It’s Still A Dilbert World

The headlines continue to speak towards employment uncertainty in a lot of places. Layoffs are certainly no laughing matter. I was caught up in two of them, and unfortunately for me they were back-to-back in the mid-section of my career, working in manufacturing supply chain roles (planning, purchasing, logistics). In the first instance, my company was acquired and merged with an overseas operation who grossly miscalculated the cost of such an acquisition, and decided to rectify the problem via layoffs. In the second instance, my company decided they would be much better off making a more cost-effective (cheap) product in Mexico, completely shutting down its U.S. location in the process.

The comic strip Dilbert debuted in 1989. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s probably simplest to report Scott Adams’ strip contains all the righteous and outrageous sarcasm about work and the workplace later characterized in both the British (2001) and American (2005) television shows The Office. For those of us who were in office jobs at the time this strip began, it quickly became clear Adams was drawing from his own personal experience – which aligned with our experiences – making the strip even more relatable and timely.

For me, the craziest thing about this 33-year-old comic strip is it is still relevant. The title of Adams’ most recently released compilation is called The Office Is A Beautiful Place When Everyone Else Works From Home. His next comic collection, scheduled for release next month, is titled Not Remotely Working. Depending on your point of view, fortunately or unfortunately companies are still just as stupid as ever, humanity is still not a part of human resources, and co-workers are still…unique…whether we’re dealing with them in the office, remotely, or both.

When I began my self-titled First Retirement at the beginning of June, I really felt at that point like I was just walking off the chessboard (spoiler alert, the name of this blog). I think at certain times in our lives we can feel like we’re just pawns on a chessboard, especially with regards to work. I know after those consecutive layoffs, I felt like I had no control over how life was playing out. I never did get another supply chain role quite like those two positions I held, which also happen to be the best jobs I’ve ever had.

You know how you’ll focus on something as a way to shut down negative or anxious feelings coming on? A memory, thoughts of a loved one, a quote or saying…anything at all to put whatever you’re dealing with in an easier-to-deal-with mindset and perspective? For me, navigating corporate workplaces in those earlier years was a hell of a lot easier with Dilbert around because if nothing else, it reminded me I was far from alone in the daily, relentless struggle against organizational bad behavior. Back then, I didn’t have nearly as much life experience as I own now. Whether I return to work someday or not, I can easily maintain a healthy sense of humor about anything work-related. I have always believed you shouldn’t dwell or ruminate upon things out of your control – like business decisions, bad bosses, crazy co-workers – and keeping a sense of humor about work helps me stay sane.

Dilbert’s portrayal of layoffs were strikingly similar to mine…

Layoff #1 – After our company was purchased and merged with the overseas organization, oh, we had our suspicions…

Layoff #1 – When our company had to decide whom to layoff, I certainly envisioned some of our departments doing it along these lines…

Layoff #1 – Our company referred to the layoffs as “right-sizing” the organization. Using the word “layoffs” was obviously considered way too realistic. For those “survivors” not in the first round of layoffs, they were pretty much left behind with this scenario…

Layoff #2 – Initially, our company told us we would be teaching the Mexico facility how to make our products so they could help the entire organization out. Our U.S. location had a healthy backlog of orders we could not make in a timely manner, and their facility recently had “acquired” some additional capacity (they lost a major customer…yeah, that usually results in additional capacity…). A few months later, we knew better when…

Layoff #2 – Pretty much the conversation I had with someone in management at our company before the layoffs were announced…

Layoff #2 – As rumors continued to run amok, I just wanted to take off on a Friday and enjoy a three-day weekend…

Thank you, Scott Adams…then and now.

 

Pictures Courtesy Andrews McMeel Syndication

The Grass Is Not Always Green

Currently operating within my recently-developed parameters of First Retirement (no clue if not working will actually take) I have been able to spend more time at my keyboard reading and commenting on other blogs, as well as tending to my own site.

When my computing status changes to Away From Keyboard, one of the reasons why is the weekly endeavor of tending to the lawn…armed with my edger, my blower, and last but not least…my trusty push mower.

You may recall from a prior post I had an unfortunate event with a riding mower at our last residence…

We had a Zero Turning Radius mower. When we bought it, the advice was given to us not to operate it in wet conditions, especially on uneven terrain. After a light rain one afternoon, I insisted to my wife it would be OK to mow. Not agreeing with the decision, she grudgingly came outside to do some gardening. When she got to the large rose bush I had skidded into at the edge of our driveway, I tried my level best to assure her I was OK…even though my face felt like half the skin was gone. She gave me a once-over from head to toe…and calmly stated, “You’ll be fine.” Two years later, she admitted she thought those cuts would never heal.

