'll call him Jimbo) who used to like to explore the absurd. He was one of these guys who wanted to perceived as an intellectual and so he would read the latest Artsy-Fartsy books and bring up poets and classical authors in conversation whenever he could.

    I liked Jimbo, and (sick man that I am) that means that I probably gave him a harder time about things than I normally would have. He was a HUGE John Lennon fan, so I would sneak into his office and put a little BASIC program in his boot-up sequence that would display "LENNON IS DEAD!!!!!" on his monitor.

    "Why you want to do that, brother?" he'd say when he called.

    At one point, when he and his wife were going through a rough spot, he used to tell us, "I'm living the life of the Buddha." He suggested (jokingly...I think) that we tear all the stalls down in the restroom to remove the artificial barriers between fellow men - we could discuss life and philosophy as we performed our morning constitutionals. He liked to cook and told everyone, "I fancy myself a saucier." (With a French pronunciation, of course)

    One of the things he did was write funny poetry. He did so under a pseudonym, though. His alter ego, as it were, since he was normally more serious. We always looked forward to a new poem by Jack Fang. One day he announced that Jack Fang had written an existentialist/minimalist poem. Would you like to hear it?
    I Didn't Do S*** Today
    by Jack Fang

    I didn't do s*** today,
    Or was that yesterday?
    The only thing that topped that for hilarity was when he would do one word poetry slams.

    "Avaunt!" (or "Blossomed!" or "Hurled!")

    would be typical poems. Spoken with force and then silence. Walking away without smiling. I'm telling you, Jimbo was a hoot. Maybe you had to be there.

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    Let's review

    Well, I got my annual review yesterday. Looks like I'll be gainfully employed for another year.

    No big surprises and, as usual, I was much harder on myself in my self-review than my boss was in the real thing. I wound up getting a much smaller bonus than I had anticipated (for good reasons, it turns out. Sometimes I really DO suck) but my base increase was 7% - much higher than I anticipated. Bonuses are based on longer-term "project" work and base increases reflect the day-to-day. Since most of the last year (my first in THIS position) was spent tweaking and fine tuning my department (which now runs smoothly and, as far as I know, everyone LIKES working here) rather than on working on long-range projects, the numbers make sense.

    As a Cubs fan would say, "Wait 'til next year."

  • |

    Thursday, October 16, 2003

    Trouble in paradise

    There was wailing and gnashing of teeth at the Aardvark house this AM.

    It's fund raiser time. Again.

    This year I told each of my girls that I would take "One and ONLY one" fund raiser to work for each of them. Between band and student council and church camp and who knows what else, last year it seemed that every other week, I was cajoled into taking a fund raiser to work (I'm sure it really wasn't that often, it just SEEMED like it). As you know, this makes me the most popular guy in the office...NOT. So this year I said one each. Period.

    I have a couple of problems with fund raisers. First is that I have employees that report to me and I don't want to even SHOW the fund raiser to them for fear that they'll buy something for no other reason than because I'm the boss.
    I can hear the complaint to HR now, "I felt I had to order something or he'd fire me." Great. Who needs that?

    Second problem is that most fund raisers wind up collecting a lot of MY money. This is due to "reciprocals". You know, "Ok, I'll order X from you, but you need to order 4 boxes of Girl Scout cookies from me." What winds up happening is that a lot of PRODUCTS change hands, but the payment nets out and as a result comes out of my pocket.
    "Hey, Buffy order something for $12, but I ordered 4 boxes of cookies so we called it even," SOUNDS good until it's time to write the old check when you turn in the fund raiser - $60, $70, $110, or more, depending on how "well" we did.

    It would be cheaper (and believe me, I've threatened it) for me just to write a $50 check to which ever organization was having the fund raiser. It certainly would be less hassle.

    Anyway, that's not why there were tears at my house this morning. It was time to turn in my youngest daughter's fund raiser. Mom had her on the couch looking through the "prizes" and discussing what she wanted (ooo, goody, more cheap junk!). Sometimes, if she's really close to moving up a prize (I need just $15 more dollars and I can get the TurboJunk!), we've been known to pony up for crap we don't really need so she can go ahead and get the "better" prize. This time, what she really wanted was two levels above where she was, so placing a parental order was not an option. She seemed to take that ok, but then she started asking mom, "Can I order something?" Mom, being the smart woman she is (I married her, after all), is thinking that this is youngest daughters way of getting the total a little higher so that we'll pitch in after all. (She's been known to be manipulative. Shock. Shock.) So my wife resists a little and asks "Why?"

    This is answered with a non-committal, "There's something I want to order."

