Sunday, July 24, 2005

About reality - the showtime version

I don’t get it. In a time that the number of terror attacks in major cities and popular holiday destinations worldwide are increasing, so does the public's thirst for reality shows.
I find this bizarre, especially since they are in general quite boring.
But I have some suggestions to spice them up a bit.
Let’s first look what is around – thanks to cable and satellite: worldwide.

First, there are the dating ones – one guy/girl goes on dates with around 12 members of the opposite sex who have nothing better to do that being humiliated in front of millions. That of course explains why all of them were single to start with and will remain single long after the show’s grand finale. I must confess, I wouldn’t mind at all dating a bunch of losers in exotic (and 100% paid for!) locations.
My suggestion would be that they come to the home of the bachelorette and do useful stuff: fixing her washing machine, checking the tires and oil of her car, putting up shelves, entertaining that boring aunt during holidays, go shopping for groceries, etc. Let’s face it, getting roses is nice, getting rid of a tedious chore is great!

The next group is the swapping one – a person swaps lives with another frustrated person. Needless to say, this leads to misunderstandings, anger and – in short- extremely boring television. The switchers have boring lives to start with, so I don’t see the point. Now let’s put some substance in the concept. Let’s have Bush swap places for a few days with the president of France – that’s entertaining! They don’t have to worry about the language barrier-nobody listens to them anyway. It might even end the war in Iraq…

Then there is the misfit show – you put some celebrities on a remote farm or something like that and see them suffer. Funny enough, it seems that only the poor locals are suffering – the celebrities themselves survive very nicely. I suggest that they change the show’s concept and combine it with the swapping one. Let’s have Paris Hilton work as an underpaid maid in the Hilton Hotel in Guam, sans dog and beauty treatments of course.

Survivor shows are popular as well – a group of C-list actors are thrown together in the middle of a jungle and have to survive. Variation: they have to conquer their greatest fear by sticking their face in buckets with worms or cages with spiders. I didn’t hear the WWF complain about the mistreatment of those poor animals yet, which is a Serious Omission on their side.
Both of these shows are based on the wrong concept: we all know that the biggest fear of an actress in waking up with her original body before plastic surgery. So let’s make a show bout that – starting with Michael Jackson.

Peeping Tom shows follow a group of people or a small business (hair dresser, restaurant) 10+ weeks long for no apparent reason.
I strongly advise the makers to select a high tech company next time: weird people, lots of intrigue, scheming and backstabbing, topped off by a spectacular crash in the final episode. I will be happy to provide the script.

Apprentice shows – my favorites. A prospective employer gives a group of 10-15 candidates all kind of tasks over a 3-months period and declares a winner.
They are clever enough not to make the decision alone, but sharing the blame, but not the fame, with some of their minions or business friends. Good PR for them and the candidates make a cake of themselves, no matter how smart they are.
I like the concept: I would love to have my own. I will interview a bunch of people to become my cleaner. I will test them by giving them different cleaning tasks and rating them. After stretching this for weeks (and not paying them of course!) I will select one. My cat will be one of the judges. I know, that doesn’t make sense, but at least he has better hair than Donald T.

Networks love all these shows – cheap to produce and great viewers numbers, so the advertising dollars come rolling in.

The funny thing is, these reality shows have nothing to do with reality as we know it.
So what's the deal here? I wish George Orwell was around to make some sense of it all.....

Monday, July 18, 2005

I should have known better, but well, I didn’t….

It all started with an invitation for a marketing writing course that I received about a month ago. I got the invitation via a PR network, so I should have been warned…. It was organized by a company called ExperTeam, that specializes in technical writing. Since the current economic situation is bad, such companies have a tough time surviving. Due to the unemployment rate among marketing and technical writers (45%), companies prefer to hire laid-off writers that are dirt cheap, very experienced and are paid per hour. ExperTeam invited me to join their course, that took place on 8/2 from 6pm-8pm. It consisted of two parts – the first part “what is marketing writing” and the second part “how to write killer marketing material”.
Since I always want to improve myself, I thought it was a good idea to go. The costs were also OK, $10. (I did not even contemplated to ask this amount from my employer).

So I registered…and did not get a confirmation. So I emailed twice, to make sure I had a place. Finally, I got the confirmation with a map how to drive there. And then the fun started….

That whole day, Ibby (my boss) kept throwing work at me. When I told him that I had to leave that day at 5.30pm (I start at 8am, mind you), the reaction was 1) why so early 2) what for.
I was stupid enough to tell him. He replied it would be a waste of time. I was finally able to leave armed with the map that ExperTeam had faxed me. I don’t have the greatest sense of directions, but I was quite confident that I would find it. The map clearly showed that I had to turn right at the fifth traffic light on the main road into Main Street, so that would be easy enough, correct?
So I drove off…..already being tired and stressed.

