What is the Secret Mysterious Ingredient in Coca-Cola?

When you buy a can or bottle of Coca-Cold and look at the ingredients, you pretty much know what goes into making the world’s most popular soft drink, right? If that is the case, why has it been said that somewhere in the corporate bowels of the Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta exists a safe that contains a simple piece of paper on which is written the secret ingredients of Coke? Because ingredients are one thing, but how much of each ingredient is another. And yet, how could there possibly be any secret to what goes inside each bottle or can of Coca-Cola’s famous soft drink if there are bottling plants all around the world?

The secret of Coca-Cola suggest that each of these distributors and bottlers are also kept in the dark about what can be found in the soft drink. The way Coke bottling and distribution works is that the soft drink bottlers are supplied with only the syrups and other ingredients that are then mixed with carbonated water to produce the soft drink imbibed around the world. But what is contained in Coca-Cola’s syrup? Competitors have spent spies to Atlanta to figure out that secret and reporters have done their level best, but in order to authorize the opening of that secret vault in Atlanta there must be a top level executive present who holds the code. Sure, it’s all incredibly ridiculous, like something out of Get Smart, but they it’s all true.

The closest the average Coca-Cola drinker has ever come to figuring out what is contained on that slip of paper buried in the secret vault at Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta came courtesy of one Mr. William Poundstone. In 1983 Poundstone published a book called Big Secrets and one of those secrets was said to be the secret ingredient combination that goes into making a Coca-Cola’s soft drink. What did Poundstone come up with as the Big Secret of Coke?

Sugar. Caramel. Caffeine. Phosphoric acid. Cola-leaf extract. Citric acid. Glycerin. Vanilla. And essential oils, including lemon, orange, lime, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Pretty much nothing that could not be found on the ingredient label of a Coke bottle was discovered by Poundstone. The location of the secret ingredients’ major secret lies in those essential oils. Any kid with a good chemistry set could break down those essential oils, but it is the way that they interact with each other chemically that hides the secret behind why Coca-Cola tastes different from Pepsi, RC-Cola or Sam’s Choice. Thus far no outside analysis yet been able to break down the exact chemical makeup behind those essential oils. And so the mystery continues.

Four Ways to Improve Employee Loyalty and Satisfaction

In an economic atmosphere in which top paying jobs offering quality health insurance and retirement benefits are not nearly as easy to come by as they were once were, the last thing an employer should expect from his employees is loyalty. When workers can never be sure whether their may be shipped overseas so the company can save money by rolling back expenses like insurance and retirement benefits and high wages, the question that must be posed is why any American worker below the position at which he receives a title and a private office has any loyalty whatsoever to his employer. The answer is simple: because he is working for a boss that understands the reality of the situation and has taken steps to address employee satisfaction. How can this miracle occur? Here are a few quality suggestions.

Higher Pay
Nothing keeps an employee from bolting to another job better than a healthy paycheck. The company that provides high wages and performance bonuses is going to experience a much more robust atmosphere of employee loyalty than the company that immediately looks to trimming labor costs in an effort to save themselves from all the other bad business decisions they made.

Training and Continuing Education
Another excellent means of inspiring employees to stay with you even when enticed by a higher salary to bolt to one of your competitors is the institution of a program that provides paid training and at least some sort of financial assistance for continuing education. You can count on increasing the potential for employee loyalty by offering to pay for college classes, paying for employees to attend conferences and seminars and extending opportunities for training that can result in advancement as a result of gaining new skills.

Performance Reviews and Rewards
Employees will be more likely to actively engage in becoming better workers if they know their work is being noticed and appreciated. Regular performance reviews instill confidence in employees that the company is taking note of their contributions and are offering rewards for a job well done. The performance review process can also have the effect of revealing which employees are not doing their fare share, which can result in a more efficient and open working environment.


Improved Working Conditions

If you really want to make sure that you can keep a good employee from taking a hike to accept a better paying job, take note of the conditions in which he works. Steps ranging from providing more spacious cubicles to upgrading and maintaining the bathroom to providing free donuts and coffee or installing a soft drink vending machine in the employee lounge can increase worker loyalty. If the worker honestly believes that you are aware of working conditions beneath your executive suite and that you are making a concerted effort to improve those conditions, that worker is much more likely to stick with the devil he knows than take a chance on a devil he doesn’t. (There are no angels in the world of American commerce: get used to it.)

