Thursday, April 28, 2011

Don't let the facts ruin a good story

Have you ever told a story in a group setting when friend or spouse or family member interrupted you and said, "That's not the way it happened!" And then they correct some minor part of the story with a "fact" that didn't really matter to the point of the story.

Here's an example: (completely factious of course, to protect the innocent, namely me) I'm at a party with TV co-workers for the holidays. The subject of typos or on air mistakes gets brought up. I start to tell the story of when we aired a tease that said, "Gigantic Monsoons Ahead!" and instead of video of stormy weather, there is video of ladies getting mammograms.

As I'm telling the story, I say, "It was about 6 months ago when we had these tease that said ' Gigantic Monsoons Ahead!' when. . ." I'm interrupted by a co-worker who says, "It couldn't have been 6 months ago because I was on maternity leave and I remember that happening."

"It must have been more like 4 1/2 ago," she continues, "because if you think about it, that would have been closer to monsoon season."

I'll stop the story there. But hopefully you get the point. Was it 6 or 4 1/2 months? Does it really matter to the point of the story? Does anyone else get frustrated when this happens to them?

Of course, this carries over to my work as an author. Since my first two books take place in a made up land during the Medieval time frame, I'm sure historians would go ape do-do over all the words in the book that wouldn't have been used in that time period. (Side note: I did take all the "OK"s out of the book on my own because that is a fairly modern term).

However, does it really matter?

I love the saying that we must "suspend our disbelief to be entertained". To me, that doesn't mean throwing all logic out the window--like having King Arthur use a laser gun to kill Attila the Hun. But rather, ignoring little things here and there that may not be perfect, or even 100% accurate, to enjoy the overall experience.

So the next time you hear someone telling a story, think about the point they are making before you interrupt and say something along the lines of, "It wasn't really a purple dinosaur, as much as it was magenta."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Tribe has Spoken

It's all about being the best. Isn't it? Case in point: how early are the stores opening on the day after thanksgiving? Does it seem to be getting earlier every year? It seems that way to me. It's almost like, "Hey! Our competitor is opening at 6:00 am! We need to open at 5:30!" Then next year, "Hey! They opened at 5:30 am, we need to open at 5:00!" At this rate, stores will be opening up early on the day after Christmas for the following Christmas.

But it isn't just opening up early. Last year, I was especially turned off by an ad from Best Buy where they had animated characters make a big deal how the store and support folks would be working Christmas. Why? So they can out do their competition. Never mind all those folks that would have to work instead of being home with their families.

That's why I applaud companies that stand up for what they believe in, no matter what the others are doing. Chick-Fil-A? Closed on Sundays. B&H photo and video store? Closed Friday at 2:00 pm and all day Saturday. Whether their beliefs are the same as mine doesn't matter. I'm just happy there are those in world that see that there are certain lines you don't cross.

Time for a confession: my wife and I love to watch the TV show Survivor. Yes, yes, there are some of you out there that might condemn us for such an action, but let me explain why I enjoy it so much. The show is really a microcosm of the world around us. The goal is to be the last man (or woman) standing at the end of the game. I won't go into all the details, but there are certain rules that need to be explained to prove my point.

First, there are about 18 or so people that start the game. One by one they are voted off by the rest of the players (their "tribe"). Now the tricky part comes about halfway through the game. Why? Well, the people voted off go onto something called the "jury". This jury of people will pick the final winner. In other words, the final contestants will be held accountable for their actions.

The motto of the game is "Outwit, Outlast, Outplay". The show has been on for something like 20 seasons (2 seasons per year) and all sorts of people have won. There was a recent contestant that got to play in back to back seasons. He was mean. He was a bully. He did things to cause conflict with his teammates. (Like burning socks, draining their water supply, telling lies to anyone who would listen) He did it to gain control.

In both cases he weaseled his way to the end. . . and lost. Why? Because he eventually was judged for his actions. Had it made it near the top? Yes. In the end, did he win? No. And to read interviews about him later, he kept saying how the game was stupid and that he should have won.

As I remember it, in Death of a Salesman, the main character becomes a salesman because he attended a funeral when he was young of a salesman and was amazed about how many people were there and how respected this man was. That's the kind of funeral he wanted. He was miserable though, and at in the end, very few attended his funeral.

Why?

