Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, February 03, 2007
I Suggest A New Strategy
Let the Wookiee win: not just a strategy for holographic chess knock-offs.

Finally, A Medical Product I Need
Today's unsolicited offer:

Resore Your Hair

You know, I have been lonely ever since I got rid of those lice.

Morale Spy

Covertly Uncovering a Company's Employee Morale During the Job Interview

When you go on a job interview, common advice reminds, you interview the company as much it interviews you. Remember, just as you might exaggerate that you have ten years' experience developing .NET on Linux, the company might embellish its resemblance to a happy television family. Whether the company represents the Cosbys or the Bundys, participants in your four-hour interrogation will concur that the company represents the Panglossian best possible workplace. Managers want to fluff the company's stock price. The proletariat wants more proletariat to share its burden. If the company demands twelve hour days or offers daily browbeatings, no one will tell an outsider. You would only learn true company morale after you started unless you conducted a little reconnaissance during your interview.

To gauge employees' true attitudes toward a company and its working environment, you can reconnoiter two locations in the building: the kitchen and the bathroom. In most cases, no professional employee bears the task of cleaning these locations during working hour. Contrast these areas with conference rooms, such as the one wherein the company will grill you, which the company keeps fastidiously clean and presentable for interviewees, roving executives, and venture capitalists. The regular grunts in the trenches don't spend that much time lounging in conference rooms. On the other hand, many non-executive employees use the kitchenette and the bathroom, and you can glimpse their corporate pride and morale in these utilitarian locations.

During your interview, ask for a tour wherein you can see the kitchen, or at least the coffeemaker alcove. If the company doesn't offer a coffeemaker for employees, politely but quickly end the interview and flee. When the interviewer breezes you through the kitchen, pay attention to the counter around the coffeepot and the sink. Dirty dishes on the counter can indicate bad news. Coffee stains might indicate that the poor souls working for the company are too overworked to wipe up after themselves. The company has too few resources for what it does, and you better not have personal plans on Saturdays. Untended spills might also indicate that the employees here delegate cleaning to, or worse yet assume it will be done by, underlings or the new guy.

A clean kitchen indicates that the other employees handle their spills and mistakes. Or they want to make a good first impression on the employees who might wander in after them. Such ambition and drive is good. Or maybe they're just decent, clean people. Regardless, a clean countertop bodes well.

You can apply the same observation to a bathroom used exclusively or predominately by employees. If the company has its own campus or building, look for a bathroom behind the receptionist's desk to provide the best intelligence. Ideally, you could review such a facility before your official interview begins, but don't be afraid to ask the HR person to whom you hand your official application about the nearest bathroom before he or she hands you off to the real interviewer.

While you're straightening your tie or fixing your makeup, check for paper towels on the floor. They can indicate that employees have creases a little too tight in their pants to bend over and pick up what they drop. You can also examine the counters for excessive water/soap residue. If the employees don't wipe up after themselves, who will? Look for graffiti on the stall walls, urine on the toilet seats or, worse, vice versa. If the employees show less concern for their workplace than for a tavern, they'll probably show you the same tenderness they show a beer-scented conversationalist in that same tavern.

Regardless of the company line during the interview, nothing describes the other employees' care and attention to detail, as well as their overall job satisfaction and pride, as how they treat those corporate spaces for which they have no direct responsibility but in which they can, and often will, make individual messes. Your surreptitious health inspections represent a quick and dirty way to find out how quick and dirty the company operates. The snap judgments you make are no less valid than the snap judgments that the company will make about you based upon the color of your slacks and the length of your hair.

Thursday, February 01, 2007
Jim Doyle Embraces Precursor to Tourism Decline
Governor on-board for $13 rental tax:
    Gov. Jim Doyle will back a $13 increase in the rental car tax to pay for new commuter trains connecting Milwaukee to its southern suburbs and to Racine and Kenosha, a Doyle spokesman said Wednesday.

