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What's the coolest thing you own? And by coolest I mean the object that makes you just a little bit happy every time you think about it, but not because of any sentimental value. Maybe it looks cool, or it works really well. You decide.

This isn't an advertisement, in case you wondered, but my coolest object until I decided to write this post was my Dymo LabelWriter 400 Turbo. When you want to label an envelope, you just fire up its software, open its address book, point to your selection, and it spits out a clean little perfect label. It even makes the most satisfying little bzzzzzzt as it does it.

This is a bigger deal for me than it sounds because I'm not good at writing addresses on envelopes by hand. It bores me so profoundly that I drift off and start writing whatever happens to be in my head. I start off with an address and end up with a grocery list. I've killed a lot of envelopes that did nothing to deserve it.

Back to my Dymo LabelWriter: It doesn't need ink cartridges, and a roll of labels lasts me for a year. It set up easy and it worked every time. Well, until I decided to write this post. Now it doesn't work at all. It just sits there with one blank label protruding like an insolent tongue. It mocks me.

Yes, I did all of the obvious rebooting and plugging and unplugging. I guess it just died from being too perfect.

I was caught off guard by its sudden demise and I have no succession plan. My BlackBerry is broken. My DVR and TV remote are both random. My car is garbage. My thermostats are secretly controlled by poltergeist and nothing else quite qualifies as cool. So I turn to you.

Tell me the coolest object you own. Again, you decide what cool means to you.

 
I believe you can pray someone to death under the right conditions. What?
You skeptics don't believe me?

Lately the top guy in Iran, Ali Khamenei, is getting pushback from the faithful because the Supreme Leader's job description is feeling a bit too much like God's job, and polytheism is a big no-no under Islam. My theory is that if people in the United States start praying to Khamenei, his own people will stone him to death to protect monotheism.

It wouldn't take many people praying to him to do the trick. A few thousand people might be enough. We could call ourselves Khameniacs and make t-shirts with his image. If praying to a false god seems like too much work, you can just tell people you do it. That sort of thing is hard to verify. The shirt would be ugly, but a good prank like this takes some sacrifice.

 
On December 2nd Dogbert stepped down as CEO of Dilbert's company and was replaced by a dried-up corpse. At about the same time, GM was announcing that CEO Fritz Henderson was stepping down and being replaced by 68-year old Ed Whitacker.

Here's my comic to refresh your memory:

http://dilbert.com/2009-12-02/

And here's a picture of Ed Whitacre:

http://www.depts.ttu.edu/communications/news/stories/images/whitacre.jpg

The timing was just a coincidence. My comic was drawn and submitted several weeks before the GM announcement. But as coincidences go, this is a funny one.

Another coincidence is that Dilbert was created when I was working my old day job at Pacific Bell, a company that Ed Whitacre later absorbed when he was CEO of SBC. I left before the merger, but one could make a case that Ed Whitacre was Dilbert's CEO. Sort of.

Kidding aside, Ed Whitacre is probably a good choice for tough job. 68 is the new 50. And I don't believe he takes prisoners. It should be interesting.

 
What the world needs is software that makes it easy for senior citizens to use e-mail. Assisted living facilities for seniors already have computers. But how many 80-year olds can navigate Gmail or Outlook?

What we need is software that acts as a "mask" and sits on top of, for example, Gmail. Its main function would be to hide all the options that aren't relevant. All you would see is very large buttons labeled READ, WRITE, and OTHER. Seniors should never see more than three large, clear choices on the screen at one time.

And there should never be any double-click situations. One click is enough.

And seniors should only receive e-mail from people who are in their address books. No spam allowed.

Any attachments should open automatically, as if they are part of the e-mail body.

Obviously someone would have to be available to do tech support, including entering new e-mail addresses in address books, and that sort of thing.

You can buy a special computer that is customized for seniors, but it would be handy to have the software available for existing computers. If grandpa lives with you, and wants to use the home computer to send e-mail, just click "grandpa mode" and get out of the way.

