Night classes in failure

bo•nus |ˈbōnəs|


• a payment or gift added to what is usual or expected


Where can I sign up for some night classes in failure? There seems to be big money in it these days. Maybe I've been on the wrong career path all this time.

As a skill, failure is versatile. It's not just a career choice. It's a way of life and can be adapted to almost any profession.

The New York Times reported on January 29 in this story that 18.4 billion in bonuses had been paid out to employees of financial services businesses based in New York. This estimate is based on income tax collections, and comes from the New York State comptroller, who has the decidedly Soprano's-esque name of Thomas DiNapoli.

18.4 Billion.

With a "B."

That's enough to bail out General Motors AND Chrysler (at least it was the first time they came groveling).

Heck, if you could get someone to kick in another 4 billion (pocket change, if you think about it), that would be enough to build a new football stadium equivalent to Indianapolis' newly opened Lucas Oil Stadium for all the other 31 NFL cities.

And these bonuses were paid out to workers and executives in an industry that, by about every imaginable measure, has exhibited failures of galactic proportions in FY '08. (I wouldn't blame bank shareholders for thinking that "FY" stood for something completely different these days.)

I can imagine that maybe some of these people did carry out their jobs in a sharp and industrious manner that kept their institutions floating in the toilet bowl instead of being flushed all the way to the sewer. By the same token, a twenty-win season is a great thing for a Major League pitcher, but if his team loses 100 games, no bonus.

. . . With a "B" . . .

On a more local failure front, former Indiana University Basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson has again managed poke his head above the waters of newsworthiness by appealing the sanctions levied against him by the NCAA. As you may recall, Sampson parted company with IU after what appeared to be an additional two years of recruiting violations on top of violations during his tenure at the University of Oklahoma for which he was already on probation. One could rightly argue he should have walked away from IU with nothing more than a referral to a proctologist specializing in boot removal.

But no. He walked away with a cool $750,000.

That's three quarters of a million.

That's more money than many Hoosier fans who work hard and play by the rules will make take home in their entire LIVES.

Oh, and he also got kicked up to the pros. He's now an assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks, a ball club which, by the way, has exhibited in recent years a more than passing familiarity with failure.

With failure becoming not just a trend, but a career opportunity, I am making the following template available to business writers (and possibly also sports writers) to save time as they report our current continually-unfolding financial crisis:


(name of executive) resigned today from (his/her) post at (company name). (last name of executive) presided over record losses at the provider of (name of widget or service) during his (number of years of "service") years in the office of (alphabet soup job title).

In appreciation for leaving the company in mere shambles instead of total bankruptcy, for urinating on the executive suite carpet only a little bit, and for showing enough restraint not to detonate a nuclear device in the lobby of corporate headquarters,
(last name of executive) will be paid enough money to feed Africa.


From the "be careful what you wish for" department:

All winter, I've been hoping for a pretty snow to allow me to take some landscape and architectural photos around Indianapolis. So far, all we've had is a couple of instances of lame snowfall that had turned to brown slush before I could get out to shoot.

Finally, today, 12 frikkin' inches. It's good lookin' snow. . .if you can get out of your driveway to shoot it. Below, my lovely wife Diane brooms snow off her car as I shovel out the driveway.


Below, a decorative garden angel which stands about 18 inches tall, is barely head and shoulders above the snow.


And now, here I am flinging powder. I'm guessing my Dad will be shaking his head at my lack of gloves in this shot. In response, I can only say I have the same aversion to gloves that some men have to latex prophylactics. I just can't FEEL the shovel.


Our destination was Washington Square mall, where we wanted to get some walking in, as we are both sticking to New Year's resolutions to lose weight. I thought to myself before we left that pulling back into the driveway will feel something like cruising down the Death Star trench, with deep snow on both sides. As we returned home, I said, "This reminds me of when I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home."

Diane actually GOT that reference. Yes, I think I married the right woman.

Saved From Myself

I can't say enough about Disk Warrior. On the surface of it, it seems like a pretty simple tool, and one might find it easy to dismiss it by saying to oneself, "Hey, this thing costs me a hard earned Benjamin, and it pretty much only does one thing, rebuild disk directories." Maybe. But it only took about the second time a borrowed Disk Warrior CD saved my tuckus for me to echo the words of Will Smith from movie "Independence Day."

