Windy Smitty

On this day, the first day of Summer, I can’t help but reflect on a decision I made in my past. At an age, when I felt invincible. 

If nothing else, let my story serve as a reminder on the importance of bicycle safety. I have to live with my poor choice, it’s not too late for you to save yourselves.

It was on, or around the Summer Solstice in 1994 that I decided to hop on my bike while my head was still sopping wet from the shower. The weather was gorgeous, and I couldn’t wait to get out the door.

I shot a fleeting glance at my bike helmet and chose to leave it on the bookcase. That was a decision that would alter my life forever.

I was heading to Jackson Park, about 9 miles to the south, when I stopped at the Lincoln Park Zoo to use the bathroom. I saw my reflection in the mirror, my hair was no longer wet, thanks to the wind-whipping along Lake Michigan. I drizzled some water on my mane hoping it would lie down a bit.

I walked my bike around the Zoo alternately looking at animals, and the Chicago skyline.

A group of workers inched up behind me in a golf cart. One said, “Excuse me, sir can we get around you?”

I moved over to the right and he had enough room to pass, and said, “Thank you, sir have a great day.”

Before I could respond he added, “Nice Michael Douglas hair, you got there.”

Then his workmate contributed, “Man, you got yourself a Michael Douglas chin, too.”

A third man said, “He sure does. He’s got the hair and the damn chin, too. How are those Streets of San Francisco treating you my friend?”

They chortled as I hopped on my bike. The second man spoke again: “Say hi to Karl Malden.”

“Michael Douglas Hair.” Twenty years later, their words, these caustic words still haunt me. How could anybody be so cruel?

Don’t let this happen to you or your children, please wear a bike helmet.

For God’s sake, protect your hair!

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My Favorite Things

It was a wickedly cold morning just like this when I walked a few blocks from my Ravenswood apartment, and was fortunate that there was a 145 bus, idling in the lot, awaiting its departure time. I don’t remember what was ahead for me at work that day, but my job at the time rather tedious–making truck parts fliers for a ad agency–so it wasn’t that different than the day before.

The driver saw me shivering outside and was kind enough to let me in before his run though it was technically against CTA policy.

As I sat down he offered this sinister warning: “You can stay on this bus as long as you don’t tell anybody what you’re about see or hear.” Then “You got that?”

I nodded then put proceeded to unfold my copy of The Chicago Tribune.

With that he pulled a hard plastic case from the floor to his lap. When he opened the case and started to assemble its components, I saw the glistening of the metallic shaft he had in his hand.

I screamed with every fiber of my being, “My God, he has a flute!!!!”

Then he glanced over his should placed his piece near his lips and played “Take Five” and then “My Favorite Things.”

My winter morning commutes are rarely that appealing nowadays. Now they begin with scraping ice from the windows and many days digging out after being plowed in. There’s never a walk through the brisk cold, with some chance encounters with neighbors, or strangers, or a bit of window-shopping. Those things all put a spring in my step, at least until I began the bone-dissolving work of staring at line-art rendering of spark plugs, oil filters, and mud flaps.

Though at the particular morning, the unexpected jazz performance set the tone my entire day. It wasn’t just the music, it was the serendipity. I wish there were a way that I could plan serendipitous events. They would involve more flutes and fewer cars.

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Wishing You a Safe and Joyous Black Friday Eve

I have no plans to shop on Thanksgiving Day, or Friday, nor do I want anybody to work on Thanksgiving Day. However, I find that the outrage over some retailers’ decisions to be open on Thanksgiving Day more than a little contrived. People have always worked “non-essential” jobs on Thanksgiving. They will again this year and next year.

It’s amusing that media and some consumers are taking umbrage with the fact that Target, Best Buy and others will be open next Thursday. Yet people have had no qualms about going to a grocery store, gas station, theater, McDonalds….or purchasing from Amazon, or iTunes on previous Thanksgivings.

