Friday, January 24, 2014

Would that it was a trend

We'd all like to vote for the best man, but he's never a candidate. ~Frank McKinney "Kin" Hubbard

David Waddell was a city councilman in a little town called Indian Trail, North Carolina. His fifteen megabytes of Internet fame is due to the fact that he decided to resign his position and did so by turning in a resignation letter in Klingon.

Dwell for a moment on just how stupid that is. If that isn't bad enough, Mr. Clever's resignation letter was written in bad Klingon. I mean, if you're going to do something juvenile, at least do it with correct grammar.

Mr. Waddell evidently decided to resign because he was “frustrated with what he saw as runaway development in the town as well as concerns with how requests for public information were being handled.” In other words, he didn't agree with what the mayor and council were doing, so, rather than do what he could within the system, he quit.

We have to assume that he was duly elected to council in Indian Trail, not appointed or carried to City Hall by a mob determined he should be forced to sit in city council meetings. So not only did he act like a childish dolt with his Klingon resignation, he spit in the eye of everyone who voted for him.

There is something about local government that seems to bring these sorts of people out of the woodwork. I've seen a lot of city councils and at one time or another, they have a member who is simply against everything unless it helps his/her district directly. And, in towns like my old home town and possibly Indian Trail which are small, councilmen are often elected at large, so they don't even have a district to make happy. That allows them to be against everything.

All these people generally do is extend meetings by making tiresome speeches or raising endless points of order (I can recall more than one that used to carry a copy of Roberts Rules of Order in his pocket). Fortunately, there's generally only one per council, so business carries on.

The funny thing is that these sorts of people often get re-elected. The primary reason is that they get stuff for the voters in their district; one would think at-large elected-officials would have a tougher time staying in office without doing something useful. The problem is that people tend to vote for incumbents which saves them the trouble of thinking. It's also a case of the devil-you-know versus the devil-you-don't-know.

There is a flip side to this incident in that, luckily for Indian Trail, Mr. Waddell is resigning so they're not being penalized for their mistake. They don't have to wait for another election to correct their lapse in judgment, and he won't be in the list of incumbents. He'll actually be gone.

Now, you may not have noticed, but the U.S. Congress has become essentially useless. It has a lower approval rating than used-car salesmen. One reason would appear to be that Congress is chock-full of Waddells who are against everything and refusing to work with others to come up with solutions. Aren't these people frustrated? They're not getting their way, just like Mr. Waddell didn't get his. Wouldn't they prefer to just sit on the sidelines and complain, like Mr. Waddell wants to do in the future? I'm sure we can all think of Representatives and Senators, Republicans and Democrats, who would improve Congress just be resigning (at least a half dozen come to mind immediately; given some time, I'm sure I could do better). So obstructionist legislators, we hope you will come to realize the wisdom of David Waddell and will follow his -um- courageous lead and quit.

Heck, I'm sure there's plenty of folks who'll help you with the Klingon translation for your resignation letter.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Under the influence of burgers

People seem to get nostalgic about a lot of things they weren't so crazy about the first time around. ~Author Unknown

Someone over at Time Magazine, having nothing better to do, has compiled a list of the 17 most influential burgers of all time. Most have been a terribly slow week for news. At any rate, I bit on it and clicked the link to see a list consisting mostly of burgers I had never heard of. Of the ones I knew, I had a tough time deciding what made most of them “influential.”

Now, I don't pretend to be a hamburger gourmet, nor am I an expert on the gastronomic history of ground beef (or whatever) on a bun. But I have eaten a lot of hamburgers over the last 60 years or so, so I think I have the right to flip a comment out there. And, even if I don't, it's my blog and I can do what I want within the bounds of not screaming “FIRE!” in a crowded theater.

The first one I recognized was the Varsity Burger. The Varsity is what was once an old-style drive-in in Atlanta, complete with girls on roller skates delivering your order. People rave about this place, especially those who haven't been there or haven't been there for a long time. Some years ago, I was in Atlanta with a three other guys attending one of the technology shows they used to have before everything moved to Vegas and New York City. As we were getting ready to head out, one guy insisted that we stop at the Varsity. Since he was our boss, we decided it was a wonderful idea.

