Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More than one way

My wife has an amazing ability to see something not for what it is, but what it can be. Over the course of our almost nineteen years of marriage, we've purchased four houses--each one a step up from where we had lived before. In each case, we've left the house much better than we found it. And the vast majority of the time, we did the work ourselves--or at least most of it. I can truly understand why they call it "sweat equity".
In our most recent house, there was an unfinished section above our two car garage. It was actually one of the deciding factors for us to buy the house--because my wife and I knew we could turn it into living space. There is a term for such an area: FROG. It means Finished Room Over Garage. Now, when I first heard the term, I wasn't enthralled by it. I didn't really relish the thought of spending time inside a frog.
As with most projects, there was more than one way to tackle it. Over the years, I've learned to follow my wife's lead and let her be the brains while I play the "dumb muscle". Aside from avoiding fights over what to do next, I'll have to admit the projects turn out much better. In other words, the project is her baby, and I'm there to help.
Now, that isn't to say that I won't have an opinion on certain things time and again. However, I've learned that there are times when you say, "OK, this is your project, go for it." And then there are times when you say, "You know, I really feel strongly that perhaps we should try this instead."
This whole concept draws an eerie parallel to writing. While I was writing The Hidden Sun, I had several people read the story before I finally signed off on it. Each one had their own opinions on what they liked and didn't like, or thought could be better. Sometimes I felt that these suggestions were excellent and I incorporated them. Other times. . . not so much. But as a good friend of mine keeps telling me, "Ultimately, it is your story."
With the book out, I've gotten enough feedback from people that overall I've succeeded with what I was trying to do--aside from a few typos that were missed in the editing process. Will everyone like it? Nah. And that's ok.
All this reminds me of the Communications Law class I took for my degree. For our final paper, we had to choose a controversial topic and argue both sides, using court cases to back up our conclusions. I chose "Censorship on TV." There was a great quote from Max Headroom (look him up if you don't know who I am talking about) that went, "Ever wonder how successful censorship is on TV? Don't know the answer? Hmmmm. . .successful, isn't it?"
So I wrote this paper. We had to submit it to a fellow student as well as the teacher. The fellow student gave it high marks, saying I argued both sides well.
The teacher? He gave me a "B." When I questioned him on why I got the grade I did, his response was, "I don't think any of that filth should be on TV--you didn't argue enough to have it censored."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The case of the missing pens

There has been a lot written about how exactly two matching socks go into the wash only to have one return. I'm pretty sure it isn't a space / time continuum issue--but who knows for sure?
I, personally, have more of an issue with pens disappearing. At my current job, I fill in one Saturday a month at another location. There never seems to be pens there. When I brought it up to the manager of that location, the response was, "Yeah, pens are hard to come by. They always seem to disappear over the weekend."
Alright, so it isn't just me that has an issue with pens disappearing into thin air. Or perhaps they grow little arms and legs when we aren't watching and then scamper off. But where would a pen scamper off to?
Well, that was something I intended to find out a few years ago. TV directors use pens to make notes, mark scripts and so on. As the operations manager, I was tasked to make sure we had plenty of supplies on hand--including pens. However, no matter how many pens I bought, I seemed to always get complaints that we were running low. I got tired of my staff losing these pens!
So, I decided to become clever and install a poor man's GPS system into a box of pens. How did I do that? Well, I wrapped the end of each pen with red gaffer's tape. Gaffer's tape is like duct tape--it is pretty darn heavy duty stuff, so it wouldn't come off easily.
Within a week and a half, all the pens with the red taped ends were gone. Determined to find where they went, I scouted all over the station, but couldn't find any. I looked behind desks, under equipment-- everywhere. Though I found a few pens doing so, I never found the red taped pens.
Then one day after I got done directing our noon newscast, I went to lunch. After directing a live program, my mind tended to be running a million miles an hour--so going to lunch was often done by habit, without conscious thought of my physical actions.
When I got into my car, I went to put on my sun glasses--it was the first sunny day we had had in a couple of weeks. My glasses got stuck on something as I tried to don them and I realized I had placed a pen behind my ear. No problem--I'll just throw the pen into the storage compartment between the front seats.
Upon doing so, I noticed the compartment was full of pens--many with red taped ends.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Some things should go without saying

