Monday, August 25, 2008

Dunkin Donuts' Egg Whites Flatbread Sandwich

As someone watching his cholesterol, I was looking forward to trying the new Dunkin Donuts egg whites flatbread sandwich. I remember thinking a few weeks before it was introduced, that it was unfortunate that DD's offered such delicious breakfast egg sandwiches, but no egg white versions. I assumed it was somewhat beyond current fast-food technology - that DD's would be unable to store, freeze and micro-wave egg whites. Wrong!

Unfortunately, the sandwich I tried, with the turkey sausage, had absolutely no taste. They also offer a veggie egg whites sandwich, but I didn't want to go overboard with the cholesterol avoidance techniques. Too bad. What a disapointment. I figure the turkey sausage would add some zing but I was Wrong!

By the way, here in the Bronx almost all Dunkin Donuts employees are exclusively from Bangladesh. Whenever I see one that's not, I feel like something went wrong with their screening system and a hispanic snuck in under the radar. No knock on the Banglas; they are a great, dedicated work force. More power to them.

Oh, by the way, although America might Run on Dunkin, it's apparently limited to contiguous America. Check out the map logo: where are Alaska and Hawaii? Oh yeah, Hawaii is just busy winning the Little League World Series and Alaska, well, yes, WELL, they're probably getting ready to drill for oil and get the rest of America running.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Is Jeter on the Decline?

His On-Base-Percentage is 40 points lower than his lifetime average. Unless he goes on a second-half tear, he won't reach his 180+ hits per season. He has only five stolen bases and may not reach double digits for the first time in his career. He can't seem to pull the ball anymore and most of his hits are Texas Leaguers to right. His range has diminished at short over the years. His patented stab, leap and throw from deep short is a compensation for this, as is his "inside-out" swing a compensation for losing bat speed and not being able to pull the ball. He deserves a lot of credit for making those adjustments and maintaining himself a valuable piece of the Yankees. All these things, in sum, point to the start of a decline. Even his "inside-out" swing seems to be starting to backfire, as umpires no longer give him that inside pitch - instead of a ball, it's now a strike. We'll have to wait and see. Regardless, that Cooperstown plaque is waiting for him.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Book Review: The Canon by Natalie Angier

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier

I was initially put off by the book's introduction because it seemed as if the author was basically trying to be funny and was going way overboard in this attempt. The formula was transparent - fill the text with clever alliterations and end any sequence of items with a punch line item. It was way too cutesy. Fortunately for the reader, Ms. Angier backs off from this Dave Barry mutation and proceeds to engage the reader in dramatic and poetic prose that makes what otherwise may be dry recitations of science facts into memorable images and analogies. Even her humor, when muted, succeeds in getting points across. I would recommmend this book as an adjunct to any official science text in use.

For the first time I understand why scientists believe so firmly in evolution. Ms Angier explains clearly how and where the evidence fits to support the theory. I do question however, why Ms. Angier does not explain why, if the evidence for evolution is so incontrovertible, why has the theory not been promoted to a law, to join the pantheon of laws alongside thermodynamics and gravity. Is the problem merely semantic? We don't know because Ms. Angier doesn't tell us, but it does make one wonder why evolution has not yet been granted this status. Secondly, I also think that Ms. Angier falsely concludes that if evolution is correct then God does not exist. I do not belief that these are mutually exclusive, and by treating them as such, she leaves some doubt as to the objectivity of her position. Since she is a journalist, or presumably so as a science news writer, one would expect a more objective position or, if not, at least an explicit statement of belief.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Book Review: The Managerial Moment of Truth

Robert Fritz and Bruce Bodaken provide a practical guide for handling difficult but necessary interactions in the workplace. The Managerial Moment of Truth, or MMOT, is a four-step process of objectively identifying reality (a missed due date; a drop in sales); objectively determining how the manager in charge came to that point, without blame or criticism; identification of new and improved procedures to do better the next time; and establishment of a feedback system so that the leader and manager can monitor the new process. The goal of this four step process is ultimately to improve the performance of the manager and to thereby improve the performance of the overall organization.

