Tag Archives: Entertainment

Anything you can do, a computer can do better

Technology in the Workplace

It’s quite the confidence booster to discover that a flash drive can do your job.

My boss called me into his office the other day.

“Take a seat,” he said. “I’ve got big news.”

My heart jumped. “Is it about that promotion I’ve been asking for?”

“Not exactly,” he said, sinking into his chair. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go.”

“Oh.” I looked down. “This doesn’t bode well for my future with the company. And here I thought I was an up-and-comer.”

“It’s not your fault,” my boss said. “It’s just that we’re replacing you with cheaper labor.”

“You mean you actually found someone who’s willing to work for less than me? I didn’t know Bob Cratchit was in the job market.”

My boss pointed to a metal rectangle sitting beside his computer. “Meet Arnie the Artificial Intelligence. He’s the new you.”

I frowned. “It looks like a flash drive.”

“Essentially, that’s what he is. Once we plug him into the mainframe, he’ll start doing your job right away. Best of all, he doesn’t need bathroom breaks, and he’s not known for complaining.”

“So he’s a mindless robot? It sounds like he’ll fit in fantastically with the team.”

“I hope you’re not angry,” my boss said. “You have to understand that AI is the latest trend. Everyone’s doing it. Flesh-and-blood humans cost too much to employ. Plus, they have unreasonable expectations, such as making a living wage.”

“Of course,” I said. “And not only that, but I’m sure he excels at meaningless, repetitive tasks, too.”

My boss shrugged. “What can I say? We live in an economy where human beings no longer matter. Computers can perform every conceivable, modern-day job.”

“You mean like posting cat pictures to social media?” I asked.

“Precisely. That pretty much describes every conceivable, modern-day job. Everybody’s a social-media strategist these days, but once AI takes over, labor costs will go down dramatically.”

“Does Arnie have a college degree in journalism?” I asked. “Does he have sound writing skills?”

“Oh, Colane,” my boss said, “you know that writing doesn’t matter anymore. Nobody reads. Besides, everyone communicates these days using acronyms and emojis, and Arnie has thousands of them in his language database.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s comforting to know that human expression has been reduced to a handful of smiley-face emoticons and a pile of shit with eyes. Shakespeare would be proud.”

My boss shrugged. “Time marches on. The old ways eventually die. You can bet that had Netflix existed during the Great Depression, John Boy Walton never would have wasted all that time writing in his room. The whole family would have been too busy binge-watching ‘Game of Thrones.’ With all that entertainment, they probably wouldn’t have been so depressed.”

“What about my other skills?” I asked. “I excelled at critical thinking in school. I have amazing logic.”

My boss pointed at the flash drive. “You know who else excels at logic? Arnie. He’s a computer.”

“Fine,” I said. “So this is it? Seriously? Just like that, you’re going to replace me with a robot?”

“Exactly,” my boss said, patting me on the shoulder. “With your logical mind, I’d knew you’d understand.”

“But what if the worst happens?” I asked. “What if Arnie becomes self-aware and decides to take over your job, and then the CEO position, and then the world?”

“Well,” my boss said, shrugging, “I guess I’d have to give him points for ambition. Lord knows this company needs more up-and-comers.”

“I’ll see myself out,” I said. 

Advertisements

Getting ahead by getting in over your head

people who buy houses they can't afford

Apparently, the best way to build wealth is to go into massive debt.

“You know, you really should consider buying a house,” said my friend, Wayne, as he looked around my dismal apartment, his lips curled in a condescending sneer. “Now is a terrific time to buy.”

“Really?” I said, settling across from him on my grungy couch. “Right now? You mean when inventory is depleted and prices are sky-high? Yeah, it sounds like an ideal time to pour all my hard-earned money into a ramshackle hovel. When was the last time I heard this advice? Early 2008?”

Wayne sniffed. “This time it’s different. Home prices can never go down. You don’t want to get left behind.”

“Take a look at my apartment,” I said. “I’ve already been left behind. I couldn’t buy a house in the aftermath of the recession because I had a low-paying job. And now that I have a better job, home prices have surged to outpace wages. I can’t win.”

“You’ll never learn,” Wayne said. “The only way to make it in life is to buy and sell houses. That’s the key. The only people who get ahead are the ones who buy homes.”

“Huh. I always thought the way to get ahead was to save your money and live below your means.”

Wayne laughed out loud. “Seriously? And where has that gotten you?”

I glanced around my dismal apartment. “Not far, I suppose.”

