Not Cease from Exploration

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sprockets

I was in Hartford for part of this week and, for reason that escape me, the thought of "Sprockets" (the SNL skit spoofing Germany) came to mind.

Sprockets

Sprockets

Now we shall dance.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Road Apples, #121

Hartford Bound...I'm working out of our Hartford office Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.  I do keep telling myself that "one of these days" I am going to put the 3.5 hour (each way) drive to good use by renting an audio book or learning to speak Italian via Rosetta Stone.  Hell, if I didn't have lunch plans today I would run up to the bookstore and get something.  Oh well.  God willing there will be plenty of next times for this one.

Rain...Ms Rivers and I went to see the Rain show Saturday night at the Scranton Cultural Center.  If you are not familiar with the show, it is a Beatles tribute, complete with all live music.  It was, without doubt, a great show.  The vocals and instrumentation was very good.  It was also pretty impressive that the musicians used what appeared to be period instruments, from the Hofner fiddle bass to the Rickenbacker guitars.  A splendid time was had by all.

Tuesday...I will be in Hartford, but Republican voters will be selecting the candidate of their choice in Michigan.  I have no love for Michigan by the way.  Never liked the University all that much (yeah, good football team & world class business school, but all that brainpower and they still have a non-diversified economy?).  Anyway, feelings about the state of Michigan aside, this is a big one for Mittens Romney...

(with a nod to Gort, who is pretty good at finding these sorts of things)

...as in theory this is his home state.  No, it's not Utah (he just saved the Olympics there and is a Mormon), no it's not Massachusetts (he was governor there & signed a alll that required employers to provide health insurance...^5), no it's not the Cayman Islands (he just has off-shore bank accounts there) it is Michigan, where a long time ago his father was governor.  His dad was also the president of American Motors Corporation, aka AMC.  These were the folks that gave you one of my favorite all time cars, the Pacer, which looked like a squatter version of the VW Beetle.  Anyway, I don't know that losing Michigan to Ricky Santorum will break Mitten's campaign, but man is it going to smart something fierce.  My personal opinion is that Santorum is, as I type this, costing the Republicans the general election by focusing so much energy at social issues.  This is, in my estimation, the Achilles Heel of the GOP:  the far right social conservatives are so out-o-step with mainstream American on many issues that catering to them in the primary only gives the Democrats cannon balls to fire in the general election.  Oh, and let's not forget that every time Ricky has to defend himself for some nonsense he spewed about states being able to ban contraception (reference HERE) is a missed opportunity to talk about something that actually matters, namely the economy.

Boring General Election...Consider this:  can you imagine just how boring the general election might be if it is Mittens vs. Obama?  Both have the vocal energy of a tree sloth.  Hell, I think  that Rick Santorum is a blithering idiot but at least he is interesting (in a "does this guy really think that?" kind of way).

New Gear...Well I finally broke down and purchased a desktop computer.  I've been using laptops and netbooks for something like 8 years now, but my vision isn't getting any better so having a large screen to view stuff on is a real plus.  I didn't go for anything fancy, but rather picked up an Acer for a decent price.  A few key attributes:

  • A pokey but adequate AMD processor
  • 4GB of RAM, which is fine for the stuff I do
  • A beefy 1TB hard drive
  • A 23" LED monitor
I wanted something with a large hard drive so that I could have my primary storage for music and pictures in a place where transfer rates would be pretty quick.  Anyone who has ever transferred files from one removable device to another will tell you that it can be tedious in terms of time.  I still have some software to install, but all things considered I am happy with my decision.  What I really like though is that I can sync Evernote and Wunderlist now between my tablet, smartphone and desktop computer.  Pretty good stuff indeed.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

So let me get this straight: some believe that it is illegal and immoral to force you to buy health insurance, but it is perfectly okay for you to be forced to have an invasive medical procedure.

Via the Facebook page of Sabrina McLaughlin.

You can read the full story HERE.

Yes, some claim that  "Obamacare" is illegal and immoral because it is a massive grab of power by the government.  Yet some who make that same proclamation apparently have no problem with women being forced to have a probe stuck up their genitalia.

Come on conservatives, does "big government" get any bigger and invasive than this?  Invading your bedroom?  Hell, this takes it one step beyond even that...

What if there was a law  that required men to to get digital rectal exams before they got a vasectomy?  How many men would vote for that one?  Better yet, what if most of the people voting for it were women?

