Too Big to Ignore

 

Abstract

This paper explores three books and four published articles that report on results from research conducted online (internet) and off-line (non-internet) of the effect of big data on the network infrastructure of which the common internet platform is based. Furthermore, it explores the hyper-active relationship between the common user and the business entities that provide user content. The articles vary in their exploration of the common good from IBM’s Understanding Big Data which describes big data as “applying to information that can’t be processed or analyzed using traditional processes or tools.” (Zikopolous, Eaton, DeRoos, Deutsch & Lapis, 2013). Which delivers a shorthanded description of an otherwise complicated topic more clearly defined in Too Big To Ignore as “Everything is data. There’s even data about data, hence the term Metadata.” (Simon, 2013) This paper is broken down into chapter sections while interjecting additional research materials within the sections.

Keywords: data, big data, business data, communications data, understanding data

 

Too Big To Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data

            In The Dream Machine, J.C.R. Licklider is described as “the All-American Boy- Tall, blond and good looking, (essentially) good at everything he tried (Waldrop, 2001, p. 1). In 1962, the man heretofore described as he requested as “Lick” through a series of memos at M.I.T. discussed what he coined as a “Galactic Network” concept.  It was through his memos that he described “a globally interconnected set of computers through which everyone could use to access data and programs” (p. 23). Over fifty years later, his memos have expanded to an exchange in information that even the most robust thinker couldn’t have expected. The rampant use of the network we now call “the internet” has been accelerated so quickly that the data that these TCP/IP rotations create has become a large pool from which data can be pulled and categorized. Those categorized data segments are what the mass populace describes as “Big Data.”

Chapter 1: Data 101 and the Data Deluge

            In chapter 1 Phil Simon (2013) describes the “evolution between the enterprise data and the arrival of the data deluge” (p. 29). How that statement translates to the personal interpreter can differ in many cases, however, the basic way in which big data is viewed at the business level occurs via structured segments and augmented by means of three categories: structured, semi-structured, and unstructured. While each of these categories enables the data analyst to view the data from an opulent position, it also stands to reason that the holder of such data carries the keys to their own customer base and potential customer bases across the board.

The overall structure of how that data is sorted and catalogued leads to a more important set of rules which include: how that data is shared, to whom that data is shared, the vested interest in the consumer of protecting their data, and how the security measures of the company can lead to spillage.

How we use big data can still be a challenge to some people but a few local communities have discovered a way of using smartphones to gather useful information. The results yielded a report in potholes that recorded 155,333 bumps whereas before the technology was shared potholes were left largely unreported. Now not all bumps were potholes but the data that was collected was far greater than that without (p. 7).

The Wall Street Journal has also recently reported progressive data that has been found to assist Human Resources personnel in finding better employees via analytical tools that gauge the longevity of an individual hire (p.9).

Chapter 2: Demystifying Big Data

            Chapter 2 attempts to ease the technological aspects of big data towards a more non-technical conversation. This conversation steers closer to another three-tiered approach by defining the data deluge into categories of:

1.)    Volume

2.)    Variety

3.)    Velocity

With the three categories of data deluge set into place we can look at the data through the lens of the depth of the data ranges and the increasing speed of data. Why and how that would be effective can most aptly be defined by Gartner employee, Douglas Laney, who first wrote of the defining sets in 2001 (Simon, p. 49). However, the basis for how the categories are separated creates a bit of an issue with other companies who, instead of acknowledging Laney’s definition, decided to define their own categories. These categories differ now from company to company with the single display of solidarity, essentially they are all built on the three categories that Laney described.

Other topics in this chapter include the ways in which big data can define or re-define your agenda in the marketplace. For example, Netflix Corporation attempted to create a branch of its company for DVD delivery called Qwikster (Woo, 2011). Although the idea for separation would seem beneficial to the overall growth of the company, it was soon discovered that through social media channels the change would not be accepted by the common customer. The charge was therefore revoked.

Chapter 3: The Elements of Persuasion: Big Data Techniques

      The elements of Chapter 3 deal exclusively with the ways that individual fields and sub-fields in big data are examined. In other words, how techniques like statistical methods, data visualization, automation, semantics, and predictive analytics are achieved using both sophisticated tools and largely uncomplicated procedures that can gather and sort data quickly.

The subtext “big overview” (Simon, p. 79) details the three key points that big data delivers to business:

1.)    A better way to understand the past

2.)    A better way to understand the present

3.)    A better way to understand the future.

