mm018: Surprise!

May 31, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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Surprising myself, I am a teacher.

Not under-qualified, apparently, but under-credentialed certainly, I spend a good portion of my working week teaching adult fellow employees how to use the software tool our team supports.

Because of the under-credentialed thing (I am a 20?? graduate of Hard Knox U), I never really thought of myself as teaching material. Indeed, when I came up onto the scene, there was something, forgive me all the teachers in my life, including my supremely patient spouse, something declassé about the “profession” of teaching. It certainly didn’t seem to pay a lot, and that derisive slogan (“them that can’t, teach”) must have colored my opinion early on.

Silly me. No, unless one is tenured at some golden suburban secondary school or first rank university, teaching is still a depressingly under-compensated career. And kids today! I have nothing but awe for those who daily (except for three blessed months during the summer, you fiends!) face today’s MTV’d, video-gamed, reading-free children.

But, I teach adults in a corporate setting. And, better yet, I teach them remotely, via web conference, which provides some excellent insulation: I can’t witness them dozing off, doodling, or (I hope they’ve muted their phone so I can’t hear them) answering email. And by my benighted standards, the pay is acceptable, the benefits better than expected, and I’m not at risk from receiving angry phone calls from parents of misunderstood students.

The dozing off thing comes to mind because yesterday morning I engaged in one of my rare personal appearances. One glance at the blurry photo adorning this page (blurry for public safety reasons) will convince you of the truth of my oft stated slogan: I’ve always been told that I have a great face for radio. But there I was, presenting my technology to the last group in the local area of my employer apparently unaware of it, and I watched a woman deal with my presence and presentation through closed eyes. I was envious.

But, my classes, two to three a week, are conducted via web conference. For the uninitiated, a web conference consists of a telephone conference that accompanies visual material presented from a web site. This visual material can be static, like a presentation, or dynamic, like a demonstration of a live application, but it does not include video of the speaker or participants.

The web conference as teaching medium is a blessing and a challenge. A blessing for some of the reasons noted above (the dozing, the doodling, the email). But a challenge because I am stripped down to my essentials, my voice and how I deliver it. That’s where the radio comment rings so true, since what I have become is not so much a teacher but a radio actor, a genre that seemingly only Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion keeps alive today. I need to engage people by projecting my knowledge and enthusiasm across the wire, for one to two hours at a time, solo.

No wonder I’m worn out at the end of the day. Today was that kind of day. My two-hour advanced topics class, begun at 3pm Central time to accommodate the occasional participant from the West Coast, of whom there was one representative today, I am happy to report. Because a 3pm start of this arduous exercise is tough enough, without the disappointment of realizing that I’ve accommodated no one. It’s like the 8am classes I teach several times a month, designed to enable attendance during the work day for the occasional Western Europe student; I am disappointed to have to work so hard, undercaffeinated, without the payoff of a UK or Netherlands or German participant.

But, the end of day classes are the toughest for me. Not the material, I’ve got that locked down solid. It’s that corporate advantage again: do the same thing enough times and be appreciated for it. But just the fatigue that comes from performing, emoting really, with unknown or insufficient feedback. Most of those radio programs that people are nostalgic for, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee, and the like, and today’s Prairie Home, were/are performed in a studio with an audience of some kind, because actors require feedback. I get some, sometimes, and people are usually more than kind when they fill out our end of session survey. But, it’s a large emotional expenditure with little payoff, short of knowing that the biweekly direct deposit can still be depended upon.

And that’s enough. So, I teach, as I say, surprising myself several times a week. After nearly five years, that’s a happy outcome.

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm017: Flagrant

May 30, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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We’ll politely call this inspiration; more accurately red handed theft. Been receiving an e-newsletter for several years. Get lots of these at work, and most are deleted without reading. This one, Expert Access from Cincom is business oriented and commercial, but hell, I’m both those things.

Found several articles that they compiled in their current edition to be interesting.

Never before encountered ChangeThis, but what they present here is breathtaking. Take a gander. Even the production values are top notch, and who can argue with Peter Drucker? I’ve subscribed to their newsletter; I’m intrigued. God knows that the way big business operates needs to change.

As I struggle with finding something useful to say on a regular basis, this article, also from the current Expert Access, really helped. I’m not a marketer (although I play one on the “radio”), but Max Kalehoff certainly has inspired me tonight. I plan to read more of his writing, and, I hope, to write something he might someday appreciate reading.

It’s so corny to refer to Gen. Patton for inspiration – who am I, the original Tricky Dick (Nixon famously screened the film “Patton” in the White House multiple times)? But this presentation, again from a site I’d never seen before the referral in Expert Access, is quite compelling.

