Checked Out All The Way

I went to my favorite warehouse emporium yesterday.  Unlike the usual trip, which usually ends in a triple-digit figure on the receipt, all I had to pick up was a gallon of milk while in the area.

In the checkout line, after ringing me up for a whopping 2-dollars-and change purchase, I looked at the total and told the cashier “Wow, that’s got to be a record for the lowest amount purchased here ever!” ( I don’t think there’s anything in the store packaged in the sub-$10 range.)

She looked at me and appeared somewhat shocked.  Kind of like the shock you’d feel if you looked at the other end of the couch and your dog said “So what we doin’ today?”

I guess she wasn’t expecting anyone to make conversation with her that wasn’t a complaint or question about the direct business at hand.  She probably is so used to seeing people listlessly shuffle through the checkout line to be scanned and silently exchange legal tender before wordlessly pushing their carts out the door that someone going off-script with a simple comment surprised her.

It’s not the first time I’ve noticed this.  The city I live in is a relatively new ‘burb, and there aren’t a lot of stores and restaurants here that aren’t part of the Age of Franchise.  They all look alike, the efficient employees say the management proscribed lines, and the bland commercial color schemes are pretty much the same.

I remember what stores used to be like before mass commercialization hit.  Real people used to work in them, and they didn’t have to wear name tags.  They were unique enough that when they quit or left for whatever reason you noticed and asked what happened to them.

It’s hard to remember an individual employee now even at the places I frequent.  They either turnover so often or just anonymously perform their task that you don’t (and probably aren’t) supposed to notice them.

Shopping should be fun.  Humans – not canned music or boring color schemes – can make it that way.  The relentless drive for efficiency and standardization now extends right down to making buying something – a book, a gadget, or a meal – as soulless and frictionless as possible.

Most people aren’t too thrilled with what they have to do to earn their dough.  The least we can expect is to have some fun spending it!

I Want To Love You, But You Make It Difficult

I see WordPress has changed the way it “looks” with regards to it’s Admin bar.  So now a task like writing a new post which used to be accomplished with a minimum of computer play now makes me hunt and scratch my chin to figure out where the new things are hidden.

We see this too much in technology.  Microsoft seems to need to change the entire reasoning and interface for each new version of it’s product.  Those of you who remember being dumbfounded upon opening up your brand spankin’ new version of Office 2007 will know what I’m talking about.

Even Firefox changed it’s tune an update or so ago.  I’ve been using drop-down menus to easily navigate since, well, the damn things were invented.  Suddenly they are gone so that they can appear more Chrome-like.

I’m all for a clean user interface.  But I’m starting to feel like we go a little too far, too often.  I remember in the Web’s early paleozoic era that all the design rules for readability and usability were thrown out.  Remember the awful looking Geocities websites with a black background and text that made your eyes bleed?

But this was the new frontier, so naturally all the old rules about design and usability had to be thrown out.  Along with what their soaring stock prices were really based on.  And we saw how that worked out!

I know tech types love to tinker, and that makes me glad most of them confine their activities to the ether of software.  I shudder to think if these guys designed cars or something tangible.  Next years model would have the steering wheel in the trunk for a “clean front seat interface” and the doors would be designed so that you’d have to ask the salesman how to get into the damn thing for a test drive.

Like everybody else I’ll get used to the new look, then it’ll change in the next iteration, for no real reason or added benefit.

Because these are the people who put “shutdown” under the “start” button.

Aliens Beneath Our Feet

A bit of insomnia and the wonder of hyperlinks let me peek in the door of one of the dark but active corners of the Internet.

I’m not even sure how I got there, but I ended up on a site that discussed aliens (as in outer space type) and secret underground military installations where they have evidently set up shop.

I’m not sure how I have remained unaware of this, but in northern New Mexico there is apparently a secret underground base that goes 9 levels deep into the earth, and human scientists, along with the “greys” (think the almond-eyed little guys from Roswell and various car commercials) work on genetic experiments.

This apparently explains the cattle mutilations and other weird phenomena seen in the area.  The existence of these aliens and this base is pretty well known by everyone but me, apparently.  Google “Dulce, New Mexico” and you can be brought up to speed.

Who knew?

It does make for interesting reading, especially some of the comments and third-hand accounts of what people have supposedly witnessed.  It’s like science fiction that becomes a religion, and as outrageous as it is, you have to tip your hat to the creativity involved.

I think stories and conspiracy theories like this exist because we don’t have a lot of the mysterious anymore.  There are no new continents to explore, no new civilizations to uncover.  Even on our trips to other planets all the information we get back is kind of disappointing.

It would be cool for a Mars rover to look around and see somebody looking back.

I just wish we would submit to our alien overlords and the people who are running these hyper-secret projects.  Because they are apparently a lot more competent than the public fools we’ve got sitting in Washington that can barely keep the lights on.

Anyone who can build huge underground secret bases staffed with aliens and alien-human cross-breeds and do it all undetected for years is worthy of my vote.  At least they know how to keep things a secret.

But concentrating on fictions like this keeps us from digging too deep into the areas where we might uncover some real underground things.  Why concentrate on Area 51 and the like when there’s plenty of skullduggery right on Wall Street?

Hmm…..a nondescript sedan just parked in front of my house, with two men in suits-black suits – and dark glasses inside.