Has anybody ever protested the fact that the Detroit Lions or Dallas Cowboys are forced to play football on Thanksgiving Day? Probably not, because their freakin’ rich. Though there are hundreds of concession workers, security officers, parking lot attendants, who are compensated far less handsomely than the players. They are compelled to be away from their families on Thanksgiving Day. Has anybody ever championed their cause?

I don’t suspect that there much outcry when I had to wash dishes, or stock the salad bar, at Skeeter’s Breakfast House. Management always predicted a rush of Thankgiving diners. There never was. There was usually about 20 customers each Thanksgiving that I worked, most of them were visiting professors from other countries and their families. The wait staff didn’t see much in the way in tips when they worked Thanksgiving, so they made just a shade over what we called “waitress minimum” which was $2/hour at the time. Where there protests?

I do feel sorry for the employees at these retail chains that have work on Thanksgiving. But not any sorrier for the wait staff, toll-takers, or flight attendants that will be working and have always worked on Thanksgiving.

I don’t fault the retailers who starting are Black Friday on Thursday for doing so. If these stores have good numbers they’ll repeat it next year, if the numbers are weak, they may or may not. I like to think if I were a decision maker in a retail chain that all stores would be closed.

Nothing is forcing the customers to visit these stores, during the holiday weekend, or in some cases to camp out in frigid conditions to be “first.” While shopping in general is unappealing, shopping amongst a ravenous crowd of deal-seekers suits neither my habit or my health.

If you shop on Thanksgiving, or the following day, that’s your choice, but you should pause for a moment to remember Walter Vance and Jdimytai Damour.

Perhaps the fourth Thursday in November that currently know as Thankgiving will one day be known as Black Friday Eve or perhaps Navy Blue Thursday.

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I See Dead People’s Status Updates (and they like Samsung, NPR, The NRA, Amazon…)

Since making the plunge into Facebook a few years ago, I have had three of my Facebook friends die. Two were good friends, one primarily a Facebook friend. Heart attack, accident, heart attack.

They all died prematurely and their deaths were made more tragic in that all left young children behind.

One was a good friend in high school, and teammate on the football team. I saw him a few times in the five or so years after we had graduated,  then at the class reunions I attended. We chatted quite a bit on Facebook in the beginning and a couple of times on the phone. He made some informal  plans about bringing his bicycle to Michigan, with special interest in trails on the east of the of the state,  so that he could claim to have been to Hell and back.

One was a good friend in Grand Rapids, with whom I worked (at two companies) for a total of about 5 years. He was my go-to-guy for sushi lunches in the area. He was a great sax player, and he knew a lot about a lot of things and I think he was chronically underutilized in his work.

The third was somebody I had some classes with in high school and I think I had seen once or twice in the years since. I was actually getting rather tired of some of his extreme views on Facebook and didn’t have that much interaction with him.

I’ve always known that friends of mine (from towns I lived in 40, 30, 15 years ago…) would die and never really thought about it how I might learn of their passing. Prior to my entry into the cyber world (15+ years ago), people that I knew have died. I usually heard about their passing from my family members or mutual co-workers and classmates.

When my friend (and Facebook friend), Julio died, a mutual friend from high school sent me a message of his passing. His Facebook wall was busy for several weeks afterwards as friends and his extended family paid their respects.

His daughter was providing updates on his wall, and still occassionally does, three years later.  It was a little freaky at first when I started to get these updates in my newsfeed from Julio.  They were in the 3rd person; it reminded me of the way that over-indulged athletes (and Bob Dole) speak about themselves. It seemed a little less freaky as time went on.

About a year later, another friend’s wife, sent me a friend request. I didn’t know her that well, but I had no reason to deny her friend request. I found out she had friended me specifically to inform me that he had died. She didn’t know of another way to reach me. (you may have noticed I have a rather ordinary name, there is usually more than one Scott Smith in the local phone books ).

More recently, a high school acquaintance who had friended me in Facebook went in to the hospital for routine surgery, I didn’t notice any updates about his status in my feed, so I went to his Facebook wall and saw some updates from his wife. She had tagged him in her updates so her status posts were showing on his wall. I saw several updates that afternoon. I was stunned to learned that he had died in the hospital.

