How the hell do I know if I want pepper?

Ok so here’s the thing that annoys me today. You go to a restaurant and order your favorite pasta dish. It arrives and in the waiters other hand is a pepper mill, and you know the question is about to be asked. “Would Sir like pepper on that?”.

Would Sir like Pepper?

But here’s the issue, every time I feel like saying, “Ask the Chef, does he think this needs pepper? And if so why didn’t he add pepper to it in the kitchen? And if it’s just a personal choice, why not give me a minute to TRY the food and see if I want some pepper, rather than you hovering over me and asking me to make a random choice that will either ruin my food or potentially make it better”

I know I can’t say this of course at it will have three immediate effects. Firstly it will annoy the people I’m at dinner with. Secondly it will cause the waiter to roll his eyes and provide no other useful input. And of course thirdly it will guarantee that my wine or desert will then include either a pubic hair or a reasonable quantity of the staffs’ sputum.

What would be the issue with just placing a pepper mill on the table? Is there some form of bistro union rule that says grinding your own pepper mill is crossing the demarcation line, and it would require a “tools down” strike?

Or maybe this is “special” pepper that is of such purity that the cost is a significant part of the restaurants running costs, and so the quantity must be stringently managed by a pepper mill professional.

Or maybe just maybe there is no reason except it’s been taught from generation to generation of waiters, just to annoy generation after generation of restaurant patrons.

It’s a question I ask myself every time I see that wooden tube of unground piper nigrum moving in my tables direction.

Lets not even start to talk about the parmesan cheese.


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Ever notice big companies die in a manner similar to stars?

John Kane

Consider; Running out of fuel, the star contracts (companies do RIF’s, office closings, divestitures)…

as it contracts, conservation of angular momentum forces the rate of rotation to increase, spinning faster and faster (companies get more spin doctors).

That increased centrifugal force accelerates the escape of energy from the body of the star further reducing the available fuel (the good people leave and more assets are sold off) while at the same time increasing the gravitational draw of the core (G&A as a percentage of revenue grows and grows) resulting in additional contraction (more RIF’s, cost reductions and asset sales) which increases the rate of spin (conservation of angular momentum still applicable).

This process continues until the point of no return and the structure collapses in upon itself either going nova (company is carved up and sold), or turning into a black hole (stock tanks)

The Thoughts of John Kane
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Saving the world one plastic bag at a time – PLEASE!!!!

I’m angry at the blatant hypocrisy of the anti plastic bag brigade. We are lead to believe that by charging us for a plastic bag at the supermarket the world is being saved from a millennia of landfills, and it of course is a total lie.

When we go to the supermarket apples are packed in polystyrene (Styrofoam to some) and then covered in cellophane (clear plastic) and then labeled. Toothpaste comes in a plastic tube, and is covered by a cardboard box. Cheese is covered in plastic, nappies (Diapers) come in a mix of plastic, paper and cardboard. In fact the amount of packaging we end up taking home from a trip to the local supermarket often exceeds the mass of the items we want to buy.

Yet the plastic bag is held up at the most vile of all items! That must be eliminated at all costs. Why, well the plastic bag is the only packaging that actually has a further use after the trip home. I use these bags to store garbage, and if the supermarket no longer provides them, then like you I am forced to purchase a roll of bin liners.

The only reason why the poor plastic bag has been singled out at the only packaging that must be removed from the ecosystem of shopping is that it is the only packing item that can be eliminated and allow the supermarket to both reduce their costs and increase their revenue.

We are being scammed! Lets see the supermarkets face regulations that demand they take back all packaging that that push on the consumer. All of a sudden I suspect they will find numerous ways to reduce the crap they push.

And lets take in one step further, make it the responsibility of the manufactures to take back their packaging from the supermarkets.

Lets face it we can buy apples from a bin and not require any packaging, we do it from farmers markets, and the world keeps turning, so we can do it from the supermarket.

If the world needs an end to packaging, lets not start with the useful plastic bag, but instead everything that goes inside it.
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The beginning of civilization, society and religion.

A couple of decades ago I had the pleasure and honor of being involved with the building of a model that proved how Stonehenge worked. In case you don’t know, Stonehenge is a very ancient stone circle in the south west of England. For a pretty ancient stone circle it’s in quite good condition.

The basic idea of Stonehenge (based on my understanding) was to help compute the position of the earth against the stars, planets, our moon and the sun, and from this information help early farmers to work out exactly when the best times would be plant crops and harvest them.