Chapter 3 includes a scenario stemming from a theoretical CEO of Applebee’s who read some scathing reviews of his restaurant on YELP.com (p. 95). Although the data could provide a potential opportunity for improvement, there were a number of restaurants in the review area and the review was not specific. Without the help of data analytics software, no effective action could take place in this scenario.

Also a “gang of four” is mentioned in the big data field (p. 99). This gang reaches astronomical big data collection points:

1.)    Amazon: 160 million products on its website; 300 million customers on file.

2.)    Apple: 25 billion application downloads

3.)    Facebook: 1 billion users; over 1 billion pieces of shared content per day.

4.)    Google: 34,000 searches per second.

Chapter 4: Big Data Solutions

With a large amount of unstructured data we have come to a point in society in which companies can create entire business models on applications, technologies, and web services that actively attempt to sort the data. Technologies such as Hadoop, NoSQL, and Co-Lumnar databases can fill important needs within the market. The market, however, does not know how to incorporate collected data into their business model. IBM, for example, uses the database software Hadoop to sort their data (Zikopolous, Eaton, DeRoos, Deutsch, & Lapis, 2013, p.73).

While some of these data collection companies and software programs have components that people find extremely helpful, they are also “anything but perfect” (Simon, p. 121). Programs like Hadoop have a heightened potential for data spillage due to consolidating most of the data into one environment. In other words, because the technology is changing so quickly there are no unique procedures for how to police the standards for the process. Collectively, these new data sorting systems have become a recognized aspect of the new normal. This standard practice now includes the range, depth and width required to sort through the plethora of data needed for business focus.

While chapter 1 and 2 focused on how big data doesn’t like to play well with others chapter 4 spends most of the time explaining how there are a number of services available to sort and pull information from your data. A process that can both be expensive and time consuming however extremely beneficial for the overall growth of your company.

Chapter 5: Case Studies: The Big Rewards of Big Data

      In a basic reward system a cookie is given to a participant at the end of a long maze. The cookie is seen as a benefit to the individual or team that acquires the knowledge to solve the maze. With that in mind we enter a phase of data that was best described by Charles Darwin’s quote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change” (Simon, p.143).

There is a company, founded in 2006, that targets web measurements. The company is relatively small, with 250 or so employees. The company analyzes more than 300 billion observations of media consumption. (p. 142). The company was ranked #46 on Forbes’ list of most innovative companies. The company in question is Quantcast. What they do is analyze and sell a predictive model of pulls from a web audience. For example, if you purchased ad space on a specific website via their operational tools, significant gains could be made from utilizing their collected data. They are essentially focusing the efforts of your voice into one specialized arena for large gains.

Also mentioned in this chapter are Hadoop, which has been used to measure healthcare efficiency, and NASA, which has acquired over 100 terabytes of data from its missions (p. 153).

Chapter 6: Taking the Big Plunge

The big data train is moving out of the station and if you do not organize your business in a way that you can catch it, you may end out being left in the dark. A reasonable approach would be to continuously add data to your database and pull out information that could be useful to your operation. For example, if your objectives are to be successful in the restaurant business, understanding your predicted customer base for any particular day could be highly useful for staffing and inventory purposes. Primarily, chapter six deals with the importance and challenges of incorporating business goals with big data results.

Big data is a big commitment. You must strive to push forward at every turn. Businessmen must accept the fact that with the power of technology business can strive, but if you put minimal effort into any aspect of the business (big data included) then your corporation will struggle. Implementing big data software into your organization in a gradual manner will result in a healthy business model, whether your organization has three dollars in assets or three million. Adapting to a model that uses data tracking is essential to growth in this new generation.

Chapter 7: Big Data: Big Issues and Big Problems

While big data has the potential to push business to the next level, it also has the potential to be ethically unsound. This occurs when a data collection site creates tracking modules on customers. There are many security concerns when it comes to big data. For example, the department store Target had a huge data spillage in 2013 which potentially leaked over 70 million customer’s personal information (Fung, 2014).

While a large spillage like that at Target can affect millions of people, the alternative may include a non-desirable state in which your data is not held. Therefore your experience is hindered by a perpetual “beginning questionnaire” type state. Thus we must ask ourselves if the ease of which our personal information is passed is worth the price of possible spillage.