    The three-county increase was recommended Tuesday by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority. If the Legislature approves, the RTA's portion of the rental car tax in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties would rise from $2 to $15, in addition to other state and county taxes that total up to 22.6% of each car rental.
Local officials love to fleece the visitors to their fair locales. And when the tourists stop coming because they don't want to be fleeced any more, local officials spring into action to expend tax dollars to promote tourism.

Because the source of all goodness is also the goal of all goodness. Tax money, thy symmetry is holy. Amen.

Devlin Also Cleared In Murders In Whitechapel, 1888
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch doesn't fail to get its headline with Michael Devlin's name in it today: No ties confirmed between Devlin and other missing children:
    No definite links between Michael Devlin and other local cases of missing children have surfaced in a two-week investigation of the accused kidnapper, authorities said today.

    But Sgt. Al Nothum of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, spokesman for the multi-agency task force performing the probe, said the investigation had just begun.

Post-Dispatch Headline Needlessly Savages White House Press Secretary
Snow: Just enough to mess things up

Now that's not called for.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Shrewsbury Puts Its Banning Boots On
But will they ban Guernseys, Holsteins, or Jerseys over this tragedy?
    A northeast Ohio farmer was attacked by a cow and died a day later of a fractured skull suffered when his head hit the ground, authorities said.

Special Offer for 20th Century Fox: First Clue Free
As I settled down to watch The Keys of the Kingdom, 20th Century Fox presented me with this particular guitar-driven, almost-a-music-video reminder that I should not pillage:

As a matter of fact, 20th Century Fox sees fit to entertain me with this little bit of nagging every time I put the disc in or start the DVD player. Since I stop and start these old timey movies often, that means I see the PSA over and over and over again.

But here's a little clueflash for you, 20th Century Fox: The people who buy black and white movies from 1944 for $7 from Sam's Club are not the people who download the latest Vin Diesel flick from BitTorrent. We're the committed consumers, right? We're shelling out cash for your deep catalog stuff. So punishing us by hectoring us not to do something we don't do annoys us.

Annoyed people don't make impulse purchases of old, forgotten Academy Award Winners just so they can sound smart or to stock up on trivia.

And, since you asked, the movie was okay. I got a little aggravated when I got halfway through and suspected that the movie was presenting Chicom revolutionaries as heroes and the target of assistance of the Roman Catholic priest (since they were freeing the peasants from the imperialists). In 1944, Hollywood was rooting for the other side there, too. But then I calmed down and remembered that the film, made in 1944, was set some decades prior (during the Taiping Rebellion?). So I suspended my politics and got back into the story. Then Anne Revere made a brief appearance, and I realized the Chinese revolutionaries were probably actually supposed to represent the communists.

Oh, and Gregory Peck is heavily made up as an old man in the framing of the story, and they warbled his voice somehow on the audiotrack. That must have been something in 1944.

The Gift Schtick
Around gift-giving holidays and birthdays, a certain stress accumulates like northern plains snow, centered upon what others will think of our individual capacity to proffer the pretense of caring for people to whom we do not speak for the majority of the year. Did we send our high school guidance counselor a Christmas card this year? She surely sent one to us last year, proving she's not yet dead. Did we get Janey's son Bobby something suitably expensive for his birthday, more than we would spend on a real nephew, but not so much to indenture Janey for our birthday?

Internally, we process the possibilities like Christmas calculus and crunch the metrics of what we know about the gift recipient. We dredge memories for shared moments, hobbies, or insights into that person's soul and spirit. We surf the intrapersonalnet, seeking the faintest rumors of needed household goods. When all else fails, we know that gift certificates offer the remote-controlled reminder of our relationship, but recognize that a gift certificate really emphasizes the obligation and not the emotion of gift giving. Gift certificates say, "We know we should get you something, but we don't know you well enough to know what you want."

