REPOST – College Admissions: Saved by Kenny G

Kenny G

Since many of my latest posts have focused on the absurdities I face in Corporate America, I wanted to repost something for my newer readers that focuses on the other topic I love to tackle…the absurdities of parenting. 

I was recently talking to Elizabeth’s future mother-in-law, Joy, about the beginning of the school year. (If you’re wondering about my 10 year old’s engagement, see my earlier post “80’s Wedding”). We were brimming with excitement, because our kids were both entering fifth grade this year.

Fifth grade is pivotal in our school district, because it is the year in which our kids can finally receive free instruction on a musical instrument. The hope is that with only 7 more years until the college admissions process, your child will quickly stand out as a prodigy and, without any actual financial investment on your part, will excel to the point of being admitted to the college of your dreams (who cares what they want, kids don’t know anything).

Joy and I, like all fifth grade parents, were anxiously chatting about the instruments our children were considering. Elizabeth was dead set on the flute. Having tried some free violin lessons during summer school, she felt that holding the violin and the bow at the same time with two different hands was too complicated.

I respected her reasoning, since it was the same logic I used when I gave up skiing for snowboarding. I’m actually terrible at both, but I found that much more can go wrong with two skis controlled by two different feet. I came to this conclusion after a series of embarrassing mishaps, including falling off a rope tow into a ditch on a mountain somewhere in the Swiss Alps.

While I was fairly certain the violin would not send Elizabeth rolling down a snowy incline, I could image several hazardous scenarios involving her bow and some unsuspecting kid’s eyeball. Definitely too much liability.

Unfortunately for Joy, her son Dominic was seriously considering the eyeball-poking violin. Joy expressed concern with this choice. Aside from the above-stated liability, there is an abundance of kids who play the violin these days and, let’s be honest, from a college admissions perspective, it’s hard to stand out a violinist. The path of least resistance was to take up a less popular instrument. The flute was a pretty standard instrument too. I wondered if I could get Elizabeth to play the french horn.

Joy broke it down for me: the easiest way to get a scholarship was with the saxophone. Forget the french horn. We quickly brainstormed on how to convince our kids that the sax was cool. I threw in my input. We could tell them they could become the next Kenny G. Not bad in theory, but Kenny G is dated these days. Or was he? Enter Corinne to the rescue.

Corinne had been eavesdropping, her favorite pastime, and quickly informed us that Kenny G is Katy Perry’s “Uncle Kenny” in the video “Last Friday Night” and, in fact, plays a mean saxophone on the roof of the house during the wild teenage party depicted in the video. She advised us to check out the video on YouTube. Anxiously, we complied.

Sure enough, Corinne was right. Kenny G was still making the sax look cool! We had what we needed to convince the kids and ensure their college admissions. Joy and I breathed a sigh of relief.

About 2 minutes into my relief, it slowly occurred to me that there might be another problem. Why was my six-year-old watching inappropriate Katy Perry videos on YouTube?! On the other hand, she was using YouTube to problem solve…

Hmm, maybe it was a draw. I can’t hide from the fact that I’m a bad parent, but at least my first grader is learning to resolve true crisis situations. If I focus on the positive, I might be able to sleep at night…at least until Elizabeth starts playing the saxophone on the roof.

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11 Signs Your Co-Workers Have Lost Their Minds

coworker crazy

If you work in Corporate America, you have certainly asked yourself “Is it me?” It’s often hard not to wonder if you’re the crazy one or if everyone else is crazy. In all honesty, it seems unlikely that 95% of the people you encounter in the workplace are completely nuts. Therefore, you begin to ask yourself the next question in this journey of self-analysis, which is “Am I being punked?” This is often followed by a quick sweep of your office for hidden cameras and bugs.

While these situations tend to occur in meetings or when reading e-mails, you may find that you are either questioning your sanity or looking around for Ashton Kutcher during any activity at any point between 8am and 5pm. Rest assured that you are neither insane nor the subject of an office prank. Instead, your co-workers have lost their minds. In case you are still not convinced, here are some signs that they, not you, are the ones who are cray cray (as the kids say):

1)  Your colleagues in another time zone force you to attend a meeting at 5 am.  Then, at 4:45 am you receive a notice of cancellation, after you have forced 2 cups of coffee down your throat to ensure you can communicate intelligibly.

