One girl’s year in LA: 2011

January 23, 2012 – 01:27

 

This is a wonderful year’s diary of a girl’s 2011 in LA, a few seconds at a time.

I think it speaks strongly to the power of visual imagery to spark memory and emotion.

 

2011 from hey_rabbit on Vimeo.

Rest In Peace, Harry Morgan

January 9, 2012 – 14:55

 

I once had a career producing media. When I began, I did some work that was for public consumption such as television commercials and print advertising. Later, once I moved to Chicago, almost everything I did was corporate communications.

In addition to film and video, I did a lot of live events. Live corporate events in that era included everything from showing some slides at a board of directors meeting to an arena event for thousands of chanting, stomping sales reps. At the large events we’d often execute Broadway scale musical numbers, complete with orchestra, chorus lines and lyrics written to include the company’s products and people.

Unlike Broadway, where the cast and crew have dozens of performances to work out the kinks before opening night, we’d have, at best, one full dress rehearsal. And, unlike Broadway, if anything went wrong in our performances it often meant instant career death for the unlucky corporate person assigned responsibility for that year’s sales meeting.

To mitigate the risk inherent in a live event, one of the regular features of medium to large corporate shows was an appearance, performance or presentation by a well known celebrity, actor, performer or singer.

The upside of this was that I got the chance to meet and interact with a lot of A and B list celebrities of that time. The downside was that many, actually most, of the A and B list celebrities of that time were, to be kind, not their public persona. That reality, that gap between the popular culture version of the celebrities and the reality of the celebrities who I interacted with in order to execute the shows, was a cold slap in the face to a kid raised on television, magazines and newspapers.

Time after time I was confronted with the ugly side of fame. The narcissism, the megalomania, the egos the size of the arenas were so rampant that I soon gave up any hope of ever meeting any popular singer, musician, actor or celebrity who wasn’t a Class A, King Sized jerk.

I began to dread any show that included a marquee name.

I hit bottom when I had the misfortune of working with one of the most recognizable, most celebrated performers in the world, a hero of millions around the globe, who turned out to be one of the worst of the worst in person.

I was, at that point, beyond hope, terminally cynical about all things celebrity.

And then came Harry Morgan.

Harry Morgan was the second actor to play the colonel on the long-running hit television series M*A*S*H. Like just about everyone else with a pulse and a television, I watched M*A*S*H faithfully and knew Mr. Morgan only as Colonel Sherman Tecumseh Potter, M.D., the affable regular-Army, supposed commander of the crazy crew on the television series.

Due to my celebrity track record, when I met Mr. Morgan, I fully expected him to be just as much of a jerk as almost every other star and minor celebrity I’d worked with prior. Instead, Harry Morgan turned out to be just as much of a gentleman, just as affable and every bit as funny as he was playing the role of Col. Potter.

I honestly can’t remember the client or the details of the tour we did together, but I do remember vividly that Mr. Morgan, who only played a doctor on TV, cured me of the disease of preconceived notions.

I subsequently had the very good fortune of working and touring with celebrities and stars who turned out to be both personable, genuinely good people and a lot of fun to hang out with backstage.

Thanks Harry. May you rest in peace.

Harry Morgan 1915 – 2011

 

 

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The Weather in Austin

January 9, 2012 – 13:21

We’re currently living in Austin, Texas, USA.  We landed here upon returning to the U.S. because we owned a home here. We stayed because it met most of the criteria we were looking for in a place to live. It’s a great town, and we are enjoying exploring what it has to offer.

We often get asked what it’s like to live here, especially about the weather. We usually offer up a shorthand version such as, “Austin has real weather and three seasons. The summers are hot. It’s basically the flip side of living in Minneapolis, where during the winter you run from heated car to heated building. During the summer in Austin you run from air conditioned car to air conditioned building. The difference is that in Minneapolis during the winter if your car dies, you die too, whereas in Austin in the summer, if your car dies, you just melt.”