A History of the Discount Store

Discount stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and those few K-Mart stores that are still around have their genesis in the Civil War. No, not because they treat their employees like slaves—well, maybe in Wal-Mart’s case, yes—but because the Civil War and its aftermath created a revolution of sorts in the process of mass production and distribution. Indeed, it was during this heady time following the War of Northern Aggression that mass merchandising as practiced today really began. For the next fifty years or so mass merchandising was done primarily through a general type of department store that I like to call the general store. Eventually some of the more successful general store operators began to branch out and created what became known as the chain store.

The Great Depression affected mass merchandising just as it did every other aspect of American life. Most people in the 1930’s had a hard time; although there were conspicuous exceptions like the Kennedy and Bush families. Because there wasn’t a lot of disposable income—or any other kind of income for that matter—the Great Depression saw the rise of what would be known as the discount store. One offshoot that typically isn’t considered by most contemporary shoppers to have an affiliation with discount stores like K-Mart or Target was the rise of the grocery supermarket. Until this time, most people didn’t go to one store to buy food. They bought vegetables from a greengrocer and meat from a butcher. The grocery store changed all that, allowing people to get everything they need for breakfast, lunch and dinner in one convenient place.

Because it had the benefit of being big and costing little, grocery stores could offer discounts on many products: it was far cheaper to buy meat from a grocery store than a butcher and it didn’t take long before non-food items began appearing in these stores. While we take for granted the idea of bringing home a bag with meat, veggies, bread as well as medicine, Band-Aids and salves this was a tremendous sea change in the 30’s. No longer did a day out shopping literally mean spending all day going from the greengrocer to the butcher to drug store. And who knew how far apart those stores were spaced. The discount grocery had it all and was just down the road.

World War II saw the next major revolution in discount shopping with what were actually called discount houses. These stores provided remarkably heavy discounts on major appliances as well as other little goodies like radios or cameras and soon even televisions. The discount came as a result of the store purchasing directly from the manufacture of the goods as well as low inventory cost. In addition, many of these discount houses were found not in singular structures, but as part of an office building shared with other tenants, many of whom were the store’s best customers.

Once the dreaded Huns and Japs had been roundly defeated, the discount store as we know it today really kicked off. It was all a matter of supply and demand. Returning soldiers were ready to go back to work, get their wives pregnant and start having kids. They didn’t have a lot of money, but there were so many of them that retailers made up for lost profit margins on individual items by selling in high volume. The discount stores idea skyrocketed, with K-Mart leading the way. That is, until a fellow name Sam Walton looked at how K-Mart was conducting business and decided he could improve upon it.

Robot Clones: The Future of Spokespeople and Sales Staff?

What do you get when combine cloning with robotic artificial intelligence? Or, the flip side, what do you get when combine robotics with the ability the create clones of existing individuals? Either direction you wish to set your Smart Car upon, the destination one day will perhaps be the same. Our future is in our past. I got this idea about the future of marketing, advertising and sales one day while watching that insurance commercial with the girl who’s wearing the big tricked-out name tag. And it set me to thinking about the Geico cavemen and the Maytag repairman and the mustachioed fellow who used to assault innocent visitors to the grocery store and felt compelled to squeeze toilet paper.

There is an implicit assumption that enters deep into our subconscious when we watch a television commercial with spokesman (whether fictional or real-life) that there is a connection between the advertising and the reality. Obviously, nobody really expects to be sold their advertisement by the red-lipped girl with the big tricked-out name tag or by cavemen, but our dealings with these companies are constructed upon a familiarity based in part on the corporate spokesman. Many businesses realize this truth and exploit it by decorating their offices or places of business in a way that reflect their spokesmen.

But what if the salespeople or customer service people themselves were actual representations of those advertising spokespersons? What if when you arrived at the Progressive Insurance office you were greeted or even sold insurance by a girl who looked and acted just like Flo from the commercial? Or what if the guys at the car showroom weren’t bloodsucking freaks from the seventh circle of hell but instead looked like Brad Pitt or Jennifer Connelly? Could such a strange thing ever take place?

The question would be one of ethics if we’re talking clones. Could you actually create an army of cloned Flo the Progressive Insurance checkout girls or Geico cavemen and then insert some kind of artificial intelligence program to get them to behave in the same way. The android route would seem a less ethically murky place, but how long will companies have to wait before the Japanese get the science of robotics to the level where they could create genuinely human-like machines that could realistically recreate the characteristics of an advertising spokesman?

