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Sunday, 22 May 2016

Macdonald's - Fiend or Friend

Macdonald – originally Scottish Gaelic meaning son of world ruler. 
Macdonald’s - the world's largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, serving around 68 million customers daily in 119 countries across more than 36,000 outlets. Wikipedia

I’ve always hated Macdonald’s, it’s food, it’s plastic interior and its schleppy clientele.  And yet, when refuge is needed in the most mundane and perverse of circumstances, it’s always been there.  When our family was young and we were on the road and inclement weather prevented access to playgrounds and picnic areas, it was to Macdonald’s we’d often go for a break.  The kids would stuff pieces of fried food in their mouths before escaping to the Playplace. 
It was then that my wife and I would finally get a break to share a coffee and discuss whatever heavy and depressing matter with which we were forced to cope. 
There was the Sunday we started on our camping trip from Amsterdam and no grocery store or restaurant was open and the only nutritional sustenance could be found in the form of candy bars at a local gas station.  Then, we saw Macdonald’s, an oasis in the middle of the desert, with about a hundred bikes locked to the far from sufficient bicycle stand; food for our bellies and relief from the cries of anguish from our children.
Macdonald's Toykyo
There was the time we’d journeyed into Tokyo instead of waiting at the airport during a 12-hour layover.  We couldn’t find anywhere to eat and then, there it was, Macdonald’s.  With interior that had wood panelling and tiny chairs and tables, it looked nothing like its North American counterpart.  Yet,  
it provided a similar version of crappy, greasy, fatty food and we were very grateful.
After a visit to the night market in Hong Kong, the only restaurants we could find were of the exclusive Chinese variety where no one spoke English and no English menu was available.  The unintelligible menu could provide anything from Szechuan chicken to chicken feet to pigs’ knuckles.  With three cranky children, we did not want to take chances.  And there it was, the quietest Macdonald’s I have ever entered.  It was filled with a group of deaf people talking to those next to them and across the room with equal deftness and equal silence. 
When the kids were older and we’d learned to plan for Sunday closures in Europe, there was that constant search for internet and our recently acquired need to maintain contact with all those we’d left at home.  Our answer?  You guessed it, Macdonald’s. 
In case you don't have a laptop
The European version offered the CafĂ© far ahead of its North American counterpart with an appearance that was more like a Starbucks than a Macdonald’s.  It offered expressos, cappuccinos and Americanos and yes, free Wifi. 
In a Macdonald’s, just outside the centre of town Ghent, our children were bitterly disappointed when they discovered that the internet wasn’t working.   I complained to one of the clerks who notified the manager who got on a ladder, made adjustments to a cable located under the ceiling tiles and voila, my children were happy. 
Then, there was Budapest.  I was leading a group of students on a trip through Eastern Europe and had been rather uncustomarily, left on my own.  I toured the National Art Gallery and needed a break.  For some reason, I got it into my head that I should Skype my wife.  To say that she was a little surprised and concerned to receive a call from me at 4:00 a.m. would be an understatement.  Nevertheless, I was able to calm her down and enjoy a little chat before heading out and “leading” again. 
When we arrived in Westlock on our drive from Slave Lake to Edmonton the other day, I greatly really wanted a coffee.  My wife and I went up to the new electronic board at Macdonald’s where you could order a custom burger or . . . an expresso and Americano, both very strong and very good.  In fact, when CBC Edmonton had a blind taste test for the best coffee available from a chain restaurant, it wasn’t Tim Horton’s or Second Cup or Starbucks who won.  It was Macdonald’s. 

So, even though I hate it, I keep going back, if not for the food, the good coffee and free internet.  Damn you Macdonald’s. 

Monday, 2 May 2016

Disrupted: Where do you go when your job no longer exists?

Disrupted: interrupt (an event, activity, or process) by causing a disturbance or problem.

“Beached White Male.”  That was the cover story of a Newsweek article back in April 2011 subtitled “ He had a big job, big office, big bonus.  Now he’s all washed up and doesn’t have a freakin’ prayer.”