Well, I would suggest you go to any graveyard and see how many gravestones say, "So and so worked and such and such a place for x amount of years."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Inconvenient convenience

There are a number of new inventions and such designed to make our lives easier. More often than not, they do just that. Want to check your bank account balance at 3:17 am? No problem! They have online banking! Want to buy tickets for that movie without standing in line out in the elements? No problem! Buy and print your own tickets at home! And so on and so on.

And then there are things that are good in theory, yet. . .

My mom, sister and her boyfriend flew into town recently. I had parked the car in one of those "press here to get a ticket" type garages at the airport. It turns out that their flight was on the far end of the terminal, so we figured they would stay there and I'd hoof it back to the car, leave, and then pick them up at the curb.

There are signs everywhere reminding you to take the ticket you got when you parked. Why? Because they had these automated machines inside the terminal where you could pay, get a receipt, and then when you drive out, you just insert the receipt into another machine, and tada!--the gate will open for you. No waiting in line behind other cars as the people rummage through their ash tray for coins. No more having to deal with rude and indifferent employees at the toll booth. (Note: to be fair, not all workers are like that). It’s a great idea!

Unless something goes wrong with the machines.

Which is exactly what happened to me.

I inserted my ticket. It then asked me to insert my debit or credit card (so it could charge me the grand total of $1.00). After I put in my card, it gave me an error message and it spit out the card with such fury that it nearly cut me in two. OK, maybe I'm a bit over dramatic about it, but still, it fired it out pretty quickly.

I tried to put back, but by that time, it said "please insert ticket". I had inserted my ticket--it was in the machine, but I didn't have a receipt. So, after looking over the machine for options, I hit the "cancel" button. Nothin'. I tried it again. Still nothin'. Of course, there weren't any employees anywhere close by.

Hello! What’s this? A small "help" button off to the side. So, I press this "help" button, in hopes of getting just that. After a moment, a voice from the machine says, "Can I help you?" (I almost got snippy and said, "I don't know, can you?" But I was nice.) "Yes, the machine ate my ticket." The response? A six or seven step set of instructions which resulted in me pressing the cancel button. Once I figured out that is what they were going to have me try, I explained I had already attempted that action.

They had me try it again, none-the-less, which I did. Still, no ticket. I was starting to feel like I'd have better luck finding a golden ticket in a candy bar wrapper. Finally the voice said, "We'll send someone right down."

15 minutes went by. I pushed the help button again. No answer. I pressed the cancel button again. Still nothin'. Finally, I got fed up and went to my car. I had family waiting at the other end of the terminal after all!

I get to the gate where you are supposed to put in your receipt. Again, I lacked one of those. On the far end were two lanes that said, "Assistance". So I went there. What does the less than enthusiastic worker there ask me? "Where is your receipt?"

"I don't have one."

"Where is your ticket?"

"It was eaten by the machine."

"Did you try and press the cancel button?"

"Yes. It didn't work."

"Did you try and press the help button?"

"Yes, and they said help was coming, but no one came."

She looked at me blankly. After a moment she asked, "How are you supposed to pay me if you don't have a ticket?"

I counted to 10, then to 11 just to be safe, and said, "I wasn't here long. The machine said I owed a dollar. May I please just give you the dollar so I can go get my family?"

"I'm going to have to call my supervisor."

So, she shut her window, made a call, and then sat there, looking at her cash register. She didn't even look over at me. Several minutes passed and then a man walked out of a side building and over to me.

"Where's your ticket?" he asks me.

Through what must have been gritted teeth, I told him.

"Hmmm. Did you try hitting the cancel button?" he asks.

(This next part has been edited to keep you from thinking bad things of me)

In the end, they got the maintenance man to open the machine, remove my ticket, and drive it out to me at the gate, but not before they had me back up to allow them to "assist" other people.

I finally was allowed to pay my $1.00 so I could leave. As I drove out, there was a sign that read, "Paying for parking is now more convenient than ever!"

Saturday, April 16, 2011

End of the World

Sometimes things don't go as planned. Or should I say, most times. One of the most challenging things I've done in my life is direct live TV shows. I'd plan, practice, test the equipment, practice some more, build in back up plans, and then go for it.

