Three day…

I throw alot of heat at the job around here, but I want to take this opportunity to mention one of the things that definitely doesn’t suck. In the world of the federal civilian, there are few perks more appreciated than the steady flow of paid holidays that loosely mark the coming and going of the seasons. These 10 days constitute the cornerstone of the sought after government employee benefits package. Coupled with the judicious application of accumulated annual leave, these days can be parlayed into a goodly stream of four and five day weekends and still leave two weeks left over to cover the end of December festivities and maybe even a week somewhere warm and tropical.

These extended weekends are even a perk for those who opt to stick around the office in that there is almost no one else around. It’s a great opportunity to actually play catch up on projects that have been lying untended in the corner of the cubicle, because there are almost no interruptions. I’m not extending the 4th of July holiday myself this year, so I’ll be in the office right up till the bitter end on Friday (if you consider 3PM the bitter end). After that, it’s off to enjoy the three day weekend… Which mostly means trying to sleep in until at least 7AM and then doing yard work until it gets too hot to see straight. Not exactly an epic vacation, but for now I’m not looking any gift horses in the mouth.

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Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, there was a bakery. The bakery was owned by a rich and powerful man who only visited the shop a few days each month. In his absence the shop was run by an expert baker who had many employees working under him. These employees, sales clerks, delivery drivers, pastry chefs, dish washers, and far away regional sales managers were all specialized in their respective work areas and brought unique skill sets to their jobs. Though not everyone loved it, the bakery had kept its doors open and survived past the two year mark when many start-up businesses fold. It had a small, but loyal following and was working hard to make incremental improvements to how things were done.

One day, the owner called the baker and told him that the next day there would be a truck of meat arriving and that they would be running the butcher shop next door to the bakery from now on too. “But sir,” says the baker, “we don’t have the equipment or the skills to operate a butcher shop. Perhaps,” he adds, “we should hire a butcher to run this new shop.” But the owner, clearly knowing best, told the baker, “don’t worry, just go in there and hack away at things until you figure it out. It’s not that hard to cut meat and besides, we’re not really worried about quality.” Shaking is head, the baker opens the shop the next morning. His staff does their best, but none of them have been trained at meat cutting and what could have become fine steaks were chopped beyond redemption and because the entire staff was consumed with opening the butcher shop, none of the bread, or pies, or doughnuts, were baked that day. As the staff focused on learning the skills of a butcher, their skills as bakers, and clerks, and delivery drivers slowly deteriorated and by the time they were even marginal butchers, their bakery had lost its customers to competing businesses that focused on their “bread and butter.”

The moral of our story is that in a world of specialists, it’s important, even critical, to use people where there skills and training are maximized. Where new or different skills are needed, those skill sets need to be developed through training or brought in from the outside. When you ask bakers to be butchers, don’t be surprised when things don’t work out as well as you’d hoped.

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Hands on…

The first thing I thought when iPhone 4 came out of the box was how elegant the design was compared to the previous three iPhones. In keeping with most of Apple’s other products, excluding iPad, the new iPhone fits right into the same industrial design family. I mean it. This thing looks so good that even I don’t want to run out and put a case on it… and I’ve got serious paranoia about unnecessary phone nudity. Design features aside, it feels like a remarkably sturdy build in your hand, if a touch heavier than you think it would be. No complaints at all about design or build quality. Overall, iPhone 4 feels and looks like a very solid product.

iPhone users have gotten use to the fact that we sacrifice battery life to get alot of functionality. While it isn’t an epic improvement, I’ve been rather impressed with battery life so far. After five hours of heavy use – and I mean non-stop switching apps, moving things into folders, setting up several email accounts, and basically poking every button I could find – the phone is at 53%. That’s pretty respectable considering even with iPad doing some of the heavy lifting this morning, my was under 35 % after five hours of moderate use. Not ground breaking, but a definite incremental improvement.

