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On A Clear Day You Could Have Seen General Motors

Saturday, May 30, 2009
I'm re-reading a book that, many years ago, became a favorite of mine. On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors is John Z. De Lorean's account of his years at GM, the problems the corporation faced, and his eventual decision to leave the company. When I first read the book GM was still the largest carmaker in the world but had certainly lost the luster it once had (and perhaps hadn't even held in my lifetime.) Now, of course, GM is widely expected to file for bankruptcy this coming Monday and yesterday the stock price closed at a record low of $.75/share. How the once-mighty have fallen is complicated only in surmising the breadth and tenure of failure in the company.

The book was written at the end of the 1970s and the tone of the book is largely set as "GM is undeniably the largest, most powerful company in the world, but..." Were it not for this, the book could have been written today as an expose in the the current corporate problems. Perhaps the most telling paragraph in the book is this (emphasis is mine):
"When we should have been planning switches to smaller, more fuel-efficient, lighter cars in the late 1960s in response to the growing demand in the marketplace, GM management refused because "we make more money on big cars." It mattered not that customers wanted the smaller cars or that a national balance-of-payments deficit was being built in large part because of the burgeoning sales of foreign cars in the American market."
That this was written and published in 1979 - thirty years ago! - and that GM's most recent problems were fueled by their reliance on the sales of large trucks and SUVs when gas prices shot through the roof and sales of these vehicles plummeted is a message that nothing was ever fixed. In fact, interestingly, Rick Wagoner, the recently departed CEO of GM, was first employed by GM only a few years after the writing of the book. Were lessons ever learned?

One more passage strikes me as almost prophetic:
"Perhaps most frustrating was the realization that there was (and is) no vehicle for change. For the most part, a top executive by the time he works his way through the system is a carbon copy of his predecessors. If the men in place cannot do the job, there is no reason to believe that their handpicked successors can. There never was, in my days with General Motors, an attempt by management to analyze previous corporate decisions to see if they were right for the company, and to use this information in perfecting the management process of the future."
I'm consistently amazed that so much of the book, were you to eliminate the names and dates, could have been written last year. The decisions haven't changed, the players haven't changed, but the market has changed. How I - and I'm sure so many others - wish that the current state of affairs could have been avoided, but apparently this ball has been rolling for over three decades.

I don't know what the future holds. At this point, no one does. But I do know that it will take more than just new leadership to revive and reinvigorate General Motors. Is it worth it? I think it is.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Dear City of Portland,


Please stop.

The madness must end.

When I grew up, I lived near the intersection of Union & Portland Blvd. You will, of course, note that neither of these streets exist, having been renamed to MLK and Rosa Parks Way respectively. I also went to Beaver games at the Civic Stadium and watched a musical or two at the Civic Auditorium (now called PGE Park and the Keller Auditorium).

You know what's nice about 39th Avenue? People can safely bet that it's somewhere near between 38th and 40th. Pretty easy to remember. Someone from out of town, driving up Burnside, might be able to figure it out. (Maybe Burnside's not a great example, the street names are a little wonky in there, but you get the point.) Nobody's going to have a clue where Cesar Chavez Boulevard is.

I understand that things change. But let's have change through growth, not through the arbitrary renaming of places. Commemorate people all you want, but please don't make life difficult for everyone for no good reason.

This isn't the first time I've spoken up against renaming streets, and I'm sure it won't be the last time. Still, please stop the madness. I beg of you.

Respectfully yours,

Burton Simmons

Walking Distance

Sunday, May 24, 2009
Those who know me will know that I love to walk. More often than not they'll hear me say, "oh, we can just walk there" or suggest destinations that are designed to be within walking distance. Many may not know, however, why this is.

It turns out that I have a strong self-sufficiency streak that runs in me, combined - perhaps - wish a slight lack of faith "in the system". In inclement weather, for instance, when roads are closed and Tri-Met shuts down (or at least fails to visit anywhere in SW Portland and beyond). I hate feeling helpless, so I need to know that I can walk anywhere I need to truly go.

With that in mind, today's walk - on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon - was designed to be a one-way trip. While last week's walk-that-was-longer-than-I-planned-on was about 9.5 miles round-trip, I wanted to head downtown and planned on taking public transportation back.

I started out walking past the University of Portland along Willamette Blvd, overlooking Swan Island. I found it interested that I could clearly see the Fremont Bridge, but could just barely make out the Steel Bridge beyond it.

After following Willamette Blvd basically to where it ends, I cut over on Skidmore to MLK because I wanted to pick something up at the Nike store there. A quick stop, then I continued down MLK until I got to the Oregon Convention Center. I hopped down the the Eastbank Esplanade and walked down to the Hawthorne Bridge.

Since part of my whole plan for this trip was to stop at Saturday Market and get my favorite spring roll, I crossed over the Willamette and started walking back north in Waterfront Park. I didn't expect the Rose Festival to be going in full swing! Lots of people were around; it was fun to walk among them.