    "What is it you want?"

    "Just this thing."

    "What thing?" (Can you feel the tension rising?)

    No answer.

    "What do you want to order?"

    No answer.

    "TELL ME!"

    "This," she says pointing to a tin of votive candles. "I wanted to order this...FOR YOU!" As a Christmas present, it turns out.

    At which point they both were in tears because they both had hurt feelings. My wife was hurt because the situation had twisted and now everything was "her fault" (her words, not mine), and my daughter was hurt because a) we didn't allow her to do what she wanted without question and b) her surprise had been ruined. My wife retreated to the bedroom and my daughter went to the kitchen to eat breakfast (as she was instructed, for once).

    I had to reassure my wife that this situation was NOT "all her fault" as my youngest is not known for her selfless acts of kindness to others and that, as the mom, she was entitled to ask questions about her daughter's activities. There was no way she could have known that child #2 was trying to do some early Christmas shopping, for her no less.

    I told my daughter that if she wanted to order something for mom, perhaps it would have been a good idea to let somebody else (mostly me) in on it. That way we could have handled it without mom finding out. For instance, I could have ordered it when I had the fund raiser at work and just put it under someone else's name. She also could have just said she wanted to order a gift for mom without actually pointing out the gift, which would have left it less of a surprise but still not given away the whole ball of wax (Ha. Votive candles. Ball of wax. I slay myself).

    It took a few minutes, but everyone calmed back down and the rest of the morning (at least until I left for work) went pretty smoothly.

    I hate fund raisers.

  • |

    Wednesday, October 15, 2003

    Whatever happened to Mike?

    One of my first jobs at MarconiHut (not the real name, but close enough) was working in the warehouse. I had all of my college classes in the morning, thereby enabling me to work the swing shift (3:30 - Midnight) at the warehouse. Now, I hadn't been in Texas very long and so most of the people I met still eyed me askance as perhaps being one of those "Northerners/Yankees". But that worked both ways. I was still coming to terms with what it was like to live in Texas and still adapting to the native speech patterns (I reckon y'all know what I mean. If'n ya don't, I'm fixin' to tell ya).

    I worked with Mike on the swing shift. Mike was the prototypical cowboy redneck. (There are many flavors [don't go there] of cowboy, redneck being only one) He was not the brightest bulb in the pack and not the least bit ashamed who knew it. His drawl was more pronounced and he peppered his speech with a lot of "ain't neither"s and "don't never"s and other such double negatives. The fact that he had bucked teeth probably didn't help dispel his aura of ignorance (think Zero from Beetle Bailey).

    Their were four basic jobs in the warehouse (not counting the office folks): order pullers, order packers, stockers and shippers. I was an order puller mostly, but sometimes got to work in shipping. It didn't take a PhD to pull orders, just the ability to correctly identify SKUs and a limited ability to count (usually to one, but occasionally having to count to two or higher). The folks who didn't have these skills in abundance were employed as stockers. A stockers main job was to ensure that the pull lines were kept well supplied with inventory. Mike, not being blessed with an overabundance of intellectual prowess, was a stocker. He was a genial sort and generally got along pretty well with everybody. But he also possessed a temper. Match that with the fact that, as a stocker, he was entrusted with the tool of the trade - a box cutter and you had a potentially dangerous situation if he was overly provoked.

    I usually only messed with him a little, but one night I almost crossed the line. He came to work that day in his boots and belt (name etched on the back and a big buckle up front) as per usual. But what set him apart that day was the T-Shirt he was wearing. This being a family blog (per se), I'll edit it a little. It said
    If You Ain't A Cowboy, You Ain't S***
    I stopped in front on him and read the shirt and Mike said something like,

    "Ha. Whaddya think of that, Yankee!"

    To which I replied after a long pause, "Thank you."

    "Whaddya mean, thank you." (it never occurred to him that the double negative on his shirt meant the opposite of what he thought)

    "Just that. Thank you."

    He knew that I was making fun of him somehow, but he didn't know how or what and that made him mad.

    "What are you talking about, college boy. Can't you read." By this time he was red in the face.

    "Yeah, Mike, I can read. Like I said, thanks." At which point, I decided it was time for me to walk away.

    He eyed me the rest of the shift with an out of character glower. I couldn't help but notice that he was putting a little extra oomph! into opening the boxes that night.

    I wonder whatever happened to Mike?

  • |

    Tuesday, October 14, 2003

    Choices

    We all make 'em. Then we have to live with 'em.

    I've made a few really bad choices over the years...going drinking with my boss after work on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday, springs to mind. My (future) wife says I showed up to church smelling like a Tequila factory. A big no-no, but especially in a Southern Baptist church.