How often did newscasts go exactly as planned? Ah, let me count. . . I'm going to have to go with never. Now, sometimes the changes were caused by equipment problems. Sometimes it was because one of the production crew didn't do what they were suppose to do at the right time. Sometimes it was because the anchor flubbed up a word. Sometimes it was because the producer kept changing things on the fly. Sometimes it was because the reporter or editor or photographer (or all of the above) would miss their deadline. And yes, sometimes it was because I would mess something up.

Regardless, the more I dealt handling these changes, the better I got. I learned that just because things didn't go as planned, it wasn't something I needed to let impact the whole rest of my life. I have little self affirmations I use at times like these.

And they come from songs I enjoy.

Examples:

video

video

video

By the way, "Auto-da-Fe" is a reference to the Spanish Inquisition which has come to mean over time "Darned if you do, darned if you don't".

I've found that there are times that I'm faced with two situations--and neither seem the right choice. It's like if you get asked the question, "Are you sure you're lying?" How do you answer that? "Yes" means you're sure you were breaking the 9th commandment. If you answer "no", you're still are agreeing that you lied, even if you weren't. And it makes it sound even worse because it can be taken that you are trying to hide it by telling another lie.

Fortunately, rare is the case where there are only two choices. I'd say, even more rare are the times when things go exactly as planned. It's at those times that I try to learn from the experience, and tell myself, "You know what? It's really not the end of the world."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book review: Heroes of the Fallen by David J. West

The Devil's in the details. That's the thought that kept going through my mind as I read Heroes of the Fallen by David J. West.

The year? Roughly 321 AD. The place? Ancient America. The situation? The fall of a great nation. Usually I don't like books where I know the outcome. It ruins the surprises that the author throws at me. Having said that, this is one of the few times when an author has used a scene from the future to set up the events proceeding it effectively.

I must say, I'm impressed.

The story revolves around two great societies: the Nephites and the Lamanites. Though both come from a common bloodline, they are a divided people. The Lamanites, who are descendants from a man named Laman, have a deep seeded hatred for the Nephites, who came from Nephi. Their issue? Laman and Nephi were brothers, with Nephi being the youngest. He was also the chosen one, which Laman took exception to.

Generations have passed since these brothers have died, but their ancestors live on, and often go to war with each other. In the mix are the evil secretive society, the Gadiantons, who stir up trouble.

With this as a canvas to draw upon, West masterfully paints an incredible description of not only the people, but the lifestyles they lived. Everywhere are details that bring to life an epic story of good men trying to do what is right, despite the resistance and indifference of their fellowmen. Then there are those that would use old grudges to rile up their people to do as they please.

I can't praise this book enough--not only for its pacing and story, but the vivid characters West brings to life. When I said the Devil's in the details, it's because behind all the evil and terrible things that happen to these people, it's evident how people are manipulated by people focusing on the wrong things in life. It's a sad story that unfortunately we see being played out on the world's stage even today.

West is currently working on the second book, Blood of our Fathers scheduled for release sometime in 2011. Well, it's 2011--bring it on!

The book can be purchased here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Failure *is* an option

I'm going to go out on a limb to make a bold statement: humans aren't perfect. I know, I know, call me a radical. This statement may be as shocking as when people claimed the world was round, and not flat. Or, that the Earth revolves around the sun and not vice-versa.

And since people aren't perfect, they make mistakes. I personally, learn more from my mistakes than from my successes. To that end, let's just say I'm a very wise man for that very reason.

Does that mean that since we know that we make mistakes that we shouldn't try to be successful? No, I'm not suggesting that at all.

In my professional life, I've managed hundreds of people (not all at the same time) and I've enjoyed watching many of them grow and learn. It's wonderful to see them master their craft over time. As they were learning, did they make mistakes? Heck, yeah. It was those that learned from these mistakes that ended up being successful.

Sadly, from my point of view, we are moving to a world where if you aren't "prefect", you aren't successful. I've heard it called the "Hero or Zero" philosophy. And it's a shame. No one can be the hero all the time.

Except for maybe this guy:

At one of my jobs, the company was really coming down on the employees to hit some lofty goals--not just some, but all of them. Even if you were a "rock star" (their term) in 4 of the 5 areas, you were still considered a failure. They even went as far as to adopt a new motto: "Failure is not an option."

Here's another wild concept: not being perfect isn't the same as being a failure. I think that is worth repeating: not being perfect isn't the same as being a failure.