"I got to get me one of THESE!"

Since I bought my copy a few years ago, I've brought disks or missing folders back from the dead at least a half dozen times. I've taken my Disk Warrior CD to the homes of friends and family members with ailing Macs and walked away a hero at least that many times. Like Macs, it just WORKS.

But as good as Disk Warrior is, Alsoft Tech Support is even better.

A while back, I had a disk fail to mount after what appeared to be a graceful restart. Out came Disk Warrior, and for the first time in my experience . . . it failed. The error message that followed the unsuccessful attempt suggested I contact Alsoft Tech Support. "No promises," the message indicated, "but they may be able to help."

After exchanging a few emails, I ended up on iChat with Marc from Alsoft. I didn't expect a lot and thought I would soon be running a very slow command line tool I found a month or so ago that recovered a lot of photo files I mistakenly deleted over my network. But after pasting a half dozen or so Terminal commands sent to me my Marc, the disk mounted. All data was intact.

I'm usually pretty good about keeping stuff backed up, but the irony in this case is that this disk contained the files I recovered after my network delete mishap, and they had not yet been backed up.

A big hats off to Alsoft and Marc for saving that body part where the Good Lord split me.


Quotables - 1/27/2009 Edition

"Darling, Everybody's broke these days. Or if they're not, they pretend to be."

A line from "Double Harness", a 1933 (depression era) film that is all too relevant today.


Apple without Jobs? S-e-e-e-elll ! ! !

If Apple shareholders take the attitude summarized in the title of this post, I think they are not only missing the boat, they're also completely missing the pier.

Much breathless speculation has been seen and heard in all manner of tech and financial media as tea leaves are read in the light of Steve Jobs' announcement that he is taking a voluntary hiatus as the guru of Apple, Inc. And according to one graph I looked up, Apple stock appears to have hit a 52-week low because of, or at least roughly coincidentally with, the news that Jobs may have for the last time prowled the corridors of the Cupertino campus like one of the cats after which he names his OS's. Alan Greenspan famously referred to irrational exuberance. This seems to me to be irrational pessimism.

To think that Apple would collapse without Steve Jobs at the helm both gives him too much credit, and not enough. It gives him too much credit because it is not he and he alone who conceives of and designs products like the iPod, iMac, and iPhone. He is the guiding force, but it is not as if he is the sole functioning brain in a hive of drones.

It gives him too little credit because one need only take a single look at the rapt gaze and trickles of drool at the mouth's of attendees at any of Jobs' keynote speeches at MacWorld Expo and World Wide Developers' Conferences to know that Jobs has a forceful, charismatic personality. He has also had over 10 years at the helm of Apple to shape the "culture" (to use one of those corporate buzzwords I hate so much) at Apple, and has no doubt availed himself of every opportunity to do so. Jobs has certainly coached a deep bench of executives, and anecdotal information indicates that any Apple employee whose skin does not display a rich, ruddy tone resulting from faithful exposure to rays emanating from the golden aura of "the Steve" are escorted out of the building without benefit of sunscreen.

He also commands respect, and deservedly so. Apple's product line is surely roadmapped one to two years out, and any future CEO who makes an abrupt lurch away from the course set by Jobs will do so at the peril of losing the faith and morale of Apple's employees and the loyalty of its customers.

(If it sounds like I stole the previous two paragraphs from Alex Lindsay in this week's episode of the MacBreak Weekly podcast, it's only because he seems to have come to almost the exact same conclusion I did, though he may have stated it more concisely.)

I'm certainly no Apple insider, and I don't have a crystal ball looking into the future of the tech world. It would be extremely difficult, though not entirely impossible, to make the case that Jobs' departure would be good for Apple. ("Stepping out of the father's shadow?") But I would bet good money that any report you may have read portending doom for Apple should he not retake the reins. . .was written by someone using a PeeCee.


Recent Quotables

I like to log for myself and share with others when I hear good quotes. Here are two I've come across in the last week or so:

The first one is a bit of a a paraphrase, and I wish I could be more specific on the source, but I'm 99% sure it was referenced by someone in a podcast I listened to recently. I just can't remember which one.