That might sound rather boring, but at a time when people didn’t know about the movement of the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun, this was a fantastically important set of information to know.

You want your crops to be able to absorb the maximum amount of sunlight so that they grow as healthily as possible. If you plant too early or too late, the crops won’t do well, and if you harvest either too early or too late the crops won’t last as long. It’s really important and really hard to calculate the optimum timing.

The position of the stones in the circle actually allow for complex calculations to be made that deal with the fact that the earth wobbles on its axis over a multi-decade cycle. These stones were the culmination of hundreds of years of observation, many generations of early scientists, keeping careful records.

If you ever go to see Stonehenge or any of the myriad of other stone circles around Europe, you will notice that many of the stones have notches on the sides near the top. This talks to the extensive time they were used for. Because the star field we see from earth does change over the decades, and so the exact position of the stars as measured on the marks on the stones deals with this change. It’s small but really significant.

If you calculate the position of the star fields as they would have been thousands of years ago, you can calculate the exact time that the stone circle was originally erected and from the notches of the side exactly how long there were used for.

These calculations match up with the carbon dating results gathered from remains found under the circle. So are as close to perfect proof for the reasons for the stone circles as has ever been found.

If you accept this idea, then the following makes sense.

Imagine for a second how life was ten thousand or more years ago. The (relatively) few people who roamed the earth were nomadic hunters, who would forage the land for food. Life was hard and lifespans were short. Some families fed up with this life, tried to corral animals and farm crops. Some of these people were more successful than others. And through experience the most successful ones were able to tell their children how to farm and over the millennia these families started to live longer and grow more numerous. With each generation knowledge on how to farm was passed down. And it was noticed by some that the best times to plant crops were when the sun rose over a particular branch of a tree, and the best time to harvest was when the moon fell over another branch of another tree. It wasn’t a perfect system, but the small difference this knowledge made year after year, meant that these families become healthier, longer lived and grew larger.

Over time they noticed that the cycle of the earth was more complex and so they started to record (over years) more and more cyclic details, by measuring the positions of the stars, planets, the moon and the sun. And the more accurate they could calculate the seasons the better the crops would become.

Of course this meant that some people were spending all of their time doing these calculations, and not working the fields or looking after animals. This meant that they needed a series of rules about who would do what, so that as a team (or tribe) they could all achieve.

Other tribes would want this knowledge, so trade was needed to allow them to get what they needed without having to replicate the complex calculations. And fortifications and security was needed to ensure that the other tribes didn’t just come and take it by force.

So the basics of society as we know it today was formed with social roles, trade laws, police and armies, barter, education and knowledge sharing.

As the calculations being performed became more complex and the devices used grew from tree limbs, to wooden circles to eventually stone circles. The operators of these early computers took on priest-like importance to the people. And the payment to these priests became seen as gifts to the gods.

You can imagine how god-like the information being shared must have seen to the people of the time. Generation after generation these complex procedures were passed down on how to calculate the seasons. And even the operators of these stone computers would have seen this knowledge as divine.

Over thousands of years, complex mythologies were formed, where elements of the sky and earth were considered powerful as they imparted such complex and critical knowledge.

So while we look today at these ancient stone circles and think of the religious significance they had to the people who lived at that time what we are really seeing is science and society being formed.

People built an amazing amount of knowledge and applied it to better society.

Is any religion today really that different?

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European Vacation: A National Lampoon?

What’s with Europeans (even many former Europeans), taking the month of August off?  The entire month?!!!  How is this possible in the 24x7x365 global economy?

Maybe they’ve set up a scenario in which a “backup” employee covers their ongoing projects and keeps work moving – ummmmm, no.  No backup, no manager filling in, no efficient and pleasant intern… nothing.  Just an automated message with something about enjoying being “on holiday” and a desire to follow-up sometime in September (I’m assuming 2012).

“The Wedding” drove an extra 4 Million visitors and £2 Billion in tourism revenue

European economies in the toilet, sloth-like growth compared to China, massive debt and/or trade deficits everywhere, moving toward becoming tourism-based economies, etc.  A coincidence that these things are happening where entire countries take the month off?  Doesn’t seem like it.

But is there another side to this?  Of course there is.  We deserve real time off and if we want it during the brutally hot month of August, we should get it.  And what if a great euro-friend gets an awesome place for a month in an awesome European “holiday” spot AND invites you to come stay for a week?  You do it, that’s what!  And when you do, you notice how relaxed and happy they all are compared to Americans who are afraid to use all of 2 weeks vacation all year.