I’d better log off.

Bizarro World

I sometimes wonder if on my way back from the Town Pump some late night I slipped through a wormhole in the space-time continuum and ended up in an alternate universe.

I must have jumped out of the hole in time to not fully live in this Bizarro World, but I still have the ability to see some of the inhabitants of that strange place, mainly by accessing our somewhat shared reality on the Internet.

I was following some links on writing and business blogs (mostly populated by fellow earthlings) when I ran across a woman who touts herself as a “humor consultant”.

That sounds like a pretty sweet gig, so I decided to investigate further.

She had some clips of her delivering her material that the Fortune 500 evidently clamors for.  I didn’t find it particularly funny, she seemed like a slightly more relaxed version of a Powerpoint presentation.

She also had a clip of her stand-up routine.  (Note to self:  If you decide to put a clip of yourself delivering a comedy routine online, do not do it standing in front of a vinyl banner that says “$2.50 Pabst All day” – and make sure more than 3 people are in the audience to help beef-up the laugh track a little more)

Now consultants are probably a good thing for companies to hire, if they lack certain skills and abilities.  I would wonder about any company that was so humorless that they had to bring in somebody to try and get a rise out of the employees.  Management FAIL!

Do companies really hire people like this?  How do you explain THAT particular invoice in today’s environment?  How do you get these gigs, be the CEO’s sister-in-law?

Seriously, though, more power to this lady if she is actually pulling this off.  I would expect the only laughter I would get if I tried something like this would be from the business types I tried to pitch this to.

Because I’ve been knocking around the business world for quite some time now, and there’s not much humor in it, in my experience.  And that’s not an accident.

Even in the warm-and-fuzzy pre-Depression world, humor was in short supply.  Mainly because in humor, somebody has to be the butt of the joke.  And making even polite fun of a situation or the participants in it seems to be a quick way to lose those dreaded “team player” points.

So the alternative is to poke fun of yourself, something that most people seem to be genetically unable to do.  Plus, come performance review time, you may find that you’ve written yourself into the part of the clown and out of the part of the prince.

I miss the few offices I’ve worked in where people genuinely got to be themselves, warts and all.  Because today’s environment seems to favor the “hive mind” mentality.   Leave your personality in the parking lot and plug into the “beige-ness” of the office and environment during your sentence there.

This also strikes me as the modern version of the King and Court Jester, tailored to the conference room set.

But who made these people King?

Nipped In The Bud

I mentioned in my last post about seeing some oddball links to this blog.  I reported them to WordPress support and it hopefully did the trick, I haven’t seen any more of them.

Which made me think about just what a spastic collaboration our electronic media is.  Hijacked sites, spambots, and angry commenters.  It makes you wonder what things would have been like for the creative endeavors of the past, if we showed as little respect then as we do now.

It would have probably stopped Michelangelo in his tracks about halfway thru the Sistine Chapel.  He’d have had an angry crowd beneath him as he worked every day yelling obscenities at his work, and at night they’d probably tried to spray-paint his work over, if they could penetrate the firewall (locked chapel).

I shudder to think what they would have said about Whistler’s Mother.

Luckily, those artists only had to deal with the local contingent of angry people, and being face to face, there weren’t the anonymous angry outbursts.

As time goes on, I think Internet civility has improved, as anybody who remembers the Usenet forum days might agree.  Or maybe there is so much other stuff to be angry about people are just wearing out.

Or maybe right now there’s the next round of link spam being written by some 13-year-old Romanian hacker.

It sometimes does make one long for the days of pen and paper.

This Explains A Lot

Saw this article which goes a long way toward explaining how most people react to the new.  How people fear creative ideas.  Not much of  a surprise to anyone who has worked in a large company recently.

It does make me feel better, though.  Here I thought they just didn’t like me, and all the time it was my creative outlook!  Whew!

For all the talk of continuous-improvement and other such horse-puckey, I’ve always found that when people say they want creativity and ideas they just want security and convention.  As I mentioned to one boss when they gave me a task with no resources to accomplish it “what you really want is a solution that costs nothing, takes no effort or resources, and is risk-free”.  Yes, they said, without even seeing the sarcasm involved.  “Those are the constraints we have to work under”

On an unrelated-but-not-really note, I see that trust of the Federal Government is at an all-time low, with the Feds coming in even lower than bankers and lawyers.  I think it’s not so much a lack of trust, as a realization that the government is uncaring and unwilling to do anything effective.  Sure, they’ll try to whip up the crowd with speeches in Detroit about the good ol’ American worker, but they aren’t really going to do anything about it.

We don’t have money to spend on We The Sheeple, because it all has to go to wars and Wall Street.  So most of us just aren’t buyin’ it any more.  The sad part is it’s turning some people not just against this particular host of fools but against the very idea of government in general, into some kind of Wild West every-man-for-himself fiction that their 300-lb, high-fructose corn syrup fed, ill-educated asses can’t quite handle in reality.

Many of the folks who are espousing this type of Social Darwinism aren’t smart enough to realize they are the ones who will get weeded out.

P.S.  On a technical note, I’ve noticed some spammers returning to my blog.  Had a long run without them, but nothing good lasts forever.  So if you are hosted on WordPress, might be time to check to see if any weird URL’s are coming your way.