Eventually, there is little doubt that some kind of representative of an advertising spokesperson will wind up in offices and stores around the world. The precedent was set along by the multitudes of Ronald McDonald’s that show up at the Golden Arches around the world. Even if the future of robotic or cloned advertising spokesman will not be one of having an army of salesman (and the distant future is almost doubtlessly going to be wind up being exactly that) there is certainly the expectation that companies will exploit the potential for making the connection between the customer and the spokesman and the company even more profound.

What's Bad for General Motors?

“What is good for General Motors is good for the country” (Crumm, 2010, p. 1). At one time General Motors (GM) represented the standard by which all corporations in America could judge their standing in the world. For many decades General Motors was the biggest or among the biggest revenue-earning companies in the world. By 2009, the automotive giant was one of many conglomerates unable to

weather the economic collapse that sent the entire American economy to the brink of collapse. What were the factors behind both the rise of General Motors to dominance in a notoriously competitive industry and what factors led to their Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 2009?

The rise of General Motors begins with its earliest status as a holding company in 1908 headed by William C. Durant in 1908 (Bonbright & Means, 1932, p. 84). Over the next few years in early heyday of the rush to establish what would become known as the American automobile industry, Durant would give the term holding company a new definition and in the process sharply define the future shape that General Motors would take as he began collecting small automobile companies that included such soon-to-be-famous names Cadillac and Oldsmobile as well as a less famous company called Oakland that would transform into the equally famous Pontiac (Schweikart & Doti, 2010, p. 270).

The foundation by which General Motors achieved unparalleled success not just in its own industry, but as a worldwide global player was consolidation. The consolidation of small companies eager to be bought and merged into the fabric of a much larger tapestry also extended beyond automotive manufacturing and directly impacted their earnings and revenue growth. In the years following the end of World War II, General Motors moved to forefront of transforming the American public transportation infrastructure by through consolidation of the electrical streetcar industry. What may be seen as transformation for some because devastation for others as this consolidation was done for the sole purpose of dismantling the streetcar systems in major cities as a way to force residents to utilize their replacement: buses manufactured by General Motors (Cudahy, 1990, p. 188).

In addition to such aggressive measures to force the utilization of GM products, the great success of the company can also be at least partially laid at the feet of fighting union demands at every stop along the way and then becoming one of the leaders in the brave new world of outsourcing labor to cheaper market.

The development of a strategy that was based on consolidation and aggressive anti-competitive behavior was the hallmark that underlined the growth of General Motors throughout both the high points and low points of its history. General Motors created a timeline in which they essentially positioned themselves as the very antithesis of the model that the famous quote about being good for the country strove for. As the largest income and revenue producer on the block, General Motors became the model for running a large corporation and as such created a mythology that new companies attempted to follow. The corporate culture at GM put the profit motive above every other consideration—including the very safety of its own customers (Bouza, 1996, p. 34). The replication of this model by competitors and even their own workers would inevitably lead the company’s downfall.

Consolidation would be also become one factor that led to the economic collapse of General Motors. The most memorable quotes from the economic devastation of 2008 that led to the rush of bankruptcies in 2009 was “too big to fail.” The targets of this quote were for the most part relegated to the banking and financial industry, but in terms of historical overreach, many of them were minor league players when compared to the Babe Ruth of GM. The need to file for bankruptcy in order to save General Motors from the very same potential road to ruin of financial giant that failed to save themselves can in large part be blamed up such statistics as a product portfolio nearing 100 different cars (More, 2009). The concept of General Motors simply being too big to take care of itself only begins at the level of too many cars. The corporation also had to deal with a bureaucratic mess of various divisions within the company and subdivisions within those divisions.

One of the most interesting elements at play in the bankruptcy filing of General Motors is the awareness of the ungainly size that the company had grown to. The bloated sense of being out of control led to negotiations to eliminate some of the brand and products that were weighing too heavily on the company’s ability to sustain growth (Goussak, Webber, & Ser, 2012). The cost of delivering vehicles began to rise rapidly in the late 1990s and through the 2000s and the costs combined with the diminishing number of retail outlets at which General Motors could sell their products created an untenable economic situation for all American automobile manufacturers that could not be easily solved (Crumm, 2010, p. 169).

