In Memorium: Abby the Cat

Today we had to put Abby the cat to rest. Almost 20, she “did it her way,” as Frank Sinatra sang. Aloof in her early and middle years, Abby mellowed dramatically in later life, suffering through our attention and petting, I suspect, as a way to siphon off our body heat. She was always cold.

Six years ago, I wrote a blog post about Abby when I was running the marketing for an eLearning company that focused on process improvement and product design. I looked for it today, and though they have since removed it from their website (!), I was able to locate it via the Wayback Machine. Nothing dies on the Internet.

I present it as a way to honor the memory of the extended life of sweet, dear Abby. Certainly not my best work, but a classic Abby story.

iPod Destructive Testing Using Cat

Yes, I still have the cat, for now.

March 09, 2009 – This morning, my cat threw up a hairball on my iPod. I kid you not.

As the, well, regurgitation, soaked in through the front navigation wheel, I saw enough to know that there was liquid mixed in with the delicate innards. This was much like the “coffee on a laptop” scenario, so I knew not to turn the iPod on. But will it still work, and what does this have to do with e-Learning and design? There are two important connections.

Abby the CatFirst, my online search for “iPod and water” (“iPod and bile” was never a realistic candidate) reinforced an important tenet of Blended Learning. Many people mistakenly believe that Blended Learning is simply a combination of e-Learning and instructor led training.

In actuality, effective Blended Learning is much more. It is defined as learning from many components, including e-Learning, coaching, live classes, online sources, blogs, forums, simulations, team exercises, and even textbooks. Self directed learning from online technologies (e.g., YouTube, Facebook, Second Life) is also included in the recognized Blended Learning sources, and is one of the fastest growing methods used by professionals to advance their knowledge. After the adrenaline rush, it occurred to me that my own use of Google represented a now-ingrained and non-traditional learning method.

Second, I realized that if my iPhone had been the victim, I would probably not have had a crisis at all. As we all know, Apple constantly modifies and improves its designs, and my phone has a fairly seamless front surface that would not have allowed the, um, cat liquids, to penetrate. The lack of a keyboard is a breakthrough innovation that still triggers curiosity from non-owners, and the nearly solid surface is just one aspect of the overall design. If only I had left my iPhone on the buffet last night.

So, will my iPod still work? Online forum advice leads me to believe that the odds are good, as long as I keep it face down and in a warm dry place, like a car dashboard. I now have it positioned far away enough from a space heater to warm – not toast – it to dryness. It is resting comfortably, with a positive prognosis. Perhaps I will try to turn it on Christmas morning and receive my own little holiday miracle.

The Demise of The Question Song

kuvo-pledgeTo help stick my cred as a “cool” dad, I’ve decided to share the car radio with my daughter. I am AOK with dedicating a couple pre-sets for the “hit mix” and “party” stations, as long as I still get my Jazz, NPR and alternative tracks.

But having to listen to what Big Music is now releasing to the teen market, I have become painfully aware that the hallowed “Question Song” of yore has undergone a disturbing – and perhaps fatal – decline. Let me explain.

In my salad days, I loved Question Songs. The lyrics made you actually stop and think about what the songwriter was trying to say. The question indicated a genuine narrative, one that stuck too long in your mind, like peanut butter does to the roof of your mouth. The question might challenge authority (“What’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.”), celebrate life (“Isn’t she lovely? isn’t she wonderful?”) or ponder death (“Where have all the flowers gone?”). Deep stuff.

A few more choice examples*:

  • Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
  • How can you mend a broken heart?
  • Does anybody really know what time it is? (Does anybody really care…about time?)
  • Why do fools fall in love?
  • How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?
  • Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?
  • If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?
  • Where does that highway go to?

*Please notice that “Where are the clowns?” didn’t make the list. While I’ve never loved Judy Collins, even that mawkish ballad hews to a grander theme of unrequited love.

Now compare those questions to what currently rules the airwaves:

  • What do you mean? (Justin Bieber)
  • What’s wrong with being confident? (Demi Lovato)
  • Is there somebody else on your mind? (One Direction)
  • Tell me, is it true that these men are from Mars? (Britney Spears, Iggy Azalea)

Insipid, paltry fare as dissatisfying as eating a rice cake for lunch. Or celery. I rest my case.

Fare thee well, pop music Question Song. Your death has not gone unnoticed. RIP.

I’m Alive, with Pictures to Prove It

Given that my last post was published in April (sorry!), I should first report that I am indeed happy, healthy, and getting about everything done in my life with the exception of regular blogging. So no, not trapped under a boulder, languishing in a minimum security prison, or holding a “bed-in” ala John and Yoko (which sounds rather fun, actually).

But it’s not that I haven’t been not thinking about blogging (catch the triple negative?). The proof: I’ve been using my handy camera – which doubles as a phone – to document all the various ideas and sights that trigger my “That Would make a Good Blog Subject” impulse. The best way to catch up with you, and clear the boards for new blog posts, is to present what I call…

“The 2015 Blog Posts That Should Have Been”


#1 – Why I Hate Spring Snow

IDEA: Though I normally love a peaceful springtime snowfall, the one on May 10 killed all my fruit tree blossoms and a couple of the trees as well. I rage at the skies.


#2 – Domo Japanese Garden

IDEA: You’d never believe you were in Denver. Ignoring Yelp altogether and taking a chance on a restaurant can lead to an unforgettable dining experience.


