Thursday, April 20, 2006

Pay Day

Wow... has it been 9 days since I posted anything? I'd better get busy or else you folks will start to confuse me with g_s.

Anyway... today turned out to be pay day. Why is that special? Well, like most of the rest of you, we tend to live paycheck to paycheck, but the main difference is that those in my profession only have one or two of these a year. Take a minute to think about you and your current profession, and how it translates back to mine.

Let's just say, for the sake of example, you live in the Boston area and worked for some sort of graphic design firm. Now there are a lot of graphic designers out there, so the market price for graphic designers is constantly in flux depending on the time of year that your wares are paid for. Due to the vagaries of the marketplace, you can decide to lock in a yearly salary figure on any day of the year at that day's market price, but can only pick up your check between the 15th of November and the 10th of December, depending on which day the owner of the company you work for and you agree to.

Just remember, once you lock in a particular yearly figure, you can't change it until the next year. Another thing to consider is that the market is constantly changing, and the day you lock in could very well be the lowest it reaches all year long. Then again, it could be the best, the thing is... you don't know that on the day you have to decide. You're gambling either way.

The next problem you're faced with is that you don't get to set the market for your profession. The people that are purchasing your designs get to do that, and therefore you really have no say in the market. You just get to choose which day you accept their offers.

As if this wasn't bad enough, at the end of the year when pay day arrives, the buyer looks over your products and decides he doesn't like this one, or that one, and that one doesn't fit with the others so he doesn't want that either, and he's going to deduct those from your check.

All in all, you could probably live with this arrangement. After all, it's still driven by supply and demand, but we just can't have that because you're the only one making money off of your efforts, so here's what we're going to do...

We're going to create a futures market for graphic designers, so that you can hedge your losses if you want to play the "puts" and "calls" according to the rules we've set up for futures trading. Unfortunately for you, this means that the market is no longer determined by you and the one purchasing your products, rather, any law office manager or housewife can now play the futures too and try to make money of the changes in the market without ever having owned or purchased any of your products. The more of these people that are "playing the futures", the more the market fluctuates and the less it is actually tied to the supply and demand forces. Eventually, the futures market overtakes the real market as the price setting entity. That means that when the housewives and law office managers get nervous and start selling their futures contracts, the market plummets and your products are now worth much less than they were a week ago, and you've had absolutely no say in anything.

The other thing it means is that the market can never be stable. If it were, these types of people couldn't buy low and sell high and there would be no profit to be made. So intrinsically the market has to fluctuate a great deal on a regular basis so that this profit taking can occur.

We can all see a little inequity in this situation to you the producer, so we'll fix it. Do away with the futures you say? Oh... how foolish of you. Do you realize all of the money and jobs that would cost? We couldn't possibly do that, think of the political ramifications. No... what we're going to do is pass a bill in congress that makes mandatory reporting of graphic designs the new thing. We're going to create a new set of people now employed by the Department of Designers whose job is to call all of the graphic designers and make them report how many products they've produced so far this year, and we'll do this every quarter, compile them, and then make quarterly reports to the masses so that their confidence will be buoyed and the people playing the futures markets won't lose confidence in the game. Oh, by the way, this reporting will be mandatorily forced upon you and if you lie or refuse, you'll be subject to fines and imprisonment. Sounds like a good fix, doesn't it?

What was that you said? You think that will take out what was left of any price discovery based on product uncertainty? Eh... you do have a point about that. Hmmm... the more I think about it, if people actually knew how many graphic designers were out there and how much they were producing, they could hold you over a barrel and pretty well collude against you. Do away with the mandatory reporting and the futures you say and get back to a strict market based on supply and demand? You just don't understand how the world works, do you.

Ok... here's what we'll do. We're going to set up a government program to pay you for the product that you couldn't sell because we let everyone know what was available. Waitaminute... that won't work will it. No... then you'd kick out tons of product and we'd be stuck buying it, so I've got a better idea, what we're going to do is have you come down and fill out a bunch of forms showing what your production has been for the last 5 years, and then we'll pay you NOT to produce that much. But then you've got to agree not to produce anything and just cash the check...

There. It's settled. Of course now you've got to listen to those folks from all over the country, who obviously know everything because they watched some expose on the news about you, talking about you graphic design welfare recipients, and how you're bilking the government of all that money.

