There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

Why we no longer walk down the hall

While thinking about my corporate and post-corporate career, I have realized that my experiences today are much different than they were in the 1980s.

Before explaining what these differences are, I should note that there are three reasons for this.

  • One is due to my personal experiences. When I initially graduated from college, I worked for small companies. As time went on, I began working for, and eventually working with, many large multinational companies. This of course influenced my experiences.
  • The second reason is the recent blip due to COVID-19.
  • The third reason is a number of business and technological changes that have impacted everyone, not just me, since the 1980s.

With those caveats, I’ll discuss my observations on changes from the 1980s to the 2020s.

In the 1980s and 1990s, if I had a question for someone in my company, I could usually just walk down the hall and ask my question. Just about everyone in the company that I would deal with was located in a single building.

1937 image of the Division of Classification and Cataloging, National Archives, United States. By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15775797

It got a little more complex in the early 1990s, when I worked for a poster company and the affiliated novelty goods company was in a separate building down the street. Later in that same decade, my new employer Printrak started “the Irvine experiment” and moved a bunch of us to an office closer to Orange County’s technical hub; this meant that I was dealing with people in two different cities, about ten miles apart.

Things really accelerated when I became a product manager. Printrak had previously gone on an acquisition spree, so the product managers in the Irvine office were dealing with a parallel set of product managers in an office in Boulder, Colorado. Yet the entities remained separate – so much so that when Safran acquired the California operations of the former Printrak several years later, the Colorado operations were excluded from the acquisition.

By the time Motorola acquired Printrak in late 2000, things got even more complicated. At one point, I was located in Irvine, managing a product that was being developed in Irvine and Anaheim, designed to work with products being designed in Boulder, and all managed from faraway Schaumburg, Illinois. These impacts lessened somewhat when the Irvine office was closed, the Irvine workers moved back to Anaheim, and we interacted less and less with the Boulder people. But there was still the need to communicate with Motorola headquarters in Schaumburg, and with other Motorola offices throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Then in 2009, the Anaheim operations were acquired by a company in Tacoma, Washington, which was itself a subsidiary of a French firm. For me, this was when interactions with people outside of my physical office became more frequent. Up until this point, everyone in my department (proposals, product management, proposals again) was for the most part in the same physical location. Once MorphoTrak was created, however, single departments would span multiple offices, and I would be in Anaheim working on a project with coworkers in Tacoma, or perhaps traveling to Tacoma to work on a particular project.

This practice of having single departments span multiple locations continued throughout my time at MorphoTrak and IDEMIA. After leaving Proposals for the second time, my new department had coworkers in three separate locations. I then moved to a two-person department in which I was in Anaheim, California, and my supervisor was in Billerica, Massachusetts. (In the nearly three years that I worked for him, I probably physically met him about a dozen times. Contrast this to my prior supervisor, who was right down the hall for me.) In my final months at IDEMIA, I worked in a department with four people in four different locations. (Partially due to COVID, I don’t think that the four of us were ever in the same room.)

As an independent contractor, I work with both large and small clients. Three of my clients are large multinational firms, and there are issues dealing with them and their many locations.

This came home for me a little while ago, when I was working with a large multinational client on a particular project. This project required physical signatures (sorry, no DocuSign here), and therefore the project planning required several days to send a physical document from one of the client’s locations to another and back again.

If this had been 1985, I could have walked down the hall to get that signature.

So what happened to Thomas Brothers, anyway?

I just wrote a post that talked about job hunting circa 1994. Because it was 1994, job hunting involved the use of a Thomas Brothers guide.

For those who didn’t know who the Thomas brothers were, I helpfully provided a link to an LAist article from 2018 entitled “Thomas Guide Maps: The Rise And Fall of LA’s Directional Holy Grail.”

As the article notes, Thomas Brothers books, with their grid representations of streets in southern California, were a necessity here in the late 20th century. Toward the end of the century, you could go to your local Costco and see stacks upon stacks of books for San Bernardino/Riverside Counties, Los Angeles/Orange Counties, and other combinations. If you wanted to go somewhere, such as a job interview in another city, out came the Thomas Brothers guide.