    I've also made some really good choices. Most of the time, though, you don't really know if a choice will turn out to be a really good one until sometime after the fact (unlike most BAD choices, which generally aren't too difficult to prognosticate...playing taps at a home football game when we were behind by 42 points...bad choice).

    One of the choices my wife and I made before we ever got married was that she would be a stay-at-home (misnomer, if there ever was one; she's never at home) mom. We both felt strongly that this was the correct thing to do. We didn't want other people raising our kids. Well, that was all well and good until she got pregnant. We'd been married a little more than a year at the time. We both had pretty well paid our own way through college and we'd paid for our own wedding, so even though we were both working, we hadn't really dug ourselves out of the hole very far. We had a kitchen table and some wooden chairs that her mom had bought. We had a sofa and chair and a washer and dryer and a mattress and box springs that we had bought. The rest of our stuff was dorm room leftovers: cinderblock bookshelves, milk crate record bins, etc. For bedroom furniture, we had the captains bed drawers that my dad and I built when I was 16 (ok, my dad built. But I handed him the hammer). We could stack them and use them as a chest of drawers. (we're still using them). We also had an old night stand that her mom gave us. That's about it for furniture. So when she was put on bed rest that last month before the baby was due and quit work, it was somewhat of a shock to the old checkbook.

    We had to make the decision all over again. Would she stay home or would she go back to work? We sucked it up and decided that she'd stay home. It took me another seven years before my annual compensation was equal to what our combined was at that point. We moved out of the fancy third floor apartment (vaulted ceilings!) and into an older home in a lower income part of town (not a BAD neighborhood, but not a GOOD one either). We shared one car which meant that most days she took me to work and kept the car. That first car was a Ford Escort with the only option being an after-market AC system. It didn't even have a radio. The only new furniture we got was for the baby's room (and most of that was given to us). We ate simply and didn't eat out much. We didn't go to movies or buy new CDs. I took my lunch to work every day.

    Many of our friends and acquaintances chose differently from us. And that's ok. They didn't always understand when we said "no" to invitations to have lunch with them at a restaurant after church. They didn't realize the envy we felt when we went to a party at their home and saw all the nice "stuff" they owned. There were times that it was a real struggle to keep our priorities straight. And things did get better eventually. We're no where near the bottom economic rung any more. We own two cars (soon to be three, I fear), we have a computer and a DVD player and assorted other electronics. We eat out a couple of times a month or more. But we're no where near the economic level of other people our age either. Most new homes go for $100,000 to $200,000 (or more). We live in an old home in an older neighborhood and paid $63,500 (and THAT was a stretch at the time). We have yet to take a vacation where we don't visit family.

    Rereading that, it almost sounds like I have a martyr complex. That's not true at all. What I haven't shared with you yet is the balance to the equation. I have two happy, well-adjusted children, who are both at the top of their class in school. They are well mannered and liked by most people (can't please everybody) who know them. They love to read and sing and play the piano. We sit down for meals together routinely (not in front of the TV) and can talk and act silly to the point where we're all crying from laughing so hard. Our kids always know that at least one of their parents will make it to the smallest event. Their friends all know Mrs. Aardvark because she's always up at the schools volunteering (your mom is so cool!). Home is a place of safety and security, love and warmth, an island of rest in a troubled world.

    It didn't just happen that way. We chose it. In hindsight, that turned out to be a pretty good decision.

  • |

    Monday, October 13, 2003

    Type cast

    There's a lot of personality tests going around the blogosphere these days, so who am I to buck the trend.

    I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) about 5 years ago. It was part of a week long management development seminar at TCU. Out of a group of approximately 40 people, I was the ONLY one of my type. Figures.
    I've always been the odd man out.

    I am an INFP. That stands for Introverted (natch), iNtuitive (leaps of faith), Feeling (Ok, I cry at commercials, for pity's sake), and Perceiving (see! I knew it!). Basically, I'm a quick thinking, shy, sensitive, observant guy. Not at all the words I would normally use to describe myself. (more type INFP info to be found here)

    INFPs tend to live in their own little worlds (very self sufficient). Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes, not the theologian, although that's who Bill Watterson named his Calvin after, by the way) is a perfect fictitious example of an INFP person. Just like with Calvin, living in your own world comes with it's own set of problems.

    INFPs are good actors. We can assume any of the 15 other MBTI types for short periods of time. I have always been a chameleon in social situations - I can fit in with any group. Obviously, this has the potentially to be dangerous too. From a management perspective, I have the ability to relate to and communicated well with any group of employees, executives to janitorial staff, and that's paid off well for me. Scott Bakula and Lisa Kudrow are INFPs.