The foundation of the MMOT is Fritz' concept of the creative process, which is built around acknowledging current reality, determining where you want to be, and making what he calls a fundamental choice to arrive there, and thereby taking the necessary steps to create this new reality. This process takes place within the framework of what Fritz calls structural tension, the tension that naturally exists when there is a difference between where we are and where we want to be. By addressing the tension in this way, the participant arrives at his new reality - and creates something new. It avoids the approach of problem solving, because that is an attempt to make something go away, while the creative process is the effort of bringing something new into being. Fritz provides more detail on this in his other works, particularly The Path of Least Resistance, also a great read.

In this work, Fritz and Bodekan address applying this fundamental creative approach to workplace issues. The cornerstone of the MMOT is telling the truth - i.e. acknowledging reality as it is - not sugar-coating it or pretending it does not exist, hoping that things will get better or go away on their own, or resigning oneself to poor performance from your direct reports. The authors acknowledge the challenge in approaching issues this way because, in most organizations, people are not used to dealing head on with reality. They provide excellent case studies, including the transcripts of conversations which show you exactly how to apply the MMOT technique.

As I read the book I became convinced that MMOT also has a place in family relationships, not only between spouses but also between parents and children. Perhaps there is some nuance in how MMOT should be applied in these circumstances, but I believe the general concept applies as well.

I highly recommend this book for anyone managing even one person. If applied correctly and consistently, not only will your direct report's performance improve, but so will yours and that of your entire organization.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Book Review: The Post-Truth Era, by Ralph Keyes

A Pants-on-Fire Epidemic!

This book makes a great case for the fact that lying is getting easier, and people are engaging in it more often, primarily because of mobility and technology, and is tearing away at the fabric of society. To function well, a society needs to have a bias for truth, so that we are fairly confident that most of the time people and institutions are telling us the truth. The alternative, a bias for untruth, leads to mistrust and the inability to function smoothly, and results in both a personal cost to our sense of self and an economic cost in terms of a truth tax that is imposed by protracted negotiations, lawyers, etc.

Keyes covers the many aspects of lying, including how it eventually affects the liar. He also provides a lot of interesting examples of lying in the business world, in literature, in politics and in Hollywood -there are some real eye openers here - as well as an engaging exposition on those who defend lying and why. Keyes concludes convincingly with the need to have a bias for truth, although a reasonable one at that.

Keyes' writing is tight and he skillfully weaves supporting quotes from various sources. The book is a quick read and one that helps you understand the current condition of truthtelling, and its prognosis.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Book Review: Seizing Destiny, by Roger Kluger

Kugler has produced an epic that explains not only the how but the also the why of America's geographical growth. Beginning with colonial times, Kugler describes how the thirteen colonies came to be and how the royal crown apportioned additional lands to them, and how even these apportionments were not without controversy and disputation. This was probably the roughest terrain to cover while reading, but if you make it through, you emerge upon a lush land of dramatic exposition of America's development from a country of 895,000 square miles, located on the Atlantic seaboard to one of over 3.5 million square miles covering territory in the Caribbean, near the arctic, and in the Pacific Occean. Kugler covers in dramatic detail all the various forces - economic, religious, political - that pushed our country's frontiers to its current boundaries. There are fascinating details, like Franklin's initial demand for all of Canada to settle the revolutionary treaty with Britain, fro example.

Kugler's skillful use of dramatic metaphor brings to life what in other hands could be a dry recitation of events. Key players abound, from the well-known like Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt, to lesser lights like Robert Livingston, and especially many of the players from France, Britain and other countries. Each chapter on expansion is like a mini-drama with its own cast of characters, and its peculiar forces shaping their motives and actions. Read this book to take a quantum leap in your understanding of how and why this country came to be geographically how it is today.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Clemens/McNamee Steroids Hearing

The hearing was pathetic, really. McNamee did not endear himself to anyone. He came across as the low-life slime-ball he is. Yet, low-life slime-balls have a way of telling the truth when their necks are on the line. It’s an honored tradition among defendants turned government witness.

