Bad reader

I was a bad reader this week. And a bad traveler.

I went on a trip and did not bring and adequate reading material.

I finished reading "Infected" on my flight from Seattle to Minneapolis (awesome book -- review coming sometime next week). Then I picked up Wired and finished an article about industrial espionage in Formula 1 racing. That polished off that issue. Next, I turned to my copy on Inc only to discover that I finished it two trips back.

So on the trip back I found myself heading to a restaurant in the Minneapolis airport with nothing to amuse myself. This has never happened. I'm almost always carrying extra books and magazines.

I don't mind eating alone in a restaurant. I know some people find it uncomfortable, but as long as I have something to read, it's fine. It's a good thing I can dine solo. With a high travel job, lacking that skill would mean I'd starve. Though that could be an interesting diet plan...

A quick trip to the airport bookstore solved the problem, of course. And now, I am one third of the way through Chuck Kosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. So it's been an odd week.

And if you were wondering which airport has the worst security lines, the contest is over. I've concluded it's Grand Forks, ND (GFK). Keep that in mind the next time you travel there.


Zappos pays new employees $1000 to quit

Internet shoe retailer Zappos.com has an interesting approach to employee indoctrination.

They pay new employees to quit.

After a week or so in this immersive experience, though, it’s time for what Zappos calls “The Offer.” The fast-growing company, which works hard to recruit people to join, says to its newest employees: “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus.” Zappos actually bribes its new employees to quit!

Why? Because if you’re willing to take the company up on the offer, you obviously don’t have the sense of commitment they are looking for. It’s hard to describe the level of energy in the Zappos culture—which means, by definition, it’s not for everybody. Zappos wants to learn if there’s a bad fit between what makes the organization tick and what makes individual employees tick—and it’s willing to pay to learn sooner rather than later. (About ten percent of new call-center employees take the money and run.)


It's a fascinating idea and a great way to find out who really wants to work there. Bad hiring is expensive. Keeping the wrong person in a job they hate costs the company thousands of dollars, hurts productivity, angers coworkers, makes life rough on management, and means someone who could be great in that spot does not have the opportunity.

If this method helps ensure a happy, qualified, and committed workforce, it is money well spent.


It's getting there

What better topic for my 787th post than the upcoming Boeing 787 aircraft.

It's getting there. I was supposed to by flying, well, now. But that didn't quite work out.

From the Seattle PI:

Since October, Boeing has announced three major 787 delays, but McNerney has said Boeing finally has a revised schedule that it can meet -- first flight in the fourth quarter, initial deliveries pushed back from this month until the third quarter of 2009, and 25 Dreamliners delivered by the end of 2009 rather than 112 as originally planned.


Shanahan said the wings of plane No. 1 are complete, and the forward and aft body sections are nearly complete.

The center fuselage section should be completed in June, and then power can be turned on to the plane by the end of that month.

It will be a "photo finish," Shanahan predicted, to complete the work on the first plane and meet the "power on" milestone.

... More

As the price for jet fuel continues to climb, innovative aircraft like the 787 will become more important. Lower fuel consumption will be part of it. But the potential for a much more pleasant flying experience may help people stomach the higher airfare the industry so critically needs to charge.

There are some great resources available on the Boeing website that go into greater detail about the internal finish, larger windows, and sleek design.

It may be a few years before I get to travel on one, but I'm still looking forward to it.

More pictures available here.


Organized coworking

According to CNN, the latest trend among telecommuters is Organized Coworking.

More than a decade after the Internet allowed millions of people to work at home, the next phase of telecommuting involves, well, not working at home.

Organized "coworking" -- the concept of working solo alongside like-minded independents -- has spread to dozens of cities.

The irony of coworking isn't lost on organizers, including Kevin Bachman, who set up a group north of Atlanta as part of an informal Web-based network called Jelly.

"The reason people work alone, is because they're looking for freedom," said Bachman, a 34-year-old Web developer who telecommuntes part time. "It may be ironic that you crave isolation, but you also want to be socially interactive with others like you."