I should have probably led off with this, but the screen is probably something that needs to be seen to be believed. It is smooth as silk and renders graphics beautifully. Colors are deep and rich and it seems you can zoom in basically forever on text and not lose fidelity. Truly the display might be the big “wow” for this phone. likewise, the new processor and increased memory make iPhone 4 very responsive to inputs. So far today I haven’t seen any hang ups or lag at all. Add that with the upgraded camera and it’s a real win. I’ve taken pictures with the phone today that are getting dangerously close to the quality taken by my actual camera.

Finally, there’s the upgraded OS that deserves alot of the credit for making iPhone 4 what it is. iOS4 delivers alot of the features that users have been waiting for – folders, basic multitasking, unified inbox (I’m still waiting on personalized notification sounds, Apple), and a laundry list of other small improvements. I should probably spend alot more time talking about the OS, but, and I hate to say this, “it just works” so I haven’t really spent all that much time thinking about it.

Ironically, I have spent no actual time using my new iPhone 4 as an actual phone (unless you count texting as a phone function). Honestly, I don’t use the phone that much, though I understand there have been some marginal improvements in call quality. Likewise, I haven’t used the front facing camera yet other than to switch it on long enough to determine that there was, indeed, a front facing camera. There are a host of other features I either haven’t found, don’t feel like commenting on, or are basically just “settings” type changes. You can be sure there will be plenty more comments as I spend the next few days living with the phone and getting a better feel for its personality.

For me, the bottom line: My name is Jeff and I endorse this product. If my personal seal of approval isn’t good enough for you and you’re still on the fence about iPhone 4, take a trip to AT&T (God help you) or your local Apple store in a few weeks and see one in person before you rule it out. I think you’ll be pleased. I know I am.

Finding a place in line…

I’ll be doing a live blog this morning from the Apple Store in Memphis. Sure, I could have ordered for home delivery, but I actually enjoy the festivities at the store on release days. With a reservation, standing in line isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s become part of my summer routine. It’s a good day to nurture your inner geek. More to come after I’ve stopped for coffee and checked out how things are playing out at the store.

5:20: arrived at Apple Store. Wow. Not like other launch days where I got here an hour early and was 20th in line. I’m probably 200th in the “reserved” line. The walk-up line snakes out of sight in the other direction. Does that make me one of the lucky ones. Looking like the potential for a long morning here.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a shot if the parking lot… And at 5:40, there are definitely no other stores even thinking about opening yet.

6:30 – About to do the window reveal at the store. Can hear the cheers inside the building. Curtain drops… And predictably the crowd goes wild.

6:32 – seems like I’ve lost the content posted around 6:00 – the short version is: the ambulance showed up for a geek who was overcome, Memphis news is reporting live about a bunch of Anglos standing in line in the suburbs, and there is no parking anywhere in the mall lot. Good stuff.

6:59 – about to be open for business. The end of both lines now goes around behind both wings of the building. For the record. It’s a big building

7:03 – and we’re open for business.

7:30 – and we’re moving right along. I’ve probably moved half the distance to the store now, which isn’t awful considering volume. It’s awfully slow going for the other line, but I admire their optimism. Word from someone who just came out of the store is that activations are “going pretty slow,” a phrase that makes me more than a little nervous.

7:50 – Maybe I spoke too soon. The line hasn’t moved in 20 minutes. Not good.

8:18 – Looks like 45-50 people still ahead of me in line, but the number behind me keeps getting longer. Easily 200+ in the reserved line now, but it appears that the tail end of the walk-in line has wise up and people have started drifting off. Reliable ETA on being out the door is still too tough to calculate.

8:51 – 25 people +/- ahead of me now. Finally made it to the front of the store and back into the shade. Don’t fool yourself, the morning sun in Memphis will peel the hide off ya.

