Archive for August, 2011

The Need for Tweed

With Labor Day almost here, it’s time to start thinking about cooler temperatures and how to keep looking your best. A good start is with the Colburn Tweed Sportcoat from J. Crew.

Stat line:

  • Made with English wool
  • Cost: $278
  • Offered in Heather and Dark Charcoal
  • Fully lined with flap pockets

Photo Courtesy of J. Crew

BONUS

Check out this cool case for the iPad2 by DODOcase.  It looks sharp and allows for hands free use.

Stat line:

  • Cost: $59.95
  • Front cover folds back as a stand so it can be propped up
  • Allows access to all buttons and ports

Photo courtesy of J. Crew

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Pre-Season Rankings

Here we are again. The weekend guys around the country wait for all year: football season.  The kids in college kick it off this weekend, with the NFL joining the fray next week. Does life get better than this?

Yet as a sports fan, I am routinely frustrated with the terrible media coverage in sports (actually it’s not just limited to sports). As a Giants fan, I prefer listening to Bob Papa and Carl Banks on the radio vs. the yahoos on ESPN, FOX and CBS (NBC isn’t too bad). As sports fans we are accustomed to quantity vs. quality when it comes to coverage. And even when the “experts” are proven wrong time after time, no one ever calls them out.

Reading an article about the 2011 college football pre-season rankings last week, I started to think about how meaningless pre-season rankings are. Does anyone follow-up on them? Unlikely. Do you see USA Today/AP coming out with article saying “Here’s where we got it wrong.” No way.

As I read about Oklahoma, Oregon and Alabama I thought it was time to see how close the 2010 pre-season rankings were vs. the final 2010 BCS Standings. Here are the results:

USA Today/Coaches Poll

AP

Final BCS Standings

1. Alabama 1. Alabama 1. Auburn
2. Ohio State 2. Ohio State 2. Oregon
3. Florida 3. Boise State 3. TCU
4. Texas 4. Florida 4. Stanford
5. Boise State 5. Texas 5. Wisconsin
6. Virginia Tech 6. TCU 6. Ohio State
7. TCU 7. Oklahoma 7. Oklahoma
8. Oklahoma 8. Nebraska 8. Arkansas
9. Nebraska 9. Iowa 9. Michigan State
10. Iowa 10. Virginia Tech 10. Boise State
11. Oregon 11. Oregon 11. LSU
12. Wisconsin 12. Wisconsin 12. Missouri
13. Miami (FL) 13. Miami (FL) 13. Virginia Tech
14. Penn State 14. USC 14. Oklahoma State
15. Pitt 15. Pitt 15. Nevada
16. LSU 16. Georgia Tech 16. Alabama
17. Georgia Tech 17. Arkansas 17. Texas A&M
18. North Carolina 18. North Carolina 18. Nebraska
19. Arkansas 19. Penn State 19. Utah
20. Florida State 20. Florida State 20. South Carolina
21. Georgia 21. LSU 21. Mississippi State
22. Oregon State 22. Auburn 22. West Virginia
23. Auburn 23. Georgia 23. Florida State
24. Utah 24. Oregon State 24. Hawaii
25. West Virginia 25. West Virginia 25. UCF

Summary:

  • Between two polls and a possible 50 picks, only once was the ranking correct. AP picked Oklahoma to be #7.
  • The National Champions, Auburn, started at #22 and #23 by the AP and USA Today respectively.
  • Almost half of the teams in the final BCS Top 25 were not even included in the original polls by AP and USA Today:
  • AP – Stanford, Michigan State, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Nevada, Texas A&M, Utah, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Florida State, Hawaii, UCF (12 total)
  • USA Today – Stanford, Michigan State, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Nevada, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Florida State, Hawaii, UCF (11 total)
  • I added up how much each ranking was off and found the average. For example, if AP picked TCU to be #7, and they finished #3 in the BCS, I assessed a -4. If a team was ranked in a pre-season poll and did not make the final Top 25, I assessed a -25. Here are the results:
  • AP – On average, AP was -16.  Thus, they were off by an average of 16 slots when ranking a team.
  • USA Today – On average, the USA Today/Coaches poll was off by -15.24 when ranking teams. Slightly better than AP.
To put this in perspective, in 2010 if AP ranked Arkansas at #2 in their pre-season rankings, on average, Arkansas would finish at #18.