There are occasional updates from his FB wall as his wife tags him in an update of her own. What’s bizarre (though understandable) is when he gets tagged by someone wishing him happy birthday, or to ask how his job is going.

The status updates in my feed from my dead friends feel somewhat normal now. Though the fact that they still “like” stuff from the afterlife is a little harder to stomach.

If a product, or organizational page has an update and they had once “Liked” the page then Facebook informs me of this.

To see that a dead friend “Likes” Amazon, or NPR , or the NRA, or the Miami Dolphins still seems a little bit peculiar, even though I understand that in Facebook’s quest to demonstrate a business model that “Likes” are very important.

Facebook doesn’t know when people are dead . Perhaps if they did the “like” would be in the past tense, such as: “John Doe ‘liked ‘ Disney World” (OK that would be creepy).

Frankly , I doubt that Amazon, NPR, the NRA or the Miami Dolphins really care if they are liked by living, or dead people as long as they’re liked.

I have noticed (with admittedly few data points) that people who liked Samsung seem to die at a faster rate than the general population.

I ponder whether it’s gauche to unfriend dead friends. And whether it’s polite to refer to your dead friends as ‘data points’ for that matter.

Subtle product endorsements from dead friends, I suppose, are part of this brave new world in which we live. Perhaps Facebook Likes will be included in our eulogies and epitaphs: “Devoted Husband, Loving Father, Who Liked The Wizard of Oz, Trail Biking and Papa John’s Pizza…..”

Times change and so must I. Though I’m not sure how I’ll take it the first time that a dead friend Pokes me.

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Hooked

The Blue Swede cover of this song was among my favorites as a young ‘un. This -a cover of the Blue Swede cover- is among my favorite recent YouTube discoveries.

In rose-colored reflections of my past it seems that the world today is suffering from a chronic deficiency of Ooga-Chaka.

That guy brings his A-game.

Thrice.

 

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National Signing Day

In reading some of the news regarding “National Signing Day” I recalled my own storied prep career. Here is what the scouting reports said about me back in the day:

“Smith anchored the offensive line on a team that went 5-5 during the regular season (when we say ‘anchored’ we mean he really dragged it down). During his senior year, Smith set a national (possibly international) record for offsides penalties. A review of games films show that Smith had exactly zero pancake-blocks; however Smith is rather fond of pancakes and played with blocks as a child.

Smith stands over 5′ 11″ (in cleats) and tips the scales at 160 (when he’s fully clothed, and has a couple of rocks in his pockets). He reportedly can bench press his IQ (which is believed to be 3 digits, as evidenced by a GPA that approaches 2.0 ).

Smith’s physcial attributes have many likening him to legendary prep lineman of the past. One scout remarked: “This kid has the speed of Meat Loaf combined with the size, strength and scruples of Richard Nixon. I’ve never seen anything like him.”

He’s has been tagged as a “can’t miss” prospect as a busboy or a prep cook in college, though some scouts suggest that he has the tools to go both ways.

Smith is part of a large family in which he is described as “The fifth of six accidents,” by his mother.

In his spare time, Smith goes to great lengths to avoid homework, and squanders copious amounts of his youth in the Burger King parking lot (along the Zayre’s wall) and is an aspiring mall rat.”

 

 

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In 2013, Let’s Resolve To Share The Blame And Stay Mad

I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. When people ask me about my resolutions, I usually respond with “I am going to GAIN 20 lbs and START smoking.”  Some years I actually achieve the first goal, though not really willing to pursue the latter one.

However,  following the insipid, melodramatic, deceitful, sinfully-expensive, US presidential election that has segued into the resumption of partisan brinksmanship over a budget deal (or lack thereof),  I have been mad a lot in the past few months. Thus, I am making a New Year’s resolution.

For 2013, I resolve to stay mad. Anybody else?