The wines and wineries of Provence, France are the world’s best

So, am I angry and puzzled about Europeans taking August off or just jealous and angry because I’ve never taken more than a week off at a time… ever?  What do you think? (61)

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What does the Apple US court win against Samsung mean for geeks?

I think we all remember the days before the iphone, when phones made phone calls and occasionally the odd email and text message. Unless of course you were a hardened business blackberry user using your thumbs to tap out badly written emails, or under the age of 20 when of course your cingular form of communication was txting, having already decided that all verbal or other written forms of comms were inferior.

But since the iphone, things have changed dramatically. Now we all use devices that would have made gene Roddenberry give an “I told you so” holier than thou nod.

There was a time (between the end of the analog cellphone networks prevalence and the iphone) where calls could be completed without dropping. When phones had aerials that actually worked well. Maybe they were somewhat large and stuck out of the top of relatively large lumps of technology, effectively irradiating out heads. But they did allow us to make a call from ring to goodbye without redialing.

Now we trawl the world’s data resources and hold video calls all from a slice of glass and metal that slips lightly into any pocket or handbag.

iphone vs Android… let the battle commence

Do we care who makes that lump of tech-porn? Not really!

Whatever device you own becomes your passion, and you will fly it’s flag. Well maybe with the exception of RIM, as they seem to have drifted slowly but surely away from the mainstream doggedly sticking to the idea of only doing the things that work really well and avoiding all the crazy fun stuff… A sure death sentence.

The simple fact is everyone else did copy Apple. They (Apple) changed the definition of a phone. It became smaller, lost it’s keyboard, lost it’s full size antenna, got a full device sized screen, got a home button and became a computer in your hand and pocket. And some of the nuances around pinching and stretching along with the cute bounce at the end of scrolls are sweet, pure apple.

I’m sure there are other ways to make great tech devices, but given the current level of technology proficiency, Apple exploited what’s possible today to the max. And that makes it very hard for others to compete without copying.

Apple bet the bank on a device, which is just a screen you touch. It worked and they deserve huge credit for an amazing array of innovative ideas that are bundled into their i-devices. But maybe there are better ways of moving forward, and maybe forcing others to invest in innovation rather than replication will make our tech dreams come true.

I’m impressed by Android and the new Microsoft user experience, but not impressed enough to change from my iphone/ipad/apple tv life.

But I can’t wait for the next paradigm shifting tech. Maybe it will be google’s glasses which seem to have been preempted in the book Daemon by Daniel Suarez (a must read for all who love tech)

But just maybe Gene Roddenberry had the answer there as well. Maybe a little golden gadget pinned to your tunic will be the next device. Just tap it and talk to your computer, Kith and Kin. Gene already got rid of the screen, and the keyboard, and I didn’t see any aerials on those guys and gals in any of the myriad of Trekkie TV series or movies.

Maybe the family of Mr. Roddenberry needs to preemptively sue Apple for a few Billion.

the dreamer of flip phones (communicators) , pads (tricorders) and beyond….

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Solving the worlds economic problems – after a couple of bottles of wine

So here’s the thing, there is a really simple formula for economics, at a personal level. You are either working class, middle class or upper class. And there is a simple way to tell.

You are working class if 100% of your income is used to live. If every penny you earn goes to your rent/mortgage, food, clothing, transport etc, and there is nothing left for fun and savings then you are working class.

If at the end of the month after you have paid all the bills, you have a stack left over and you can choose to save or party, then you are middle class. How much of a buffer you have determines how middle class you are (lower-middle, middle-middle or upper-middle)

If though, the amount of money you spend on paying bills seems inconsequential to what you choose to save and spend on luxuries, then you are wealthy and are in the upper class. At this level you can “choose” to stop working and still have enough to keep you in the style you have become accustomed to for the whole of your life. Now there are still scales in the upper class. If you can choose to design your own yacht with enough bedrooms for all your friends and a permanent crew of more that six, and park it in one of the worlds most exclusive harbors, then you are most likely in the upper-upper class.

So now you know where you sit, what does this really mean. Well to start with there are different policies that you want your government(s) to implement to make your life easier.

If you are working class, you really want to pay fewer taxes, as the less you pay the more you can spend on basics. Actually when the working class tax rates gets lower, it actually is a good thing for the economy. As working class people tend not to save, but instead spend, meaning that whatever they earn goes pumped directly back in to the economy.