Dan Lyons became one of these “white males” back in 2013 when Newsweek fired him as their technology editor.  His wife had recently quit her teaching job after a bout of debilitating migraine headaches.  Both she and their the eight-year-old twins were now dependent on him finding work.  Fortunately, he found it writing a blog about San Francisco start-ups.  The huge volume of cash being thrown at start-ups without promise of a profit margin made Dan believe that the market was on the verge of a melt-down.  In the meantime, he wanted in on the action 
He applied to a number of start-ups and was hired by by Dharmesh Shah (CTO) and Brian Halligan (CEO) of Hubspot conveniently located in Cambridge, Massachusetts where his family then resided.  When he introduces himself to the receptionist on his first day of work, she has no knowledge of who he was or why he was there.  In vain, she tries to contact both Dharmesh and Brian.  Then, she finds Zach, a twenty-something marketing employee who reminds Dan of the interns they hired back in his days at Fortune Magazine and Newsweek.  Zach shows him around the “office” which is an open space filled with standing desks with large flat-screen monitors.  Employees fire nerf-gun projectiles from behind some of these desks; foosball machines are scattered around the premises; dogs wander the hallways: a wall of candy is a source of pride and sustenance for all; beer is there for the taking; and meeting rooms named after Red Sox players. Zach draws the company org chart up on a whiteboard where Dan discovers that Zach name is located above his own.  “Does that mean you’re my boss?” he asks.  “We don’t like to use that term,” he replies.  “But, in essence, yes.”
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck, goes a little voice in Dan’s head, the same little voice that tells him he should quit now.  But, he doesn’t.  Instead, he’s introduced to a blur of Ashleys, Amandas, Brittanys and Courtneys who he realizes are exactly half his age.  His fellow marketing bloggers are Marcia, Jan and Ashley who use words like totemagotes and awesomesauce.  The animosity between Dan and the girls reaches a point where he's relegated to the war room.  That's where all the marketing calls are made by the bros drinking beer, yelling into phones and making a cacophony of noise that would rival the Bangladeshi textile machines that once filled the premises.  
Not only is there a full generation between him and the other employees but none share his journalist's critical, cynical view of the world.  Dharmesh has written a culture code for Hubspot that uses the acronym, “H.U.M.B.L.E.” that stands for Humble, Effective, Adaptable, Remarkable, and Transparent.  And the employees actually take this seriously.  And they were willing to trade decent pay for a wall of candy, free beer, a “fun” working environment and the possibility of “graduation” at any moment.  That was their term for having been fired.  Dan can find no one who questions this along with him.  
Fortunately though, there was a Deus Ex Machina.  Dan had authored “Fake Steve”, a blog spoofing on the explosive temper and tyrannical vagaries of the black turtle necked icon, Steve Jobs.  Its readership had exceeded a million followers and so, after writing the book, he’d written a movie script that had been given serious consideration by a studio in Hollywood and then shelved.  The outcome of his efforts was an agent who was also the agent for Mike Judge, creator and executive producer of the television series, “Silicon Valley.”  Long story short, Dan is hired by Mike to write for the series, quits Hubspot and writes "Disrupted" for which I am very grateful.
I had no idea what the average start-ups are all about.  It would seem they’re a creation of a few investors with a lot of money looking for the next “Google” or “Facebook.”  However, behind the great idea and the high market valuation is nothing.  At the end of last year, Hubspot was valued at $1.7 billion yet had never turned a profit and was unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.  Twitter, worth a little over $10 billion also, has never turned a profit, yet Chrysler, a company with about the same market value as Twitter posted profits of $410 million.  And that's down 40% from 2014.  It’s crazy.  
And so the reason for the book.  To enlighten us as to the craziness behind the new internet bubble.  Many of these companies are worthless yet, an investment community searching for that quick buck believe they have found their panacea in the start-up crap shoot.  I certainly hope not much of my pension fund or investments are tied up in any of those.
Dan's life and the life of all print journalists have certainly been disrupted.  My fear is that,  this new economy of automation, outsourcing and algorithms will eventually disrupt my life as well.