Or, in the 1990s, the Thomas Brothers CD. As technology advanced, Thomas Brothers advanced with it, and provided its maps on compact discs that you could insert into your desktop computer – or even into your laptop computer!

But despite its technology advances, Thomas Brothers couldn’t advance fast enough. Companies were coming up with in-dash car navigation systems that would show maps on a screen in the car, and services such as Mapquest were displaying maps on your computer even if you didn’t have the appropriate CD.

So in 1998, Thomas Brothers sold itself to Rand McNally. It sounded like a winning move, provided the small local company with the big resources of map giant Rand McNally.

But it didn’t work out that way. According to Wikipedia, Rand McNally followed the innovation curve of other companies and outsourced cartography duties to Bangalore, India. Map data itself is acquired from outside companies such as Here (formerly Navteq). By 2009, the Thomas Brother office in Irvine was closed completely.

But you can still get Thomas Maps – from a guy named Larry Thomas (no known relation to George Coupland Thomas or his brothers) who distributes maps from Rand McNally and other firms. For example, Larry offers the LOS ANGELES/ORANGE THOMAS GUIDE 55TH EDITION 2019. And he also offers (for almost $58) the SAN BERNARDINO CUSTOM MAP BOOK ONLY 2017, but with this important caveat:

This is not a Thomas Brothers product  they no longer make the Riverside  and San Bernardino Thomas guides.  This a new San Bernardino  and Victorville, Barstow, and all of San Bernardino county

Layoffs, 1991 versus 2020

Since I recently wrote about the fact that I blog here, I guess I should actually blog here.

And I have a lot to blog about.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I am now a free agent – because it sounds better to say “I am now a free agent” than to say “I was laid off in the middle a pandemic because fewer people are buying my (former) company’s services.”

I’ve been laid off before, but it’s been a while since I’ve been laid off. And things have changed dramatically.

During my last layoff in 1991, one of the first things that I did was to go to the Los Angeles Times and the brand new newspaper, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (which was the result of a 1990 merger between the Ontario Daily Report and the Pomona Progress-Bulletin). Both newspapers had classified ad sections, and the one in the Los Angeles Times was especially huge. I can’t remember all of the ads that I saw, but I do remember seeing one ad in the Los Angeles Time that caused me to go to my Macintosh computer, type a cover letter and a resume, print both on a dot matrix printer (actually, I may have pre-printed the resume at a Kinko’s), put both in an envelope, put a stamp on the envelope, and mail the letter to an address in Monterey Park. I got that particular job.

Open post office box in a post office, filled with mail.
Funny, I don’t see any snails here.

Things are a bit different today. I do have a better quality printer, but I’m not sure where we keep our stamps.

And there are other changes.

TaskHow we did it in 1991How we did it in 2020
Finding out about jobsPrinted newspapersLinkedIn, public and private job websites, company websites
Applying for jobsSending a letter through the mail, filling out a job applicationMostly through websites, some of which can convert PDF resumes into web form responses
Providing contact informationStreet address or PO box, home phone numberPersonal email account, “professional” email account, cell phone, Google Voice number, street address/PO box, or perhaps even a home phone number (if you still have a home phone)
NetworkingTelephone, mail, group or personal gatheringsIf a pandemic happens to be in full force, group or personal gatherings are out. However, you can still use “snail mail” or any variety of telephone or Google Voice-like phone line, or email, or LinkedIn, or many other social services (over the last three days I’ve also used Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, this blog, text messages and a webinar).
Researching a prospective employerIf you don’t already have contacts, or printed material on the company, you can always go to the library.Libraries may be closed during a pandemic, but you’re not out of luck. For a starting point, I used a technique that I happened to use frequently in my old corporate strategy job, including visits to the company website; online services such as Bloomberg, Crunchbase, LinkedIn, and Owler; and articles and press releases about the company. These are easily found online today via services such as Google, which did not exist in 1991. (Heck, Yahoo did not exist in 1991. AOL for Windows did not exist in 1991.)
Layoffs, 1991 versus 2020

Of course, a tool is not a way of life. Regardless of the tools you use or don’t use, you still have a goal of making a match between an employer who will value you while you value the employer.

