Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Summer Is Here

It is one of the world's great existential questions – When does summer really begin? Is it, as the calendar tells us, the 21st of June, or is it when the first blade of grass on the lawn gets cut? Hard to say really. After cutting the lawn twice already this year, I tend to agree with the latter position. Not only is the grass growing and the leaves on the trees are either budding or already out, the most hated species of weed had begun to rear its ugly head again – the dandelion.

Let me be the first to admit that the well manicured lawn is, probably, the most unnatural thing in the world. At no time while you are wandering aimlessly through the woods, either by choice or when you get lost, will you stumble across an expanse of green grass, cut to uniform height and free of weeds or trees. Just doesn't happen. Why then, do we insist on cutting the grass and keeping the weeds at bay? I think it is a conspiracy perpetrated on the public by the rake manufacturers and the lawn mower companies. They have us all brainwashed into thinking that we need to have that green carpet in front of our houses.

I will also admit that I have, to some extent, bought into the whole lawn care thing. I rake the leaves in the fall and in the spring I rake off the dead grass. I cut the grass every five days or so depending on the need. I also do battle with the dandelion. I will not use chemicals or toxins on the lawn. I know there are some people who will say that when used correctly, these products are harmless. Call me crazy but anything that ends in – icide (infanticide, regicide, suicide, pesticide) can't be good for you. When you see the lawn poison guys applying this stuff, dressed in rubber gloves and boots and wearing respirators, you have to wonder. When I see one of these guys applying it to a lawn while wearing flip flops, shorts and a tank top, I might, possibly, after having determined if the guy has a death wish or not, then consider applying it to my own lawn. Until then…

So I guess until someone comes up with a proven method of getting rid of these annoying weeds, I will have to head out with my handy dandy dandelion puller and do things the hard way. I guess I should look on the bright side. I'm outside in the fresh air getting exercise. My property will look good and it won't kill me. And even if it does, at least I know it will be the hard work that does me in and not something scary that ends in icide.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

If I Were In Your Shoes…

Who among us hasn't fantasized about winning the lottery? What car would you drive? Would you build a new house or renovate your current one. What would you spend all that money on? Every once in a while my wife and I talk about this. Usually the conversation occurs when the jackpot reaches 35 or 40 million dollars. What would we do for ourselves, our family and the community. In our case this fantasizing is really just that, because I can count on one hand the number of times I have bought lottery tickets in the last 4 years. It is not something we usually do. But it is fun to dream.

All this begs the question – What would you do if you suddenly came into a large sum of money? What would you do if that money was placed into your account by mistake? What would you do if both happened at the same time? With one couple the answer to all of these questions seems to be RUN! Apparently this couple applied for a line of credit at the bank and for some reason the bank mistakenly deposited 6 million dollars in their account. Did they call the bank? Did they call their friends? No. They disappeared! Packed up and left their home, business and friends and are now in the wind.

This, quite obviously, wasn't the most honest thing to do. Should they have called the bank and reported the error? Probably. Would they have gotten the line of credit or a reward for their honesty? Who knows. (Given the seeming greed of the banking industry, probably not.) They probably should have taken the course of action that says that honesty is the best policy. But obviously this couple took the advice of Steve Miller instead – "Take the money and run."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Hand That Feeds You

In an odd attempt to cut down on fake accounts, Facebook has begun to purge accounts with names that the networking site believes are fake. Names that sound made up like James T. Kirk, James Bond or Bruce Wayne and names that are big in the news (Susan Boyle) are being targeted in an attempt to cut down on fake accounts.

I'm not sure what the theory behind this is. In North America and especially the United States, the whole diversity thing is a huge deal. We are proud of the fact that people from diverse backgrounds, different ethnic groups and other beliefs choose to come to Canada and the U.S. to live (theoretically anyway). Whatever happened to the whole 'melting pot' idea of the United States? Facebook was designed as a way for people to come together and 'socialize'. To make contact with other people who have the same interests and are maybe from other parts of the world is the whole point isn't it?

If this purge is an attempt to cut down on people and their malicious ways it is doomed to failure. Do they really think that if someone is going to do 'bad' things in the world of Facebook that they are going to use strange fake names? Why would they not just pull two names at random out of the phone book and make up a 'normal' sounding name? Bob Smith? Tom Johnson? Barbara Jones? Are these names fake or real? How to tell? Not every 'bad guy' (to use a phrase popular with my kids) is going to make it obvious that they are bad -- Joe Malicious.

Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt (this name set off my spell check, it must be fake!), said "The vast, vast, vast majority of people we disable we never hear from again", as a justification of shutting people down. Well no kidding! If a networking site I used, and was encouraged to use, suddenly cut me off I would probably just go elsewhere. Would I pursue the issue? Probably not. Coming hot on the heels of the whole user agreement dispute Facebook had not long ago, one thing is for certain -- Facebook really knows how to make and keep friends.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fool Proof Business Model

I have finally come up with a fool proof business model that is going to make me millions of dollars and I will never have to work again! I am going to set up a company with at least 20 Vice Presidents and give them all huge salaries and perks and pension and bonus plans. Everywhere we need to go we will travel to by private jet. Then we are going to set up an unwieldy distribution network so that we have at least 2 retail outlets in every town and city (some of them on the same block and in direct competition with each other). The products my company is going to make will be of fair to middling quality and over priced, and run counter to the needs and desires of the public at large. Finally my company will not change with the times and we will continue to produce our products well after the shelf life and attractiveness of the items is past. What could possibly go wrong?

If you haven't figured it out from the sarcasm dripping out of the first paragraph, I'm really not serious about this business. Strangely enough though, hundreds of thousands of people seem to think that this kind of business needs to keep running and should get billions of dollars in taxpayer money to help it to do so. The car industry in this country (and in the U.S.) is in serious trouble. Two of the 'big three' auto makers are on the verge of ruin and the third, although doing o.k., is not the healthiest business on the planet. Why are these businesses doing so poorly? Could part of the reason be that two of them have the business model outlined above and one of these, has consistently produced vehicles that people don't really want. In an age of rising gas prices, and the need for fuel efficiency they released big cars with gas guzzling engines. Who really needs a V12 5.6L engine in their truck to drive to the grocery store?

I feel sorry for the people who have to loose their jobs because of the stupidity of their bosses, but I don't think these companies deserve to get government money to allow them to continue in the way that they are going. If it were any other industry, any other business, the house of cards would have fallen and the company would be gone. If the only book store in town, only stocks lawn care books and the town is located in the middle of the desert, how long is it going to last? Should they get a government handout? Nope. Why would this kind of mismanagement be rewarded?

We need to focus on things that are going to pay off in the future. The age of high performance muscle car is past. As much as I might like to own a 1969 Dodge Charger (or even one of the newer versions), I know that I could not afford to put gas in it. I also know that gas prices are not going to drop dramatically in the next 10 years, if anything they will continue to rise and this will make the use of such a vehicle more and more impractical. The money spent in trying to prop up these companies would be better spent on perfecting alternative fuel sources and developing more and more fuel efficient vehicles. Will the demise of these companies hurt? Absolutely. But we need to look to the future and spend money on what is to come – not what is already beyond repair.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Please Pass The Penicillin

We try to be diligent in using our leftovers in a timely manner. We have plenty of containers for storing food in the fridge when we have made too much to eat in one sitting. In a busy household, the remains of previous meals can be a real time saver, when all you have to do is reheat something instead of creating a meal from scratch. But no matter how faithfully we try to use our leftovers, something always seems to get lost in the great wilderness in the back of the fridge.

These forgotten items in the back of the fridge seem to hide. We try and clean out the fridge weekly, but for some reason there always seems to be something forgotten at the back, just waiting to emit a disgusting odour. Nothing makes me gag more than having to clean out and wash a container that has been festering in the fridge for weeks. Everything, from the first cracking of the seal and the smell that seems to cling to everything, to scraping the goop into the garbage and washing the offending container, makes me want to gag (and sometimes does). While in university, I even sometimes resorted to just tossing the whole container in the garbage in order to avoid having to open it. Never though, have I closed down a place of business or sent people to hospital by cleaning out the fridge.

An office worker in San Jose, California was cleaning out the staff refrigerator and the noxious smells she created caused the closure of the building, required a HAZMAT team and sent 7 co-workers to hospital! My question is -- How long had it been since that fridge was cleaned?

To be fair it was the mixture of cleaning chemicals that the woman used that caused the problem and not the stuff in the fridge. I would like to say in my own defence that I have never had to use harsh chemicals to clean my fridge. This particular appliance must have been in some god-awful condition to necessitate the use of potentially poisonous cleaning products. How hard is it to remove your junk from the fridge at work? Were these people part of some terrorist cell? Why on earth would you leave something you brought to work in the fridge until it was on the verge of intelligent thought? I feel bad for the woman who took it upon herself to venture into the wasteland of the office fridge and brought the world down on herself. Not quite the thanks she was probably hoping for.