Obviously it’s hard to determine what number a team will finish in the Top 25, especially given the way the BCS is set up. However, I think this analysis shows there is no reason for fans to get excited or upset by pre-season rankings.

War Eagle.

-JM

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Kane Mountain

The Mrs. and I spent some time in Upstate NY with my family this week.  We ate and drank too much, hit the lake, won some money in Saratoga, caught up on some sleep and I put in some time at the mill.

We capped it off with a short hike up Kane Mountain near Canada Lake.  A few pics from our hike below:

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You can follow me on Twitter via @averagegents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Problem with Facebook

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook has its place.  It’s a good way to stay in touch with friends and family you don’t email or call on a regularly. Looking at photos is fun too.

Other than that, Facebook is a time waster and nothing more. You reached Level 42 in Farmville?  My new hero. I occasionally find myself spending 1-2 hours a day on FB. Sadly, that still puts me on the low-end of time spent by Facebook users.

The term “friends” on Facebook is also pretty subjective.  Do you really have 1,000 friends?  Doubtful. I actually went through an exercise where I defriended a bunch of people simply because I don’t talk to them anymore. It was nothing personal, comparable to donating clothes you don’t wear anymore. Within minutes I got an email from a former Facebook friend asking how I could do such a thing. Wow.

There is also the valid privacy/security concerns among Facebook users. It’s important to realize that Facebook is sitting on a treasure trove of information that companies would love to have. If Facebook is really worth an estimated $100 billion (they’re not), there has to be something of substance there – and it’s you.

Wasted time, weirdos, security breaches and corny apps don’t compare to the worst feature of Facebook: Lame posts.

Remember AOL Instant Messenger?  The popularity of this program was sky-high when I was in college.  See if you remember this classic away message:

Class, class, lunch, meeting, gym, class, back at 5! 

I probably posted that away message hundreds of times in college, along with thousands of other AOL users. What I really should have said is:  “I am a loser.” If that wasn’t bad enough most of us had corny quotes and love messages to our girlfriends of three months in our profiles. I still shudder at the thought of what I used to have in my profile. Luckily my friends still like to remind me from time to time.

Well, AOL away messages are back. This time in the form of Facebook profile posts.

Our friends are quick to tell us how they’re feeling or what they’re doing today.  Doing laundry? Heading to the grocery store? Upset with a spouse?  Feeling sick? Kid acting up?  Please, tell us more.

My wife shared a great quote with me from @FashionweekNYC on Twitter.

Fun Fact: Twitter makes me like people I’ve never met & Facebook makes me hate people I know in real life!

Truth.

Let us all try to keep our posts interesting and productive. Facebook is like anything else, good in moderation.

Now please excuse me while I post this on Facebook.

-JM

You can follow me on Twitter: @averagegents

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The Grass Isn’t Always Greener (Part 2)

I often joke with my wife that I’m someday going to pack up, move to Montana and build a log cabin.  Do you ever have the same feeling? A moment when you consider checking out, moving to Mexico and surfing for the rest of your life?

You are not alone.

As great as computers are, and they are great, humans were not meant to spend 8-10 hours a day in front of them.

If you don’t believe me, read this and this. As a person who exercises regularly, I thought I was fine even though I sit all day.  Yeah right, turns out even an hour of exercise a day isn’t enough.

In Part 1, I gave you a small insight into mill work. One of the things I loved about working there is every day you made tangible progress.  Leather came in, leather went out.  The pile of skins on one table decreased, while the skins on another increased. At the end of the day your legs and back hurt, but there is a sense of accomplishment because you see immediate results. I can now work on a project that may not yield results for months, possibly a year.

Nowadays, the only pain I feel after work is in my wrists due to a growing case of carpal tunnel from typing responses to hundreds of emails, most of them meaningless.  Ever work 8 hours a day and feel like you accomplished nothing? Welcome to the 21st century, where assembly lines have been replaced with Microsoft Office. Instead of axles, metal and widgets, we have Excel, PowerPoint and Word.