#3 – Hall’s Pep Talk Marketing Campaign

IDEA: I love this campaign. Each wrapper proffers cheerful phrases to make you feel better. Unexpectedly turns your state of mind – “I feel lousy” – on its head, so both throat and soul earn minty relief.


#4 – Tidal Pooling Is My favorite Sport

IDEA: I loved this picture from our trip to Monterrey. Looks like an abstract. 7:30 AM, the smell of the ocean, new discoveries on every beach, and nothing but time. The ingredients for a memorable holiday.


#5 – Denver Can Be Beautiful, Too

IDEA: Photographer John Fielder wants us to believe that all the natural beauty in our state exists outside of the cities, but this shot in City Park proves otherwise – to me.


#6 – ink! Wins Me Over Again

IDEA: No clue what happened here, but I am hard pressed to show you a better example of how to shrug off a launch fail with humor and honesty.


#7 – Harnessing Technology for Your NPR Fund Drive

IDEA: I just loved that KUVO used the music information feed to tell me what to do and how to pledge during the fall fund drive. Exceedingly clever way to visually nudge those of us listening in the car.


#8 – 25 Years Later

IDEA: We were all wearing black and looking natty at a friend’s 50th birthday party. We three college friends have known each other for half of her life. Makes you think.




Putting My Cats on a PIP

I woke abruptly at 5:30 AM.  My wife was shouting from the kitchen. A field mouse had become trapped in our double sink, struggling to get out like some sort of miniature mastodon in a prehistoric hot spring basin. As “master of the house” (in name only), I was expected to leave the warm comfort of the bed and usher the mouse off to its next incarnation.


Two cats in the hand is worth one in the bush.

I wasn’t surprised. This was the second one we’d caught in as many weeks, though the other had left a endless trail of mini-poops in the basement before we’d captured him. I had no idea where this new one had been living. I am still afraid to look in the lower cabinets.

Rodent safely dispatched, I crawled crankily back into bed. There, waiting for me, was Malcolm, our 16-year-old striped tabby. He and his sister Abby – now 19 years old – were useless as mousers, one of their supposed “responsibilities.” They’d let me down yet again, and I was overwhelmed with disappointment.

Was it time to put them on a PIP?

For those who don’t know, a PIP, or Performance Improvement Plan, is a popular way to get rid of an employee when you don’t want to be sued. The supervisor documents that the employee isn’t meeting his or her job requirements, sets a very high bar, leans back and monitors the employee until enough time has passed to safely let him or her go. A PIP is a not-so-gentle hint that your time will soon be up.

PIPs are a response to poor performance, but they’re also used for personality conflicts or in a culture that prizes tough love over nurturing. To my mind, it’s a cowardly and disingenuous tactic practiced by managers too afraid to fire someone. PIPs offer false hope, and on the rare case that the plan is cancelled, the employee never stays long after the painful experience.

Of course, I knew a feline PIP was never an option.

First, they’re cats, which means I am their de facto employee, and you can’t PIP your boss. Second, mousing is a sport for the young. At their advanced ages, our cats are quite adept at survival skills that include napping in the sun, caterwauling for attention, and licking their bowls shiny clean. They are performing admirably.

And finally, as I drifted back to la la land, with Abby settled on top of me and Malcolm under the sheets purring against my chest, I fully understood why I could never axe these two. They had me right where they wanted me.


NOTE: I owe a debt of gratitude to Troy Williams for his influence on this post. Many years ago, he gleefully explained the true meaning of a PIP to me, painfully ripping away my innocence like it was a particularly sticky band aid. Up to that point, I had actually believed a PIP was for the good of the employee. Oh, naive Larry. I miss you so.



Salt, By Any Other Name…

Is still salt.

In my days as a geologist, I was well aware of salt as the mineral halite. Primarily because, as less than mature students, we all dared each other to lick the mineralogy lab sample that had been touched by hundreds of undergrads every year. I’m not proud to say I know what it tasted like: old salt.

I also vividly recall when traveling to Israel at the age of 12, I inadvertently got a mouthful of salt water while floating in the Dead Sea. That is a taste you can never expunge from your gustatory memory: ancient salt.

Why is salt on my mind? Because no matter what mineral or color additives it includes, to me, table salt will always be salt. NaCl. Sodium Chloride. Common salt. The workhorse of the home cook. A quick review of our pantry shows me kosher salt, fine sea salt, rock salt, French Atlantic sea salt, iodized salt, and black salt from Hawaii: varietal salts.

So, imagine how surprised my marketing self was when I spied this little beauty in my friend Pete’s kitchen:


The Branding Gods who reside at Morton must have had a field day with this one. I fondly remember the extra fine Morton popcorn salt we used as kids because it stuck so well to the popcorn.  I also remember the “fun” chore of churning ice cream in our wooden bucket ice cream maker filled with ice and rock salt. But who does it that way anymore? Our Krups ice cream machine uses a frozen core base. No salt required.

So, was the packaging team bored with just the iconic Morton navy blue? Did their focus group research show that the ice cream display inspired purchases? I do suspect it’s a straightforward nostalgia play, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s led to an uptick in sales.

Pete bought it because he needed a little rock salt. So he now has 4 lbs of “ice cream salt.” When Restoration Hardware fuels the next ice cream grinder resurgence five years from now, I expect Pete will still have some around for me to borrow.