I have a better idea: Social Conservatives can continue to proclaim that abortion is immoral.  They can continue to educate the population on their point of view.  They can put up billboards and buy TV/radio time. But they shouldn't force women to get probes stuck up in their nether-regions.

Sounds reasonable to me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Performance Appraisals

It's that season again, time for the ritual of completing annual performance appraisals.  Now smarter people than I have written about this general topic ad nauseum, including the very need for these things to even exist, so I'm not going to claim to cover any new or exciting ground in this area.  Instead I'm going to spend just a moment talking about just one facet of the "experience"...one that is something of a pet peeve of mine in area.

Surprises.

If there is one things that I have some passion about when it comes to performance appraisals...be it the giving or the receipt of them...it's the notion of surprises that crop up in these documents and discussions.

Wait, I think I need to level set here in that I think there are three parts of a performance appraisal discussion:

  • There is the actual document where the performance for the year is described and categorized into neat little buckets (fair or not, our little minds need to anchor thoughts in ways that we can readily understand...be it grades in school or performance categories at work)
  • There is the actual verbal message being conveyed by the appraiser
  • There is the collective (verbal and written) message being received by the person being appraised

In theory, an ideal discussion occurs when all of these three things are aligned...what is written is in sync with what is said and both are received/understood as intended by the recipient.  Note the words "in theory".

Here's where my pet peeve comes into play. In any of the above, is the recipient of the performance appraisal hearing something for the first time?  If it is, then I view this as being something of a failure on the part of the appraiser.  Basically there should be few, if any, surprises.  I could rant on about this for hours, but to condense my point here I'll simply say that effective leadership doesn't duck issues until that once a year magical moment known as the annual performance appraisal.  No, effective leadership deals with gaps in performance on an on-going basis.  This is the difficult, dirty, "in the trenches" part of leadership.

Now I'm not putting all the pressure of the leader, because in point of fact all of us own our individual performance.  The person we report to has an obligation to help us perform at our best, but we have an obligation seek to perform at our best.  This can be accomplished in many different ways, but I am fond of one little, simple "tool" (consultants love to have "tools") that is very effective in this area:  ASK.  Ask with some frequency.  Ask what?  Well, ask...

"How am I doing?"
"Any feedback for me?"
"What should I be doing more of?"
"What should I be doing less of?"

...and don't wait until that magical once a year moment to pose these questions to your leader.

Leaders should be asking the people that report to them similar questions with some frequency throughout the year as well.  I do, and interestingly enough, one of my direct reports asked me why I do.  My response?  "I want to perform at my best as a leader."

In the end, despite the plethora of books, white papers and the like out there on this subject, I'm convinced that there are elements of leadership that really just amount to common sense. One of these elements is the simple one that says "treat others in the way you would like to be treated".  Would you, as a leader, want to be surprised by some "issue" that comes up for the  very first time during your annual performance appraisal?  Probably not.

Bottom line:  "Shock and awe" may make for good military strategy, but it makes for poor performance management. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Road Apples, #120

Note to self (about getting old)...I must remember, when I am 76, what my mother is like now that she is 76.  I'm just saying.

Rick Santorum...I find it fascinating how Rick Santorum has taken the lead in the GOP primary.  It is as if the Republicans are doing the equivalent of suicide by cop.  Yes, Ricky tells them all the stuff they want to hear about "bible based government" and the like, but the reality is this:  the man is far too socially conservative for mainstream America and will lose to Barack Obama in the Fall if he is the Republican nominee.  Mark my words:  he will lose if he is the nominee.  This will happen no matter how bad most folks think Obama is doing as President.  Yes, I "get it" that Republicans run to the right in the primary then run to the center in the general election, but Santorum doesn't have a centerist bone in his body.  Most Americans think that individuals should decide for themselves about contraception.  Most Americans oppose abortion, but also think that this is a deeply personal matter best left to the individual (especially in cases of rape...note that Santorum believes that abortion should only be legal when the mother's life is in danger).  Most American's (unlike noted Climatologist Rush Limbaugh) realize that global warming is a reality...even if they disagree what should be done about it.  Like I said:  4 more years of Obama.

