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On Being a Linchpin

Seth Godin - LinchpinThe highest level of management I’ve reached in my career is Operations Manager. It was a tough job, but I was successful. I was good at it. And it was an eye-opening experience for me.

When I started, I had nothing to go on but instinct, and as it turns out my instincts were good. The owner of the company was old school, all numbers. He was cut-throat – making the employees “happy” and “motivated” was my job, no matter what dumb-ass rule or restriction he put into place.

In other words, he didn’t give a fuck. He just wanted people to comply, and if you didn’t, you were out. He’ll find someone else.

Why do I bring this up? I am reading Linchpin by Seth Godin. It is a life-changing book, and not just because it brings to light shit I’ve suspected and known for years. The premise is that American business has trained us to be factory workers; a cog in the wheel so to speak, and business wants it that way. Everything from the creation of Public Schools (in their current form) at the turn of the century on down to the Hierarchical command-and-control business model has been designed to turn us into compliant factory workers. Show up on time, do your work, keep your mouth shut, and keep your head down. Public School in particular, is one giant exercise in learning how to comply. Think about it.

I’ve never fit into that model. I have always had a rebellious spirit, always had a place in my heart for iconoclasts and provocateurs, titles I can only dream of applying to myself someday.

All too often business people “lead” using fear and intimidation, and all too often people are afraid and intimidated. I don’t play that game. I am no one’s puppet. I think for myself.

In my current job, I have fired off e-mails, made phone calls, sent IM’s asking for why some asshole in our company (an equal, no less) is saying “no” to our customers when they should be saying “yes”. I’ve sent countless e-mails at 2 AM suggesting better ways of doing things, some of which go against our current practices. I have had numerous conversations about staying ahead of all my peers in my career development. I ask countless questions to make sure that the delivery of my next assignment is nothing less than perfect. This is what Godin refers to as my “art”. Kind of a cheesy concept if you ask me, but I understand where he is going with it. I am an artist. Artists are passionate; they take risks. All good artists go against the grain.

One would think, after hearing what I just described, you might say, “Oh well, damn Bryan, I want you to come work for me!”

Not most of my bosses throughout my career. Usually, my bosses think I’m a pain in the ass. Why? Because they usually want me to just show up on time, do my work, keep my mouth shut, and keep my head down, because thinking and working outside the box is a risk. With risk brings attention and (deep breath in), the “R” word . . . responsibility. If I take risks, according to our command-and-control expectations, it means that if something goes wrong, my boss has to answer for it, so it’s this Domino cancer-effect of everyone in the chain not wanting to go against the top-dog. If I take a risk and get burned, it’s my ass, then my bosses’ ass for not “controlling” me, ad infinitum until everyone’s whipped into submission. . . .

Show up on time, do your work, keep your mouth shut, and keep your head down.

But, let me tell you this, bosses and company owners: You want a guy like me. Do you really want a carbon-copy asshole just like the last person in that slot?

If you do, it’s quite possible you could be in, what Seth Godin calls, “a race to the bottom”. If you are running a cookie-cutter business where you just have cogs in your company, you are attempting to provide an ordinary service, and you are competing with others who are also ordinary. The only way of competing at “ordinary” is to be more ordinary (read: inexpensive) than the next asshole offering the same shit as you are. You want to be remarkable (another Godin word), and to be remarkable you need to be different.

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Bryan’s Cigar List

Want to know what real men smoke? Well, your brother Bryan is here to help.

I’ve smoked a wide array of cigars. And here are some of my favorites. I’ll order these in 3 price grades: Low  ($6 – $15 per cigar),  Mid ($15 – $20 per cigar), and Pretentious Douche ($21+ per cigar). Except for my take on the Davidoff, the descriptions are taken from the cigar’s official websites:

Low:

