Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ed Paschke Art Center - And Steve Schapiro Photo Exhibit

We watched an episode of "Chicago Tonight" the PBS news program where they discussed the Ed Paschke Art Center, a museum highlighting the work of the vibrant visual artist Ed Paschke, a Chicago native who died in 2004. They also have other artists featured at the museum, and when we went it was photographer Steve Schapiro, who photographed Warhol, Reed and Bowie among many others.

The museum is easy to reach - by car you can take the Kennedy and get off at Lawrence, and it is an easy walk from the blue line or the metra (if you take that line). Here is the outside of the building, which is painted in the style of his work. The museum is free (we made a donation) and the docent working there was friendly and interested if you had any questions.

We talked to the museum employee and the building used to be a call center; they redesigned it to hang his big art canvas projects and set it up so that the light illuminated everything properly. Downstairs they had his paintings, and upstairs they re-created his studio, including the last painting that he was working on at the time of his death.

As a bonus they also were displaying the photographs of Steve Schapiro, who did iconic work with the Velvet Underground and David Bowie, among many others.

For me the highlight is the "Station to Station" David Bowie cover, since that is one of my favorite albums. But the most famous rock photos are probably of the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol.

I highly recommend that you visit and check it out, especially because it is free. There is a lot going on in the neighborhood, and the Gale Street Inn is nearby with great ribs and beers on tap a couple blocks away. Stop by there for lunch or dinner and you won't regret it.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Signs Of Stupidity

Seen on a local WalMart entryway.

Monday, November 17, 2014

25 Stories About Work - Building a Web Site, Then and Now

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)...

Chicago, around the year 2000, before the dot-com bust

Back around 2000 I worked in an "incubator" that was a digital design agency. At that time everyone was moving onto the web, and it was a giant land rush.

This was the first time I worked in an office with any type of serious amenities. They had free coffee, lounge areas, and the occasional foosball table. Previously I had been a buttoned down consultant, auditor, programmer and project manager - and all the sudden the world changed and we engaged with a whole host of "creatives" and designers on joint projects.

Back then we all wore suits. I remember one day very clearly; one of the designers sat immediately in front of me. I was looking up and I saw "Victoria Secret" - she was showing off the new style where women were wearing their pants so low that their underwear was showing. To a consultant that charges hundreds of dollars an hour (not like we collected it, but that's a different story) this sort of behavior and style just screamed WTF.

When we bid on a client our clashing styles were immediately evident. I started out the template to respond to the RFP (request for proposal), and was tasked with estimating the cost to reply to this opportunity. The creatives didn't seem to understand any of my questions, which seemed pretty simple to me:
What are we delivering, and how many hours will it take to build it?
They couldn't be pinned down. Were we making a logo, or a web site? Would it allow them to run transactions? At the time that was just a tremendous amount of work and seemingly an insurmountable task.

We ended up bidding hundreds of thousands of dollars for what, I still am not sure. The company who was "buying" our services was VC funded and was just about bled dry, without having even launched anything substantial. The era of the companies had petered out and we were entering a recession.

This weekend the NY Times had an article titled "Buying the Bricks for Your Online Storefront" that profiled two small businesses that use pre-fab websites to launch their businesses.
The newer generation of web services helps helps create the appearance of independent, professional, polished retail establishments... these services typically charge users a fee, beginning around $10 a month and rising as a shop sells more varieties of products.
Later they mention that not only were they starting at $10 / month, the businesses were able to get the sites up and running in just two weeks! It took weeks just to set up meetings to begin to plan what we were going to do, back in the day.

It is important to realize how the falling costs of technology and services drives employment, then and now. Back in the day we had floors full of designers and expensive programmers, as well as infrastructure and network staff to get it all running. Today these automated tools and cloud services annihilate the jobs that were once viewed as high end and promising. While technology employment continually rises, it isn't the same people - skills change and if you don't change with it, that cool job goes to someone else. Maybe their underwear is even sticking out of their pants...