"An optimist is one who believes we live in the best of all possible worlds. A pessimist is one who fears the optimist may be right."

This second quote is food for ironic thought from a 19th-century French philosopher named Auguste Compte, and was referenced on Garrison Keillor's Jan. 19 edition of The Writer's Almanac:

"Everything is relative, and only that is absolute."

THIS JUST IN: from tonight's presentation of "Dr. Strangelove" on Turner Classic Movies and spoken by the character of U.S. President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers in one of his three roles in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film), as General Turgidson (George C. Scott) scuffles with the visiting Russian Ambassador:

"Gentlemen! You can't fight in here. This is the WAR ROOM!"


Dawn of a new day, a whole new ball game . . .

. . .fill in your favorite cliche´ here.

I only watched about an hour and a half of television on January 20, 2009. Well, two and a half hours if you count the last half of the interestingly-timed presentation of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" on Turner Classic Movies. (I was in the room but only half watching as I have seen it at least twice before.)

The 90 minutes or so that I purposely viewed was the same 90 minutes an estimated four million people attended in person. You probably watched it too, either because you wanted to or because the only other thing on television was a rerun of "Judge Judy" on some unaffiliated local TV station.

History was made. History of such a nature that I don't even have to mention what it was, do I?

I've never been a tremendously optimistic person. I'm not especially gloomy, either. Seems to me most things even out over time and there's no sense in getting too high or too low about anything. But the coarsely woven tapestry of hopes and optimism that hung on my wall at the beginning of this young century was knocked slightly askew on that gloomy autumn day in 2000 when a one-vote Supreme Court majority handed George W. Bush the Oval Office. It was then violently cast on the floor on September 11, 2001. (Not Bush's fault, but it was on his watch.) From there it was pretty much relegated to doormat status as the remainder of the Bush administration unfolded. (Cheesy metaphor? Sure. But it's better than the toilet bowl analogy I sent to my wife in an e-mail yesterday.)

As far back as my very first post to this weblog, I swore to myself and my readers (both of you) that this would not be a political blog, and please don't rush to infer a political affiliation from the above paragraph. Both of the predominant political ideologies and parties seem to me to be deeply screwed up, each in their own unique way, and I pledge allegiance to neither. But suffice it to say that, as of yesterday, a President whose values ran counter to so many of my own has been supplanted by a President whose values run much more in parallel with them.

Our new President hit all the right notes in his inaugural address. We were promised yesterday that the face America shows to the world will no longer be that of a torturer, an invader and occupier, or a warrant-less wiretapper. We were offered hope that our economy can and will recover, but also had our expectations tempered, and were warned of hard times, hard work and hard choices ahead, probably for a long time to come. Conciliation and an "open hand" were offered to those abroad who, justly or unjustly, may have felt wronged by the past administration, yet known enemies were warned that any attempt to wreak destruction on our people and property will be met in kind.

Whether Barack Hussein Obama can live up to the promise evidenced by his obvious intelligence and thoughtful, inspired oratory is an open question. Whether the American People will give him the time and a fair chance to do so is another. He is already hemmed in on one side by his most ardent supporters who expect too much of him, and on the other side by hardcore McCain/Palin partisans who will pre-emptively condemn his every move as another step in a march toward socialism.

As an aside, I was very pleased he used his full middle name, "Hussein," and not just "H." in the swearing in. That should be a finger in the eye of those who sought to use his given name to pander to irrational fears of the unenlightened and xenophobic during the campaign.

In any case, all I can say at this time is that I no longer feel the urge, in my occasional correspondence with persons in Europe or elsewhere overseas, to tack onto the end of every e-mail, "By the way, I didn't vote for him."


A (poorly chosen) word from our (non-)sponsor

Thus far, I've said "pass" on the iPhone and iPod Touch. While they both appear to kick major boot-TAY as a portable music, video, and game platform, I have been waiting for the ability to actually do something productive on one. Top of my list would be the ability to edit a spreadsheet. "On the go" notation of metadata text via pen and paper is one of the main ways I keep post-shooting keyword entry from taking an insane amount of my time. If I could dump this information from an electronic device into my Mac when I get back to the office, it would save me a fair amount of keyboarding.

