Mar 31, 2013

Why people do not have to fear #TargetedAds

Have you seen "Minority Report?" The thing that scares most people is NOT the whole "stop you before you do something" aspect. It is the way the ads pop up and change based on how close you are to the various displays. Targeted ads based on the data collected from our shopping habits, online activity, and keywords in our emails have started to really freak people out.

Today is Easter Sunday, 2013. Based on the fact that CoverGirl targeted an ad about make-up to a heterosexual male in his early 40's, I don't think we have anything to worry about. They are no more targeted than flipping channels on a TV. In fact, based on some of the comments, I'd say CoverGirl's targeted media manager should be looking for a new job about now:

Mar 30, 2013

Why yes, I did the "Sting like a butterfly" and "Punch like a flea Jack" eggs.

A Microsoft Story

One of the email lists to which I belong took a decidedly twisted turn when a bunch of us started using Microsoft products in our responses, just be goofy.  Well, a challenge of sorts was laid before me, and after first rejecting the opportunity, I changed my mind.  What follows is a short short story in which Microsoft products are indicated in ALL CAPS. Enjoy!


The time had come to return to the BASIC building blocks of the situation. 

Jimmy had built his VISUAL STUDIO such that anywhere he looked, WINDOWS surrounded him. He had dreamed of the day when he could leave his OFFICE, take to the SKY, DRIVE his flying car and surf the INFO PATH. 

For now, though, he had no ACCESS to such frivolities  He stared at the ever-changing PHOTO GALLERY playing through the small lcd frame on his DESKTOP. He was the boss, and now he was the MESSENGER of bad news. The company's main PROJECT had failed. He would WRITE one WORD; just ONE NOTE. His MESSENGER had delivered the MAIL. And, just like that, he had let go of his OFFICE ASSISTANT. His ENTOURAGE, whom he considered EMBEDDED, disbanded before he even had a chance to EXCHANGE words with them.  "Oh, why ME," he called out to no one in particular. He spun around in his chair to gaze at the VISTA before him.

Jimmy's mind traveled back to the early days of his life, when was a SERVER in the local pub, a FREELANCER in this MIDTOWN MADNESS that he called home. He often took orders "TO GO," though he never saw these as being the ESSENTIALS to advancing his true passion: to be an AGENT, a DEFENDER wrapped in his POWER SHELL. Sure, he wanted to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, but he couldn't see things clearly through his WORLDWIDE TELESCOPE.  

"I can just PICTURE IT!" he said aloud.

Instead, he became a CREATIVE WRITER.  He knew then that there was no MONEY to be made in that.  So, he packed up his BINDER and his BRIEFCASE, and studied MATHEMATICS.

Years later, he emerged on the FOREFRONT of LIQUID MOTION technology as a MOVIE MAKER.  He could seamlessly travel the STREETS, and TRIPS he could take would be but a mere moment in time away from him. This was the time of big movie houses, the AGE OF EMPIRES, after all, and nothing could stop him from revolting against the RISE OF NATIONS trying to quell the freedom to make movies. He took FLIGHT, grabbed his POWER TOYS, and latched on to a positive OUTLOOK for the road ahead.  Alas, as fate would have it, he made the FRONTPAGE after a failed LYNC between two train cars took away the only FAMILY SAFETY a newborn had ever known. Jimmy retreated into the shadows.

As the years went by, he saw a SILVERLIGHT at the end of his tunnel, and quickly found himself the head of a multi-billion dollar company. He envisioned himself as just a blip, a MAP POINT.  He had started out with a simple NOTEPAD, a WORDPAD if you will. He was a PUBLISHER now. And, his massive success led him to take bigger risks. No matter how hard he tried to expand, to EXCEL, he found that he simply met with failure. "Nothing WORKS!" He shouted into the emptiness that now engulfed him. He had succumbed to the DYNAMICS of double-crossing and corporate espionage. He had failed to ask himself, "Was the SOURCE SAFE?" 

"What about the BUSINESS FINANCIALS," a voice broke Jimmy's thoughts.  It was his partner, BOB.