During one of my TV jobs, I was often given new equipment to work with. It was my job not only to maximize what it could do, but also to ensure others could use it. This required me to write several "step by step" instructions. I learned that to write these, I needed to be very simple and basic so that there could be no confusion.
However, some of the sharper folks would complain that what I was writing was insulting. So where do you draw the line? For the sake of argument, I'll give a few examples of where things are simplified too much or simply are not needed (in my opinion) .
First off, I always laugh when I see a sheet of paper in some instructions that is blank aside from the words, "This page is left intentionally blank." By writing that on the page, it isn't blank anymore, is it? Or how about the sign that is posted on a wall or telephone pole that says "Post no signs." Hmmmmm.
Here are some more that have to be seen to be believed:

If only I had these instructions when I first became a parent!

I don't own a gun, but if I did, I'd be thankful I knew which end to point away from me.

There go my plans for the weekend. . .

But can I get that with cheese?

Okay, I'll take this pic's advice and sotp.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Failure to communicate--impossible?

In the 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke, there is a famous line that says, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate." I've never actually seen the movie, so I can't really say what was so important about the line that made it fairly well known.
What I do know is that the line is flawed. *gasp!* I earned my degree at Brigham Young University in Communications--Broadcasting with an Emphasis on Production and a minor in English, so I learned a little bit about the concept of communicating.
The correct line should be, "What we have here is a failure to communicate effectively." Now, it may seem like I'm splitting hairs, but I'm not. As the saying goes, it makes the assumption that it is possible to not communicate at all. How would you do that?
Think about it: If I come home from work and ignore my family and say nothing to my wife, am I failing to communicate? No way! Just the opposite! I am communicating that something is wrong. The concept here is that communication isn't solely verbal. I have learned over time that if I'm being stubborn, or I really have no interest to what is going on, I'll slump slightly in my chair and fold my arms.
I had a boss that picked up on that about me and would call me out on it--which actually was a good thing because then we could discuss why I was being stubborn or disinterested.
If you still haven't bought into the concept that communication doesn't have to be verbal, next time you get into trouble, let's say, you get pulled over by the police for speeding, stick your tongue out at the person--see how well that goes over.
The concept is we are always communicating, even if we are not saying anything. The trick is to communicate effectively--which can be both verbally or non-verbally.
As a final example, here is a famous baseball story (from the best I can recall it). When playing in the outfield, and a ball is hit to where two of the outfielders have a chance to catch it, it is the center fielder's job to call whether or not he can get to it. So, there is this baseball player who was traded to a new team, and he plays centerfield. On the first day, a ball is hit to where both the center fielder and the right fielder can catch it. The center fielder yells, "I got it! I got it!" However, the right fielder crashes into him and the ball drops. When they get back to the dugout, the manager listens to what happened and says, "The right fielder doesn't speak English. You need to yell, 'Yo lo tango!' next time. It means, 'I got it' in Spanish."
So, the next day comes and there is another game. Again, a ball is hit to where both the center fielder and the right fielder can catch it. The center fielder yells, "Yo lo tango! Yo lo tango!" Then BOOM!, the center fielder and the right fielder crash into each other and the ball drops again. The center fielder is mad--until he remembers that a different player is in right field today--and he doesn't speak Spanish.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The forgotten time zone

