I learned to swim quite late in life, somewhere in my 20’s. When I was around 12 I remember going to the large pool at the Montreal Police Training Center in my neighborhood. They used to make the pool available to the kids of the area on off hours, and my friend Nick and I would go pretty often during the Summer.
This one time I found myself in the deep end clinging to the edge as was my habit and slowly making my way around the circumference of the pool. Suddenly, my hands slipped and I went under. I sank quickly, despite much flailing and thrashing. It was only when my feet hit the bottom that I was able to give a big push with my legs to send myself towards the surface with enough momentum. I remember those seconds that felt like hours as I rose through the depths breathing in the water and saying to myself, “It’s over, you’re going to die”. As I broke the surface I was still a few feet from the edge of the pool, and when you can’t swim, it might as well be a mile. But as I looked up gasping for air, I saw my friend Nick reaching over the edge, extending his hand out. I grabbed it and he helped me get to the edge.
Funny enough, I never developed the fear of water that one might expect from such an experience; a testament to the resilience of the young psyche.
This memory came back to me this morning, as I was struggling for a metaphor to describe my experience with the Mac. Talk about a segway.
When I bought the iMac I failed to do the due-diligence (learn to swim) that would have been appropriate for the endeavor of switching platforms after so many years as a Windows user. I was drowning as I slowly made my way through all the problems of trying to use the Mac as a Parallels Windows 7 machine. When Office for Mac 2011 was released a few days ago, I broke the surface and took an enormous breath of fresh air, although there was much coughing and spluttering as I tried to migrate the data over to it from the Windows version.
I must admit, the folks at Microsoft’s Mac group have been terrific, offering live phone tech support free for a year with my purchase. Taking their hand, I’ve now reached the side of the pool and am actually beginning to enjoy the Mac enough to start appreciating its benefits.
Next…learning to swim with it.
One of my friends owns a number of commercial office properties, renting them to a variety of small businesses. He tells me stories of the most amazing scam artists among his tenants. Yet, by far the most interesting aren’t the criminal fraudsters like Bernie Madoff or Earl Jones, but the crooks who organize perfectly legal fraud, protected by the very legal system itself. These folks are only too pleased and proud to share their secrets with my friend, taking special pleasure in the fact that it’s all legal. My friend says that ironically, these legal crooks are also the most punctual and conscientious in paying their rent…at least for the relatively short time they’re there.
A fascinating case in point:
Mr. X has $200K in the bank. He pays a young person $20K to act as his agent, and opens an incorporated company in his name. Using this new entity, he now opens accounts with a number of companies, to purchase office supplies, furnishings, and business machines. He places substantial orders with each, paying up-front as per the normal protocol for new accounts. He buys $200K of inventory. The suppliers are impressed.
Next, he contacts the same suppliers and offers to place a large order, but requiring credit to do so. The suppliers are licking their chops, and each one gives him $100K of credit. He does this with 10 companies, buying $1 Million of inventory.
He quickly sells the $1.2 Million of inventory (including his initial cash purchase), at fire-sale prices around 50% of cost! He collects $600K and immediately declares bankruptcy in the name of the new company. When the creditors come calling, the young “agent” tells them that he made some bad business decisions and the inventory was liquidated leaving no cash in the bank. Since he is young and has nothing to seize, the creditors eat the loss. The new company goes bankrupt but the young front man is completely “clean” since the liabilities are limited to the assets of the company. He walks away with his $20K, a tidy sum for a young guy.
Mr. X has now walked away with a profit of $380K (the $600K he sold the goods for less his $200K “investment” plus the $20K to the young front man). He repeats this scam 10-12 times per year, sometimes running several at the same time. Do the math, 10 X$380K = $3.8 Million of clean profit every year. His name never appears on any documents. He is literally a Doctor Moriarty figure, always in the background.
Perfectly legal. The blame is always placed on poor business decisions and companies eat the loss as part of their costs, passing them on to their own customers.
Steve’s Third Axiom: You can’t protect yourself part-time, from people committed to screwing you full-time.
Today I almost launched my iMac out the window. I hate this machine so much that I am brimming over with anger at myself. It’s not so much the machine’s fault, but it is Apple’s fault for deceiving potential users with the belief that their hardware and OS can easily operate as a virtual machine in order to run Windows programs. This is an outright lie. To the extent that the Mac is a wonderful stand-alone machine and OS, it is equally the most pathetic Windows machine imaginable. To describe it as slow would be like naming a snail “Flash” (my Son named his turtle “Flash” come to think of it).