Our general advice is to visit anytime between Halloween and Memorial Day.

The local paper here in Austin today posted a summary of the 2011 weather year. This will give you the statistical picture of what the weather is like here.

Note that last year was exceptionally hot, with many records established, not the least of which was 90 days over 100 F (37.8 C). We also tied the all-time record high temperature of 112 F (44.4 C) and remain in a record drought.

(click on image for full size)

 

 

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The Answer is 124

December 27, 2011 – 17:21

 

The question is: If you start with a laptop that has Windows Vista, that is, Windows Vista that has never, ever been updated since the day it was brand-spankin’ new, how many updates does it take to get it current?

 

The moral of the story is: There is no free lunch. I spent the 2011 Christmas Holiday enjoying great food. In exchange, I fixed Shaun’s laptop. Fair trade.

 

 

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The Food of Christmas

December 27, 2011 – 17:06

 

Some things about the Christmas holiday are traditional, and are essential to the entire holiday experience.

(click on photos for full size image)

 

For instance, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without Ralphie.

 

 

Others things are unique to that year’s holiday, and make it a memorable, unique occurrence.

Such was our fate this year.

One of the kids, Shaun, is a chef. We had the great good fortune to have Shaun with us this Christmas. In addition to just sharing the time, which we always enjoy with Shaun, we also benefited from the fact that he can’t avoid the compulsion to cook amazing food for more than about two hours.

Read the rest of this entry »

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U.S. Debt, Illustrated

December 26, 2011 – 19:02

Things, especially things about numbers, and especially things about big numbers, are often very hard to both explain and comprehend.

Pictures help a lot.

Along those lines, this is the best illustration I’ve seen yet on what the U.S. debt looks like, in visual terms that anyone can understand: http://usdebt.kleptocracy.us/

Note: I don’t know anything about that web site, other than this illustration, so I can’t testify if it’s a bunch of fruitcakes or not. All I know is that they know how to successfully illustrate very large numbers in an effective form.

For the best rendition of the illustrations, go directly to their site here: http://usdebt.kleptocracy.us/

Here’s a re-creation of their page. It is important to click on the images for the full size versions.

 

One Hundred Dollars $100

- Most counterfeited money denomination in the world.
Keeps the world moving.

100 Dollars

 

 

Ten Thousand Dollars $10,000

- Enough for a great vacation or to buy a used car.
Approximately one year of work for the average human on earth.

 

 

One Million Dollars $1,000,000

- Not as big of a pile as you thought, huh?
Still this is 92 years of work for the average human on earth.

 

 

One Hundred Million Dollars $100,000,000

- Plenty to go around for everyone.
Fits nicely on an ISO / Military standard sized pallet.

 

 

One Billion Dollars $1,000,000,000

- You will need some help when robbing the bank.
Now we are getting serious!

 

One Trillion Dollars $1,000,000,000,000
When the U.S government speaks about a 1.7 trillion deficit – this is the volumes of cash the U.S. Government borrowed in 2010 to run itself.

Keep in mind it is double stacked pallets of $100 million dollars each, full of $100 dollar bills. You are going to need a lot of trucks to freight this around.

If you spent $1 million a day since Jesus was born, you would have not spent $1 trillion by now…but ~$700 billion- same amount the banks got during bailout.

 

One Trillion Dollars Comparison of $1,000,000,000,000 dollars to a standard sized American Football field and European Football field.

Say hello to the Boeing 747-400 transcontinental airliner that’s hiding on the right. This was until recently the biggest passenger plane in the world.

 

 

15 Trillion Dollars $15,000,000,000,000

- Unless the U.S. government fixes the budget, US national debt (credit card bill) will topple 15 trillion by Christmas 2011.

Statue of Liberty seems rather worried as United States national debt passes 20% of the entire world’s combined GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

In 2011 the National Debt will exceed 100% of GDP, and venture into the 100%+ debt-to-GDP ratio that the European PIIGS have (bankrupting nations).