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bitcoin ATM

Recently I was standing in the Merchandise Mart when I noticed something new - a Bitcoin ATM! This ATM allows users to utilize Bitcoin to receive dollars in exchange, in that sense being a "regular" ATM.

This is a Robocoin kiosk. Here is a link to their site where they describe what you can do at this ATM. I like their example of someone in Argentina depositing their currency in Bitcoins to avoid the inflation (and risk of outright seizure) that Argentina faces.

If you are interested in Bitcoins, wikipedia has an excellent summary here.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Woodland Hallucinations

Last Saturday my 61 year old butt was sitting high up in a tree on a wind chilled afternoon. The time was about 3 pm. After a few hours in the quiet woods the mind plays tricks. What looked like a clump of grass in the cloudy period looks more and more like a deer when the sun pops out.

The few leaves left up in nearby trees move with the wind as does tall gross below. In the distance over the top of a ridge there is movement. Leaves I thought. White leaves? Leaves moving when the others are not? Another treestand hallucination? Then there's more movement, big brown movement between the trees. Could be a doe. Lifting my crossbow to peer through the scope shows it is a good size doe. Those white leaves? They are now visible as a rack of antlers. No hallucination.

Even through the scope I could not count the points but they are thick enough to see about 75 yards away through the trees. The doe gets up and walks in a large circle. The buck follows her close behind, stops and shakes his rack. After the circle is completed she disappears behind the ridge and he does as well. He sits high enough in the ridge that his rack is still sticking out. Occasionally he shakes it. Are they are bedding down? It is about 4pm, about 1/2 hour before the official sunset. They get up and proceed to circle in the same fashion. This goes on about three times as I watch.

My hope was they would get up and come out to play after sunset when it would be light enough to get a shot IF they proceeded down the path where I sat 20 feet in the air. As darkness settles in prohibiting a clean shot I disembark the tree and head to the Jeep. But not before I strap my trail cam to a nearby tree pointing in their direction. More days and more chances will follow but this is the best evidence of the full rut period I have seen this season.

Yesterday I had the morning off so down to the farm I went. My to-do list was simple. Download that trail cam and get off a few target shots with my TC .50cal Hawken muzzleloader. The muzz shot great - flash, kick, ka-freakin'boom, cloud of smoke. Then I looked at my laptop to view what may have taken place in my three day absence. Here is what I saw.

The tree in the center is one of my chosen stand trees. You can see the ladder. Behind in the distance is the ridge where the activity Saturday occurred. On the left is the buck I believe is the dominant buck holding this territory for the time being. When I showed this image to a customer/friend with a lot more experience monitoring whitetail behavior in the wild than I he pointed out the stance and appearance of this buck, the position of his tail and the way his hair is standing up on his back and his hindquarters. He believes this buck is either challenging or being challenged by another buck standing out of camera view. The one thing that screamed at me about this image is the time stamp. It reads 8:56am. Only during rut does a buck like this show up during daylight hours out in the open. And…below my tree stand about 20 yard away (said through my best Ted Nugent shit-eating grin)

Another behavior that happens during rut is bucks battle for their territory and over their chosen mate/harem. He may be the buck I watched late Saturday or the other buck was the one. It doesn't matter to me because if he is still hanging around when I am sitting in that tree and shows that nice white rack he's going down.

Here is an enhanced and enlarged view from another image. This buck appears to be an eight point typical, typical meaning antlers are evenly sized and spaced on both sides. The rack is also good and thick meaning he is probably three years old.

Hope to see him this weekend as the firearm season opens. Hope to show some extreme close-ups here on the blog too. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Innovation - A Bed in a Box From Casper

Recently we contemplated buying a new mattress. There are seemingly infinite ways to approach this problem, from the Hasten's bed store down the street in River North where they cost $16,000 and up to the re-occurring commercials on TV promising custom or cheap mattresses. This article in the NY Times "How to Find the Best Mattress in the Maze of Choices" explained how customers were confused in a world of competing brands, technologies, and choices.