Our current yard features a fairly steep slope, a bit more severe than our prior home. My wife “strongly suggested when we moved here this lawn not be cared for with a riding mower.

The property here isn’t quite a half-acre, so a push mower really is more than capable of getting the job done. To be honest, using a riding mower on this yard might find me in the backyard of the house behind us…with the mower on top of me.

We have lived at our current residence for about seventeen years. In that time, the yard has seen anything and everything weather in the Northeast US can provide. Thirty inches of snow and ice at one time. Eight inches of rain in an hour. Two months with 90 degree temperatures and no rain. Numerous demented squirrels.

You can find great advice on the Internet about taking care of your lawn and in many cases it is 100% contradictory. The only 100% foolproof advice I have ever gotten for lawn care actually came from my wife. It was the year I accidentally grabbed the nonselective herbicide RoundUp instead of the selective herbicide Ortho Weed Clear and sprayed several dandelions in the front yard with it. Her advice was if I ever did that again, she would round up all of my sports memorabilia and spray RoundUp on it.

One of the things I obsess over a bit is when to execute the very last mow of the year, trying to guess when grass-growing will slow to a crawl, as well as how high to leave the lawn for the off-season. Seven years ago, there was a particularly snowy and icy period one Fall before the yard had a chance to freeze, and with the grass also sitting a bit higher than I’d usually let it go, we had a resulting touch of what is known as snow mold. Snow mold does not do any permanent damage, but it was weird seeing parts of the lawn a shade of pink. At least we were fortunate enough to get the colorful version, as the other shade of snow mold is apparently a very dull gray. However, you might not be surprised a partially pink yard isn’t that visually appealing either, so the goal since that incident is to keep any snow mold from happening so the lawn has a nice, quiet transition into and out of dormancy.

I am a bit sad when the last mow of the year takes place. While the front yard is for the most part level, the lawn on the sides of the house slope down fairly severely through the backyard until it reaches the invisible yet defined property line with the home behind us. Mowing our yard does provide good exercise, and not mowing for a few months means I try to incorporate other activities to replace it. Snowfall removal certainly gets the blood pumping, but that’s sporadic and we don’t get quite as much snow as we used to. It is a good thing I am a “winter person” to begin with, and I do like to get outside no matter what. Hell, I’ve been known to go down to the basketball courts and shoot hoops even in snow flurries.

I’ve also been known to mow even in snow flurries. I’m actually a bit of a celebrity in that regard. One of my neighbors told me after one late-year mow five years ago I had amused both her and her husband.

“Hey honey, come here. Bruce is mowing in the snow.”

Maybe I do try a little too hard to coordinate and calculate the end of the growing season and getting the length of the grass just right. Looking back over the last few years, my last mow of the year has occurred as follows:

2014 – 11/8; 2015 – 10/31; 2016 – 11/19; 2017 – 11/20; 2018 – 11/8; 2019 – 11/1; 2020 – 11/20; 2021 – 11/10

The irony is not lost on me the very fact I have a record of these dates may very well be a sign I take this a bit too seriously.

In any event I am now monitoring the weather forecasts, examining the length of the blades of grass, and trying to time that final mow perfectly to ensure the lawn has the best chance of staying greenish instead of pinkish. Or grayish. I know if it changes colors again, the lawn will eventually be fine, but I really don’t want the yard to be stressed out.

I could just hire a lawn service to keep myself from being stressed out, but can I really put my trust in others…even if they appear to be as competent as I am?

 

Pictures Courtesy Advanced Turf/Great Lakes Landcare/Universal Studios

Aging Pizza

During a workplace lunch just a couple of years ago, we were all talking about the aging process. I was the oldest in our department. A couple of co-workers were about a decade younger than I. The rest were much younger. The question of the day in the lunch room for the three “more experienced” of us was…when did we first feel definitively older than we hoped we were?

My response took little time to formulate.

In March of 1992, I was in Minnetonka MN as part of a business training seminar put on by a high-technology water purification and filtration company named Osmonics. The company I was working for at that time was a distributor of their products, and six of us went out there to get training in their product line so we’d have a better understanding of how to market and sell their products.

