Monthly Archives: May 2012

Why they call it a firedrill

Sailors conduct a fire drill aboard USS Enterp...

Sailors conduct a fire drill aboard USS Enterprise. (Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery)

“Drop everything and help solve this problem!”

At work, when a situation calls for this request, we call it a “fire drill”.  I feel like the association of stopping everything to leave the building and avoid a hypothetical death by flame make sense.  The term evokes a sense of panic.  But what I don’t understand is how it got into the lexicon to signify arriving at an emergency solution?  It seems to me that fire drills are intended for practice and preparation, so that in the event of an emergency you are prepared and muscle memory guides you to safety.  Not to mention the folks i the orange vests and hats.  It does not signify actually putting out a fire, however.

So, where does this use of the term come from?

According to, this term is:

Used by investment bankers(usually analysts) to mean they have something to get done and get back to someone really fast. Part of speech is variable. Also used by bankers when they go out to mean chug your drink.
“No, I’m firedrill right now for a VP”
“Oh that sucks, I had a bunch of firedrills this morning”
“I hate being in firedrill mode”
“Yeah I wish we hadn’t firedrilled those shots last night”
Working in the private sector, I know the term extends outside of investment banking.  I hadn’t heard the drinking part, though.  I imagine the slang term “fire drill” is intended to point to the non-emergency status of corporate problems.  Perhaps it is meant to infer that we are dropping everything to address as situation that is a “fake” emergency?  I think we often panic in the workplace when details slip our grasp or there is a last minute request:  in lieu of saying “hang on a minute, lets take some time to figure this out” or “no”.
I welcome any and all input to help get to the bottom of this semiotic emergency.
I had a doozy of a “fire drill” today and came out a safety vest-wearing champion!
now i plan on “firedrilling” some bourbon….
Categories: Anthropology, Corporate Culture, Jargon, Participant Observation, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

The rules of suburban banter

In the few years I have spent engaging in casual banter with the suburban middle class parents of my wife’s voice and piano students, I have learned a few things about appropriate casual conversation topics. I welcome loving additions, but here is a starter-list of appropriate chat topics when engaging with this regional tribe:

Gas prices
Workout regimens
Dog grooming
Heating and cooling
Should my next car be a hybrid?
Lawn care
“cleaning lady” advice / reccomendations
Whatever was on CNN that day
Whole foods / trader joes products
High School musicals
The Sercret (by Eckhardt Tolle)
Farm to table restaurants
Their gifted children

…I must now go pick up sticks and pinecones from the front yard…

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Being a good sport is very VERY Canadian

I am not a huge sports fan.  Nor am I a hockey fan.  I but I did some work recently that made me appreciate the value of both from an anthropological perspective.

I figured I should get serious every now and again.  Here’s my first pass.

When thinking about how people watch sports, context is everything.

Sports spectatorship is far from a game. Rather, it is an essential part of life.
Sports represent a tie that binds, a reminder of our humanity and the possibilities of achievement that come with exercising our physical and mental muscles for the benefit of the collective. Watching sports binds us together, and reminds us of
life’s essential lessons about commitment, determination and the value of being
a team player.

And no matter how old we get or how many hits we take, they entertain us in a
way that is both exciting and empathetic…reminding us to love the game of life, promising that win or lose, we are in it together.

And Sports fans are far from blind followers. Rather, they are armchair experts of sorts who scrutinize the athletic, cultural and entertainment value of their choices and place great importance on the overarching ethos of the game. No two sports can replicate the value of another, thus providing a seemingly infinite nuanced category of engagement for philosophical spectators who take pride in their connections to the games they love.

Lets take a look at  Hockey in Canada:  The NHL  / Stanley cup offers a weekly routine guaranteed to please. The social outlet allows the young and young at heart to find comraderie in high-energy engagement. And the party doesn’t have to stop once the puck is off the ice, with a number of ways to flex social and intellectual muscles to keep fans connected to the game and to one another.  Social media, reality TV, and fantasy sports alone can make engagement with hockey through outlets like the NHL a nonstop lifestyle activity during Cup Season.

An that’s exactly what it’s like up there above the U.S. border.

Hockey is in many ways the lifeblood of Canada. It is a tie that binds and an experience that bonds. Watching hockey is like breathing, and the rich cultural tradition connects all Canadians to one another in a way that evokes pride in their national identity and facilitates bonding and tradition within their families.

That means that regardless of the fact that there are no Canadian teams competing for the most iconic trophy in sports this year, you will still find a devoted Canadian fan base glued to the game and engaged in media.

I should point out here that the The NHL does a solid job of providing Canadians with a a rich platform for engaging with their national past-time and promises deeper connections with like minded-humans and empathetic heroes through their vast media reach: from stat sites to HBO specials and beyond.