“That’s exactly right. Working hard and saving money are probably the stupidest things you can do. When you live below your means, you’re not living. That’s why you’re supposed to buy a house and borrow against the equity. How do you think people have RVs and ATVs and brand-new cars? They’re not working hard and saving the money, I can tell you that.”

“I believe it,” I said. “People don’t seem to have to work anymore. Everyone’s just rich for no reason.”

“It’s not for no reason,” Wayne said. “They’re rich because they live in enormous houses with rising values. You should take some notes. Like I said, now is a terrific time to buy.”

“People always say it’s a terrific time to buy,” I said. “When the market’s up, it’s a terrific time to buy. When the market’s down, it’s a terrific time to buy. When a zombie apocalypse hits the planet, it’s a terrific time to buy.”

“Actually,” Wayne said, “that would be an amazing time to buy. You could get in early when the prices were down. You’d just have to hose out the guts and rotting flesh.”

“Well, tell you what,” I said. “I’ll make you a deal. If a zombie apocalypse hits the planet, then maybe — just maybe — I’ll consider buying a house.”

“If you do, check out mine,” Wayne said. “I’m listing it for sale, and I’m looking for a buyer. I’m trying to move up.” 

“Move up?” I said. “And you want to use me as your stepladder?” 

He shrugged. “What can I say? If you knew anything about making money, you would have bought a house you couldn’t afford a long time ago.” 

Rallying for all the wrong reasons

Demanding Day Traders

Well, fair’s fair.

My next-door neighbor, Paul, was all grins the other day when we met for drinks after work.

“What are you so happy about?” I asked, my head sagging over my gin and tonic.

“Well,” Paul said, wearing a huge smile, “I’m not sure if you follow the financial news, but there was a major relief rally today on Wall Street.”

I peered up at him. “A relief rally?”

He nodded. “Yep. A big one.”

“Well, then,” I said, rolling my heavy eyes, “isn’t that just spellbindingly fantastic? Jolly jolly six pence.”

Paul’s bright smile dipped ever so slightly. “That sounded sarcastic.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Not at all. You see, when it comes to relief, I can’t think of a more deserving group of people than rich Wall Street jerks with huge mansions, five vacation properties, four yachts, three private jets and a wad of hundred-dollar bills blowing out their backside. I mean, forget the working-class poor who are slaving away at multiple part-time jobs and struggling to raise their children in a rising-interest rate environment where wages are stagnant and the cost of living is skyrocketing. Goodness knows they don’t deserve relief. When the market dips ever so slightly, my heart goes out to the truly downtrodden — the truly worthy — such as the bankers and the politicians and the lobbyists. They’re the ones who deserve the outpouring of pity flowing from our tender hearts. In the patchwork quilt that is America, they’re the imperative threads that weave us all together in a snug cocoon of kinship and closeness.”

Paul blinked at me. “Are you sure you’re not being sarcastic?”

“What do you care about the ebbs and flows of the markets, anyway?” I asked, throwing back my drink. “You don’t have any money invested.”

“I was trying to pass on good news, is all. I read that you should try to share a bit of good news every day, to instill cheer in your fellow humans.”

I glared at him. “Instill cheer? And you think the idea of rich people getting richer is supposed to instill me with cheer?”

“Well.” Paul shrugged.

“If you wanted to instill me with cheer, you could tell me that housing is finally affordable, or that healthcare costs have gone down, or that instead of buying back their own stock, companies are finally investing in their employees.”

Paul shook his head. “Nope. None of that’s happened, as far as I can tell.”

At that moment, his phone buzzed. He picked it up to read the alert.

“Hey,” he said, “I got more good news. The Dow futures are way up in after-hours trading.”

I sighed, sinking lower in my bar stool. “What a relief.”

Seasoned employees don’t use exclamation points

Two men at work writing an e-mailWhen I compare my work e-mails today to the ones I wrote as a new hire, there’s a noticeable difference.

My e-mails today — though friendly — are often brief and to the point. The sentences are simple, and the punctuation is basic.

“Hi John. Please send me a copy of the check. Thank you.”

Of course, when writing to upper management, I’ll usually throw in a semicolon – just to show off that I know how to use one. (You never know when good grammar might score you points.)

“Hi Boss. The project is nearly finished; however, there’s been a delay in receiving a copy of the check. I reached out to John in Accounting, but because he’s not as committed to the company as I am, he’s been remiss in providing a timely response. Thank you.”

However, when I look at the e-mails I wrote as a new-hire, the obsequiousness is downright obnoxious. To compensate for my lack of confidence, I used a nauseating number of exclamation points and smiley-face emoticons.