Fortunately, amid the crush and bustle of the Christmas shopping season or the interspersion of gift-giving into our regular lives, we can honestly rely upon the honored tradition of the Gift Shtick to provide a default value for the drop-down lists of gift-giving.

The Gift Shtick represents a certain convenient gifting theme for a person that makes gift giving easy and gift reception safe. A person's Gift Shtick offers a single collectible motif, a single hobby, decorative fetish, or offhand comment, that friends, family, and acquaintances can seize upon with infrequent fervor to provide semiannual gifts. A good Gift Shtick offers almost infinite variation, providing the potential for almost thoughtless thoughtfulness.

The Gift Shtick can be sports memorabilia. For my wife, my relatives and I have found safe haven in buying St. Louis Blues apparel or paraphernalia. Although her interest in hockey is beginning to wane, and although she can almost dress in Blues jerseys and sweatshirts every day of the week, she can look forward to more of the same. For anyone in the state of Wisconsin, Green Bay Packers dinner china makes a handsome and thoughtful gift.

My friend Brian likes Elvis Presley, a Gift Shtick you can easily satisfy. You can walk into any mall in America and find something Elvish. Whether I find a wall hanging, poster, or CD of Elvis's first conversations recorded when he was three, I can give him something that says, "Dude, I didn't think you had this important piece of trivial tangential material in your collection."

I have an aunt who has a goose motif in her kitchen. I wouldn't know; I've never been in her kitchen to know whether she has adequate goose salt and pepper shaker sets to serve a dozen diners, all eating from goose china. My mother, bless her, provides twin bird shticks: she decorates her living room with bald eagles and her kitchen with owls. The eagle shtick has been so successful in the past years that I am going to buy her a new wall for Christmas just so she can display them all.

I let my family and friends down because I don't provide an easy Gift Shtick for them to employ. Each gift holiday, they must ask me what I want, and I am often at a loss. I rattle off a list of accoutrements that I don't need or a whim that I can conjure instantly. Instead, I need to create a theme for my home office décor or take up a particular hobby that comes with a lot of optional paraphernalia. That way, when it comes to paper-tearing time, I can be assured a surprise, albeit a safe surprise well within a set of established parameters and limits.

It's better to give than receive, everyone says, but it's certainly not easier. Anyone who's spent the last minute buying gifts from the end caps at Target knows the flutter of fear, of panic, and of an imminent gift certificate purchase. Whereas the Gift Shtick might not help the giver avoid a reluctant "Thenk yew" when the recipient opens the umpteenth throw blanket depicting a Bengal tiger, giving according to established or imagined predilections and peer pressure will allow you to escape the holidays with your sanity, and maybe even your inheritance, intact.

Monday, January 29, 2007
The Sweepstakes Bodhisattva Speaks
I won't start off by telling you that I've never won anything; no, I've had my small share of victories in various minor games of chance. In my youth, I won a couple of "Guess How Many x Are In The Jar" things for a number of trinkets and toylets. In my adulthood, I've won enough free tickets in state lotteries to merely lament wasting $999s of dollars instead of thousands of dollars. I even win a gift every year in the company's gift swap. But I've never made the big score: the television, the car, the big decorative check.

I've completed sweepstakes forms. I've listened to the advice of innumerable bottle caps and have tried again. Five years later, I still visit for my daily chances to win. I continue spending a latte's worth of my salary every week on my futile bid for state-sponsored number-running millions. My current strategy relies upon repetition of normal behavior: I go to the same Web site, I go to the same courtesy counter every week and buy the same set of numbers (the random ones), or I fill out the enclosed form and mail it off. So I've decided to alter my methodology.

With a flash of neo-Buddhist insight, I realized that my sweepstakes and contest entries have all sought to win prizes that I actually want for my own personal gratification. Money, new home theaters, and new cars would enrich my personal life. I would use their fruits in my daily pursuit of physical and materialist ease and pleasure. As such, of course Fortune does not favor me with these presents. Instead, I need to seek those prizes which I could neither use nor enjoy; only then could I grow spiritually through the gifts of random chance.