Paradoxically, the very same issue of worker pay can be forwarded a prime element at play in the downfall of the company and its need to file for bankruptcy in 2009. When the company cannot be competitive in the realm of wages, the stimulus is to cut corners everywhere it can. And, coming as no surprise the only mean of achieving success in the wake of the bankruptcy is to stage the same drama over wages once again since “lower salaries and efficiency gains, along with less debt, have helped make Detroit more globally competitive” (“Falling Wages at Factories,” 2014)

One of the core factors contributing to the revenue problems experienced by General Motors through the first decade of the 21st century was that it had nothing to replace the income lost by customers shifting to lower priced cars that did not guzzle up the gasoline of its big sellers in the SUV category. Such an offset in the loss of revenue had a natural safety net throughout much of the long history of the company in the form of its subsidiary for financing the sales of vehicles. GMAC had long been a huge revenue producer for the company, but in the wake of a need for ready cash in 2006, the decision was made to sell off the financing arm. At the time, the cash was more than a necessity so failing the arrival of the economic collapse of 2008, the decision could possibly have come to be seen entirely as wise. In the wake of the collapse, however, the decision to sell off GMAC unquestionably lost any scent of economic sense “In an effort to reduce its debt, GM had made a decision to sell 51% of GMAC in 2006 as well as portions of its ownership in other nonstrategic assets” (Martin & Schrum, 2010).

The basic story of the recovery of General Motors following its bankruptcy sets the stage for a strategic engagement with what went wrong in the first place and what should be done to ensure it does not happen again. Shortly after the bankruptcy General Motors reverse the course set by William Durant by dropping Saturn, Hummer and Pontiac from its portfolio (Guarino, 2010). Pontiac, it is worth remembering, was a company that began life under the name Oakland before getting a name change following its acquisition by Durant.

The recommendation of how to keep General Motors on track and away from what may be an inevitable repeat of the economic collapse that resulted in the bankruptcy of 2009 is inextricably tied to the long history of the Pontiac brand. The worst possible news for General Motors shareholders could well be that as early as 2011, pundits were already trumpeting how the company had successfully rebounded from the bankruptcy filing of just two years previous “Both General Motors and Chrysler have rebounded since their 2009 bankruptcy and a government bailout” (“Lessons from Detroit Three’s,” 2011).

After all, what is there to be gained from such a rapid and apparently complete turnabout of what was deemed at the time “largest industrial bankruptcy in U.S. history, and the fourth-largest overall” (“GM Hopes Bankruptcy Goes,” 2009). What lesson can possibly be gained from the experience of such an enormously bloated company with a history of such questionable tactics not being allowed to go under thanks to intervention from the government? This is really a question of cultural strategy at its most potent. One of the most potent questions surrounding the decision by General Motors to file for bankruptcy is actually why they did not take the action even sooner (Carty). The problem that General Motors was facing well before the decision to file for bankruptcy was never put any more succinctly than the following:

“the failure of GM, the world’s largest automobile manufacturer for many decades, was shocking yet a foreseeable event. There are problems associated with producing many, often unprofitable, vehicles in 34 factories, employing insupportable workers around the world. It is reported that GM kept its high production and high dealer incentives in order to generate cash for the health care benefits. It seems that this high-cost organizational structure has contributed to its unfavorable brand image and serious sales decline. (Chinen, Sun, & Ito, 2014).

Really, the solution to the problem could not be put in any more simple and insightful terms. If General Motors expects another century of existence that does not end in the exact same needs for a government bailout to save them from their organically bad strategic marketing strategy, they need to set the example for all other companies that they set once before. However, the model that General Motors needs to set for others is that the very concept of being too big to fail is bad for the country (Markham, 2011).

And what’s bad for the country is bad for General Motors.

Which is why General Motors and all other corporations should adopt a business strategy that focus on retaining the focus of a core identity. If GM and Lehman Brothers and AIG and all other multinational corporations really want to do what is best for America as well as doing what is best for their own interests, the word downsizing has to mean more than merely firing people. Downsizing must be not allowing any company to become too big to fail.

References

Bonbright, J. C., & Means, G. C. (1932). The Holding Company: Its Public Significance and Its

Regulation. New York: McGraw-Hill Book.

Bouza, T. (1996). The Decline and Fall of the American Empire: Corruption, Decadence, and the

American Dream. New York: Plenum Press.

Carty, S. (2009, June 2). Seven reasons GM is headed to bankruptcy – USATODAY.com.

Retrieved September 5, 2015, from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/autos/2009-05-31-gm-mistakes-bankruptcy_N.htm

Chinen, K., Sun, Y., & Ito, Y. (2014). The Effects of Country of Origin on Consumer Willingness

to Purchase General Motor Automobiles in the United States. International Journal of Marketing Studies, 6(6), 1.