... More
As a remote worker, I can almost understand this. There are plenty of days when I need to get out of my home office. I pack up my computer and head over to the Bauhaus, Starbucks, or another coffee shop. Sometimes that change of scenery helps me concentrate -- helps me slip into the zone of productivity.

But I don't do it to talk to other people. I do it to be surrounded by people going about their business and for some visual stimulation other than my desk. One of the benefits of being a remote worker is being able to work and be productive without people popping their heads into your cube every ten minutes for "just one quick thing."

But if a remote worker misses the community of the office and the friends they make at the workplace, organized coworking may be a solution.

Gunfire at Folk Life

This weekend is one of Seattle's two major music festivals of the summer. Northwest Folklife is often considered the hippie-er, more liberal of the two. It's also perpetually broke.

It's all about that whole peace, love and understanding thing, with heaping handfuls of "community," "empowerment," "diversity," and "second hand marijuana smoke" thrown in for good measure.

Not that there's anything wrong with those things. But like most good things, too much of it eventually becomes a humorless parody of itself.

The event is still a lot of fun though. I haven't made it there yet this year, but I may try over the next couple of days.

Apparently, this year's love-fest was interrupted by a fight that resulted in gunfire near a drum circle.

There are details of the incident in the PI. But this is my favorite part of the article.

Four people saw the suspected gunman running through the crowd, jumped him and held him until police arrived at what was by then a chaotic scene of screaming, fleeing people.

A band playing nearby, which had stopped when the gunfire erupted, picked up the music again, hoping to calm the crowd.

Seattle firefighters arrived to treat the wounded and officers handcuffed the suspected gunman, marching him through the throng of people. His face bloodied, the man was taunted by many in the crowd, some of them throwing trash at him.

One man got into the suspect's face, screaming, "This is a peaceful event!"


I expect there will be some sort of "healing" ceremony added to the agenda before the end of the event.


A Play Cole milestone

Our sketch group hit a mile stone this week. Star Trek: The Sitcom became the first Play Cole Production to reach a quarter of a million views on You Tube. Making that was a Saturday well spent for Jon.

The short video answer the question, "How do you turn an awesome sci-fi TV show into a crappy sitcom?"

Simply add a laugh track.


Time for a new map

I've always liked maps. They help give context to my world.

Most of my maps haven't made it back up on my wall since I moved, but they will. I have a 15 year old AAA Highway Map where I marked all the roads I've driven on. I have an electronic one someplace where I colored in all the states I've been in (45).

Even my shower curtain is cartographer friendly. It's a map of the NYC Subway system.

Now it looks like it's time to get a new WA state map. From the Seattle Times:

The new Highway 167 HOT lanes and the South Lake Union Streetcar line will be included on the new Washington highway map being released Thursday by the state Department of Transportation.

The map, which has been produced every two years since 1931, is free.

This year the DOT printed 800,000 maps, at a cost of 16 cents each, or $128,000 total.

The maps, with larger print than before, include Amtrak routes, all 281 Washington cities and their populations, 12 city inserts, as well as the new "high-occupancy toll," or HOT, lanes and the streetcar line.



Southwest and Midway

Last week for my adventures in Ohio and Indiana, I flew Southwest (WN) for the first time in several years. I was surprised to see the got rid of the cattle-chute boarding process. Now, when you check in they give you a letter and number. When it's time to board the plane you line up in your letter group in numerical order.

So we've been upgraded. WN no longer treats us like live stock. They treat all the passengers like 6-year-olds. Considering many of the adults I've seen on flights, that actually sounds like a good decision.

The boarding process was surprisingly smooth so they must be doing something right. I still prefer Alaska Airlines, but my WN experience was positive.

I also flew through Midway in Chicago for the first time. When I go to or through Chicago, I normally go through O'hare.

Midway wasn't bad, though. It was actually a decent, smaller airport. There were plenty of food options, and things seemed to move fairly easily through the airport.

I was surprised at the condition of the tarmac at the WN gates, though. There was a surprising amount of litter near the aircraft and jet bridges -- papers, water bottles, and assorted trash were scattered about the ground around most of the gates.

