Thursday, March 29, 2007

So, what's with the blog title?

That's a good question!

The title is inspired by two different sources: a mildly obscure piece of classical music and a science-fiction short story. The former is "The Unanswered Question" by Charles Ives; the latter is "The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov. While the story is a bit more literal (it's text, after all!), both have what might, at first, appear to be similar themes.

You can find a fun version of the Ives piece at the American Mavericks website, with a performance by the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas. The Asimov story is available online at a site dedicated to the story, although I'm unsure of it's actual legal status.

You can read "The Last Question" for yourself. It's a bit more overtly religious than most fiction that I like, but it's a very satisfying short story. Indeed, it's reputed to be Asimov's personal favorite. The top level of the Multivax site is an amusing homage, but the question itself is a fundamentally meta-physical one. Physics has a clear answer: no. The details to explain that would take a while, so I'll let anyone interested ask, or Google for it.

The Ives piece is actually a bit more complex to explain. The piece itself is fairly simple, if unconventional. There's a soft continuum of strings that evokes a mildly exotic and spacious feeling. At intervals, a solo trumpet gives a simple set of notes that seems to be a question. A set of noisy and blaring flutes (yes, flutes!) answers the trumpet each time but the last. At the end, the trumpet's final question fades away, and the strings slowly fade to silence. Interpretations vary, but the general sense is remarkably similar to the Asimov story: a question is repeatedly asked, and never really answered in a way useful to the question's source.

There's a somewhat broader context here, too. At the time the music was written (1906), the debate between the two sides of classical music was ongoing. Should music be programmatic, as the Wagnerians thought, or entirely abstract, as espoused by the Brahmsian set? Ives, idiosyncratic as ever, seems to be saying "neither...and both" all in this one piece. To some extent, the entire piece is just an abstract work with no clear plot. On the other hand, it could be seen as literal. Indeed, the question in the title might be the larger question about the purpose of music, and the piece itself declines to answer.

None of this, of course, answers the question in the title of this blog entry. And, I'm not going to. You'll have to figure it out!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

For sale: Madison Avenue

Okay, so we all know that marketing and advertising have become so omnipresent in our society that it's actually difficult to find someplace to escape from all of it.

The question this poses is simple enough: how do we, as a society, fix this?

This problem is in my mind right now because I encountered a new form of media today. I went to get gas for my minivan ($3.209 a gallon, thanks) at a local Shell station. Above the pumps, they've installed a lovely video screen and speakers. I was treated to a slew of infotainment as soon as I picked up the pump handle. I saw the same Jack in the Box ad three times, along with the weather forecast, a trailer or two, and some NBC late night ads. I was fortunate enough to get the entire show - the minivan was thirsty enough to take longer than the entire loop.

That's not really the worst possible example, but it's a new one for me. (The worst one, so far, may be the quick service restaurant I visited that had ads in the urinals. Above them is one thing, but c'mon!)

It's not a real surprise that we're all such good consumers. We've been conditioned for it from birth, more or less. Breaking out of that pattern is something that individuals can do, but people, on the average, are sheep, so we're all pretty much stuck with all of this. Call me pessimistic, but the people that put ads on the 'up' escalators are the same people that would put advertising over our beds if they could figure out a way to pull it off for a profit.

How depressing.

(This post brought to you by.......)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Salmon and lentils...yum!

One of my favorite topics is food. There will be a lot of posts about food in this blog!

Today's discovery is that our friends at Google have a recipe search function. My wife wanted something involving salmon, which led to Salmon Fillet Wrapped in Prosciutto with Herby Lentils, Spinach and Yogurt. The kids even liked this one. Total prep time is about one hour, so it's a decent recipe for a busy night. (This was one of those - I was babysitting my granddaughter while I was cooking.) Most of the time is required for cooking the lentils.

Unusually for a meal like this, we didn't have any wine. In the future, I'll comment on the wine selection, too. (We have a small but reasonably stocked cellar.) We also often take pictures of our food, but this one didn't get that far...perhaps a future post will include a few snapshots of our dinners!

Dessert was individual chocolate soufflés. It's a recipe I use often, so I'll save it for another day.

Bon appétit!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mergers and from the real world

So, my company was acquired by a large corporation last week. These things happen, and it's usually a bit traumatic, but it doesn't need to be! I've now been through several of these types of business events, and from both sides. Based on that experience, I have some tips for people involved in this sort of thing.

If you are the acquiring company:
  • Be aware that the people you deal with in the acquired organization are under immense stress. Give them a break!
  • Have a plan. Better yet, have a team dedicated to helping everyone (on both sides) through the transition.
  • Communicate early and often. Make sure everyone who is doing that communicating has the same message. Confusion is your enemy.
  • Don't blow smoke...if there's bad news, share it. No matter what, don't make promises that can't be kept.
If you are in the acquired company:
  • You've been acquired - accept that change is going to happen. Some of that change is likely to be unpalatable.
  • Frankly, get over yourself! There are going to be new processes that are different from what you are used to. Many things will be different!
  • If you don't want to have everything dictated to you, have a plan! It is often the case that the purchasing company will be happy to work with you to meet in the middle.
  • Communicate early and often, both internally an with the acquisition team. Again, confusion will lead to failure.
To some extent, this is all Business 101 stuff. Still, it's important that people handle the basics before they try to do anything fancier. (That's true in almost any field or topic!)

I'm happy to report that the acquisition I'm in the middle of is going fairly smoothly. The acquiring company has got it together, and is acting like they've actually read the first section above. (Hooray!)

Monday, March 19, 2007


Time to jump on the bandwagon and start a blog.

My interests are eclectic, to put it mildly. Watch this space for various random thoughts on a range of topics at whatever interval I feel best.

More soon!