"I don't even know anymore, man.  I can't even keep my thoughts straight right now," Jimmy said as he slowly turned in his chair to face his partner.

"You'll figure it out, Jim. No matter what you've gone through, you seem to find your center; your STEADY STATE."

Mar 27, 2013

Different everyday

Back in the day before complex passwords were required, I was working at Mt. Holly Schools one time and asked the teacher for her password.

She leaned in and whispered, "It's different." I just looked at her. She said, "Spell it out." I understood and entered the password.  Later, she told me the story behind her password choice.

"The students are always asking me for my password. I tell them, 'I can't tell you what it is because it's different everyday.'," she told me.  She's right. It was...DIFFERENT, everyday.

That is one of those tech stories I will remember for the rest of my life.

Here's another:

A friend of mine had a computer back before EVERYONE had one. He was playing "Wheel of Fortune" on it with his mother. The wheel would spin on the screen and his mother would call out a letter. Incredibly, the computer would choose the letter and play the game accordingly. After a few rounds, his mother said, "This is amazing. How does the computer know which letter I'm saying?"

My friend picked up the mouse, turned it over so that the flat side face his mother, and said, "This is a microphone. Just speak into this end."  At that point, his mother took the mouse, held it close to her mouth and repeated, "M.. M.. M.." Nothing happened on the screen. My friend burst into laughter.

Anyone in tech support has a myriad of stories like these. I've got more, too.  Here are a few quickies:

I once worked for a person who called me to tell me that the CD drive was broken on the computer. That person later admitted to having the drawer opened as they walked THROUGH it, having forgotten it was open. (The computer was on the floor at the time. We moved it after that.)

I was called in once because a computer kept "eating my CDs."  I showed up, and the person demonstrated by sticking a CD into the computer... Without opening the drawer. The person had managed to jam the CD between the drive and computer case. When I opened the case, sitting on top of the CD drive enclosure was a stack of CDs. Of course, they were scratched beyond use. I hit the "eject" button and showed how to properly load a CD.

When my son was young, Pokemon had a game you could play on CD-ROM. He played it all the time. One day, the CD sounded a little funny as it whirred around in the drive. Before long, we heard "WHAP" followed by the sound of what seemed to be shattering glass. I hit the "eject" button and watched as hundreds of plastic shards poured out of the drive. The CD had shattered in the drive due to a tiny stress crack.

I once spent more than hour on the phone with tech support because I could not configure my home wifi access point at the time. Finally, the rep said, "You do not see the 'Advanced Settings' option on the left?" I told him that I did not have that menu item. He went silent for a moment, then said, "Could you scroll down?"

Mar 21, 2013

Archway Butterscotch Gems

The picture is *NOT* of Archway cookies nor is it a picture of cookies in our house. This is just a picture I found of butterscotch oatmeal cookies.  Why am I talking about these? Because, while sitting here today, my mind wandered to the cookies I used to eat with my Dad.  We could suck down some Archway Butterscotch Gems in our day.

I actually wrote to Archway once a few years ago, asking them about the cookies. They sent me a coupon for any other style since they had quit making them.  I think I may have to find a recipe for Shan and see if she'll make some.

I did all kinds of things with my Dad when he was on this earth. Why these old cookies should pop into my head, I don't know. But, it's a memory that lives on.

Always keep 'em guessing

We recently took a trip to the Dallas area. Specifically, we braved the wackadoodle I-635 construction zone that is the Dallas metro area called Addison.

As we left one morning toward Grapevine Mills, I headed up the onramp. An orange sign ahead of me and on the LEFT read, "Construction Entrance." The ramp split. I followed the white pickup in front of me. It turns out he worked on the construction crew.  A few hundred feet in front of me, big orange and white bars blocked the road. Large signs with "ROAD CLOSED" hung from the warning bars.  

I had taken the wrong path.

I turned the car around, which now meant I was facing INTO the oncoming traffic while trying to get out of the construction zone. Fortunately, the traffic lights changed and no one was heading up the ramp as I turned my car around again to face the ramp leading to I-635.  After I got the car pointed in the right direction, I noticed an orange sign beside the "Construction Entrance" sign that read "Construction Exit." 

