Category Archives: Work

Get the Lead Out

We’re all laden down with wires and gadgets and i-this and i-that — but even as the electronic gewgaws pile up everywhere, I cling to my pencil.

pencilGlance around at your next meeting and you’ll find that most people are gripping pens. Sure, pens, like pencils, are an analog tool, but pencils are not merely low-tech, but organic. And renewable. How’s that for a couple of buzzwords? Scratching out your notes with a pencil, like using the tip of a burnt stick to draw on the cave wall, is much more primal than a pen.

My current weapon of choice is the esteemed Mirado Black Warrior, an impressive looking pencil. That name, Black Warrior would not be a great thing to call your school’s sports teams, but it’s an awesome name for a pencil.

Curious about the Black Warrior, I found a tremendous review on Pencil Revolution, a blog that’s all about… well, pencils. And let me tell you, this guy can write. A few excerpts:

Of course, the Black Warrior smells heavenly because of its cedar construction, and sharpening a rounded wooden pencil is a breeze with any quality sharpener.

The Black Warrior, with its black finish, banded brass ferrule and rounded shape, stands out among American pencils when on a desk or sticking out of a shirt pocket.

The round shape allows for holding the pencil in different positions, and I imagine that Comrades who have had the corners of a pencil embedded into fingers will appreciate the gentler shape of the Black Warrior. They fall right off the desk, so angle them carefully.

Now, if I could only make a habit of actually using all those notes I scribble with the Black Warrior, then maybe I’d be making some progress.

Written By Committee

Take a look at this:


“Multi-purpose spoons?” I’ve gone through life thinking that spoons have one purpose, that is to scoop up food you intend to put in your mouth. While “multi-purpose,” sounds very modern, what do you suppose the other purposes could be?

That’s what you get when committees write things. Somewhere along the line there was a discussion that went something like this:

“Well, we don’t have separate spoons for soup, yogurt, and cereal. Do you think that’s going to confuse people?”

“Well, why don’t we just call them multi-purpose spoons — then everyone will understand that they’re good for all those foods.”

Or how about you just call them spoons, you idiots?

As a rule, committees make things longer. Because of them it takes longer to get things done, they have longer meetings, and they spawn longer copy.

If you fight the good fight against committees and others who impede progress, here are some great resources for you from Bidlack Creative Group, a design and communication firm in Ann Arbor. Print these and hand them up!

The Two Charts of Doom: Population Control in the Creative Process

How to Keep Committees From Turning into Evil Monsters

Five Ways to Kill a Great Idea

The Three Rules of Good Communication

You’ll learn more from these four pages than from a stack of business books.

CC My Ass

I’m so old that I remember when THERE WAS NO EMAIL. Isn’t that crazy?

Yes, there was no email, so if you wanted to communicate in the workplace, you would actually have to talk to people on the phone or stop by their office. How barbaric!

Don’t get me wrong, I love email, but here’s the thing: technology has spawned a whole new technique in intra-office communication, one in which people use email not just to send a message, but send a message about what they think of you and your work.

How do they do that? Let’s say someone has a problem or gripe. Instead of just asking you a simple question, they send an email and copy your boss, your boss’s boss, your boss’s boss’s bosses and so on; this way, when they ask you a question, everybody and their brother gets to see what they are bitching about. Delightful.

It’s a great way to take a shot without having to look you in the eye while they do it. And just a few years ago it would have been unheard of. Think of it like dropping a bomb from a drone aircraft. You don’t have to see your enemy, just kill them.

But Rob, you ask, didn’t people send around memos like this in days of old? Yes, but the threshold of sending a memo was always much higher; now, being a jerk is just a click away.

Anyway, here’s something I want you to try: next time you need something from a co-worker, talk to them face-to-face instead of firing off a nastygram and copying everyone. It won’t be easy, but it just might make you a better person.

Get Your Goat

Here in America everybody is bitten by the entrepreneurial bug sooner or later. We hate kowtowing, whether it be to a tyrannical monarch or the boss. That’s who we are.

But it’s scary going out on your own. Sure, I have skills that people pay me cash money for as a freelancer, but to make that a full time job? It’s intimidating.

Until you find that great idea.

In this case it came in a NY Times article about eradicating phragmites, an invasive wetland grass that has taken over a Staten Island park. The solution? Goats. And where do you get goats? You rent them.

goat at the Fonda Fair

It turns out that the goat owner is getting $20,625 to provide 20 goats for six weeks of work. The goats eat the grass and the goat owner collects his earnings. It all sounds so simple.

The only problem may be the goats.