“Hi John! You might not remember me, but I’m the new guy down the hall!!! I sit next to Emily! Isn’t she a hoot? 🙂 She’s been super, super helpful in getting me acclimated. Anyways, can you please send me a copy of the check? Only when you have a chance! I know you’re like, super busy and stuff, and I’m still learning, so just when you can! OK? Cool, and thank you!!!!!!! 🙂 🙂 :-)”

OK – that was a slight exaggeration. I wasn’t quite the shrill Valley Girl as portrayed above, but as a new employee, I did want to be perceived as friendly and eager to help.

I’m not sure where that enthusiasm went. I used to be the passionate newbie, but now I’m just the crotchety killjoy. These days, when a co-worker knocks on my cubicle for help, I just narrow my eyes and give them a Clint Eastwood snarl. That’s how bad it is.

It’s as if job longevity transforms us from fawning, ambitious sycophants to cantankerous, grumpy curmudgeons.

Over time, as we establish our roots in the position, the exclamation points and smiley faces start to dwindle, then disappear entirely. Blunt curtness replaces the once-cheerful tone of our interoffice correspondence.

Where once our writing exuded wholehearted passion, now it just drips with Dilbert-like cynicism.

I can always tell a new employee based on their e-mails: the deferential tenor; the overeager intensity. It reeks like the leftover salmon someone microwaved in the breakroom.

Come to think of it, microwaving fish in the breakroom might be the one instance these days where I’d use an exclamation point in a work-related e-mail.

“Note to employees: Someone this afternoon microwaved fish in the office breakroom, creating a rancid stench that’s offensive to our environment. And not to place blame, but I have a strong suspicion that it was John from Accounting! If you see him in the hall, please let him know how appalled you are by his thoughtless behavior! Not only is he a detriment to the team, but that incompetent jerk still hasn’t given me my check!!!!!”

Deriving inspiration from everyday life

Juggling three balls

Me at age 18 practicing juggling. Note how the lamp is placed well out of harm’s way.

People often are amazed to learn I can juggle.

I’m not great at it. I can juggle three balls pretty well and even do a few tricks.

I’m competent with four, but I can’t do any tricks — only straight juggling. Every time I’ve attempted to toss a ball under my leg or behind my back, I’ve had to pay to replace a lamp.

Because I’m only a fair juggler, I don’t do it that often.

It’s not that I don’t like to perform. It’s more the logistical nightmare of hauling four tennis balls around. (“Is that a tennis ball in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”)

Also, I often end up dropping one of the balls and chasing it across the room. (Interestingly, people seem to be more entertained by me chasing the balls than actually juggling them.)

I taught myself to juggle at age 8. I started with two beanbags and threw them from one hand to the other, starting out slow, then getting faster and faster.

Later, I graduated to three beanbags and learned to juggle them in a circle. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I could juggle three balls in a typical cross pattern.

I can trace my love of juggling to one thing: an hourlong Jonathan Winters comedy special that aired on Showtime sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

The special was composed of four acts, in between which Winters performed standup. The performers were Pat Hazell, a magician and comedian; the Raspyni Brothers, a pair of comedian jugglers; Johnny Fox, a sword swallower; and the Pendragons, a husband-and-wife magician team.

My family taped the special on VHS, and I remember watching the tape over and over. I loved it all: the magic, the comedy, the stunts — and especially the juggling.

Hazell’s act included a neat setup where he juggled three hats, with a different hat landing on his head with each toss. He also performed comedy and sleight-of-hand.

The Raspyni Brothers tossed juggling pins back and forth while bouncing a ball to each other using only their heads. I loved their self-deprecating comedy. They were preforming this amazing feat of juggling and telling each other things like “make it look hard” and “there are literally hundreds of variations you can do [with five clubs and a ball]. But unfortunately, they all look like this.”

I knew right away that I wanted to learn juggling and magic. (I figured I already had the comedy part down, because I was the class clown at school. I imagined that if I also could juggle and do card tricks, the realms of my popularity would know no bounds.)

There’s that magical time when we’re young when anything seems possible. The world is at our fingertips, just waiting for us to reach for it.

As a child watching that special, the idea of growing up to become a comedian/juggler seemed perfectly reasonable — indeed, the ideal career path. While some people were determined to grow up to become firefighters or doctors, I wanted to tell jokes while juggling chainsaws. (Although my mom always appreciated my humor, I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about chainsaws.)

The notion somehow lost its luster as I grew older, as such dreams tend to do.

But then again, maybe it didn’t. Maybe it’s more that I gave up on that dream, because it seemed so unlikely and unachievable. (After all, how many jobs are there on Craigslist for chainsaw-juggling? At last count, not many.)