Could they not have simply put up an orange sign with a left-pointing arrow that reads, "<- div="" i-635="" instead="" nbsp="">

My family, of course, will never let me live this down.  I take it all in stride, however. After all, what's the point of a family trip without creating stories to be told, re-told, embellished, and passed down?

Mar 18, 2013

Migrated to the hot tub!

Outside temp is 66f and breezy. We have crazy children!

No Significant Difference

So, I took the BingItOn challenge and it came out a draw.

You search five times and choose which results you like better.  Here are my searches:

Things to do near dallas - draw, neither one jumped out at me.
most wanted billboard locations - Google (I was asking about the game, not actual billboards)
popped in my head - Bing (the name of this blog. Ironic that I didn't choose Google)
davidinark - Google (the username I use most often)
addison, tx - Bing (where we are hanging out for a few days)

That says to me that there is no significant difference and there is no reason to change away from Google as my primary search tool. I have always seen the phrase "no significant difference" as one to mean "keep doing what you're doing because there is no reason to change it."

Don't ever tell me there is no significant difference. Instead, show me the difference and that it DOES make a difference.

That phrase is used most often in the world of distance learning/online education. It's used to justify using DL in conjunction with, or in place of, tradition classroom education. Frankly, I wish there was a significant difference - one way or the other. I mean, if there is no significant difference, then why bother using it?  Oh, I know, some students love online classes. Some hate them. Some are forced into them and thrive while others are forced into and fail miserably. Again, why bother?

I spent several years as a Distance Learning Coordinator and I am certified to teach online courses through PBS Teacherline and also as a CDLR facilitator. I know what I'm talking about. I know what I have seen in classes. I know what I've seen as a parent of a student who had some great DL experiences and some awful DL experiences. Likewise, I have seen both sides of the coin in traditional classrooms.  And, I agree: there is no significant difference. And, again I ask: why bother? Ironically, I wrote about this very thing back in 2011: "No Significant Difference"

Whether it is a search engine, a different way to prepare chicken, or distance education, if you can't show me a significant difference, then I'm not convinced it's worth changing.

Sorry, Bing, but 300 Bing Points (whatever those are) just aren't enough to make me switch. Good luck, though, and come back when you can show a significant difference.

Getting her pic with Saige...cutout.

They have mini American Girl dolls for the full-sized dolls. Really??

Tyler's feet hang off the edge. #tallpeopleproblems #ty_forpresident

Mar 10, 2013

Analyzing "How to be a Good Manager" - for the fun of it.

One of the people I follow on Twitter is @mguhlin (Miguel Guhlin) for his educational insights and for some of the thought-provoking things he shares.  Recently, he shared a post called "How to be a Good Manager" written by David. C. Baker. I read the list. Several things, as with most "lists" nowadays, are decidedly tongue-in-cheek.  Other things make me wonder if something was lost in translation from brain-to-post or if Mr. Baker really believes them*. Allow me the fun of covering each of his points:

  1. This is most certainly in reference to "Ratatouille" in which we learn that "Anyone CAN cook, but it doesn't mean they should." While anyone CAN be a manager, not everyone should - evil or not.
  2. I assume he means, "Being in management doesn't make you special." Then again, I suppose this could be one of those self-affirmation things: Management doesn't make you special. Only YOU can make you special.
  3. I agree - some of your best workers may be entitled to higher compensation than their manager based on the skills they bring to the table. It's okay if they make more. Managers aren't there to make more money than their charges, they are there to manage them.
  4. I would be interested to know just what alternate career paths there. If management isn't the path for growth, what is? Where does a programmer go once s/he is lead programmer (which in itself is a management position)?  Where does a custodian go in the chain? What if there are no paths for growth (say, a receptionist)?
  5. Agreed. Important information should come from the direct upline as often as possible.
  6. Agreed. If someone is promoted simply because of longevity/tenure or for other non-skill-related reasons, it undermines employee morale.
  7. I don't understand "biggest danger." That should be defined or explained. How are they a danger? Frankly, anyone in your employ who doesn't fit with company culture should either be trained to fit with the company culture or be asked to seek employment elsewhere.
  8. Agreed. Nearly every job I've had laid out the ground rules. Most have given me 90 days to 'get it or get out.' It's not mean or cruel. It's the way it is, and the way it should be.
  9. Maybe. But, sometimes, when a person gets fired, the team members are not aware of all the factors involved. In general, though, I can see his point.
  10. I agree to an extent. I think it depends on the job. When I worked as an HR Clerk, everything was laid out and the expectations were lined out verbatim. As a Technology Coordinator (read, Director), some things were lined out, but I was left to develop the position as needed. In fact, it is a VERY fluid type of position, changing from day-to-day sometimes. Employees must have the freedom to mold a position into their own.
  11. Agreed 100%! A good manager doesn't know everything about everything his/her employees do. They should hire the people that will do the job and let them do it.
  12. Haha! I think the 'personality profile' thing falls under the "stupid line" period.
  13. Agreed! Sometimes, a person will be a good manager without having the title. And, if/when they get the title, no one is really surprised.
  14. Agreed. See #13.  When promoting from within, most of the employees should not be surprised at all by the choice. And, that should be a good thing - not a demeaning/rumor-filled one.
  15. I agree. People want to know what's expected, what the boundaries are (not that they won't test them), and what the procedures are. They also want to know WHEN certain things are going to happen ahead of time - evaluations, national certification audits, etc.
  16. Agree 100%. I have worked for companies where we were 'expected' to come early/stay late even though we were hourly 'grunts.' It wasn't my business/company. They didn't pay me to have that kind of investment. To that end, they gave me no real reason to have such an investment. By the end, I hated working there and left.
  17. Agree, sorta. As for the timekeeping part: yes. Set the expectations and discipline those who do not meet the expectation on a consistent basis (there are always exceptions in limited circumstances). As for the "wuss" part... How do you, as an author of such a piece, expect anyone to take you seriously when you use words like "wuss" in your post? Really?
  18. Absolutely! See #13. The folks within that are leaders without the title are the ones other employees feel they can talk to, relate to. Not every leader in your company will have a 'leadership title.'
  19. Agreed. Middle Management is (and should be) often the buffer between higher administrators and the other workers. Believe me, as non-managerial employees, they need that buffer. And sometimes, a filter or translator. Middle management should fill all those roles.
  20. Control freaks? Heads exploding? How about something constructive, man? 
  21. Agreed! Besides, having all those "motivational" posters and "company motto" posters everywhere usually serves to remind the employees of what is NOT happening within the company.  Don't post about it - show it, do it, lead by example.
  22. Agreed. Often, though, mustering up the courage to address an employee situation head-on takes much more than we ever anticipated because we never expected to find ourselves in the situation to begin with.  We know we should rip off the bandage, and we know it is going to hurt.
  23. Agreed! How many companies serve as orphanages rather than businesses? We refuse to let people go simply because "we like them" or "they're our friend" or "that's my cousin?" I know it's ugly, but business is business. (Which, by the way, is why my wife said she could never work for me - I can be something of a 'stern' manager)
  24. I love this! What a great analogy between a dog doing his business and employees doing theirs. I love the idea of multiple evaluations spread throughout the year. I had not even thought of that before reading it in his post.  That serves as my major "Ah Ha!" moment of the piece. Great!
  25. Agreed 100%! A "bonus" is just that - extra money for a job well done above and beyond what is expected. When the bonus comes every year, people feel entitled to them. Heck, some employees may even DEMAND they be given. Excuse me!? This is a BONUS, not an entitlement check.
  26. Agreed. Well, except for the 'up your meds' part. 
  27. Agreed. Trying to report to two direct supervisors can put some employees in a bind, especially if those two supervisors have conflicting ideas or expectations of duties. It is especially hard if the employee is serving in multiple roles with multiple supervisors.  There should be one voice of authority for each employee. 
  28. Agreed. We cannot expect our employees to finish the tasks assigned to them if managers are constantly interrupting them with other things they want them to do. Managers must make the effort to limit those interruptions.