What I got from this wonderful place was a cold burger served up by people so surly they made your average McDonald's worker seem like a solicitous concierge by comparison. Even the guy who insisted we go there had to admit it wasn't like the olden days. Maybe that's when they were “influential” because they sure aren't now.

The Quadruple Bypass Burger is a nightmare. To make your own, take about seven thick burgers, cover each with cheese and bacon, and slather on every unhealthy condiment you can think of. It's ridiculous and hardly can be considered to have influenced anyone in the burger biz. Oh, I'm sure that some of the other outlandish murderous burgers that have come along since were inspired by this mess, but really now, can anyone consider this a “hamburger.”

Finally, we get to one that actually has some chops: The Burger King Whopper. While it's not what it once was, it definitely got a lot of burger places to realize that a “cheese burger all the way” was a pale shadow compared to a Whopper with cheese. I could be wrong, but I thing Hardee's and McDonald's had to come up with offerings to match these guys. But, they couldn't match the “make it my way” approach Burger King had.

Number 2 on the list was the McDonald's burger. We're not talking about the Big Mac here. We're talking about that mass-produced soggy little pathetic burger, whose greatest claim to fame was to cost 15 cents for a long time. This was at a time when a decent burger could be had at a drug store counter (yes, drug stores used to have soda fountains and grills) for 25 cents. But McDonald's also served up cheap shakes and drinks and pretty decent fries. Most of those drug stores had mediocre fries if they had any at all.

McDonald's really kickstarted the whole fast food thing because another problem with the drug store is they made the stuff to order, so you had to wait a few minutes. The reward was that you got a nice hot-off-the-grill burger. At McDonald's, you got (and still get, I imagine) a recently-removed-from-the-heat-lamp burger that is cooling rapidly. But, you got it quick. Also, McDonald's was a hang-out. Drug stores didn't like people loitering around. At McDonald's, you could get a bag of food and sit out in the car and eat. This was particularly nice for families with small kids (although not so nice for the upholstery).

Number 1 is the White Castle Slider, or as we called it, the bun-burger. For those of you who may not know, the slider is a teeny burger on a glorified brown-and-serve roll. Generally, you bought them by the dozen. It took at least three just to begin to fill you up. Down here, the slider lives on at Krystal's and it's just as miserable as the White Castle variety. I think what the slider influenced most was to get people to go to McDonald's to get something that at least looked like a real burger.

What I find amazing is that they don't have what I think is the most influential burger of all time: The Big Boy. Long before McDonald's and Burger King, Big Boy brought the original two all-beef patties, cheese, condiments, and an extra slice of bun. But it was great. In our neck of the woods back when in Ohio, the chain was Manners Big Boy and they were always packed with customers. Big Mac was basically a rip-off of the Big Boy (and was really what got McDonald's on the burger map).

Ironically, it was the Big Boy that convinced me as a kid that cheese was pretty good. When I was around five or so, I had no use for cheese. I thought it smelled bad and tasted worse. My folks ran a tavern, which in that bygone era was the sort of place where you could sit a bar and get sloshed or sit at a table and have dinner with the wife and kiddies (and then get sloshed at the bar). At any rate, we went out one night and stopped at a Big Boy and I had one, not knowing what was on it. I thought it was the best thing I had ever eaten on a bun.

A week or so later, I'm sitting in the kitchen where my mother was cooking up orders when she asked me if I wanted a cheeseburger. I immediately turned up my nose and reminded her that I hated cheese. She pulled out the trump card. She said, “You know, there was cheese on that Big Boy you had.” I couldn't believe it! Cheese on something that good? Well, fry me up one of those cheeseburgers already! I was thoroughly hooked and have remained a cheeseburger fanatic ever since.

By the way, if you're ever in the Southeast and want a good burger, there's a secret place to get a great one: Sneaky Pete's. Oh, sure, they're best known for hot dogs, and, according to my wife, they're pretty good. But, a Sneaky Pete burger with cheese all the way is a bun-covered bit of heaven. And if you ever stop in at the one in Birmingham across the street from City Hall's parking garage, tell Verlonda and Cindy that John says, “Hi!”

