Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas, a Time for Pagans

I understand that there is a community in Michigan who received letters from someone complaining about those pagan lights on their houses and in their yards. Urging them to remove these pagan symbols from their christian lives.

Someone needs to say something about this.


Folks, I hate to be the bearer of scary news,'s all pagan.

Virtually all of our rituals at this time of year have their origins in old, old pagan beliefs. From Celtic rituals to Norse Legends, and Northern European stories of grinchy old guys to get children to mind their's all pagan.

Dec 25, the day when Mithras (Roman God, "the unconquered son") had his birth celebrated. His whole story was appropriated by early Christians and wrapped around their little chid in the manger (which was imported from Egypt's story of Osiris). Virgin births are everywhere in myth...Krishna, Osiris, Mithras, Jesus ... lots of conception going on without the benefit of male sperm.

Evergreen trees to remind us of life surviving through the darkness of winter (and old Yule Logs used similarly)

A lot of this is from the Roman Saturnalia, including 12/25 as the birthday of the 'unconquered son', Mithras. (His entire story looks a LOT like the Christ myth too, but then so does Osiris's)

This is really all about the return of the sun. The winter solstice, Dec 22, the shortest day of the year. But after that, by 12/25, you can see the days are getting longer and this is incredibly important to an agrarian society. The wolves did not eat them, the sun did not stay gone, the days became longer, and the snows melted.

The germanic and scandinavian mid winter celebrations gave us trees and logs and many other rituals.

And Santa most likely grew first out of very, very old tales of a boogie man used to keep children in line. Then he got merged with Sinterklass and ultimately a Byzantine bishop. Of course he didn't really take shape until Moore dropped him down a chimney and Coca Cola took him in and fattened him up.

But make no mistake, he IS an elf, a pagan forest creature, and in most of history has been more about punishment or denial to children (remember the lump of coal) than about giving presents and having a 5 billion name address book.

None of this detracts from Christmas celebrations. Religious people can certainly participate in these lighting and singing rituals, these present exchanges and good meals. Just remember, they are all about the return of the sun ... the homophone is only coincidental.

So whoever is trying to rain on the parade of good churchgoing folk in Michigan and on the parade of many of us non-believers who still love the season and celebrate its older, deeper meanings,


It is, in fact, wonderful that the Christian religion preserved these old myths and rituals and absorbed them into their myths and legends. People need stories, myths, and celebrations to get through a life that is often harsh, brutish, and looooonnnnggg.

The world is a harsh, brutal and scary place. Every year we survive is a good year, but we, even in this day and age, can never be sure we will survive to see the return of the sun after the solstice. So there can be little wrong with celebrating that return by giving gifts, decorating trees and houses, lighting lights, and singing carols.

Anyone who thinks that these holiday celebrations should be discarded for mere religion does not understand humanity at all.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

Want more jobs? Take your business elsewhere

We are experiencing another dark side of efficiency.

And too much efficiency is hell.

Many businesses are sitting on piles of cash and not hiring ... we hear about this daily. But why? Job recovery is always a lagging indicator in a recession, but we've been 'out' now for a while and yet even as the layoff and job LOSS rate flattens, the hiring rate does not pick up.

That may be because business is so efficient right now, with the improved communications and control ability brought about through automation and internet connectivity, that businesses are able to satisfy the load on their capacity with fewer and fewer people.

But there is a downside to that and it is the consumer who suffers it.

Just today I was essentially turned away from a garage for an oil change (very early on) because they had too much work to get done in a day...if I come back tomorrow, even earlier, I may get a slot.

I bypassed McDonald's for breakfast because the drive through line this morning was snaking out into the street. And the inside line was outrageously long too.

I skipped Starbuck's for coffee for the same reasons.

Note, I said line. Both places had so few staff on board at 7.30 this morning that they could only staff one inside line.

Last Sunday the same thing happened at another Starbuck's. Long drive thru line, TWO inside lines, and only 3 baristas in the store. One poor person was trying to make drinks and take orders at a register simultaneously. Take it from someone who's run a cafe before...that is no way to make a good cup of coffee or run a coffee shop.

I asked there why they didn't have at least one other person (that much business, they really needed +2) and was told management wouldn't hire any more. "We just have to deal".

Sonic has trimmed the fat off its menus...wait, actually, they've trimmed the lean...virtually all the chicken sandwiches are gone and if you look carefully you realize all they really offer are variations on a hamburger...with or without cheese, bun or texas toast, one greasy patty or two. The whole menu can be summed up in a single sentence.

So, while it may be amazingly efficient to eak out every erg of work related energy and every therblig of productivity from fewer and fewer workers, the consumers suffer poor response times, poor choice, poorer quality goods and service, and a general feeling that they are being abused.

Of course the workers suffer as well; horribly overworked, unable to concentrate, fearful for their own continuance of employment.

Perfectly efficient capacity sounds wonderful. We do more with less which translates, on paper, to an apparent increase in productivity and value.

