10.08.10 | 0

Vocabulary

When I was a boy my father never said “car.”  He always said “automobile.”  My father was older than most of my friend’s fathers, and he came from another country.  He never learned to say “car.”  At a certain point our family stopped buying sedans, and he learned the new term “station wagon.”  He never stopped using the automotive terminology he’d learned as a boy.  He changed it a little, but never completely abandoned it.  So by the late 1960’s he’d say things like;

“Don’t set your soft drink can on the bonnet… ah, hood.”

“We can’t park too close behind that other automobile, or they won’t be able to open the boot… ah, trunk.”

He did fully accept the term “fender” in place of “wing,” but he never gave up “wind screen” instead of “wind shield.”

Many years later I use all American car terms.  I even say “car.”  Well, sometimes I say “automobile,” but that’s only when I’m talking about old or antique cars.  I don’t say “wind screen… ah, wind shield.”  However, I do say wind screen more than half the time.  The rest of the time I pause a little before saying wind shield.  Interestingly enough, I always refer to “wind shield wipers” even if I’m talking about the “wind screen.”

The one term I seem to have completely rejected is “glove compartment.”  Father always said “glove box” and so do I.  Last night, on one of my many new TV channelettes, there was a car commercial.  A pair of little girls were searching through the inside of… Maybe it was some sort of minivan?  Looking for holiday treats.  I don’t remember which holiday, but they were finding treats inside the numerous, handy, practical, convenient storage compartments that clearly added to the sales value of the vehicle.  At one point they found something; a movie, stocks, bonds, letters of transit that cannot be rescinded, inside the “glove box.”  At least that’s what the narrator called it.

Does this mean that American Automotive English is changing?  Or that the commercial was designed to target English financial printers born in 1908?

01.07.10 | 0

Accounts Payable

Before I was a programmer I worked in the Entertainment Industry.  Before that, I was a programmer.   So the arc of my business career might be viewed as; programmer (medical type stuff), made rubber monsters, programmer again (manufacturing type stuff).  It really was rather odd how experiences in one industry provided useful experience during unusual circumstances in another industry.  Many clients in manufacturing think of themselves as sharp when it comes to administering their accounts payable.   In this case sharp does not necessarily mean ‘good’ or ‘effective.’  It really means something akin to ‘tip toeing along the very edge of illegality.’  As one might imagine the sharp business techniques employed in manufacturing pale by comparison to those used in the Entertainment Industry.

Rubber Monster Guys are a lot like programmers in that both groups exchange work stories over beer.  These stories are along the lines of; “You think you worked on a stupid project, well I had a client who wanted to…” or “You think you worked for a crook well I had a boss who tried to…” Unlike programmers Rubber Monster Guys actually like to work for crooks, at least once, so they can join in with their friends complaining about how they’ve been cheated.  Smart, or lucky, Rubber Monster Guys arrange to work for these famous (notorious) crooks on small projects so that they aren’t cheated out of too much money.

Back in 1988 I went to work for ‘The Bonehead Family.’ (not their real name) They had done lots of Effects work in Hollywood for a long time, and had even won an Academy Award.  But their business model was not that of an Efx. House.  They really seemed more like a band of bunko artists.  A friend working in England once mentioned working for The Boneheads and a famous English director said, “But they’re not Special Effects Artists… They’re Confidence Tricksters.”

The Boneheads had a studio in North Hollywood.  Actually, they rented a studio.  I think that the only equipment they owned was three IBM selectric typewriters and the sign on the front of the building.  You knew that there was financial trouble when someone from the front office snuck the typewriters off the property, because that usually meant that creditors were bringing Sheriffs Deputies the next day to seize everything belonging to the business. Unable to find the typewriters, and unable to dismantle the sign, the frustrated creditors would depart accompanied by laughter from Law Enforcement.  The Boneheads would then take the company bankrupt, start a new company, install a new sign, bring back the typewriters, and start all over again.

In the spring of 1988 the Boneheads recruited me to help build a fiber glass robot puppet.

They didn’t actually recruit me, a chum was already working for them and he told me that every Rubber Monster Guy in Hollywood had to work for The Boneheads at least once, and this was my chance to do it without being cheated too much, because the project was only a TV commercial and thus very short. The commercial was for PBS, or a tape cassette phone answering machine, or a new brand of spaghetti. It was a long time ago and I don’t quite remember. I know that using a robot as a spokesman didn’t really make any sense to anyone who was actually building the robot, so it wasn’t a computer or a computerized anything.

