Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spector Becomes A Democrat

Well, not really. Last year I was filming an election stop of John McCain when, for some reason, PA. Senator Spector stepped to the microphone (as a then-Republican) to endorse John McCain.

From a loud and excited audience, the crowd went silent for about 5 whole seconds. Then, with no hesitation the voices of the populous swelled with "Boo!"s and "No!"s inviting Spector off the stage.

Spector's record honestly does not represent the platform he was elected under, and I think this is what caused the reaction in the conservative audience I had the opportunity to observe. Based on this first hand experience and the recent events in the news, here is my best estimation of what went down behind the curtain:

Spector has publicly announced that part of the reason for his willingness to jump parties had to do with a desire to maintain his seat. The trouble with politics is that the party has to endorce you if you want to be a part of a party, at which point I am sure the endorcement came tied to his willingness to attend a few photo opportunities.

So, in my estimation, based on the fact that PA Republicans are just fine with seeing him go, it is too little too late to make his jump into a big ideological political party migration story. This is opportunistic politics as usual with a hand full of behind closed door handshaking as one could only imagine.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Obama Youth Brigade

There has been a bit of buzz in various circles about what is being nicknamed the "Obama Youth Brigade." Here is part of an article from the website ...

This bill’s title is called “Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education” (GIVE). It forms what some are calling “Obama’s Youth Brigade.” Obama’s plan is require anyone receiving school loans and others to serve at least three months as part of the brigade. His goal is one million youth! This has serious Nazi Germany overtones to it.

There are parts of this bill that read in a very shifty manner. The goal of this bill is to reshape volunteerism in America. The way they are doing this is to require all student loan recipients to server at least three months in an approved volunteer capacity. And there are two categories it seems: there are groups that receive federal funding for volunteerism, and then there are roles that are added to groups where the specific role is federally funded (less about the organization and more about the role.) What does this mean and why might it be shifty?

If you read the approval part of the bill is says the following...

...(7) Engaging in religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of proselytization, consistent with section 132.

Now, many groups may read this and loosely imagine that it implies that any student who is receiving loans cannot be involved with such groups for the period they are serving their minimum three month volunteer duties. This would basically imply that if you want to belong to or relate to a church, then you have to disavow any involvement for the service period to remain eligible for funding. I think there might even be folks who grant or govern such loan programs that attempt to read this section in that manner, but that isn't really what it is saying.

This really says that you cannot consider your "religious" service to be the thing that fulfills your 3 months of service. Why would that be? For the above reasons. It isn't saying that you can't be involved in such stuff. It is simply saying that you can't get federal credit for it. At one point it even contradicts itself a little more stating that if the role simply has nothing to do with the above list (let's say your role is to stand in a closet and take inventory of choir robes) then your time can count for that. As soon as you put one on and start singing, you are off the volunteer clock.

Is this a bad thing? I think it is, but not for the reasons you might suppose. What I think is crazy about all of this is that it has nothing at all to do with effectiveness. You could get credit at a food pantry that simply facilitates the lifestyles of people who need a food pantry simply because it has nothing to do with God. At the same time, there could be a food pantry around the corner that also helps get people work and retrains them for that work providing job coaches, but because the people in the program also believe wholeheartedly that God in the lives of people is a good thing, the government simple categorically says that program can't be supported as a location worthy of your volunteered time.

This is "life on a curve." Said another way, because the government decides to single out religion as a factor for prejudice apart from other criteria that it could assign prejudice to, our life's experiences favor a certain view of life if we want to accept that criteria in our life scenario.

But, Steve, what about separation of church and state? Hmm, let's say I feel like I get value from working with diverse groups of people. Let's also imagine the government wants to encourage that so it rewards (or rather doesn't penalize) my employer if my employer promotes this and hires accordingly. At the same time there are times in that environment of diversity that people do stuff that is offensive to me (this can happen in very diverse groups quite easily.) So do I turn around and say that the government is sanctioning their behavior or overtly supporting it because it allows it to occur within the greater opportunity called diversity? Heavens no. At the same time people in Congress think that in the middle of a diversity of service if "religion" exists, then allowing that to happen would be the same as sanctioning it and endorsing it. For them, it is more important to be prejudice in that scenario than to allow volunteers to experience effectiveness. Worse yet is the fact that they might hide behind the notion that to allow it is breaking down some sacred "separation of church and state."