Of course the other fear is that mobile computing will completely phase out a mass of occupations that deal directly with the manual workforce. For example, typists (in the traditional sense) are being phased out, replaced instead by network engineers and a relatively new class of “knowledge workers” (Simon, p. 192). In general the fear that comes from big data is balanced by the privacy and security that businesses place on their information on their clientele.

In a world that Apple IPhone customers can download more than 600,000 unique application programs via the AppStore the security of the interface becomes increasingly important. (p.187). While Apple IPhones have an increased security risk with a large number of people “jail breaking” them, Apple attempts to create applications that only work within the active network thus it encourages people to use their phone as intended, in a non-jail broken state.

Chapter 8: Looking Forward: The Future of Big Data

One way that big data can change the way in which people spend their time shopping is by revolutionizing the consumable goods market at the grocery store. For example, if an individual selects a certain brand of cookie but switches to a cookie with less sugar, the company may respond by manufacturing more sugar-free products. Similarly, if the same complaint for a stoplight has been made via an open forum or discussion board, then the city might look towards remedying the problem.

The overall challenges that big data presents also uniformly pale in comparison to the benefits of which real change can be made. If homeowners lack the initiative to vacuum their homes, then the market could react by offering consumers practical cleaning solutions based on the data collected.

Furthermore, a society without using big data would lose out on potential gains via batting a blind eye at an otherwise gold mine. In an expansion to the basic realm of thinking we can also equate the research that most companies perform on food, film, or drugs all lead to big data. Most movie studios test their films with numerous audience members of differing background. They then require the viewers to fill out comment cards and base their opinions on how to either re-cut or market the film. There have been films that have been completely re-shot based on the initial viewers. That being said we should all be continuously scanning and examining the data that we surround ourselves with every day.

With economic pressures on both sides of the political aisle, it seems completely logical that the benefits of big data far outweigh the potential loss of privacy that those outraged describe. With a wide array of political activists screaming for tighter budgets and change to the status quo, we may end out dealing in a big data world whether we like it or not.  Essentially, the “government should innovate; our politicians shouldn’t need the excuse of shrinking budgets to embrace new technologies and Big Data” (Simon, p. 214).

 

Phil Simon, Author

Phil Simon holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University and a Master’s degree from Cornell University. Mr. Simon is a highly regarded public speaker who has also written six management books including The Age of the Platform which explores how Amazon, Facebook, and Google have redefined business. In 2014, he published The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions. It explores how decision can be made using tools for discovery within the landscape of the data that is collected.

He is self-described as “a sought-after speaker and recognized authority on technology, trends, and management” (www.philsimon.com).

His contributions can be found in a number of news magazines, including Business Weekly and Forbes. He is also featured as a consultant to a number of Fortune 500 companies. His consulting fees can be found on his website (http://www.philsimon.com/about-phil/rates/).

On social media platforms, Mr. Simon can be found on both LinkedIn (under his full name) and on Twitter using the handle @philsimon.

References

 

Fung, B. (2014). The Target hack gets worse: Phone numbers, addresses of up to 70 million

            customers leaked. The Washington Post. Retrieved on June 3, 2014 from:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/01/10/the-target-hack-gets-

worse-phone-numbers-addresses-of-up-to-70-million-customers-leaked/

Simon, P. (2013). Too big to ignore: The business case for big data. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley

& Sons, Inc.

Waldrop, M.M. (2001). The dream machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the revolution that made

computing personal. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, Inc.

Woo, S. (2011). Under fire, Netflix rewinds DVD plan. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on

June 3, 2014 from: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB100014240529702034997045

76622674082410578

Zikopolous, P., Eaton, C., DeRoos, D., Deutsch, T., & Lapis, G. (2013). Understanding big data:

            Analytics for enterprise class Hadoop and streaming data. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

Companies, Inc.

 

 

Duct Taped Marketing book review

Duct Tape Marketing

When starting any new business the main objective is to acquire an ability to find an audience. While that audience might have deep pockets without a basic marketing plan and a clear direction you may end out being left behind in a market that you failed to exploit. For example, during the initial phase you may want to consider a focusing your attention towards a specific kind or type of client, a client that would be ideal for your business, a client that would be perfectly suited toward your product or service. You may also want to consider attention grabbing headlines on your site. A recommended site for any small business that is offered for very little cost is WordPress. WordPress consists of a large number of templates that most small businesses can easily manipulate, however since WordPress is very popular your challenge would be how you would customize the product in a way that is both attention grabbing and content rich.