    INFPs also are easily distracted - LOOK! A SQUIRREL! - by new things. I can drive people CRAZY when they talk to me because I always like to do word associations and take off on tangents (hence the proliferation of parenthetical comments). That works fine with chit chat, but not so well when someone wants you to pay attention. Have I mentioned lately that my wife's a saint?

    I am very good at starting things. Then I get bored. Needless to say, I suck at finishing things. Yes, this frustrates me too. The MBTI prayer for INFPs goes like this (more prayers here)
    God, help me to finish everything I sta

  • |

    Gonna go round in circles...

    Hey! I've been Sac'd. Kelley over at Suburban Blight has seen fit to include me in the latest installment of the Cul-de-Sac. If you feel the need to wander the neighborhood, the Cul-de-Sac's the place to start.

  • |

    Site stuff

    Hooray! I'm fixed again at N.Z. Bear's Ecosystem! And after that long dry spell...I'm right where I was before, linkwise. Heh.

    You'll notice the old blog list keeps getting longer. When I started this thing, I promised myself to only link those that I read. That's still true, but I'm about at my limit (unless I quit my job and just read blogs all day). The latest additions?

    MarcV from Spudlets just might be rooting for the Cubs, but I'm not sure.
    Lee at See the Donkey (temp site for now, will change to main site when he starts posting there again) has made it back to Toronto (along with 37 other passengers).
    Big Arm Woman (BAW) is Tightly Wound and don't you forget it.
    Meredith from The Thunder and the Sunshine is an art student extraordinaire.

    An eclectic bunch if I've ever seen one.

  • |

    Friday, October 10, 2003

    Well, that's that

    Finally. Drew the last raffle tickets just minutes ago. Customer Service Week is over and done.

    Does it make sense to say it was great and it was horrible all at the same time? Probably not, but since when do I have to make sense? All I know is, I'm exhausted.

  • |

    Thursday, October 09, 2003

    The game that was

    I was originally going to write about this on Monday, but CSW kind of torpedoed that idea.

    We went to the TCU game on Saturday. Beautiful day, temperature in the low eighties. My wife and eldest daughter left early in the afternoon. The high school band works concessions at the game and they agreed to work the first half, so they had to leave the house about three hours before game time to get everything set up and ready to go.

    My youngest daughter and I made it to the library parking lot about an hour and a half before kickoff. We park at the library instead of the stadium for three reasons:

    1. I'm cheap. (the library lot is free)
    2. I can avoid University Drive and slip out the back roads to go home.
    3. I'm cheap.

    The good news is that I don't have to pay to park in the library lot (have I mentioned this?). The bad news is that it's about a mile to the stadium, but hey, I can use the exercise. So we grab all the coats (cold front expected later...might get down to the low 70s...brrrrrrrrrr) and the seat cushions and the binoculars and off we go. When we get to the stadium, we detour over to see the wife at the concession stand. Get money from said wife and promptly turn around and spend it on cokes.* We're now juggling coats, cushions and cokes (not really, but I love the alliteration) as we make our way to our seats in the upper decks on the other side of the stadium. The stadium has an elevator, but you either have to have a press pass or a handicap sticker to use it. We don't, so we don't.

    We get to our seats on the 43 yard line (near as I can eyeball) with the stadium clock showing 55 minutes to game time. (Take THAT Terry!) Plenty of time to use the old binoculars to check out the players, the band(s) and the cheerleaders (not necessarily in that order) before game time. We're playing Army, so there seem to be a number of uniformed personnel present at the game.

    With 20 minutes left before game time, the band takes the field. They start off with a medley of the five service songs (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard) then they do an arrangement of "America". A group of guys unfurl a big (30' X 24') American flag at mid-field. The band starts another verse and these words go through my head
    O beautiful for patriot dream
    That sees beyond the years
    Thine alabster cities gleam
    Undimmed by human tears.
    The wind must have blown something into my eyes right about then, because all of a sudden, they started to water something fierce. Then the announcer comes on and says today's game is dedicated to United States Army Captain Tristan Neil Aitken, a 1995 TCU and Army ROTC Distinguished Military Graduate. He was killed on April 4, 2003 while serving in Iraq. My eyes must have still had dust or something in 'em, 'cause the picture they put up seemed kind of blurry like.


