My Y2K+10 Wish for You

December 31, 2009

There’s a 10-year-old bottle of candy sitting on my shelf, a testament to our unending capacity to panic over the unlikely while we blithely ignore the real threats in our lives.

I had one dropped on every employee’s desk when they returned from New Year’s weekend in 2000. The bright gold label says, “I survived the Y2K hype at FRB.”

Hard to believe it’s 10 years since the Y2K debacle, when programmers extorted corporate America for billions of dollars to make sure computers wouldn’t click over at midnight on 12/31/1999 and suddenly decide it was now 01/01/1900 or, worse, 01/01/1000.

Just about everyone with a PC took a deep breath, reset the calendars on their computers for 11:59 on 12/31 and waited for the machines to melt down, or blow up, or spit blood and cackle like Shakespearean hags. Didn’t happen. The computers kept working, the one-way chronometers kept moving forward and the world didn’t end.

But the tech guys warned that it wasn’t our personal computers that were going to kill us. Instead, it was all the legacy systems, developed in the 1950s and 60s and 70s, when nobody ever thought about the idea of 2000. Those systems only had two digits to note the year, so a calendar turning past 99 would essentially reset at zero, losing 100 or maybe 1,000 years in the process. And these were the systems managing the banks, the stock exchanges and our nuclear arsenal.

Software patches were installed everywhere, but the great seers of geekdom insisted that any one computer could bring down a thousand more if the Y2K bug attacked even a single network.

Soon, litigators were lining up to recruit clients for the class action suits that would yield the next gold rush, if and when the computers went down. Companies insisted that their vendors indemnify them against any losses if the vendors’ systems crashed and took down the customer computers.

And then midnight came, first in the Pacific Ocean and then through Asia, Europe, the East Coast….and nothing happened. Planes didn’t fall from the sky, bank accounts didn’t vanish, nuclear plants didn’t melt into the Earth’s core.

I guess you just had to be there.

Happy New Year, 2010. May all your fears dissolve like the threat of Y2K.


Particularly Nasty Weather We’re Having

December 28, 2009

It’s a beautiful day in Arlington Heights with overcast skies and temperatures in the low 20s and clumps of snow dropping from the trees as a light breeze blows past my office window.

It’s winter. It’s Chicago. That’s what we do here.

Or, maybe, it’s what we used to do when we were really Chicagoans. Now, it seems, everyone I meet is a weather wimp. Great big SISSIES (one of my favorite words this year) who whine when the temperature drops below 40 and spend most of Thanksgiving talking about what a tough winter we’ve had—when the solstice is still four weeks away.

Wimps. Sissies. Whiners. Woebabies. We’re five days into winter and I’m tired of all of you already. I can’t wait until the temperature drops below zero and the banshee wailing fills the night skies. Or would, if all you wimps weren’t hiding under your blankets by then.

Clearly, some of us—and you know who you are—have lost the spirit and drive and toughness that made this country great. Clearly, it’s time to lay down the law to all of you weather wimps about how to behave over the next 19 weeks until Chicago winter officially ends on May 15.

THE RULES:

  1. Grow a pair. John Wayne never complained about getting shot. We don’t complain about getting cold. If we’re walking down the street and we see someone we know and it’s at least five below zero, we can nod and smile—assuming it won’t cause our lips to crack wide open—in our shared appreciation of our toughness. Otherwise, we’re strong, silent types.
  2. No talking about the wind chill. Yeah, the wind cools our skin faster, but that’s why God invented gloves. People who cite the wind chill are just pleading for sympathy. Yes, it’s 35 today, but the wind chill makes it feel like 31. Oooh. Poor me!!! Frickin’ embarrassing.
  3. No climate envy. People in the burbs can’t complain to people in the city that it’s colder in Bannockburn or Schaumburg or even Waukegan. And we absolutely don’t complain to friends in Arizona or Florida, or even St. Louis, that we wish we were with them in warmer climes. Cold is no big deal to us. It happens. We deal with it. We don’t complain and we don’t brag about it, because we’re just too tough and too cool to care. And who the hell wants to live in St. Louis, anyway?
  4. No lake effect. They can talk about the lake effect in Buffalo, where there is one, but not here. That’s because the wind almost never comes off the lake, WHICH IS EAST OF US, and almost everyone in the Chicago area is too far from the lake to feel it when it happens. Unless you’re east of Michigan Avenue or, on a really bad day, Clark, the lake effect is as mythical as a bipartisan Congress. And BTW, the lake actually has a warming effect in the winter.
  5. No fashion tips. It’s cold. We dress warmly. We’re not looking for hip, trendy jackets with side vents or kicky plastic heels that melt on a salted sidewalk. Sorry, Giorgio, but there’s only one rule for winter clothing: it if keeps you warm, it’s fashionable. We’re survivors, not a bunch of fops from some catalog.
  6. No shelter. The cold is only relevant during those minutes we’re out of the house and not in a heated car or bus or our private jets. That’s about 20 minutes a day, tops, and it usually takes more time to wrap ourselves up than we actually spend exposed to the elements. No true Chicagoan ever, ever, ever stays home because it’s TOO COLD to go somewhere.
  7. No Excuses. Unlike you, that homeless guy is standing in the cold all day. Taking your hand out of your glove so you can grab a buck out of your pocket takes about 11 seconds. Don’t worry. You won’t freeze to death in the process.
  8. No ingratitude. Have you noticed how the sun is setting later and later over the past five days? Are you counting up the savings as the snow layer on your roof adds insulation to your home? Are you enjoying the serenity as all the weather wimps stay home and avoid clogging up the roads and restaurants? Do you appreciate the way Chicago winters keep people from moving here, so we can keep Chicago summers all to ourselves? Winter here is a gift, so be grateful.
  9. No enabling. When a weather wimp starts prattling about wind chills and snow and having to dress in “layers,” don’t encourage him. Simply say, “Yeah, it gets cold in winter,” or “But this is a heat wave compared to Minneapolis,” or, if absolutely necessary a simple STFU is acceptable.
  10. What? I’m David Letterman or Moses and there have to be ten rules here? I’m fine with nine and every real Chicagoan is okay with it as well.