I suppose it's unlikely this stuff would damage an aircraft, but it seems other airports/airlines take litter around the planes more seriously.

Travel out to the industrial midwest was a lot less painful than I expected. Sometimes low expectations pay off.


Shatner-Palooza: Hawking Fine Art

William Shatner sells lithographs. I think I actually remember this commercial.


White Castle isn't a bank

This week when I was in Columbus, OH, there was a White Castle a couple blocks from my hotel. Since I had a refrigerator and microwave in my room, I decided to stock up. I'd have a good White Castle dinner the first night, and have left over snacks for the rest of the week.

I'd been to White Castle before, but only in NYC. This one was different.

I walked in and went up to the counter. There was no bullet proof glass. The cashiers stood at their registers and handed the sacks of mini burgers across the counter just like any store. I was shocked.

The White Castle I've dined at the most (mainly in the late-80s and early-90s) is in Queens, near the Queens Center mall. In that location, the counters and kitchen were in the middle of the restaurant, encased in bullet proof glass easily an inch think. The cashiers spoke to customer through the windows, just like the banks in New York. They had a lazy susan attached to the bullet proof glass that they used to hand food over.

I never quite understood why the White Castle was built like the Federal Reserve or local Citibank. The local McDonalds didn't have this kind of system. And I imagine a McDonalds might be a better target for armed robbery. Bigger burgers must bring in more money, right? Perhaps it was actually some sort of CIA front or something. If it was, well, good going with the "inconspicuous" thing, guys.

Dining at the secure White Castle facility did result in a tense evening one time, though. My friend Adam and I stopped by for some awesome burgers. We sat down and yammered on about whatever it is we were talking about at that point in our lives.

A few minutes later, some drunk kid comes up and start talking to us. He appeared to be a denizen of Howard Beach. He start loudly swearing up a storm and throwing racial epithets all over the place. He was not keen on the African American population in the city. At that point, Adam and I looked around and realized that even though the White Castle was pretty full, this lunatic and the two of us were the only white people there. As the guy ranted, more people started to stare.

At this point I wasn't sure if this guy was going to get us assaulted by the other patrons, or if he was going to attack us for our lack of sympathy to his cause. A few tense moments later, this character realized we weren't going to rally around his out rage. He got annoyed and left. People were still looking at us, but there wasn't a whole lot for us to do except shrug and finish off those tasty morsels of almost meat.

The point is, I was shocked at the lack of ballistic fortifications at the White Castle in Columbus. I guess not everyplace is New York.


Movie Review 05: Iron Man

Iron Man is a good movie. The script is fairly solid. The acting is believable. The effects are well done. The directing is clean. And the story holds together well. There are some good jokes in it, too, but the humor does get a bit slap-sticky at times.

It has plenty of surprise twists and turns. Some of the best moments in the film would be mild spoilers, so just trust me -- they're there.

The movie opens with Tony Stark, head of major weapons maker Stark Industries being captured in Afghanistan. We learn that Stark was a major electronics prodigy as a kid. Many of the innovations of Stark Industries are the direct result of Tony Stark's efforts. The film quickly takes us through Stark's early years and shows who he is today -- an alcoholic, immature, cocky, genius CEO.

The filmmakers do a great job of telling the audience all they need to know about Tony Stark and the world he inhabits in the first 10 minutes of the movie. The exposition is appropriate to the story and not heavy handed. Right from the start we understand his motivations.

A viewer who was not familiar with Iron Man before the film can get right into plot and keep up just as easily as the comic book geek.

As the story goes on, it gets a little preachy about weapons and war, but that's to be expected. They don't try to hammer the message home too strongly, and I appreciate that.

The special effects are well done. Often in action movies, I quickly lose track of who is doing what in major battles. Things move too quickly; perspective shifts too rapidly. And, in night scenes, the colors and characters often blur together.