2) Your company does not believe it is necessary to spend resources training employees to do their jobs and tries to convince everyone that osmosis can also be telepathic.

3) Department meetings turn into an episode of Ellen, with surprise guests, comedy routines and sometimes dancing.

4) Senior management is confused by what you thought was a simple concept. (If this has happened to you, do NOT let your statistical team anywhere near management or you will end up forfeiting your next 3 free weekends in an attempt to bring your boss’s bosses up to speed on how all of this stuff works.)

5) You are given top secret assignments, but in order to complete the assignments you need the help of the people you are supposed to be spying on.

6) You regularly find a half-eaten donut (with bite marks) in the box on Donut Friday.

7) There’s a “lunch thief” who steals people’s turkey sandwiches.

8) Your company spends thousands of dollars paying consultants to do a project and no one reads the results. When you take a look at their work papers, you realize even the consultants didn’t read the results.

9) The audit team is auditing processes that were discontinued 5 years ago.

10)  They’ve never found an error.

11)   Their breath smells like turkey.

Confessions of a Mid-Level Manager

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I enjoy my job in corporate America, but my day to day life at work is somewhat different than I would have imagined in college. As a mid-level manager, my role consists of two main tasks: 1) leading meetings with people about topics I don’t understand and 2) creating PowerPoint presentations.

As to the former, here’s a snippet from a conference call I led yesterday with 2 statisticians. As you’ll see, by using a few well-placed, vague comments, I managed to pull off my role as meeting leader without being discovered for the fraud I really am.

Jim:  My concern is if  statistical formula , then   statistics 2  So, by including that set of values associated with variable X in our regression model, we’ll have the problem of perfect separation.

Me: I see.  (Actually, I have no idea what you just said.)  Steve, do you agree with this analysis?

Steve: Yes, Jim makes a good point. Let’s not forget, however, that  eetips_wrap1

Me: So, Jim, can you please refine the regression model based on Steve’s suggestions?

Jim: Yes, I’ll do that this week.

Me: Great, I’ll send out an Outlook meeting invite for Monday to circle back on this action item. (Phew, I made it through without completely embarrassing myself.)

Side note: Because I managed to use “circle back” and “action item” in the same sentence, I earned 2 bonus points on my corporate scorecard.

The bulk of my job, though, revolves around less frightening work – creating PowerPoints.  In fact PowerPoint is the main tool of communication at my company. We start a project, I draft a timeline in PowerPoint. We finish a project, I summarize the results in PowerPoint.  I have an idea, it goes into PowerPoint. I need to use the restroom, I take my PowerPoint. In other words, I live out my days in PowerPoint Purgatory (PPP).

As I’ve observed, to make it out of PPP you must either 1) rise to a higher level of management (the preferable solution) or 2) fail miserably and be forced to go back and join the ranks of the people actually doing the work described in the PowerPoints.

Since a pre-requisite to upper management is being able to sound like an expert in your area when you’re not even sure who reports to you, I’m hopeful that a few more meetings with the statisticians just might spring me from purgatory.

 

Corporate Mentoring Series: Ask an MBA

 

QA

I was recently chatting with my friend Brenda when the subject turned to corporate life. We quickly realized that we were confounded by similar situations at work. After further discussion, we came to the conclusion that this gap in our ability to comprehend certain corporate phenomena was most likely tied to the fact that, while we each had a B.A. and 20+ years job experience, neither of us held an actual degree in Business. It was clear that if we were going to ever find resolution to our questions, we would need to corner someone with a bona fide business degree.

Enter our friend, Marsha. Marsha has not only earned an MBA from a top university, but she is also one of the sharpest, well-adjusted people I know. If anyone could save us from ignorance, it was Marsha.

Marsha graciously made time for us over lunch and we took turns peppering her with questions. As follows are the highlights of our Q&A session:

Question #1

Brenda: I receive daily news feeds in my Outlook inbox from my company. I appreciate the company’s desire to help me stay informed, but it’s challenging to find time to read everything they send me and still finish my PowerPoint slides by the deadline.