Barack Obama...The above noted, I wish I had an alternative to Barack Obama.  The guy is about as exciting as watching paint dry.  Oh, and I'm really not sure what he stands for, on just about any issue.  He got rid of "don't ask and don't tell" but yet still is against legalizing gay marriage.  He talks about fiscal responsibility but yet still spends more each year.  He talks about helping the middle class, but yet accomplishes NOTHING to actually HELP US in the middle class.  Don't give the the "tax holiday" bullcrap by the way...that is simply taking money away from a Social Security Trust Fund that already is in Dutch.  Like I said:  4 more years (but that doesn't mean I have to like it).  I really wish more people took Gary Johnson seriously.

Moving...For the second time in less than a year, I am moving at work.  This time it is for the better.  As an introvert, I had a hell of a time working in my old location.  It was very noisy and distracting.  What's more, a good part of my work involves more confidential stuff, so it got to the point that I couldn't have a conversation with my VP without having to go to a conference room.  That changes with the new digs, as I now have an office (with a door no less!) in the HR suite.  Psyched?  That's an understatement.  I all ready feel more productive, which is good as the amount of work isn't decreasing by any measure.

Productivity...I have been spending some time recently trying to figure out how I can better manage information and priorities.  Here are a few conclusions I've come to:
  • Paper data...I have had a tendency to keep notes in a variety of different notebooks, etc.  No more.  I will have one really nice/neatly organized notebook and that's it.  Period.  No more scraps of paper,  not more pads with scribble laying around.  If it needs to be written down I will put it in a new notebook I just got from Staples, period.
  • Electronic data...I've started to use my Sony tablet for electronic notes & data, especially stuff that I want to be my intellectual property.  
  • Managing Priorities...I have been previewing a number of applications for managing tasks, and found one that I like: Wunderlist.  What's nice about it is that I can manage tasks on the same list whether I am at home, at work or traveling.  Wunderlist does this via a desktop app, an Android app (for my tablet) and an-online version, all of which sync together.  
Of course the success of the above is highly contingent upon some personal discipline.  We shall see.

Scranton School District Board Fails Ethics...The Scranton Times performed a great public service yesterday by exposing the unethical campaign contributions (basically a "pay to play" scheme) by many members of the Scranton School District Board.  Dan Hodorawis wrote a great piece on it via NEPArtisan.  You can link to the posting HERE.  Note to the Scranton School District Board members:  if you have an Ethics Policy, we expect you to ACTUALLY FOLLOW IT.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

If the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been put up to a popular vote, would it have passed?

Leaders are paid to lead, period.  What Governor Christie is doing is simply dodging an issue in order to appeal to socially conservative voters during an election season.

NJ Governor Christie vetoes same-sex marriage law

Leadership is needed in this issue; as noted above, if the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been put to a vote, how many people in, say, Alabama would have voted for it?  Would it have passed in any state?

Telling a minority that they can only enjoy the same rights a the majority only if the majority first approves of it is wrong, period.

Friday, February 17, 2012

My questions for Siri


Folks that know me will tell you that I am not a fan of Apple's products, for a variety of reasons (vertical integration, over-priced, etc.).  That noted, I find the Siri application fascinating.  Here is a question I would be asking Siri, if I had access to "her".

Siri, is Steve Jobs now being tormented in Hell by the souls of all those Foxconn workers who committed suicide after making Apple products?

Of course that Apple probably has built Siri to avoid any Steve Jobs questions.  They are a crafty bunch.  So just in case I could go with something like...

Siri, how can I too become a 20/30's tree-hugging hippster who unknowingly supports unbridled corporate greed?

I love how ironic it is that so many of Apple's product users would tell you directly that they oppose things like, well, the working conditions at Asian factories (you know, the kinds of places that produce Apple products).  Of course they are actually paying to support the very things that they tell you they oppose in this arena.  For the record I work in the private sector and I have no problem with corporate profits.  I also don't have any Apple products.

Hey, how many Democratic party operatives and field workers have Apple products?  I bet dollars to donuts that the iPhone is probably the "tech de jour" for this crowd.  Priceless! Republicans?  They seem more like the Blackberry crowd to me.

Now I know that I'm not completely innocent in this area because some of the technology I own was no doubt created by over-worked pre-teen girls in Chinese factories.  Point well taken. In point of fact though while I find some of Apple's labor practices bad, I find hypocrisy even worse.  You know, the hypocrisy of  (for example) criticizing capitalism while drooling like Pavlov's dog at the mere mention of the next "iTrinket".