My first job in TV was at this wonderful station in Twin Falls, Idaho called KMVT. I primarily directed newscasts, but to fill in the rest of my work week, I worked in something called "Master Control". Sounds almost like a Sci-fi computer villain, doesn't it? In "Master" as we called it, we made sure the programs and commercials ran when they should. In addition, we recorded programs sent via satellite that would we play back at different times. Most of these were syndicated programs.
Now Idaho is in the mountain time zone--or as I like to call it, "the zone that time forgot". I once read an article that asked the question, "If a tree falls in the mountain time zone, does it make a sound?" Needless to say, the mountain time zone is the Rodney Dangerfield of time zones.
Case in point: you know how on TV shows they say a program starts at 8 / 7 central? Here is why: the networks send out their prime time programs from the east coast starting at 8:00 pm. Well, prime time in the central time zone starts at 7:00 pm. Using this logic, prime time would be 6:00 pm in the mountain time zone and 5:00 pm on the west coast--but is it? Nope!
The networks send a second feed at 7:00 pm pacific time so that prime time starts at 7:00 for the left coasters. But what about the mountain time zone? Well, we would actually record the programs from the east coast and play them back an hour later.
Now an unscrupulous person could use this power for evil and make bets to his friends on who won Survivor or the Miss America title--at least until his friends caught on.
One night I go into "Master" and I'm told we missed a feed for "Home Improvement". So I look up who sent the feed and saw it came from Cincinnati. 99% of the feeds came from New York, so I was a bit perplexed. I called the operator in Cincinnati to find out the re-feed time. He tells me, and then I had to ask, "Is that eastern time?" He goes off on me, telling me he can't believe I don't know what time zone Cincinnati is in. I respond, "Sorry man, I'm out here in the mountain time zone and I wasn't sure." He pauses for a moment and then asks, "There is a mountain time zone?"

Monday, June 21, 2010

Natural Flavor

Dinner time at the Morgan household can be quite the interesting experience. Aside from talking about the day's events, we'll talk about any number of things. One thing I love to do is to "acquaint" my four young daughters with the music of the 80's. YouTube is an amazing tool for such an activity. It's something else to see your seven year old daughter do "The Safety Dance."
There are other times when the kids will ask questions like "Why does it say 'Tomato' Ketchup? Are there other kinds?" So, we'll look it up. And yes, there are other types. One was found was "Banana Ketchup." Then that leads to the question, "Why is it called 'Yellow' Mustard? Are there other kinds?" The answer? Yes. Mustard can be brown. Heck, with a little food coloring, it can be any color you want.
But we aren't content to leave things there. Next, we'll investigate the ingredients of various foods. Doing this led to a shocking and somewhat disturbing discovery: Natural Flavor. What the heck is Natural Flavor and why is it in so many different foods?
For example, I randomly sampled items from my fridge and pantry and these are the things that I found contained this mysterious Natural Flavor: Apple / Cranberry juice, spray butter, mixed berry yogurt, salsa, maple syrup, mayo, mustard (yellow), ketchup (tomato), animal crackers, hot cocoa mix, tomato soup, chocolate frosting, root beer, granola bars, pudding and macaroni & cheese. Whoever invented this Natural Flavor must be a bazillionare--I mean it is in everything!
But as odd as Natural Flavor is, there is something even stranger: Artificial Flavor. How can flavor be artificial? After all, it has to be made from something on the Earth, right? Is it just a combo of two Natural Flavors? Does that mean if I mix chocolate and peanut butter together, I've created an Artificial Flavor? One thing I know for sure, Natural Flavor and Artificial Flavor are not opposites. Of the items listed above, several of them had both Natural and Artificial Flavor. (Maple syrup, hot cocoa mix, chocolate frosting, root beer and strangely enough, granola bars) If they were opposites, wouldn't they just cancel each other out? Or if it is like matter and anti-matter, wouldn't having both ingredients in the same product be dangerous?
However, of all the items I sampled, there are two that were the most disquieting: hot dogs and bologna. Neither of these had Natural nor Artificial Flavor--but both of them did share a common ingredient: something simply called "Flavor". And thank goodness they did! Can you imagine how they would taste without "Flavor?"