A shifty vice president hired me and “because he liked me” offered to pay me not my daily rate, but a lump sum of $3,000 out of which I could pay myself and all the other crew members. When I seemed leery of this idea he suggested that “because he trusted me” that I might consider taking the $3,000 then lying to my crew about the size of the payment, and pocketing the difference. I’d never worked for The Boneheads before, but had heard enough stories to see how this ploy would work. They would offer me $3,000 but by agreeing to pay the rest of the crew out of my pocket everyone would come complaining to me when I didn’t get my check. I said no thanks, that I’d take my normal daily rate, and he could pay everyone on the crew directly. The VP kept repeating, “But you’d make more money my way,” without including the phrase “by cheating your coworkers.” I kept repeating, “It’s less bookkeeping work for me this way,” without including he phrase “and it will be more difficult for you to stiff five guys than just me.”

So we shot the commercial. Then everyone got paid the next week. Then all our checks bounced. Then everyone went after The Boneheads for our money. I don’t know if everyone was eventually paid. I do know that the sign on the building changed once before I got the second check, which was the one that eventually cleared.

The other day I was dusting pictures in my office and found a framed copy of my very first NSF check from The Boneheads. Below the check I kept a list of all the excuses used by the shifty VP to explain why I hadn’t been paid.

Responses from the Shifty Vice President.
1.) You didn’t give us an invoice.
2.) The check is in the mail.
3.) We’ll pay you on Thursday.
4.) We’ll pay you on Friday.
5.) The check is in the mail.
6.) You know that Tuesday is payday.
7.) Didn’t we mail that already?
8.) Why are you acting like this?
9.) We’re waiting for a check from the client.
10.) You have a real attitude problem.
11.) I’ve been in this business 10 years and I’ve never been talked to like this.
12.) What’s the matter? You can trust us until the client gives us a check.
13.) Fine, try to take us to court.
14.) You want to talk to Steve.
15.) Oh, it bounced? Call back later today.
16.) Call back tomorrow.
17.) You want to talk to Suzanne.
18.) I didn’t know that you were having a problem.
19.) I can’t get your money, it’s Columbus Day.
20.) The bank did it wrong.

Response from the bank on which the 2nd check was drawn
21.) It’s not important whose fault it is. What’s important is that there is money in the account now.

27.06.10 | 0

Mission Statements

Back when I first heard the term ‘Mission Statement’ it was described as a “very broad, over all, strategic plan.”  I think programmers first started discussing Mission Statements round about the time Microsoft announced their new MS as “A PC on Every Desktop by 1990”  Not sure about the year, but I remember everyone being amazed that a company which didn’t actually make PC’s was angling for everybody to have one on their desk.  This was at a time when small companies would share a PC amongst several employees, and none of us quite put together that Microsoft was planning that more PC’s would mean more software sales for them.  Looking back on it I’d have to admit that their Mission Statement seemed to have worked out pretty well for the company.

Well, last week I was visiting a patient in the local hospital.  On the wall above the bed was a brightly colored poster which I suppose was sort of a Mission Statement for the nurses.  To me it seemed well meaning, but…  I leave it to the reader to decide.

The large font title said, “Remember the Four P’s

Then it listed;
1.) Pain
2.) Position
3.) Personal Needs (bathroom)
4.) Emotional Needs

Then it summed up, “Always Remember the Four P’s

Perhaps programmers are too literal, but shouldn’t the motto have been something like, “Remember the three P’s and the one E”  ?  Maybe it would have made more sense to me if I’d sat in on the presentation introducing the poster.

16.06.10 | 0

Buying A Sandwich III

More time has passed and there seems to have been another complete replacement of the staff at the local sandwich shop. The staff used to be Hispanic. Now they appear to be from the Indian subcontinent. I suspect that the franchisee/owner, who is from India, was compelled to trim costs by firing his staff and replacing them with relatives. Further cost economies have been effected by recycling name tags worn by the previous staff members.

ACT – 1

Maria Singh – Sandwich Specialist:
(Whose old name tag says “Maria” but who has, somehow, mentioned that her last name is Singh. She has a charming, lilting, Indian accent.)
Hello, and Welcome to Subway!

The Lady In Front Of Me In Line:
Yeah… Umm… Gimme a sandwich… Umm… a foot long.