 

 

 

114.5 Trillion Dollars $114,500,000,000,000

- US unfunded liabilities
To the right you can see the pillar of cold hard $100 bills that dwarfs the
WTC & Empire State Building – both at one point world’s tallest buildings.

If you look carefully you can see the Statue of Liberty.

The 114.5 Trillion dollar super-skyscraper is the amount of money the U.S. Government
knows it does not have to fully fund the Medicare, Medicare Prescription Drug Program,
Social Security, Military and civil servant pensions. It is the money USA knows it will not
have to pay all its bills.

If you live in USA this is also your personal credit card bill; you are responsible along with
everyone else to pay this back. The citizens of USA created the U.S. Government to serve
them, this is what the U.S. Government has done while serving The People.

The unfunded liability is calculated on current tax and funding inputs, and future demographic
shifts in US Population.

Note: On the above 114.5T image the size of the base of the money pile is half a trillion, not 1T as on 15T image.
The height is double. This was done to reflect the base of Empire State and WTC more closely.

Everyone needs to see this.

Source: Federal Reserve & www.USdebtclock.org – visit it to see the debt in real time and get a better grasp of this amazing number.

 

 

 

 

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt – book review

September 19, 2011 – 17:35

The Rise and Fall of Ancient EgyptThe Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the future, when someone uses the phrase, “monumental effort,” I will think of this book.

Mr. Wilkinson has not only attempted, but delivered, a summary history of the Egyptian civilization, from conception to Cleopatra.

Aside from the scope of the work, coupled with actually having achieved it, the most remarkable thing about this book is that Mr. Wilkinson was able to craft such an accessible work.

Even when faced with source material that was both sparse, thousands of years old and almost exclusively the output of dictatorial propaganda departments, Mr. Wilkinson created a narrative that is both engaging and enlightening for the everyday, non-academic reader.

To give some perspective to the scale of the timeline involved, Thutmose IV, who reigned from 1399 BC to 1389 BC, excavated and restored the Great Sphinx of Giza, built by a previous Pharaoh, which was by then buried in shifting sands and already more than 1,000 years old. In today’s world of countries that are mostly less than 300 years old, it is challenging to imagine unearthing a national monument 1,000 years old in a nation that would survive 1,000 years more.

Thutmose IV is but one of 168 Pharaohs who are individually addressed in the book, along with relevant geopolitical and regional context for their times. Somehow, Mr. Wilkinson has derived, extracted and discovered anecdotes that illuminate the life and times of many of these pharaohs, from the famous, such as Tutankhamun and Cleopatra, to the obscure, such as Neferefra and Sobekemsaf II.

While pedants may long for more detail and champions of a particular period, Kingdom or Pharaoh may wish for a more sympathetic endorsement, the overall tone of the book is even and mostly suitably detached, all while avoiding academic sterility. The flaw in this regard is the author’s persistent hectoring of the ancient Egyptians for not being a replica of modern Sweden, along with its leading U.N. Gini index. Despite his sterling credentials, Mr. Wilkinson loses perspective and thus credible assessment of the realities of ancient societies when he repeatedly calls the ancient Egyptian theocratic dictatorships to task for not being more of a socialist paradise. It is hard to imagine how such a goal could have been either achieved or sustained in an era of almost universal illiteracy, cultural isolation and xenophobia. However, in the scope of a work of this magnitude, this is a minor quibble.

It is daunting to even consider addressing, in a meaningful way, a time span of 3,000 years. Mr. Wilkinson has done so, and in a very readable and entertaining fashion.

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Moment of Truth in Iraq – book review

September 19, 2011 – 15:50

Moment of Truth in IraqMoment of Truth in Iraq by Michael Yon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good compilation of Mr. Yon’s blog posts plus some original material from the relevant period of his war reporting in Iraq. The story is worthy, but the book is fatally flawed by a lack of professional editing. Mr. Yon’s war reporting deserves 10 stars, but the book, as a book, does not.