I get mad that people don’t get madder about things or that they don’t stay mad at some things. Currently I’m mad that not many people seem to be all that mad about the looming Fiscal Cliff.

The Fiscal Cliff is not only a synthetic crisis, it is a LEGISLATED synthetic crisis. The Budget Control Act was approved by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by our incumbent, and next, President. IN AUGUST…..2011.

Rather than specifically addressing any fiscal solutions at the time, the bill allowed for several months of kicking the can down the road.  Primarily, so Congress and POTUS could campaign uninterrupted for three months.

Can I get a “WTF?”

After Election Day, the only thing that Congress could agree on was to continue its long-standing habit of  short work weeks.

A Double-WTF? would be appropriate here.

I’m mad that people keep blaming the lawmakers for everything, without blaming the enablers of the environment in which lawmakers operate. Voters and non-voters (adults) need to start accepting their share of blame for allowing these do-nothing practices and the constant influx of corrupting influences.

Many of them— laws written by lobbyists, permanent campaign cycles, the filibuster–are not addressed in the Constitution, thus wouldn’t be all that difficult to reform. Though they won’t ever be reformed as long as enough people don’t stay mad enough.

And don’t get me started about the Electoral College and the primaries….

OK, I got myself started. Why is it acceptable that an incumbent president and other elected officals (those campaigning for/against the incumbent POTUS) can make multiple trips to Ohio, Florida etc. in a week, while resolution of a forthcoming budget crisis is put on a back burner (Nay, put in the freezer)?

Does your job allow you to travel across the country several times a month when your sole objective is to get your next job? Or to help your friends get a new job? Without knowing your profession, I can conclude that the answer is no. Yet, this is  precisely the behavior we are enabling  when we allow the POTUS, or a sitting Senator,  to travel to upstate New York (New Mexico, Kansas), to campaign for a candidate there.

The root word of “president” is “preside.” The root of “representative” is “represent.”  Why do these elected officials go off for days/weeks on the campaign trail instead of presiding and representing?

Because, they can. Because we, the people, have allowed them to do so for generations.

If enough people  don’t get mad enough, and stay mad enough, these lawmakers will continue to be derelict in their duties. Forthcoming elections and budget standoff will  make the recents ones seem civil in comparison.

The shrill ( or ALL CAPS on Internet commentary) calls to “Fire them all!” are silly.  If we had voted out the president and unpalatable members of Congress in the last election, they’d still be in office today. They will be until next month. No election outcomes would have changed the current fiscal cliff follies.

I’m mad that people keep assigning blame solely to Republicans or solely to Democrats. Both parties brought us here. Republicans and Democrats are the same shit served with a different spoon.

The pendulous patterns of voting one party out and the other party in are pointless. Freshman Congressmen  are just shiny new cogs in a broken machine. Until the machine is repaired, we are doomed to periodically voting out the  Curlys and replacing them with Shemps.

curlyShemp
If we go over the fiscal cliff, and there is a resulting economic calamity, we (the elected officials, the voters and the non-voters, the taxpayers, the tax-exempt…) will get what we deserve.

My advice to voters/non-voters is this:  take your share of the blame and stay mad.

If you disagree, then filibuster me.

See you on the other side.

January 2nd 2013  Update--A “solution” has been reached by POTUS and Congress. Essentially the bill raises taxes without addressing spending cuts. Furthermore, it does nothing about the looming debt ceiling and delays any action on budget sequestration, (which would have required across-the-board budget cuts) for two months. Thus we’ve ensured that we’ll have another two or three similar budgetary goat rodeos in the Capitol in the coming months.

Essentially, after about 1.5 years of procrastination, and end-of-the-year that was completely contrived very little has been accomplished.

Are you staying mad?

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This Is Not My Beautiful Job…

I am a recovering mad man. I managed the art and design studio of the Chicago office of the venerable ad agency J. Walter Thompson from 1996 until 1999. I was involved in nearly every new business pitch. And while the requests for each were ridiculous, rarely sublime, there is one in particular that stands out.