For example, I don't travel much; I'm a little edgy leaving the warmth and comfort of the Midwest. For me, a good vacation is a long weekend in Springfield, Missouri, or Milwaukee, Wisconsin—familiar cities where I have relatives and where I know the coffee shops in which to read. So when Clausthaler offered me the chance to win a trip to a golf resort, I filled out my vitals and spent a stamp to send off the entry. A trip thousands of miles to play a sport I've only tried once, badly, in my youth. Certainly, the Fates can frown on me with this grand prize.

To keep with the reluctant traveler motif, I've recently entered a sweepstakes for an African Safari, which includes hunting on the savannah. I've not been hunting since my youth, when I spent several scattered days in cold marshes at dawn to bond with my father. I've never actually hunted by carrying a gun. I don't have a passport, my immunizations are not up to date, and I'm not eager to leave the country for the continent that inspired Heart of Darkness and Anaconda. The prize would actually inconvenience me. No doubt Nike—the goddess and not the company—is signing the appropriate forms on Olympus even now.

Aside from those big, and travelsome, prizes, I've started looking closer to home for smaller scores. When local restaurants offer fishbowls in which customers can drop their business cards for the chance at a free meal, I only drop my business card in if it comes with strings attached, such as an hour's consultation with a financial consultant whose first lesson is There is no such thing as a free lunch. Certainly, I have a shot at that grand prize.

I'll continue entering sweepstakes, including the Publishers' Clearinghouse and Readers' Digest contests. By not purchasing, I'm not hurting my chances to win, but I'm really hoping that by not wanting, I'll bolster my chances. Ergo, when given the choice between the sports car and the minivan, I'm licking the minivan stamp every time. Someday in the future, should you find me tooling around in a Dodge Caravan, know that I am not only a winner, but I am learning a lesson in self-deprecation.

Sunday, January 28, 2007
There's Natural Laws, And Then There's....
What goes up must come down? How quaint.
    "Our townhouse in Wauwatosa, on the market for eight months, was reassessed at $391,000 last summer," Boyce said. "Our asking price, after being lowered twice, is now $349,900 and still we have not received any legitimate offers. Assessments are completely out of whack with values."
Government law trumps natural law, the laws of economics, and every other law it wants when it comes to getting its paws on tax money.

Don't expect your property tax assessments to fall with the market. Expect, at best, they'll hold steady until inflation or the government's own meddling force real estate prices up again.

If you object too strenously, citizen, perhaps you'd prefer to see your house as a couple of parking spaces and a light standard for the new stadium/mall/mixed use complex, eh?

The Nena Experiments
Apparently, 99 Green Balloons are not enough to start the apocalypse.

(Final hat tip to the cat man.)

Galt Protests
Here at the Noggle household, we've moved pretty much to LCD monitors for our various workstations, and the transition is not without its victims:

Galt atop the eMac

The cats used to love to climb atop the nice warm CRT monitors to nap. Now, this eMac is the last remaining CRT system in the house, and Galt vows to defend it.

Savor the Experience: Tips on Making Simple Household Projects Last All Day
Like many men, I try to demonstrate power tool prowess from time to time. The "to" interval represents something like a quarter, so each "time" follows the preceding "time" by about three months. I've derived many of the following tips the hard way; that is, I have learned much of what I know from the thin prose and disconnected photographs in tool pornography magazines such as Handy and The Family Handyman. I haven't actually completed many useful household projects, since I get my satisfaction from flipping through the magazines and dreaming. I am the son and grandson of remodeling contractors whose talents have apparently skipped a generation, but I have, up to four times annually, applied myself and my vast knowledge to improving my household. Ergo, I proffer advice appropriately to help you, too, turn a simple household project into an all-day affair.