  1. Ashton 8-9-8 – (Mild) Ashton 8-9-8 Natural cigars are blended with only the most select, fully-aged Dominican tobaccos capped in silky, sweet-smelling Connecticut Shade wrappers. Patiently handcrafted at Tabacalera A. Fuente in the Dominican Republic, Ashton cigars are marvelously mellow and creamy for a truly luxurious smoke.
  2. Kristoff Ligero Robusto – (Medium) Assembled with only the finest master blenders of cigars today, the Kristoff Cigars are made with the spirit of Cuban Cigar making in mind. The entire line is fashioned with only the best Cuban-Seed tobacco from Nicaragua. The wrappers are Habano Cuban-seed. The Fillers and binders are both Nicaraguan and Dominican. Because of the quality of the construction and tobacco used in making the Kristoff line of Cigars, each cigar is a model of cigar perfection. The wrappers are smooth – yet have a rustic, flavorful look. The Corojo Kristoff has a corojo wrapper and the Maduro Kristoff has a Brazilian wrapper. Most avid cigar smokers taste coffee, pepper, and toffee in these cigars. The draw is nice and the burn on the cigar is even. These are truly great cigars that are meant for aficionados. A true taste of cuba in cigar legal in the USA!
  3. Oliva Connecticut Series Torpedo – (Mild) Oliva Reserve Connecticut cigars offer you the rich, earthy flavor of prime Nicaraguan longfiller tobaccos balanced by a silky, mild-tasting Connecticut wrapper. Starting with a mellow, nutty base, the smoke is incredibly creamy, then smoothly builds into a pastiche of sweet wood flavors, notes of coffee and a light dash of pepper in the mix. Presented in 5 popular shapes, these are great ‘start your day’ cigars that can be enjoyed anytime. One of Oliva’s best cigars to-date. Order some now.

Mid:

  1. Ashton VSG Torpedo – (Medium) For those who desire a powerful and intoxicating flavor with a complex rich finish, look no further than the Ashton VSG. The VSG is blended exclusively for Ashton by Carlos Fuente Jr. using 4 to 5 year old aged Dominican tobacco taken from the finest and most fertile plants. The distinct flavor of VSG comes from its wrapper grown on a private estate in Ecuador owned by the Oliva family where this proprietary wrapper leaf is grown for the Fuente Family exclusively for Ashton VSG. The leaf is taken from the higher primings and matures slowly by sunlight filtered through the region¹s natural cloud covering. The result is the rich intoxicating wrapper which has made the Ashton VSG the most in demand cigar on the market today.
  2. Rocky Patel Decade Torpedo – (Medium) Perfection takes time. For the Rocky Patel Decade, it’s the perfect blend 10 years in the making. The silky Decade showcases a gorgeous, dark Sumatra wrapper surrounding a secret blend featuring only the finest tobaccos in the world. The result is a rich and toasty medium- to full-body smoking experience. Complexity, balance and elegance earned the Rocky Patel Decade ratings of 91, 92, 93 and 95 points – an instant classic.

Pretentious Douche:

  1. Ashton ESG 22-Year Salute Torpedo – (Medium) For twenty years, Ashton has worked tirelessly to produce one of the highest quality, most consistent cigars that are sold anywhere. To celebrate twenty
    consecutive years of increased sales and overall growth, Robert Levin and Carlos Fuente Jr. have teamed up to create the Ashton Estate Sun Grown, or ESG for short. Such a special occasion called for a very special cigar. The ESG uses a unique Dominican wrapper grown on the Chateau de la Fuente farm in the Dominican Republic. This wrapper has never been used on any other cigar. The blend is the creation of Carlos Fuente Jr. who is a master blender and has created the most sought after cigars in the world. With ESG the bar has been raised once again.
  2. Davidoff Millenium Blend Churchill – (Mild-Medium) FUCKING EXQUISITE!

As you can see, Ashton is one of my favorites.

All of the above are great for any occasion, but I only occasionally smoke the “Pretentious Douche” category for obvious reasons.

All of the above also have some good tastes when combined with various spirits. Whiskey, Scotch, or Wine are always good companion drinks. They cleanse the palette to allow for a more tasty smoke with each puff. Scotch in particular.

Speaking of which, my drink of choice as of late has been Scotch, about which you can expect a post coming up soon.

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Bryan’s One Word Game Review: Bioshock 2

Meh.

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Mass Effect 2: Even More Awesomer Than the First

Yes, I know “awesomer” isn’t a word.

I finished this one last weekend after being utterly addicted to it for a just over a week.

It’s from BioWare, so it’s all about the story.

I think the best part of the game is that you get engrossed in the story and your character. I know that sounds cheesy but aside from the combat, you get to be a Jack Bauer-James Bond-type character where you have to do some pretty bad ass things to get the job done.