As we age, we get the notion that we need to buckle down and get to work. We learn to let go of the impossible and embrace the conventional.

An everyday job pays the bills, whereas chasing a dream may not.

The everyday road means safety, while the path to a dream may be treacherous and full of potholes.

And that’s fine. Not all of us are cut out to be jugglers or sword-swallowers. (Besides, unlike my current job, I doubt sword-swallowing offers a comprehensive benefits package.)

But we never should let go of our dreams completely. Even if we’re ensconced in our everyday lives, we should try to grasp for the impossible — to improve ourselves and grow creatively.

We shouldn’t do what I did in my twenties — which was my leave my tennis balls in the closet to languish and collect dust.

I looked for them not long ago, after watching a Chris Bliss juggling video on YouTube. Seeing the video rekindled my interest in a hobby I’d long forgotten.

I dusted them off and started tossing them in the air. I was definitely rusty — as evidenced by the first ball knocking over my alarm clock — but after a few minutes, I started to get the hang of it. Old reflexes kicked to life, and soon I was up to my old tricks (well, all two of them, anyway).

That instance of juggling brought a little magic to my evening. For a while, anything seemed possible — just like it used to all those years ago, when I was a little kid juggling two beanbags in an endless circle.

And that’s the true magic of living. It’s not illusions or sleight-of-hand or even juggling chainsaws with their blades on fire.

It’s the idea of pursuing the impossible; of deriving inspiration from unexpected sources and living the life you want to live.

It’s never settling into a rut and letting the world pass you by. It’s reaching for the unachievable; grasping for the impractical — letting your mind and spirit soar as you figure out who you want to be and the kind of life you want to live.

I’ll probably never juggle professionally. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t juggle at all.

Learning to juggle two balls, three balls, four balls — and someday, maybe even five — I’m reaching out to achieve a goal; to grasp for the impossible.

And that’s what that magic and comedy special taught me so many years ago. More so than any card trick or sleight-of-hand illusion, the true magic of life is the ability we discover within ourselves, and the skills we develop through hard work and perseverance.

So my boss said to leave the report on his desk…

boss patting employee on back.

When my boss is brutally honest….

When I first got my new job, my boss, Steve, asked me to write a one-page report for the executive manager.

“Be sure to send the report directly to me,” Steve said.

“You don’t want me to send it to the executive manager?” I asked.

“I don’t. I want to check it before he sees it.”

“I’m a fairly good writer,” I said. “I got As in high-school English, and I run spell check on all my correspondence before sending it out.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Steve said. “It’s that I want to review the report’s content prior to the executive manager reading it.”

“Are you afraid I’m going to say something offensive?” I asked.

“I just have to review it before he sees it. Employees are not permitted to e-mail the executive manager directly. Only managers can e-mail the executive manager.”

“So I have to write the report and send it to you so you can send it to him?” I asked. Keep reading…

Church-Lady meets Lars Ulrich

Music Review: “25 Organ Favorites”

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/25-organ-favorites-remastered/id410883996

Author’s Note: My great-grandmother bought me this album when I was in high school. I imagine she ventured to Tower Records and asked the clerk what kind of music a teenage boy would like. Snickering, he probably handed her the CD and said, “Try this, lady. I’m sure he’ll love it! Huh huh!”

I was delighted to find this album is now on iTunes, and to show my appreciation, I decided to pen the below review. The album is a compilation of songs played on the organ … with an inexplicably aggressive drummer providing the backbeat. Yeah.

“Thanks, Grandma!” I said, biting my lip as I examined the CD. “This is exactly the kind of music my friends and I listen to!” 

When you combine a little-old-lady organist with a heavy-metal drummer, the result is this explosive album featuring some of the most head-banging licks ever pounded out by a blue-haired virtuoso. From the opening track of “Shine on, Harvest Moon,” thundering backbeats bludgeon the listener’s sensibilities while the organist’s gnarled, arthritic fingers tickle the Hammond’s ivories in a geriatric gusto. Not since “Toccata and Fugue” has the organ mourned with such a melodramatic flair. With pulse-pounding drum flourishes reminiscent of Metallica, the rumbling percussion crashes and reverberates, providing an epic, frenzied accompaniment to the churchgoing organist. The monumental standout is “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” which swells with uncontrollable insanity as the organ’s tenacious tonewheels deliver a powerful, melodious sermon worthy of the grandest cathedral. This ain’t your Bingo-playing grandmother, here; this organist is blasting out Herculean hits like a modern-day Goliath. So loosen up your cardigan and slip off your orthopedic shoes, because with this heavy-metal hitter, the organ bellows with Bach-esque grandiosity.