Since we are not excited about spending all day shopping and fond of trying something new, we took up one of their recommendations which was a company called Casper which can be found at Casper was well recommended on their site and sold only ONE product (reminiscent of Apple's strategy) which was a mattress that they ship to you in a box. The only difference was the size of the mattress to fit your bed frame. We bought a queen size mattress with shipping and tax included for $850.

This model is highly innovative. Instead of investing in a vast distribution system and retail footprint, moving to an online only (they have one store in NYC) model with a much smaller shipping plan (it is much easier to ship this box than a standard mattress), they should be able to beat the hell out of competitors assuming that they have a superior product.

Here is what the box looked like when it arrived. It was a relatively small box and I could put it on a cart and manhandle it around the condo.

After we opened the box, we found the mattress looking like this, all rolled up and waiting for the big reveal.

And this is what the mattress looked like after we followed their instructions for opening the bag in which it was tightly wound. I guess I should have made a movie of it. After a few seconds it formed out into the natural state of being a regular mattress.

How did the mattress perform? We like it. It has a built in cover top with memory so that you sink into it a bit. We used to have a very hard mattress and when one person (me) flipped around in bed the other person flew around like what occurs when you jump on a trampoline and send a little kid flying the opposite way. We are very happy with the purchase, the price, and the way we received the mattress.

One caveat - when we unrolled the mattress it STUNK with a sort of chemical smell. I have smelled this before with new mattress or mattress toppers. We left it out on the floor next to our existing bed for a week or so and opened the window as often as we could so that it would air out. After it all aired out, everything was fine.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Twenty Five Stories About Work - The School of Rock

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)...

Chicago, the 1980's

Recently I was at an art exhibition and I saw a book about the "School of Rock" which takes kids with an interest in music and sets them up in a band situation and allows them to work together and perform live. I think it is a great idea and I have a friend whose son plays drums and has really gotten a lot out of this in terms of confidence and poise.

I had my own experiences learning an instrument and playing in a band which really were formative to my business experience, although I never really thought of them as "formally" part of my background until I looked at that photo and remembered these 25 posts.

Back in the 1980's I used to play bass guitar (switched from regular guitar) and was in various local bands with friends which typically went nowhere except maybe some free gigs in a public place or someones' backyard. I absolutely am not a good musician nor was I particularly talented.

However, the act of participating in a band in that era had many of the hallmarks of being in a small business. First of all - you needed to have some money to buy gear. You needed a bass guitar, a few amps (one to practice on at home, and one to leave at the primary practice space), and if you had extra money - a PA system which we could use for the entire band and microphones for the drums, vocals, etc... Actually having gear and these extra pieces of equipment immediately made you a more attractive potential band member, regardless of your skills.

Back then you had to market yourself - there wasn't any social media and the internet didn't exist. Maybe you went to a record store and hung out and put a note on a bulletin board with the bands you liked and what instrument you played, or you'd hang around Guitar Center or its early predecessor and play their guitars for hours until someone kicked you out for not buying anything. You also might see someone at another bands' show, and after a while you knew a bunch of local musicians.

The talent levels varied widely. Some kids didn't have to work (I worked part time jobs) and thus were able to practice much more than everyone else. Or maybe that was just an excuse for why I stunk. When you are in an artistic endeavor it is not like accounting - a great guitarist is many orders of magnitude better than someone who is average - and it is immediately apparent. So that was a bit humiliating.

You needed to find some place to practice - and playing in a band can be LOUD. If you have a drummer banging away hard and you are in a small confined space (a basement) then everyone just cranks up until they can hear themselves over the drums and pretty soon you have a blasting guitar, bass, drums and singer (minimum) in a very tight space. You practically go deaf and my ears used to ring for days. It was best to play when no one was around because the families often couldn't take it and told us to shut up. My parents were very patient with me looking back it was quite an annoying hobby.

