The Lemon Squeezer

Another fun little tale courtesy of my mother. This is the perfect time of year for it.

At a local bar in downtown St. Paul the owner and bartender was so sure that he was the strongest man around that he offered a standing $1000 bet: he would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass and then hand the lemon to the patron. Anyone who could squeeze two more drops of juice out of it would win the money. Many people had tried over the years: weightlifters, truck drivers, North Dakota oilfield workers, etc. Nobody had ever been able to do it.

One day this scrawny little fellow came into the bar, wearing thick glasses and a polyester suit. He sat down, ordered a glass of draft and started looking around the bar. After reading the sign on the wall about the lemon challenge, he said in a small voice: “I was just reading your sign, and I’d like to try the bet.”

After the laughter had died down, the bartender said, “Okay.” He grabbed a lemon and squeezed the hell out of it and then handed the wrinkled remains of the rind to the little fellow.

The crowd’s laughter soon turned to total silence as the man clenched his little fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass.

As the crowd cheered, the bartender paid the guy his $1000 and then asked the little man, “Do you mind if I ask what do you do for a living? Are you a lumberjack, a weight lifter, or what?”

The little fellow quietly replied, “I work for the IRS.”

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On Science

There seems to be a habit of humans where we try to simplify discourse by replacing complicated concepts with simplified labels. While this might be convenient, I find that all too often it masks the original meaning when the label gets misconstrued over time.

Take “science.” What is it, exactly? A belief system? A joke? A thing of any sort? No, not at all. As I see it, it is a word that describes a methodology for discovering things. That’s it, nothing more.

Don’t want to take just my word for it? Here’s what Google (and we all know what an authority that source is!) says about it:

Google's definition of "science"

Google’s definition of “science”

Why do some people embrace the actions that take place under the umbrella of the term? Quite simply: if you attempt to gain new knowledge using a methodology other than the careful steps described in the so-called “scientific method” you leave yourself open to a high probability of forming incorrect conclusions based on invalid or insufficient evidence.

Here’s how to approach learning something new:

Steps of the scientific method

Steps of the scientific method

Once you’ve formed an evidence-based conclusion, you publish your findings—as well as the steps you undertook to get there. This is the point where the skeptics evaluate the solidity of your claims, including replicating your experiments to make sure the results are as you say. If the experiment isn’t verifiable and repeatable, you blew it. Note to skeptics: your rebuttal, if any, must follow the same constraints. That you “don’t believe it” or “don’t agree with it” does not qualify as an effective rebuttal unless you can back it up. If you are unqualified to understand the process that led to the disputed conclusion then you are also unqualified to refute it and must rely on the assistance of those who are. Unfortunately “qualified” also must include free of financial (or other) incentive to overstate one’s case.

There is a lot of “controversy” out there that is not valid controversy at all: the rebuttal in such cases is on shaky factual ground but is forcefully submitted as though it held equal footing. One also needs to be wary of the ad populum fallacy where something is perceived to have validity because “a lot” of people agree with it. Don’t confuse overwhelming consensus among qualified researchers with popularity; they are two very different things. Louder is not more correct.

Why should you care? Unless you are comfortable with being led astray into forming invalid conclusions about what’s around you, you do well to understand and follow “the method,” and to respect others who do the same.

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Just A Pseudo Random Event in Spinland

Heh. Just a little off topic rambling, feel free to skip this as irrelevant.

I’m normally in bed early, and asleep soon after. One of my night time habits is to do some reading or web browsing on my iPad before I pack it in. Last night I was awake later than is typical for me, when all of a sudden the network seemed to go to crap. I couldn’t reach anything, not even my local computers. I switched the iPad over from wi-fi to LTE and all worked fine.

Damn, I thought, now I’m going to have to spend the morning troubleshooting my home network and maybe calling Time Warner (a process I loathe).

Then I looked at the time.

There’s a reason I schedule all four computers in the house to start their online backups at 9:30PM: we’re both usually asleep by then. D’oh! I was just seeing the local equivalent of a DDoS attack on my network as they all scrambled to back up everything before morning.

Ain’t I silly?