I had never been to Minnesota before, and I was very impressed with what I saw traveling from the airport to our hotel. Beautiful countryside and residences, and that time of year provided a chill in the air and a touch of snow on the ground, making a “winter person” like myself quite happy. After arriving at our hotel, we learned that as guests we had complimentary passes to utilize the fitness gym across the street. Since we knew we only had a half day of training one day during the seminar schedule, we all agreed to head over to the gym and get in a workout then.

After product training all Monday and Tuesday morning, Tuesday afternoon found us at the gym. It was gigantic, looked brand-new, and offered plenty of workout options. First class. Three members of my group went off to the weight room, but myself and a couple of the other guys went over to the basketball courts. There was a full-court pick-up game in process, so we sat nearby until it ended so we could get into the next one.

I did feel a twinge of concern as to how I would do playing in a full-court basketball game. Sure, I was in good shape for someone soon to turn 35. My conditioning wasn’t bad as I regularly played half-court hoops. I was looking forward to showing off the fact I still “had game” to my buddies, but was definitely picturing that happening in the smaller footprint.

The game in progress ended a few minutes later, and we hit the court for the next one, pairing up with a few players from the team that just lost. I played well, even though we didn’t pull off a win to guarantee a spot for the next game. That was fine by me – one run was enough for the day. I had accomplished the main goal of getting exercise…while also feeling just a little bit younger by hanging in there and playing a solid, “regular-length” game of basketball.

Back at the hotel, I needed to take a well-deserved shower. Having my own room, I figured I’d just clean up and hang out there before heading to dinner. We were being taken out by Osmonics to a very fancy steakhouse, but there was still a couple of hours before I needed to be in the lobby for the ride out.

It was during the shower I first noticed something was…off.

In 1963, there was an episode of The Dick Van Dyke television show called, “Don’t Trip Over That Mountain.” In it, Rob Petrie (Dick) promises his wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) he won’t get hurt during a ski trip with his neighbor Jerry (Jerry Paris), who happens to be an expert skier.

Of course, once on the slopes they proceed to run into each other…two skiers…and a goat.

After seeking medical treatment, Rob reports to Jerry he was given the diagnosis of a “sprained body.” The only thing on Rob’s body that didn’t hurt was the left side of his upper lip.

I thought about that TV episode as I ended my shower.

I had a sprained body. The only good news was my upper lip didn’t hurt at all. The lower lip didn’t either. But everything else did. I went to comb my hair and once I got my arm high enough, a new discovery…

My hair hurt.

Maybe that was just part of the full-on headache experience now underway. Anyway, I shuffled over to the bureau to get some clothes, and about halfway through getting dressed I realized dinner out…was out. I could barely move my arms and legs. My body was off-line.

I phoned around to let my co-workers know I’d be staying in my room for the night, mentioning I was tired and thought I was coming down with something from the plane ride. That actually was a legit excuse because they all knew my 90% deviated septum often lost the good fight with air flight, so they wished me well.

Using the phone hurt.

I figured as far as dinner was concerned, I could use room service…but I had a real craving for pizza. I checked the hotel info out and found there was a Domino’s nearby which would deliver to the hotel. Perfect. I’ll get dinner delivered and not have to leave the room at all.

Placed the order. Got my money together. Laid down to rest.

When the knock on the door came about a half-hour later, I immediately remembered one thing I hadn’t thought about when placing the pizza order.

How would I get to the door?

A good minute or so later, I stood before the delivery person and exchanged money for food. I am quite sure that guy thought something was wrong with me, and if he had asked if I was ok I was fully prepared to tell him I had a sprained body.

Pizza. Soda. Advil. Surprisingly, I didn’t have any trouble sleeping. I attribute that to the fact once I fell asleep, my body had no ability whatsoever to adjust itself.

The next day, not much had changed. Limited, strained movement. Soreness. Pain. I placed another call, letting my group know I would be unable to attend the training that day. I’ll admit I was also egotistical enough to have considered the impact of my co-workers seeing me in such a state. For sure, it would negate all the street cred I earned from my stellar basketball performance. News of how poorly my body handled exercise was way more likely to spread through the office than how well I played.

I laid in bed watching TV for most of the day, and eventually felt a tiny bit more in control of my body when the same Domino’s employee appeared at the door that night with Pizza #2.

The following morning was our final day of training, and we’d be heading home thereafter. I was able to gather myself and get to the bus for the short ride over to Osmonics, putting a brave face on and forcing myself to appear normal. I got through the training, the ride out to the airport, and the flight home.

