Monday, May 28, 2007

A New Playbook in Dealing with the Internet

Some of you may have read about the number which must not be named incident a few weeks back. For those who didn't, there is this number that certain powers that be wish to keep secret. In so doing, issues various cease and desist orders which caused quite a stir and increased the spread of the number far more than if they had never done anything. A classic case of misunderstanding the reality in which you find yourself.

Today the Washington Post brings a story of a young girl from California who has found herself in the middle of a media storm. Due to her excellence in sports and attractive looks, her photo has spread across the internet on blogs and messages boards. Someone even setup a fake Facebook account under her name. The attention has often been sexual in nature and cause grief for the girl and her family.

What impresses me about her story is that she, or at least those who are advising her, have rejected the misguided approach of the copyright maximalists. Instead of sending out cease and desist letters to anyone who ever touched the photo, instead of threaten slander suits against those who speak her name, instead of crying to the media about how unfair it all is, this young girl has chosen to embrace the media storm. Not in the Brittany Spears, "It'll make me famous" sort of way, but in the "okay, if you're really interested, here's my story" sort of way. I predict that by opening up, embracing the storm instead of fighting against it, the frenzy will die down much quicker than otherwise.

Of course, I could be wrong and this may end up stoking the fires, but my gut says that now that she's obtainable, in that her life is not clouded in mystery, she'll be far less of a target for those who obsess about the impossible. Nothing destroys a fantasy like a healthy dose of real life.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

My Green Thumb?

I wouldn't have believed it a year ago if you had told me, "Sean, you're going to be able to grow living plants and keep them alive," but, believed or not, it would appear to be true. As evidence, I submit the following photograph

My glorious impatiens

I planted these about a month ago in the planter pot I got Sarah for her birthday (technically these are her flowers that I grow on her behalf). When I first got them I expected two, maybe three, blooms per pot. But now, with some tender love, consistent watering, and the eclectic mix of music played by the neighboring spa, my little flowers are blooming all over the place. More than a dozen in some pots.

The bottom six pots have a mix of different color impatiens and are all doing splendidly. The top pot has a flower that Sarah purchased, so I don't know the species, but it has had a tougher go of things. At first it started dying, dropped all of its flowers and the stalks flopped over the edge of the pot. But I kept watering it, trimmed away the dead bits, and slowly but surely the plant has risen once again.

Due to the nature of the porch it lives on, I have to rotate the pot with some frequency to ensure every flower gets roughly the same amount of sun. I haven't decided if they do better in the sunlight or in the shade, but I know that not turning the pot leads one side to die and the other to do better, so rotation is now part of regular maintenance. In addition, I water my little plants with a trusty spray bottle, which I feel more realistically simulates rain water like the flowers long since forgotten ancestors must have known before cultivation and greenhouses forever changed flower production in the industrialized world.

Sarah is also trying her hand at flower care this season, having killed off her long lived green plant. Here's a wide shot of our little garden.

Sarah's plants are in the green planter and brown terracotta planter

She is also keeping a hanging plant which lives up in the rafters

I'm not quite sure how she gets up there to water it?

Sarah's project is quite a bit more ambitious than mine, but since these are the first plants I've ever successfully grown, I'm happy with the results to date.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Tough Spot

Recently Circuit City fired 3,400 employees who were earning above the defined pay range for the associate position at the big red store. Before I go any further, let me say that I know a guy who manages a department in the local Santa Cruz Circuit City, and I've had the opportunity to talk business with him on several occasions... so I have some sense of the nature of their business.

Stores like BestBuy, Walmart, Costco and Circuit City are in a all hands on deck battle for big ticket sales. The margins on computers and gadgets isn't enough to warrant those big buildings and the flashy adds... it's all about moving those TVs. And at the end of the day, a slick salesman only goes so far. You have to keep cost low if you want to compete. Consider Costco... I can't say I've ever seen a salesman on their TV floor, but maybe I wasn't looking. Certainly not as many as at Circuit City. So, when faced with the prospect of posting huge quarterly loses, Circuit City let thousands go, hired new younger workers with low pay, and told the old workers they could reapply 10 weeks down the road (at lower pay).

Not only were they upfront about the situation with the associates, they were upfront with the public. According to the Seattle Times, in exchange for their openness they are getting a boycott.

Which makes me confused as to what Circuit City should have done here? According to my manager friend, the best Circuit Cities are near colleges and have a healthy churn of college kids who take the associate jobs for a few years, work their way up the pay scale, then leave to make room for a new salesman. The churn ensures the pay never gets too high. But not every town that needs a Circuit City has a college, so some salesmen stick around for longer than is desirable. Strikes me as they have three options:

1) do nothing, post huge loses and file for bankruptcy
2) do what they did, get hit with a boycott
3) do what they did, but keep it private so the public never finds out

Now, of course, #3 is rife with risks for the company. Should they be found out, they would be vilified in the press and likely become the target of... of a... of a boycott?! Wait, isn't that what happens under #2? Guess that makes it worth the risk then, wouldn't you say? Is that what we want? I don't think that having corporations make wide scale employment decisions without any public explanation is a very good idea, but we leave them little choice if this is the response they can expect for their frankness.

It's just like the politician who lies to his constituency. If telling the truth leads to an assured electoral defeat, what possible reason would they have to be honest?

I don't know if there is an easy solution to the problem. We could criminalize the lack of disclosure, I suppose. But that's certainly pretty extreme. We could turn a blind eye to corporate mistreatment of workers... not much of an ideal situation either. I think, ultimately, the best idea is to accept that some stores opporate on a low pay worker model, and if we don't like that we should avoid those companies all together, not just become morally indignant when they have to be a little more ruthless than normal.