The fact is that our constitution say that the government shall not establish a state religion, but that was not meant to imply that the government should categorically prejudice itself against the ever real and possible effectiveness of helpful programs that emerge from the religious world today. In fact, I think it is more constitutionally sound to imagine that the government should be a friend to all citizens equally and limit itself to that strictly, rather than attempt to have more influence than it ever should have had.

I think this prejudice is the real problem. If volunteerism was a relay race, and volunteers wanted to spend time with the fastest and strongest teams they could gain access to, then the government just rigged the race such that an entire "class" of teams that have been running this race for a very long time have become immediately disqualified for some of the worst criteria imaginable.

But, Steve, if they want to go volunteer in a church, nobody is stopping them... what is the big deal? The deal is that people are about to be forced to put in a minimum of three months of service IF they accept student loans. If you are a student and you do this, THEN you are in the program. AND if you are in the program, then you must agree to serve BUT just not with "those groups over there." Let's hope that these kids decide to make volunteering a life-long activity. At this point they will be busy in school, and only if they agree to bow down to the federally sanctioned volunteer opportunities with their extra time will they be eligible for funds. Maybe I am lazy, but if I were throwing 2 hours a week at helping my church food pantry out as a kid, that would likely go away under a program like this simply because the Fed has decided that my church isn't in the race. Now THAT seems wrong to me. I think I am just not seeing what the big deal is with sanctioning this prejudice. Why is it necessary? If you have ideas, feel free to share them.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Open Source: From Screenplay to Storyboard to Shot Schedule

Over the years I have thought about writing my own screenplay authoring software. I have noticed that there are quite a few products out there so this isn't about creating something competitive as much as something that functions like I would prefer it to. I never got around to it.

So with all of the Open Source growth in the world today (if you don't know what Open Source is, typically it's appeal falls into two camps with folks: the source code of the software or solution is "open" meaning you can alter the code or add to it to get the preferred effect, or people like Open Source solutions because they are often free.)

Well, I think I just bumped into the definitive "Open Source" media story management tool. It is named Celtx, pronounced "Kell Ticks," and it is open and free on so many platforms and languages that I nearly fell out of my chair when reading about it for the first time. The amazing thing is that it assists you in writing for so many types of media productions, and not just at the level of screenplay or script but it help create the storyboard and shooting schedule among many other features.

If you have any interest in this field of work or creativity, I highly recommend checking out the site and possibly downloading the tool. It doesn't require registration for download. Check it out!

Recommendation: Once you download it you have to enter a credit card... just kidding.

Installing it doesn't require registration either and I highly recommending loading up the "Wizard of Oz" screenplay to see a full sample film project. On the Screenplay tab in the upper right corner you can see the authoring page, but if you click in the lower left on "type set" it will automagically paginate for print so that you can run off copies and hand out your latest work to your friends for review.

If you are really into this sort of thing or this tool eliminates your final excuse for not writing that novel or movie you've been thinking about for years, then the fastest way to get a jump on using the tool would be to check out their video-based tutorials on how to use the tool:

Have at it people!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Party Of No

It is time for a "political" reality check and they are accompanied by a few "scenarios" I would like to run past you. Give your most honest answer to the following questions:

  1. Your kid just blew his allowance on candy, ate it all, got sick from it, and now has your checkbook. That kid is now saying that the only way to keep from getting more sick is to get a bit more of the "hair of the dog that bit him" and needs you to finance the next candy run. "Mom, I am sick! This is the recommendation from the person holding your checkbook! Are you really just going to do NOTHING!? I am sick and getting sicker... what is your ANSWER?" Yes or No. (Remember, your only option is Yes = more candy, or NO = be accused of doing nothing.)

