I’ve spent the better part of the past 30 years (as well as the worse part) in sales and marketing. One thing that has always impressed me in perusing the web sites of the industry leaders is how I have absolutely no idea what they actually do. Smart marketers learned a long time ago that when it comes to beating the competition, you don’t have to build a better mousetrap. You just have to sound like you build a better mouse. trap. That starts with the words you use to describe what your mousetrap does.
No industry has mastered this technique more than high tech. Ever heard of a little company called Computer Associates? Here’s what they do, in their own words: “CA Technologies provides robust management solutions utilizing closed loop orchestration of provisioning and configuration across physical and virtual resources.” It’s just that simple.
Or how about the 800-pound gorilla in the world of routers, switches and network systems, our buddies over at Cisco Systems. I wonder what they do. Here’s a description any seven year-old (with a graduate degree in Linux computer programming) could understand: “Cisco’s Borderless Network Architecture is implemented as a five-phase plan that moves from baseline services to advanced policy management and integration that ultimately delivers the borderless experience for users.”
I just returned from a two-week vacation to Italy, and I have to tell you, it was a nightmare. The first thing I did when our plane touched down in Seattle was to kiss the tarmac. The second thing I did was to find a restroom to wash my mouth. That tarmac was disgusting.
A few months ago, my wife convinced me to go on a European vacation. So we took a two-week tour of Southern Italy. The brochures make it look charming and relaxing: Rome for three nights, followed by visits to quaint mountainside villages along Italy’s rugged coast. Even a boat ride to the fabled Isle of Capri. But the entire experience was anything but tranquil.
We went on an organized tour with 15 other very nice people, who were fairly willing to make limited eye contact with me, despite the fact they found out I was a humor writer. But the moment we arrived in Rome, I knew that I was in for a bumpy ride. Turns out the taxis in Rome have really bad suspensions.
Before the trip I watched several films with notable actors of Italian heritage: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, even Sylvester Stallone. But it was no use. I still could not understand a word of Italian – except “Yo, Adrian”, which, strangely, not one Italian uttered. So I knew I would have to improvise in Italy. Upon our arrival at our first hotel, I attempted to communicate with the hotel clerk by speaking English but using my best Italian accent – which unfortunately sounds eerily close to my best Norwegian accent. It was no use. He couldn’t understand a word I was saying. I quickly discovered that Italians have a different word from ours for just about everything.
I love my wife. Don’t get me wrong. She’s a great life partner, but she’s a lousy sports partner. The problem is she is utterly clueless about sports. Like any patriotic American, I’m a huge sports fan: baseball, football, Australian rules lawn bowling, you name it. But my wife is, how can I put this delicately – an artist.
My wife could no more tell you the number of points in a touchdown than the location of home plate in baseball. Oh sure, she’ll tell you she likes sports. But to her, sports consists of backpacking through the woods or climbing a rock face. Those aren’t sports. As any red-blooded sports fanatic knows, sports require two essential elements: a high def flat panel 56” TV and a large cheese-stuffed, meat-lover’s pizza.
I first suspected my wife wasn’t into sports early in our marriage. One evening, I had to work late so I missed the Monday Night Football game. I called home to ask her the score. After five minutes trying to convince her that pro football indeed could be played on a day other than Sunday, she checked the TV and reported: I have no idea. But I think they’re in extra innings. Seriously, I’d have better luck finding the score in the credits of Breaking Bad than by asking my wife.
Personally, I can’t stand it when other people brag about their kids. You’ll never catch me puffing up my chest, bragging about the fact my daughter won the National Chess Tournament for kids seven and under at the age of five. Nor will you ever hear me boast about her eighth grade science experiment, inventing an internal combustion engine that ran on tap water. You’ll never hear me talk your ear off about my daughter scoring four goals to lead her team to victory in the state soccer championships in ninth grade either. That’s because I hate to brag about my kids’ incredible achievements (particularly when it involves making things up).
But the one thing I have to admit to taking pride in is the fact that I am – much to my surprise – the parent of the world’s smartest person. I’m talking about my teenage daughter Rachel. I base this conclusion on more than a decade of longitudinal field studies observing her interaction with my wife and me. At first, I was not fully aware of just how superior her intellect was – in part because at the age of four, she still believed in unicorns and was convinced we should trade in her younger sister for an Easy Bake oven.
Over time, however, it became clear just how amazingly bright she was compared to her stupid parents – because she made a point of reminding us of that fact on a daily basis. For years, I lived under the misconception that earth revolved around the sun. But by the time Rachel hit her teens, it had become obvious to me – the entire universe revolved around her.
My wife will happily tell any random stranger she meets that her husband is far from perfect. On a scale of 1 – 5, I think she’d probably rate me a 2.4.
Okay, so I’m not perfect. When it comes to my looks, I’d give myself maybe a 6 out of 10. My taste in clothes? Perhaps a 4 – although my wife would score me a 1.5 if we’re talking about ties. (What’s wrong with a paisley tie adorning a Lacoste shirt anyway?) My humor writing ability? Hmmm. Are we grading on a curve?
My point is I have plenty of shortcomings, but if you ask my wife, she’ll tell you – especially if you’re a complete stranger – that my most irritating personality quirk is my compulsive need to rank…everything.
For example, in writing this week’s post, I chose Arial 9 point because it’s always been one of my five favorite fonts (right after Comic Sans and just ahead of Garamond). Okay, I admit it. I do have a tendency to rate and rank stuff. I can’t resist asking other people to rank things too. For me, it’s an ice breaker. I’ll often start a conversation with, say, a waitress at a BBQ ribs restaurant, with, “Hi, Carla. Nice rack you got there. Quick question: Which three states would you least like to live in?”