They'll know who you're talking about.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The most productive day

You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it. ~Charles Buxton

A company that provides temp help has done a survey, presumably to keep the unhired temps busy, that shows that Tuesday is the most productive day of the work week. Strangely enough, Monday was the second most productive day. After Tuesday, it's all downhill, which is why Monday is so productive, because Monday is spent doing all the stuff you should have done on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

In fact, the survey gets very specific. If you follow the link in the article, you're led to an –ugh-- infographic which proudly announces that the most productive time and day is on a Tuesday after a vacation from 10 AM to noon. The graphic also includes a graph that pretty much shows no days over the years have been productive except Tuesday (although Monday has had a couple of good runs). Oh, and it includes the brilliant observation that no meeting should be scheduled for after 4 PM.

Oh, where to begin? Well, the first day back after any time off (vacation, holiday, sick day—real or imagined) is generally useless, unless productivity is defined as plowing through all of the e-mails, voice mails, and snail mails sitting on the desk. That doesn't take into account the superior who told you as you walked in that he/she needs to see you or the co-worker or subordinate who wants to tell you why the superior is so anxious to see you. And getting to that stuff assumes that there is nothing figuratively (or literally) on fire as you got to your desk.

Of course, the survey claims Monday is second most productive because you finally do the stuff you should have done from Wednesday on. Which is nice except that Monday is, well, Monday, when no one really feels like doing anything beyond complaining about how it's Monday. The ultimate conclusion one draws from this survey is everyone works two days a week. Lord knows what they do the rest of the time.

Fact is, productivity is dependent on one thing: how much you're left alone to actually do your job. It's remarkable how much you can accomplish if the phone doesn't ring, co-workers don't stop by to talk about the playoffs, and there are no meetings. Especially if there are no meetings. One reason I managed to be productive during my many careers was that I established myself as a guy people did not want at meetings.

Now, this isn't easy to do while staying employed. I mean, just being an obnoxious ass can keep you out of meetings, but it can also get you an introduction to the nice person at the unemployment office. But I managed it, and here's how:

  • Be damn good at what you do. That sounds hard, and it can be, but if you're the expert in your area with a track record for knowing what you're doing, you can ask the kind of pointed questions that people don't like in meetings.

  • Ask those pointed questions. For example, “Why are we having this meeting when no one has done the prep work?” Or, “When you laid out this project and assigned everyone to work on it 40 hours a week, did you think about how regular work would get done?” Or, the ever popular, “Who's paying for this?”

  • Bring a laptop and do something useful while the meeting drags on. There's nothing more disconcerting to a meeting organizer than someone actually getting work done.

Of course, one key to productivity is to stay off the Internet. If you're lucky, you've got administrators who have limited access to the junk on the 'Net and monitor usage. That helps, but there's still tons of dross out there that keep people terribly amused and essentially useless to the organization for much of the day. When we blocked streaming media, we actually had people complaining to us that they “worked hard” and “deserved to relax”. Our suggestion was that if they got their work done instead of watching TV shows on company time, they could leave on time and relax at home.

I worked at one company that figured out a way to get us a solidly productive half day each week. The company went to a four and a half day work week. We worked 9 hours a day for four days and four hours on Friday. The nine hours was no problem because most of us were already working the extra hour anyway. The half-day Friday had numerous benefits. First, if you needed to schedule a dentist's appointment or something, you could do it on Friday afternoon and not lose any work time. Second, if the plant needed to work overtime for a given week, we just worked a full day on Friday and still got Saturday and Sunday off.

But there was a benefit we hadn't counted on. Our headquarters people used to call us all the time. It seemed every time you started to get something going, the phone would ring and a voice from the main plant would take up the next hour of your precious time. But a funny thing happened when we went on the four and a half day schedule. For some reason, headquarters stayed on a five day week, and they apparently decided we were just goofing off on our half day, so they didn't call. After a while, vendors stopped calling on Fridays. Before we knew it, we were getting a half-day of uninterrupted work time.

Oh, and no one ever called a meeting on Fridays. After all, it was only a half day.