The funny thing is, all you really want to do is to just enjoy the fruits of your labor in the occupation that you chose without all the strings attached, but alas...

Don't you all wish you were in agriculture too?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

At the Top of My Class

When I first started College, I thought that I wanted to be an Electrical Engineer. Mind you, I really didn't know what exactly an EE did, but thought that it sounded like a good occupation.

The first series of courses I had to take involved much math and computer science. Now I come from a small town. Really small. My graduating class was the largest EVER from my high school, 44 kids. That being said, computers were something that we knew about and how to type on, but gadfry... I graduated before hard drives were even in computers. We used to have to put in a boot disk and turn the thing on. A lot of you remember this, so stop laughing.

Anyway, I really had no idea about any type of computer programming language, or how to do it when I got thrown into CS170. CS170 was programming in Turbo Pascal, the forerunner to C++, and such. I met a guy in the class, and he helped me through that class and then we kept at it for the next 2 in the series. We turned into pretty good friends, but I digress. The short of it all was that it was a 5 credit class and I ended up getting a C.

Fast forward a few years, and one change in college Majors, and I'm a senior, with a fairly good looking transcript, but there was that damn 5 credit C, bringing the whole thing down a few notches. I was needing a few more credits to make my last quarter worth while, so I decided to retake the class. As I've already mentioned, I had taken the next 2 classes in the series that had built upon the foundations laid in this class. Fact is, I'd forgotten more than the rest of the class was going to learn! I knew I was going to be able to ace it and minimize the impact it was having.

The class was in a large auditorium, and there were about 200 students in the class. Being a senior, I was concentrating more on screwing around at night than sleeping, so everday I'd see what the professor was going to teach, giving me the refresher course I needed, then as he'd dim the lights to use the overhead projector, I'd slouch a bit in my stadium seat, and invariably doze off. I did this every day, and I really hope I didn't start snoring or something, but the prof never said anything, so I guess I wasn't too distracting.

I told you that story, to tell you this one. Every day, the same young lady would sit directly behind me in the auditorium. I actually knew who she was, even though we'd never even said boo to one another. Fact is, I knew her younger sister, and her younger sis wanted me to ask the elder out down there! But I digress...

Every day, her contempt for me grew and grew. Everytime I'd doze off, it fueled her fire more and more, until finally, the day of the first exam arrived. Mind you, I'd never done anything more than smile and nod hello to her every morning, but on that day she returned my nod with a smirk and a look in her eyes that I had no trouble interpreting--"Today is when you get yours pal!"

I took the exam (got 100% BTW) and then went on with my daily routine for the rest of the quarter. I must admit, I did screw up on one of the tests. I blew it, and I'll freely admit it. I forgot a semi-colon or something and got a 98 instead of 100 on that one. That killed my average. Shameful, but there we are.

Each test day, she'd give me that look, and each test day, I'd ace the test, but she had no idea about that, nor that I was holding a Royal Flush for the quarter, until one fateful day. That day was when there was about 2 weeks left in the quarter and the prof told the class he was going to put a histogram up on the overhead to show how the class' scores were shaping up and where they fit. He looked at the class, said, "Some of them might surprise you." and then put the transparency up. There was an audible groan from the class that I'll never forget. On the histogram there was one score at the top, it was a 98, the next highest score was an 83, and the scores went down from there.

There was another guy that I was friends with in this class, that I've forgot to mention. His name was Doug Chavez. I'll use his name because he died back in about '98, so I'll consider it more of an homage. Doug and I had become friends by taking the same classes, and I liked the guy, you know the type...

After the prof dismissed the class that infamous day, Doug stood up from the middle of the auditorium, yelled my last name and pointed directly at me (I was sitting on the front row over on the side like I usually did). "I KNOW IT'S YOU!!! YOU'VE GOT THAT 98, DON'T YA!" he yelled so that everyone in the entire class was now looking directly at me. I just looked up at him, smiled, and gave my best shrug. It was at this point that the girl behind me's jaw hit the floor. She couldn't believe it, and she was floored. This can't be right. He sleeps through class. He deserves an F, not a 98. I looked at the utter shock and disbelief in her eyes, and I busted up laughing.