There is a Paragon/Renegade system, like BioWare had in the first one, where Paragon actions are “good” actions, like letting someone go rather than killing them, or helping an alien in need, or Renegade actions, whereupon you kick someone out of a window for being a douche bag, or things of that nature. The more of each you do raises your Paragon or Renegade score and then that opens up more dialogue (story) options as you progress. But Bioware really seemed to take it the next level in this game where you will need to take renegade actions, which I think is more realistic than in the first Mass Effect.

Remember you are often dealing with the scum of the galaxy, so you deal with scum using . . . . let’s call it a . . . . “no nonsense” approach, as a Renegade (hint, hint). You have two members of your crew who have a nefarious past, and you are trying to gain their loyalty. As a matter of fact, most of the game is building the loyalty of your new crew. How else do you build the trust of a fellow renegade? By being one, you silly goof!

Jack (one of the characters with a nefarious past) is one of my favorite characters and there were several places in the game where she (yes, she) makes comments about your Renegade actions that make you really feel like a badass.

The plot centers around you recruiting a crew and building their loyalty, while working toward the end goal of fighting an enemy called “The Collectors.” Your crew all have a story and quests for exploration, but BioWare, as usual, has done a fantastic job of interweaving these crew-quests with the main quest-line, and I found myself riveted. Along the way you upgrade your armor, weapons, biotech, and ship. You do not need to upgrade your crew’s armor this time, which I found to be a pain in the ass in the first one.

You can choose one of six classes. I chose the Infiltrator class.

The combat is third-person squad-based, but don’t let the squad-based part of it scare you. There are three basic commands you can bind to shortcuts that make it easy and fun. You can also pause combat and queue actions. Getting used to it is a breeze, and my only advice is to use the usual suppress-and-flank tactics in third-person shooters. As an Infiltrator, it was so much fun to use your team as a distraction to suppress the enemy, sneak up on their flank and unload a rocket on them.

The progression system is “resource and looting”-based this time, where you have to attain a basic piece of equipment, and then go mining (which is a mini-game by itself) to increase four different types of minerals to upgrade your items. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you master it, you can really upgrade your items quickly.

I found the end-game quest to be fantastic. I found myself cheering. I don’t want to spoil anything, but take Jack with you on your team. She is quite the badass.

However, I did buy the Collectors edition and I was quite disappointed in the Normandy Crash Site quest. Big waste of time.

Overall, I really have no complaints about this game other than the Normandy Crash Site quest and the initial adjustments to the mining mini-game.

Superultrafantastic game.

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Reality TV Quick Reviews

Reality TV.  Mention that term just a few years ago, and people would stare at you like you just asked, “Does the Pope shit in the woods?”  But now, everyone knows about what that means.  One of the most mis-labeled monikers ever to make it onto TV.  Never mind, that was an idiotic statement on my part… this is television after all. It’s all idiotic.

So Producers have been falling all over themselves to make more of these shows for a number of reasons, namely they are cheap to produce, and there are millions of zombies that can’t get enough of them.  I’m lucky enough to have an amazing wife that eats this shit up.  Sometimes the worse it is, the better the show.

Personally, I hate them… all of them.  But to spend time with my wife, I occasionally sit through one.  Here is my take on just a few of these gems that are out there.  Most I have seen no more than once, but seriously, do you need to sit through any more than one to get the gist?

These are in no particular order.