Crumm, T. A. (2010). What Is Good for General Motors?: Solving America’s Industrial

Conundrum. New York: Algora.

Cudahy, B. J. (1990). Cash, Tokens, and Transfers: A History of Urban Mass Transit in North

America. New York: Fordham University Press.

Falling Wages at Factories Squeeze Middle Class. (2014, November 22). International New York

Times.

GM Hopes Bankruptcy Goes Quickly. (2009, June 1). Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL).

Goussak, G. W., Webber, J. K., & Ser, E. M. (2012). A Critical Needs Plan for General Motors: A

Cultural Pluralism Approach. Review of Business & Finance Studies, 3(2), 45.

Guarino, M. (2010, November 1). One Year after Bankruptcy, General Motors Predicts a

Profitable 2010. The Christian Science Monitor.

Lessons from Detroit Three’s Surprise Comeback. (2011, December 9). The Christian Science Monitor.

Markham, J. W. (2011). Lessons for Competition Law from the Economic Crisis: The Prospect

for Antitrust Responses to the “Too-Big-to-Fail” Phenomenon. Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law, 16(2), 261

More, R. (2009, March/April). How General Motors Lost Market Focus – and Its Way. Ivey

Business Journal Online, 73(2).

Schweikart, L., & Doti, L. P. (2010). American Entrepreneur: The Fascinating Stories of the

People Who Defined Business in the United States. New York: American Management Association.

Martin, J. A., & Schrum, J. L. (2010). The Bankruptcy Option: Does the United Airlines

Model Work for General Motors?Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies, 16(7), 21.

High Income Careers

Everybody wants to plug into a career that offers high pay, but where do you start? Just look around you and use your existing talents to find a lucrative career that you will also enjoy going to every day. Out there in the big world you can find careers that will serve your financial and economic needs quite well. In fact, some jobs out there pay quite well.

Physicist

Physicist jobs are not for everybody, of course. It takes years of college and training to get to where the dollars might be, but physics can be a path to a high paying career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that even physicists who are not appearing on TV shows on the Science Channel can expect to haul in fifty grand a year. Jobs as a physicists vary considerably according to the type of physics involved and its application.

Cinematographers and Camera Operators

Those cameramen working at the very top of the business are among the highest paid technicians in the movie business. More than a few cinematographers started out as lowly camera operators. Even though the camera operator is a kind of entry point into the business, the median salary ranges in the middle of the $40,000 range. You may think that these jobs are few and far between if you head to your local Cineplex, but keep in mind that most films that Hollywood produces never even make to the theater in smaller markets. That means that openings do exist for camera operators and cinematographers.

Cardiologists

Just about any career in the medical field is going to be a high paying career until we get actual health care reform. That will never happen in America, so go for broke. Cardiologists come in at a median salary around $300,000 and the top cardiologists in the country can pull in half a million a year or more. The job of the cardiologist is to perform heart surgery and transplants. This means you need to prepare for significant educational and training time before you start raking in those bucks.

Commercial Airline Pilots

Ah, to go back to the 1960s when commercial airline pilot was considered almost as alluring as movie actor. Today, the pilot doesn’t have the cache it used to, but the pay is still high. Smack in the middle of salaries for pilots of those big jet planes is around $120,00. Experience and age can get you closer to $200,000. The best training ground for becoming a commercial airline pilot remains joining the Air Force or Navy and learning how to fly a much smaller jet.

Hydrologist

Physics is the only place to find a high paying job in the science field. The career of hydrologist may not be nearly as well known as the rest on this list, but median earnings tally around $70,000 and that ain’t not bad. What is a hydrologist? This scientician is vital to American civilization because he commits his brain to figuring out hot to improve irrigation systems, react to flooding, maintain soil erosion and dispose of hazardous waste.

Top 10 Attributes of Project Managers

Project management is an essential element in running a successful business today. The focus of managing a project encompasses such aspects as prioritizing, tracking performance and providing adaptability to changes in the original planning model. The difference between a successful management of a project is often to be found in the attributes exhibited by the manager.

Goal Setting

A good project manager is capable of setting clearly defined and achievable goals. A factor related to this skill involves getting everyone on the team to agree to the goals.