The 113th Congress is on track to become the least productive Congress since the time our nation’s ruler wore a crown and lived in a large castle with a drawbridge. Due to the increasingly partisan and ideological tone of the current Congress, the two parties seem dead set on preventing anything the other side proposes from getting passed into law.
The record for fewest pieces of legislation ever passed by a session of Congress was 88, in 1995. Through August, Congress has passed only 15 pieces of legislation. That’s five fewer laws than the number of parental edicts I have proclaimed in the past year (my most controversial one being “no more TIVO-ing Duck Dynasty marathons. I am a tough but fair ruler).
Millions of Americans are outraged at the incessant bickering, stonewalling and filibustering, which have paralyzed our nation’s legislative process. This has resulted in the lowest approval rating for Congress in its history – with 83% of Americans disapproving of the job Congress is doing. In the latest public opinion polls, Congress’s approval rating now trails Anthony Weiner’s popularity by 27 points. On the bright side, their popularity is still ahead of Adolf Hitler and The Black Plague by 6 points and 4 points respectively.
Great news for all of you who have passed the big 50 milestone and are depressed that the best part of life may have passed you by. It has, of course, but be patient. In just 19 years you’ll feel happy again. That’s the findings of a recent study by the London School of Economics. The study determined that 23 and 69 are the two ages at which people are the most satisfied with their lives. And every age in between pretty much sucks.
According to the study’s findings, we experience several up and down periods, peaking at age 23 before dipping in a long, slow decline of satisfaction with our lives by our mid-50s, after which age our happiness rebounds, peaking again just before age 70. After that, for most of us, there really is no point to go on living. So if you’re planning on having a mid-life crisis, the study suggests 55 is the perfect age to plan on having your world shatter into a million meaningless pieces.
Why 23 and 69? Because they’re prime numbers? Good guess but no. (And to those of you who just got out your calculators and figured out that 69 is not a prime number, congratulations.) According to the study, at 23 you are confidently picturing an optimistic future of wealth and career success, probably with an attractive life partner and 2.5 well-behaved kids who get into Princeton on a full-ride merit scholarship. Perhaps you’re already envisioning that second home in the Hamptons or on Cape Cod.
Every generation brings with it a new dance craze. In the ‘60s young people were doing the Twist. In the ‘70s everyone was wearing green leisure suits (and by everyone, I mean my late Uncle Sid from Scranton) and disco dancing was the rage. In the ‘80s line dancing was the latest craze, featuring the Electric Slide, a favorite among attractive women who were way out of my league.
Recently, Korean pop star Psy created a dance sensation with an annoyingly infectious horsey dance to the tune of Gangnam Style. And just a few months ago, millions of people the world over made their best attempt to demonstrate what uncontrollable group epileptic seizures must look like, in a bizarre dance craze called the Harlem Shake.
As our nation’s population grays, it was just a matter of time before another dance craze would sweep the nation – aimed at us slightly older high-steppers. And I’m just the person to launch it. It’s called the Soccer Dad Shuffle. What does a middle-aged family man know about dance moves, you ask? Plenty. I have tripped the light fantastic countless times (and by countless times, I mean more than five but less than nine), including almost three wedding receptions, last year’s company Christmas party, and my neighbor’s son’s bar mitzvah in 1989. (Again, my apologies to Mrs. Bernstein for the damage to her toes.)
If there’s one thing nearly every American can agree on it’s that having aerial surveillance cameras capable of eavesdropping on our every move from outer space is a wonderful thing. Oh, sure, sometimes surveillance cameras can be used for evil, like the time they caught me doing 45 in a 35 mph zone. But video technology can also be used for good – say, to observe remotely whether employees are wasting time at work playing video games, when they should be wasting time pretending to make sales calls.
That at least appears to be the thinking behind a new, state-of-the art mobile video robot called the Ava 500, a name most experts consider a far better selection than the original idea: the Self-Navigational Operations Observational Prototype (SNOOP for short). The Ava 500 is the world’s “first self-driving business collaboration robot,” according to the manufacturer’s cheery marketing brochure. Now, business executives can collaborate with employees without leaving their corner office, using a mobile robot with a two-way video camera that lets them roam the halls or join in on team meetings remotely. Employees will love it.
Want to check in on your crew of illegal Mexican factory workers to see if they are keeping pace with their production quota of 1,500 sneakers per hour? No problem. With the press of a button, you can remotely walk along the assembly line floor to inspect the quality of their work, without leaving your yacht in the Caymans. Hey, looks like it’s already been ten minutes and Pedro’s still not back from his five-minute lunch break. Uh oh. Looks like Pedro’s got some ‘splaining to do.
Recently, our nation’s attention was focused on Sanford, Florida, where a mostly white jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of murder or manslaughter in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman claimed he shot the unarmed black youth in self-defense, which it totally was, of course.
Let’s face it, a black youth had no business being in a community of white people, and he came packing heat, and by heat, of course, we mean a bag of Skittles, a candy popular with malevolent juvenile delinquents. And while on one level, Martin’s death is tragic, on the bright side, thanks to the publicity surrounding his death, sales of Skittles are up 25%.
Critics of the verdict shouted racial profiling. Others blamed Florida’s antiquated Stand-Your-Ground law, which apparently permits a white person to kill an unarmed black youth so long as they’re wearing a hoodie, on a sugar high, and the person standing their ground thinks they’re Dirty Harry. The verdict sparked outrage among blacks, who felt it was another case of a white man getting away with murder. White vigilante enthusiasts, on the other hand, are anxiously hopeful Zimmerman may be awarded the next Congressional Medal of Honor.