    After the obligatory non-prayer (Rrrrrrr), the mounted color guard from Fort Sill, Oklahoma rode out to mid-field to present the colors. A member of the TCU ROTC sang the Star Spangled Banner a cappella, and (refreshingly) sang it straight without fancifying it up beyond recognition. My eyes started watering again. Maybe it's my allergies. After the National Anthem, the mounted color guard left the field and, as was obvious by the tittering of the crowd, one of the horses had left a little gift behind. The band then performed a couple of numbers. I couldn't tell you what they were 'cause, like the rest of the crowd, I was concentrating too hard on seeing exactly who in the band was going the be the first to plant a foot where they shouldn't. Every time someone came close, a collective "aaahhhh" was heard. A successful navigation of the biohazard drew a rumbling chuckle. There was only one truly close call with one of the drummers who was walking backwards. He looked down at the last instant and was able to side step. Whew.

    Every game, they gather the young kids (Bleacher Creatures officially) to run from one end of the field to the other after the players come out. Sorry to report, several of the young locust horde were not as successful in avoiding the aforementioned piles. No slippage, but probably some smelly shoes. Ewww. After everything settled down, one of the mounted guys walked out on the field with his bucket and short shovel and policed the area. Just in time for the game to start.

    Fast forward to half-time.

    The band does their half-time show as per usual. Then they have all the veterans from the Korean War take the field. Probably about 40 or 50 of 'em. Including Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Col. James Stone, who was decorated for courageous actions against overwhelming odds. Much applause and standing and cheering from the crowd. Then some soldiers in desert fatigues march onto the field. They are from Fort Sill and Fort Hood and have just recently returned from duty in Iraq. More clapping and standing and cheering. Dang it, I'm gonna have to take an allergy pill when I get home if my eyes don't quit watering.

    The final group on the field are 64 recruits who take the Oath of Enlistment into the United States Army right there in front of us.
    "I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
    Evidently I wasn't the only one with allergies. There were several other guys there that were grabbing their hankies about the same time I was.

    The game is over.

    In a show of respect, the TCU players walked over to the Army bench after the game and stood silently while the Army Alma Mater was played. Likewise, the Army guys stopped behind the TCU players while our Alma Mater was played. I've been to quite a few games, but that's the first time I've ever seen anything like it.


    * Here in Texas, every soft drink is a coke. If you hail from other parts, you call it pop or soda, but here it's coke. So, the proper question is, "What kind of coke do you want?" Acceptable answers range from "Coke" to "Root Beer" to "Pepsi", although if you're trying to be a Texan the only RIGHT answer is "Dr. Pepper".

  • |

    Wednesday, October 08, 2003

    Me and the RNC

    Got my letter from the Republican National Committee yesterday. (you got yours, didn't you?)

    Y'all step back now, 'cause I am "among a select group of Republicans who have been chosen to take part in the official CENSUS OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY." (emphasis theirs) My answers will be "used to develop a BLUEPRINT for the Republican Party for the next 10 years." Well, it's about time those yahoos came to their senses and started asking me for advice. So let's look at some of the questions from the census document.
    Domestic and International Security Question 2. Do you support the use of air strikes against any country that offers safe harbor or aid to individuals or organizations committed to further attacks on America?
    No, I think that we're just being big mean bullies. We should send them all our money and apologize for being alive.
    Economic Issues Question 3. Should small businesses be encouraged to grow and hire more workers?
    Are you serious? You have to ask? Uh...no, I think that all small businesses should be declared unconstitutional and be snapped up at fire sale prices by the big conglomerates.
    Educational Issues Question 3. Do you agree that teaching our children to read and increasing literacy rates should be a national priority
    All right now, this is stupid. Teaching children to read may lead them to thinking for themselves. As you well know, independent thought is a dangerous and divisive thing. Let's just stick to providing the children with free breakfasts and lunches. And now that I think about it, why aren't we feeding them dinner too?
    Social Issues Question 1. Do you support President Bush's initiative to allow private religious and charitable groups to do more to help those in need?
    What are you saying? If these groups get involved, how will we keep people depending on the government for their free goodies. If you allow religious groups to help people in need, you are introducing competition to the process and we all know how dangerous THAT can be.
    Defense Issues Question 2. Do you think that the U.S. should modernize our national defense to meet the challenges of the 21st century?
    No. I think that we're so far ahead of the rest of the world, it gives our troops an UNFAIR advantage. We should stop developing new weapons and new technologies and give the rest of the world a chance to catch up. It's embarrassing when we win so easily like we have in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    Republican Party Question 3. Will you join the Republican National Committee by making a contribution today?
    Ok. I won't spoof this one. These are the options.