Prioritizing

The talent to prioritize the various aspects of a project is a vitally important skill. Prioritizing means considering the resources that will be needed to achieve success and identifying which members of the project team are best equipped to meet specific parts of the process. Prioritizing skills also encompass scheduling responsibilities.

Resource Assessing

A good project manager knows the strengths and weaknesses of all the resources at his disposal. Assessment includes not only recognizing the working skills of employees, but also being intuitive enough to figure in how their personality will affect those skills.

Compromise

Compromise can be a dirty word, but knowing when to stick to your guns and when to sacrifice to make allowances is actually something that distinguishes a good manager from a mediocre manager. The central driving force of all decisions to compromise is to make sure that nothing is done to threaten the objective of the project.

Conflict Resolution

Compromise can often be achieved without any significant conflict, but when conflict arises for any reason, the project manager needs to step in and resolve the issue in a way that benefits the possibility of achieving success for the project. Conflict resolution is dependent on having as many facts relating to the subject of disagreement as possible.

Information Management

Many projects result in a wealth of information and data that must be appropriately organized, assessed and exploited. Project managers who regularly succeed learn how to make information accessible to all team members and make a habit of ensuring that all data is being updated and backed up.

Communication

Lack of communication can easily result in problems on the way to achieving project success. Part of the manager’s job is to ensure a chain of command for relaying information that doesn’t wind up being sandbagged by its own bureaucracy. An easily overlooked aspect of being a good communicator is understanding who needs what specific information and making sure that communications process facilitates smooth and accurate delivery of that information.

Monitoring Performance

Especially when dealing with long term projects, you need to become efficient at monitoring the performances of each individual as well as the progress of the overall project. It may be unpleasant, but this kind of tracking usually means progress reports, meetings and double checking the status on external suppliers.

Adapting to Change

Changes to the project at all levels of development can occur right up to the last minute. A manager who can accept even the most unlikely and difficult changes and efficiently institute them is the manager most likely to get promoted.

Evaluation

One significant attribute to good project management must wait until all other attributes have been demonstrated. One the project has been successfully completed, the manager needs to evaluate all aspects of the process and compile a report that lists the strengths and weaknesses of all elements involved in the project.

Crazy Patent Ideas

Some crazy ideas that were patented have turned out to be a boon to mankind and civilization. Other ideas have been patented that are equally crazy, but so far have not come to fruition. Given time, of course, who knows. After all, who would ever have thought that the filing of a patient for a little ball that you fit onto your car’s antenna could have created an entire industry, millionaires and the day when you could actually see a car driving by with balls on their antenna that look like a Mexican wrestler?

One of the oddest ideas ever patented was one patented in 1987 by a couple of crazy Brits. Imagine this scenario: You need to know what time it is, but you don’t have a watch and your cell phone battery died about an hour ago. What do you do? What do you do? If Chris Coles and Alan Jefferson have their way with their patented idea, you could merely look upward to the sky and get the time of day. Of course, the time would be Greenwich Mean Time so you’d need to know how to calculate your local time. The crazy patent—or maybe not so crazy—was for a device known as a space chronometer. What in the name of Tesla is a space chronometer? Power by the sun, it was a mammoth clock made up of three hands formed from aluminum. The space chronometer would orbit around the earth so that no matter what your position, you would have the opportunity to look up and find out the time seven different times a day.

A patent idea perhaps even more crazy—and certainly a thousand times more stupid—than the space chronometer is a little device that its inventor calls the Beerbrella. You know those little toothpick umbrellas served in alcoholic concoctions that real men don’t drink? Think that, but big enough to cover your beer bottle or beer can or mug of beer. The idea was to keep the harmful effects from the sun warming up your beer to the point that only an Englishman could possibly enjoy it. Beerbrella. And I suppose they could get Jane Fonda to recreate her role as Barbarella in the commercial: Barbarella Meets Beerbrella. That music you hear is The Bongos singing their classic 80’s hit, “Barbarella.”

Hop into the wayback machine and you get an idea of just how truly crazy some patent ideas were. Take this…thing…patented by Charles Hess. It consisted of a piano from under which a bed could be pulled out. The piano frame also housed considerable storage space. You could quite literally get out of bed, change from your pajamas into your clothing, comb your hair and play Beethoven without needing to go more than two feet from in any direction to accomplish all these things.

Subliminal glasses. (Read all my articles.) Subliminal glasses work (read all my articles) by projecting blink-rapid subliminal messages encouraging you (read all my articles) to lose weight or quit smoking or accomplish any goal you set for yourself. You’ve got to wonder what kind advertising would (read all my articles) would also be flashing subliminally as you drive down fast food alley.