While the images that you display on the website might get a client to peruse the site you will also have to pay particular attention towards your content as well. Writing Blogs that feature your products or company will allow for a vested interest in your product leading towards a relationship with other social media sites which could include Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.

You also will want to pay particular attention to how your site is navigated and in which way your site is being found through google searches. Finding your keywords or key terms is an inexpensive way to help people with a road map to your product. Once your site can be found via search engine optimization it is critical that your site has some kind of content which may include Blogs, testimonials, newsletter sign-up sheets, and your core marketing message. For example, if you are marketing your product towards a higher class of business then you may want to consider marketing in an arena that higher class individuals would frequent. You, for example, wouldn’t want to run an advertisement in Mad Magazine if you were selling high end cigars. You would probably consider a higher class of publication, one that targets an older, wealthier clientele.

You may also want to consider using tools such as google analytics in order to track the traffic that is on your site. You could then turn around and incorporate postings during your specific sites heavy traffic times. This could also potentially make for a good time to post google coupons or specials linking your website to a coupon book or
Another tool that can be quiet useful is that of review writing. If you want to get your site off the ground you may want to spend a lot of time writing reviews and zeroing in on how your business is seen by the public. That being said answering questions about your business on your website could lead to a lot less questions and a lot less confusion in the long run. Many businesses find themselves answering the same question over and over again which leads to frustration in the business.

You may also want to encourage your entire staff to get involved in the day to day marketing via allotting portions of the newsletter to individual teams. Having an allotted portion of the newsletter assigned to a particular team or group allows ownership of said portion and empowers the employee or team to have a voice in the business. Also, including pictures or activities with your clients within the newsletter is also advisable. This creates a two tiered approach to the business newsletter, it engages not only the employees that helped create it but also most clients would search for their own picture or article written about them to share with their friends.

Networking is another key ingredient in starting a business. You may want to surround yourself with people that are like minded or people that have successful businesses already running. A mentor or mentorship program is also advisable, but the most important item in regards to a marketing plan is that of a budget and systematic plan. Ideally, that budget would include a plan and calendar which includes possible contingencies and milestone markers. Without a single sourced direction a business can find itself confused by its direction and without a road map towards success.

Conclusions

The strengths of Duct Tape Marketing are seeded directly into the amount of sheer data that the book covers. With its approach towards a very clumsy website design feature such as WordPress it creates an almost cookie cutter approach to building a website. While WordPress has its value in the market place I would argue that unless you are computer savvy you may end out becoming extremely frustrated with WordPress. I have personally worked extensively with WordPress and find it rather frustrating myself. Essentially what WordPress does is create a template that is a very basic design and allows you to slide content into these very small windows, that is unless you purchase the extended model of the product. Honestly, you are better off hiring a third party to design your site with an original design instead of attempting to base your site off of very pedestrian software.

Also, the idea that you need to create some kind of imprint with Twitter or Facebook doesn’t seem necessary to me in certain businesses. For example, if you were selling Taco’s out of a Taco truck you wouldn’t necessarily need to spend all of you time creating a Facebook page and tweeting out your location. Location, as in real estate, would still be the most important feature. Say for example, you are parked directly outside of a construction zone and the construction workers could visibly see your truck at that point if given that you are there only option it wouldn’t necessarily necessitate a full blown website, Facebook and Twitter page. Although, communicating with your potential clients may end out being a more personal experience in this case as a lot of moveable food servicing enterprises have been entering the market via invitation rather than the more direct model or business creation.

As it states at the beginning of the book you need to know who your audience is and what they are looking for. I am not convinced that people go on Facebook to purchase a car. Most people find the most convenient location with the cheapest price and the least sleazy salespeople. While this book would attempt to convince you that most people should be involved with social media I would argue that in some, very specific industries, that spending a lot of time in social media might end out being a burden to your bottom line.

Also the idea that writing reviews in order to get others to review your business seems a bit overzealous. For example, if you owned a software company you would probably receive more gains to your traffic on your site if you in fact wrote reviews for other software but you may end being in direct completion with the site that you have reviewed which could create a turf war between the two companies. That being said you may end out in a two sided argument with a company that has a big head start in the market that you are attempting to enter.

I do, however, agree that creating original content within your website is paramount when starting a business that deals with that technology. For example, if you are selling some kind of computer software such video compression than you would have to show how your product worked via video links. The theory that special links and coupons could be used to encourage marketing feedback could be found advantageous to many small businesses but could be quiet laborious to setup and may not be found to be fruitful.