    * Yes, I support the RNC and am enclosing my most generous contribution of: $500, $250, $100, $50, $25, Other

    * Yes, I support the RNC, but I am unable to participate at this time. However, I have enclosed $11 to cover the cost of tabulating my survey. ($11!?! To process a Scantron form?)

    * No, I favor electing liberal Democrats over the next ten years. (Emphasis mine)

    There you have it folks. Nothing like a nuanced position, is there? Well, since I'm not returning my survey, you can blame the next 10 years on me. After all, the RNC is.

  • |

    Tuesday, October 07, 2003

    More raffle tickets

    We have somewhere around 170 employees. The tickets I passed out were pretty evenly split between numbers that started with a "4" and numbers beginning with "3". So what are the odds that out of the 16 numbers selected in the last two days, only ONE number has begun with a "4"? Let's see that'd be about...

    64,436 : 1

    if I did the math correctly (it's been a looong time since my college Stats class). All I know is that I'd better draw some numbers starting with "4" tomorrow or there's going to be a lynching. Gulp.

    Hey! Anybody want to come take over CSW for me?

  • |

    Customer Service Week

    I don't know when Customer Service Week (CSW from now on...it's too long to keep typing) started or how common it is for companies to observe it, but basically it's an employee motivational thing to get your employees hyped up about coming to work and doing their jobs (ooo, so cynical). This year is the third year we've celebrated CSW - Usually with some tchotchkes (yeah, that's a word...look it up) and a lunch and some snacks in the afternoons. Oh yeah, and one day where they bring people in to give chair massages.

    So about three months ago, I get an email: "You have been selected to be on the CSW committee."

    Oh, goody. Kill me now.

    I don't know why, but every time I get assigned to a committee, I wind up being in charge of the darn thing. Yeah, that's just what I'm looking for, more responsibility. So this time, I had a plan. I conspired with several other members of the committee as to who we'd railroad into being the chairman (anybody, as long as it wasn't me). So we plotted and had it all arranged. "M" would nominate "E" and "K" and I would jump right in to support it. It was all set.

    Until the day of our first meeting. The manager who was in charge last year came in to get us started. He talked about how employee participation was important and that whatever we did, we needed to get as many people involved as we could. And we'd need to pick a leader. And that we didn't have to do what they did last year, we could start from scratch and do it completely different, if that's what we decided. And we'd need to pick a leader. And that we needed to try not to spend as much money as last year and so our budget would only be X dollars. And we needed to pick a leader. And that last year there were too many things that took too much time away from work, so we needed to be sensitive to maintaining productivity during CSW. And that we'd need to pick a leader.

    I kept noticing something as he was talking to us. EVERY TIME he said "you need to pick a leader," he stopped looking around the room and LOOKED STRAIGHT AT ME! EVERY TIME! Talk about your subliminal suggestions! So when he left and we started discussing who was going to be in charge, the aforementioned plan went straight out the window when "E" (the designated patsy) VOLUNTEERED to be the secretary. Nooooooooooo. Guess who got snookered into being the chairman.

    "Aardvark, you're it!"

    Thanks. No, really. Thanks a lot.

    The good news is that since I was in charge, we probably only had half as many meetings as we would have otherwise. The bad news was that we had to plan by committee. I tried to break it up into sub-groups but the anal retentive among us wouldn't hear of someone else making a decision without them giving their $.02 worth. We are having drawings for prizes all week. You would not BELIEVE how much discussion occurred on just HOW to give out the raffle tickets. Handing out raffle tickets was one of my duties. "Well, how are you going to do it?" Umm. I was going to hand them out? "Well, what about..." And off we went.

    So yesterday was the kick-off breakfast (I handed out raffle tickets, just the way I planned) and between getting set up and breaking it back down and taking pictures and holding the drawings and having an afternoon activity (with snacks!) and naming the pictures and printing the pictures, CSW activities took up practically my whole day.

    Yippee yi-o ki-yay. (Today was much better, though)

  • |

    Monday, October 06, 2003

    Light posting

    Today due to the beginning of Customer Service Week. I'll explain more later.

  • |

    Whatever happened to "No comment"?

    From this weekend's news, here's a bit about Kobe Bryant.
    Asked if he was scared about the case, he replied: "Terrified."
    "Not so much for myself, but just for what my family is going through," Bryant said. "They had nothing to do with this, but just because their names have been dragged in the mud I'm scared for them."
    Maybe I missed it somewhere along the road, but I don't recall hearing anything about his family that could be considered dragging their names in the mud. And what do they have to be scared of (other than Kobe going to jail)? I wouldn't think their personal safety would be an issue.

