Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Funniest People are the Most Depressed

You've probably read about Robin Williams tragic end. And I don't mean his piles.

Unless you have no sense of humour (perhaps you are a member of the Conservative Party) you know what a sensationally funny man Robin was.

'Gifted', 'hilarious', and 'talented' are all words being used to describe him. I'd like to add 'thoughtful' to that list.

Robin was full of thought. "He's so quick," people would say. Yes, he was. His neurons fired faster than a casino drains bank accounts. This made him a brilliant comedian. It also made him prone to depression.

Severe depression is caused by too much thinking. A chemical imbalance in the brain often causes the thought processes to only run in a negative direction. It is not uncommon to hear that depressed people also suffer from addiction issues. They just want something to make all the bad thoughts in their head stop. When nothing helps, they move on to the ultimate method for ceasing to think: suicide.

Depression is a part of my daily life. It is a condition inherited from my father. (To be fair, I've done my fair share of giving it back to him.) He suffers more than I do.

I'm lucky in three respects. One is having a mother from whom I inherited 'happy genes' and a large part of my sense of humour. Another is having a wife who understands and puts up with my antics and knows that sometimes I just need to be with her, without talking or doing anything in particular. The last way in which I am blessed (?) is that my brain doesn't lean more to the left or more to the right. I am neither a left brain person nor am I a right brain person. I use each half of my brain in equal measure. That's what makes me outstandingly mediocre. (Brain half empty or brain half full? You decide.) This helps me maintain a delicate balance of logic and creativity.

It's easy to insult people and hurt their feelings without even thinking or knowing you've done it. People who say that their depressed friend is 'just looking for attention' don't understand the situation at all. When depressed people seek attention, they take to the stage or write or act out in some fashion. The old playground saying, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" couldn't be more wrong. Nothing cuts deeper than spiteful words. A wound inflicted by an insult (even one that the person hurtling the barb didn't know they had uttered) can last a lifetime. That is because, in most cases, the depressed person is more thoughtful than you imagine. They are already beating themselves up inside. The stone you throw at them only adds to the weight already crushing them. Take care in what you say and how you say it.

When you're feeling low, do something to distract your mind. Watch, read or listen to something funny. Pay full attention to what you are watching, reading or listening to. Let the words of other, funny, people fill your head.

Eat something like a banana. (Heh heh heh. Hey! Hey! There'll be none of that.) Perhaps I should have said, 'such as a banana'. This goes back to the chemicals in your brain being out of whack. Help to put them right by munching on a little something. (Oh, don't go there again.)

Get help. There are dozens of help lines, websites, and support groups that are there when you need them. Talk to your doctor. Be honest about what is going on inside your head.

If you have a friend or family member who is afflicted by depression, let them know that you are there for them. Treat them with respect. Be a true friend, or bugger off. Being a fair weather friend isn't being a real friend at all. People struggle every day. You will need help, too, someday in some way. When your depressed friend reaches out to you, consider how you will feel when you are in need of assistance.

For every high there is an accompanying low. Robin Williams made the world giddy with laughter. It is no surprise that his passing has plunged us into sadness.

Monday, 11 August 2014

A is for Are You Kidding Me, Amazon?

This blog is not all about Amazon-bashing, but when they keep acting like totalitarian feminine hygiene products, it's hard not to point and say, "Look. The man with the potato on his penis (that's a dick-tator - that's a joke, son - why aren't you laughing?) is holding that cute mouse hostage."

I've heard of doing the Funky Chicken, but now it seems Bezo and his Bozos are dancing the Crazed Weasel.

Never mind taking on the crippled, limping publishers who have to keep amalgamating body parts from each other just to keep moving; now Amazon (who should really be headed by a woman, given its name - wait, did I uncover Jeff's secret giantess fetish? the world may never know - where's Springer when you really need him?) is taking on Disney.

I hope the Mouse bares its teeth and chomps Amazon like a tasty bit of cheddar.

What Amazon doesn't realize is that they are not just taking on one of the world's largest entertainment companies, they are also insulting and taking on fan boys and fan girls, as well as children and their parents. That's a staggering number of people Amazon is mooning. These aren't your regular, complacent consumers either. Marvel Comics fans, as well as Disney aficionados, are quite vocal. They know the power of the internet and do not shy away from having their voices heard; both in terms of opinions and where their money goes. And let's not forget the vocal power of children. They influence a parent's spending in ways Amazon has not even begun to imagine.