9:30 – front of the line. The look on the faces of those who didn’t preorder is priceless. See below:

9:33 – heading inside. That’s it from the launch in Memphis. I have a few stops to make on the way to the house, but there’ll be more updates once I’m all synced up.

Getting his cut…

On July 1st, the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act goes into effect. In theory, this law makes it more difficult for organized crime and terrorists to sell tobacco products on the black market and helps “protect the children.” The reality is that PACT bans shipping tobacco products (excluding cigars) by US Mail and mandates that online sellers validate proof of age at the time of sale and collect applicable state and federal taxes. It also requires that shippers like UPS verify the age of the recipient on delivery. In effect, what PACT does is make it nearly impossible to turn a profit on selling cigarette alternatives without pricing yourself out of the US market. In effect, PACT protects the American tobacco industry from foreign competition and encourages those who smoke to continue doing so by making safer alternatives much more difficult, much more expensive, or altogether impossible to procure.

This troubles me not just because I oppose taxes on a philosophical basis, but also because it was several of these alternative products that helped me put down my last cigarette a month ago tomorrow. When electronic cigarettes proved to lack the requisite “kick” I needed, I did what most good historians do and got busy with the research. Fortunately, I found several forums that led me to Swedish snus.

In Sweden, it’s regulated as a food product and despite 40 years of ongoing studies in that country, they have not been able to link snus with an elevated risk of cancer. Because it’s steam pasteurized instead of smoke cured (they way American tobacco is processed), the tobacco used for snus is basically the textbook definition of a “safer” alternative. It caries a warning label here in the States because the U.S. government doesn’t quite know how to regulate it… and before PACT, they were losing tobacco tax revenue to the small, but growing user base who ordered their product directly from Sweden.

Those days are coming to a close and I’ve laid on a stockpile large enough to see me through at least the next two years without much trouble. After that, Uncle is going to make sure to get his cut and this safer alternative is most likely going to remain undiscovered by the vast majority of people who ever consider having a go at quitting. It’s a shame, really. There’s every chance that I’ll never be stopped for good, but for now I’m (mostly) proof that the alternatives can work… even when you’re not planning on it.

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Things I Learned from Dad…

1. No matter how prepared you think you are, the project you’re working on is going to require more than one trip to the hardware store.

2. Blue cheese dressing is really, really tasty.

3. I can say anything I want to about my family… but woe be unto the outsider who looks at one of them cross-eyed.

4. It’s important to know how to change your own motor oil.

5. When you’re family, distance doesn’t matter.

6. More often than not, the best thing you can do is stay home.

7. I’d rather spend a day with my animals than most people I know.

8. In the summertime, a whole tomato is a perfectly acceptable lunch option.

9. Sometimes the truth hurts, but hurt fades and truth remains.

10. The things you look back on most fondly are usually the moments that didn’t seem that extraordinary at the time.

Father’s Day is usually the time when we build a laundry list of superlatives about our male parental unit. That’s a temptation I’m going out of my way to resist. The relationship between fathers and sons far too complex to distill into generic terms like “best” or “greatest.” God knows there were some rough patches over the years and we both had some culpability there, but we’ve probably got a better and more healthy relationship now than we ever had when we were living under the same roof. Some sons go through their entire lives with a father who’s little more than a genetic donor. For up and down, good and bad, I’ve had a dad. That’s pretty much a jackpot.

Crossing over…

In most situations there is a magical line; a point to which you can run cursing and screaming, raising six kinds of hell, and still mostly get away with it. That’s particularly true if you manage to do whatever else you do very, very well. Of course there are times when the exact location of that line is a little hard to identify, so you’re left wondering how many more times you can poke at something before getting a swift and overwhelmingly negative response. Because I’ve inherited a mile-wide malcontent streak from my father, maybe I just tend to find myself in this position more often than other people who have learned to keep their heads down and mouths shut. Some people seem born to be rainmakers and princes of the universe. Me, I’m fairly sure I was born to follow those guys around tossing rocks at them and cracking jokes. I’m good with that.