    If you ask me (and nobody did), it sounds like Kobe is trying to set himself up as the victim here. Now I don't know whether or not he is guilty of rape (as she claims) or whether the sex was consensual (as he claims). Either way, there WAS a way to avoid this whole mess and it was entirely within his power to do so. But then that would have required a degree (or two) of self control. Let's be honest, it's not that Kobe didn't KNOW that cheating on his wife was wrong, and therefore inadvertently messed up. No, he KNEW it was wrong and chose to do it anyway.

    Likewise for the girl, she's not entirely innocent here either. Flirting in public is one thing, taking it behind closed doors is an entirely different thing. Even assuming the rape charge is true, going to Kobe's room was not an act of innocent wonder on her part. It's not like she'd never seen any rich or famous people before at the high priced resort where she worked.

    I get so tired of people who think they can act however they like and then complain when they are held accountable for their actions. Maybe I'm a terrible person, but I just can't gin up a whole lot of sympathy for these folks.
    "You go through something like this, you realize how important your family is, seeing my daughter grow up and being at home. Basketball to me is just a distant second."
    Let's hope he means it.

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    Friday, October 03, 2003

    Overachieving 101

    At one time I worked for a big government defense contractor. Every year, my department would have goals set and one of the supervisors would start charting our weekly progress to goal on the graph hung prominently in the office. Until we got far enough behind that it started to look bad. My manager (the one from the previous post) told the supervisor to stop updating the graph. After a couple of weeks without updates, I asked the supervisor why the graph hadn't been updated. He hemmed and hawed and finally looked me in the eye and said he really didn't know why, but he'd been instructed to stop. I got the message and didn't ask again.

    Fast forward about six months.

    One day, towards the end of the year, a NEW graph appeared. This one showed that we were now significantly OVER goal. How is this possible? Upon closer inspection, it was easy to ascertain that the goal had been changed to a much lower number. My boss had the nerve to brag to other managers that HIS department had met goal every year for the past 20 years.

    Hey, statistics don't lie (so I've heard).

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    Catch the weasel

    Weasel words. You ever use any? Sure you have. Weasel words are when you phrase what you're saying so that the way it sounds is the opposite from the way you mean it. There's enough ambiguity that people hear just what they want to hear, and you can walk away knowing you haven't lied. You haven't exactly told the truth either. (hey, is it MY fault that people can't understand English?)

    Some people say I should have been an attorney, from the way I can parse words (I try not to, but sometimes still do). I know some nice attorneys (now CUT THAT OUT! I know what you're thinking) and for the most part they're pleasant ordinary folks. Unless you catch them in full-on attorney mode. That's when you really have to listen closely to what they actually say. It's a learned skill for the most part.

    One of my most shameful examples of using weasel words concerned the occasion of my manager's (there were actually two levels of management between us) retirement. This boss was (should I say this?) one of the most unethical people I have ever been associated with. One day, out of the blue, he announced his retirement. The office scuttlebutt was that his ethical lapses had finally caught up with him and he was given a choice: retire or be fired. As a retirement present, the department had a picture framed for him and everyone was expected to write something nice on the matting around the picture.

    I struggled with what to say for a long time, but finally chickened out and used some weasel words:

    Here's hoping that retirement brings you all the happiness you deserve.

    And I meant it. ::sigh:: Not one of my prouder moments.

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    Thursday, October 02, 2003

    "My hands are wet...

    ...I hope it's blood." John Bickerson, circa 1946.

    One night, way back when I was just a sophomore in college, a group of us had gathered to study at one of the women's dorms. We were in the main living room downstairs, which was carpeted and had a fair assortment of old wingback chairs and couches that were past their prime. The only theme distiguishable was that the pineapple shaped lamps matched the pineapple shaped wall sconces. Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

    If I recall correctly, we were studying economics. Now, no slight meant to Professor Byron, but economics (as taught by MY professors) was not something you should study late into the night, for reasons I will soon reveal. We'd been studying for an hour or so when I started to get tired (Aardvarks and beauty sleep, you make the connection). So rather than admit defeat and go back to my dorm room, I pulled one of my famous "I'll just stretch out here on the floor and get comfortable and participate from down here, if that's ok wi.....zzzzzz.....zzzzzzz" moves.

    So here I am at 10 PM, sound asleep on the floor in the living room of the women's dorm. Might as well put a bulls-eye on my back while I'm at it.

    When I fell asleep, I was face down with my head resting on the backs of my hands. Somebody got the bright idea to send one of the girls up to their room to get some bright, fire engine red nail polish. They painted all of my nails that they could get to without moving my head.