However, some recent work I have done shows that catching the media-attention of Canadian hockey fans is a hit or miss enterprise when it comes to marketing and brand reach (this is where my “day job” comes in).   But winning them over is easy if a brand can authentically connect to the spirit of Hockey that pervades the Canadian way of life. Presence is not enough to gain relevance in a sea of media. The story must connect in a meaningful way and empathize with the Canadian way of life that IS hockey.  Look at Molson Canadain, Tim Hortons, Visa and other sponsors who “get it”:

Tim Hortons:



The purpose of this work was to identify ways to exploit the cultural context of hockey for profit, but at the end of the day it taught me a lot about the value of professional sports and sport in general, beyond the physical necessity of it to the cultural imperative.

All in all I’m better off.  And I hope you are too for reading this blog today.  🙂

Categories: Anthropology, Canadian Culture, Consumer Culture, NHL Hockey, Sports, Stanley Cup, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Signifiers of Middle Class Summer

It is official.  The day we memorialize our veterans:  a seemingly somber “celebration”, is also in paradox with the generalized glee we associate with summer beginning.
And you don’t have to be a kid to appreciate the glee.  I still get giddy on days like today, when everyone opens up their pool for the summer and you have that first weekend BBQ.  And then you crash like a sun-drunk buzzard tired of circling the meat all day.

I thought I would capture some of the signifiers of summer:  what makes it “so”, and what does it say about us American folk: (and pardon the sarcasm but hope nobody takes offense as an American.  I assure you, some of my best friends are American, so I mean no harm.  😉  ).

Feel free to add to the list, but we start off with:

Swimming Pools: because you can’t stay inside when the sun is shining and you can’t tolerate the outdoors without a properly sanitized hole to cool your body in. Your ears are acutely tuned to the seasonal television adverts from places like United Pool Management and their catchy jingles. Pretty basic biology with a middle-class twist.

Barbeques: because at our primal best, when we spend our days as close to naked as possible we just want to make a fire and char some meat that was freshly killed (at some point not so long ago in a sanitized environment that we didn’t have to kill ourselves)

Beer:  because (especially if you are a parent with kids out for summer) you need beer to survive all that time in the back yard with your family.

Sunscreen:  because you are making a point to plant yourself in direct sunlight for entire days at a time, lest you waste one more minute than necessary inside planted in front of your computer.  We were trained to “go outside and play” doing the summer.  And for some reason it’s the only season where we really take the sun seriously.  Like a pot on a hot stove, the heat only burns if you can feel it.

Flip Flops:  because summer means relaxing.  There will be no exercise in this heat and we can’t possibly be expected to NOT have our head in the “sand” even thought we are supposed to be working.

Lazy blogs:  because you’ve just spent the day in a swimming pool, eating BBQ, drinking beer, forgetting to put on sunscreen and are ready to kick off your flip flops and take a nap.

Now go forth and be gleeful, but don’t be late for your first conference call in the morning…

Categories: Consumer Culture, Suburban Living | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lesbians in the Midst…

I figured what better way to start getting a readership base than to write about Lesbians. People LOVE to read about lesbians!

That and I have found some of my own lived experiences to be particularly anthropologically fascinating in nature. Yes, it’s true. I have a wife and I am a female. That makes me a definitive lesbian. 🙂

I should say that being a lesbian is not as inherently interesting as one might think, but thus far my suburban experience as a lesbian has been utterly fascinating.

I moved from “the city” to an up-and-coming rural-turning-suburban area just about 30 minutes outside “the city” two or so years ago. A year before my wife and I got married…and about 8 months after we met.

She had bought this home with her former partner and uses it for her business: she is a private voice instructor / vocal coach and the base of her business is sourced from “The Burbs”. That and property out in these parts is dirt cheap.

Once I had decided I was “in it to win it”, I gave up my glass condo in the sky for something a little more roomy and peaceful. I was also relieved that her home was actually quite comfortable and the neighborhood quite eclectic…not the McMansion subdivision I was expecting from what I know from doing a good amount of in-home and ethnographic work in this region, but also from what you see on the TV. 😉

The interesting part about the change of scenery is how the role of the “gays” changes as well. In the city, gays and lesbians are part of the scenery. The gay and lesbian tribes mix and mingle with the rest of the community…some stay separate, others mingle and migrate freely. But all in all, the gay men and lesbians are part of what defines urban culture. It’s part of the rainbow of subcultures that drives the vibe.

Out here in the burbs, however…it is different.

As the 4th of July approaches in about another month or so I am reminded of the neighborhood block party we attended…hosted by the guy down the street who has the spray-painted gold lions in his front yard (that’s another blog…I PROMISE). My wife had been here for a few years but hadn’t gotten to know the neighbors too well yet. And this was our first time attending a neighborhood “function” together. I had kind of figured everyone must be fascinated by the two ladies with no kids living in a house together in this family neighborhood(not to mention the constant stream of tweenagers and teenagers that come to our house for voice lessons daily throwing them for a loop).

At one point about an hour after we arrived with our trays of home-made mac n cheese and started mingling, one of the neighbors friends from out of town came up and asked me: “sweetie, what was your name again? And THE OTHER ONE”?. Ah….the “other one”.