  2. Your neighbor drove home last night drunk... into the side of their house. Their entire home is now an uninhabitable portico. Give it a few more hours and the roof will cave in. The people in the next town think that the house looks horrible and that crappy drive-through home must be bringing down the value of your home. So here is the thing. Those folks from the next town over think that they should do something about this and so they grab your checkbook. The "thing" they do is tell you, "Hey, if we don't stabilize this house so that your reckless drunk-of-a-neighbor can keep living there then it won't bode well for you. This is the recommendation from the person holding your checkbook! Are you really just going to do NOTHING!? They are about to not be able to live in that house... what is your ANSWER?" Yes or No. (Remember, your only option is Yes = spend your hard earned money on refinancing your neighbors ability to continue living in that house regardless of their relationship to that property, how they got into it, or how they are taking care of business, or NO = be accused of doing nothing.)

  3. You check your bank account only to find out that your spend-thrift spouse has slowly been bleeding dry your retirement on various pet projects that are all currently falling to pieces around you (sculptures in the back yard, half a hole dug for an in-ground pool, a few half-built guest houses designed for a couple visiting relatives now all semi-permanent homes to two dozen people you don't know demanding better room service.) You recall having "financial risk" conversations about this sort of thing previously, and you even wanted to set thresholds on those accounts but couldn't get your spouse to agree... now you know why. You confront your spouse, and that spouse simply yells at you saying "Well, your name is on the account too, YOU should have STOPPED ME! So really this is your fault! Moreover, we have half a pool here and people need their pillows fluffed, so I need you to go take out another mortgage on the house so we can finish this pool and buy bigger pillows! This is the recommendation from the person holding a copy of your checkbook! Are you really just going to do NOTHING!? This POOL AIN'T GONNA SWIM IN ITSELF HERE!!! ...what is your ANSWER?" Yes or No. (Remember, Yes = refinance your own home to save, stabilize and bring to fruition a number of projects that are full-on imploding in your own backyard, or No = be accused of doing nothing.)

My best guess is that even the most conservative or liberal individual can think of a dozen very reasonable alternatives to any of these crazy scenarios to make for a positive outcome. Being given no options where only agreeing makes you look reasonable and disagreeing makes you look like a jerk IS unreasonable. Did you enjoy being pigeonholed into simply agreeing with someone who was threatening to call you bad-names if you didn't? The fact is, it is tyranny to pretend like you are getting choices when you aren't.

When the Henry Ford was selling his Model T in the 1920s and was asked "What colors will it come in?" his reply was, "You can have any color you want, as long as that color is black." Well, this is the mantra of the Democrats in congress as well as our President at the moment. "You can have any change you want, as long as it's the change we are promoting," with the caveat, "and if you don't want our change, screw your alternatives, you are just the 'party of no' that's what you are."

If you are an American and you believe in democracy then you have to stand up to this tyrannical rediculum that is forcing their agenda without debate and calling anyone who opposes them bad-names, creating political commercials and smear campaigns to propagandize the masses! (and before you run out and blame Republicans for the defense-related political decisions of the post-9-11-era, go back and look at debates and voting records on those issues before your polarize your perspective. Things can change and should. But they should change because it is the change we want(sound familiar) and not because one group calls us names if we want to look at our options.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Refine Your Resume

Here is a recommendation from the edge of reality.

I say the edge of reality because Washington, D.C. at this point at least, doesn't feel like a good parallel or reflection of reality. I say that because the national average for unemployment is currently at around 8.5% and at the same time the DC unemployment rate is at nearly 10% while at the same time politicians surrounded by that reality keep printing and spending money like MAD with a nation that is trending toward larger numbers of people who won't pay taxes hence finance their expensive spending trends. So, take this blog post with a grain of salt.

Anyway, If you have been working in your industry for a long time then you have likely amassed a fairly flexible and diverse resume. Right now, that resume will likely keep you employed. At the same time, this currently economy won't last forever and if you end up doing a ton of work outside of your career focus for too long then you will end up being unemployable in your target job. This is the catch-22 of being broadly marketable. You keep working... but you probably don't care much for the work you are doing.

Now, I have amassed the resume of two completely different kinds of individuals. For example, if I wanted to work as a pale-skinned potato chip munching dark closet computer programmer geek, I have a resume that demonstrates this experience: VB, C#, Web Services, Web 2.0, SOAP, SQL Server, SharePoint, .NET, etc. And if I suddenly wanted to focus on my creative career then I could have an entire resume devoted to those experiences: Flash, Ajax, PhotoShop, Dreamweaver, logo design, branding, Web Site Design, minisites, etc.