Blogging has been a godsend for me. First, it gives me an outlet for writing, which aside from reading, is probably my first great love. Second, it gives me a fantastic venue to get things off my chest that would be wholly inappropriate in any other venue. The only real problem is that just like in the brick and mortar world, even here there are lines that I dare not cross. Sure, I’m happy to slide right up to them and maybe even nudge a few toes over it, but because it’s open to the public in the truest sense, I have to self moderate. Truth is, for every post that I publish here, there’s easily at least on I got halfway through before I realized there was no way I was going to say that out loud in front of God, a couple of dozen regular readers, and anyone else who happens to stumble on this site.

Most everyone who knows me gets that I’ve been having a love-hate relationship with the job for the better part of the last year. Lord knows there are enough lines here on the topic that it’s pretty obvious. But really, all of that just barely scratches the surface of things I’ve really like to say if given the opportunity. A lot of things don’t make the cut because I’m not willing to drag other people here by name to unbraid them. Other things, some of the best things, really, don’t make the cut for the simple reason that I’m not making my living writing a blog and do make a pretty good living at my actual job. I really wish it was different, because I have some great stories to tell and plenty of people I’d love to publicly call out (actually, that number is probably less than half a dozen who really deserve the works).

The point is, I’m working to find a balance between what to write and when to keep my pen to myself. I’ve made a career of finding that line in the real world (most of the time, anyway), but it doesn’t exactly translate one-to-one into electrons. Maybe it’s for the best that some things don’t get said… But damn won’t it be cathartic when I can cross that line, sit down, and say it all out loud.

– Posted via iPad.

Starting strong…

If nothing else, I can say that I started the day strong. When others were getting booted and being timed out on the AT&T and Apple websites, I managed to reserve my iPhone 4 for pick up next Thursday. By 5:50 this morning, I had my confirmation email and realized, somewhat disturbingly, that I had reached what was likely to be the high point of the day. Seriously, on a work day, what’s going to be better then the moment you confirm that you’re going to have your hands on this summer’s neatest new toy?

All I need to do now is show up, hand over $199 + tax, sign a new two year contract that I have no intention of staying in longer than a year, and wait in line for the 7 AM opening of the local Apple Store. It’s like any other high holy day, except with bottled water and granola. And it’s possibly the only time of year when I don’t really mind standing in line and being forced to socialize with total strangers. Of course then there’s the inevitable anger when iTunes grinds to a halt under the volume of people trying to activate new phones. That’s part of the price of being a ridiculously early adopter.

Despite what I consider one of the better starts, the day ended, as most days do… with my being annoyed. However, I wasn’t violently annoyed in that wanting to bludgeon someone with a desk chair kind of way, so perhaps I’m making progress and getting through the anger stage into acceptance… or is that indifference? Eh, who can tell the difference anyway. See, I’m growing as a person.

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The value of dogs…

One of the biggest challenges I have at the moment is trying to keep things in perspective. It’s never been a personal strength. For the most part everything is a crisis or completely unimportant and the middle ground mostly doesn’t exist. That’s where the dogs come in. Mostly because they don’t care if it’s a crisis or if it’s completely unimportant. Every day they’re absolutely happy to see you come home. They’re happy to eat the same food for breakfast and dinner day in and day out. They’re happy to just sit and only really demand an occasional pat on the head or rub under the chin. No other expectations. And absolute, unquestioned loyalty beyond the shadow of a doubt.

No matter how stupid a day I’ve had, there’s something about a wet nose bumping into you, or a lick, or a battered and well-chewed ball dropped at your feet that makes most things better from the minute I walk in the door. That’s the simple value of dogs. They’re one small slice of sanity in a world that is otherwise mostly mad.

This isn’t as much of a tribute as I had hoped it would be, but for a post inspired by getting sprayed with half a cup of bulldog slobber, I guess it’s not bad!

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