One of the more difficult points that the book attempts to convey is that of shared effort when it comes to marketing. While this seems like a rather simplistic task, it could become a rather complex issue when attempting to implement the policy within a business. The sheer volume of time it would take for the role players within a business to spend time marketing may end out taking away from their primary goal of creating voluminous transactions within the company. A better approach might be to create a warm and inviting working condition that would create a sense of community within the organization. That sense of community would make its way outside of the company or product line which would in turn be your word of mouth marketing which seems to be missing from the book itself.

Business advice for small businesses

List of advice for your small business:

 

1.) If you have extremely high turnover with employees than it might be you and not the employees.

2.) If all of your employees complain about you than it might be you.

3.) If distributors force product on you blindly without your consent than you deserve to lose money.

4.) If you don’t pay your taxes, you deserve to have a lien placed on your business.

5.) If there is no standard operating procedure for the job requirement than you cannot enforce rules that are made up on the spot.

6.) You cannot accuse people of stealing via rumors and not fact.

7.) You cannot use facebook friendships as a way to charge employees with not have integrity.

8.) You cannot respond to yelp reviewers by threatening them.

9.) You cannot bad mouth employees in front of other employees.

10.) You cannot deduct hours from workers on their timecards because you don’t believe that they were working that hard during that time.

 

Review of Series Finale of Dexter

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I first discovered Dexter I thought I had found the holy grail of television shows that I could sink my teeth into. I loved the dual relationship that Dexter felt within himself. I bought all of the dark passenger stuff. I felt sorry for Dexter as he traveled throughout his day attempting to connect with other human beings. Ten days a year (before my morning coffee) I feel the same way. I bought all of the nonsense about Lumen (Julia Stiles) a few years ago. I even bought the story line where one of the characters was dead for 90 percent of the season which in and of itself should have kept me away. I celebrated a small victory for mankind when John Lithgow entered the Dexter world (season 4). I believe that season 4, with the death of Rita (spoiler alert of four years ago) the show peaked. After season 4 the series took a nose-dive into a large pool full of herpes infested sharks. The characters were poorly drawn out and the storylines were awful. I am not sure how their writing staff got paid for these years. Showtime should pull those checks because on more than a few occasions the show was un-watchable.

While I have/ had my reservations about the show I continued to watch it every week. I watched it hoping that somehow the ship would auto-correct, that somehow the Dexter world would make sense and they would go back to the source material of Jeff Lindsey but for some reason they kept plugging away at nonsense storylines and completely absurd dialogue.

 

 

 

 

 

Another reason that I felt distance from the show is the character Deb. I never enjoyed or found any connection to the character Deb. I also think that the actress that plays Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) is dog faced and makes me want to vomit. Her voice sounds like nails on a chalk board and her down syndrome type facial expressions exude an inner disappointment in me that honestly makes me want to throw her off a bridge in a bag full of tar.

Her conversations with Dexter, at times, have been written with a sincere tone but J-Carpenter delivers them with all the humanity of Darth Vader at a cast party for Mad Men. Needless to say I think that J-Carp should have her ticket to Hollywood revoked and should be waiting tables at a Ruby Tuesday’s in Omaha.

Pull the air tube out of her mouth please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With all of that being said, I still watched the show. I still waited for a new episode with all of the fervor of one of Pavlov’s dogs, seemingly drooling on myself.

One week I would be engaged with the show and the next week I would feel completely disconnected from it.

When Deb finally found out that Dexter was a serial killer her reaction was completely unconvincing as she worked with some weird private investigator. Somehow she pushed her nonsense crap acting onto the screen (yes, I am still angry at her crap acting) and eye raped me for the entire run of the show.

Needless to say, in the series finale the story was so forced and unnecessarily trite that once the last screen flashed I yelled out “well that was bullshit.”

Every Dexter fan should want to grab a protest sign and cancel their Showtime. The show limped its way into its finale with talks of moving to Argentina (cliche). It is one of the biggest cop outs for a show going into the series finale to move away. Why can’t there be another option? Why couldn’t the writers think of anything else rather than “I have an idea, he moves away into hiding” and all of the other writers are like “Johnny, that is brilliant. He moves away and he has a long beard at the end.”

Dexter could have been a classic show made for an intelligent audience but instead it turned into a bag of showtime crap covered in egg shells and shame.