    Then, before they broke up for the night, one of them woke me up. The first thing I saw was bright red on the ends of my fingers. The first thing that went through my head was, "I'm bleeding! Don't get blood on the carpet!" And so I jerked up off my hands and stood up fast. That's when I heard everyone laughing, followed closely by the sound of running feet. The guys ran out the door into the night and the girls ran into the bowels of the dorm, where No Man Shall Pass.

    Great. It's 10:30 at night. The local grocery store closed at 10 and all that's open is the 7-11. I'm going to have to either walk back to my dorm and face the guys, or I'm going to have to walk into the 7-11 to buy nail polish remover, knowing that whoever's working is going to think I'm gay.

    Fortunately, about the time I had worked up the nerve to walk to 7-11, one of the girls in my study group felt sufficient pity to come back downstairs with a cotton ball and polish remover.

    That has to be one of the best pranks I've ever been involved with (even if it was on me). My kids love that story.


    PS. The quote at the top is from the radio show "The Bickersons". John Bickerson (Don Ameche), who is a member of The Bourbon of the Month Club, says this line after commenting how dark the pantry is since the light burned out, followed soon by the sound of breaking glass.


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    Blogapalooza 2003

    So, last night I dreamt that I was at a blogging convention. I'm sitting in a darkened convention hall and everyone around me has their laptops open and are blogging live. For some reason, I am computer-less and so I'm just looking around. The guy in front of me and to my right is trying to create some last-second graphics (for his upcoming presentation). He's got an outline of North Carolina pulled up and is trying to color put his location on it and then color it in (using MS paint, with a paint brush instead of the "fill" tool). I lean forward to catch his name off his name tag. It's Nate! I say, "Hey, Nate. It's me, LittleA!" And that's when I woke up.

    Now why I had Nate in North Carolina and not Utah, I don't know. And why he was scribbling with his mouse to paint, I don't know. And why I feel the need to tell you, I don't know.

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    Wednesday, October 01, 2003

    Anachronicity

    My wife and I are convinced. We were born 30 years too late.

    I have somewhat of an excuse. I'm the youngest of six kids. My father was 44 and my mom was 40 the year I was born. My oldest brother was 19 at the time. So growing up, the things that my older siblings did were the things I took as my own. We didn't play the radio much at my house...mom and dad were seriously anti-rock 'n' roll. "Hippy music" was the usual comment. So we listened to records: Peter, Paul & Mary, The New Christie Minstrels, The Blackwood Brothers Quartet, Ferrante & Teicher. That was the music I grew up with. It wasn't until my JUNIOR YEAR of high school that I got my own transistor radio and was therefore able to listen to rock music in the privacy (limited) of my bedroom. I grew up knowing about Barney Oldfield, and Fibber McGee & Molly. I know about the Yellow Kid and can tell you all about Alphonse & Gaston. I know who Marvin Milquetoast is and spent many hours studying Rube Goldberg drawings.

    But more than the trappings of the '30s, '40s and early '50s, the critical things my parents passed on to me were the morals and the values of their generation. Right is right and wrong is wrong. When you give your word, you honor it no matter what. A hand shake is a contract. Mind your own business. Work hard. You inherited a good name, you'd best keep it that way.

    My wife doesn't have that excuse. We joke that she was just born old. She came by her values the hard way. She learned responsibility early, cooking and cleaning (that was woman's work) for an older brother while her mom worked two jobs to keep food on the table and the rent paid. She learned to make do or do without. She learned self-reliance - if she didn't do it, it wasn't going to get done. She learned that complaining didn't change anything. She learned that persistence and commitment could change big jobs into manageable ones. She built character (and then she married one).

    So here we find ourselves, in our early forties (both born in '62), strangely isolated from our contemporaries by a chasm of values. We've discovered we interact with people who are in their 60's and 70's better than with people our own age.

    One of the things that keeps us separate is the way we have raised our kids. "Yes, ma'am" and "No sir" are part of their vocabulary (at least some of the time anyway). They know when we say "no", that's exactly what we mean. They know how to behave in public. I can't tell you the number of times people have commented about how nice and pleasant our kids are to have around. (Trust me, they're not perfect by a long shot)

    We have had at least a half dozen couples our age that my wife and I would have liked to develop a deeper friendship with. But we didn't. The reason? We couldn't stand their kids! We've worked too hard to instill good values in our children. No way were we going to let them be influenced by someone else's out of control kids (my dad would say "The tail's wagging the dog in that family"). And so, while we remained friendly, we knew we weren't going to invite them over to our house or accept invitations to their house. Maybe that makes us snobs. I like to think that makes us good parents.

    You can call us old fashioned if you like. We take it as a compliment.

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