And I don’t see that changing any time soon.

This is not your father’s driver’s ed class

Way back in the 1970s, I made the decision NOT to take driver’s ed at my high school, opting for a private class instead. The reason? I wanted to take a physics class.

Not too long thereafter, my high school – and many others – quit offering driver’s ed in school. This meant that if you wanted to learn how to drive, you had to go outside high school and pay someone to do the service.

That’s changing in Akron, Ohio, where in-school driver’s ed is being offered again. But it’s being offered after school, and you have to pay to take the class. (Scholarships are available.)

But for me, the really interesting part is WHY driver’s ed is being offered.

Some businesses told the district that students’ lack of a license was a deal breaker when it came to hiring, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

Students “are unable to even get their foot in the door if they don’t have their driver’s license,” Rachel Tecca, executive director of Akron’s College and Career Academies, told the paper.

Now there are some cities where you CAN get a job without a driver’s license. I proved this after graduating from college in Portland, Oregon and working temp jobs throughout the city before landing a permanent job. Thank you, TriMet.

However, said permanent job was in Rancho Cucamonga, California, which meant that I needed a car once I moved from Oregon to California.

Driving is not a requirement. (Yet.)

Many moons ago, I wrote a post entitled “Driving is not a crime. (Yet.)” At the time, the supposed crime would be the criminal of HUMAN driving, on the grounds that AI driving will be (and perhaps already is) much safer than driving by carbon-based life forms.

However, I wrote that post before the Democratic victories in the 2018 mid-term elections that brought a number of “Green New Deal” types into government. For those people, ANY type of driving should be discouraged.

Obviously, any such move would be vehemently opposed by the automobile manufacturers. Because if people aren’t going to drive, they’ll have no need for cars, right?


Well, perhaps they will. Alert: it’s time for a “those wacky Japanese” story.

Car-sharing service operator Orix Auto Corp. couldn’t figure out what certain customers were doing with its rental cars.

The service, with 230,000 registered users, realized around summer 2018 that some people who rented vehicles never actually drove them.

Orix was not the only one to notice this, so the companies began to investigate what people were actually doing with their cars.

One respondent to the company’s survey said they rented vehicles to nap in or use for a workspace. Another person stored bags and other personal belongings in the rental car when nearby coin lockers were full.

Because a car can be rented for as short a time as 30 minutes, for only a few dollars, these types of uses made sense.

And this isn’t just something that those wacky Japanese would do. There are certainly urban areas of the United States that could use this service, and even rural areas – or especially rural areas – would benefit from this also.

I personally think that it’s important to note that these extreme ways of getting personal space are happening at the exact same time that companies are moving from offices to cubicles to “open office” environments. I am consistently thankful that I don’t work in an open office arrangement, because if I did, I’d probably flee to my car during lunch for a bit of peace and quiet.

And if I didn’t own a car, perhaps I’d rent one for that purpose.

Always remember…who?



It was 1986.

Back in 1986, mergers that eliminated huge swaths of the acquired company were still uncommon.

When an employee of an acquired company got laid off in 1986, there was huge shock that such a thing could ever happen.

And back in 1986, people would go to their local bank branch to do business with their bank.

While we were starting to see the ability for a bank customer to take an ATM card to another branch across town, or even on the other side of the state, people still associated “banking” with going to a physical location. Example: when I moved to California, I started banking with Wells Fargo because it had a branch near my apartment. I felt very strange when that branch closed, and I had to go to a branch in a grocery store. I no longer bank with Wells Fargo, but things have come full circle, and Wells Fargo now has a branch a couple of hundred feet south of its original branch by my old 1980s apartment.

Speaking of Wells Fargo, it acquired another bank in 1986 – Crocker National Bank. And yes, the move clearly had effects on employees. However, the unified Wells Fargo had another pressing concern – how would Wells Fargo get former Crocker National Bank customers to keep going to their local bank branch, now that it had a funny name and a stagecoach on the front of the building?