Marsha: Learn to embrace the delete key.

Question #2

Brenda: Who is crazier, me or IT?

Marsha: IT

Question #3

Brenda: How do I resolve this?

Marsha: Your best bet is to find someone who has the Flu and get them to sneeze on you. Then you can stay home in bed watching soap operas and drinking Nyquil instead of dealing with the crappy data IT sent you.

Question #4

Me: We used to have an office whistler who whistled loudly all day long. Her specialty was holiday tunes. Why was I the only person who found this annoying?

Marsha: People like holiday music, even in mid-summer. Too bad the whistler is gone or you could have connected her to the Marketing department to help bring in more business.

Question #5

Me: She showed up at this year’s Christmas luncheon, despite the fact that she left the company a year ago. Who invited her?

Marsha: IT

Question #6

Me: Why do companies hire argumentative customer service reps? Wouldn’t it be more efficient for the customer service rep to resolve the issue, so he/she can move on to the next call?

Marsha: Maybe, but you’re missing the point. In the corporate jungle, efficiency or even common sense don’t necessarily drive decisions. It’s all about “cover.” The guy running the customer service department may not be qualified for or capable of doing his job but is being covered by his senior manager. Chances are this senior manager has either never called the call center or, even more likely, doesn’t know there is a call center that reports up to him.

Question #7:

Me: How is it that the senior manager wouldn’t know that he has a call center under him?

Marsha: Most decisions affecting people are not well-communicated. Often you have to rely on an independent news source to tell you that you were actually let go three weeks ago. So, if your company’s stock price is tanking or you think you might have a call center reporting up to you, then you should definitely check out Reuters.com.

Question #8:

Brenda:  How can we keep people focused, so that they don’t waste everyone else’s time during weekly meetings?

Marsha: Keep a log of the amount of time each person has wasted. At the end of each month, make a PowerPoint chart and pass it out. Explain that the results will be aggregated at year-end, and using the below formula, each time-waster will be forced to pay out a portion of his annual bonus to all meeting attendees made to listen to him drone on about irrelevant topics.

Since no one will understand this formula (or want to risk looking stupid by asking how it works), the group will be terrified into compliance.

statistical formula

Question #9:

Brenda: What if an executive manager is one of the time-wasters?

Marsha: Whistle holiday music when you hand out the chart. Three weeks later google your name on Reuters.com.

Computer Compassion

copypaste

A few years ago my mom sat me down to ask me a question. Given her serious tone and the fact that uncomfortable conversations in my family often start with “a question”, frantic thoughts began racing through my mind. Had she discovered I’d tried smoking? Oh wait, that already happened….high school flashback. No, from her voice, I could tell it was certainly something graver.

After a few seconds it hit me. My palms got clammy as I realized my cover was blown. Somehow she had figured out the dark secret I’d been hiding from my family, my neighbors and all the PTA moms: I’m a negligent parent and, gulp, I sometimes forget to send the kids to school without breakfast or jackets or, on really negligent days, both.

I was about to break out into tears and several mea culpas about my pathetic parenting when my mom jumped in with her question, and to my relief, I realized the conversation was taking a far different..though probably equally disturbing… turn. She wanted to know about technology.

You see, as my mom explained, she had been chatting with her friend Diane  who, according to my mom, is “really good with computers.” What came next left me speechless.

Apparently Diane had told her it was possible to do something called “copying” and “pasting”. Fascinated by this possibility, my mother wanted to know if I knew what this was and if so, if could teach her how to work this magic.

This was the last thing I expected. As my mind raced to determine the appropriate response, I’m pretty sure this was the look on my face.

KeenanThompson

Clearly I was in a quandary. I was torn between laughing at how impressed she was by this advancement in modern technology and crying at the realization of how hard her life must have been through this point without the ability to copy and paste.

Luckily I managed to reign in my emotions and did neither. Instead, composing myself, I took the road of compassion and answered her question seriously. After all, I’m no spring chicken myself and will certainly have to ask Elizabeth and Corinne these same kinds of questions. When these moments happen, I would prefer they show similar restraint.