That doesn't happen in Iron Man. The action sequences are sharp and well done. It's easy to keep track of who is doing what to whom. I don't know if this is due to the skill of filmmakers or due to innovations in CG. Regardless, I hope to see this trend continue in other films.

Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts is a little bit of a weak spot. Potts is Tony Stark's Alfred but the character becomes a bit muddled halfway through. I think the problem is in the writing rather than the acting. But it's minor problem.

For me, this film also represents the hazards of reading reviews like this.

When the trailer first came out, I expected them movie to be just awful. The effects were impressive, but I had doubts this superhero film could live up to that. I expected it to be less Batman and more Batman and Robin.

Had I seen it then, I probably would have like it a lot more. It would have well exceeded my expectations.

After it came out, reviews across the 'net raved about what a great film it was. People were telling me it was better than Spider-Man -- better than the 1989 Batman.

It wasn't.

And as a result, it fell slightly short of my revised expectations.

Regardless, it is an excellent movie and well worth seeing in the theater. Robert Downey Jr does a fantastic job as Tony Stark, the story holds up, the effects are good, and the direction is clean. The film should also be accessible to non-comic fans.

If you are looking for a good action film to start off the summer, Iron Man is a great place to start.


Clinton is a dead parrot

There's not enough Monty Python in American politics.

Here, Dana Milbank, columnist for the Washington Post compares Hilary Clinton's campaign to a defective pet.

This Is an Ex-Candidate

Wednesday, May 14, 2008; Page A03

Customer: "Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now."

Pet-shop owner: "No, no he's not dead, he's -- he's resting! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian blue, isn't it, aye? Beautiful plumage!"

-- From "Monty Python's Flying Circus"

11:45 a.m., Melrose Hotel, Foggy Bottom: It's Day 7 of the Clinton Campaign Death Watch -- a full week since the official arbiter of the Democratic primary, Tim Russert, declared the campaign over and Barack Obama the nominee. Hillary Clinton's advisers continue to insist that the candidate's prospects are very much alive, but the press isn't buying it.


He draws more comparisons throughout the article. I would have gone with the Holy Grail Black Knight comparison instead, but pining for the fjords works well, too.

This may be one of the most depressing things I've read about the race so far:

2:57 p.m., Yeager Airport, Charleston, W.Va.: A steep descent brings Clinton's plane to Charleston's hilltop airport. After an appropriate wait, she steps from the plane and pretends to wave to a crowd of supporters; in fact, she is waving to 10 photographers underneath the airplane's wing. She pretends to spot an old friend in the crowd, points and gives another wave; in fact, she is waving at an aide she had been talking with on the plane minutes earlier.

I found the article on Fark.com. They have a pretty entertaining thread about it, too.


The Culinary Axis of Evil

There are three foods that are truly nasty. There are others that qualify as some lesser evil, but the truly nasty list is:

  • Mushrooms
  • Sour Cream
  • Ranch Dressing

That means when my GF makes Nachos, she gets a bit creative.


TSA goes downhill ... skiing

Last week, my GF sent me this link about the new TSA line-up process.

From the Chicago Tribune:

New signs, color-coded like those at ski resorts that warn of the difficulty level of slopes, are directing passengers to one of three lines—a green circle for beginners, a blue square for intermediate travelers and a black diamond for advanced passengers. Travelers pick the line that fits their experience level, or security workers direct them to the appropriate one.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it may help me. At SEA, SNA, PDX and many other airports, I get to use the express line at security because of my Gold status with Alaska Airlines.

But that doesn't help me at airport where Alaska doesn't fly. When I travel someplace like MSP, CMH, LGA, JFK, MIA, STL, etc, it would be nice to still use the Expert lane to clear security faster.

But I have some doubts.

TSA claims this will help with security because people will be calm.

"These dedicated lanes increase security by calming the checkpoint environment and giving passengers some control of the process," said Kip Hawley, TSA administrator. "These dedicated lanes increase security by calming passengers and allowing behavior detection officers to more easily identify suspicious activity."

First of all, the calming rationale makes no sense. I suppose you could argue that irritated passengers are a threat to air security, but that's a bit of a stretch.