After playing in a band for just a bit you can see how band members hate each other and want to kill one another. Everyone usually starts out with relatively similar musical interests but then soon it diverges and people get girlfriends / jobs / etc... and the level of interest wanes. If you go way out of your way to practice and learn the songs and take time off work and then the other guys show up late or totally messed up that is just frustrating. Plus at that age we were pretty raw and it wouldn't take much to set everyone off.

The politics can get ruthless. I was kicked out of a band but I didn't even know it; they just kind of stopped returning my calls and that was that. In high school I have to admit it hurt my feelings a lot. Unlike the "School of Rock", rejection was pretty damn raw and there weren't any adults to mediate the situation. You just got booted and came by and grabbed your equipment and that was that.

Playing in a band also meant you met people from all walks of life. If you were on the typical college path, you hung out with kids in honors classes and it was pretty much assumed you'd do something after high school that wasn't blue collar. You lived at home with your parents and had a part time job and played music when you had a chance. However, many musicians back then had done this for years and had regular full time jobs or a series of part time jobs and maybe lived in a crappy apartment on the edge of town. I'm sure that they wanted to punch snot-nosed kids like me from time to time for taking for granted all the nice things that you get from having non-divorced parents and a reasonable financial situation compared to the actual working life that comes with the real world. On a similar note the dating app t*nder (don't want the traffic) is also said to link up people from all class levels - since it is just looks you might be connecting with a lawyer or a barista or a student. It is a great leveler.

I'd say being in a band objectively taught me that there were some things I was terrible at relative to other people and that life wasn't fair. It also showed the importance of organization and logistics, since getting everyone together at a regular time with all the required equipment was a big effort back before cell phones and social media. You gained valuable social skills since you met with people far different than you who were at a different stage of their lives. Finally you learned the difference between something that was a "hobby" vs. something that paid the bills - it was impossible to "make it" as a musician unless you had 20x the talent of me, the looks, and the craziness to do something like this for a living.

But I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Reducing the Odds

A few weeks ago I found this article, entitled "How to Reduce the Odds of Being Ticketed During a Traffic Stop".  Little did I know that I would need this bit of advice recently.

I recommend that you read the article, but here is the meat:

When pulled over by a police officer –
-Pull over quickly and as far as safely possible
-Roll down your window completely
-Turn on your overhead interior light
-Put your hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2
-Do not admit that you broke the law
-If asked for license and papers, announce your movements beforehand
-Sit still while waiting for the officer to return
-Do not say anything remarkable to the officer at the end of the stop
The idea is to make yourself as unremarkable as possible, so you might get let off with a warning, or if you get the ticket, to make it easier in court for it to be pled down a bit.  If a cop is in court that day with a stack of tickets to talk about, you want yours NOT to stick out.
I was going to work as usual at oh-dark-thirty.  I was breaking the law as always.  I live in the country, and we never see speed traps.  So I got pulled over.  It was a County Mountie.  I did exactly what the above says (I also turned my radio off).  He opened up with an introduction:  "I am deputy so and so from the Dane County police department and you were going 62 in a 45.  There was a fatal accident up on xx and xx recently, and we are stepping up enforcement in the area."  I just said "I see".  He asked for my license and I announced to him that I needed to get into my briefcase to get it for him and received his blessing.  He asked if the road on the license was my current address and I replied "yes, sir".
He went back to his car.  I figured I was getting a ticket, but just sat there, per the article, with my hands at 10 and 2, interior light on.  He came back pretty quickly.  I assumed that I was getting off with a warning since it was only 30 seconds or so.  Hardly time to run my license and write up the citation.  Upon his return he announced "today is your lucky day, Dan, I have another call.  Slow down, OK?"  I said thank you after he returned my license to me and he walked back to his car.  He didn't seem like he was in any real hurry.
He was still sitting there for a bit after I departed (I was looking in my rearview mirror).  Not sure if he really had another call.  I am guessing he did, but I guess I didn't care, all I knew is that I got off with not even a warning.
So I guess I will never know if doing the above worked for me, but it certainly didn't hurt.

