Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Disengagement blues

By Archives of the Finnish Broadcasting
Company Yle [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
This week, I launched a substantial intranet site for an organization of more than 900 employees. They learned about it via an "all hands" email message.

The site has stories about employees, photos, interactive tools, downloadables, and a live webcam feed. It replaces a very dull, one-page intranet site that consisted of a bunch of links to other internal sites.

And I received two responses.

That's it. Two out of 900.

I feel a little like the nighttime disc jockey who programmed a terrific three-hour air shift -- only to learn that a lightning strike at the transmitter site had knocked the station off-the-air 20 minutes into the first hour.

I didn't think for a moment that a new intranet site was going to immediately engage a diaspora of employees who are spread across multiple locations. It doesn't work that way.

But, two out of 900?

This may not be fixable. Not without cat videos, anyway.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Busted but unbroken

Now is the summer of my digital discontent. Several of my digital cameras manufactured around 2007-2008 are failing. None was severely abused, but these little cameras spend their lives bouncing around in briefcases, backpacks, and shoulder bags. Bad stuff happens.

(c) DKassnoff, 2015.
These compact cameras -- two Canon Powershots and a Kodak EasyShare -- don't owe me much. I bought them off eBay, where 7- and 10-megapixel cameras superseded by newer models go to find their next lives.

(Sellers on eBay had trouble spelling Canon. I hunted those misspelled auction titles and bought these cameras for little cash.) I'd clean them up and re-sell them. I kept the ones that worked well.

(Some people believe that a 20-megapixel camera must take better photos than a 10-megapixel camera. I'm not one of them.)

When new, each of these sold for $200-$300. Today, you can pick up used Canons for much less than $50. Canons, especially, take excellent stills, while the Kodak had great HD video and dual built-in microphones that were hard to beat.

In the film days, I'd developed a skill for fixing 1970s-era rangefinder cameras, which -- despite having non-zoom lenses and no built-in flash -- produced marvelous photos. Recent digital cameras don't have film transports or rewind knobs; they have sensors, ribbon cables, and circuit boards. And they are tiny.

But, faced with three dying digital cameras, I decided to haul out my precision screwdrivers and tweezers, and see if I couldn't repair the pocket cameras. (Tip: use a large flat magnet to capture all the tiny screws that like to bounce merrily under your workbench.)

How did I do? Not bad. Youtube has dozens of homemade how-to videos of people repairing their digital cameras. In less than 30 minutes, I had a good idea of what I needed.

The Kodak had a failed image sensor. A quick peruse of the Internet reveals that sensor failure in the V1253 camera is fairly common. (Canon built their cameras in Japan; Kodak went to China. Big difference.) Online companies can sell you a replacement sensor, but unless you're truly in love with this camera, don't bother. It's not well made, and removing covers, buttons, lens assembly, etc. really makes it a chore. Since nearly any smartphone can capture good HD video, reviving an eight-year-old Kodak for this function seems a waste of time.

Canons, on the other hand, are better built from the start (the Japan thing). When one component goes south, many owners put their inoperative cameras up for auction. So buy a parts-donor camera for less than $20. That's where I found replacement switches, body parts, and screws to revive the Canon SD750 and SD790IS pictured above.

And they both work fine.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Recruiting from hell

The woman on the other end of the call was hard to understand. Poor enunciation, difficult accent, noisy background.
Fishers of Souls, Adriaen van de Venne (circa 1589–1662)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
She was recruiting based on a resume I'd posted many months ago, for a "major employer in my town."

As best as I could tell, it was a marketing communications specialist position, 12 month temporary, with no benefits. 

The pay? An hourly rate half of what a full-timer with 3-5 years experience earns. And I'd need to pay my own social security and employment taxes. 

I said no.

Sure, the temp job might lead to a full-time appointment. But I wasn't interested in a "major employer" so stingy that it couldn't pay me in health insurance what it was paying the indecipherable recruiter to find candidates.

In my town, the well-known major employers are only a shadow of their former selves. They no longer rake in fat profits, yet they continue paying their CEOs absurdly high salaries. 

But their third-world approach to sourcing experienced talent is beyond insulting. Outsourcing your recruitment basically tells candidates: "We have no interest in building relationships."

Problem is: that's what marketing is all about, relationships. Especially when you're selling $500,000 boxes full of mysterious digital gadgetry. 

Relationships are essential. Taking the arm's-length approach to building a marketing team isn't the way to get it done.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tickets to honesty

"How much are the tickets?"

When I see a big ad announcing a concert, that's my first question. I'm not stingy. But I am officially tired of organizations that promote concerts, gala dinners, seminars, etc., without disclosing the ticket price. Or websites that make me drill down several web pages before ticket prices pop up.

Let's be honest. (Unless you're Ticketmaster, for whom honesty is nothing more than the name of a Billy Joel song.) These events aren't free. People want to know what tickets cost.

Billy Joel, Nov. 25, 2014, NYC. (c) DKassnoff, 2014
I know a ticket to see Michael Buble or Mr. Joel is going to be pricey. There's no sense in hiding it.

I paid full price to see Mr. Joel in concert. It was worth every penny.

When I want to attend an event because I believe in the organization or admire the speaker or performer, cost isn't a deterrent. Don't waste my time by burying the price three or four screens down.

Spell out ticket prices in your ads. Simple, right?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Photo worthy, or potty material?

We take an awful lot of photos today. Mostly of scenes that have no business appearing in photos.

Laundry in the trunk of a minivan. A restaurant's interpretation of a burger and fries. Contents of Joe's daughter's college dorm room. Dozing cats. (I'll catch hell for that last one.)