In fact, I think these moments are closer than I’d care to admit. This is based on the fact that I’ve already started losing my mind and, as recent studies have shown, failing to grasp technological concepts closely follows the loss of one’s mind. (This is not to say my mom is nuts…she reads my posts and I still want Christmas presents, so I am definitely, absolutely, positively not saying this.)

My decent into insanity became evident a few months ago when I tried opening my office door at work with my car remote. This was particularly disturbing since my office door doesn’t even have a lock. A few weeks later I tried to use the remote control for my garage door at home to enter the parking structure at work.

I would like to openly blame my children on a daily basis for driving me over the edge, but have come to the conclusion that if I do this, they will conveniently not teach me how to copy and paste. I’m safe as long as they don’t read my blog.

Car Show Mania

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Every year in October we go to the car show. This is an important event on our calendar, and we take attendance very seriously. In fact, few know this but our vow “in sickness and in health” actually applies to the car show. When I was 4 months pregnant with Elizabeth and still getting emergency IV fluids, I ditched the IV to go sit in some brand new SUVs. Elizabeth can be glad her middle name isn’t Explorer or Durango.

Today was the day. The car show runs from Thursday to Sunday, and we always go on Sunday. We also make sure to arrive first thing in the morning, before the crowds descend. While others are sleeping in, we’re riding around the Camp Jeep obstacle course in Wranglers and Grand Cherokees until all four of us are car sick. This really is something to look forward to. Besides, not only is the car show cheaper than Disneyland (kids get in free), but you can also load up on free crap you don’t need and won’t ever use.

The freebies were sparse in past years, but if we use this year’s car show as a barometer, the Great Recession is clearly a thing of the past. Not only did we receive quite a few neat gadgets from Kia, but Jeep has clearly upped the quality of the cloth shopping bags they pass out to obstacle course riders. Admittedly, Jeep’s quality upgrade may have nothing to do with the ending of the recession and may instead be due to the number of nauseous participants who needed a thicker bag in hand in case their breakfast made a reappearance.

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This year at Camp Jeep I even got to learn about technology. For instance, to take the required picture of the barcode on your wristband with the tablet at the sign-up booth, you must place the barcode in front of the camera on the side of the tablet. Waving the barcode back and forth in front of the tablet’s screen is something only old people do. The kid who had to save me from my incompetence could barely contain his disgust.

After Camp Jeep, we moved on to test driving vehicles. This is a great opportunity, because not only is there no sales pressure, but the test drive is longer than what you get when you are actually going to drop thousands of dollars on the car…go figure.

Last year we learned an important lesson when our test drive strategy backfired. Since my SUV was significantly older than my husband’s sedan, our focus was only on SUVs. This seemed like a reasonable approach. However, as fate would have it, a texting teenager totaled Thomas’s car the week after the car show, leaving him with an immediate need for a new car (and me with an immediate need to punch that kid’s lights out…but that would have been illegal). Since we hadn’t as much as looked at a sedan, let alone driven one[1], we decided we needed to take a more balanced approach at this year’s car show.

This year, in keeping with this new approach idea, we test drove both a sedan and an SUV. The sedan drive with Marco, the product representative, was fun. We drove around singing along to hits on the stereo system, while Marco told us all about the car’s features and even managed to remember our names.

Driving the SUV, on the other hand, proved to be a little disturbing. The vehicle, a Kia Sorento, was great and is definitely one we will consider when the time comes, but the Kia product lady left something to be desired. She was not only snippy with us, but her behavior was erratic, and she barked mysterious orders during the test drive that I was unable to decipher. At one point she wanted me to “get in the center lane and turn left”. Depending on the width and design of the street, this could be possible. However, given that this particular street only had 2 lanes, I was slightly confused. Did that mean I was supposed to drive in between the two lanes and then make a left? I was afraid to ask.

The closer we got to the upcoming left turn, the more agitated she became. I was fairly certain at some point she was either going to grab the steering wheel from me or kick me out of the car and run me over. When the time came, I maneuvered steadily into the intersection, made a left turn and used my peripheral vision to determine if I was going to need to block an incoming punch.