Maria Singh – Sandwich Specialist:
Of course. Which kind of Foot Long Sandwich would you prefer?

The Lady In Front Of Me In Line:
Yeah… Umm… Foot long… That’s Six Dollars, right.

Maria Singh – Sandwich Specialist:
Absolutely. Which kind of Foot Long Sandwich would you prefer?

The Lady In Front Of Me In Line:
Yeah… Umm… Wheat bread on one half… Umm… And white bread on the other half.

Maria Singh – Sandwich Specialist:
What? I mean, pardon? You can’t have two different types of bread on one sandwich. You would then not be making a single Foot Long sandwich. That would instead be two separate, six inch sandwiches. I am sorry, but a Foot Long sandwich must be a single Foot Long sandwich.

The Lady In Front Of Me In Line:
Yeah… Umm… One sandwich? Umm… OK, make it white bread then. If it’s one sandwich… Umm… Can I still have different toppings… Umm… On the two halves.

Maria Singh – Sandwich Specialist:
Yes, absolutely, you can have different toppings on different halves, as long as it is the same sandwich.

The Lady In Front Of Me In Line:
Yeah… Umm… OK… On one half I want… Umm… Ham and cheese with mustard… Umm… And on the other half… Umm… I guess tuna with extra mayo.

Maria Singh – Sandwich Specialist:
Ah? Sorry, but once again you appear to be making two different sandwiches. Sadly a Foot Long sandwich can only be one sandwich.

The Lady In Front Of Me In Line:
Yeah? Well how would you do that?

Maria Singh – Sandwich Specialist:
Well… It could be all Ham & Cheese, or all Tuna with mayo, but not a combination of both.

The Lady In Front Of Me In Line:
Yeah, but I want one Foot Long sandwich.

Maria Singh – Sandwich Specialist:
Then I encourage you to buy one.

Time passes and eventually a tuna fish sandwich on white bread is assembled. Then, at the last moment.

The Lady In Front Of Me In Line:
Yeah… Is that all the toppings?
Yeah… OK… Well add some pepperoni and done.

Maria Singh – Sandwich Specialist:
<winces>
Pepperoni is a meat.  That will cost extra.

ACT – II

The lady leaves with her pepperoni-tuna sandwich.

Me:
Was she trying to trick you into making her two six inch sandwiches? Did she really think that was going to work?

Maria Singh – Sandwich Specialist:
<smiles>

Me:
Did she finish up by putting pepperoni on a tuna fish sandwich with extra mayo?

Maria Singh – Sandwich Specialist:
Yes. Yes she did. Sir, your would be appalled at the abysmal culinary selections made by some of the people who come in here. One day someone requested that I put fresh lettuce on a meatball marinara sandwich.
<pauses>
Honestly, if you’re going to come live in America the least you can do is learn how to make the national sandwich.

CURTAIN

13.06.10 | 0

Business Patriotism

With the Fourth of July approaching patriotic stuff has begun arriving on my front porch, and sometimes in the middle of my garden.  Every year one of the local Real Estate agents pays someone to stick American flags – cheap, plastic, made in China American flags – in the middle of everyone’s lawn throughout my neighborhood.

This year one of the flag guy’s competitors has implemented a rival plan for my attention.  Yesterday there was a knock at the door, and when I checked there was a brightly colored flyer wrapped around my doorknob.  Once unrolled it revealed;

Celebrate our Nation
<Inserted here was a brightly colored, strangely twisted, abstract US flag>
Celebrate your freedom
What is your property really worth?
For a free market evaluation or for any of  your real estate need return the attached business reply card today!

Almost makes one choke up with sheer patriotism.

29.05.10 | 0

Bad Son

Took my aged mother and ‘the fluffy little white dust mop dog’ for a car ride today. There are, apparently, too many red cars out on the road in Los Angeles. This is, apparently, my fault.  Because I have, apparently, not done enough to prevent my fellow motorists from making this poor choice of automobile coloration.

Not sure exactly what can be done about this, but my lack of meaningful action on the subject is, apparently, a testimonial to my myriad shortcomings as a son.

I continue to remain phlegmatic on the subject, as yesterday light blue cars were far worse than the yellow ones, which were themselves less preferable than the red ones.

04.04.10 | 0

Easter Celebrations

For some time there have been no barber shops. Now everyone goes to exciting, unisex, Mac Donald’s style franchise, hair salons.