The other thing I loved about the mill was the lack of stimulation. You were actually able to…think. Sure the act of putting skins on a table is pretty boring, but your brain was allowed to wander.  There isn’t a lot of time to think and contemplate in corporate America.  Not when you’re blasted with emails, instant messages, phone calls and social media updates. This is the great challenge of our generation. Those that can focus and avoid distractions will succeed.

Now I’m not naïve enough to think if I started working at the mill full-time again, I wouldn’t be daydreaming about my computer chair from Staples in six weeks.  The grass isn’t always greener when it comes to blue-collar vs. white-collar. A mix of both would be ideal, but I haven’t figured out how to have the best of both yet.

You and I have a choice to make. We can stay a cog in the corporate America wheel for the next 20-30 years and be average, or we can make small tweaks to our daily life that could make us happier and more productive. And if you’re reading this site, you are probably interested in both.

Here are some of my suggestions I came up with, feel free to add more in the comments section.

1.  Get off your Butt

You have to exercise, ideally 5-6 times a week.  As I said earlier, even an hour a day isn’t enough, but something is better than nothing.  I don’t care what it is, walking, running, biking, lifting weights, Wii Fit…just do something.

2.  Motion Creates Emotion

Just like Ben Affleck said in Boiler Room (one of the best monologues of all time), “Get off your ass. Move around. Motion creates emotion.” Sure you can reply to that email in 30 seconds, or give someone a call about that TPS report, but why not take a walk across the office to speak with them in person? Be conscious of these opportunities. It’s a good way to keep the pulse of your team, stay engaged and build relationships. I try to work in 90 minute intervals, followed by a short walk to the water cooler. I talk about this in my 80/20 post.

3.  Break the Email Cycle

Has a communication tool been more abused than Microsoft Outlook? The carbon copy feature has led to many nervous breakdowns and padded rooms. I’m willing to bet 60% of your email is crap and doesn’t warrant a response. I dare you to prove me wrong.  If it’s important the person will call, I promise.

4.  Technology Break

Take a day off from your computer, smart phone, cell phone, television, dvd player, ipod, ipad, iphone and anything else Steve Jobs has created once a week. You might have the shakes at first, but the results are pretty powerful.  My track record is abysmal, but I never regret it when I succeed.

5.  Get an Outdoor Hobby

My company offers an amazingly ridiculous perk in that we have a full gym in our office. It’s awesome that I can work out on my lunch. The problem is I don’t go outside for 8-10 hours a day.  Not cool. Besides if you’re going electronics free you may as well spend it outdoors.  Even urban dwellers don’t have an excuse. One of my favorite activities in NYC is walking around at night. NYC resident are also a quick train or car ride from decent hiking and beach opportunities.

6.  Career Fulfillment

I hesitate to add this because we live in such a feel good society where so many talk about finding their passion.  Especially considering our grandparents did whatever they had to do to provide for their families, even if it meant doing a job they hated. I know guys who used to work at one mill during the day, and work at a second that night.

However if you’re going to sit at a desk for extended periods of time, you may as well do something you like.  The time will go faster and make sitting for long periods more tolerable. I am personally interested in more of a sales role where I can interact with clients much more than I do today.

7.  Elevate Your Desk so you can Stand

Do not do this, weirdo.

Most of us are in the early stages of our careers, or have at least another decade ahead of us. If we are not happy with our situations, then it’s up to us to fix it. Hopefully these two posts offer an incentive to do so.  The grass might just be greener after all.

Thanks for reading.

-JM

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The Grass Isn’t Always Greener (Part 1)

Johnstown, NY is one of two cities that made up the “Glove Cities Capital of the World.”  Johnstown and Gloversville held that title for a long time, which I suspect now belongs to China.  There are still some leather mills in Fulton County serving as a vivid reminder of what used to be.  One of those mills, B&M Leather, is run by my father and co-owned with my mother.

As soon as I could hold a broom, I was sweeping floors. I used to form big piles of fluffy dust left from the shaver and buffer machines to jump in like a pile of leaves. In addition to sweeping, I was tasked with cleaning the office and bathroom.  As I grew older, my responsibilities increased and I was allowed to work on certain machines, band pallets, stack tables and empty barrels into the dumpster.