Now when an expert traveler is behind someone who is a bit slow getting through security or doesn't know the process, they get mildly annoyed with TSA itself at the stupidity of its policies, but they know it comes with the territory.

When that happens with the self selecting Black Daimond lane, they will get annoyed at the person who chose the expert lane because they flew once back in 2003 and for whom the whole strip down process for TSA is not second nature. So instead of calming passengers at check point, the new process is more likely to enflame tensions between passengers.

And that's the problem with the self selecting system. It works great on a ski resort. It probably won't work at airport.

If you choose the expert lane at the airport, and you aren't an expert, you get through security a little faster.

If you choose the expert lane at a ski resort, and you aren't an expert, you die.

That's a big difference.


Some "old" Photos

In late 1998/ early 1999, I had my first chance to play with a digital camera for an extended time. It was low resolution (640 x 480) but after a few days, I really began to see the possibilities that camera presented.

Here are some of my earliest digital pictures.


Sweet Home Alabama CAN get more awesome

This is about 3 kinds of awesome.

From To The Point News:

Now consider the Finnish rock band called The Leningrad Cowboys. A little while ago, they held a concert in Russia, in which - to the screaming applause of Russkie teen-agers - they got the Red Army Choir to join them on stage for a performance of "Sweet Home Alabama." In English. You couldn't make this up.

You can see more details about the performers on the YouTube page and probably in thousands of other places, too.

Great find, Shawna. Thanks for the link.


Cromely's Pensieve

I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind... At these times... I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one's mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one's leisure.
-- Albus Dumbledore

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J K Rowling introduced the Pensieve, an magical object where people can store their thoughts and memories.

I recently built my own Pensieve. Okay, it's just a notebook, and I didn't start out making a Pensieve.

A few days ago I started a to do list. A 5 year to do list.

There's a lot of things I'd like to do or or need to do in my life. Some of them I have to do tomorrow. Some of them can wait. But they were floating out there in the ether of my consciousness to be delayed or forgotten.

I began to write them down to organize them and to experience the joy of crossing things out.

This is just that -- a list. It's not an action plan. It's not a collection of goals. It's just 9 pages (and growing) of things to do in the next half decade. Items range from "Take out the recycling" to "Hang puzzle on wall" to "Tour Japan"

Somewhere along the way, it turned into a Pensieve. Now, whenever I start thinking about all the things I have to do, I take out this list and write them down. The stress goes away as I touch that wand to my forehead, extract those silverly slivers of thought, and deposit them in the basin.

Writing down these to do items frees my mind of clutter. It puts the items and detritus of a busy life someplace where I can work on them, and stops them from attacking me with their urgent impatience. And with a 5 year time frame on the list I don't have to worry about missing my own self-imposed deadline. At least no yet.

Now I just have to try crossing them off the list faster than I add new things. 2013-05-03 isn't that far away.

You can find more Harry Potter quotes here.


That's what she said

Last night I happened across a cool site on Jennifer's Blog.

That's What She Said is a blog by several employment attorneys. Each week, they analyze a recent episode of NBC's The Office and discuss the issues it raises in the context of employment law.

They talk about what Michael Scott, Toby, Jim, Dwight, and the rest of the gang do and examine the potential liability they expose Dunder Mifflin to.

In a recent post, for example, they estimated that Stanly could sue the company for about $450,000.

If you are a fan of The Office or are interested in HR issues, it's a great site.


What European city do you belong in?

The blogging community is diverse. I found this quiz on the blog of an 8-year-old Hanna Montana fan. I found that blog through Entrecard.

You Belong in Amsterdam

A little old fashioned, a little modern - you're the best of both worlds. And so is Amsterdam.

Whether you want to be a squatter graffiti artist or a great novelist, Amsterdam has all that you want in Europe (in one small city).

I could see myself in Amsterdam, I suppose. And not because of the red light district or drug culture. It seems like an interesting place from a historical and transportation standpoint. And what little I know would indicate the weather isn't that much much different from Seattle.

Samantha Brown made a compelling case for visiting the city.