Luckily, she seemed satisfied and backed off. Driving back onto the car show lot, I breathed a sigh of relief. Though Kia made us take a breathalyzer test before getting into the car, it was obvious they didn’t apply this standard to their employees. I wondered if I should make this suggestion when I took the post-drive survey.

All in all, we came out ahead of the game. We managed not to throw up in the Jeeps, didn’t get beat up at Kia and even got a few free stylus pens to boot. Thomas has already marked the calendar for next year…

[1] This isn’t completely true, since I test drove a Fiat 500 for kicks. However, since Thomas can’t even fit in one let alone drive one, I’m not counting it for purposes of this argument.

Cowpunk is a Real Word

Social D

For my birthday recently, I went to my first cowpunk concert. This was a shock to me on many levels, starting with the word cowpunk. Much to my surprise, cowpunk is a real word and not something my husband made up. You can’t really blame me for accusing him of inventing words in English since his family invents all kinds of words in their native German. German not being my native language, I innocently use these words with the general German-speaking population. As a result, approximately 74% of German speakers I’ve encountered since meeting my husband over 15 years ago think I’m completely nuts.

With the concert around the corner, I was determined to do some fact checking before dropping the word cowpunk in an effort to sound relatable….only to show up at work the next day with a broken nose and fewer teeth. Lo and behold, according to Dictionary.com, cowpunk derives from the term cowboy-punk and is “a musical style combining country-and-western with punk rock.” Wikipedia goes on to describe cowpunk as “a subgenre of punk rock that began in the UK and California in the late 1970s and early 1980s.” Imagine what Johnny Cash would sound like on Speed, and you’ll get the general idea.

So how does one end up at a cowpunk concert? In my case it is completely related to my age. For some strange reason the older I get, the crazier my taste in music gets. I used to listen to only mainstream Top 40 music in high school and college. Sometime in my 30’s I switched over to alternative music and by my 40’s I found myself secretly head banging in traffic to really disgruntled people. (Clearly I have anger issues.) Along the way I also discovered Social Distortion (or “Social D”, as the fans say). For those unfamiliar with Social D, it is a punk band from Southern California that was formed in the late 1970’s and is still irate and going strong.

As my birthday approached, I looked for ways to distract myself from the reality of aging. I’m not debating that turning a year older is better than the alternative, but getting older is hard to swallow. These days my birthday is just another reminder that I probably shouldn’t have thrown out that Botox discount coupon.

I started looking for local events taking place on my birthday weekend. Last year we went to a comedy festival, which really helped take the edge off.  A few minutes into my search, I discovered that Social D was playing on my birthday at a small, local venue. Going to this band’s concert would certainly have a dual benefit. Not only would I fit in with all the outraged people (they were angry about social injustice and I was angry about wrinkles), but unlike a pop music concert, I wouldn’t be the youngest in the room. How can you feel bad about your age when the lead singer has 10 years on you? My birthday was starting to look up.

My husband was quickly on board with my suggestion. He was only vaguely familiar with Social D but likes alternative folk and country music. It was during this discussion, that he dropped the aforementioned cowpunk word on me. Apparently this is the more precise definition of the punk genre the band represented.

As we drove to the concert, I found myself increasingly curious about this cowpunk movement. For example, what do cowpunk fans look like? As I found out there are four categories of cowpunk concert-goers:

  1. Middle aged people wearing jeans and t-shirts, obviously hiding the fact that they like cowpunk (me)
  2. Young, retro, rockabilly girls who drink too much and pass out on your husband’s feet before the concert even begins
  3. Gray-haired, aging punkers with faded tats and reading glasses
  4. Random guy blasted back from the 80’s with a blue Mohawk and combat boots. Probably doesn’t deserve his own bullet point, but he was too entertaining not to mention.

Most interesting, however, was the band itself, who looked like they had just broken out of prison to play the concert. Despite the impressive neck and face tattoos, the 53-year-old lead singer is actually a vegetarian who skateboards and likes cats.

I had a great time at the concert and have been listening nonstop ever since to Social D on the way to my office job at a financial institution. In fact, I’m even considering getting a few neck tattoos so I can intimidate IT into providing me with better quality data for my PowerPoint presentations.