Perhaps you've decided to put up surround-sound speakers for your home entertainment system. You just need to add a stereo outlet behind your entertainment center and run stereo wire through the walls to outlets for the rear speakers behind your sofa. It sounds fairly simple. Cut a couple holes in the paneling, run some wire between them. You could do it in an hour, right? Follow these tips, and your simple project will change into a life-transforming, all-day event.

  1. Always take shortcuts which don't, in fact, save time.
    Some people, such as those who excelled in shop class in middle school, might tell you to begin your work by measuring, diagramming, or at least thinking ahead about what you're going to do to your den before you start. Balderdash! Planning wastes valuable time that you could better spend admiring your handy work and accepting the accolades of your family and friends. You've probably procrastinated this particular chore long enough for it to work its way into an Andy Rooney parable. Haste prevents wasted time, and once more make a breach, dear friends, once more.

    Besides, you only need a couple of holes and some speaker wire.

  2. Don't worry about having the right tools; use whatever you have at hand.
    Civilization developed from Neanderthals who bound rocks to sticks as tools. Millennia later, we have screwdrivers and hammers. Either has innumerable uses, and combined they represent all possible combinations of tools. If you're going to add a sunroom to your home, you only need a hammer, a screwdriver, and maybe a pocket knife. You waste money when you buy custom tools that you'll only use once. You'll then store them forever, or at least until a visitor to your estate sale tries to convince your disinterested heirs that your heirlooms aren't worth two dollars each.

    You can drill through the paneling in your den like a manic mosquito with a ½ inch with 3/8 inch reduced shank proboscis until you've got big enough bits to pass the wire through. You can fish in the hole with a bent coat hanger or a string to pull the cable. You're set. Drill! Drill!

    Except your drill holes don't give you much room; you can't fit a finger in to feel for a coat hanger or a string. Since you will cover the speaker outlet with a faceplate, you could cut a bigger hole. You need a special saw to cut into the wall. What do they call that again? Oh, yeah, a drywall saw.

  3. Make many trips to the hardware store.
    Sometimes, I hate to admit, the trifecta of fom toolery listed above won't serve your needs. If you've followed tip number 1, you'll discover this when you have removed a number of panels and have disconnected power to the entire house (just in case). You'll need an Allen wrench, one of the more exotic drivers, or a special tool for cutting wallboard or sheet metal—oddly enough, no tool cuts both well, not even that Swiss machinist knife you just sharpened.

    You'll need to trek to your local hardware store or home improvement supercenter. Personally, I find nothing compares to the self-assured manliness I enjoy in the hardware store when I know exactly what I need to perform a specific task. The experience puts me in touch with my ancestors and bonds me as an equal to burly men who even today have to work for a living by doing useful things.

    Remember, both the cavernous superstore and the local, struggling family hardware store offer a particular time-wasting strength. The cavernous superstore makes the search for a particular grommet exceedingly difficult as you forage through acres of eight-foot high shelving for a couple dollars' worth of plastic and metal. Even if you ask for help, the second-year high-school sophomore will need a manager, who has already committed to help another customer unlucky enough to find a teenage wonder-aboutkund.

    If the family hardware store remains open for business when faced with the competition of the national super lumberyard-and-hot-dog-stand, it has only a sixty percent chance of stocking your grommet. Fortunately, though, a drywall saw is a fairly common grommet, so the family hardware store probably has one. Just one, though, so hurry before another reader gets there to buy it.

    Whichever you choose, you face at least a half hour in your car and in the checkout line. When you get home, after you have carefully unwrapped the product from its box or blister wrap and have studiously ignored and lost the instructions, you will discover its power source requires charging or inconveniently-sized batteries.

  4. Innovate, adapt, or just try something different.
    A true handyman is handy, and can adapt and jerry rig to obtain the desired result. Some might say that this displays a great degree of synthetic thought, where one applies experience and inductive reasoning together, but anyone who uses terms like "synthetic thought" and "inductive reasoning" probably hires a professional for his or her home upgrades.