My friend Tom told me he took the liberty of telling everyone at the party that both of our husbands were off fighting the war and we were living together to help pay the bills. I am pretty sure he was joking.

My point being, lesbians are a bit of a novelty out in “these parts”. Here are some of the roles of the Suburban Lesbian that I have identified so far:

The RELIC: something interesting to ponder, look at and otherwise compare yourself too using yourself as the litmus for “normal”

The PROPERTY VALUE INFLUENCER: Given we don’t have kids (which isn’t always the case) and have a bit of extra disposable income, we have been doing a lot to modify our property: putting up a fence, new back deck, new landscaping, new front steps, etc. This neighborhood is still very much working class / blue collar as well as having a lot of retirees with motor homes. We have noticed a distinct uptick in the amount of renovations in our vicinity since we started.

The CONVERSATION STARTER: Every now and then I find myself hanging out at a local watering hole (to get out of the house during early evening voice lessons without getting on the highway). The clientele is mostly middle-aged locals who come from rural southern stock. I am a good conversationalist and pretty open about who I am, and the inevitable second or third question at the bar is usually: “so what does your husband do”? I was a bit nervous at first about how these conversations would go. But I have found that people are deeply interested in having conversations about the whole “gay” thing…and not to ask me about my experience per se, but to let me know that they know other gay people / lesbians and speak to me about their point of view on a topic that, i guess, doesn’t get discussed ’round these parts much.

The PROOF THAT YOU ARE “COOL”: We have found that, especially with many of my wife’s student’s parents, even though we (for the most part) have never come out and proclaimed our relationship (I work from home often and have developed a rapport with many of them), my wife was surprised when they decided to “come out” for us. When we were getting married and wedding registry gifts started arriving, we would find that some of the more observant parents started sending us gifts…even though they weren’t invited to / told about the wedding. We also found a lot of them wanting to start conversations about “us”. I think what it came down to was the wanting to show that, even thought they live in the burbs, they are still “cool”. They are not close minded and don’t want us to worry about being judged. I like this role a lot. 🙂

The COLLECTORS ITEM: another interesting role that I have found particularly entertaining is the one based purely on objectification. It seems it’s all the rage these days to have a gay or lesbian couple (or both) in your social circle out here in the burbs…especially among the middle to upper middle class. We have actually had people say to us “we don’t have any lesbian couples in our group” or “we need some lesbian friends”. The gays and lesbians round out the chess set, apparently. 🙂

I am sure there are some more, but this exhausts my purview for the moment, as well as my cup of coffee. Time to help the wife start chopping ingredients for the “wild rice salad” and prepping for this evening’s Memorial Weekend get-together. We are having some of our more “eclectic” friends over. They are mostly straight. We find it’s important to have some of those in our social circle to round things out. 😉

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Gay and Lesbian Lifestyles, Lesbians, Suburban Living | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Comic Book Movie Promotions Going Girly?


I would love to see the market research and / or have been in the Ideation session that cast the web for this cross-promotion.

My question: what does it all mean? I suppose it supports the idea that Girls can be nerds too! We have seen a generation of girls finally empowered to embrace their inner (and apparently outer) geek!

I know I met my gorgeous wife at DragonCon: an annual weekend festival in the Southeast for close encounters of the Nerd kind.

But then again, I also saw a similar display in the same beauty superstore (which I get dragged to frequently) for the movie Dark Shadows…hocking eye shadow instead of nail polish, however.

So, maybe the combination is saying more about creating escapist experiences through “glamour”?

Or perhaps the geeky girls have just finally started growing up, found their niche and are using their influence to make pop culture just a little more colorful.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Geeks, Marketing, Movie Promotions, pop culture, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Experiment

And for my next experiment, i will start a blog!

I was recently told by a ten year old who was told by his Dad that Facebook is for Narcissists.


But I think blogs take it one step further. They provide a psuedo-legit outlet for properly curated narcissisim for those who (think they) have a right to a point of view.

I am one of said “those”.

I am an Anthropologist of sorts. A professional one, actually…and applying my academic training to REAL LIVE WORK in the private sector. The nature of both my job and my personal interests have me studying life as we know it today and making understanding said life as we know but accessible and actionable. To be brief.

I have recently been inspired to find an experimental creative outlet and see what happens. I think it will have one definite benefit of sparing my Facebook friends some of my dorky anthropological observations. Not ALL of them, mind you…but some.

Starting…err…tomorrow (I was told that my wife is hungry and we need to go out to eat….NOW), I will post a blog a day for a year (very “Julie and Julia”…I know) about something i think is interesting.

But I will set one important parameter: it must be an elaboration of some sort on an observation I had that day….an observation about culture or human behavior…the context and the details of our everyday life that define our surroundings and how we relate understand and relate to the world.

And I will try to not use too many big words. 😉 I was told yesterday before a PR interview for work : You are sometimes too smart for your own good”.

Screw it. I’ll use as many big words as I want.

If you’re reading this blog then you are probably nerdy enough to handle it.


Categories: Anthropology, Culturematic, Experiment, Narcissists, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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