That trip was quite a memorable moment in time, leaving no doubt I definitively felt older than I hoped I was. I could not believe how much my entire body had shut down.

I’m hoping any similar moment in time, while likely inevitable, isn’t for a very long time.

 

Pictures Courtesy TripAdvisor/GoComics

 

Carefree Debris

I saw an article the other day on The Conversation website with the headline, “Mars Is Littered With Space Junk.” The person who wrote it, Cagri Kilic, is a postdoctoral research fellow who has been studying ways to track Mars and Moon rovers. Not that this is Mars-shattering news, but debris on Mars according to Kilic comes from three main sources…discarded hardware, inactive spacecraft, and crashed spacecraft.

Taking the last scenario first, sometimes even while surviving the long journey there, descent to the planet’s surface is where things go horribly wrong. Splat. Trash.

The first scenario describes the planned discharge of parts while descent is taking place like heat shields, foam, netting, and parachutes. Don’t need these anymore. We’re good. Trash.

In the middle scenario, we have all of the spacecraft which have landed successfully, served their tour of duty before running out of juice, and have signed off for the final time. Thank you for your service. Trash.

Kilic has run the numbers and determined there is 15,694 pounds of Earth’s junk on Mars. That’s not so much on the surface (see what I did there?). Then again, that’s really easy for me to say. I don’t live on Mars.

However, while Earthlings never had a plan to do anything other than litter debris across Mars, we have now realized a plan needs to be in place for knowing where all this trash is. As part of its daily activities, NASA’s active rover Perseverance – using its Ingenuity helicopter – is helping engineers document all the junk it comes across. The space agency indicated their Curiosity rover was able to identify some of its own debris during its earlier mission.

There is a concern at NASA some trash might contaminate or skew samples the Perseverance rover is currently collecting. While the risk is judged to be quite low, the rover’s ability to roam at all might even be hindered.

I remember watching Americans walk on the Moon and thinking in my lifetime we would definitely establish a colony there. That was 1969. The last American to walk on the Moon did so three years later.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict we won’t see any Americans living on the Moon in my lifetime.

By the way, there’s an estimated 400,000 pounds of our junk on the Moon.

Mars and the Moon are both better off if we don’t ever try to live on them anyway, since we’ve already done a stellar job of junking up Earth.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with NASA as I have gotten older. While I know space exploration has led to some great innovations and discoveries which have positively impacted other industries, I wonder if we’re still really getting that same return on investment today. I know NASA’s budget is fairly small potatoes in the big picture, but money is money. Resources are resources. The fact we didn’t do more with the Moon once landing there in 1969, and the fact NASA has now indicated they actually want to circle back to the Moon, gives me the impression they are as an organization quite the rudderless spaceship.

In doing due diligence for this post, your space-y reporter was also curious about all space debris in orbit (for now, at least). One interesting tidbit I came across claimed a tiny, ten-centimeter-long piece of spacecraft trash could cause as much damage as twenty-five sticks of dynamite…that even a piece between one and ten centimeters can do damage to most spacecraft.

Between the U.S., Russia, and China, at the beginning of this year there were approximately 15,000 trackable pieces of debris – larger than 10 centimeters across – in space. For the record, most of China’s came from the time they used a “kinetic kill vehicle” to deliberately destroy a defunct weather satellite in an anti-satellite weapons test back in 2007.

Of course, the U.S. simply couldn’t help themselves from doing the exact same thing just a year later, deliberately destroying a non-functioning satellite with a “heavily-modified missile.”

Those events provide us with the definitive, gold standard answer to the question of whether Earthlings care where space junk goes. No.

And…just last month we had NASA’s much-publicized course correction of an asteroid (minding its own business, mind you) courtesy of a “kinetic impactor.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said after the allegedly successful asteroid diversion, “All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet. After all, it’s the only one we have. This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us.”

It seems to me we’re throwing way more at the universe than it’s throwing at us.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Being Chill

The above greeted me when I walked into our Acme grocery store a couple of days ago.  The gentleman pictured is none other than Jalen Hurts, who is the quarterback for the only undefeated team in the National Football League, our hometown Philadelphia Eagles. Before I entered the store, I had no earthly idea a company named Lemon Perfect even existed, let alone they had a product described as Hydrating Lemon Water.

But I immediately wanted to try it.