    In our project, we might discover that our new drywall saw doesn't pierce wood paneling. You're supposed to punch it against drywall and saw, but the tip bends on paneling. Still, you've got the drill; you can easily drill a large hole in each corner of the square you want to cut and connect the dots with the saw. However, trying this leads to a time-consuming process which yields a jagged, unpredictable cut. A jigsaw would speed the process, but that would require another trip to the hardware store and further expenditure.

    On the other hand, you still have the hammer and screwdriver in reserve. Perhaps you don't need the jigsaw. You can adapt your technique to the tools at hand. You can use the screwdriver to pry the paneling from the wall and run the wire that way. Like Hannibal Smith and MacGyver rolled into one, you love it when an innovation comes together.

  5. Throw at least one, preferably more, tantrum that sets you back.
    It's not uncommon to feel a little twinge of frustration after hours of futility in performing a simple task that you know a professional could accomplish in twenty minutes while intoxicated. Carefully devised shortcuts have failed. Innovations prove as troublesome as replaced, obsolete methodologies. Also, it doesn't help that you've opened a gash in your finger that bleeds enough to make you want to save the blood in a can in case the hospital needs to put it back.

    You've bent screwdrivers because you didn't have a crowbar handy. You've gone back to the hardware store to purchase your brand new crowbar. When you pry with your new, label-yet-affixed crowbar, the wood panel doesn't appreciate your deft, gentle, and soothing touch and splits. We, and by "we" I mean "at least I did, and I hope I am not alone," might feel a little rage. Not murderous, but a pure rage worthy of expression.

    Curse and tug with a final, gamma ray burst of strength. Revel in your own destructive capability as the paneling not only splits, but pulls free from the wall, tearing out the light switch faceplate, the light switch, and the telephone jack. The picture you didn't remove (to save time, of course), crashes to the floor and sprays glass nuggets onto the carpet and into the chair in which you'd expected to nap. The thrill of proving your point instantaneously transforms into remorse; the speed of the transition creates a thunderclap, or perhaps that's just further cursing. Also, don't touch that sparking wire.

  6. Do what the professionals do.
    At this point in my projects, when my cursing reaches other rooms and sweat obscures the tunnel of my vision, my wife appears to ask if there's anything she can do, or perhaps to see what she can save. As she's seen me in this state before, she knows what to ask. "What would a professional do?"

    "Quit and get a retail job," you might want to respond, as I often do, but the question has its merit. Take a step back from your current situation, reflect upon what you're trying to do, and assess it coldly in the terms of dollars and sense. Imagine you were a kid fresh out of high school, a pierced-and-tattooed fellow with no military or college prospects who got a job and has to get up at six in the morning no matter how late the concert ended last night. Now imagine how his foreman would look at the situation.

    A professional would only do as much work as needed to achieve the result required. To place surround sound speakers, the professional would understand that opening the walls would run the cost of the project up intolerably. He would simply staple the wires along the baseboard or crown molding and in the room's corners to the speakers. Incidentally, a professional already owns the staple gun and would not have to make another trip to the Ace Hardware.

    A professional moves confidently, partly because he's done this at least once before. He won't move with the heightened timidity from which we suffer, the gingerliness that leads to the sudden explosion of frustration. No, the professional is one cool customer. His calmness stems from the certainty that if he errs, he can fix the error, or at least cover it up cheaply. He can patch the unnecessary holes and somehow disguise the splintered break in the paneling, no problem. Smug bastard.
With that final insight, and with thirty minutes of draping wire like Christmas garland, you have successfully, relatively, completed a project for which you no longer feel any pride. Night has fallen, and clean-up operations remain, which include rearranging the room to mask any extra holes in the walls.

You have learned a valuable lesson from the experience, though. If you're like me, you'll remember how inadept you are at this sort of thing for at least two months. Fortunately, this schedule will minimize the damage you can do to your home and the number of times you must call contractors for catastrophic repairs. It certainly helps me.

To say Noggle, one first must be able to say the "Nah."