I guess you don’t need me now that you know about the other, but I hope you come back anyway. I’ll do my best to produce something more original.

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm016: Unimpeachable?

May 28, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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When do we impeach?

Saturday’s Washington Post drove it home once more:

Months before the invasion of Iraq, U.S. intelligence agencies predicted that it would be likely to spark violent sectarian divides and provide al-Qaeda with new opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report released yesterday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Analysts warned that war in Iraq also could provoke Iran to assert its regional influence and “probably would result in a surge of political Islam and increased funding for terrorist groups” in the Muslim world.

The intelligence assessments, made in January 2003 and widely circulated within the Bush administration before the war, said that establishing democracy in Iraq would be “a long, difficult and probably turbulent challenge.” The assessments noted that Iraqi political culture was “largely bereft of the social underpinnings” to support democratic development….

In a statement attached to yesterday’s 229-page report, the Senate intelligence committee’s chairman, John D. Rockefeller IV (W.Va.), and three other Democratic panel members said: “The most chilling and prescient warning from the intelligence community prior to the war was that the American invasion would bring about instability in Iraq that would be exploited by Iran and al Qaeda terrorists.”

In addition to portraying a terrorist nexus between Iraq and al-Qaeda that did not exist, the Democrats said, the Bush administration “also kept from the American people . . . the sobering intelligence assessments it received at the time” — that an Iraq war could allow al-Qaeda “to establish the presence in Iraq and opportunity to strike at Americans it did not have prior to the invasion.”

It used to be a silly punch line: “Don’t confuse me with the facts!” The Bush administration has consistently ignored information that contradicts its neo-conservative Christian evangelical mind set, and this Memorial Day weekend we register that this month of May, 2007 has seen the largest death toll (103 and counting) of any single month during this war in the past 2½ years. Mission accomplished my ass.

Our situation is far beyond honest differences of opinion or partisan politics — by any and every standard, this administration has been criminally negligent, and must be called to account for its crimes, beginning with the Silly-Grinner-in Chief himself, and his puppeteer, our own Tricky Dick for the Aughts.

It’s not enough to wait to vote this felonious administration out of office 18 months from now — we need to remind those who are eviscerating this country in the name of ultra right politics and a skewed religious agenda that their crimes cannot go unpunished, starting immediately

When do we impeach? How about today!

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm015: Welcomed back to the guild

May 24, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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So, it just keeps getting better…

While the webtronic world I spend much time in swoops along, I can’t help but touch base in the real world occasionally — okay, every day. Today, for example, for the first time perhaps ever in a passenger car, I paid $54 to fill up my tank with 87 octane. Ouch.

I guess I’m kind of shocked and annoyed that gasoline prices climbing toward $4/gallon haven’t created much of an outcry as yet. Maybe I should start outcrying. And while the rest of the world is smirking knowingly, and the rest of the U.S. is breathing with relief that they don’t share my northern Illinois local conditions (summer blend regulations, a key nearby refinery off-line due to a March fire), I have to feel we’ve all not seen the worst. And why so little concern?

Have “they” softened us up, so we willingly put up with the prices? Oh, yes, I’m aware of that idiotic (a word you’ll learn that I don’t use lightly) so-called one-day boycott on May 15 — what a joke! How many of those boycotters parked their cars all day and took their bicycles or mass transit? I vote none! — and some senators had a photo op the other day, but really!

Okay, so you figure that, with prices nearing historic highs (this time, inflation adjusted) the oil companies would be doing all they could to increase production to fill that demand at such profitable selling prices. You figure wrong. A story in the soon to be last week’s Business Week points out the error. Think Exxon Mobil is spending its cash, rolling in historic, capitalistically orgasmic waves, on new explorations, improved wells in mature areas, new refineries? Not at all. This titan of industrial might is spending huge wads of cash buying up its own stock. This has the paper effect of increasing the value of the remaining shares, and fully meets Exxon Mobil’s main obligation to increase shareholder value.

So, we’re back to yesterday’s theme: shareholders are probably the least important of a corporation’s stakeholders, especially the short term traders for whom these 90-day performance figures are so critical. But they’re the ones Exxon has bent over to serve, at everyone’s expense. So their conservative investment strategy becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy: fuel usage will indubitably go down in the long term due to high prices, so why invest in fuel? Of course this lack of investment leads to higher prices, ad infinitum.