So what is the problem with putting all of that on a single resume? Well, I have personally experienced the pain of being hired under a bloated resume. There are three kinds of employment scenarios that like such a resume:
  1. They hire you for a particular skill, but they like the benefit of you having been exposed to such a diverse amount of technique and technology.
    The problem:
    The particular skill they want to employ is not the particular skill you want to devote your career to for the majority of your employment.
    The Solution:
    Be certain that you and your employer understand what that key "particular skill" is and that you can suppliment your services with diverse needs, but you don't want a minor skill to become your major assignment.

  2. They hire you because they want to use you as a jack of all trades.
    The problem:
    In this scenario, you have no key skill. You are simply a flexible asset. Your career might ebb and flow and change a dozen times (in a single week or day.)
    The Solution:
    Same as above. Ensuring that you have a career focus while being willing to tackle diverse work from time to time is an agreement you have to arrive at proactively.

  3. They hire you for a particular skill and they don't care about the other skills.
    The problem:
    The particular skill they want to employ is not the particular skill you want to devote your career to for the majority of your employment. Your resume is like a Warshak Inkblot test: they only see what they want in your resume.
    The Solution:
    Be certain that you and your employer understand what you imagine to be the purpose for your employment. Every job comes with some diversity but you don't want to get trapped into a career move that has nothing to do with your focus or interest. You won't be happy and neither will they.
In my mind, the best kind of scenario is scenario number one above. As long as the people who hire you respect your career then you might get good exposure to new and exciting stuff while not venturing too awefully far from the career that you have invested so much in over the years.

Scenario two is a hard lesson to learn. That lesson is: never assume anything. Over-communicate. If people hint to the idea of you doing stuff outside of the career you have deeply invested in then be certain that they see you and this career move as you see this career move. If you aren't on the same page, then you might as well be taking just about any job you can get. This is a bad move, if you care about your career.

Scenario three is a complete nightmare. Employers like this disrespect (intentionally or unintentionally) the investment you have made in your career. You are a swiss-army-knive in their pocket to pull out and abuse in any situation they see fit. They don't see this as abuse, however. They think, "Hey, I pay them for eight hours a day. I ought to get ten hours of whatever-I-need out of them during that time." What they forget is that employment is an agreement. You are providing a service and they are paying you for it. The terms of service are an agreement and you share a reasonable dilligence to be good at what you do and for them to make use of you in an agreed upon manner. If the job contains reasonable diversity of duties, then you want to agree on what "reasonable" means before you sign up. They don't "own you between 9am and 5pm" and you only owe them as much time beyond that as you both agree to.

As a personal note, due to this shifting economy, I am finding my current employer shifting my career. This is partly due to the fact that there more work available in an area when I have a minor skill. But since the shift has started I am now being "informed" that I am beign groomed for a career move that I have no real interest in. Despite the fact that I explain my lack of interest in the duties they are targeting for me (it isn't that I can't do them... I just have zero interest in those career goals) they continue to re-explain how excited I should be in the job niche they are carving out for me (which I am not.) This is a combination of scenario two and three, but slightly more like scenario three in that they are phasing out any serious regular involvement in what was to be my core skill.

Update: The VP who hired me came into my office to tell me about a coming project in my core skillset. We chatted about it and I had about 5 seconds to get excited. At this point, in walks the director who is now managing me. She (the VP) tells him that I am going to be pulled into that project at which point he says, "We need him to do what he was hired to do!" and proceeds to point at my desk where I have been tasked with setting up Windows XP on a couple of PCs (I am, in his mind, "hired" to be a network geek / technician and not a creative person who can design or develop e-learning or marketing-related projects.) The VP responded by saying, "Well, that really isn't what he was hired to do. He was hired to be a creative multimedia developer," towhich he replied, "So I guess he does whatever you want him to do." I am certain that my future will continue to be debated. As a director, he is imagining that since I work for him that he is fully empowered to redefine the focus of my employment per his new vision and his vision is now "what I am hired to do" which is an attitude that falls squarely into scenario three: who cares why I accepted the job... I work for him therefor I am his Swiss Army knive. If she wins the inevitable argument, then I have a future here. If he wins, I won't stick around based solely on that non-collaborative paternalistic management style.