I am permanently blogging on a retirement-merry-go-round.blogger.com. Welcome to enjoy – or abhor ;-) but please don’t remain indifferent  – my musings and pictures there.


Free Burma!

www.free-burma.org

I sat down for a while on my balcony at sunset, tired after packing boxes and boxes of books, sipping a cold glass of Cuba Libre ( dark rum, orange mint, Coca-Cola), thinking of freedom and of Coca Cola and all those who fight for the first and long for a – symbolic – second.

And I remembered my first introduction to Coca-Cola… or rather a notion of it.

I was a little girl in then communist Poland, who just started to learn to read. I was playing in a park, accompanied by my grandpa (I lived with my grandma and grandpa then. My father was killed when I was only 8 months old – and he 21 and a partisan. My mother miraculously survived prison in which she gave birth to me – she was a partisan, too – and now was working full time and studying full time at a university some 300 kilometers away) when I spotted a large banner on a building on the other side of the park. It proclaimed “Wrog podaje ci Coca Cole!” = “An enemy hands you Coca-Cola!” Wow, I realized that I was able to read it! But I did not understand it.

‘Grandpa’ I asked ‘What’s Coca Cola?’
‘A beverage’ answered grandpa, who was reading a book.
‘What kind of beverage?’ I continued.
‘A beverage made from cola nuts…’ started grandpa absentmindedly, but then he stopped, probably thinking of the avalanche of questions such an answer could provoke, and finished ‘ a very, very tasty beverage. A symbol of America. A symbol of a good life’.

Now I was really confused. A very tasty beverage and a symbol of a good life? My, I wanted it, I wanted it badly! But I thought that “an enemy” was a bad person, a person who wanted you harm, who did horrible things to people. An enemy who would hand me a symbol of a good life??? No, something must have been wrong with my knowledge, so I decided to test it.

‘ But’ I started ‘grandpa, isn’t enemy a bad guy?’ Grandpa laughed, a bit sad, I thought, put his book away and looked at me seriously. ‘You are big enough already’ he said ‘ to be let in on a secret. But you have to promise to never, ever, repeat it to anybody else, or the commies would put your grandpa in prison, and God knows if he’d ever be able to come back.’

Now I was truly terrified. The thought of grandpa going to prison again (he already spent 5 years in Dachau during the war, and he told horror stories about it to his friends, when he thought I was not listening) made me almost not want to know that awful secret…. but my curiosity took over and I promised, both eagerly and solemnly.

‘You, see, little one’ started grandpa ‘ when the commies call someone an enemy, he is most likely a good guy, not a bad one’. And then he sighted: ‘but here they mean USA, and USA sold us out to the commies in Jalta and is not interested in knowing what’s happening to us, much less handing us any Coca-Cola.’

‘You can’t trust communist propaganda’ he smiled sarcastically. ‘If you want Coca-Cola, or freedom, or a good life, or anything else in the world you can’t wait for it to be handed to you, you have to fight for it yourself.’

‘ But yes, it would be so nice’ he added – ‘if some friends, some “enemies” came then to support you with a tall glass of Coke.’ He smiled again, but now there were tears in his eyes.
……..
And I thought of Darfur, and of Myanmar. They ARE fighting there. And where is Uncle Sam?
Who does he give his support to? Whom does he hand his Coca-Cola?

Ok, after writing two posts at  blogger – and uploading lots of photos without any difficulty – I am sold. I switched. From now on please come vist at  http://retirement-merry-go-round.blogspot.com

Frustrated with WordPress  due to difficulties in posting images in the right size and the  right place I  tried to do the same in Bloggger..

And wow, what took me over two weeks in wordpress without even a minimally acceptable result  came out great in blogspot in barely a couple of minutes (you can see the first partial post there at retirement-merry-go-round.blogspot.com) Oh, well, great in comparison…

 I think I am switching…. but need to check how customer friendly other blogger’s features are before making a final decision. No more acceptance for customer unfriendly techno-gobledygook.

Very busy with the move now, though, so it may take a few days. See ya – here or there :-)

Today I was looking for a different kind of help than yesterday. For simple, manual labor:  a move-out apartment cleaning, carpet cleaning, window washing, loading and unloading those belongings I decided to store and those that will go to a charity, but are too bulky/heavy for me to handle on my own.

Until now, whenever  and wherever I moved withing the USA,  I had no trouble  finding that kind of services as I needed them and at acceptable prices. No such luck today.

Well, yes, I found 10 firms offering cleaning services in town and 12 more around town. So far so good.  But here the “good” part of the story ends. Most of those firms did not answer their phones or did not return my call. Out of the remaining firms I got three bids. One cleaning service wanted $100/hr for two cleaning ladies with a two hour minimum, the second wanted $225 firm price and the third did not really know how much they were going to charge, but they assured me that the price would “certainly be reasonable”!!!  I kid you not!

And no, this is NOT a typo: the service firm wanted $ 100 an hour for sending two cleaning ladies. The cleaning ladies would, most  probably  be Latino immigrants, who would be lucky to get paid $7.50 an hour each – if that much.

Thus the service firm’s direct labor cost  for these ladies would be $15 = 15% of the quoted fee! 

Ok, let’s be fair and add to that some indirect labor costs (though I doubt they carry much, if any, of them) supplies, equipment, transportation (if they pay for it, which I also doubt),  liability insurance, overhead, administration,  advertising, taxes. Let’s be generous (well, they might be less than efficient,lol)  and  assume that the total cost of the service they provide is 25%-30% of the fee they demand. That comes out to a 70%-75% of pure profit! Talk about US still being a land of opportunities!

