Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day marches on...regardless

People don't want it to rain on their parade and for certain they don't want it to rain on their Memorial Day picnic.

If there was every a psyche up day for smoky barbeque, cold Corona and crunchy potato chips, it's this special American holiday which represents the first day of the summer season.  And don't let anyone spoil the fun with cool temperatures, high winds and spitting' rain.

At a family-style gathering this weekend, a hearty group huddled under a table umbrella, clad in hats, fleecy jackets and the warmth and aroma of fat cigars.  Pay no attention to the black clouds, damp cement and a breeze that could put a kids' kite in the air in seconds.

The holiday would be enjoyed regardless.  Food, family and friends make the festivities even if the thermometer is, quite literally, a downer.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Electronic coffee knows no beans

I used to think coffee houses were intellectual havens for political debate, intellectual conversation, cigarette-smoke-clogged air, and Jack Kerouac-inspired prose around round, sticky tables stained by one-too-many spilled espressos.

As with most everything in life, my, how things have changed.  At least they got rid of the smoke.

During a visit to a local coffee emporium, I came face-to-face to a new reality -- no one is even talking in these places.  Individualism trumps teams, pairs, couples and friends.  Conversation is only between the eyes and a tablet, laptop computer or phone screen.

For 95 percent of the patrons, no one is looking up, no one is using vocal cords or verbalizing about Congressional gridlock, prospects for new jobs or debate over Best Picture nominees.

If it's just all about collecting and assimilating data, it's a great playground.  But if you are trying to build relationships, jump start social interaction or just enjoy a hot latte within your own thoughts, the place is now as cold and uncomfortable as the dreary winter weather outside.          


Monday, January 21, 2013

In response to our fans...

All right, it's been over a year.

I've delayed, procrastinated and otherwise avoided doing what needs to be done.

You've missed miscellaneous ramblings, select wine tips, restaurant recommendations and general overviews on the absurdity of the situation-du-jour.

But, hey, it's not coming back in a day.  I'm still struggling with the aftermath of several communication hardware and software upgrades...new computer, new mini-tablet on the easy side, Windows 8 and email revisions on the more complicated end.

Words will soon begin flowing on the screen faster than a swift wind in January.  Hey, it is January, isn't it? 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Discount illusions drive retailers, shoppers

The 20 percent solution fits the business case for retailers this season.

Owners of sport shops, housewares emporiums and jewelry merchants seem to have settled on 20 percent as the magic discount number for golf clubs, Crock pots and diamond bracelets.

If there's a newspaper coupon or internet deal involved, it seems that you are getting a 20 percent haircut courtesy of your local store. But, are you really?

It's taken to an extreme at an outfit called Bed, Bath and Beyond. Shoppers roll into my local outlet clutching fistfulls of their 20 percent coupons like wedding bouquets. And, even when presented with coupons with expiration dates from the Bush administration, clerks dutifully scan the bar code for the 20 percent bonus for their grateful customers.

No doubt the bar code tells them who's shopping from what address -- and gives them the marketing muscle and targeting to send even more of those oversized blue coupons. The illusion of discount is perpetuated -- even if the final transaction prices is more-or-less in line with their competitor's prices.

I love the store and its selections. But only a rookie should be caught in their paying the BB&B retail -- without 20-percent-off coupons.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Seasonal greenery work loses patina

Bush-trimming brings out my inner sculptor.

Alexander Calder may have great pieces on the plaza in downtown Chicago and elsewhere around the planet, but my annual outdoor household greenery rite generates personal satisfaction and neighborhood panache.

There's nothing more powerful than pulling out an 18-inch electric trimmer to give an unwieldy burning bush or sprawling arborvitae an overdue summertime haircut. But, after the initial whacks, a sense of serenity evolves as hard cutting gives way to smooth brushing and precise trimming. Squares, orbs and flat-tops never looked so good on a late June afternoon...particularly since they're not on a human head.

Sure, the worst part of the job is the clean-up -- scraps of twigs, leaves, and needles so small that they make removing drops of thermometer mercury seem like a walk. I hate it.

Result: My inner landscaper will never overtake my inner sculptor.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Silence of the butter lambs

It's come to this. No eyes. No ribbon.

The Easter butter lamb has always made for a special holiday season. Dinner with the family became special when the sculpted dairy staple made its entrance on the table, ready for spreading on thick slices of fresh, crusty rye bread.

But from a child's point of view, the peppercorn eyes and the red ribbon scarf around the icon's neck made that butter seem like dairy heaven.

So it was highly upsetting to see this year's butter lambs offered without "eyes" and without the proper red flourish. The damn thing just looked like The Sphinx. It looked positively skinny, too, with a poor center of gravity that made it seem as vulnerable as a drunken sailor.

I don't want to think it was pure economics for leaving out the two identifiers that had given the butter lamb its "brand identity." But I'd be willing to bet it was the reason the quarter-pounder had been shrunk to the equivalent of a few stacked pads.

Yeah, our lamb got retrofitted with the forgotten goods. But, just as with Christmas toys, cable TV installation, and dry cleaning, it should have been done right the first time!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Vehicle accelerates pointed communication

People who talk too much often say the very least.

It always scares me when intellectual capital is trumped by unbridled verbosity. Smarts fall victim to capacity all too often in business, academia and social circles.

In this 24/7 world of communication, however, I have seen a surprising point of light. It's Twitter.

Finally, there is forum that limits its users to 140 characters of text to make a point, give an opinion, highlight a link, or make a stand. We've finally forced people to get to the point more quickly -- whether they want to or not.

Twitter is a great rehabilitation vehicle for frustrated writers and communicators. Who can ever forget adding six extra pages to an already mind-numbing high school history term paper in hopes of earning a better grade? It didn't work then and it works less now.

Tweets are the written equivalent of EPA fuel economy standards for cars. People expect great mileage from the gas in the tank. Tweets offer great communication from the words in a sentence.

Pedal to the metal!