Michael Yon is unsurpassed in current-generation, in person, ground-truth war reporting. His honest perspectives on the day-to-day lives of the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen (and women) are comparable only to the previous generations’ Ernie Pyle and Joe Galloway.

Mr. Yon has done his best to leverage the modern day’s blog and social media channels to get his message out, and is perhaps the world’s best known example of an independent, consumer supported, front line reporter. He is independent, works for no news agency, and is entirely economically supported via donations and book sales.

If you haven’t read his blog or his Facebook stream, they are worth the time. They are probably the only unfiltered information you will ever see about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. By unfiltered I do not mean entirely objective. Mr. Yon has a point of view and he is very honest about reflecting that point of view in his messages. That honesty is what makes his reporting real, believable and, ultimately, valuable.

He has not been immune to being used by the media, the military, the politicians and others seeking to leverage gain. Even so, the net-net of what you gain from his raw dispatches from the field more than offset the spin-machine manifestations of his material.

* Blog: http://www.michaelyon-online.com/
(You will struggle to find a way to read his blog posts/reports from beginning to end. The blog site is not reflective of current-era content management system (CMS) capability so it’s nearly impossible to read things in a chronological order. Again, Mr. Yon’s work deserves better.)

* Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelYonFanPa…
* Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/Michael_Yon

All of this adds up to an extraordinary person who has made amazing sacrifices to bring back stories and photos from wars and trouble spots all over the world, but especially Iraq and Afghanistan.

We are all in his debt for his efforts.

Having said all of that, Mr. Yon desperately needs a professional editor. His books are primarily compilations of his blog posts and are mostly direct copy and paste efforts. Consequently, they suffer from misspellings, grammar errors, reptition/duplication and other things you expect in a blog post pounded out while under fire at the front lines but don’t expect to find in a professional level book. Mr. Yon’s writing and photography deserve better.

As a writer, Mr. Yon shows continuing development since his early days, and has found his voice.

As a photographer, Mr. Yon demonstrates the power and capability of modern camera equipment. By that I mean that he has been able to bring back good, solid imagery, even from his initial efforts. He continues to improve as a shooter and his hard work and dedication in learning this new medium are obvious in the improvement he has shown over the years.

Summary:
* As a war reporter: Among the best – ever – from any era.
* As a writer: Good, with a mature and capable voice. Very much needs a professional editor for his books.
* As a photographer: Still a work in progress. The camera is not yet a fully formed tool in Mr. Yon’s hands, a tool that he can use as a medium of expression as he can his writing. He’s been moving through the stages of learning what all the controls are for, but even then his camera gear has been capable of bringing back amazing imagery. He’s at the point where he can capture a shot. As a shooter, that is different from creating a photograph as a means of expression. I believe he will continue to evolve and grow and will eventually develop an eye as a shooter, as he has developed a voice as a writer. Endless kudos to Mr. Yon for taking the gear into battle and capturing the shots.

Again, we are all in his debt for his efforts.

Regardless of how you feel about any of the conflicts, countries, regions or religions Mr. Yon covers, you will be hard pressed to find a more open and direct channel into what is actually happening there. Other information sources bring you the remains of multiple layers of filter, skew and spin. Mr. Yon brings you the ground truth.

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What Do You Make?

September 3, 2011 – 16:34

Here in the United States, this is a holiday weekend.

The holiday is Labor Day, which was established to celebrate the work and efforts of all who toil to earn a living.

Like most holidays, it has accrued additional meanings and symbolism over the years.

For some, it is a fashion milestone, signaling the time to store away the white shoes, belts and dresses until next summer.

For others, it’s the traditional end of summer frolic and time to return to school.

And for others, it’s the beginning of long anticipated American football amateur and professional sports seasons.

But, the root and purpose of the holiday is to feature and appreciate the efforts and labors of every working man and woman in the country.