  29. Agreed! Celebrate success and be fun about it. Life is way too short to make the workplace a dreaded place to be all the time.
  30. Agreed, sorta. If you haven't been doing open-book management and then you implement it when things "suck" (as he says), then keep it open-book from that point on. And, I think that was his point: don't do it, then turn it off, then do it and turn it off again. As he said: Do it. Or don't.
  31. Agreed. The stuff we employees make up in our heads is WAY worse than the reality of the situation. Just tell us if there is bad news. We can take it.
  32. Agreed. Get rid of everyone at the same time. Likewise, don't set up a meeting where threats or hints of layoffs are tossed around. That's not managing - that's rule by fear and intimidation, and we hate that.
  33. Agreed. But, also make sure you aren't firing someone just because you don't get along or because they haven't caught on to things. Unless, of course, you have implemented #8. Then, cut them loose.
  34. Agreed. Unless it is a family business. I mean, if it is a family business, you may have to hire family members. In that case, be sure they know the ground rules and expectations. Either way, it's not easy.
  35. Agreed. If you hire people you don't trust, then why did you hire them? If you 'inherited' people, you have to give the benefit of the doubt. Trust them. They really do want to help you succeed. And, a little thank you wouldn't hurt.
  36. Agreed. Employees prefer a positive reaction to bad news, but even if your reaction is not good - be consistent. At least folks will know what to expect.
  37. As for hiring for need, that depends on a whole lot of factors. But, I agree with the sentiment there. As a business grows, necessity dictates how you fill postions rather than how much you can afford (or are willing) to pay someone.
  38. I can't speak for this one, and I can only assume that comes from his own experiences with hiring high-priced, high-profile personnel.
  39. Agree. And, yes, even with the "Groundhog Day" reference, I think it is important to get yourself out of the "same-stuff, different-day" routine. If it is broke, fix it. Pronto.
  40. Evidently, the new employee training to which Mr. Baker refers comes from something he has seen. I do agree, though, that there should be a new hire process that ALL new hires go through or none go through it.
  41. Partially Agree. If your first thought is anything negative about going to work, it is time for a change somewhere. If you are the owner, it's time to find that thing that made you want to open the business in the first place. If you are a manager, it is time to evaluate your situation openly and honestly: WHY do you feel that way? What don't you like? How can you change it? Who can you talk to about changing those things that need it? Do you need to find a new career? I do not mean the last one to sound trite or to be funny. Sometimes, the problem is that we are tired of doing the same thing every day and we want to challenge ourselves with something new.
  42. Agree. It amazes me how many business leaders claim they have/had no control over how quickly their business grew. Actually, they had full control over that. If you are growing too quickly to handle, then stop growing. Sometimes, that means turning away new business until you have a plan of attack. Don't worry. If your business is in that much demand, people will come back. Give them an incentive to return: discounts, a timeline, something.
  43. Agreed! Few things are worse on your bottom line and on employee morale than having "nothing to do."  What is worse? Having a few employees that work their tails off while others complain about having nothing to do. That needs to be fixed: Either create the opportunity for those folks to do something (maybe share duties), or let them go. If they are really only needed a few days out of the week, then adjust their schedule (and salary) accordingly.
  44. Agreed! As I said above, people with little to do will suck the morale out of other workers. Plus, if they think they are not being used to their fullest potential, employees will have low morale. On the other end, if I am running at full speed all day, every day, I will be burned out and run into the ground. I will have low morale. The key is to find just the right balance. The problem is that finding that balance is not always easily nor quickly done.
  45. Agree completely here, too. One of my favorite anecdotes regards companies that have hired less-than-academically-stellar employees over ivy-league graduates because of people skills and other "soft" skills that some of the uber-smart ivy-league graduates just didn't have.
  46. Interesting. I suppose people in positions where writing is not their core duty might be exempt for this bit of advice. I do agree, though, that employees that have ANY contact with the outside world should be able to express themselves in such a manner that does not reflect negatively on your company. I say this goes for speaking as well. There are few things, to me, that set me aback faster than a manager (or higher administrator) that drops cuss words into regular, daily conversation for no apparent reason. There are thousands of words from which to choose - choose wisely.
  47. Agree. I hate group interviews. I took part in a group interview to be a sales guy at a radio station one time. After talking at us (he did not talk TO us), the manager asked, "Why should I hire you?" and went to each person around the table. I wanted to stop the interview right there, ask the manager to leave, then charge $500 to anyone that wanted to buy the answer from me.  I knew the answer from his demeanor, from the words he chose, from the way he talked about everything he (thought) knew about the radio business. I answered, "Because I will make you a lot of money." I was hired. I quit within a week. 
  48. Partially agree.  While I do believe that having kids can help, I don't think telling everyone they will only get the best training for management by having kids is the way to go. On the other hand, having a role model boss in your past is dead on. I have one in my past that all other managers are compared to and she set the standard by which I try to manage. I am incredibly thankful for her guidance, insight, and leadership when I was a young man trying to figure things out. She was not my first manager, either. She was the first really good one, in my opinion, though.