Clemens, on the other hand, wants us to see him as the new Forrest Gump - a naive, innocent individual caught in the midst of others’ wrong-doings and foibles. Clemens would have us believe that those dearest and closest to him - his wife and his best friend - were being injected with HGH by his personal trainer while all along Roger just kept innocently pumping iron and jogging, wrenching Cy Young Awards from his aging body the way Forrest Gump pulled injured comrades out of a Vietnam marsh. It’s a tall tale and one that, I believe, he’ll have to make stick to federal prosecutors.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Never Ever Ending Clemens Steroids Saga

The soap opera gets worse: Congresspeople pander to Clemens; Clemens' team may have tried to influence their nanny’s testimony; Debbie Clemens received HGH shots from McNamee without her husband’s knowledge. All-in-all, I still believe McNamee more than Clemens. Like OJ, Clemens will say til his dying day that he never took steroids, even if sent to prison for lying about it.

To believe Clemens you have to believe the following:

That he received lidocaine and b-12 shots from McNamee which were administered in the wrong area;
That his wife secretly received HGH shots from McNamee;
That Andy Pettite received HGH shots from McNamee, but not Clemens, even though McNamee was Clemens’ personal trainer, not Pettite’s;
That Andy Pettite has a poor memory and a hearing problem.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Even More on the Clemens Saga

I don’t think McNamee started out with a vendetta. I think he cleverly, and surprisingly, maintained that evidence “just in case”. Why would he? Because other than Debbie Clemens, he of all people probably knows Clemens better than anyone else. Remember, Clemens deceived thousands of fans years ago when he said he was retiring. He soaked in the adulation and the gifts during his farewell tour, never even remotely suggesting he might reconsider. Then he reneged on his retirement and took a bundle of money to play in Houston. A major reason he gave for his change of mind was that he did it only because he remained close to home. Then his definition of home expanded years later when he signed a contract to play againfor the Yankees, a second deception as far as retirement went.

And let’s not forget his responses to beaning Mike Piazza and then throwing a piece of a bat at him in the 2000 World Series. He was never forthright in his answers. If he though the bat was a ball, why didn’t he “throw it” to first, instead of at Piazza?

The guy is cut from the same cloth as Pete Rose: his narrow needs are all that matters, and if the truth gets in the way, the truth loses.

McNamee has seen Clemens’ character up close and personal, and probably sensed that Clemens would not back him up if trouble ever surfaced. How could a personal trainer win against a larger-than-life persona like Clemens?

Well, the “just-in-case” scenario has appeared, and, as I mentioned in my last post, it seems that Andy Pettite’s testimony will, indeed, corroborate McNamee’s accounts and end Clemens’ charade. He has one last chance tomorrow to make amends. Don’t hold your breath.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Continuing Clemens Steroids Saga

This whole thing is getting weirder and weirder. McNamee apparently held on to the syringes and gauzes that he allegedly used to inject Clemens with steroids and HGH. Some have said this was a forward thinking precaution by a former cop who thought he might need evidence were he ever hung out to dry. It does seem odd that he would hold on to something like this for so long, but if the evidence proves to be credible, maybe the guy is not as dumb as he appears.

Here’s one thing that gets me about this case: A lot of people are attempting to dismiss the case against Clemens by pointing to McNamee’s personality, suggesting that he is a person of bad character with serious issues. My thought is: how many people of high character who are stable get involved in what McNamee did? He was at the center of proliferating illegal drugs to professional athletes. I think this removes him from candidacy for Mr. Good Guy.

Clemens, on the other hand, with his lawyers, is going around conducting what I feel are equally bizzare one-on-one interdictions with individual Congressmen, as if getting his message across in that manner will make it true.

This has become a contest of two questionable personalities: Clemens, the arrogant, money hungry ballplayer and McNamee, the weak, disreputable trainer. Hopefully, it won’t be character that wins, but the facts.