Stories I have read, and some I look forward to, include:

Amazon versus Apple & the Big 6 Publishers
Amazon versus Disney (or The Mouse That Roared so Loudly Jeff Lost His Shirt)
Amazon versus Sanity
Amazon and the Big Book of Oops

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Never Mind the Neighbours

Warning: This post contains strong language.

I am only going to say this once: Shut the fuck up about Israel and Palestine.

Every day we are bombarded with "news" about the latest conflict in the Middle East. Israel did this. Palestine did that. "Mom! Joey's looking at me funny again." It's a long-standing family squabble. It's a domestic dispute and we, who do not live there, should mind our own business.

Now, I am not saying there aren't tragedies happening or that we as the human race shouldn't be concerned about the plight of our fellow beings. But enough opinion, rhetoric, and skewed news already. Yes, the news is skewed; either for Palestine or for Israel. It depends where the news is coming from. Of course the Israelis will tout low casualty figures. They want to show their military might. Naturally the Palestinians will quote exorbitantly high casualty figures because they want to be seen as the underdogs to play on world sympathy. ("Kharqa, you claimed your husband was injured? I thought only your goat got shot." "He was the best lover I ever had." Billy goat is not my lover... That kid is not my son.)

It's a power play for your emotions. Don't buy into it. The only ones who win are the news media who are feeding off the carnage.

Go watch a cat video on YouTube instead.

Don't necessarily stop reading or watching the news, just stop believing what you're being fed and don't buy into the emotion-manipulating. Did you know that the news is bought and sold? It is. A great deal of the news items are fed to places like Reuters or BBC News via wire services that news sources have to pay. That's right. To get a news story out via 'the big guys' like Reuters, it has to be submitted through places like MarketWire. If you've got the money, you're in the news. Unless you have your own team of reporters, on the ground and sending stories to your media outlet, you can't get your story out without going through one of these services.

Taking sides in the never-ending Middle East conflicts only serves to divide friends and family who do not live there and honestly do not have a vested interest. Your opinions about who is right and who is wrong are not helping anyone. They are, as my dear old pappy used to say to me, useless useless. He'd say, "You are more useless than a pile of dung. At least a pile of dung can be used as fertilizer." So stop fertilizing the internet with your thoughts on the current problems in the Middle East. You're just spreading e coli.

It is better to find common ground with those around us and help the ones closest to home.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Look! Bunnies!

The world is filled with rainbows, stars, and fluffy pink bunnies.

No, sorry, I whacked my head on the medicine cabinet door while trying to drink Pepto out of the bottle and ended up puking on the cat.

Never mind.

Carry on.

Information Control

This is a warning to all free-thinking citizens.

I will remind you that these are just my opinions. I could be way off. I could be carried away. I may be misinformed. I may be malnourished.

Or I could be a freakin' genius who sees the world in a way few others can or want to. Sorry to make you think. You can always slide back over to Candy Crush and let your neurons happily decay.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but you are playing into the hands of the elite corporations and bringing about the downfall of civilization. At the very least, you're pissing me off.

The Kindle is not the only electronic reader out there. If you really want to know, the Kindle is only a small portion of the e-reading device market. It's just that Amazon wants you to think that their product is the be-all-and-end-all.

It doesn't even support the world standard for electronic publishing. (Read that again. World standard. When the people who decide these things looked at the various formats and ways of creating electronic books, they decided (quite wisely) to go with the EPUB format. That's the (I'll say it again) World Standard.

But that wasn't good enough for Amazon. They had to 'do their own thing'. So they stole, er, 'borrowed' the MOBI format, initially, before moving on to create their own AZW and KF8 and Fat-free-monosodium-glutamate-enhanced formats. The Kindle does not accept (the World Standard) EPUB format.

And that's fine, I suppose. Amazon is doing their best to become the monopoly of e-books. They're a business. That's what businesses do. Kill the competition and enslave the workers.