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Spinny Finally Sees “Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” On Stage

So, our little town of Utica, NY hosted two performances of the Rice/Webber hit as the troupe ironed out their final kinks before heading out on a national tour, and my wife & I were privileged to have a couple of tickets to see last night’s performance. As a birthday gift to each other (we were born 8 days apart) we splurged on a couple of the better seats in the house.

My impression?

I grew up with the sound track on vinyl, played so often I knew all the songs by heart (that and “Superstar” were the backbone of a Rice/Webber phase I went through as a tween), but I had never seen it performed. I was entranced. There were a couple of minor sound system glitches, and the lead’s voice (to be brutally honest) was not as good as that from my memory, but it was a wonderful show.

One of the “wow” moments came when I realized the part of the Pharaoh had been intended to be a shout out to Elvis. I honestly did not get that from merely hearing his signature dream song on the album. It was a riot! I loved the choreography as well as the music, and the stage production overall was excellent. The tone was upbeat and positive throughout, and even the more melancholy notes were never allowed to become heavy-handed.

The finale medley was a total tour de force and it was obvious the cast was throwing it all out there and having a total blast with it. The audience was very much into the rousing spirit and they brought down the house on a very high note.

We are indeed so very fortunate to have The Stanley Center for the Arts in Utica, and that the Broadway Theatre League of Utica does such a stellar job booking high quality off-Broadway acts and technicals for us to enjoy in our little slice of Central New York.

Utica Rocks!

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The Customer’s Goal IS Your Goal

I read this Dilbert strip yesterday, and found it both funny and sad (Original link here).

Dilbert Strip from 25 Feb 2014

Then why are you in business?

See, the bald CEO’s attitude is one I believe to be all too common, and their reaction to Dilbert’s question lays bare their unspoken attitude. Bottom Line. Ship that product. Make that quarterly report shine and keep the stock holders off our backs for a couple more months.

I say that attitude is short-sighted and costly in the long term.

What the CEO should have been saying is, “Our goal this quarter is for our product to make the lives of a million people better.” By extension you can presume a million were sold in the process, but that’s not the main objective. “A million units sold” is, by itself, a sterile, stale number. A one-off achievement. So, what are you going to do next quarter? If, instead, you are focused on making lives better what you have now are a million people (possibly in addition to an existing population) who love your product and, by extension, your company. That is an asset that will last longer than until the next quarterly report, and is the life’s blood of your company in the long term. You will not survive long by roping in a million new suckers a quarter, because very quickly that pool of suckers is going to wise up and then dry up.

How do you make a million people love you? Learning what their goal is, of course, and then stepping in to help them achieve it. If your product cannot fill that role, then why does it exist?

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(Insert Deity Here) Helps Those Who Help Themselves

Recently one of my more “New Age” friends posted a quote on a social media site about the value of meditation. As I interpreted it, chasing after things was to be avoided; rather, wait for your need to bring things to you. I encountered that in the context of the recent news of the couple who believed in “faith healing” and who refused to take their two children to actual doctors, subsequently killing them both. More fuel on the fire: I’ve overheard more than one of my more religious acquaintances espouse a philosophy of “let go and let god.” I get this feeling that such people believe they need merely to say the magic words, or think the magic thoughts, and then wait for some invisible divine hand to come down and stir things up more in their favor.

As you undoubtedly already surmised from my ranting about this, I do not buy this attitude; not one bit. In fact, the concept brings to mind a semi-humorous story you may already have heard:

So it’s raining really hard. There’s a man of strong faith living beside a river and it starts to flood. The sheriff’s deputies come by and tell him he should leave before the river cuts off the road.

“The Lord will save me,” he tells them.

The river is up to the front porch when some folks come by in a boat and tell him to hop in and they’ll take him to safety.

“The Lord will save me,” he tells them.

The water rises above the first floor and the man has to climb on his roof. The National Guard comes by in a boat and begs the man to come with them.

“The Lord will save me,” he tells them.

The waters keep rising and the man is clinging to his chimney. A helicopter appears and lowers a rope, but he refuses to go, telling them “The Lord will save me.”

Finally he is standing on top of the chimney and the river is still rising.

“Lord,” he calls out, “Lord, why have you forsaken me?”

The sky splits open and a HUGE voice booms out, “I sent two boats and a helicopter. What more do you want?”

Indeed.