I could also see myself in Madrid. It's a city for night owls, and it's where I started drinking coffee. And, while I have forgotten most of my Spanish by now, I'd like to think I could pick it up again fairly quickly. Of course, Madrid is also the only European city I've spent significant time in, so that may have something to do with it.


New Play Cole Audio Commentary

The new Play Cole audio commentary is now on line. I am not on this one, but Jon and company are. And they do not like Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

The idea is to listen to the Play Cole commentary while you watch the movie and listen to the director's audio commentary. You can download it here. (language NSFW)

You can find additional Play Cole audio commentaries of awful movies here.


Shatner-Palooza: What is Star Trek

Here is William Shatner explaining Star Trek back in 1966.

Here is the You Tube page. Number 5 in the related video section is William Shatner on the Muppet Show (language NSFW)-- Play Cole's first stop motion animation.


Seattle can't be a real city...

...because I can't order Chinese food for delivery.

I don't understand this. I live in First Hill, a densely populated neighborhood near hospitals that run all night, just a few blocks from the busy downtown core, and a few blocks from the shiny nightlife on Broadway. There's a major university no more than a 20 minute walk from here.

And I can't find anyone who delivers Chinese food to this neighborhood.

Seattle is a great food city, and we have Asian food available on every corner. Most major instersections have a Starbucks, a Tully's, a Thai place, and a Pho place. In the International Disctrict, we have some fantastic Chinese restaurants.

But no one delivers Chinese food to my neighborhood.

What's the problem? Maybe it's that the Chinese food in Seattle is too authentic. The stuff you can get delivered in any real city is, I'm sure, thoroughly Americanized. I'm pretty sure you can't get the typical NYC Chinese delivery food delivered to your house in Beijing or Guangzhou.

But you should be able to in Seattle.

Even in Boise I could get real, American Chinese food delivered.

Seattle can't be a real city until cheap, Americanized Chinese food is availble anywhere in the city to someone who just picks up the phone.

I'm half tempted to open my own Chinese food delivery restaurant on Madison. Maybe replace that new check cashing place that just opened.

Afterall, who know more about opening a Chinese food delivery business than an Irish-Catholic kid from Queens?


Cromely's Drop List List

[If you are not familiar with Entrecard, it is a free networking service for Bloggers that allows a blogger to earn credits by visiting other sites. Bloggers also earn credits when someone visits their site. They use the credits to buy advertising on other sites, or in my case, to boost their ego. You can see my Entrecard details page here, and you can learn more about Entrecard here.]

In the past two weeks, I've seen several Entrecard drop lists show up in my blog stats. I've even toyed with publishing my own.

But since I'm in more of a meta mood tonight, I will not post a drop list.

Instead, I give you Cromely's Drop List List. Here is the list of drop lists I've dropped my card on across the net. Often while listing 15 degrees in my chair.

If you would like your drop list listed in Cromely's Drop List List, drop me a note in the comments, or message me through Entrecard. Be sure to list your drop list address in the note you drop.

You can also find this list listed here on my page listing drop lists.



Beauty in a spreadsheet

There is beauty in a spreadsheet.

Much of my job involves working with people. I don't spend all day buried in numbers. But sometimes that is exactly what I need.

With a spreadsheet, there are right and wrong answers. When you provide the correct input, with the correct formulae, you get the correct output. When you are done, it's either right or it's wrong. And sometimes you can learn from the answer.

A deep, hours-long dive into a spreadsheet can be a welcome bath in the sea of black and white. When I hit that state of flow I feel invigorated. It's been like this for several years.

I'm a fairly competent Excel user at this point. I can work with charts. I can make the things look pretty. I can even code my own macros (not that I've had to do that lately).

Even after all these years, though, I still don't "get" pivot tables.

I can sometimes make them work through trial and error, but despite the exercises I've done, the help files I've been through, and the books I've read, I still can't conceptually grasp pivot tables. I'm starting to accept that I never will. I will always remain an "intermediate" Excel user.

(Can you guess what I've been working with tonight?)