After eating my spring roll in the shadow of the Burnside Bridge, I walked over to REI on NW 14th and Johnson. I looked around at cycling accessories for a bit (I had hoped to have a bicycle by the weekend but that didn't happen), then figured it was time to head home.

At this point, my feet were killing me. I was developing a super-sized blister right next to the ball of my right foot, and every step was a reminder that it was there and getting worse. Rather than walking home - something I was tempted to do because I wasn't that tired - I realized that I should call it a day and take public transportation. The nearest yellow line MAX stop, however, was either way south at Pioneer Square or across the river near the Rose Garden. I decided to take Lovejoy to the Broadway Bridge, cross that, but then turn north and catch MAX at N Mississipi & Interstate. This, over course, means that I started and ended my 13+ mile trip in North Portland!

So, in all, I managed to walk through parts of North, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest Portland. Not a bad day... next time I'll just have to find better walking shoes!

Monitoring Social Media

Tuesday, May 19, 2009
So I owe an apology to Comcast. Despite the fact that your rates are high, your speeds never approach half of that advertised, and you have stupid bandwidth caps, I respect the fact that you've started monitoring Twitter for complaints and actually responding. It's pretty awesome to vent publicly and having someone seem like they care. Good job.

Movie Review: Star Trek

Monday, May 18, 2009
Only during a recession could I get four people together to see a movie during the day on a Friday. I managed it, though, and we all saw the new incarnation of "Star Trek".

Fair warning, I might have a spoiler or two below.

I'm going to start this off by saying that there are surrounding details about this movie that irritate and bother me. First off, when someone says they're going to "reboot the franchise" that evokes nothing good in my mind. It comes off as an attempt to milk more money out of moviegoers and speaks for a lack of imagination on the part of the studios. Secondly, introducing "alternate timelines" for the sake of not having to deal with continuity and being able to retell the same story over and over again comes off as lazy. These attributes vastly decrease the quality of a movie for me.

Star Trek logo

That said, Star Trek was awesome.

Yes, I'm a bit of a Star Trek fan (to the point that I know trivia that surprises even me). I enjoyed just about every bit of this film. I thought the casting was as close to perfect as you can get, the plot was solid (even with the time travel aspects of the film), the acting was excellent, and even the camerawork - while I kept thinking "why did that frame the shot like that?!?" - was good nonetheless.

Attempting to describe the plot would give away most of the movie, so I won't do that. But we start the day Kirk is born and quickly jump through the next 25 years until we see them launch the maiden voyage of the Enterprise. They did a good job of giving all the main characters some backstory - often explaining more with a few lines than the characters were ever given in the original series.

The filmmakers also did a great job of pandering to the fan base by throwing in enough details from the history of the franchise for us to feel like they "got it", yet making it still make sense to a (mostly) uninitiated viewer. Probably the part that tickled me the most was when Kirk, Sulu, and some other guy wearing a red suit jump out of a spacecraft. I'm not going to spoil it by telling you who doesn't make it, but you probably won't be surprised.

Anyway, I enjoyed Star Trek. I'd like to see it again, if possible. It was that good.

Final word on Star Trek? See it as soon as possible.

Branching Out

Thursday, May 07, 2009
This post is about a Subway sandwich.

Ever since Subway started their $5 foot-long sandwich promotion, I've been sticking to that available selection out of financial prudence. For a while, they were selling any sandwich that way. Now, only certain sandwiches qualify. When I went in there yesterday, the sandwich I wanted was no longer $5 and the sandwich that I did want for $5 could be considered relatively unhealthy. So I decided to mix things up a bit.

I ended up with an oven-roasted chicken sandwich (which I never get) with pepperjack cheese (which I never get), lettuce, cucumbers (which I never get), pickles, and green peppers (which I never get). It was a sandwich that was designed to be something completely new to me.

The sandwich itself was pretty darn decent and it helped open my eyes to different combinations available to me that I might like. But that's not what this post is really about.

This post is really about trying new things.

I find myself occasionally falling into the trap of complacency and contentment. Sure, I know that if I stick with things I know I'll like, I'll be relatively satisfied. And for things I really, really like, that's okay. But I also need to balance the things I know with the things that are unknown to me. I need to expand my experiences, and to do that, I need to try the occasional sandwich that I've never tried before.

So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to make a concerted effort to try to see, taste, hear, and feel things I've not experienced before... because I'll never know if I like them or not until I try.


Sunday, May 03, 2009
I'm not going to say where I saw it, but I found the following sign atop a loading dock for a building that offered indoor bicycle storage. I found it to be the most ridiculous sign I'd seen in a while.

Sign says 'walk bikes for the safety of everyone'

As far as I can tell, the sign has nothing to do with safety - at least not directly. The idea of safety is a front; the sign really should say "To decrease our liability..." The sign is only there because the property owners could be sued if it weren't and someone were to be hurt.

I understand that there are times that "this is just the way the world works", and we all play along with the game. However, I dislike it being so blatant. This sort of thing is all around; I'm not sure why this was the one to push my buttons.



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