Most of these images are meaningful to the individuals who shoot them, and that's fine. But not all of us need to see them. Even if most of us carry some device that captures pictures that can be uploaded to a social media website in mere seconds.

Ellicottville Rodeo potty, (c) DKassnoff, 2014.
We need to be better photo editors. Smartphones run apps that help improve an image, but there aren't many fixes for a backlit, underexposed image. Or a blurry concert shot, where the featured performer was 200 feet away and looks like a Lego figure in your image.

Those images don't tell me a story.

This photo is one example. I was shooting a rodeo, and a rider got thrown from his horse. There's action in this picture, but the "decisive moment" means it's not worthy. And the row of porta-potties in the background is a buzz-kill.

There's no story here.

Fierce rider. (c) DKassnoff, 2014.
The photo at left? A little better. You see the rider's face, the force of the bucking horse.

There's a story here. And no porta-potties in the background.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Off road

I'm off the road for a few months now. Semester's done. End-of-class grading, post the grades, log off. Done.

By Rob Sinclair (Up on blocks  Uploaded by geagea)
via Wikimedia Commons
For the next couple of months, I'm archiving my knowledge of the back roads of Livingston County. Instead of weaving between orange traffic barrels with a coffee in one hand, I'll write. Take a course. Maybe get to bed a few minutes earlier.

I drive two hours each way, once a week, to teach in a university classroom. It's my alter-ego gig. I get to do what I love. The students seem to get it. Most of them, anyway. But after 14 weeks, a couple of oil changes, gallons of coffee, and worrying when to swap the snow tires for all-season radials, I'm pretty fried.

But I love it. I love the rush of helping students see the media, public relations, advertising, and social media from perspectives they haven't seen before. It's my hope they'll see whether a career in advertising, PR, web development, or journalism fits with what they want. Or -- and this is more likely -- they'll be equipped to choose a career path that suits them for a few years, before discovering what they truly want to do.

I like heading back to that quiet little town where my small university is one of the largest employers. I like the sounds of evening rain.

And when the fall semester starts in late August, I'll do it again.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Standing on principle

I sometimes chose which charitable events I attend based on the quality of the folding chairs the facility uses.


Many organizations sell tickets to these events that far exceed the price of a comfy movie theater seat. Nice meal, intriguing conversation, stirring presentations.

Chairs at MIT graduation. By Dan4th Nicholas,
via Wikimedia Commons.
But the hosting location often tries to save a few bucks by using folding chairs. Often plastic, wobbly seats, with inadequate support for your back or bottom. And they ask you to sit through multiple speeches and recognitions, plus a meal. 

And if it's a graduation ceremony, you could be seated for hours. Painfully, if it's at MIT's commencement, in the chairs shown in the photo.

(On Dave's Seat Comfort Scale, these rank at No. 8. If they were those undersized wooden jobs, they'd be a 9 or 10.)

I spent a few years in my corporate life attending luncheons, galas, etc. After a while, I had memorized which museums, conference centers, and universities provided reasonable seating. And which ones owned or rented the least-comfortable chairs.

The irony? Part of my corporate giving job at that time involved donating surplus furniture, including -- you guessed it -- chairs. Usually good chairs.

So, even if I'm a supporter of an organization, I really pause before sending my check. I'd love to attend, but I'm standing on principle. At $50 a ticket, I'm not buying a plate -- I'm renting a seat.

And it ought to be a good one. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dodgeball for the 21st century

At least once a day, I avoid a collision in some public corridor. 

I've been working in a busy, crowded building, filled with professionals. And nearly every near-collision (a near-miss would be a collision) results from the other person gazing intently at a smartphone as they walk.

Is this the new normal? Professionals transfixed by a handheld four-inch screen?

By PeterLigerry (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
/3.0) or GFDL (],
via Wikimedia Commons
I was away from the business mainstream for about 20 months. In that interim, smartphones have become an inseparable extension of many people's lives. Perhaps a substitute for authentic human interaction. 

And while I own a tablet-esque device, I intentionally didn't bite on a full iPhone, because I wanted opportunities not to be drawn to stare at that screen. 

It feels like we're a few steps away, as a culture, from becoming hypnotized by these devices. 

I'm not delighted by this cultural change. I'm not thrilled at having to re-learn long-forgotten dodgeball skills just to walk down a busy corridor. Or sidestep pedestrians on sidewalks who are having a too-intimate relationship with a little box full of circuits and LEDs.

My recommendation: once a day, you should schedule yourself for a disconnect. A respite. Turn off your gadget. Remove your Beats or Skullcandy headphones. Maybe go find another companion for your walk. 

Two- or four-footed. Your choice.


Monday, April 6, 2015


Most of Easter Sunday was given to divesting of items amassed during my 17-year corporate career. This included a quantity of publications specific to a former employer's diversity and inclusion achievements. 

Which failed. 

When the company's balance sheet collapsed, diversity went from "must do" to "nice to do." The outfit needed diverse employees to design and market innovative products. But those employees saw the corporate commitment falter as cash flow ebbed. They knew their market value as executive men and women of color. And they fled. 

When you have black and Hispanic directors on your corporate board, and your CEO and chief of diversity are people of color, you should be able to make diversity work. But membership in the external organizations that validate your commitment to diversity isn't free. And those expenditures were among the first to be cut. 

I've saved those publications as professional samples of how diversity can be done well. Professionally, however, they haven't impressed would-be hiring managers. Diversity as a career skill seems less valued if you're not a candidate of color.