Don’t get me started on ethanol — a farm-state ass-kissing boondoggle if ever there was one. It takes more energy to create ethanol from corn in this country than ethanol itself yields — your government at work, and every darned one of our potential presidents dutifully bows and scrapes in Iowa despite that fact. The cheapest ethanol in the world comes from the third world, such as Brazil where sugar cane is converted efficiently. And the farmer protecting politicians keep the tariffs on third-world ethanol unaffordably high. 300 million citizens held hostage to a couple of million farmers — how is that right?

Okay, they’re letting me back into the curmudgeon’s guild.

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm014: Short term thoughts on long-term thinking

May 23, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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So, long before I was a denizen of the Heart of Corporate America, like many of you I shared a great deal of suspicion and concern regarding how business is conducted.

Conventional wisdom has it that the goal of business is to maximize the return to its stockholders, and the quarterly earnings report is the clearest, most significant measure of success meeting this objective.

Humbug! A wonderfully cogent column in the current Business Week by consultants and academes Clayton M. Christensen and Scott D. Anthony puts it this way:

“The notion that managers must above all appease investors drives behavior that focuses exclusively on quarterly results. Thus, many management teams hesitate to invest in promising innovations that are likely to hurt near-term financial performance. As a consequence, leaders in industries facing disruptive change-such as grocery retailing and newspapers-lose both direction and strength as they try to figure out what kind of shareholder value they should create….

Perhaps it is time for companies to adjust the paradigm of management responsibility: “You are investors and speculators, not shareholders, and you temporarily find yourselves holding the securities of our company. You are responsible for maximizing the returns on your investments. Our responsibility is to maximize the long-term value of this company. We will therefore act in the interest of those whose interests coincide with our long-term prospects, namely employees, customers, the communities in which our employees live, and the minority of investors who plan to hold our securities for several years.”

How refreshing! Now, let it be said that the particular HCA in which I toil is, due to the nature of its calling, less guilty of the typical 90-day shortsightedness than many, but still seems to expend much effort painting pretty pictures for “the Street” based on that artificial cycle.

Remember the fad of hearkening to a company’s “stakeholders?” They might not be referred to that way any longer, new buzzwords long since having supplanted it, but Christensen and Anthony define the term perfectly (and it bears repeating): “namely employees, customers, the communities in which our employees live, and the minority of investors who plan to hold our securities for several years.”

Of course, what do we suckers know? We’re the ones with retirement plans and 401k’s and pensions, investments that by definition are for the long haul. The sharks who sell them to us, the ones whose bonuses every year are measured in six or seven figures, they buy and sell like crazy. Not a comforting scenario. But, then I’m cool with my retirement plans. Age 90, not a day before.

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm013: Big and Not So and Big

May 22, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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As you might imagine from yesterday’s clip job (not to mention shameless pandering — although if I’m going to use a picture, I might want to find a slightly more photogenic subject!), my professional life is in one of its less interesting cycles — although in my experience with technology, with interest comes heartburn. Probably more tomorrow. Meanwhile, some issues big and not so and big…

Big: Read a lot of book reviews; don’t read a lot of non-fiction, especially the political type that seem to have a shelf life of nanoseconds.

However, this is one political tract that may have legs. The NY Times review of The Assault on Reason by Al Gore hit me so hard that I’m heading over to my favorite neighborhood bookstore to grab a copy.

Not so: Found an interesting article at a blog I’ve not encountered before, TechCrunch (it’s a big world people). A new site, Yapta, just into public beta, purports to have a better mousetrap where travel is concerned. This mudge isn’t traveling much these days — I’m interested in anyone’s opinion regarding the site.

Big, as in foreign affairs: Found this story on-line today, regarding Turkey, and the European Union. The story just confounds me. As much as I want to believe the entire Muslim world is a solid uniform mass of religious fundamentalist fanaticism, a story like this, regarding a rich and influential nation that has struggled for 80 years to rise above said r.f.f., with some success, gives me pause. They still have to answer for the Armenians, though.

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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mm012: Hazardous to your health

May 21, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

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Busy personal life leaves less time for public life. Today’s post will be mainly links.

Maybe this is blindingly obvious, but here’s an interesting correlation:

I’m still confounded by the NY Times story last week (among the most emailed, so it’s not a revelation) regarding the hospitals in Pennsylvania offering 90-day warranties on surgery. Such a concept — accountability.

Fits right in with Michael Moore’s new film, released at Cannes this weekend, Sicko. His last one didn’t prevent George III’s reelection, but maybe this one will jerk us out of our complacency regarding health care in this country in the visceral way that the policy wonks of the ’90’s couldn’t. Paraphrasing one interview I read today he said, they didn’t believe me about General Motors, or Iraq, but maybe now…

Reed Saxon / AP

It’s it for now.

Thanks,
–MUDGE

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