In 1997 we were in pursuit of a giant computer account (think cow spots) whose billings would be in the $150 million neighborhood. That would make it the largest account win in the agency’s history

About 30 people worked Saturday before the pitch. Another 50 joined us on Sunday. The team grew larger still on Monday.

My boss pointed out that the studio was going to likely put in a lot of time during the week. She reminded me that there there was a hotel in our building and that we should rent two rooms–one for the guys, one for the girls–which would allow for naps and showers.

Uh..the hotel was the Four Seasons. A few of us went to look at the rooms—they were suites! The type of room that President of the United States might sleep in. Maybe even Robert DeNiro.

Sad thing is, I napped for about four hours during the entire week, so I hardly remember the room. Don’t recollect if I got to lounge around in the monogrammed fluffy robe.

I do remember falling asleep momentarily slumbering on a conference room floor.  Until I sneezed myself awake after inhaling some pretzel-crumb-size particle from the carpet.

We kept hearing that the presentation was going to be in a room that was the size of airplane hangar. And that all the visual materials had to be “HUGE!”

I kept asking “HOW HUGE?” I kept hearing “REALLY REALLY HUGE!” Thus, when asked by studio techs and art directors for a scanning resolution, my response was “HUGE!”

I chose to err on the side of caution and mandated that all materials would be scanned at 600 dpi.

THE HORROR!!!!!

Before I knew it we were scanning a gazillion images. I heard groans from the studio techs as they tried make clipping paths, and unsharp masks on their Mac 7500′s.

Somebody screamed “the server’s full!!” That was exaggeration, it still had 700 Kilobytes (roughly a Word document) of storage left. I spent the next two hours in my office archive files to tape, JAZ, CD and any media I could get my hands on.

Our color printers were overwhelmed. I had put in several requests to upgrade these; however I was told these weren’t capital expenditure priority. We had one that was so old that the processor actually had a green-LED screen . The other was quite a bit faster, though barely able to chew through the massive volume of jobs.

Well on Monday, the “new” printer crapped out. It was after business hours so the chances of getting service were nil. I was told that I could do “whatever it takes” to get a printer. So after six months of being told that upgrading the printer wasn’t a budget priority, suddenly it was.

I spent over an hour on Kodak Inc’s phone trees, pinching my Amex Card, ready to read off the number. I wasn’t able to buy a printer that night, but isn’t it pretty to think so?

So the printer service tech arrived the next morning and he began printing out hundreds of solid color pages: cyan magenta yellow black. Somebody started taping them together and we laid them on the floor in sort of a Candy Land fashion.

The rest of the week is a blur of Pad Thai dreams and sweaty, bellicose account executives. There was one event around 4:00 am, when a blowhard A.E. our Toronto office managed to parlay my then-lack of knowledge with PowerPoint into a jag against the computer I was working on. I remember him screaming in my face at one point “Apple is a dead company! When we get this Gateway business, we’ll get rid of this pieces of crap! Apple will be out of business within six months! You mark my word!”

He was so close at to me at this point, I could smell the peanut sauce  on his breath and I swear I could feel his chin whiskers on my Adam’s apple.

I truly wish I had recorded that exchange, I would enjoy listening to that on my iPod.

On Thursday that week, the new business team delivered the pitch at the Gateway offices in South Dakota. A few days later, the account was awarded to a different agency.

I logged about 115 hours that week and I wasn’t even close to being the agency’s top-biller There were a couple of other folks that crossed the 120-hour mark.

During a new business pitch you tend  to have  an abundance of David Byrne  moments when you may ask yourself “How did I get here?”

In my quiet moments, I also several “Eric Burdon” moments when I would catch myself singing “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” in my office.

Eventually I did. In 1999 my wife and I moved to Michigan and I got out of the agency business. In strange sequence of events, the CEO of Gateway is now my governor, so I guess in a sense that I am the client now.

Occasionally, I look back on my “Mad Man” era, and grimace or clench my jaw. But far more often, I laugh; sometimes a quiet giggle, sometimes a guffaw. Those were good times with good people.