If you are middle class, you want to pay less taxes, as the less the government takes the more you are likely to spend on happiness of save and allow you to protect you and your family from those bumps in life.

If you are upper class you want to pay less taxes, as the less you pay the more you can leave for your children, ensuring that they can afford all those rehab centers and legal teams to fight the press and ensure those pictures of you playing naked billiard’s in Vegas are not published in your home country.

If you are working, middle or upper class there is a simple way of getting what you need. Don’t give any of your money to politicians. If politicians stopped spending billions on pointless pokes at each other and instead started to work out, how to get everyone working and not wasting money on over priced and under delivering government programs taxes can get lower for everyone.

If people are in work, then they don’t need so much in social security programs. Government is a major employer, so when you cut people you end up increasing social security costs (see Europes current mess as an example).

Tax the hell out of companies that move jobs outside of your country. Don’t make it so easy to hire cheap labor, make it preferential to hire locally. Also lower the taxes dramatically on companies that hire more people at times of high unemployment.

If healthcare was ubiquitous, and managed as a not for profit, then costs can go down dramatically and quality of overall service can go up. Lets face it, if you are sick you need help, you don’t need to go bankrupt. Healthcare costs go down when people are kept healthy. Outcome based charges always provide the most efficient model (see Mayo clinic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayo_Clinic).

Also Americans (through government) should never pay more than the best negotiated rates in the western world. Be it drugs, services or other goods. Put in place a simple rule on all government contracts that ensure the invoices paid reflect the power and size of America. Not list-price per person. This will reduce the cost of everything.

If you are planning a war, propose a tax increase to pay for it, and then lets see just how important that war is.

No more no-bid contracts

Get rid of all levels of lobbyists. Make it illegal for people to be able to pay to have their views be given a private audience. From Judges to Police Chiefs, from Commissioners to Senators, from Representatives to Presidents, make it illegal for elected officials to take money in exchange for even a discussion on a topic. Pay for questions must be illegal.

Education is the long term investment that governments must make. Teaching critical thinking, the sciences and basic skills is fundamental. Rip the politics out of education, and allow schools and teachers the freedom to teach people how to learn, and they will then be able to learn whatever the economy needs. Teaching to a test is useless, as outside of a couple of game shows fact based learning is not preparing people for the real world. Give kids the skills to learn and they can do so much more.
Today so much of the cost of education is bureaucracy and overhead. Let schools choose the best way to teach, and let the measure be how successful their students become beyond school. It will dramatically lower the costs and improve the delivery.

Time for more wine.
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Does Your Hiring Criteria Include Diapers and Landmines

Hiring philosophies run the gamut from “We always hire grads from these Top 5 schools and train them to be like us” to “We need people that are fully trained and already had a similar job and therefore know the job” and everything in between.

Do you want an “untouchable” employee?

One hiring philosophy that I find interesting comes from The Untouchables’ Malone who told Eliot Ness, “If you’re afraid of getting a rotten apple, don’t go to the barrel. Get it off the tree.”

So, what characteristics are you really looking for when your firm needs to hire?  Of course they need to be smart enough to handle the role but beyond that, what is most valued?  Is it where they went to school or where they most recently worked?  Is it their current skill set/s or their aptitude to learn?

I would think desire and dedication in the form of being willing to work harder and longer than others would be high on the list.  Also, candidates that will listen to their bosses and follow instructions would be very high on my list.  Finally, I believe you want people that can handle surprises and adapt on the fly.   If you agree with me on these points, then I have 2 pools of candidates that may have flown under your radar:  Military Veterans and Retail Veterans (especially those who’ve worked seasonal retail for 2 or more seasons).

You can work them slide sled dogs and they won’t complain (they’re thrilled to actually get a weekend off and work less than an 11 hour day).  They’re clearly not motivated by getting rich quick (or they never would have worked in retail or the military in the first place), and I’d wager they’ll be more thankful and loyal to your firm.

Few things nastier than a steaming one of these…

They’ve already learned to deal with surprises on the job and to deal with very irrational, rigid and unpleasant people; they also can handle landmine-type obstacles and traps (the retail equivalent of which would be dealing with a discarded “loaded” diaper I guess), because they’ve done it before.  Frankly, anyone who can adeptly handle a life-or-death situation or an angry housewife with screaming kids is a plus for my team.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention what school the candidates went to or where exactly they worked before – that’s because I don’t think it is as important as the characteristics I did mention.  I guess I could use the school as a tie-breaker for two otherwise equal prospects but I would want to know what they did for their summer and Christmas break jobs… And if it was ROTC or toy retail (with loaded diaper parking lot patrol), they’d get the edge. (29)

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Pennsylvania Reboot?