If you thought that the piano bed was crazy patent idea, wait until you hear what the wonderfully-named Quimby Backus patented as the 19th Century was drawing to a close. It’s a Fireplace/It’s a Bed…It’s a Fireplace Bed. Can’t you use see this commercial following those pet pillow commercials? The bed was a Murphy bed type that pulled down right over the burning fire. Since it was lined with asbestos, you could actually fee free to sleep while the fire continued burning. Just don’t breath in too heavily.

Evaluating an Employer Benefits Package

The America where an employee accepted a job with the expectation of an extended benefits program is no more and is hardly likely to ever come back into fashion. Not satisfied with downsizing and outsourcing higher salaries to locations where they are practically reinventing the concept of indentured servitude, Big Business in America set their sights on undermining the last remaining reason for any employee to exhibit the slightest bit of loyalty: the benefits package.

It used to be that one company could entice the best and the brightest job applicant from taking a position with a rival company by being the party that offered the most expansive set of benefits. Today, the only carrot offered as a stick to a thoroughbred employee is the promise of not making them the scapegoat when the company is caught engaging in illegal activities. If you can find a company in America to work for that offers a benefits program, you should do what you can to check out the specifics. If you can find a company in America that offers everything you are about to read and pays a good wage and keeps you and your family on American soil and doesn’t ask you to look the other way when you discover that it has been doing shifty things when it comes to the law, then consider yourself lucky.

Or a CEO.

Medical Benefits

Medical benefits are what most people think of today when they think of a company benefit package. Mainly because medical benefits are just about the only kind of benefit left that many companies offer an enticement. Specific issues that you should inquire about include: whether the medical plan is an HMO or PPO, is catastrophic illness insurance included, is there even the remotest possibility that some dental coverage exists, will the insurance pay out for mental illness treatment and care, what age does dependent cost coverage disappear, what are the out-of-pocket expenses that the insurance package doesn’t cover, how is the deductible and how much are the premiums. Don’t just accept the blanket statement that insurance coverage is part of the company’s benefit package because it may turn out to be utter crap. Also, don’t forget to ask how long you must work at the company before you can get the insurance.

Vacation

The vacation is another benefit that is sticking around in America. Of course, the specifics of the vacation benefit varies not just according to employer, but according to position. Ask if vacations are paid and how long you get. Inquire into the situation as it exists relative to accumulation, usage and loss of vacation time. What are the blackout periods of the calendar year where you are not allowed to take off on vacation. How long must you be employed before vacation time kicks in. Can you split your vacation time to allow you to take shorter vacations twice a year instead of one longer vacation.

Financial Benefits

The financial benefits that a company offers its employees vary tremendously. A common element of the financial benefit package is entry into a profit-sharing program and that can be a great thing, but always ask about the specifics involved and analyze whether it meets your specific needs. Some companies lure employees in with the promise of being able to buy company stock and that may sound great, but be realistic about your expectations of the company’s future. You will most likely be laughed at either audibly or silently inside the interviewer’s mind, but go ahead and ask about the existence of a worker’s union. You might also think ahead to aging issues and your potential for spending serious time as an employee by asking about the existence of group life insurance

Pension Plans

First off, don’t count on it. Pension plans at American companies have almost completely gone the way of celebrity athletes who are worthy of being admired by their young fans. Ask about the existence of a pension benefits package and if you don’t get the head shake and the predictable response that the company is planning on offering a retirement plan in the future, then ask about employee contributions followed by the length of employment time before you can become vested in its interest. Make inquiries into the existence of a 401(k) plan. If you get that far without realizing that going on any further is only going to accomplish the task of making you the subject of jokes at the executive lounge at the end of the day, ask about what age you can expect to start receiving your pension. I cannot overemphasize the importance of taking this figure with you in your head to your celebratory dinner that night and swallowing it followed by a sprinkling some salt from the shaker into your mouth and swallowing that. In other words, regardless of the age figure you receive, keep in mind that by the time you reach that age, there is an excellent chance the pension plan will have ceased existing at all for several years. Other pension questions: early retirement advantages, cost-of-living increases, medical coverage for you and spouse, spousal pension in event of your demise and what it would take at this moment in time to lose your pension.