Shame on you Showtime. Shame on you producers of Dexter.

Sneak peak

Here is a sneak peak at a book I have been working on:

I imagine that at some point in the future I will forget all about her. I doubt it though.  Until that point I will be stuck day-dreaming about touching her hands. Her hands were small but plump.  Her hands and feet were the only items that were plump on her.  When she smiled I would drown in her happiness.  I would lose myself in a sensationalized version of our lives together. In my mind we were Bonnie and Clyde. I wanted her to love me. I wanted to feel like her smile was designed specifically for me.  I doubt it though.

My day normally begins at 0645; I am stating military time because I find it more convenient than writing out PM or AM. In my opinion both AM and PM usage should be disregarded.  My alarm carries a soothing but firm tone, one in which I feel welcomes me to a new day without any kind of judgment.  What I mean by that is that my alarm clock signifies the life that I want to live not the life I currently live.

My first name is Bert. It is not short for Robert or Roberto. I was literally named Bert. I hate it.  Bert is not a name for a distinguished gentleman. No one ever introduces the Duke of Earl and then says “oh, yes that is Duke Bert.”

While my first name represents a Greek tragedy my last name leaves just as much to be desired.  My last name is Henson. Yes, my name is Bert Henson. You might be saying to yourself “how is the name Bert Henson such a bad name?” While initially the name seems reasonable the character of Bert on Sesame Street was created by Frank Oz and Jim Henson. When people marry those two ideals they come up with an amazing assortment of jokes. It is not that I mind jokes. What really bothers me is repetition.

I have been introduced to people at parties in the following way “this is Bert, like the guy on Sesame Street.” Do you know how upsetting it can be to be associated with children’s programming your entire life? It unpleasant to say the least.

Despite my name I still moved forward in my life and attended a middling University right after High School. My college of choice was Washington State University; a University that is known for its partying. I was never invited to those parties.  I spent four years in a dorm room. One year with Calvin, who pealed skin off of his feet and then would eat the skin. That was interesting.  Two years with Joshua, who chained smoked and had an extremely respectable arsenal of male sexual partners that visited seemingly every day. In my senior year I had a split living situation for half of the year I lived with my girlfriend named April who was extremely attractive and subsequently left me for Joshua who miraculously turned bi-sexual for her. The second half of my senior year I lived with a friend named Shawn. Shawn was a sixth year senior who on the day of graduation had received three completely different Bachelor’s degrees.  Shawn went to medical school after undergraduate. He now performs rhinoplasty on celebrities and enjoys karate. You might have seen him on tv.

After I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English I was not sure what to do with myself.  I attempted to speak to my Father about it but he was a third shift Boeing worker who had not slept regularly in six years. Needless to say he was a walking zombie. His eyes were always blood shot and he seemed to always have a complete disconnection from people he spoke with. During one summer I asked him how he was and he answered “green.”

I finally realized that people who graduate college with a degree in English are either going to be extremely well-written while filling out their unemployment application or need to achieve a Master’s degree. I took the GRE and applied to University of Washington in Seattle.  My parents wanted me to be closer to them and since my family home is located in Auburn it seemed like a logical choice. For the next two years of my life I lived in a studio apartment in Seattle. My studio apartment nearly cost as much as the full amount of financial aid I was receiving. Subsequently I had to work a part-time job for the campus as an academic advisor. It was a struggle but after two years I owed the government nearly one-hundred thousand dollars but had a piece of paper that stated Master’s degree.

While I was in graduate school I met a young lady named Sandy who broke my heart in two. I wore a lot of black after we broke up. I also wrote a ton of poetry that seemed as though a young thirteen year old girl wrote it.

After graduate school I applied to the school board and ended out teaching 8th grade English in a Junior High School in Federal Way. On my teacher’s salary, if I lived at the poverty level, I should be able to pay off my college loans in twenty-six and a half years.  That is if I stay single and decide to never have children. I have never been truly happy.

***

Teaching 8th grade English is a lot like being a zoo keeper. I corral the herd to sit at their seats while I take attendance. I put some vocabulary words on the board and I give them a test every Friday.  More specifically, on Monday we discuss twenty words. On Tuesday we take a quiz on the words. On Wednesday we have a word find/ puzzle with the words. On Thursday we write short stories with the words and on Friday we test. I have now been performing these same tasks for five years. Meanwhile, I find myself chipping away literally dollars at a time at my student loans. I still feel as though I am suffocating under a mountain of debt. I once had a dream about the debt chasing me as I was running after an attractive woman. I am sure that the dream was a direct reflection of my life. I am chasing some kind of happiness but I can’t find it without being out from under the debt of my past.