A programmer sits down for a haircut at ‘Freddie’s Happy Scissors’ (or some such name).

Stylist:
Hi! How are you? How’s your day going.

Programmer:
Fine. How about you?

Stylist:
Good.

Programmer:
Anything planned for this weekend?

Stylist:
Huh?

Programmer:
It’s Easter this weekend. Do you have anything special planned?

Stylist:
I guess it depends on the weather. They say it might rain. If it doesn’t rain then me and my husband will go bass fishing in lake Castaic.

Programmer:
Cuz nothing quite celebrates the Resurrection of the Messiah like hooking a big mouth bass?

Stylist:
Huh?

Curtain

01.04.10 | 0

Business Signs

Signs change over time. The nature of a business might change, or maybe not, but the signs always seem to change. Of course we’re talking about a pretty broad time window, but I’ll provide an example.

Last week I’d finished my marketing and was leaving the local Trader Joe’s Market. Now I’ve lived in my neighborhood since I was in High School, and that’s quite a long time, so I swear that I can remember when my local Trader Joe’s was named Pronto Market. The employees tell me that this could not be so, because although I’m old enough to remember Pronto Markets, they say that Pronto only existed in Pasadena and by the time the market was built in my neighborhood the founder had sold the chain and it had been renamed Trader Joe’s Market.

Anyway, it’s named Trader Joe’s now and as I left the market I looked across the parking lot at the bank, which has changed hands several times, and at the butcher shop. When I first moved into the neighborhood the butcher shop had a large, back lit, Plexiglas sign along the front advertizing “British Butcher Shoppe.” I’m pretty sure that there was an “PE” on the end of shop, but I couldn’t swear to there being a “Ye Olde” prefix on the name. The sign was, for some reason, divided into a left hand section taking up roughly 3/4 of the store front proclaiming the business name in black lettering on a white background. The right hand 1/4 of the sign was a series of red and blue triangles and rectangles glued onto the white background so as to create a British flag. A sort of Plexi-Jack. The flag wasn’t really very well done, as if the artist’s heart wasn’t quite in it when he’d been handed the project. When I pointed this out to my father he hypothesized that no one had probably wanted to make the flag in the first place, and that the nature of the sign itself, divided into a 3/4 left section and a 1/4 right section had probably forced the owner to just ‘do something’ with the surplus space on the right.

Time passed, and one day I noticed that the left hand portion of the sign now announced that the business was an Italian Butcher Shop. No “PE” on the end of shop this time. The new background was still white, but now the lettering was green and red. One surmises that the entire business had changed hands, but only the left hand 3/4 of the sign changed. The right hand 1/4 remained a Plexiglas Union Jack. Perhaps it was just too much trouble, or money, to change the flag portion of the sign.

More time passed, and the Italian butcher seems to have sold out to an Iranian butcher. The left hand 3/4 of the sign remained red, white and green. To Anglo-Saxon eyes there were some undecipherable squiggles along the bottom of the sign, which I assumed to be a repetition of the main message in the Farsi language. However, the Union Jack remained.

Then there was that unpleasantness between the US and Iran involving hostages at the US embassy, and the Iranian butcher shop suddenly became a Persian Butcher. The Farsi letters remained along the bottom of the sign, but now the Union Jack was turned around with the back side of the flag facing out. This meant that during the day the right hand 1/4 of the sign was a blurry sort of smudge, and at night when the back lights were illuminated the Persian Butcher had, unintentionally, a muddy version of the Scottish flag – the cross of St. Andrew – showing through on the right hand of the sign, because that’s what the Plexiglas Union Jack, turned backwards, with electric lights shining through it, looked like.

Well, last week I looked at the sign again, and now it’s completely different. Now it’s a yellow Plexiglas background along the whole sign. The left hand 3/4 proclaims “Bob’s Best Meat,” and where the flag used to be on the right is the announcement “And Mail Boxes.”

I’m glad that the new, or even old, owner has solved his British flag problem, but I have to admit that ‘Meat & Mail Boxes’ is not the sort of business model I might have come up with on my own.

A programmer is drinking a diet coke. His aged mother looks up from her bowl of vanilla ice cream smothered in maple syrup.

Aged Mother:
You know, you look pretty good for your age.

Programmer:
Huh? Why thank you.

Aged Mother:
So how old are you now?

Programmer:
Umm, how old do you think?