Parallels 6 running Windows 7 Ultimate is an abomination! Apple should have had the guts to just say, “Look, this is what we do. If you want to run Windows programs, buy a Windows machine”. But they were greedy. Like Ferrari suggesting it would be a great car for hauling lumber if you attached a trailer to it. Business message: Stay true to what you do well.
Today was the fourth service call to Parallels. Another wasted hour with no resolution. They keep trying the same non-solutions.
My Amex card was cleverly defrauded today to the tune of $207.95. The entry read “ROGERSWL 1TIME 1-800-565-6009”. If I weren’t paying attention I could have easily glossed over the entry assuming it was a legitimate payment to my cellphone services vendor. But the amount made little sense; my usual cellphone bill runs around $160/month and I haven’t made any purchases of other data services. Besides, this isn’t even the card that Rogers has on file for my normal monthly billing.
I called Rogers and they confirmed that they had not billed me that amount. While on hold to get the final judgment, I Googled “ROGERSWL 1TIME” and lo-and-behold dozens of complaints of exactly the same thing. What makes this case worse than normal fraud is that the crooks are using what appears to be a legitimate and routine billing identity. Even the 800 number next to the entry actually goes to a Rogers phone number which advises you that the number has been discontinued and consolidated under their general 800 number. So, it’s easy to think that the billing comes from Rogers and you must have bought something and forgotten about it.
I called Amex and they suspended the amount pending a “disputed charge investigation”. This means they will dig to make sure I really didn’t buy anything from Rogers. The girl at Amex kept asking me, “Are you absolutely sure you didn’t buy something and forgot it?”.
Whenever the power would go off in our home, our Briard (French Shepherd), Asta, would go absolutely snaky. She would twirl like a dervish and whine pitifully. She knew something was up and it probably wasn’t anything good. Thunderstorms and the sudden shrill shriek of the smoke detector would cause her similar anxiety. And while we can relate to the latter two events, her reaction to the power failure is a little more puzzling.
There is a constant hum to our everyday lives, although we rarely notice it. It is the white noise of our automated world, the constant low sizzle of electricity running through our technological veins. Dogs, with their far greater hearing acuity, must be very aware of this noise, although they probably get used to it too, and it constitutes the normal state of their lives, as it does ours. But when the power goes off and there is no sound, clearly dogs are much more acutely aware that something is definitely out-of-place.
I rarely sleep the night, usually waking up at 2 or 3 AM, thoughts of all the shit I have on the go running through my mind. I can usually fall back to sleep, although I’m almost always up for good by 5 or 6 AM. But when I do wake up at those ungodly hours, I must confess, the sounds of all that household automation are very comforting. I can hear the hum of the fridge, the clicking of the thermostat, and the low rumble of the heating system coming on in the Winter. If I have to get up and go to the bathroom, I pass my office with its dozens of little blinking lights from the modem, router, printer, fax, laptop, desktop, and phone system. And I like it! It’s as if all these sounds and lights confirm that there is someone out there making sure that all is well….a god of technology backing up God himself.
And I understand why Asta used to freak out when the power went out. She must have thought it was the end of the world.
I’m still struggling to like my big 27″ Super iMac desktop. The problem remains the need to run a Windows 7 virtual machine within the Mac itself, in order to accommodate a few essential programs not available in the Mac OS. But very soon (like in the next 2 weeks), Microsoft will be launching Outlook for Mac, part of its new Office for Mac 2011 suite. This will be a game-changer for me, as I will only need to run the virtual machine a couple of times per month for some very specific applications. I can’t wait. As I once replied to a comment, “Right now, it’s like driving a Ferrari with an Airstream motor-home attached at the back”.
But one feature of the Mac that I’ve just discovered (and it may even exist in Windows 7 machines, I don’t know) is Spaces. This function allows you to create multiple desktops, each with their own programs open, and move effortlessly from one screen to another. For example, I’m currently working on a research project that requires having a web site, two manuals, and my own Word document open at the same time. If I had all this open on the same desktop as my Outlook and Firefox (which I use constantly), it would be a cluttered mess and a pain switching from one document to another. Spaces makes this a non-issue. When I have a few minutes to work on my research report, I just hit Command-Arrow and the other desktop instantly appears. Wonderful functionality.