I met a British expat named Graham in Transylvania. He and his Romanian wife were creating a tourist destination in their small village, a place where people could have an authentic countryside experience. Over shots of his homemade brandy, we discussed the livestock behind their house. Why no goats?

“Sheep are simple to care for, but goats?” Graham explained. “Goats are a problem. They are mischievous, they get into trouble, they escape their enclosure… goats are anarchists.”

So that presents a question:  do you trade life as a wage slave just to become a boss yourself — and have a bunch of anarchists for employees?

The Ups and Downs of Elevator Etiquette

Elevator etiquette is more art than science, but there are some things that are non-negotiable. For example, a gentlemen should always allow women and old folks to enter and exit first — and nobody should rush into the elevator until people are done getting off.

There are loads of elevator rules — and at you’ll find a very good list of them — as well as a lively discussion of the finer points.

But here’s the thing: in my building lately I’ve noticed an extremely annoying behavior which, oddly, is perpetrated by people being unnecessarily polite. There have been numerous incidents of other men allowing me to enter the elevator before them. That’s not only uncomfortable, but I believe it’s a violation of the Man Code.

Look, when two men are waiting for the elevator, the one closest to the door enters first. Unless I’m a woman, elderly, or an elderly woman don’t stand aside and let me go before you. It’s simply not cool. Don’t do it. Ever.

The only time you may allow me to go first is if you’re doing so jokingly in faux deference — or maybe if I’m the UPS guy and I have a sh*tload of packages. In that case I need the elevator more than you do, so get the hell out oif my way, would you please?

The Interns Are Revolting!

An unpaid intern is suing Hearst, claiming the media giant violated labor laws. The lawsuit — which Xuedan Wang and her attorney hope will be joined by unpaid Hearst interns across America — asserts that in exchange for college credit she worked long hours at tasks that would ordinarily be done by paid employees.

What? Isn’t that what interns are for?

I did an internship at a local television station back in the summer of 1983. I arrived in Albany just in time to stand on the corner of Washington and Swan and watch the funeral procession for Erastus Corning 2nd. At the time I thought, “Wow! He must have been some important guy!”

Sure, the TV station treated me like an entry level employee instead of a student. On my very first day they handed me a brush and had me painting sets. There was plenty of other menial labor I was assigned, things that had nothing to do with learning about television.

I gladly did the work — and I ended up getting hired there, working for peanuts, really. $5.70 per hour, which adds up to $12,000 per year.

Unpaid internships are a staple of the media world, and there’s very little discussion about what work interns may and may not do. In shops without unions they may end up doing almost anything.

On internships, the Department of Labor says, “the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.”

Yeah, right.

Who knows, we may be seeing the end of the intern free for all. Then the only unpaid workers at media companies will be “citizen bloggers.”

Lot Filled?

Most of you don’t lay in bed at night worried about where state employees park, nor should you. I bet if I stick my head out the window right now, I’d hear you shouting,“Screw them!”

Understandable, but bear with me.

State workers know that Downtown Albany parking is notoriously scarce — and many of them are on waiting lists for spaces with hundreds and hundreds of people in front of them. Rather than pay for a private lot or garage, lots of them take to the streets — something that’s led to Albany’s push to restrict on-street parking to residents only.

But if there are so few parking spaces available, how come this state employee lot routinely gives space to shows visiting the Times Union Center? This week, half of the Grand Street lot was blockaded so Rascal Flatts could park their trucks there.

The next day the trucks were gone and the spaces empty — except for a few bags of garbage they’d left behind in the rain. I guess that’s their way of saying, “Thanks, Albany.”

Off the Hook

While I don’t measure my self-worth by having the latest gadgets, my phone is beginning to be an embarrassment.

Next to today’s smart phones, mine is decidedly dumb. It’s not as if I’m walking around with one of those brick-sized walkie talkie looking things, like Michael Douglas had in Wall Street, but it’s a Flintstones phone in a Jetsons universe.

Sure, it makes calls just fine, but as for anything else, forget about it. Even sending a simple text message takes forever. This surprises people who know me as fairly tech savvy, what with all that tweeting and blogging, and such.

It wasn’t so bad before, but now the old-style phones are clearly in the minority. This can be a problem, particularly in the business world. Imagine sitting around the table with some high powered people — perhaps they are potential clients — and you pull out something that looks like a Fisher-Price Friendly Flip. They may not say it, but they are thinking, “How are we going to trust a guy with THAT phone?”

We should remember that keeping a phone in your pocket is a relatively new thing, much less a small computer. The things that would have seemed miraculous 20 years ago are now outdated. I do have one advantage over that guy with the iPhone 4S: If my phone falls in the urinal, I won’t feel bad.

From the Notebook of Rob Madeo