 
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There's a natural limit to how happy a person can be at work. If work becomes fun, your boss will stop paying you to do it and start charging other people to have that fun in your place. So let's agree that work has to be a little bit unpleasant, at least for most people. Still, despite this unpleasantness, many people have a feeling called job satisfaction.

My theory is that your degree of job satisfaction is largely a function of who you blame for the necessarily unpleasant job you have. If you blame yourself, that's when cognitive dissonance sets in and your brain redefines your situation as "satisfied." To do otherwise would mean you deliberately keep yourself in a bad situation for no good reason, assuming you believe you have options. Your brain likes to rationalize your actions to seem consistent with the person you believe you are.

The assumption that you have better options and the freedom to pursue them is essential to the illusion of job satisfaction. As long as you believe, incorrectly, that pleasant jobs exist elsewhere, and are yours for the taking, you have to rationalize why you don't go out and get one. And the best reason your brain can concoct is that you must be satisfied right where you are, against all evidence to the contrary. To believe otherwise means defining yourself as lazy, scared, or incapable. Your brain doesn't like that option.

I first noticed this during the Dotcom era. In those years, when people came to believe, incorrectly, that the common person could go start his own Google, everyone I asked seemed to have job satisfaction. In other words, employees blamed themselves for being in their putrid situations. They believed themselves capable of great things, so they rationalized that their current jobs must be satisfying already.

The situation was the very opposite in the early nineties, when big companies were downsizing and it seemed as though employees didn't have many options. If you got fired by company A, you couldn't get hired by company B because they too were downsizing. Employees felt trapped. They blamed management for their woes.

If my theory is true, the best way to make your employees feel a false sense of job satisfaction is to somehow convince them that there are much better jobs elsewhere. For example, you could subscribe all employees to entrepreneur magazines that are full of stories about people who left their unsatisfying jobs to become zillionaires. If you instill the false belief that better careers are obtainable, cognitive dissonance will cause the employees that have high self-esteem to believe they must enjoy their current jobs.

Leadership is just another word for evil.

 
Years ago, in my book The Dilbert Future, I predicted that someday it will be nearly impossible to commit a crime and get away with it. The technology for catching criminals is improving faster than the criminals are getting smarter. Just watch any episode of CSI and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Lately, it seems as if every time a kid gets abducted, or a plane crashes, someone produces security camera footage of the incident. It won't be long before all light fixtures have surveillance cameras in them as standard equipment. Someday, everywhere there are people, inside your home and out, there will also be surveillance video. In the interest of privacy, these ubiquitous videos will be encrypted so securely that playback will be effectively impossible unless the court orders it. And the court would need a row of supercomputers plus a password to crack the encryption. It will seem creepy for about a day, then you will get used to it.

If you think you can just steal the security video after you do the crime, those days are over too. Companies like Connexed send security video to remote servers as it records. A crook can dynamite the entire building and there will still be a video of the event.

http://www.connexed.com/

I also predict that the technology for "sniffing" the air of a crime scene will improve to the point that fingerprints and DNA will become redundant. If a bloodhound can track one individual among many, I predict machines will do the same some day. Eventually, being a drug dealer will become even more
impractical than it is now. Drug sniffing dogs can't be everywhere all the time, but machines that do the same thing can be ubiquitous, assuming their costs come down over time. Someday those sniffing devices might even be in your car, preventing you from starting the engine if you're toasted. That's
the end of drunk driving.

I can also imagine that any small item worth stealing, including debit and credit cards, will someday have RFID devices built in. If you get near a Point of Sale device with a stolen card, the police will be able to track you, even before you use the card. By then, cash and checks will be obsolete.

It will soon be impossible to get away with stealing cars, cell phones or laptops, as they will all have tracking technology built in. And the police will eventually be able to remotely stop the engine of any car that is trying to make a getaway. Perhaps someday your laptop won't boot up if it senses that it is more than a predetermined distance from your phone, car, home, or business.