The Real World – The Mac Daddy of reality TV… the one that started it all.  I think they’ve had 73 iterations of this one since, all with the same result: kids get drunk, screw and fight.
Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew – Same as The Real World, but these people were all once pseudo-celebrities that are older and uglier.
Intervention – A very depressing show about fucked up addicts, the fucked up family that raised them, who are now trying to fix it with cameras rolling. Intelligence eludes them.
The Real Housewives – A bunch of rich, spoiled, fake and plastic women with big breasts that can’t let go of the fact that they had the best prom dress 27 years before.
Survivor - Strangers go to a remote location, do idiotic activities called challenges, lose a bunch of weight, then stab each other in the back.
Ice Road Truckers – Truckers drive their trucks, on an ice road.  Sometimes they break down (the trucks and the truckers).  It’s fascinating.
American Idol – People that can’t sing and never could are fooled by their friends into thinking they can.  They get embarrassed and cry.
America’s Next Top Model - Emaciated girls try to avoid food and general nutrition while Tyra Banks boasts about how amazing she is.
The Bachelor - Some dude somehow gets to make out with 25 hot girls, it’s televised, and no one gets mad at him.
The Biggest Loser – Similar to America’s Next Top Model, but the contestants ate Tyra Banks.
America’s Got Talent – Bad grammar in the title, and the talent isn’t any gooder.
Wife Swap – Two married men show a complete stranger what an asshole he is married to.
The Simple Life – Two very rich, clueless and elitist heiresses live among commoners, and make their parents contemplate disowning them for simple stupidity.
The Apprentice – A very rich man gets to belittle and abuse potential employees in various ways… legally.
Big Brother – Much like The Real World, but they aren’t allowed to leave the house, nothing ever happens.
Jon & Kate Plus 8 – Two morons with eight children do anything they can to exploit said children, then act like bigger morons when the cameras aren’t taping them.
Dancing With The Stars – “Stars” in the title is debatable. It’s dancing with bad commentary and puns.
American Chopper – They build some bitchin’ bikes and fight the way most families wish they could.
Jersey Shore – Yes, another The Real World ripoff.  This time they stock the house with those that fail IQ tests.
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition – I think it’s the only show that has an ounce of sincerity. Granted most of the recipients of the new house foreclose within a year, but that’s beside the point. Feel good and cry, then turn off the TV.
The Hills – Yeah, it’s umm, like The Real World, but filled with attractive and extremely shallow people. Actually it’s scripted, too. Nothing based on reality here.
Top Chef - They cook.
Hogan Knows Best – It was Hulk Hogan, it was worth watching if you could get past his family, and Hulk Hogan.
Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica - Jessica Simpson proved to the world that she’s dumb as a box of recycled paper, and Nick proved that even with a wife as hot as Jessica, he’d rather cheat than talk to her the rest of his life.
Miami Ink – They tattoo people, in a tattoo parlor, and talk about tattoos.
The Surreal Life – More washed up pseudo-celebrities live together and easily show why they are washed up.
The Osbournes – The show that emasculated the frontman from Black Sabbath while also raising his stock on death pools everywhere.
Rock of Love – It’s The Bachelor, but the bachelor is a rocker, and the women are sluts.
Shear Genius – The exciting and emotional world… of cutting hair.
Flavor Of Love – Flavor Flav and a pack of beasts look for love in horrific displays of affection.
The Bad Girls Club – It’s the prequel for The Real Housewives, but the girls aren’t hot and they think they are.
Hell’s Kitchen – It’s Top Chef, but the host is an asshole.
Deadliest Catch – They fish for crabs in situations that make me extremely glad to work in computers.
Little People, Big World – A family of little people. Exploitation or not, they’re midgets!
The Amazing Race – Teams race around the world and we get to watch them stress out and hate each other.
Cathouse - A camera inside a brothel. Hello? This quickly ruins any fantasy you ever had about brothels.
Sunset Tan – The exciting, riveting and heart-wrenching world of a tanning salon.
Pitchmen - The behind the scenes life of two famous TV sales guys, until one of them croaks.  Too soon?
America’s Most Smartest Model - I must stress that I did not make this up, or the title. It exists. Look it up.
Say Yes To The Dress – Wedding gown shopping. Are there really that many women out there that would watch a show on this? I’ve always heard it’s one of the most stressful parts of the wedding for a woman… why watch this??
Supernanny - A British woman enters a home and disciplines bad children, legally. Actually, the parents should be the ones disciplined.
Toddlers & Tiaras – Jon and Kate have nothing on these horrific parents.
Hoarders - Pretty much like Intervention, although the drug of choice is a houseful of junk.
30 Days - It’s witness relocation without committing a crime first.
Cake Boss - A bakery?  Hell, they did it for a tanning salon, a barber and a tattoo parlor, why the fuck not?
Dr. 90210 – Plastic surgery reality. Most of the above shows already covered this one.
Hammertime - MC Hammer, but no big pants.
Bridezillas - Uber bitch potential brides. The groom should watch before saying “I do.”

There are so many more.  A completely obnoxious amount more. But I don’t want to continue on, as my brain hurts.  I now must go read something by Stephen Hawking to assure myself that we as a society are not going to be overthrown by lemurs soon.

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