Filling A Freezer - Step 1.1

Dan asked if I would share the skinning and butchering of my recently harvested deeelicious Indiana corn fed whitetail deer. I opted instead to have it processed by a butcher so there are no images of the actual processing.

Instead I offer the skinning photo. Skinning it took place in my neighbor's garage. He is equipped with a suitable hoist. I did not want to trouble him with helping on the butchering work with mine but he allowed me to hang and skin it. I did most of the work while he observed and added direction. He finished the finer details including using a torch to singe any loose hair remaining on the carcass.

The red area behind the shoulder shows the broadhead penetration on the right side of my Bambi. The arrow entered on the left side indicating it was a full pass-thru of the upper lungs. And if I must say so (gush) at 50 yards with a crossbow that is a damn good shot : )

In his expert estimation my deer weighed +/- 140lbs dressed and I trust his guess because he harvested an average of 4 whitetails per year and has been hunting deer every year for the past fifty. He lives and breathes deer season all year long. This doe was about the same size as an average mid size buck.

It was of interest to me to find out how much of the deer goes to waste vs. the amount suitable for consumption after butchering and processing since i never bothered with that before.

I chose a small one-man butcher shop in Michigan City where they sell an assortment of smoked meats and sausages. I wrote about this meat shop in 2009. Pete told me last summer he is now in the business of custom cut processed wild game and asked if I would refer business at my store. His price is very low compared to others in the region. This gave me the opportunity to find out if he was worth endorsing to other hunters at my store. He is.

At my direction he carved out the backstraps whole, the tenderloins whole, the hind quarters were sliced into 1 1/2" steaks and everything else was ground. My intent is to use the ground for chili, burgers and also for some sausage making experimentation. The whole cuts will be grilled as steaks, kabobs or to to coarse grind myself. Backstraps and tenderloins will only see the charcoal grill.

I took the skinned carcass to him Saturday about noon and picked up the butchered meat at 5pm Sunday. All cuts were wrapped and marked. He charged $65 for his work with a 24hr turnaround. Any sausage making or smoking on his end would cost additional $$. Most large game processors will take weeks during the peak season.

When I arrived home each package was weighed here the the bunker garage. This is the final tally.

There was 23lbs. of ground and 37lbs of choice cuts making the meat total 60 lbs. give or take a few ounces. Subtract that from the guesstimate of 140lbs. field dressed I end up with 80.5lbs. of the carcass scrap bone, skin, hair, head, hooves and tail. Everything but the bleat.

80.5 lbs of scrap, 58.5lbs. of pure boneless meat is not a bad ratio. I'm sure if it was done by a larger game processor instead of my smaller butcher I would have ended up with less, paid more and probably would have never known the difference.

The added benefit is to know all the meat now in my freezer came from the deer I shot.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Another Cover for Jack Bruce

Dan always says if you are going to do a cover, make it your own. This I heard on Liquid Metal. Gerry probably won't be a fan ha ha. Bye Jack Bruce - as a former bass player, you were the best, that's all I can say.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Saturday Night Flyover Country

25 Stories About Work - Consulting HR and the Tragedy of the Commons

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)...

Baltimore, the late 1990's

In the late 1990's I worked for a large, now defunct, management consulting firm. This firm had recently gone public to great fanfare and morale was high. As a senior manager (a title right below partner), however, I had already seen a lot of boom and busts in this arena and was skeptical.

Consulting firms have large pools of skilled resources. You can classify the resources many ways - by skill set (MBA's, engineers, programmers, project managers), by industry expertise (finance, government, utilities, technology), by region (a large firm might have 30-50 offices scattered throughout the US and nearby countries), or by level (staff, senior, manager, senior manager, and partner). Each of these categorizations is valid in some dimension.

Consulting firms and audit firms used to have everyone come "up through the ranks". They rarely hired from competitors, and when you left you weren't welcome back. This has changed 100% today with staff at all levels jumping ship to competing firms, out to industry, and back in. The firms today also have an active alumni outreach plan to bring back talented staff that may want to return to consulting.