But let's face's crap! So what can we, the consumer do?

Here's what I did
  • I pulled into the Sonic, looked at the menu, and when the staff member came on to take my order, I politely told her I was going elsewhere because their selection was now so poor.
  • I politely explained to the Starbuck's barista who served me my Americano that he should mention to his manager that one customer won't be back until they hire more staff.
  • I told the garage manager that I was happy to hear they had so much business, but I would find another oil change place that had enough capacity to handle an oil change and tune-up more rapidly than 24 hours.
  • I did not speak to today's McDonald's and Starbuck's folk, but I also did not purchase from them.

We used to have a saying..."no one comes here anymore, it's too busy."

A business needs to have a bit of over capacity...a bit of stretch room. If your capacity is operating at 100%, you have exactly the number of employees to handle exactly the number of customers you get, then you have too few employees or too many customers. The slightest hiccup (an illness, a stopped up toilet) leads to unhappy customers.

We take this into account when we order computing hardware; servers and network gear. If you order just enough that you run at 100% utilization, all of your customers will be unhappy with the poor performance. You HAVE to have some extra capacity not just to handle spikes, but to keep things running smoothly for customers during ordinary times.

Few businesses will hire more staff if everything SEEMS to be running smoothly. The base load of work is getting done, customers are coming in and buying goods and services, employees are not collapsing in the aisles from exhaustion.

The best way to send a message to a business that they need to change is to NOT buy their goods or services. Walk away. Vote with your feet. But they need to know why.

So if you find yourself in situations like mine, let the manager or someone know. Start a gentle murmur of discontent on the client-side. Don't buy from them if you feel they need to hire more people.

Now, the key is, of course to be very polite, understand the person you say anything to (even the store manager in many cases) cannot do a damned thing about the lack of capacity, but make sure they understand you are walking away from that business because it has not staffed up to provide a modicum of over capacity and a bit of breathing room for employees.

Don't tell them they are too busy to handle your needs. Tell them they are too understaffed to handle your needs. Tell them something very specific like that.

And you don't have to can come back another time and make a purchase if you need to. But if you decide to walk away because there are not enough people to help you, let the store know. They need to know and the best WANT to know.

Business will get the message. If there is a perception that a lack of staff is leading to a fall off of custom, change will occur. And more jobs will suddenly, magically, appear.

Is any business likely to suffer greatly or have to lay off more people because YOU choose to walk away? Hell no! They won't let it get that far. One person says it to them it's nothing. Ten people mention it and walk away, it's weird. After a month of hearing it fro 30, 50, 100 customers, business management WILL act and more people will be hired.

Look how fast the banks backed off when consumers just said, "NO". A consistent, gentle nudge from many, many people can move even a giant stone.

Too much efficiency run best when well within their tolerances, when they have a bit of give, and with a certain amount of noise in the signal.

Just my thoughts.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Zombification of a Culture

Have you noticed their recent proliferation in culture? They are mentioned, shown, discussed, denigrated, and used for amazing things.

First, lets discuss shambling. Shambling is what zombies do. The shamble...they come at their victims with a stiff-armed shambling walk. The make their way toward their victims at a shambling pace.

As far as I can determine, the ONLY context in which we use the word SHAMBLING is when we are discussing zombies. Technically shambling is just a style of walk...a slow, awkward gait.

But we only seem to ever speak of Zombies shambling. How very weird. Others shuffle and things may be in a SHAMBLES, but only zombies are described as shambling.

Zombies have entered not only pop culture (where they have been since Romero made Night of the Living Dead) but now they have entered advertising. A recent car commercial has a very urbane, neatly dressed zombie driving along in a new car. He tend to lose fingers, but that is just an occupational hazard when you are a reanimated desiccated decaying corpse.

Let's not forget that the CDC has preparations online for a zombie apocalypse. It is viewable here.

Then there is the zombie proof house in Poland. See it here.

And the weird Toshiba commercial with the 'for want of a nail' approach...If the newest laptop goes out without a shockproof hard drive, its that zombie apocalypse!

And lastly, they appear on magazine covers. I refer, of course, to the recent Newsweek cover showing an algorithmically aged Diana apparently out and about with Kate. This was done to commemorate what would have been her 50th Birthday, but as one commenter said, wouldn't NOT making her a zombie have been a better gift?

I wonder if she shambled as she walked with Kate during the photo shoot?


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Reading Where You Are

A colleague, John Breslin, sent me a reference to a new book and website on the changing nature of reading. It struck a chord, so I thought I would share.

The book is I Read Where I Am ... and its contents are also available at

The topic, as you might guess, is reading and the changing nature of reading in the 21st century.

Back in the late 90's I was presenting at conferences on what I called the post-literate age we were entering...when literacy as we've understood it throughout the 19th and 20th centuries would fade in importance as new forms of storytelling came online. I think 'reading' in the 21st century will heavily involve the visual arts, media, video and audio in the future. The ability to simultaneously merge text, txt, video, audio, and image into a single communique gives everyone a huge opportunity to modify and adapt 'language' as they see fit.