Unfortunately, medical science has yet to find a cure for weather wimpitis. By following these rules, however, you can save yourself from becoming a victim. You’re welcome.


The Miracle of MultiTasking

December 19, 2009

Today we focus on the key to ultimate balance, wealth and happiness in life. I have finally discovered the secret that we’ve all been seeking, and I want to share it with all my friends on this world wide internet thing.

The beauty of my discovery is that it requires just four simple steps, and I’ll try to explain them fully here, although you’ll have to excuse me if the explanation is a bit disjointed. I’m writing this in between projects today. I’m multitasking.

In fact, multitasking is the first of the four key steps to balance, wealth, and happiness I wrote about above. As you know, multitasking is a high-tech phrase that means running around in circles, trying to do too many things at once and, ultimately, failing to process anything quite right. When it comes to multitasking, I’m really good.

You can’t tell by reading this, but one hour has passed since I wrote that last line. I don’t really remember what I did in the intervening time, but I know I was exceptionally productive and very wise.

I was able to be brilliant because I was multitasking. Instead of having a one hour conference call to discuss a pending issue, for example, I handle it via e-mail. After all, I can’t spare an hour today. After five or ten or twenty e-mail messages have gone back and forth, I’ll have spent a half hour reading and responding to these messages, and much will be lost in the translation.

However, I’ll save a half hour. Good thing, too, because ultimately I get frustrated with the e-mail string and pick up the phone anyway. But I have 30 minutes free for the the conversation, because I save so much time e-mailing.

Luckily, my PDA/Phone/Browser/Calculator/Camera/Paperweight unit makes it easy to multitask. And did I mention FaceBook and LinkedIn? I can do it all and I can do it all at once. Hang on a second; I have a call coming in. Okay, I’m back. Where were we?

Oh, yes, I’m multitasking. Look at how many balls I can juggle. Of course, I had better be good at juggling, because I am going to be doing it forever. The one limit to multitasking is that you get so good at keeping all the balls in the air that you never really finish anything. Not that you need to, of course, because nobody else is finishing anything, either.

But just in case you want to get something completed and checked off your list, you’ll want to know step two in my secret plan for wealth, happiness and balance. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a while, because I have another call coming in.

In the meantime, just focus on multitasking.


Yes, I Want it Both Ways

December 3, 2009

Crain’s Chicago Business has a great article this week about the travails of U.S. Cellular, which is having trouble competing for high-tech clients in the face of exclusive contracts such as AT&T’s deal for IPhones.

It appears that U.S. Cellular is at a disadvantage when it comes to selling smartphones—even though the company seems to have a number of exclusive phone products—and the president of the company actually testified on Capitol Hill in June about the anti-competitive nature of other companies’ exclusive contracts.

Irony. Irony. Irony. I am reminded of the traditional definition of chutzpah as describing a person who kills his parents and then asks for mercy because he is an orphan.

Aren’t businesses supposed to be opposed to governmental intervention? Aren’t we all supposed to be capitalists and not socialists, fans of free enterprise instead of government control?

The head of a business that benefited, in its early days, from government limitations on the number of cell service providers, now objects to competitive “limitations” imposed by the private sector. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

Okay, enough about U.S. Cellular, which is merely one of millions of examples we could cite of people and businesses that want it both ways. Not that people and businesses include you, dear reader.

I’m talking about all those other people, people who say things like:

  • Government regulation is bad, unless it keeps competitors out of my space, in which case it’s an incentive program.
  • Government bailouts are socialist and evil, except for that cash-for-clunkers program that saved me four grand.
  • Tax breaks for special interests are bad, unless it’s the deduction for mortgage interest, which supports homeowners, not the homebuilders, realtors, banks…..
  • The federal government should stay out of states’ rights issues, except for health care reform, gay marriage, marijuana penalties, gun laws….
  • Government should respect First Amendment rights of all Americans, as long as they are politically correct.

I’d suggest an award for anyone who can make all these statements with a straight face, but we’d end up giving out 535 of them on Capitol Hill alone. Self-awareness, alas, is a gift honored more in theory than practice.

So where do you lie, literally or figuratively, on the inconsistency meter? Before the next newscast or survey or tea party or sit-in, it’s something to consider