I take special interest in some students; that is if the student shows talent in writing or is some kind of sports hero for the school.  It is not exactly special interest it is more of an actual conversation. I am sure, in a way, I am turning into my father which is extremely disappointing. On the surface I should be pleased with what life has dealt me. On the surface I should be happy with the new girl that I met online but I carry a dark cloud with me.

The dark cloud usually rears its head when I think that happiness might be around the corner. How does the dark cloud manifest itself? I will give you an example, I found twenty dollars in my dress pants one day, I was extremely happy about having what I considered a free twenty in my life. Three hours later my cat died. I had that cat for ten years. I loved that cat.

“Mr. Henson?” April Smelling asked while attempting to hand me a piece of paper.

“Yes, April?”

Reflections

For the few that are unaware, I have been to Iraq four times. I don’t say that as a badge of honor or some kind of accomplishment because it really isn’t an accomplishment, it is essentially the results of either good decisions or bad decisions that I have made in my life.

Initially I joined the military because I was in a marriage that I was not happy with and I projected out the future and it looked bleak. I joined in July of 2001. I subsequently was in basic training on September 11th, 2001.

In 2003 I was sent to Iraq; twice. Once at the beginning of the year and than again towards the end of the year. I finally got out of the Army (or so I thought), in 2005. In 2007 I was called back in via a strange loophole that somehow forced me into the US Army reserves and I was sent to Iraq again.

I returned from Iraq (number 3) in 2008 and than in 2011 I joined a contracting company and went to Iraq for the fourth time.

Now onto the bigger point.

 

During my last deployment I worked night shift. I would spend hours in the middle of a large office listening to the nonsense bickering of a few people. I would normally let them ramble on because it kept me awake. On my time off I would watch clips on youtube or buy bootleg movies. On occasion the internet would carry enough signal to stream television shows off of hulu or netflix. Although, for the most part those sites were blocked.

The sleeping arrangements were a bit odd as we were issued rooms in large trailers with a shared bathroom. While we had our own rooms it was comparable to a small bedroom size. I had a desk, a chair, a wall locker and a bed. My only entertainment was my computer and kindle.

The smell that brings me back to my deployment (number 4) was the putrid odor of human feces being pumped out of the large bins. The smell was completely unique and stomach turning.

On occasion I think about the nine months that I spent on my last deployment. I think about how for about an hour a day I would find happiness in a book or while watching a television show.

On a particularly sad day I sauntered over to my room (trailer) with a gloomy almost suicidal weight on my shoulders. I searched for something/ anything to make me happy. I searched through all of my books and all of my bootleg dvds. I needed something to pull me out of the state I was in. I needed the burden of my life to be released. I just wanted to be away from everything. When I finally found something to watch I hoped that it would pull me out of the dark cloud and it did. This video made me forget about the feces smell and my bum knee. It made me feel like I could keep going. I know it is silly but for one brief three minute window there was no Iraq and I was whole again.

 

Sometimes you get to meet cool people

Here is quite possibly the worst picture of me but an awesome picture of me with MARC MARON…… Who is Marc Maron? Only one of the best podcast hosts of all time. He is also a great comedian and knew some other great comedians that I loved like Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks.

 

Stephen McGill (me) and Marc Maron

Lovelace

Today we will be discussing the film Lovelace, which if I am not mistaken was initially offered to Lindsey Lohan. If the rumors are true that Lindsey Lohan was going to play Linda Lovelace it would have resulted in a very different film. Let me begin this review with a disclaimer; Peter Sarsgaard might be the best actor working in Hollywood today. Now that I got that out of the way let’s discuss this brilliant piece of film-making.

The title role is played by Amanda Seyfried who somehow transforms herself into a vulnerable porn star with a penchant for choosing the wrong man to be with. Her arc as a character is absolutely astounding. Whether it is the relationship she has with her Mother (played by Sharon Stone) or the conversation she has with her husband Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard) the subtle strokes of awkward naivety allows the audience to believe that her plight is not that of an ignorant person but that of a hopeful fairy attempting to find something missing in her heart.