The discussions in the essays about whether texting is writing or reading texts is reading are completely missing the point. We have an excellent opportunity to watch our language (and many other languages) change and evolve right before our eyes almost in real time. Most adults today would be hard pressed to understand a general text from the mid 19th century and have little hope of comprehending one from the 18th or 17th centuries. The differences between what we consider modern literature today vs what our grand or great grand children will consider it are likely far beyond even the differences we see between 21st century modern and 18th century enlightenment era texts.

The comments about art and engineering being at odds I found funny. These days artists work closely with engineers to achieve special effects both in commercial and non-commercial art. Technology and a growing awareness of physics in the art community have led to some fantastic new media emerging. So, I think any discussion of art and engineering being at odds with each other is either ill informed or disingenuous.

Of course, as in all endeavors, Sturgeon's law applies (90% of everything is crap!) so we get a lot of junk from both professional and amateur artists.

There is actually probably an order of magnitude more 'reading' and 'writing' going on today than there was in the 1960's, for instance (There is an NEA report from 2009 indicating a rise in reading in the US since 1982. The link's below.). Worries such as "reading twitter feeds is not 'real' reading" is silly. Reading Dickens in his original published form (serialized in a magazine) was considered invalid reading in its time.

The whole concept of the novel was considered invalid reading in the 17th century when it was invented. So it is important to remember that 'reading', even 'literary reading' is a dynamic, fluid thing. In the future, anyone reading a 'text' which contains only print and no interactivity, annotation, video,and audio may very well be considered to not be 'reading' by, say, a late 21st century standard.

There must have been Sumerians who said, "That papyrus stuff is just a fad. It just doesn't feel like reading if you don't have a good clay tablet in your hand!"


Saturday, February 12, 2011

The NOOKcolor has a problem

I gave my wife a NOOKcolor for Christmas and she has had trouble with it ever since. Now I know what it is, how to reproduce it, and that B&N NOOK service sucks! But maybe this will help others.

She reads a few pages, then suddenly it stops responding. Moments later the blue bottom menu starts going up and down and up and down with no end.

As well, suddenly, words will get highlighted and the word help menu will pop up and then disappear. Or pages will simply start turning, one after another. At some point it stops responding or it just glitches with the blue menu going up and down. You cannot even turn it off the normal way.

But if you get it to go off, re-booting seems to clear it up.

It's as if the device is possessed by a poltergeist

I looked on the web and saw several other people have reported the problem. I upgraded to the latest software and the problem still remains. So today, I set about diagnosing it.

The problem typically occurs after she has read about 5 pages either in the tub or while sitting in the bathroom after a shower. But sometimes it happens while she is reading in bed. With a glass of tea by the bedside.

Moisture! ... If you touch the screen with wet fingers, you can reproduce this problem. the device doesn't have to get really wet, wet...just damp. turning the page after licking your finger may well do it. It is much more likely to occur if you touch it with two wet fingers or if you try to turn the page forward with one wet finger, then turn the page back, leaving two slightly damp spots on the screen.

Even slightly sweaty fingers after a workout or yard work are enough to glitch it.

We called 800 THE-BOOK ... their final answer was "don't ever touch it in a moist place" after they had me deregister and reboot and reregister the that was going to clear this problem up. It is actually all they know how to tell you. The woman, whom I could barely understand, also wanted to know the last four digits of the credit card number purchasing the NOOK. But that didn't work...finally I realized she meant the number my wife had used to open the account...not the same was a gift. When I did not have that she took our address as verification.

She said they had no record or notice of such a problem. She finally agreed to replace the Nook with a new one by post if I would give her a credit card number they can charge if we don't send the old unit back quickly enough.

But then I went out to my local B&N and tested my wet finger theory. I was able to successfully glitch all 6 NOOKcolor devices that I picked up and examined. A couple of fingers damp from the condensation on the outside of my iced coffee cup were enough to screw every single device up.

  • B&N has a serious problem with user experience because lots of people will read in a tub, touch it with wet or damp fingers, give it to their children to read (and we know kids are naturally walking wetnesses).
  • B&N are ignoring this problem or don't have testers sufficiently innovative enough to reproduce it.
  • B&N is wasting a lot of money on tech support people who can only tell you that you must deregister your device and reboot to see if it clears up a problem. This is indicative of very, very, poor design of both the device and the support protocol
  • B&N should take a page from Apple customer service. A few weeks ago they replaced an iPad with a broken screen for a developer friend of questions asked. And today they replaced my iPad rubber cover because it was peeling off the plastic questions asked. THAT'S SERVICE.
  • If you have a NOOKcolor, do your best to avoid having any moisture on your fingers or on the device...a steamy bathroom is enough to trigger this