Even the days of police shootouts - at least the type that can last for hours - are coming to an end, thanks to the invention of a bullet that can shoot around corners.

http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1934027_1934003_1933992,00.html

My guess is that most white collar crimes are already being detected, and the perpetrators are generally getting caught, albeit not as quickly as society would like. I predict that technology will keep getting better at thwarting that sort of illegal activity. If you work for a bank, for example, it's already nearly impossible to get away with a sizable white collar crime.

In the future, graft and bid rigging will remain the hardest crimes to detect, because in those cases it will be difficult to tell the difference between collusion and coincidence. The minimum requirement for solving a
crime is realizing that one was committed. So if you plan a life of crime, my advice is to become more of a colluder than a stabber. Stabbers will go to jail. Colluders will own them.


 
I wonder if one if the prime drivers for entrepreneurship is bad management.  I have to think that bad management pushes a lot of capable people out of their day jobs, and those people go on to become entrepreneurs.

Imagine a world where managers always recognized and rewarded their most capable people. It would be hard for a rational employee to leave a great job for a ten percent chance of creating something even greater. But leaving a boss who is Satan's learning-challenged little brother is relatively easy.  And if the general economy isn't serving up wonderful job opportunities at other companies (thanks in part to bad management) then you can see why people gravitate toward starting their own companies.

You can thank The Dilbert Principle for some of this entrepreneurial zest.  The Dilbert Principle observes that in the modern economy, the least capable people are promoted to management because companies need their smartest people to do the useful work. It's hard to design software, but relatively easy to run staff meetings. This creates a situation where you have more geniuses reporting to morons than at any time in history. In that sort of environment you'd expect the geniuses to be looking for a way out, even if Plan B has a low chance of success.

I've never seen a statistic on the number of companies that were started while an employee "borrowed" resources, from his day job, mostly in the form of time and Internet access, but I'll bet it's a big number.

Big companies with bad managers are the ideal breeding ground for entrepreneurs. Employees are exposed to a wide variety of business disciplines, and can avail themselves of excellent company-paid training and outside education. When you add broad skill development to the inevitability of eventually getting a moron for a boss, thanks to frequent internal reorganizations, it's no wonder that big companies spray entrepreneurs into the environment like the fountains at Bellagio.

 

There's a lot of chatter on the Internet about how much land is required to feed one person. You will not be surprised to learn that the answer is "It depends."  It's somewhere in the neighborhood of "a few acres."

On a related note, I wonder how large of a greenhouse you would need to feed a family of four. Could you optimize a greenhouse to the point where it would only take a few hundred square feet?

Greenhouses have a number of benefits. You have a longer growing season, and good control over pests and weeds. You can optimize your water use, and you can use the structure's height to grow vertically where that makes sense.

I suppose you would want to get a few dozen neighbors in on the plan, so each of you can specialize on one crop per year then share the bounty. Rotating the crops across neighbors will help your soil, and it would diversify against problems in any one greenhouse. Plus it's easier on the home grower if he only needs to concentrate on beans this year and corn next year.

Obviously growing your own food only makes sense in a region where water isn't scarce. So let's say these homes with attached greenhouses are in Canada and have their own wells or other water source. And also imagine the homes are built for optimum energy efficiency, perhaps producing more power than they consume. If you have low ongoing expenses for energy, food, and water, your biggest expense is health care. And you're in Canada so the government takes care of that.

And imagine you mulch and recycle, so you have minimal garbage removal costs.

And let's say it's a community where everyone works at home and has high speed Internet connections. When you need a car, which is rare, you rent one. When you need tools, you borrow them from the shared tool shed.

I already know that none of my readers would want to live in the commie world I just described. I'm just curious how inexpensive you could make modern life for a family of four if you planned everything just right.