I’m not completely disavowing the power of meditation, or prayer, or whatever your flavor of spiritualism calls it; in fact, such acts are demonstrated (if coupled with actual belief) to help people allay their fears, steer through cluttered landscapes of problems, see their path clearly, and find deep inner resolve to cope with (or even overcome) whatever life throws at them. Faith can be a boundless source of inspiration and guidance and strength.

But only if you then act on the resources that spiritual effort brings you. In the end it’s still you who need to make things happen. You.

It’s possible that some folks in the “let go” crowd mean exactly that: let go your stress and let your deity guide you. If so, then great! We’re totally on the same page! For the rest, though, I exhort you to finish what you were doing in the lotus position, or on your knees, or dancing Widdershins around a naked statue of Bluto, or whatever, and then get on your feet and go Do Stuff! No one, here or Up There, is going to do it for you.

Now, don your spiritual armor of choice and go ye forth to kick some real-world ass! aggressive gif

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The Essence of Leadership

I recently saw an article on a professional social media outlet that talked about leadership. There were several comments and, in reading them, I realized that many of the commenters did not seem to grasp what leadership really means.

Leadership is not about doing great deeds, nor even about being a great or “clued in” or otherwise outstanding person–that’s heroism. Leadership is not about you, it’s about how you affect others. You do not become a leader by accomplishing great things, you become a leader by inspiring others to accomplish those things. If no one wants to follow you into greatness then you are no leader.

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Your Portfolio: to Print or Not to Print?

In this “digital age” I see a common question pop up on social media: should I have traditional printed items for my portfolio, or show it digitally?

For the more traditional arts and design fields this is an interesting question. Some people have reported that an interviewer or potential client described a printed portfolio as “quaint,” while others assert that the tactile experience of handling demo pieces on carefully-selected stock is unmatched. On the digital side, being able to display your portfolio via a multimedia presentation on a laptop (or even a tablet) can be eye-catching, hip, and much less expensive.

For your purposes, I think you need to do some homework on your target audience. Are you interviewing for a job, or for a gig with a potential client? What is their “corporate culture?” Are they “Old Skool” or new and trendy? What kind of material are you presenting? Would a product package be more striking as an actual sample, or would the digital flat do it justice? If you’re primarily pitching logo designs, digital would probably be just fine but, if you’re hawking business card design, maybe allowing them to handle real world examples would be a better sell. Do you design posters? Maybe a dual-pronged approach: have digital examples of your whole portfolio, but bring an actual poster or two to drive the experience home.

In my particular case the situation is more easily cut and dried: I present digital animation, everything is in motion. Although it might be interesting to have printed media of selected stills taken from some of my work, in general my stuff has to be moving to get the message across, so digital media is a must.

So, if you’re going to go the digital route, what about leave-behinds? It’s often very effective to leave the prospective employer or client with something striking to remember you by. How do you do that if you’re presenting on a laptop or tablet? My solution is to have on hand a supply of small (in my case 2GB) thumb drives, branded with my company’s logo.

Spinland Thumb Drive

Spinland Thumb Drive

They are fairly inexpensive (just a few dollars each in bulk), something they don’t see every day, and cool: who doesn’t like free tech swag? By selecting the 2GB variety I’ve now also given them something that they might actually use themselves–and every time they touch it they see my logo. Before any significant meeting I pre-load a few of these drives with my latest demo reel, any demo animations I created specifically for that meeting, and a digital copy of my business card. I decide whether to produce and distribute them based on my impression of how the meeting went.

I realize there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question I posed at the start of this post, but hopefully I’ve provided enough food for thought to help you make a solid decision for your own presentations.

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Brief Reflection on the Mac Turning 30

So, the original Mac turned 30 today.

Honestly? I didn’t use one apart from a brief one-class encounter in one of Ohio State’s computer labs (and it was an assembly language class so we didn’t use any of the graphics).

I was a Commodore guy until I went PC around the 80286 era and DOS 4. Stayed with the PC paradigm through the advent of Windows all the way to Windows 7. In 2009 I’d finally had enough of PCs made with commodity parts and crazy device driver problems screwing with my 3D work and got my first Mac (the 17″ MacBook Pro I’m typing this on right now).

So, while I’ll drink a toast to today’s anniversary it’s not like I’ve been along for the whole ride.

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