I hoped she learned something that day, I really do, but either way, I'll never forget it. It was one of the best laughs I'd had all year.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Great Tip Debate

As I was fixing fence the other day, the subject of tipping came into my mind. Why? I dunno... perhaps it was because I was checking 5 miles of fence and knew I'd be getting bupkiss for it.

So as I sat here watching the rooster pheasant stroll by my front window, I decided it was time to chime in on the subject.

Now I'm not averse to tipping, in fact I do tip quite often, but something about it has always bugged me and I recently was able to put my finger on it. Sometimes explaining something is more effective if you use analogies (that's where you compare things, PinTA) so here goes.

Let's say that your favorite Loser asks you out to dinner and a film and you accept the offer. What we have here is the classic offer and acceptance, creating a contract. The only thing left is consideration by both parties. Now the Loser is gaining companionship, and that is his consideration, you ladies are getting an even better deal. Not only do you gain companionship, but you're also getting a meal and get to see a film at no cost to you. Of course it can be argued that the dinner and film don't make up for the companionship that you're forced to endure for the duration, but that's on you because you accepted the offer.

Ok... so you have a semi enjoyable evening, a good meal, and liked the film to boot, but now your date looks at you and says, "Your place or mine." "Erm... excuse me? My place or yours for what?" "So that we can have sex." Immediately you start to rethink your position (if not... what are you doing this Saturday?). You tell this guy that you never agreed to this term and condition. He protests back and says that everyone knows that dinner and a film means sex afterwards, it's implied. What do you do?

Now let's compare that to your typical restaurant situation. This restaurant makes an open offer to me to come and eat at their establishment. The finer points of the offer are in the menu where the individual entrees are there with their associated costs. When I come in and sit down, I take the menu and decide what I want. By ordering one of the meals, I've now accepted the restaurant owners offer, and he and I have engaged in a contractual relationship.

The restaurant owner has also engaged in another contractual relationship with another person. That person is the waiter/waitress. The particulars of that contract, I'm not privy to, as I've never been one, but I suspect at their essence it is simply this: To take orders from the customers and then deliver these orders in a timely fashion.

So... we have two contractual relationships here, the customer and the restaurant owner, and the restaurant owner and the waitress. There is one contractual relationship that is glaringly omitted. The contract between the customer and the waitress. Now why should the waitress expect anything from the customer, or the customer expect anything from the waitress other than the basics that she's already obligated to the restaurant owner for? This is the root cause of the rub with me and the infamous tip. The waitress and I have no understanding of what I expect from her and the compensation I plan to give her for that degree of service. Nor has she made me an offer of service so I know what she's willing to do and what compensation she expects in return. How can this situation not generate hard feelings?

Since I know there are a couple of waitresses who frequent this blog, I submit to you that you'd be better off in the long run if you'd approach each of your tables in the future with this in mind. I think you should walk up to the table and say, "Hello, I'm Missy, I'll be your waitress this evening. Before we start, I'd like to tell you all something. It was recently brought to my attention that you and I have no real relationship with each other, so in order to remedy that, I'm going to tell you the different levels of service I offer, and when I'm done, you'll get the chance to choose which level you'd like from me. The most basic level of service is the one that I've contracted with the restaurant owner to give you. Under this level, I will take your order and deliver it to you in a timely fashion and then give you your bill. If you order coffee, you'll probably only get one or two refills at the most because I won't be spending much time at your table. I expect no money from you for this level of service.

"The next level of service I offer is what I call level 1 service. This level means that I will do a bit more than the basic. I will check on your table once or twice after serving your meal, deliver a bit more coffee and pop in every time I walk by. This level will cost you 5% of your final bill.

"The next level of service I offer is Level 2 service. I will take a greater interest in your table, and make sure you have the coffee you desire as well as check in on you regularly. This level will cost you 10% of your final bill.

"The final level of service I offer is Level 3. This is the highest level I offer and it means I will take a great interest in your table. I will concentrate my efforts on your table and my other level 3 tables as much as possible. I will make sure you have everything that you order as quickly as I can and that you are satisfied with it. Because this is the most time consuming for me, I expect nothing less than 15% of your final bill. Now... which level would you like to have?"

If they select the basic or lower levels, you'll know that going in and not waste your time and effort on those tables. They can't be mad at you, because it was their decision. Definately a win win...