Wells Fargo had a solution – the elevation of Charles Crocker to business sainthood.

Wells Fargo commercials suddenly touted the accomplishments of TWO nineteenth century businessmen – Henry Wells and Charles Crocker. They were always cited in that order, but Crocker was always cited.

For a time.

But after a while, after the memories of former Crocker National Bank customers had faded a bit, the advertising campaign stopped, and Charles Crocker receded from public view. So much so that I was unable to locate a Henry Wells & Charles Crocker advertisement to include in this post.

Things have changed a bit. We’ve gotten used to the fact that an acquisition results in dislocation, and the notion of company loyalty that still prevailed in the 1980s has faded along with that realization.

But every acquisition includes transition planning.

This is a test.

IDEMIA tymshft

Whom To Leave Behind – a new version of the same old Lifeboat

This really belongs on Bob Hunt’s Thoughts and Prayers for the Faithful, but I’ll take a crack at this myself from the perspective of time.

On Google Plus, Joyce Donahue shared a Daily Kos story about a school district who used a questionable instructional exercise.

A middle school assignment asking children to play God and choose who gets to live or die—based solely on demographics—has parents demanding an explanation from a northeast Ohio school district this week. The earth is doomed for destruction, the worksheet reads, and only eight people (who are apparently all based in the United States, because ‘Merica) can fit on a spaceship bound for the safety of another planet—which means four must die. The paper then asks the students which eight they’d save, before coming to a group consensus on the final passenger list.

In “Whom To Leave Behind,” the participants are supposed to choose the lucky eight by weighing which of the following twelve people are most deserving to live, and which of them might as well die.

An accountant with a substance abuse problem
A militant African-American medical student
A 33-year-old female Native American manager who does not speak English
The accountant’s pregnant wife
A famous novelist with a physical disability
A 21-year-old female who is a Muslim international student
A Hispanic clergyman who is against homosexuality
A female movie star who was recently the victim of a sexual assault
A racist, armed police officer who has been accused of using excessive force
A homosexual male who is a professional athlete
An Asian, orphaned 12-year-old boy
A 60-year-old Jewish university administrator

There is no right or wrong answer in such an exercise. The point is for the group to come to a consensus on a decision.

Daily Kos was horrified.

Honestly, whatever the intention may be, the impact of this assignment toes a very strange, and dangerous, line, especially in today’s Trumpian climate of blatant bigotry.


But those of you with a historical memory will realize that “Whom To Leave Behind” is nothing new. And it wasn’t always the evil right-wing fascists that were pushing such morally objectionable ideas. Back in the 1980s, the evangelical Christian community was upset about the game “Lifeboat,” which was obviously a plot by the evil left-wing Communist liberals to get more babies to be aborted or to get decrepit people to be euthanized. Provocative Christian musician Steve Taylor even wrote a song and released a video about it:

Taylor, who is probably the best satirist since Randy Newman, drove the point home by having a bunch of kids sing the song’s chorus:

Throw over grandpa ’cause he’s getting pretty old
Throw out the baby or we’ll all be catching it’s cold
Throw over fatty and we’ll see if she can float
Throw out the retard, and they won’t be rocking the boat

When Taylor released the video, I’m sure a lot of people were convinced that the wingnut Christians were making the whole thing up. But it’s easy enough to find examples of the Lifeboat exercise even today. Wonderful corporate team-building exercise…right?

But this is my favorite example – playing “Lifeboat” at a children’s hospital school where the participants may be facing death themselves. This version has a nice wrinkle in which the participants actually role play the people in the lifeboat. So, after the group makes its decision on whom to murder, the “game” ends as follows:

And then, most importantly, the person who is to be sacrificed has to be able to articulate why he or she was chosen, and in particular, the principle that was used to make that choice.

In other words, the kid has to say why he or she should die.