Mcnamee had no reason to turn on Clemens. I think a key to this might be what Pettite and other Clemens teammates say they knew about Clemens. For a guy who only used HGH a couple of times to recover from injury, Pettite’s depositon seemed incredibly long. The hearing next week will be a meaningless circus, unless something solid, one way or the other, comes out from someone.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Book Review: PowerPoint: The Dark Side

The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within, Second Edition, by Edward Tufte

Edward Tufte insightfully tells us how PowerPoint corrupts the communication process by forcing its format on content. For me, this is just another example of dumbing down in general. No longer do managers communicate via reasoned analysis through narrative. No, all communication must be as brief as possible and to the point. Unfortunately, sometimes the point needs more than just a multi-bulleted slide. Tufte's argument is highlighted by the PowerPoint parody of the Gettysburg Address. I too experience the constraint of expressing important detail, context and relationships when the expectation is to fit it into a Word table or a Power Point presentation. Now, this is not a call for wordiness. Unnecessarily long and tedious papers will do just as well in stifling communication. The point is to learn to write well and communicate well, without surrendering to the allure of the promises of new technology that may actually provide the opposite. Read Tufte's treatise and get a good idea of what not to do and why.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Book Review: Getting Started as a Freelance Writer, Robert Bly

This book seems to cover absolutely all the ins and outs of succeeding as a freelance writer. (I have one reservation, which I'll discuss later.) Bly is a very successful freelance writer, sometimes earning as much as $600,000 per year and apparently routinely earning at least $100,000 per year, so he is an author who knows what he's talking about. He includes chapters on everything from the freelancer's administrative logistics, how to get leads and market yourself, and a signifcant number of resources to help the novice writer. If you follow his advice with diligence, and put in the necessary time, there is probably a high likelihood that you will make a good and possibly a very good living as a freelance writer.

Here is my concern: In the introduction Bly says, "Even a writer with average abilities and modest ambitions can get published and make $800 to $1,000 a week or more as a freelance writer." But on page 11 he says "Writing, on the other hand, is a field in which the average practitioner does not make much money (of course, there are many exceptions) And so money is not the primary motivator to go into writing; you should become a writer because you love to write." Yet, the rest of the book is about how you can earn a great deal by becoming a freelance writer, although more specifically he means commercial freelancing - writing copy for businesses large or small. So which is it? Will the average writer "not make much money" or will he "make $800 to $1,000 a week"?

Here is another inconsistency: on page 60, where he is describing how you can't make the big bucks by writing for magazines, he says "you can make $36,000 to $48,000 a year, provided you are paid $1 a word - a rate most markets no longer come close to." Hey wait a minute, you buttered us up in the intro that us average joe writers could make $800 to $1,000 a week (or $41,600 to $52,000 a year). Where did all that bounty go?

There are other inconsistencies about how much you have to earn per hour and how many hours a week you have to put in to reach Bly-like levels of earnings. For example, page 61: "If you want to make $100,000 a year and work 50 weeks a year, you must gross $2,000 a week from your writing. If you work 5 days a week, you must earn $400 a day." On page 158 he says, "If you follow the advice in this book you will soon be earning $50 to $100 an hour" but previously, on page 156 he revealed to us that 7 hours a day (9 to 5) "won't cut it" if you want to earn more than $100,000 a year; in fact, his suggested number of starting weekly hours is 45, but it could be 50, 55 or even more.

So stay with me here: $400 a day/7 hour day equals $57 per hour to earn $100,000 a year, but Mr. Bly just told us that we probably need to work at least 45 hours a week, so we are now down to $44 an hour and if we go to say 55 hours a week, our hourly earnings drop to $36 an hour. The problem here is that $50 per hour seems to be Bly's threshold for living the good writer's life, and is the benchmark he refers to when suggesting outsourcing your time for tasks that cost less an hour than you earn.

Now, having said all that, the message reminds me somewhat of the get rich via real estate/day trading sales pitches. In other words, Bly should have included the disclaimer "results may vary" because I believe that any one individual could apply Bly's lessons and actually reach the level of income he says you can. So these criticisms are not a wholesale refutation of his claims but more of a wish that more clarity and consistency were present. That's why I still give Bly four stars.

Now, if want the other end of the spectrum, see Real Success Without a Real Job: There Is No Life Like It!, where Ernie Zelinsky tells us how to make a comfortable living by writing for four hours a day, with comfortable redefined as a level of income chosen by you which provides you with the things you need, plus a little more.