All went well, and I turned right at the fifth traffic light. Wrong street name, so I parked, and
went to ask directions. I asked the proprietress of a small kiosk that sells milk, cigarettes, snacks, and newspapers and also serves coffee. She did not know, but a customer sitting outside budded in, took my map and started to analyze it. Not very successfully, since he kept turning it around. After some minutes, I took the map back, and said I would ask at the petrol station. The customer looked insulted and said that he would have figured it out eventually. Yeah, sure, and I am a super model. The petrol station guy was very nice and helpful, and told me that he knew were Main Street was. I just had to turn left at the next traffic light. By that time, it was 6.10 pm, so it was cutting it close, but what the hack, I was almost there, right? Wrong!
I went back to my car (feeling hot and sweaty) and turned left at the traffic light as instructed. Lo and behold, the correct street name! Found a nice parking place, parked and saw that a high tech guy (pony tail, end 20s, must therefore be a software engineer) was getting into the car next to me. I thought that double checking would be a good idea, so I showed my map again, and he assured me that I was in the right place. He recognized all the streets, and pointed into the different directions to indicate them. I was very impressed and relieved.

So I went looking for ExperTeam at Main Street 6…..which turned out to be a Chinese Restaurant. By that time, I was very confused and nervous. I decided to ask a mother with a small child walking towards me – those ladies normally know all the streets. She was very nice and looked at my map. She told me that I was in the right street, but in the wrong village! Of course, I thought to myself, that explains a lot! She told me that I had to turn back to the main road, go to the left, 3 traffic lights and then to the right.
By that time, it was already 6.30pm, so I wondered if it was worth while to go. But since I am extremely stubborn, I could not give up. My feet were hurting and I started to get hungry (I didn't have a thing to eat since munching a salad at noon).
So I drove off again. By that time, I was smack in the middle of rush hour, so I was forced to move with the speed of a snail - a heavily medicated, doped out snail.

Finally, I arrived at the third traffic light and turned right. Guess what? Main Street is in the the middle of a cluster of buildings, without any numbers. Great!
I parked my car, took my map and walked into the first small building I saw – a small high tech firm. I asked the two young guys there if they could help me. They looked at the map and told me that ExperTeam should be in a building somewhere behind them. They did not know for sure, and happily informed me “nobody can find us as well”. This sentence was delivered with a big smile, so I wondered why they do not relocate.
I walked around and saw several clusters of small buildings. I suddenly saw an old sign with ExperTeam on it, so I followed it…and ended up in a playground! So I looked around and saw this itsy tiny sign “ExperTeam” on a building dwarfed by huge signs of other companies. Go figure.
By that time, it was 6.45pm…..But, in for a penny, in for a pound, so I went into the building. Nobody to be found, so I first looked for the restrooms since I drank lots of water on the way. I walked around, and finally a guy talking loudly on his cell came out of his office and demanded to know what I wanted. I answered that I was looking for the course. He pointed were it was and added “You must be very polite when you go in”. I informed him that I am always polite.
At that moment, a young guy came rushing towards me and told me he was also late. We decided to go in together.

So I opened the door to slip in….and was shocked.
It was a small meeting room, packed with 40 people sitting (shoulder to shoulder, knee to back) and another 10+ standing…without air-conditioning!
By that time, the idea of standing for two hours or so, having to pay for that privilege, and no way to make notes was enough to freak me out. I made a hasty retreat and drove home. By 7.30pm, I was finally home and thought this whole exercise over.

My first lesson: never trust maps sent to you by companies.
My second lesson: People are friendly and helpful, but not always reliable
My third lesson: ExperTeam has a good idea – if implemented correctly

Their concept is great:
1) you let your own employees teach – no costs involved
2) in your own offices – no costs involved
3) your invitees have to register – free database/mailing lists
4) 50 invitees = $ 500 tax free
5) 5%-10% might turn into customers (hack, even 1 customer out of it makes it all worth while!)
But what upsets me most……Ibby was right!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Touchy people