It worked for Apple, why not Amazon? Apple's i-Whatevers do support EPUB. However, it is Apple's own version. Apple just doesn't seem content to play nice with the rest of the electronic world, do they? They always have to be just a bit different. Just a bit special. Apple deserves a short bus all their own.

What galls me, however, isn't Amazon's lust for power, but people who lump all e-readers together and call them all Kindles. Kindles are handy. Kindles are nice. Kindles fit in your pocket. Well, I'm going to shove your Kindle up your keister (sideways) if you don't get it through your head that not all e-readers are Kindles. Stop calling them all Kindles. It's like calling all soda pop 'Coke'. Coke is one kind of pop, but it is not all pop.

Those e-readers that do support EPUB (the World Standard) include Kobo and Nook. There are dozens of others out there, too. Stop being so lazy and open your eyes. Do some research before you get sucked into the cozy world of Amazon. 'I can just get things with a click of my mouse. I don't have to cook or nothin'. Wonder if Amazon has a maid service what'll come over and clean up and wipe my butt fer me?'

These are the same people who, instead of saying that they are going to perform an internet search, say they are going to 'Google' something. Google is not the only search engine out there. Stop using the word 'Google' to mean 'internet search'. You're only playing into the hands of another power-hungry corporation. Google is already more dangerous than they should be. And you happily and unknowingly feed the Google beast every day.

They follow you and index you every second of every hour of every day. And then they report everything they've found out about you to the government and other large organizations who are willing to pay for the information.

Information is power, baby. And Google is full of it.

Try using a different search engine for different topics. They do exist. You'll be surprised at what you can learn, without being spoon-fed the information Google wants you to know. (Sure they index a lot of the internet, but are they giving you access to all of it? No, they are not. He who controls the information, controls the citizens.)

Open your eyes. Get off your duff. And wipe your own bottom while you still can.

HR Snuff'N'Puff

HR Shuff'N'Puff or If You're Flute's Magic, You May Get a Job

While we're on the subject of employers requirements, let's take a moment to examine the trend of needing a college or university degree; even if you're applying to be a dishwasher.

In my capacity as the Hiring Manager for a large international organization (which I held for over a decade and had personal contact with close to 50, 000 individuals - 49, 945 to be precise - I'm good at keeping records) I found that in the majority of cases university graduates could not perform the tasks they claimed to have studied. They may have been good in theory (classes, essays, exams), but when it came to practical application in the real world (which doesn't always work the same way it does in books) they faltered. Badly.

The worst offenders are the ones with an MBA. Master of Business Administration seems to equal zero people skills. I'm not saying all MBA holders are like this; just the ones who wear it boldly emblazoned across their chests. (It strikes me like the religious do. If a person walks up and says "I'm a Muslim" or "I'm a Christian" or whatever their religious bent might be, it's always struck me as a good idea to walk away slowly. Maintain eye contact. You never know what they'll do once your back is turned. Again, I'm not saying that being religious or having faith is a bad thing. Announcing it to the world as the first revelation of conversation will make people wary.) The MBA flag wavers are more like Monkey Brained Asshats to me. Or Morally Bankrupt Androids, if you'll excuse the MASH reference.

This requirement for a degree comes from the twenty-somethings who are heading up human resources departments. They see it as a rite of passage. They went through it, so everyone else has to as well. Presumably this is a 'share the pain' of never ending student loan repayment.

These new HR people are not without their own share of knuckleheads. I once worked with a young lady who didn't know what cellophane was and had no idea that there was garlic in garlic bread. This same person was so highly overpaid (thanks to her piece of paper, which anyone can get, really, either by paying an institution or going through a 'degree mill') that she once complained about a coffee table she had bought (and didn't like), having paid more for it than I pay in rent.

It should be noted that not all human resources personnel are twenty-something twits. Some are older twits who grasp vainly for youth. Having said that, I do want you to know that not everyone in HR falls into these categories. We have (my wife and I) a good friend who is a shining example of what an HR person should be. We both worked with her for a few years and always found her intelligent, responsive, and an all-round good person. She truly is one in a million.

Now back to the rant.