Still need convincing? Have you noticed how "Fail" has become a popular term for something that didn't turn out right? And it was really bad? It's an "Epic Fail".

Yet, this takes it to another level:

This concept of "all or nothing" was driven home to me when one of my teams was audited by the company operations person. After spending two days going over all our records, it was time for her to review her findings. Overall, we did very well--aside from one document. On this particular document, several items needed to be recorded everyday along with the initials and date. There were lines for several days, so you could have around 50 entries on a single paper.

On one of the entries, the person filling it out put the date in the wrong format. Instead of putting 12 March, they wrote 3/12.

The auditor said that because of that mistake, that whole document was a failure. I asked, "So, you are telling me that because of one little mistake (that basically said the same thing), we're getting a failing grade on the whole document?"

The answer was, "Yes, it has to be perfect."

I was obviously upset by this close minded thinking. We continued down the rest of the audit, where we had done very well. Then, toward the bottom, I noticed a typo in one of her sentences.

I turned the paper around on the desk and pointed to it. Her response was, "So what? It's a typo, you still know what it means."

My response? I grabbed a red pen, circled the typo, and then in big letters at the top wrote "FAIL".

I handed it to her and said, "Sorry, but it has to be perfect."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Not as bad (could be this good!)

$19.99

That was the price on the item. $19.99. As we stood there waiting for the friendly man at the cell phone store to program my daughter's new phone, I kept looking at the price on the protective case.

$19.99.

I think somewhere in the recesses of my mind I was told a story about why things were marked down a penny. (ok, side note: there is no such thing as a U.S. penny. The official name is one cent piece--look it up if you think I'm lyin')

Before the days of the fancy cash registers we have today, they had to keep track of things by hand. By marking things down a penny, at the end of the shift, the owner (or whoever) could compare the number of things sold by how many pennies, er, one cent pieces, were gone from the cashbox.

So, if 11 things were sold, then 11 cents would be handed back to the customers. Right? In theory, it makes sense.

But then there is other concept that the human mind sees $19.99 as not nearly as expensive as $20.00. Which, if you think about it, is kinda weird. After all, $19.99 has a lot of 9's in it. And 9 is the highest single digit out there. Whereas $20.00 has a bunch of zeros, which is the lowest single digit, so you would think our brains would say, "Wow! That has three 9's in it, and that one has three 0's in it. The one with the 9's must be really good!" Actually, maybe pricing something at $19.99 versus $20.00 works on both levels. It lets us think that something is cheaper, yet of worth more value.

I think I blew my own mind there.

Not to be out done are the gasoline prices. That gallon of gas that is $3.59? It's actually $3.59 and 9/10ths. Talk about added value while saving us all those 1/10th of a cent per gallon!

And there is the other side of the coin (pun intended--though even I admit it was lame). How many times have you see the variation on the phrase "It could be worth up to $X,XXX,XXX.XX!" I'm leery about promises that contain variables. And usually the more variables, the more leery I become. In this case, "could" and "up to" are variables.

Obviously the trick here is to have the highest possible number out there for people to see. That's what they'll focus on, not the variable words.

When I got my job right out of college selling cell phones, they said we could earn up to (whatever the dollar amount was) per year. However, as we soon discovered, the only way to hit that number was to basically everything in the store on a daily bases. "Could" to be done? Possibly. And possibly a stranger may walk up to me and give me a million bucks because I'm wearing brown shoes.
In the spirit of this wonderful concept, I'm going to make an offer you can't refuse. This is 100% legit.

Here it goes:

"I could possibly, maybe, perhaps give you up to $50,000.00 in cash if you get 100 people to follow this blog. Certain terms and restrictions apply.*"


*In order to win, all 100 people must sign up between 3:00 am and 3:05 am on Tuesday, May 17th. For each of the hundred people, $10 will be earned if they have an "J" in their name. $20 will be earned for each person who was born in Wyoming. $20 will be earned for each person who is left handed. $450 will be earned for those who have been struck by lightning--twice, while in Italy. Cash award will be dispersed in sums of 25 cents a day for the next 200,000 days. Winner forfeits any cash not awarded to them if either the winner or J. Lloyd Morgan pass away before all sums can be dispersed. Contest void in any state that doesn't have an "x" in the state name."

Good luck to all those entering the contest!