I had a discussion yesterday with a couple of friends over lunch, about people who are chronically late. I don’t mean 2-3 minutes late; I mean a half-hour or longer late. This discussion was triggered when a fourth friend who was supposed to join us for lunch, showed up almost an hour late. This apparently is the norm for him.
We all stayed longer at the restaurant than anticipated, because we wanted to give him a chance to eat. I reflected later that in the end, he got everything done that he needed to do and the others wound up being less productive in what we had to do in order to accommodate him.
I’ve had a number of friends who used to be chronically late, and in the end I had to speak with them in tough terms to get them to respect my time. That, plus always leave any appointment with them if they were more than 5 minutes late (if they didn’t call with one hell of a good reason beforehand, that is).
Why are some people chronically late? Of course, in practical terms it’s usually because they cram too much into their agenda in an overambitious assumption of their own abilities. But, I think in fairness, most of us do that, yet somehow manage to shift things around in order to be generally on time.
In my opinion, chronic lateness, like picky eating, has an important psychological dimension:
1. It may be an expression of a profound narcissism whereby other people’s time and feelings are seen as unimportant. For narcissists, others are simply an accoutrement, a decoration, of their own lives since the world revolves around them. Interestingly, narcissists are very good at showing up on time for any meeting that will benefit them. That’s a pretty good clue; if they’re always late with you but on time for business appointments.
2. It may be an expression of a powerful need for control (and thereby a profound sense of insecurity). By having others wait for you for extended periods of time you get the satisfaction of asserting your own importance and control over others; like making the monkeys dance at the circus. Picky eaters also often fall into this dimension, making others “dance” in order to accommodate their peculiar idiosyncrasies.
3. It may reflect a deep need for love that isn’t being met elsewhere. In a bizarre way, having others wait for you beyond the normal constraints of courtesy, shows that they must really, really care about you. Once again, this is also very common for picky eaters who demand that you show your love for them by cooking something in a particular way.
Understanding where the person is coming from is important for the future of your relationship. If the person is very high on the Narcissism dimension, you may want to rethink what you’re getting out of the relationship. Strong narcissists make for very poor long-term partners and friends.
If the person is very insecure and/or has a strong need for love, you may have to redirect their behavior in more appropriate ways. These people are worth “having the talk”. Tell them that their lateness is highly insulting and offensive to you. Back it up by leaving if they’re more than a couple of minutes late. After a few such experiences, you’ll know who you’re dealing with.
A potential new client asked me if our firm ever took projects on a contingency basis, i.e. paid only on the basis of results. I explained to him that while we were not philosophically opposed to this idea, we wouldn’t do it unless we had absolute control over the implementation of any advice and recommendations we made. The simple truth is that people rarely take your advice completely, and frequently blame you for their failure when the parts they do take are not sufficient for them to reach their goals.
I learned this long ago from my kids. They would often ask my advice, but would only take the parts of that advice that were easy or pleasurable for them. When it didn’t work out, they blamed me for poor advice. Example: Son comes to me asking if it made sense for him to buy a reliable car but at a sum which he could barely afford. My advice: Cut back on other discretionary spending such as cellphone use, internet downloads, and dining out, and see if it liberates enough cash to cover the incremental cost of the car. Not rocket science.
A few weeks later he’s struggling to pay for the new car. His response: “I should never have taken your advice, this was a really bad idea!”. When I asked him if he had reduced his cellphone use and cut back on downloading full-length movies (for a fee), his answer was, “No…I need a LIFE”. I couldn’t speak with him for long as he was off to dinner at a new restaurant with his buddies.
And so it is in therapy. One of the reasons I got out many years ago, was that in general people were more comfortable in the unhappiness they knew, rather than in the potential happiness they might have if they made a few changes. They would invariably only take the easy advice and blame you for their failures.
So next time someone says you gave them bad advice, take a few minutes to probe what parts they actually implemented.
I like to listen to music when I ride any of my outdoor bikes (indoors on the rollers, I usually watch TV). I have a wonderful handlebar-holder for my iPhone, but even at its loudest setting, it’s pretty tough to hear, what with the wind and traffic noises. And of course, riding with earphones is not only illegal but just plain stupid.
Now comes a great new gizmo for listening to music while riding, walking, running, etc., and without the need for earphones. CY-FI is a Bluetooth enabled portable speaker system that boosts the sound coming from your iPhone or MP3 player, and can be worn on your person or attached to your bike. Very cool and very inexpensive at $99. Available in three colors including the red above.
Thanks to Mr. Italo for the find.