The upshot of it was we had four or five sweetly uninterrupted hours to get stuff done every Friday. And believe me, we got tons of stuff done. Best of all, since we got so much done, when headquarters began bugging us on Monday, we had the time to deal with them. It was the best work schedule I had in 45+ years of working.

A couple of years after I left the company, I heard, sadly, that they had abandoned the beautiful schedule because headquarters didn't like it. Mostly, they didn't like their employees asking why they couldn't be on that schedule. So, as is often the case, rather than do the smart thing, the wheels decided that everyone should do what headquarters did.

I wonder what Tuesdays were like after that.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Close Shaves

Those who do not remember the past will shave with it. ~ Zoltan, with apologies to Santayana

So I'm watching the H2 or the History Channel, and the bald guy from that pawn shop show comes on, but he's not plugging his show. He's hawking a wonderful retro device for shaving, which he calls a single blade razor. What it is, of course, is the Gillette-style safety razor which is a single blade with two edges. The big deal is that it is somehow superior to multi-blade razors which have proliferated in the market for years.

I find this ad to be hilarious for a couple of reasons.
  1. When I started shaving, I used one of these things and damn near removed my upper lip.
  2. On the flip side, I worked for a razor blade company years ago, so I know just how silly multiple blade razors are.
First a bit of history. For lord knows how long, men shaved with straight razors, the original single blade razor (and convenient murder weapon in numerous flicks. One reason that men wore beards is that these things were a great way to hurt yourself. Think about it: A naked blade of dubious sharpness is scraped around your face in places you can't see well. This is painful and dangerous. It's no wonder that men preferred to get shaved at a barber shop. At least the barber could see what he was doing.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, King Gillette's gang came up with a covered blade on a sturdy handle which limited how much blade was sticking out. This was a whole lot safer, but you still cut yourself or ended up with razor burn which you treated by throwing sweet-smelling alcohol-based products on (a real man managed not to scream during this operation). They eventually improved on this by adding an adjustment device that would control how far out the blade extended from the razor, which may have saved a few lives.

This razor sold a lot of blades for Gillette (the razors were free with a pack of blades). But, when Bic came along with it's lightweight disposable razor, Gillette knew they had to come up with something, so they dusted off one of their many patents and gave us the twin blade razor.

I worked at American Safety razor, which made Personna blades, but made most of its money making store-brand razors. One thing I wanted to know when I started there concerned the Gillette ads. They claimed that, in a twin-blade razor, the first blade pulled the whisker out and the second one cut it off so more hair was cut. This was, of course, baloney. Think of how much shaving would hurt if every whisker was tugged on before getting cut. It would also require that the first blade be duller than the second, not an easy thing to control in manufacturing.

What actually happens when you shave is that you make little adjustments with your hand, mostly to try to avoid cutting yourself. With a single edge device, that means the blade actually cuts less at times because it's off your face, leaving stubble. So, you make another pass to get the stubble, but you tend to be careful (remember those little cuts), so it's still not as close a shave as it might be unless you go over spots again and again. Then you hit it with the old Aqua Velva and try not to scream.

With a twin-blade razor, when you make the little adjustments, one blade may still be in contact with the face, cutting those hairs you would have missed with your single-blade. It also means you'll probably nick yourself more. This is particularly true with pivoting razors, which defeat you subtle attempts to move the blade (I've run the lab tests to prove it; no matter whose blades you use, you cut yourself more with a pivoting razor than a non-pivoting one).

So, you can get the same shave with both razors, but you'll probably be done quicker with the multi-blade. Personally, I quit shaving after I left the razor blade company in 1984, so I have no idea if a five-blade razor does something wonderful compared to a twin-blade. My guess is all it does is cost more.

I suppose there will be people who go for the old razor. There will be old-timers my age who will want to take a trip down memory lane and younger guys who'll think this might be some really neat retro thing. Of course, their main hook is to get you to buy blades. I looked at my local Wal-Mart and didn't see any old single blade packs. So the only easy place to get them is from the outfit that sells the razor The ad says that 24 blades will last you a year, but if you've got real whiskers, you'll use a blade a week, which means you'll be buying more regularly. In fact, I'll bet they have a deal where they'll sell them to you on a regular schedule if you like.

And that, as King Gillette knew, is where the money is.