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The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire (nor on Grand Rapids)

In principle, I have no problem with year-round schooling. However, I live in an area (west Michigan) where daylight doesn’t surrender easily.

Grand Rapids, Michigan is near the western edge of the Eastern Time zone. This is what 9:15 looks like where I live:

West Michigan Sunset

This is what my 2nd grader sees when he looks out his window at his scheduled bedtime. Note the absence of fireflies.

I hate the idea of  a 7 o’clock wake-up during the lazy, hazy crazy days of summer. I am glad that my son’s current school is off for the summer, and we have flexibility with the start times with his various summer camps he is attending. He gets to stay up just a bit later, thus a chance for the kid to be a kid.

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Review of “Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy”

(Spoiler Alert: Regardless of your level of experience, or organizational role; if you create, edit, approve, or publish content, you like this book.  If you publish to multiple devices/browsers, or if you translate your content into multiple languages, you will CHERISH  this book.)

Several years ago, a client of mine was undergoing an extensive feasibility study for an enterprise content management solution. Though I wasn’t heavily involved in that project, I casually mentioned to a friend on the ECM team that I was reading a book called “Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy” by Ann Rockley. I enthusiastically recommended the book to her. She borrowed my copy for the afternoon and later bought a copy for herself.

Within a few weeks, I was able to identify members of the project team in the hallway because they were all carrying a laptop  in one hand and and a copy of “Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Strategy” in the other. The book became a primary resource for the project’s documentation and planning, and a key go-to reference for questions by stakeholders. One of the things that was most intriguing about Rockley’s book was that it discussed the merits of single-sourcing and managing content at component level (rather than storage of whole documents) to help to guard against the content silo trap.

In my past several client engagements, I have been working on the technical services side of the fence, primarily in SharePoint. For many months, I have been working to re-aquaint myself with content strategy. Frankly, the current state of content industry now seems so complex that it makes me queasy.

Consider how many devices (iPhone, Android, and other smart phones….) and new browsers (Chrome, Firefox...) have surfaced in the past few years. The reinvention of publishing industry has resulted in an onslaught of proprietary e-book formats (iBook, Kindle, Nook…). Furthermore, organizations are expected to publish content in multiple languages. When you tally up, the devices, browsers, languages and media (don’t forget paper!), you are talking about dozen (and dozens…) of publishing channels.  The threat of content-siloing is greater than ever.

Thankfully, there is a second edition of “Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy.” As if it weren’t enough to have Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper as the authors, this book features contributions and contributions industry stars such as Rahel Anne Bailie, Scott Abel, Derek Olson,  Mark Lewis, and many others. Make no mistake, this team-up is the content industry’s equivalent of “The Avengers.” This book will help you to move away from working harder, to making your content “smarter.”

Unlike other reference books that have the feel of an infomercial for particular devices or software platforms, this book is centered on developing unified content strategy that fits your organization. This book will help you to identify your organization’s pain points and develop tight plans to redesign your organization’s workflows, and to develop, modular, well-described, reusable “intelligent content.” This will allow you to better inform, and engage your customers regardless of their preferred device or operating system. Your content will become “future-proof.”

It’s become something of a cliché for reviews of reference books to include the phrase “…avoids jargon…” This book does NOT do that. Instead, it helps the readers, of all experience levels, to EMBRACE industry-standard terminology.

You will not be involved in any current-day discussion about content without bumping into terms like DTD, EPUB, SCORM or DITA. Rockley and Cooper provide gentle indoctrinations into industry-standard concepts and has an exhaustive glossary, which will allow team members (from disparate professional histories) to better collaborate on projects.

The book also includes a detailed checklist for implementing your unified content strategy. This alone is an invaluable reference as your content teams navigate the course of you transition to single-sourced, intelligent content.

Regardless of your role in a content project, I highly recommend that you get your hands on this this book (available in NOOK, Kindle, iBook…….and don’t forget paper!)

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