Child Care

If you’ve got a kids, ask about child care benefits. Child care is one of the few additions to the whole benefits concept in America over the past few decades. In most cases, workers lost an existing benefit in exchange for child care, but not always. If you don’t have kids when you are hired, you should still ask about this since it may become an issue in the future. Be sure to ask about whether any child care expenses can be reimbursed if there is not any facility on-site. Some companies offer the small benefit of a referral service that can save you a little money so don’t forget to ask about that.

Education

The one aspect of the American executive suite in which greed does seem to be giving way at least slightly to exercises of intellectual spirit is in the arena of business owners realizing that an educated and well-trained worker is worth the expense or, at least, an uneducated and untrained worker isn’t worth the profit. Don’t be shy about asking of the existence of a benefits package addition that pays all or part of your continuing education. If the education benefits isn’t that broad, there may exist the potential for the company footing the bill for training classes or work-related seminars. At the very least, ask if the company offers a reimbursement program if you seek out work-related education opportunities yourself.

Good luck and let us know if you’ve found an employer offering all of these in its benefits package.

How to Become a Ghost Hunter

Ghosts. Personally, I don’t believe in them. But they have become big business on cable TV. How many shows feature ghost hunters now? Gotta be at least a dozen or two. Every week a new episode features these ghost hunters visiting some allegedly haunted building and features at least one moment that they can’t fully explain. And yet, they never seem to be able to prove that ghosts exist at all. Why let them have all the fun and glory when you can become a ghost hunter yourself.

The first step in hunting ghosts is finding a place that is haunted. This can be a difficult task and the difficulty does not end when someone finally offers you the chance to track down their spectral visitor. Before you commit to hunting down the ghost, you should conduct some research to see if you are being played for a fool. Ask around and look into public records to see if anyone else anywhere and at any time ever reported ghostly shenanigans. To not do the research leaves you open for a complex practical joke at the expense of not only your dignity, but your credibility.

Visit the site of the alleged haunting before actually setting up shop as a ghost hunter. In the comforting brightness of daylight, look around for any signs of fakery as well as any potential dangers that may grow exponentially when you are there surrounded by the velvety comforter of nighttime. Check the footing and open doors and make sure stairs and steps are in good shape. Don’t be too obvious about checking for fakery and practical jokes. Play the believer all along until you do find evidence of being played.

Of course, there is absolutely no real reason to confine your official ghost hunting duties to nighttime. Ghosts have allegedly appeared in some places during the middle of the day. Night vision cameras are far more dramatic, however. Since your first ghost hunting experience probably won’t be filmed by a cable network crew, you should inquire about what time of the day or night the alleged haunting usually take place. If the ghost is an early bird, then that’s when you should set up shop. Don’t necessarily assume it will be a middle of the night job.

The tools and equipment of a ghost hunter basically come down to a handful of items. You will need to invest in an EMF meter, temperature thermometers, digital cameras, microphones, flashlights and comfortable clothing. The EMF meter is to ghost hunters what the whip is to Indiana Jones: don’t leave home without it. Actually, the EMF meter measures electromagnetic fields. The EMF meter informs the ghost hunter of location of sources of energy. Since ghosts apparently are never in the mood to show up as fully formed beings, you need to prove their existence via changes in the energy levels around you. Be aware that a variety of things in the typical house or place of business can contribute to changes in the electromagnetic field.

Set up the digital cameras to record the widest possible field of vision and just leave them running. Your job as a beginner ghost hunter is mainly going to involve sitting down and watching the video from beginning to end to see if the camera caught something that your human senses did not. This also applies to your audio recording equipment.

One of the best tools available to a beginner ghost hunter is patience. You will find yourself needing to sit in one place in one position for extended periods of time. You must feel comfortable talking out loud to what appears to be yourself. Maybe there is a ghost listening and maybe not. Doesn’t matter, you’ve still got to talk and engage in discourse. The audio recording may reveal something that your pathetic human ears were not capable of hearing.

A laptop comes in handy for keeping a detailed log of every moment of your ghost hunting experience. Take not of anything that seems even remotely supernatural or unexplained. If something does occur, it is up to you to debunk the solution that it was caused by a ghost. Try with all your might to find a natural cause behind any strange occurrence.

If your ghost hunt does turn up something for which you absolutely cannot explain away and that something is caught on film or audio and that something definitely is creepy enough to cause the hairs to stand up on the back of the necks of all who watch or hear it, then you have to resist the temptation to upload it onto YouTube. Instead, contact one of the few cable channels left that doesn’t offer a ghost hunting program and negotiate for your own show.