Fight the power!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lewis Black on Creationism

This is a classic...



"When you try too hard to apply Science to Religion, both come off looking ridiculous."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Religious exemptions from health care coverage...you REALLY want to go there?

If you believe that employers run by the Catholic Church should be allowed to prevent employees from receiving contraception health care coverage, then are you prepared to support...

...Jehovah's Witness employers preventing their employees from receiving coverage for blood transfusions?

...Scientologist employers preventing their employees from receiving coverage for Psychiatric services?

...Native American and Muslim employers preventing their employees from receiving coverage for x-rays (and any other service that involves taking a picture of a human body)?

...Christian Scientist employers preventing their employees from receiving coverage for MOST medical services?


Seriously folks, this takes us down a path that makes absolutely no sense.  Where does it end?

No one in their right mind is claiming that Catholics should be forced to USE birth control, despite what some may be claiming.  No one is claiming that the Catholic Church should be forced to directly buy condoms for Protestants and Jews either.  What is happening is that, in a highly charged political season, some are stretching the bounds of reality simply to score cheap political points via a "wedge" issue.

If there is a Hell, there is a special place in it for those that use religion as a guise to protect and garner political power.

Happy Valentine's Day

From my Facebook status...

"Darkness can not drive out darkness:  only light can do that.  Hate can not drive out hate:  only love can do that."  - Dr. Martin Luther King

Here's to more light & more love on Valentine's Day...and every day.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whitney Houston...I wasn't a fan

I really was not a Whitney Houston fan, something I confess straight up.  Unlike some, I will not feign loss at her passing.

But first a word about Clive Davis.

I think Clive Davis should be tried in a court of law for bearing some responsibility for the Grateful Dead's "disco" album, Shakedown Street.  He also spawned Barry Manilow, something that I can only take in small doses when I am particularly melancholy.  Clive Davis was THE prototype 70's music mogul, one that would the template for minions that would create abominations as the Backstreet Boys.

Clive Davis also discovered Whitney Houston.

As noted, I was not a Whitney Houston fan, and I'm not going to pretend to be one now that she is no longer of this Earth. I just don't really like urban pop music, period.  I will say though that there is one song she sang that I have something of a soft-spot for..."How Will I Know". Note that I didn't say "her song", mainly because Whitney Houston didn't write it...or any other song to the best of my knowledge.  That's rather sad, as the big, long-term money in music comes from publishing and song ownership, something Michael Jackson learned from Paul McCartney.  In the absence of publishing money, singers such as Whitney Houston have to continue to perform in order to make the big income.  I'm not psychologist, but I think that kind of thing...constant performing...had to be hard on someone like the late Ms Houston.

Anyway, rest in peace...a peace you probably didn't have much of in this life...Whitney Houston.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rick Santorum on women in combat

From a Washington Post article (can be found HERE), Rick Santorum explaining why women should not be in combat:


“I think that could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved. It already happens, of course, with the camaraderie of men in combat, but I think it would be even more unique if women were in combat,” Santorum added. “And I think that’s not in the best interests of men, women or the mission.”

Basically what the Senator from Virginia (courtesy of Gort) is saying is that women are too emotional to serve.  Perhaps, also, when it is "that time of the month" they may be even more emotional.

For the record, I am open to rational discussions about the role that women should play in the military.  But seriously, this is Rick Santorum's best argument?  What's next, claiming that Hispanics shouldn't serve as fighter pilots because of their propensity to take naps in the middle of the day?

Rick Santorum is on the cutting edge of thinking...if this were the year 1812.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Karla Porter - Birth Control and your boss (& related thoughts)

An excellent blog posting about the Catholic Church and birth control.

Karla Porter's blog - Birth control and your boss

As I noted in a comment to this posting, the logic of the Catholic Church...namely that providing for the VOLUNTARY use of birth control is the same as PROMOTING birth control...is tragically flawed.

Case in point:  At my employer, people who smoke are required to go outside the building to partake of their habit.  The company even constructed a shelter for their use during inclement weather.  Using Catholic Church logic, my employer must be promoting smoking.

Another case in point:  My employer provides a full cafeteria for its employees, where a variety of foods are offered.  The cafeteria has a grill which serves all manner of greasy, fried food.  Using Catholic Church logic, my employer must be promoting the consumption of cheeseburgers.