Naturally her intrigue into the opposite sex roots from the desire to keep her husband happy; a common theme in the the 1970′s. However, it is this absolute belief that corners her into a world full of drugs, alcohol and sexual exploits.

Most of the male characters are full of absolute wickedness until a uneven and virtually awful rendition of Hugh Hefner is revealed. Hefner is played with all of the personality of a slug by the incredibly untalented James Franco who somehow keeps getting work despite his complete lack of an emotional or personal redeeming qualities.

While the real Linda Lovelace is even more layered than the film which derives its split personality from her book “Ordeal” I would recommend the film based on the exceptional work by the director/ writer who reveals a behind the scenes vignette which in turn makes the audience complacent in the overall transformation of Linda Lovelace from a porn star to a empowered women’s rights activist.

 

 

 

Oh how the years have changed me

2003 In Iraq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2008 in Iraq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 in Iraq

 

Review of a play at the Shakespeare festival

Stephen McGill

July 21, 2011

Essay #1

Shakespeare Festival

 

Julius Caesar

     I once heard a curious theatergoer declare that she had seen many versions of Julius Caesar. I being that of curious mind and body encouraged her to elaborate on the yarn that she was in the middle of weaving. When she continued she explained her favorite version of Julius Caesar, it began with two sides of the stage marked by a rebel side and a conspirator side. She apparently had worked on the props and found them all to be cumbersome and wildly difficult to procure. Shortly thereafter I read the play and envisioned such action unfolding before my eyes, one scene in particular at the Senate where Caesars’ life was taken intrigued me. I viewed that scene as where the plot shifted from one type of story to another. If I was to re-write the play I would elongate the conspirator’s attempts at execution and end the play with the execution itself, but that as they say is neither here nor there.

The 2011 Shakespeare Festival featured the play Julius Caesar and I was thrilled to be able to finally have it presented in front of me by professionals, but as many plays decide on choices I was bamboozled by certain choices and pleasantly surprised by other.

My first concern was audience involvement. While audience involvement in certain plays may create an environment whereas the audience is brought closer into the story a sign, hand signal, for audience involvement in a Shakespeare play can be confusing and a bit off putting. Ideally the choice for a minimalistic stage should allow the actors to breathe life into the characters, however with boisterous clapping a wall was placed between the audience and the characters.

Ideally an emotional connection would be made with the characters at hand, however with a minimalist approach to the play and jubilation in the form of audience involved clapping detached the audience from the inner turmoil that should have come with the death of Caesar herself.

The most pleasing choice that I found in the play was that of Caesar being dead yet walking around whispering to Brutus which showed the complete loyalty to Caesar (played by a woman) yet a haunted nature in regards to the inner turmoil that Brutus felt. In the text itself it read as if Brutus was hearing voices, the choice to have Caesar to walk towards and around Brutus with white chalk on her hands created an atmosphere of great shame felt internally for Brutus.

Another example that fell short for me was the choice of position of chairs. The chairs presented an ease for the actors who would have had to stand off the stage in order to interject their voices into the scenes created a distraction that focused the attention from the stage to the audience, thus creating another disconnection from the characters themselves. Ideally, the characters would have been honored on the stage by their presence being shown as special.

When characters are held on stage but have little to no reason for being on the stage it devalues that action or weight of the character creating a lowered value for the character themselves. For example the presence of Caesar after death did empower the character due to the weight of the character labeling death onto the characters that fell. The interpretation overall was lacking in real character development and did a poor job of using the characters as real people, they seemed to be caricatures of themselves, for example Brutus who is supposed to be a massive warrior was played by an overweight out of shape actor which distracted from the character written by Shakespeare.

The one character that showed a complete connection with the audience was that of Mark Antony who was respected on the stage via his personal connection with the love of Caesar and not being pulled to a chair in order to add partial presence on the stage. The particular line of “Friends, Romans, and Countrymen, lend me your ears.” (Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 2) is arguably one of the more famous lines from the play Julius Caesar, it is spoken by Antony who opens the funeral of famous lead of the play with words that request the audience to pay attention and listen to the heartfelt words that he is to deliver. Mark Antony then famously enacts a crowd of fevered countrymen to avenge the death of their fallen hero.

One of my other major concerns for the play was that of jeans. While jeans may have played a part in later years it was not particularly popular in the time of Caesar, for me it was a major distraction.

All together the play fell short for me due to the forced jubilation and some of the attire, but overall the words were not to blame it was that of the choices made by the director.