Aged Mother:
I’d say you’re about 65.

Programmer:
(sputters) Umm, why, no. I’m not 65.

Aged Mother:
Older? Younger?

Programmer:
Umm, younger.

Aged Mother:
Much younger?

Programmer:
Well, yes.

Aged Mother:
Hrmph. Then I guess you don’t look so good.
(pause)
You’re going bald you know.

Curtain.

27.02.10 | 0

Hardware: 48K

Many, many, years ago no one had Personal Computers. Actually, for a while even those people who had computers at home didn’t have Personal Computers. Before IBM introduced the PC Apple made things that it called Home Computers. I’m sure that IBM spent a fortune in man hours determining that ‘Home Computers’ wouldn’t be taken seriously in the work place, and somebody earning many thousands of dollars completed a survey indicating that ‘Personal’ was a much more businesslike and marketable word.
Anyway, back before IBM had even thought of throwing money at Bill Gates to provide them with a Disk Operating System people, mostly guys with pocket protectors, used to build their own computers from kits. I didn’t have one – the computer, not the pocket protector, I think I may actually have had a pocket protector – but I remember that completed, home built computers had lots of blinking red lights that were somehow designed to give them what might be termed ‘Calculating Credibility.’ And I think they had some sort of numeric display that indicated the answer to questions. I think that the answers were mostly in a set of zeros and ones. I remember a friend exclaiming with no little excitement, “See! It works! Two plus three equals 101 !!!”
So one day a friend and coworker, Programmer Joe (he had a different nickname back then, but I suppose that’s a story for a different post) splurged and bought himself a ‘Home Computer.’ It was a strange, pre-assembled device from a new and exciting company named Apple. It was an Apple II E.
The Apple II was a beige plastic box, with a keyboard physically attached to the front. I can remember some programmers being scandalized when the PC came out with a detached keyboard designed to be more comfortable. The general consensus was, “Who moves their keyboard around? You just change where the user is sitting.” The Apple had its own custom designed CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor. It wasn’t a color monitor, and it wasn’t really black and white. It was a sort of black and eerie glowing green on the screen.
The Apple didn’t have a hard drive. It had only one floppy drive. For those old enough to remember floppy drives I might remind you that this was not the cool & groovy 3 & 1/2 inch hard plastic floppy, it was the 5 & 1/4 inch floppy that actually was ‘floppy’ enough to justify the name. So just the one floppy drive. If you were playing a game, and when they first came out it was only games there where no business applications, you started up, the game would prompt you to remove the game floppy, you’d insert a data floppy, on which to save the settings, and proceed with the game. I think that when you finished the game you might have had to reinsert the game floppy so that it could ‘do something’ before shutting down.
So Programmer Joe had bought himself an Apple II. I think it cost him around $3,000. But, as they say, money was worth more back then, and we all earned a lot less. So maybe the Apple II had a market value of $6,000 ? I’m just guessing.
Joe was bragging about his new acquisition, and showing off some of the documentation. (Look! It actually comes with a book that tells you how to do things, rather than how to build it.) I have to admit that I didn’t really ‘get’ it. We had a half a million dollar DEC mini computer at work. It could out perform anything that Joe might have at home, and when I asked him what he intended to use it for he replied, “Sci Fi computer games.” When I asked him if at least it could do Accounts Payable he said no. I shook my head and said, “Then you don’t really have a computer Joe.”
So time passed, and Joe was wildly happy with his Apple II. Then one day he came in to work with an even bigger smile on his face than usual and he started showing off a memory chip that he’d purchased through mail order. Not ‘Online,’ because that didn’t exist yet. He’d found a mail order catalog out of Ohio that was selling memory chips.
So in a fatherly way I took Joe into the boss’s office and made some inquiries about his new memory chip. Now back then Home Computers only had one memory chip. A positively giddy Joe told me that his old RAM chip on the mother board was 16K, and his new RAM chip was 48K. I asked him how much he’d paid for his new 48K chip. He told me that it had cost him $205. I sighed, shook my head as if he were an idiot and said, “Joe, Joe, Joe. 48K? No self respecting programmer would ever be so sloppy as to write something using that much memory. No program in the world will ever require that much RAM. You’ve wasted your money.”
A few years later when I bought my Personal Computer direct from IBM, it cost $3,400, I had 640K and felt like the emperor of Random Access Memory.
Hardware sure has changed.
Funny thing life.