You may have noticed as well – some people are touchy, others are not. I am not only referring to their state of mind, put the “their-hand-on-you-body” kind.
They mean well, they just want to emphasize a point by touching you.
Personally, I like my space and only want to touch and be touched by people a) I am close to and b) I like. Unfortunately for me, I live in a Mediterranean country filled with touchy people. While I am trying to keep my distance, they want to “enter my bloodstream” as they call it here. It is an endless battle – the more reserved I become, the more curious is my environment. Once I was cornered by a neighbor, who asked if I had a new boyfriend. When I looked puzzled, he happily told me that they (the neighbors) discussed the fact that there was a new car in my personal parking. They came to the conclusion that it must be related to a new guy in my life. It never crossed their minds that I might have changed jobs and got therefore a different company car. When I gave neighbor-dear one of my non-answers, he looked peeved and snapped that I am too damn secretive. Touchy, touchy!
In my previous company, I had the pleasure to work with a nice Argentinean colleague. Being Latin American, he kept standing close to me – too close for my peace of mind. So I used to step back a bit, which led to him stepping forwards again. In order not to cross the whole length of the office building, I stepped slightly sideways, so we ended up full circle. It looked like we were dancing. He never had a clue.
In the USA and Western Europe, people get into overcrowded public transport and elevators, bending backwards (pun intended) to avoid body contact. Not so in this country. They not only lean against you, but also start a personal conversation, commenting on your appearance or the book or article you are reading. Once you bite (I counsel you never to do that!) they happily ask you questions such as: are you married, do you have kids, where do you live, what is your rent/mortgage and how much do you make). If you refuse to answer, they are hurt. So I solve it by rapidly firing all kind of questions at them. You see, it is a one-way street – they can ask you but you can’t ask them. They are touchy when it comes to their private sphere.
Once I was purposely touched in Western Europe in a crowded elevator. A guy squeezed my butt and gave me a sleazy smile when I looked over my shoulder at him. I know how to get even – I placed the heel of my right shoe carefully on his big toe and slowly shifted my whole weight to that foot. I tell you, the subdued squealing noises coming from his throat were quite rewarding.
Coming back to my present situation, strangers or people you just met happily drape an arm around your shoulder, touch your arm, shoulder or hair and even hug you.
Employers are worse. Not that they touch you – the laws here are very strict and they know you can sue their pants off. No, they created something even more horrid: a Hugging Day. Yes, really, that’s what it is called (and tax deductible). It’s their way of ensuring that their employees bond.
Now, I have nothing against bonds, as long as they are the equivalent of stocks, if you get my drift. I don’t see any reason to spend my free time with a whole bunch of people that I didn’t select to be my friends in the first place. Don’t get me wrong – I like my colleagues but I don’t want to spend my sparsely free time with them.
The day itself is a nightmare for a nerd like me – it consists of outdoorsy stuff. I like nature – I watch it a lot on National Geographic for which privilege I pay handsomely to the cable company anyway. So why should I rough it out, get sunburn and have to eat junk food? The planned activities are of the “let’s have fun together” kind: driving around in jeeps (not the way I want to spend my last hour on earth), karting (which is nice for kids under the age of 8), climbing through nets (what the hell is the point of that?!), shooting bows and arrows (hitting management isn’t allowed), sing along (I had my fill of music lessons, thank you very much) and walks, loooooong walks.
I didn’t like all the above when I was a kid and I didn’t acquire a taste for it since.
The head of my current company’s cultural committee is a tall, chubby and sweet guy who somehow made it his mission in life to drag me to one of those Hugging Things.
He cleverly asked me what would make me happy. I answered truthfully that I would like a day filled with a) fitness and b) Spa activities in a 4 to 5 star Spa resort with a state-of-the-art fitness center. He smiled, told me that it was too expensive for the company and guess what? Hugged me!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Guys like gadgets

Guys like gadgets. Must be something in their NDA. Just show them anything that looks like a tool and they will pounce in it like a cat on a mouse. Especially if it blinks, spins or consists of heaps of tiny removable parts.
It all starts from an early age – when little girls are playing house and having tea parties to hone their socials skills, little boys take objects apart and try to reassemble them. Needless to say, they are most of the time not successful in the reassembly department, which they have in common with many of their adult counterparts.
For the fun of it, just take your Significant Other into town. Just observe him when he stands in front of a hardware or electronics store and looks at the items on display as if they were Tiffany diamonds. You get my point? Must be evolution. Don’t get me wrong, in Neanderthal days, tinkering around with rocks to make spearheads is definitely more useful than wondering if you can mix a leopard skin dress with sable tooth tiger shoes. But we have come a long way since then.
Women use gadgets too, but have a pragmatic approach. As a woman, you find out what the functionality of say, a mobile device is and the price. Then you want to know if it has been proven to work and if it comes with an extended guarantee. Only then do you want to purchase it, providing it comes in the right color scheme.
Males have a different approach. Especially with high-tech gadgets, the smaller the better.
This leads to hilarious scenes, where you see beefy guys unsuccessfully punching at micro keys that can only be operated by a) children’s fingers or b) long and sharp female fingernails.
This doesn’t stop guys from comparing their devices with those of colleagues and male friends. Proudly they boast that theirs is smaller and weight less than those of their audience. As a result, they loose their devices regularly, which keeps whole factories working overtime.
Guys also want the latest models with additional functions that a) they don’t need b) they will never use. It must make them feel “cool” – that's the only reason why they keep spending extra money on it.
There is one thing that guys do want bigger and bigger (no, I am not referring to their cars) and that’s memory. Instead of training their own, they want computers and devices that can save information the size of the Library of Congress. I find this hilarious: they don’t even remember where their socks are or where they left their glasses, but they MUST have a multi-Giga memory chip in their computer. The fun part is – with so much memory how do you remember where you stored your info? Sounds like one of those silly exercises I had to do in university. Needless to say my professor was not only male, but also a gadget guy.
So ladies, next time you want to give a present to your Significant Other, forget about symbolic gifts linked to the first time you met. Waste of time and money and you will only get upset since he will not make the connection (and cannot find the relevant date on his mega Giga disk memory). Just give him a set of screwdrivers. Start with the alcoholic one and move on to a tool set. He will lovingly touch them, pick them up, turn them around and look hopefully around to find something to do with it. So put them and him to use – point at the cupboard you wanted him to fix for a long time. (No need to check your computer memory for that!) I guarantee you – it will be a huge success since guys just love their gadgets.