Wait, I can see the counter-argument now: but there is no "government mandate" for smokers or cheeseburger eaters.  Point well taken.  However, there is a fly in that ointment in that everyone in this country is, from time to time, obligated to do things that they may find personally objectionable.  Even the Catholic Church.

For example, I do not believe in the use of the death penalty, except in cases that are so extreme that they almost never occur.  Not so coincidentally, my belief in this area is identical to that of the Catholic Church (reference HERE).  Yet my tax dollars, which I am required to pay, are used to support state and federal justice systems that violates my conscience in this area.  This just isn't limited to the death penalty though, as I also disagree with the criminalization of certain drugs (Alcohol is a "good" drug...apparently marijuana is a "bad" drug; note that I don't use either myself), soft jail sentences to white collar criminals and the federal government's support of foreign dictatorships.  Yet I still pay my taxes, without complaining.  Somehow I am able to see that my moral imperatives have to be weighed against my civil responsibilities.

Another example:  If you have a dog in Pennsylvania, you need to have a license.  Have a cat?  No license required.  Stray dogs bite people, stray cats mainly just run away from people.  Point well taken.  However if you want to have a dog (or be an employer in the public domain for that manner) you have to buy the license (or provide for birth control coverage for employees) even if you are a great dog owner and would never, ever even think of letting your dog roam free.

I could go on with other examples, both big and small, but it's a moot point as this isn't really about moral stances anyway.  If it truly was about morality, then why isn't there an outcry over the following in the Catholic Church:  Research consistently shows that anywhere from 82% to 98% of sexually active Catholics in the United States today use birth control.  References HERE and HERE.

Maybe, just maybe, if this truly were a moral imperative, then the Catholic Church would focus all of its energies at getting the faithful who are sexually active to stop using artificial birth control,  That seems more reasonable than denying birth control coverage to those individuals who do not hold the same belief system  as the clergy in the Catholic Church.

So what is this really about?  I suspect this has far more to do with the politics of the day than it does the morality of artificial birth control.  Again, if this were about morality, then why would the focus be on the offering of birth control rather than the use of birth control by Catholics?

Birth control is, when everything else is stripped away, a deeply personal issue.  If your religious convictions tell you that the use of birth control is immoral, then you have my respect AND the right to express your convictions by not using birth control.  I do not have the right to force anyone to use birth control.  No one should have the right to prevent me from using birth control either.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wisdom from Julian Lennon

Julian Lennon (as in first son of John Lennon) posts some great stuff on Facebook.  This was something he posted yesterday.


More true words were never spoken.

You can "like" Julian Lennon at his Facebook page.

And what the heck, here's one from Julian's musical career...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rest in Peace Don Cornelius

The creator of Soul Train, Don Cornelius, recently died.  Article HERE.

Growing up in the 70's, I have to confess that I wasn't always into the most popular music. I remember being in junior high, seeing a Kiss sticker on a friend's notebook and having to ask what it was all about. Anyway, while I didn't watch shows like American Bandstand and Soul Train end to end, I was at least aware that they existed.  One of the things I recall about Soul Train was how very dapper the MC of Soul Train, Don Cornelius, appeared on screen.  There was also that incredibly deep voice.

Anyway, it appears that all was not right in the life of Mr Cornelius.  What a sad way to go out.

Rest in Peace dapper Don.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Firsts

The first LP (that would be "long playing") album I ever bought was Parallel Lines by Blondie.


I actually it in tandem with the purchase of a stereo, both of which were obtained from the discount department store that was at the current location of Big Lots in Dunmore.  While the album was long ago lost, stolen, etc., I still have some of the songs, these days in the form of .mp3 files.  "Heart of Glass" and "One Way or Another" are just classic tunes.

Even more obscure?  The first 8 Track tape I ever purchased...which was the first real piece of music I ever purchased...was the first Greatest Hits collection by ABBA.


My brothers and I were each given some form of music playing device one year for Christmas.  Mine was an 8Track tape player, and shortly thereafter I remember going to a music store in downtown Scranton and purchasing the ABBA tape.  I don't remember why I picked it, other than some of the song titles sounded familiar.  As is the case for the Blondie LP, I've long since lost the original 8Track, but I do have an LP copy of the above, framed in my bedroom.  I also have a few dozen ABBA .mp3s in my Sony Walkman.

Amazing how the technology has changed over the years.

From this...



To this...

To this...

Makes you wonder what it will all be like 40 years from now.