You must be young to gain employment. Age-ism is rampant in all industries. A fellow voice actor was talking to me the other day about not getting any work because his agent (who sees him, but obviously doesn't listen to his demos) told him he could only do older voices. He is older than I am, but he sounds at least ten years younger than I do. This goes back to the Consultants who are constantly barraging businesses with the idea that they need to 'appeal to a younger audience'. It also has to do with these just-out-of-diapers heads of HR who think that old dogs can't learn new tricks. "They're set in their ways," they say. "They're 30. They won't be with the company long because they'll be dead soon."

You must be good looking to gain employment. Sorry to say, but that's a fact of life these days. Lustrous hair and a big set of -teeth- will get you hired over almost any real qualifications you may have. Employers want young, sexy workers. That's why Mabel Workshader gets passed over for Tiffany Awesomebody or Biff Buffbutt.

If an older, not star beautiful person manages to garner gainful employment (probably because the employer is desperate or they don't have a freshly minted HR person) they inevitably run into the bane of all those who really need a job: the dreaded 'other duties as required' clause in the job description. Reception / administration personnel are most commonly saddled with these vague job descriptions. This is a catch-all phrase that means any job the employer or the other employees don't want to do will be passed along.

'Other duties as required' could range from picking up the boss's dry cleaning to lancing his cat's boil to helping the boss clinch the deal by offering special favours to clients. If any of these are vitally important to the business, Mr. & Mrs. Entrepreneur, then buck up and do them yourself.

We are in need of a Job Description Act. An Act of parliament (to make it a Federal thing) that states that job descriptions must be complete and all duties and responsibilities for jobs are clearly delineated and set out before the candidate takes the position. Maybe we could call it the 'No Surprises on the Job' act. Or the 'I'm an Employee, not a Whore' act.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Radio In the Air

Can anyone give me a good, solid, valid reason why one of the requirements (not a 'it would be nice if', but a 'you must have') / qualifications to get a job in radio these days is to have a driver's licence?

Are all radio stations located so far from civilization that employees need cars? Why would this be? I'll tell you why: because the Consultants came and told the owners (now all practically corporations) that the building they had bought (and were mortgage-free of) was a liability and they could save money by leasing another building. It's a ludicrous scenario to make money now and burn it away in the long run. One of the reasons the original owners bought the building the radio station was in was so they would have long term equity. Sell the cow and buy your milk from the conglomerate.
The Consultants have a lot to answer for. They don't have the vision to see the long game. They are immediate, quick fix experts. How can this business generate money now? Fire the staff of experienced people who have worked hard to build the business and have invested their own time to make it what it is today. Then hire Justin Newbie so he can be programmed to think and work the new corporate way. There is a saying, "Half the age for half the wage."

Are all radio stations now situated in recreational vehicles and the staff have to take turns driving the thing? I once worked at a radio station that had been set up in a mobile home. It was placed up the hill from the railroad tracks. Every time an especially heavy train went by you could watch the needle dance across the record.
Presumably this need of a driver's licence is so the on-air personnel can drive the company van to locations for remote broadcasting. That's because radio 'remotes' (where an announcer comes to the business) aren't real 'remotes' any more. They haven't been for years.

There was a time when a business bought a remote, they'd get a miniature version of the radio station right in their store or other business location. Turntables, microphones, records, and announcers would set up shop for a few hours so the customers coming and going could get a real sense of 'live' radio. It was exciting and fun. It was an spectacle to attract patrons to a business. It was a reason for people to get into the store.

These remotes required engineers to lug and set up equipment. They drove the van, truck, or station wagon.

Then the Consultants came, telling radio managers they could save money by just using the phone for remotes. No need to haul out all that equipment. Just park the station van near the store and stick up a banner. Look at all the money you save. But businesses were no longer getting the value for the money they paid to the station. The circus no longer came to town. Now all they got was a trained monkey.

The Consultants argued that having an announcer on-site with all the radio trimmings wasn't necessary because people listen to radio for the music and information (which is true), they don't care who spins the disks. Consultants killed personality radio. "Make them generic and replaceable," the Consultants said. "If no one knows who they are you can replace them at the drop of hat." So businesses no longer even had the draw of a personality visiting their store. The quest for no-name announcers got so bad that some radio stations even had an equalizer installed to bring all of the announcer's voices into closer vocal range. Surely this scenario must be moving back towards personality radio, due to the ability of people to get their music and information off the internet. I hope so. But again we go back to the problem of firing the veterans (the people with life experience who know their audience) and hiring Justin Newbie (who has little to no experience - never mind radio experience, he's got no life experience - so how can he relate to the various ages of the members of his audience?) for a pittance.