Regardless of the flavor of the game or the name given it, the emphasis on this wonderful ethics exercise is to value rank people, putting some below the line and determining that they do not deserve to live. But if you watch the Steve Taylor video, you’ll see that the kids come up with their own solution – one with which the Daily Kos writer would heartily agree.

They made the boat bigger so that EVERYONE could fit.

P.S. For those who followed my “provocative” link above and read about Steve Taylor’s song “I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good,” I encourage you to read this other post, which not only touches on the song “Jim Morrison’s Grave,” but also on Taylor’s thoughts on Kurt Cobain.

What are these disc thingies, anyway?

At work, I moved into my current office in the autumn of 2015. We’re moving some of our offices around, and mine is one of them, so I’m cleaning out some old stuff – business cards of people who have switched jobs, business cards for companies that no longer exist, and (sadly) a business card for someone who passed away a couple of years ago.

Oh, and I found a whole bunch of these things.


For my younger readers, I should explain that these cases hold something known as “compact discs.” You see, back before iTunes or Amazon Music or any of those services, if you wanted to buy music, you would actually have to go to a physical store (kinda like a 7 Eleven, but these stores had names like “Tower Records” and “Licorice Pizza”), get a physical item like a compact disc or a tape or a vinyl platter, take it home (or, in some cases, to your car), insert the physical item into a player, and play the music that way.

For most of my life, that’s the way we did things. The physical media changed from time to time, but the concept pretty much stayed the same. I have long since thrown away most of my vinyl records and all of my cassette tapes, but I’ve retained most of my CDs.

And, for the last three years, several of my CDs have been sitting in an office drawer, untouched.

Incidentally, I do have to correct one statement that I made above. At least two of these cases do NOT hold a compact disc. Somewhere along the line, I lost my disc of Air’s “Moon Safari,” but I’m saving the case, on the off chance that I will find it at some point. The other missing CD is Ontario Emperor’s “Or a Little Faster,” which may also be floating around somewhere. (But society would agree that the Air CD is a greater loss.)

Oh, and regarding the two CDs at the top of the stacks:

Yes, Maria (Maria is a young Italian woman), I do have a CD of “that old guy” Zucchero.

And yes, everyone else, I do own a Ray Stevens CD. And “In the Mood” is truly a classic. (Sadly, the CD does not include “Misty,” which is a comedy classic in its own right.)

No, you CAN’T cut yourself off from the world. It’s not allowed.

Since long before the time of Henry David Thoreau, people have had the desire to venture away from their usual surroundings. In the modern age, this has become more important, as modern people seek to temporarily rid themselves from the distractions of 21st century living.

But (in an article shared by Alex Scrivener) Reason magazine points out Penn State (which has had its own issues of late) thinks that such ventures are dangerous.

The student “Outing Club,” which has gone backpacking, kayaking, and hiking in state parks over the course of its 98-year-existence, will no longer be allowed to host outdoor events after administrators conducted a risk assessment….

A key issue for administrators was that the Outing Club frequently visit locations with poor cell phone coverage. This wasn’t an issue during the Coolidge administration, but now that cell phones exist, students are apparently expected to remain glued to them at all times.

I’ll grant that Reason has a political axe to grind, so I consulted other sources, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – and didn’t feel much better.

Ms. Powers said the university conducted reviews of all campus recreation-supported student groups — 76 sport and three outdoor recreation organizations — to evaluate student safety risks and produce assessment reports. She declined to provide a copy of the assessment report for the Outing Club, saying it is not a public document.

The other two outdoor recreation organizations, the Nittany Grotto Caving Club and the Nittany Divers SCUBA Club, were also judged too risky and directed to end trip offerings. Club sports that passed the risk review include the Archery Club, Boxing Club, Alpine Ski Racing Club and Rifle Club.

While I’m sure that Reason magazine was inwardly pleased that the Rifle Club wasn’t considered dangerous, you have to wonder about these designations – especially since (for the most part) it is presumed that adults are engaging in hiking, scuba, and caving.

But one thing is certain, according to the current president of the Outing Club:

The Outing Club has been through many changes in its 98-year history….

Post Navigation