I could go on, but blogger is about to go offline and so I'd better split!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Send in the Clowns: The Final Chapter

So we took off, one of us on each corner of the body bag.

I was on the front right, a cousin on the front left, my dad on the rear right, and the Elko Detective on the rear left. The biggest problem we had was that we were walking through waist high sagebrush. On the way to the body, it wasn't a problem because we were single file along the cow trails, but now we were doubled up and tied together. The next biggest problem was that we couldn't carry her down at waist level because she'd drag on the brush, so we had to lift her up and keep her at shoulder level.

Now I'm still of my youthful vigor, and my cousin, though a bit shorter and a few years older, is also in good shape, but my dad was in his mid 60's and the detective had been riding a desk for several years. Add to that the extra 40 lbs around his midsection and his bum knee, and you've got a helluva a foursome heading down the trail.

The others said she wasn't very heavy, but she was to me. I guess that just means I happened to have the majority of her on my corner. Either that or the gun... nahhh... the way she was situated in the bag, I was carrying most of the load. I mentioned it a time or two to the rest of them, every time my forearm cramped up, to be honest.

So we were walking down the trail, sometimes I'd be on it, then I'd have to shift out of it so that the others could avoid a tree or some other obstacle. Turned out to be quite a workout jumping back and forth. But we got into kind of a rhythm and then it was all going well, until my dad stepped on a round rock in the trail and started to fall down.

As he fell, he rolled up into the back of the detective's bum knee causing him to crash down in the process. When the two of them on the back end grunted and fell, they didn't let go of the loops, so that caused the two of us on the front to come to a screeching halt in midstep, then as they hit the ground the bag jerked back against our shoulders. Because of the positioning of our arms, there was no way they could give in that direction and they pulled us right back down on top of them. It was quite a circus.

Needless to say, the little sinews that were holding her bones together in a board like fashion, couldn't withstand being rolled up on by 4 guys, so after we unfolded ourselves from off the top of one another and picked the bag back up, it all rolled to the center. Now we had to keep the bag taught as well as in the air, but on the bright side, now the weight was distributed equally between the four of us, and after about a hundred yards, the rest of them had to admit that she'd gotten much heavier than she was.

Well... we finally made it back to the outfits, loaded her into the back of the Elko Detective's Bronco and then all went our seperate ways.

The final request she made in her suicide letter was that if she was found, she be cremated and her ashes spread back out on the spot where we'd found her. The Detective cremated her and then sent her ashes to the hikers who had agreed to carry her back out there so he didn't have to make the 5 hour drive. He sent them in December, so they had to keep her on their mantle until the following summer when they could get around to getting back there. (They often chuckled as guests to their house would look up there and inquire what was in the box. "Oh, that's just the dead woman we found last year..." )

He took his metal detector with him and found the bullet when they went back and that pretty much ends the strange tale. But one thing is certain, I did gain quite a story from going out that day.

And now the random observations.

A set of bones is much easier to carry when they're stiff like a board.

A stainless steel Smith and Wesson pistol isn't made entirely out of stainless steel. The trigger mechanism is made out of standard metal and rusts quite badly. We couldn't get the cylinder to drop open because it had rusted in place, and the trigger was in a fixed position.

Curiously, she'd loaded all of the chambers in the cylinder, but it only took the first one, so there were still 5 live rounds left in the gun.

Police policy wouldn't let the hiker keep the gun, even though he really wanted it as a souvenier. Even though it was non-functional, it still would have made a cool wall piece.

The entry side of the skull had a small bullet hole, but the bullet hadn't gone all the way through. Instead, fluid dynamics had taken over, and the shock wave had split the skull on the opposing side of her head. There was no exit wound, but you could see how the concussion had still split the top of her head open.

Because she was lying there face first, the majority of the front of her skull was gone. There wasn't the standard "human skull look" you see in all the movies, just from the tops of the eye sockets back.

We never saw hide nor hair of the money after the Detective left. He could have pocketed it and made Elko pick up the tab, we have no way of knowing either way. But at this point, I don't suppose it really matters. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

And one last closing thought, we should've probably ignored her last wishes and chipped in for a small headstone to be placed where we found her with her name and relevant info. If for no other reason than to let folks in the future know that someone of that name had actually existed and chose to die there.