Along those lines, I came across this video today in a post by a VC.

The video relates what happened when a lawyer ridiculed a teacher at a dinner party regarding the teacher’s relative abilities, income and contribution to society.

I find it particularly appropriate for this Labor Day weekend holiday.

As those of us here celebrate this holiday and our friends around the world pause for their weekend, it’s good for all of us to ask ourselves, “What do you make?”

Link to video: What do you make?

 

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Today’s WSJ perception of the flyover states

August 18, 2011 – 23:22

This photo in today’s Wall Street Journal caught my eye. It accompanied an earnings report story on John Deere.

 

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903639404576513981361991242.html?mod=ITP_marketplace_4

 

I thought about the conversation or email that must have solicited this image back from the media library people: “Need 4 column photo for Deere & Company” Somebody down there dutifully ran a keyword search for “Deere & Company,” perhaps even including “tractor,” and this is what they picked from the results.

The media library sent the photo up to editorial and it got inserted and then at least one editor reviewed the layout, clicked on “approved,” and out it went to the world.

The Wall Street Journal’s perception of Deere & Company, agriculture and the Midwest, all nicely summed up in a photo.

How very quaint.

As the story states, Deere & Company is the world’s largest manufacturer of farm machinery by sales.

Deere & Company is currently projecting a full-year net income of $2.7 billion. That’s billion with a B and that’s net income, meaning revenue minus costs, also known as profit. They had revenues of $8.37 billion last quarter alone and reported revenues of $26 billion in 2010. That same year, 2010, Deere & Company ranked 107th on the Fortune 500 list.

In 1837 John Deere was a one-man show operating out of a blacksmith shop. Today, it is a very big company, employing over 55,000 people and selling more than $26 billion dollars in products and services worldwide.

Their current top of the line wheeled farm tractor is a 9630.

This particular example, a used 2009 model with 2,014 hours of operation, will set you back $234,900.

You can build a quote for a new one here: http://www.deere.com/servlet/ProdCatProduct?tM=FR&pNbr=9630_RW

So, we’ve got a $26 billion dollar company that sells quarter million dollar tractors, and what photo does the WSJ pick to illustrate its products and market?

This one:

 

I’ll pause here for snickers and guffaws from those who grew up around farms.

To those of you who are not from agricultural states, the hilarity of this image may escape you.

The reasons the photo is so inappropriate include, but are not limited to:

  1. The tractor is an antique. I’m not a John Deere aficionado, so I can’t be sure of the exact model, but it looks like a 4020 era tractor to me. The 4020 was introduced in 1963.
  2. There are farmhands in the photo. In the late 1800s, around 80% of the U.S. workforce was employed in agriculture. Currently, agriculture employment is less than 2% of the economy. Almost nobody works down on the farm anymore, especially baling hay.
  3. They are using a small square baler. And, it’s not even a John Deere baler. Since nobody works down on the farm anymore, most farmers use large round or large square balers and handle the resulting bales with tractors. Small balers are rare, and if you find them, they include a mechanism to throw the bales up into an enclosed hay rack or they drop the bales onto the field for later mechanized collection. As to the brand, John Deere sells a full range of balers, including small square balers.
  4. They are using a flatbed hay rack. As illustrated in the photo, this requires two guys on the hay rack to stack the bales. Meanwhile, back at the barn, there are three or four guys offloading a hay rack onto an elevator and up into the hay loft, where the bales are manually stacked to the ceiling. Yes, it’s a very hot job up in the hay loft on a muggy August afternoon. In total, that’s a crew of five to six, not including the farmer on the tractor. See point #2.

 

So, as a photo of a bygone era that almost perfectly captures my memories of baling hay as a kid, yes, this photo is almost optimum (I baled a lot more hay than straw).

However, as a photo to represent a $26 billion dollar global behemoth, not so much.

I think the folks at the Wall Street Journal would profit from a group field trip out to learn where meat comes from and what modern agriculture looks like.

 

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