This pattern repeated itself concerning moving help: similar prices, similar assumed profits.

Where, on earth is any serious, willing to get business competition?  Is there no unemployment, no beginning of a recession? Is this situation now typical for  the USA  at large or just for  this particular corner of the Bible belt? And why?  Questions, questions.

Ah, well, since I can’t get any service from the service firms at a price I am willing to accept, I guess the only thing  I can do is to go tomorrow early morning to a place in town where day laborers gather, talk to them – luckily I speak enough Spanish – and hire myself  cleaning and moving helpers for about $15 an hour.

 I’ll have to do my own  recruiting, hiring and  supervising – but at least the profit will be all mine.

USA has  a well developed service sector – I’m sure you heard that time and time again. It was once true, but does no longer seem to be, even as uneployment is rising.   Sad and unbelievable!

… I’d like to think, although, I admit, I sometimes behave like one… (Don’t we all ?)

I am just not interested in technological details, which, I think, I should not need to know in order to use technology to do what I want  it to do.

What??? you ask. Ok, I shall explain:  do you think that it is necessary to know how the car’s engine works in order to be able to drive a car? 

No, I did not think you did, because most people, most drivers in fact, would just laugh at such a demand. (And I bet that most drivers – me included – do not  even want to know how and when to change gears – particularly Americans, since they had it so good for so long. Everything that can be automated, should.) Yet, when I was a young girl in the then communist Poland I was expected to pass the written exam proving I knew how  a car’s  engine worked and how  it was built, before I could actually start to learn driving the car with an instructor and get a license to drive it on my own. 

The  – ridiculous – explanation  for that requirement was that Poland at that time had almost no car service stations, so car drivers were supposed to be selfsufficient if anything happened to their vehicles.  The incredible naivety of  the car techies, who imagined that anybody, without a technical background, would be able (even if he or she was willing and had appropriate tools) to fix his/her broken engine at the side of the road, just after a few teoretical lessons on the inner secrets of car engines, still makes me laugh.

Today I feel in the same situation trying to upload my pictures to my blog. 

Not that i am a total novice at uploading pictures. No, I uploaded tons of images to various power point  presentations, email letters, etc. But not to a blog…

During the weekend I wanted  to write a post about Scania’s gardens and to do that I needed to upload some photos, but no matter how hard I tried, I could either post thumbnails or – when I tried full size images, they came out so huge, as to show only tiny, totally inconsequential fragment of the image on screen… even though one photo somehow accidentally “uploaded itself” (?) to a category (???) … and … lo and behold… there it showed in its desired size. Aah, the miracles of technology!

Ok, I DID try not to be totally  tech-arrogant, so I read  – rather carefully – wordpress’s faq  posts about uploading images, and the forum discussions and did not find what I needed to find, because

1) the information I needed was not there

2) whatever information was there was written by  geeks to geeks in Geeklish (= geek English), not for non geeks in English, so, not being conversant in Geeklish, I did not understand most of it.

Thus  today  I contacted  technical support at wordpress to get some help and Mark responded  very promptly (I have to admit, giving the credit where the credit is due),  that wordpress has no autoresizing … and referred me to a faq question: how big can my images be….. which I previously  read and had no idea how to follow. Sigh….

This reminds me of another technology dilemma, which was faced by one of my former clients, a  small, but international manufacturer of a highly specialized, technologically cutting edge product, who hired me several years ago to solve some serious problems they were having with their  instruction manual and product training.

The instruction manual was written in an extreme Geeklish (  actually in geek-German  and  translated to Geeklish and geek-Japanese), by the company’s tech afficionados, so proud with the cutting edge technology they developed and used in their product, that….. the manual they have written enabled their most advanced competitors to copy their technology and bridge the gap from their to my client’s technological advancement level in almost no time at all, which, of course, was not exactly what the company’s management and shareholders had in mind businesswise.

But the same manual – and the tech-repair loaded training – was a constant subject of complaints of their clients, because, although their maintenace staff could fix the product if it malfunctioned with the help of the manual,  their operators  – the very people to which the manual was ostensibly being adressed – lacked enough technical background to be able to use the product  on the basis of those waaay too geeky instructions.

It took me  no time at all to covince company management to stop the manual asap and withdraw as many already distributed copies of it  from circulation as possible, as not to give away all of their secrets to their competitors….  but it took me a lot longer to convince those tech-geniuses to help me as SMEs (= subject matter experts) to completely redesign  it  and publish in several interactive versions (on line, on dvds, in different languages, not only those of the company owners, but those of the majority of clients) able to accomodate every kind of user with every level of technical background  from  – if need be – a practically illiterate (they did happen, particularly in Malaysia and Brazil) operator of a machine, in which this technological marvel of a product, critical to the quality of production,  was installed, to a  Ph.D in fysics at any  manufacturer of a machine using this product as one of its components – without either  boring to death the PhDs in fysics and similar or going over the heads of  any of the end users

Immediately after we were able to get these recommendations implemented, and the new interactive instruction tools were distributed, clients started calling with praise how pleased they were with the improvements and soon after  the company got a  public endorsement  – at the largest relevant technology fair in the world – from several largest manufacturers of those machines that used my client’s product as a component, not only for the technological advancement of their product, but for “extraordinary customer friendliness” of  their product training and interactive instruction tools. The sales’ levels and company’s profits shot up and stayed up for almost three years…. until their techies – left again to their own devices – managed to ruin the “extraordinary customer friendliness” of  the company’s new and improved products’ instruction tools, once again reducing them to – incompregensible for most end users –  techno-gobbledygook. And the sales responded accordingly: they fell.

Geeesh,  will they ever learn????

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