The Statue Was A Major Tourist Draw

With all the unpleasantness in State College, PA related to the details of the crimes and cover-up, trials, the firing, the statue downing, sanctions, appeals of sanctions (which could actually trigger the narrowly avoided college football “death penalty”), etc., it is easy overlook the potential economic impact of everything on the Pennsylvania economy.  Large numbers of visitors have flocked to central PA for college football in the Fall for generations and they often stay longer than just Saturday night and also return to PA to experience other fun attractions and activities.  They tell friends and before you know it, Pennsylvania tourism is a model that other states try to emulate.

But what about now?  What can draw visitors to PA each month in the post-Paterno era?  Locals are worried and angry but not short on ideas.  I’ve consulted experts in marketing, local tourism and Pennsylvania (as well as potential political candidates and other locals), and here is a sampling of their plans:

-Groundhog Saturdays in Punxatawney (Can anyone really get enough Phil?)

-“Pennsylvania Steagles” football games each weekend featuring surviving members of the original, legendary NFL Steagles and their children (and grandchildren)

Noxen, PA Rattlesnake Roundups* Each Week (*”Rattlesnake Roundup Now Safer ’cause They’re Tired!”)

Mauch Chunk, PA Bought Some Bones and Became Jim Thorpe, PA

-The town of Mauch Chunk/Jim Thorpe, PA will now have a weekly renaming ceremony and parade with the remains of the famous athlete serving as Grand Marshall on odd-numbered weekends. “We’d like to get JoePa up there with Big Jim at some point; statue or bones is cool with us.” said one football loving PA local.

Lebanon Bologna Drops at 11:59pm each Fri/Sat in addition to their legendary New Year’s Eve Bologna Drop.  The Lebanon Bologna companies already sponsor a Bologna Fest and can easily alternate in sponsoring a weekly “Bologna & Eggs Breakfast Social!” the next morning serving the previous night’s projectile (note: a 200+ pounder has been dropped in recent years).  This new weekly charity event is a natural for big time PA college football fans, because, who is more “full of bologna” they are.  Sure, it is a letdown from their catered tailgates with lobster, pierogies with gold flakes and filet mignon, but how better to reintegrate with the regular and average folk of Pennsylvania, than to share their peasant food and traditions?

Politician, Power Lawyer and Super-Nerd Dick Thornburgh

-Dick Thornburgh look-a-like contests in the state capitol of Harrisburg to both honor the former governor and US Attorney General but also to give some glory to Pennsylvania’s nerds and other bespectacled locals and visitors.

So, keep an eye out for these and other and great new PA promotions, let us know your ideas, and remember, “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania!” (35)

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How to speak French well

There are some amazing differences between regional accents. I try to speak English most of the time, and as I come from the London area, I personally speak it without any accent (at least in my opinion).

There are some places in the English speaking world that have such strong accents as to be almost unintelligible to the accent free ear. If you ever watch a TV show from Glasgow you will instantly know what I mean. And of course who can interpret the tones that emanate from the mouth of someone from Newcastle, England. To me it sounds like a series of guttural notes interspersed with the odd “why eye mon”. But I am reliably informed by those with a knowledge of regional accents that it is actually English.

For me the issue becomes much more intense when travelling in the non-English speaking world, especially in France. As I only have a very rudimentary understanding of the language when spoken clearly, so when you add a regional accent, FORGETABOUTIT!

I’ve spent quite some time in the south of France, and have worked out that place names when spoken with the correct accent are part word and part vomit sound.

For examples the small town of Lorgues, which I would say as “lorje esse” actually is pronounced “leeeerrrrrrrggggggggg-eerr” and the pretty mountain top village of tourtour is correctly proununced “ter teeeerrrrrrrggghhh”

This simple model really helped me get around. I just learnt to burp part way through a place name and it instantly become understandable to the natives.

Prior to this epiphany I used to think that either shouting slowly or trying to say things in English with a fake French accent were the best ideas.

Of course I could be wrong, and it’s just possible that the French are doing to the English what the English do to the Americans.

Next time I tell an American to go to the river “Tham-esse”, or go to “glouw-sester-shire”, maybe I’ll think twice.

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