Евро поддон

Image via Wikipedia

Mill work is hard work.  It requires you stand for 8+ hours a day, which is rather monotonous. For the most part, you stand at a machine either sending or receiving skins to be put on a table and eventually back on a pallet. If you are not a morning person, it’s not the job for you.  My Dad is often at the mill by 4am.  On busy days, 5am-5pm is the norm.  In the summers it gets very hot, and there is no air conditioning. The skins get heavier as the day goes on.

My summers were spent at B&M.  It was cool working with my Dad during those summers. He didn’t take it easy on me, nor did I expect him to. As the lowest guy on the totem poll, I was stuck doing some of the real dirty work.

In high school, I was repeatedly told by co-workers, truck drivers and other visitors how important it was to “go to college, get an education and get out of this place.” As any parent who wants better for their child my Dad echoed this sentiment.   No one got an argument from me.  I couldn’t wait to go to college, move to New York City and sit in a comfy computer chair in my eventual corner office.

Fast forward 10 years.  I have my desk, although not in a corner office – I care less about that now.  I have a wonderful view of Times Square to my right (which is as close as I’ll get to that dreadful place), and the mighty Hudson River to my left. For the most part, I’m right where I hoped to be.  Living and working in Manhattan working for one of the largest media companies in the world.

Yet, with every year passing year I find myself thinking more and more about those days in the mill. In fact, whenever I visit my folks for an extended time I usually ask my Dad: “Need any help at the mill?”  Ironically, when he says no I have the exact opposite reaction I used to have when I was 18 or 19 – disappointment.

So what gives?  Check out Thursday’s post to find out.

-JM

Don’t forget you can follow me on twitter @averagegents for my thoughts and shared articles throughout the week.

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How to Throw Your Wife a Surprise Party

Think about the last time you threw your buddy a surprise party.

Never? That’s what I thought. When it comes to birthdays, men use it as an excuse to meet up for a few beers and maybe some food. We’re pretty casual.

Girls love celebrating birthdays.  In my experience, much more so than men. They also love throwing birthday parties, and are really good at it. Especially surprise parties.

There will likely come a time when you will need to throw your wife or girlfriend a surprise party. For example, my wife turned 30 earlier this year and I knew I should do something special for her.

Here are five tips that worked for me.  Hopefully they come in handy should you ever need to do the same.

1.  Enlist support

Following up my earlier point – get some help.  Preferably her best friend and/or co-worker. This way you have all your bases covered for the invite list. Her friends can also help with logistics (getting a cake), and other things you might miss.

2.  Don’t Commit to Minimums

Try reserving party space at a bar in NYC, and you’ll hear about drink minimums, price per person and other nonsense. Remember that you are filling a bar with 25-100 people who would not be attending this establishment otherwise.  Negotiate accordingly.  Give them a conservative estimate on how many people you expect to come and mention they’re heavy drinkers. Worst case, offer to buy $100-$200 worth of food.  If that doesn’t work, move on.

3. Don’t be obvious

I held the surprise party at one of my wife’s favorite bars/restaurants in our neighborhood. In fact, the owner shut the place down for us.  The key here is when I suggested we go there for date night, it was routine and familiar. If I said: “Honey, let’s go to the hottest club in Meatpacking Saturday night,” she would know right away something was up (I’m not much of a club guy).

4.  Give two weeks notice

Just like when leaving a job, I recommend sending the invite out no more than two weeks in advance. If you have friends that travel a lot and may need advance notice reach out to them individually and swear them secrecy.  Keep in mind every day that goes by is another day for someone to spill the beans. Two weeks is enough, and it stays fresh in everyone’s mind. More on this in #5.

5.  Be Paranoid

Assume someone is going to blow it and plan accordingly. For example, I messaged two of my buddies who often check people in to places on Facebook and asked them to hold off until we arrived. Crazy? Maybe, but the last thing I needed was my wife flipping through Facebook 30 minutes before we left to see so and so checked into a bar he would never be at.

During this two-week period you are going to talk to people you haven’t spoken with in a while. The natural reaction was to come home and tell my wife:  “Guess who I talked to today.”  Do that enough, and red flags will start going off.

I was also aggressive about getting people to commit.  It amazes me how people receive an invite, read it and do not respond. I got on their asses about it. I don’t care if you’re not coming, but let me know.

Overall, the party was a success and my wife was completely surprised.

Good luck.

-JM

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