*In my defense, and/or maybe Mr. Baker's defense, I had never read one of his articles before. Maybe he always writes posts sprinkled with tongue-in-cheek moments. I think there are right times to do that, and there are times when that should be tabled. It depends on the context, the audience, and the message being conveyed. Over all, I liked the points he made. It's just hard to take some of his advice seriously because of some of the phrasing. But, that's just me.

Mar 4, 2013

Subway and the Wasp

I decided to head to the local Subway for lunch. After I placed my order, I drove around to the window where the woman met me instantly.  She said, "Please don't kill me! We are out of Cheetos." I'm sure the look on my face gave her quite a start, because I nearly burst out laughing. "Kill you? It's just chips," I said. "You don't know. You just. don't. know."  I asked for plain chips and got my food.

As I drove forward toward the main road, I felt something hit me in the head! As I rubbed the spot, I noticed a wasp had landed on my power window coontrol, looking as stunned about the whole thing as I felt.  It gathered its wits, turned around to face me, then lifted off.  As a mild panic set in, I watched it zoom up and out of the open window through which it had come.

Thanking God for the small things today!

Mar 2, 2013

Second Verse, Same as the First: SnapChat and Your Digital Footprint

The media is all abuzz about SnapChat - the app that lets you send pics that expire and you can't save them.

Er, well, actually, there a myriad of ways to save them.

As is often said: ANYTHING you send electronically can last forever.

Need proof? Just do a tumblr search for snapchat tagged pics. Be warned, many of the pics are not safe for work, and certainly not safe for kids. There sure are a lot of them for an app that doesn't "let" you save the photos.

No matter what apps are out there, or what ANY app or website says: nothing online disappears forever - someone, somewhere will find a way to store it.

The best defense? Use your head.

Look, people have been preaching the gospel of digital footprints, digital dossiers, online presence, blah blah blah for years, heck decades, now.  Just as "look both ways before you cross the street" still rings true, so does the adage, "Think before you post."

If you are a teen and you are reading this, first of all, thanks. Second, don't be stupid. Just as you go searching for anything and everything under the sun, so do the people who decide whether or not you should get a paycheck at their company.  Seriously.  If you wanted to come work for me, the first thing I'm doing before we even talk face-to-face: I'm checking your online presence.  Are you posting party pics? Half-naked pics? Ranting, cuss-filled posts?  You won't be hired. You probably won't even be called for an interview.  Are you posting thought-provoking questions? Appropriate photos of things that interest you? Items related to the job you'd like? We'd talk.

That aside, the main reason for this post: Just a reminder that no matter what ANYONE says, NOTHING is temporary online.  SnapChat claims to delete the info from their servers.  Ever deleted something from your computer? Know how easy it is to get it back? Pretty easy, actually. Do a quick search for "file recovery" and you'll find a ton of tools.  Don't want to do it yourself? Hire someone to find the deleted data.  Think SnapChat servers are immune? Nope. Anyone with half a mind to recover "deleted" pictures will be able to pull off terabytes of photos-gone-by.

Should you stop using it? Of course not. I'm not an idiot. But, as with everything online, know what you are REALLY getting into. Use it wisely.

And, please, keep your clothes on.