 
People warned me, but I didn't believe that picking paint colors would be the hardest part of building a home. For the exterior color, we drove around until we found a new home that was exactly the color we wanted. We queried the owner about what paint he used and asked our builder to duplicate it.

Easy, right?

That's when we learned that paint changes color if you put it on an "imperfect smooth" stucco versus the original home's bumpy stucco. With the bumps, the color becomes subtle and textured and beautiful, albeit different, in every light. On our home it turned canary yellow. When darkened slightly to get the harsh out, it turned green. On the fifth try, we got something that didn't look so much like a practical joke on the neighbors and decided to go with it. Five tries isn't so bad, right?

Tragically, our house also has an interior, and apparently it's a tradition to paint those walls too. I have been informed that many of our room colors need to be different from the others for reasons that my boybrain cannot comprehend. And maybe we need some accent walls. And it all has to match the baseboards, counter tops, cabinets, floors, drapes, area rugs, and furniture. Okay, that seems doable, sort of, until you toss in a few more
variables:

1.    The paint has to be zero VOC (little or no off-gassing). It's my own requirement. That severely limits choices, and faux glazing is impossible.
2.    We don't have furniture picked out. Or drapes. Or rugs.
3.    We have only tiny non-representative samples of counter tops.
4.    The paint color changes dramatically in every type of light.
5.    The paint color changes dramatically depending on what it is near.
6.    Every family member has a different opinion.

Does it sound impossible yet? Wait, there's more.

The city doesn't allow builders to hook up to both gas and electricity prior to government approval to move in. You have to pick one or the other, to keep you from moving in before the home is deemed safe and ready. We needed the gas hooked up first, to test some other systems, so that means we will never see the interior walls in any light approximating our future normal light until after the walls are painted.

It gets better.

When you see a color on a tiny swatch, it might look tan, for example. But when you paint it on a wall it turns yellow or green or red. And not just a little. The wall color will have almost no correlation to the sample you picked. It is pure randomness.

In a few minutes I will call the paint store for my 25th paint sample. (Not an exaggeration.) Some of the choices are colors that are clearly grey on the sample but have names like "Flaming Orange." WTF????

So it's a bit like the game Battleship, where you drop random depth charges on the color chart and see if you can narrow down a zone where the good color is hiding. Except in this case the person you are playing against is both blind and lying.

All I know is that if we find even one color that doesn't look like a jaundiced albino rat when applied to the wall, I'll be lobbying hard to paint all the rooms that color and buy only black furniture, black drapes, and black rugs. I hear black goes with everything. Wish me luck.

 
You're probably aware of the Long Tail concept. The idea is that technology makes it economical for companies to sell items for which there are only a handful of buyers in the known universe. The trick is to sell lots of different items to lots of different buyers. And if those items are manufactured with special features for each buyer, it's called mass customization.

The new Dilbert Store is a good example of both the long tail and mass customization. You can search for any Dilbert comic ever made, find the one that speaks to your own bizarre sensibilities, and in a few days a package arrives at your door with that comic on a coffee cup, or water bottle, whatever. This solved a big problem for us because if you asked a hundred people what was their favorite Dilbert comic, you'd get about hundred different answers. It isn't practical for us to guess which comics would be most popular.

Now a similar thing is happening with price and co-branding. We're starting a test of corporate discounts at The Dilbert store so that you and your co-workers can, if you play your cards right, pay 20% less than the cubeless masses, in return for some exposure within your company.

If the test works out, we'll expand it to include co-branded products and other company focused offers. For example, suppose your company wants to internally promote network security, or disaster recovery, or safety, or some other message. The appropriate department could order Dilbert goods that include your company logo and the on-topic Dilbert comic, all for 20% off. If you play your cards right, that means "free shirt" for you.

If you want to get in on the 20% off test, send an email to dilbert@ordering.com with "corporate discount program" in the subject.  Include the contact info of the person at your company that handles this sort of thing.
 
 
 
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