Thursday, January 12, 2012

In which I am reminded again how old I am

The hard drive on my work laptop is suffering a slow and painful (for me) death, so I visited our most competent and helpful IT guy a few days ago for advice and resources.* After a long discussion of replacement drives, backup strategies and potential disasters, we somehow ended up talking about online services.

The two twenty-somethings in the room were quite surprised to find out that there was a life online before everyone had access to the internet. They knew that there had been a thing called "dialup" but were unaware that AOL was essentially a huge online bulletin board. Then I had to explain about online bulletin boards. Neither had ever heard of CompuServe or Prodigy. One started googling immediately, and probably spent the rest of the day researching the ancient days of the early 1990's.

It was an entire day later that I remembered that millions of people in this country, mostly in rural areas, still don't have access to broadband. Millions of others don't have the money, the motivation, or the perceived need. I assume their lives are lived much differently from mine, since I spend a great deal of time sitting in my living room logged into another machine somewhere, streaming video, or looking up random things I see on television. It's what the punditry likes to call the "digital divide," and those on the other side are increasingly excluded from society. Many businesses, publications, and other activities are now primarily or completely online.

But I digress. Yesterday was about fresh backups and modest but low-risk repairs that I was pretty sure were not going to work. Today I bite the bullet, erase the drive, confirm that it is bad, and replace it. Back up your data kids. Remember, there are two kinds of hard drives -- those that have failed and those that will.

* We have a help desk, but their helpfulness is somewhat ... irregular. I haven't read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but I assume one of them is "find an IT person that will help you."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Oval Office Space

From what I see on the TV, it seems many Republicans are having a hard time deciding who should run against the President this year. People have all sorts of methods for picking candidates. For instance, my mother seems to vote for the man she could most easily imagine being married to (Mitt Romney, last I heard). Others seem to choose the candidates that are most understandable, hottest, show strong leadership, or are principled and moral (good luck with that one). Since whatever method people use seems to be falling short for so many this time, I would like to recommend an approach that has worked for me.

In recent years I have tried to remember that electing someone for office is no more or less than hiring a person to do a job. So I like to imagine the candidates as co-workers, and compare them to people I know, or with whom I've had some experience. I am often surprised at how much this clarifies things.

Mitt Romney is probably easiest. The quintessential CEO, he is the clear choice if you think the purpose of government is to maximize financial return for people who own American dollars.* If, on the other hand, you believe the government should maximize the value citizens receive for tax dollars, or care about any of the non-financial aspects of life, you may want to keep looking. Romney also seems to fight the perception that he would sell the whole place for a bigger bonus and a private jet.

Rick Perry, who we may not have to kick around much longer, is obviously Head of Sales. He won the Salesperson of the Month award every month until they finally retired it. He drives an El Dorado with a Rolls Royce grille and longhorns on the hood, and he has slept with every woman in the office.

Newt Gingrich runs the Research Department. He will tell anyone who will listen that business majors are all idiots. He is the guy that puts the note on the refrigerator about eating other people's lunches. He is also the number one customer of the Honor Snacks, and only paid once when he noticed someone watching.

Ron Paul is the last remaining member of old school upper management. He was CFO for thirty-five years, but was recently given the title of Ombudsmen and relocated to the Florida office. He is convinced that globalization and rapid growth through acquisition is going to bite the company square in the ass. He is correct, but this doesn't change the fact that this is how business is done today. He collects Hummel figurines.

Rick Santorum? Look for the guy in your office wearing a sweater vest. It looks like Bachman is gone, so try it yourself with Huntsman.  It's fun and informative, and may even help you make up your mind.

*This is an application of the principle of "maximizing shareholder value," which holds that the primary purpose of a corporation is to enrich the people who own it. Popularized in the 1980's when Romney was one of the people buying and breaking up companies, the approach has become a foundational concept of corporate management. Note that customers, partners, employees, and society at large are not really part of the formula, except indirectly.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Movie Sunday: POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Image from here

I have to admit that I am a big fan of Morgan Spurlock. Unlike most documentary filmmakers (will admit), he makes films about himself. Sort of like a thinking person's Jackass, his movies seem to start with Spurlock musing, "I wonder what would happen if I..."

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is Spurlock's answer to the question of what it would be like to make a movie about product placement -- or "brand integration" -- that was totally funded by product placement. The film tracks our hero as he learns about the advertisers' place in the movie business today, and how different filmmakers deal with it. There are numerous scenes with potential sponsors or industry consultants, and cameos by well known directors. I learned much more about modern entertainment than I wished to know, though probably less than I should.

If you think this sounds like watching the sausage being made, you are correct. But I think this is the genius of Morgan Spurlock. Through humor, honesty, and a seeming total lack of pretense, he is able to show us the seamy side of anything and somehow neutralize the revulsion. He almost killed himself eating McDonalds food, but watching him almost made me want to try it.* In this film, Spurlock takes us along as he tries to sell his soul while maintaining his integrity, and he really doesn't try to hide his struggle with maintaining the balance. He also serves up plenty of reminders of exactly how much we should trust someone who is being paid to recommend things.

It's not exactly Transformers 3, but I found it quite entertaining. If you like a good documentary, and you are at all curious about how much of what you see on your screen is there because someone is being paid to put it there, you should definitely see this film. We liked it so much we put Pom Wonderful bellinis on our Christmas morning menu.

* If you haven't seen SuperSize Me, you should probably watch it before (or instead of) this one. Besides being a more important film, it is probably a better introduction to Morgan Spurlock's unique brand of filmmaking.