Another thing that gets me is the insistence that creative writers have a driver's licence. They don't do remotes. Presumably this is so they can take the sales manager's car to be washed and detailed. And to pick up the dry cleaning.

Tell you what, new radio guys and gals, here's a way to save even more money: drop your building lease and buy a dirigible. Sure the gases required to keep it airborne are slightly unstable. (We all remember the whole Hindenburg incident, but that was years ago.) You'd be able to set that puppy up anywhere. Think of the additional revenue from the scrolling ads on the giant billboard across the side. (It worked for the Goodyear blimp, it'll work for you, too.)Think: Radio that's explosive.

So now I'm waiting for the new crop of radio job ads to say, "Must have a valid airship licence and be a non-smoker."

One final note: Job ads that state a driver's licence as a requirement, when the main function of the job itself does not actually involve driving, cannot have the employer list themselves as 'an equal opportunity employer' because (under the Canadian Employment Equity Act) they are discriminating against the disabled.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Not a Mushroom, but a Fun Guy

I wanted to take a moment, in between whining and moaning, to assure readers that I am not an overly negative person. Most of the time the people I work with, and those I encounter at random, find me the bright spot in their otherwise dull and dreary days.

Putting smiles on people's faces help me feel better, too. Simple things like a smile or an inoffensive joke make the world a brighter place.

When I'm working I put my all into the task at hand. I'm not one to sit idly by when a job needs doing and I'm not in it for the praise. Things out of place or half-finished annoy me. (Don't worry, I'm not about to go off on a rant.) If you are there to do a job, do it to the best of your abilities. If you can be of assistance to someone else, lend a hand without looking for a reward.

That is not to say that I don't have my mischievous side. (Just ask my wife. "I wasn't plotting anything," I'll say not-so-innocently. "Uh huh. Then why are your eyes shifting?" Is her usual comeback.)

When I was a student at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ontario, I had occasion to startle the Dean of Broadcasting. The studios were set up in a block of four with the AM station facing the FM station. The newsroom was beside the AM station and beside the newsroom was the production studio. They were all arranged in a neat square.

One day I took it upon myself to tie the end of a reel of tape (from the days when we used reel-to-reel tapes) around one of the doorknobs of one of the studios. Then I ran rapidly around the block of studios, winding them in tape.

My dashing took me past the office of the then Dean of Broadcasting, Ray Cunnington. The blur and activity caused 'the Silver Fox', as we called him, to make his way to the Radio Master's office where Ray took out his key, opened the door, and proclaimed to Bryan Olney (my Radio Master), "Bryan, I think one of your students has gone insane."

I knew this was coming, so, with one quick cut of my handy razor blade (we used to edit our tapes with razor blades in those days) and a hearty yank, all the tape (and thus the evidence) was neatly snatched out of sight. So when Bryan bolted out of his office, there was nothing to see.

You've probably heard tales of people lighting news reader's scripts on fire. The trick is to light the top so they burn down the story, thus causing the reader to pick up the pace to finish the story. Only amateurs lit the script from the bottom.

Another favourite jape is the use of what is known as the 'talk back' button. The talk back button, or switch, is used to speak directly into a person's headphones. This way instructions can be given without said words going over the air. The fun part is in hiding so the person on the air can't see who is talking to them. Start with just one word, say, 'beer'. Wait a few seconds. Then repeat the word, 'beer'. You can keep this up for a bit then finish with (in as drunken a voice as possible, if 'beer' was your word) 'we need more beer'. It helps if you know the person well enough to know some 'inside jokes'. These play very well. This was particularly fun to do to news and sports readers, especially if there were any last minute funeral announcement that had to be read live.

But everything is on a computer screen now and the engineers have probably put in kill switches for the talk backs. So, those pranks are just memories of old radio days.

I have plenty of other stories from radio's days before digital that I might share with you some time.

It just seemed important at this stage to point out that I'm really more of a fun guy than a mushroom (you know, kept in the dark and covered in sh**).