For this reason, I've been checking back with the Mariner Calc people from time to time as they have for several months been working on an iPhone app to read and, more importanty, edit the Excel spreadsheet format. A blog post I recently read brought this app back to the forefront of my mind and prompted a check of the Mariner Calc for iPhone page for an update.

On my arrival, I was shaken by this grammatical night-sweat (pasted here verbatim on the off-chance I or someone else shames them into fixing it before you read this):

"Thank you for your interest in Mariner Calc for iPhone. As of 1/1/09, we have went through five rounds of internal beta testing and have released Beta 3 to our Ad Hoc Beta team."

Editing an Excel spreadsheet might be the "funnest" thing ever for a metadata geek like me. (Apple Marketing Department? I'll deal with you later.) But I hope Mariner's software development chops are better than their writing. Otherwise, my interest in their product "has went" downhill considerably. While a grammar goof on the web page is not a fair indicator of product quality, it reflects poorly on the company's professionalism.


In the book bin:

Parable of the Sower Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Mid-read review: The back cover blurb of this book caught my attention with it's references to a future near-apocalypse resulting from "economic and environmental neglect." Let's see, looking at our contemporary situation. . . Got environmental neglect? Check. Got economic neglect? Double check. It is even more intriguing that this book, a science fiction novel set in the 2020's, was written in 1993 by the late Octavia Butler, who died in 2006.

The first 100 pages are rather dark and more than a little depressing, depicting a world where small communities are walled off and patrolled nightly by armed community members to guard against roving bands of homeless and underworld criminals who seek to rob them of their extremely hard earned money, homes, food, or even their lives. But there are just enough hints laid out regarding the destiny of the 16-year-old female hero and the hope for the future she represents to keep the book from being a total wallow in hopelessness and pessimism.

The style of storytelling resembles Frank Herbert's "Dune" in some respects, with chapter lead-ins constructed of poems and proverbs alluding to a religion, called Earthseed. The story is told in first person by the the girl, Lauren, and is in the form of a diary written by her in a time before Earthseed came into being, and which has been annotated at some time in the future. This contributes another glimmer of hope in an otherwise grim depiction of life in the future.

I see clues in the first 1/3 of the book that lead me to suspect where the story is leading, but I hope the author has kept some surprises in reserve.

View all my reviews.


They conceal information like that in BOOKS!!

I have on more than one occasion ragged on my friend and occasional shooting buddy Ron Wise to "pour yourself a seasonally appropriate beverage, ensconce your pooper in a comfy easy chair, and READ YOUR DAMN MANUAL!!"  We'll be out shooting something and he'll be fiddling with menus trying to do this or that and I show him the easy way to get there. This sometimes results in a V8-style forehead slap on Ron's part.

Well, this morning, I followed my own advice and dusted off the manual for my Canon EOS-5D for a refresher on, among other things, a few custom functions whose exact purpose had faded from memory. I discovered (rediscovered?) a nifty thing in the 5D's custom function menu. Custom function 13 allows you to specify how you manually select AF focusing points. Being a fairly dedicated manual focuser, I don't do a lot of that, but it does come in handy from time to time. Maybe I'm shooting an extended session where the subject will always be in the right hand side of the frame. Just choose a focus point in the right hand side and leave it there. Simple.

But the default selection method is just a little bit of a pain. Press the AF point select button and rotate the command dial until the point you want lights up in the viewfinder or on the top LCD. Easy enough, I suppose, but it does require re-allocating cerebral resources I'd rather devote to composition, focus, and timing. Using custom function 13, option 1, I can now use the multi-controller (the little joystick thingy just above the command dial) to choose my AF point. Just push it in the direction of the point you want to use and it's selected. No more multiple clicks of the command dial to get from a side point back to the center.

This is pretty sweet and I can't believe I used the 5D more than two years without knowing this. For users of the 40D (which is actually the camera on which I'd be more likely to do this), the equivalent custom function is in Set III (Auto Focus/Drive), function number 3, option 1.