Sales and marketing to consumers….some is subtle, some is subliminal, some is a punch in the face. All are designed to separate our money from our wallet. Intellectually, I know this. But emotionally, I also know I sometimes get an immediate desire to acquire based on the advertising alone. Not just for what the product is, but for what feeling I’m supposedly going to experience from using it.

Now, just because Hurts is pictured with a bottle of hydrating water, I’m not instantly inclined to buy it. But of course, it doesn’t hurt.

The primary reason I immediately became fascinated with this product is because of lemons. I love lemons. If I come across something with lemon represented to be in it, there’s a sort of invisible, irresistible magnetic beam which inevitably draws me to it. Even if it’s something I don’t need, ever wanted before now…you get it.

Because I was in a bit of a time crunch at that point, I only had time to procure the milk, bread, and eggs we really needed…but Lemon Perfect Hydrating Lemon Water is now atop the grocery list for the next stop. While I remain highly skeptical of how much more hydrated this product will really make me than plain old H2O…if this tastes like real lemons it could be a “need.”

Later in the same day, I saw a TV spot for a product called Honey Lemon Chill Vicks VapoCOOL Severe Cough Drops.

You know where this is going, don’t you? These are already in the medicine cabinet. I don’t have a cough, but I am all for preventive medicine so I’ve already sampled this product. Not bad at all – enjoyed the lemon taste.

What you don’t know yet is the marketing on this product wasn’t just attractive to me because it was represented to be lemon-y, but because of the use of the words “cool” (VapoCOOL!) and “chill.” And this is where I pivot from what’s supposedly in the product…to how it will be received by my sensory receptors. Cool and chill are very much purchase trigger words for me by themselves…more so when used together.

I already use a product because it is “arctic”…

Now, I don’t know exactly where this all began. I’ve liked Winter for as long as I can remember, but when a food or beverage product is marketed as arctic, ice, cool, cold, chill, etc. it creates an emotional response within me which often leads to me buying and trying the product. I have the exact opposite buying emotion when it comes to products marketed with descriptions including words like tropical, sun, warm, hot, heat, etc.

Yeah, it probably IS a Winter thing.

Putting lemon, cool, and chill together in the same description made it just a matter of time before I bought those cough drops. If Vicks had advertised them with the lead ingredient as horseradish instead of honey, I would still have bought a bag.

I will confess neither the Vicks cough drops or the Altoids mints made me feel cool or chill or in the arctic while using them. I remained at 98.6 F. In the instance of the word chill, maybe the sales and marketing folks are just using it like cool kids use it these days?

No matter. It’s cool. I’m chill.

While thinking about ad-driven purchases, I also remembered another item I buy that falls into this brisk category…caramel cold brew coffee. You know by now they had me at “cold” brew, right? Be advised, I also love me some caramel…as much as lemons. If someone ever successfully grows a caramel lemon tree, I’m purchasing it.

While I know there is a defined, unique process to creating cold brew coffee, I really have no idea if my local Dunkin’ strictly adheres to it all the time because they are super-busy all day long. Hell, with the three pumps of caramel I get added to each order for all I know it’s just yesterday’s regular coffee not reheated. Regardless, it helps get me going in the morning. It’s definitely cold…and it’s positively caramel.

It also should be noted here our local Dunkin’ franchises are huge Philadelphia Eagles supporters. (Did I mention the Eagles are undefeated?)

The sales and marketing gurus got me once again yesterday…when I noticed a food article online. It was about a product that won’t even be on store shelves until February, 2023…M&M’s Caramel Cold Brew Candy.

I sprained my wrists getting to the M&M’s website.

I’ll admit to being skeptical these will be colder than other M&M’s. No matter. The website asked if I’d like to be notified when this new item will become available. Yes, please. However, I am taking no chances. Once the calendar flips to 2023, I’ll be pro-actively calling around asking stores ”DID YOU GET THEM YET?”

Sales and marketing pros look to connect with consumers any way they can, not only promoting what their products are all about, but also by creating an expectation of how we will feel using them. This new M&M candy is a perfect example of this. According to M&M’s, the Caramel Cold Brew Candy will be represented by the new Purple M&M, which they note is distinguished by her authenticity, self-awareness, and confidence.

Who wouldn’t feel good buying Caramel Cold Brew Candy from that spokescandy? There’s a legitimate potential when this product comes out…it might just sell out.

Maybe I’ll start calling around in December…

 

Pictures Courtesy Proctor & Gamble/Mars Incorporated