At the time the firm I was with was organized mainly by "industry" regardless of your physical location. I was in the utilities group along with many other individuals scattered throughout the USA. This firm did not have a thriving utilities practice so we were often fighting uphill for assignments and our staff were often "seconded" to other verticals to fill needs on sold work.

Our utility engagement was in Baltimore. Baltimore at the time was at a low ebb, with the downtown populated by crackheads and other undesirables. It didn't matter much to us since we were staying in a hotel a couple blocks from our client.

The partner on our engagement (who was the boss) was an ex-navy seal. He was a very fun and interesting guy. I wasn't there but one time another staff person said that they went to an antique store and the partner took a knife from the display and started doing that thing where you put the knife blade between each of your fingers in a pattern, going faster and faster. At some point the partner nicked the web of his hand and started bleeding but didn't even flinch. It sounded plausible to me.

For a variety of reasons the HR department of the consulting firm was investigating this partner. Since work is done on the road there is little supervision but somehow bad news about this partner got to HQ so they sent out a hapless HR partner. The HR partner sat down with me and started asking questions. My response was
I don't have anything bad to say about a guy who could kill me with his pinky
The interview obviously ended soon after.

Another time we had a terrible staff person on the job. She was useless. We sent her back to headquarters but my manager made a big mistake. He actually wrote her a review saying that she was terrible.

I immediately put my head in my hands. "How could you be so stupid?" I demanded. He seemed surprised. I told him that our goal in running an engagement was to get the best people we could obtain, by any means necessary. If someone was bad, we never said that they were bad, we just said that their set of skills weren't needed on the job here at this particular client. This was a more polite and vague way to get someone away from your client.

The next step was a surprise to him but not to me. Human resources called us up and was surprised. Why did you give her a bad rating? She had good ratings in the past?

The real issue was far different. Since you are just pulling staff from a massive pool, often from a different city and a different industry vertical, you had no interest or stake in the "bad" ones. You just got them off your client in some nice way and called it a day. There were thousands more to replace that person later. It was like trying to fish in the ocean. On the other hand, if you somehow found a good staff person, you went to great lengths to keep them indefinitely and to hide their capabilities from others who might snag them back.

So even though this staff person was terrible, it was a lot easier just to get them off your job then to tell the truth (they stink, should not be consultants) and start the firing and notification process, which is a big pain in the rear and a time sink. The flip side of this is the "tragedy of the commons" where it is in no one particular consulting managers' interest to weed out the bad staff, but it is in everyones' interest that expensive, lousy staff get fired. It was just best if someone else did the dirty work; I for one was too busy (trying to build an energy practice so my staff wouldn't be seconded away) to engage in such quixotic activities.

Thus now I was dealing with some clueless person from HR (who wasn't a consultant, didn't travel, and had no idea what was really going on) and I had to defend this negative review. She started pulling up all her positive reviews which were likely from short stints at clients where the team ended her part of the job quickly just to get her off the premises. Since I am stubborn I doggedly stood behind my managers' negative review (while cursing him in my head for making me do this) and at some point basically just told the HR person that everyone gives positive reviews of crappy staff because it is easier than working them out. She was stunned by this seemingly obvious revelation and at some point we ended the conversation on a low note.

But at least my manager learned the most important lesson; find any excuse to get rid of terrible staff by sending them off your job, and don't give out negative reviews of random staff just passing through.

In the end that firm "solved" this problem by just picking various days at random and anyone "on the beach" and not assigned to a client was fired. Since lousy staff were often on the beach this worked to some degree but also penalized good staff that just happened to be between assignments. We had an inkling that this was coming and worked to find (temporary) homes for some promising staff until after the axe fell. We missed a bunch though and they got fired.

In the end that firm went bankrupt (big surprise). It had some upside (was very entrepreneurial) but wasn't big enough or successful enough to float a high cost network of offices and partners with big salaries.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz