Friday, July 30, 2010

Four days of fun (so far)

Rappeling down a tower at Jamboree
So far so good. The Jamboree has proven to be one of the most amazing adventures any youth or Scouting adult could ever undertake. Its scope is so vast that there is scarcely enough words to relay what opportunities are available to all of the youth, parents and interested parties who attend this 10-day event. There are scores of merit badges used for rank advancement in Boy Scouting, but there are also high adventure opportunities for older Scouts not interested in advancement or Venturers who want to feel the rush of adrenaline as they challenge different courses and, ultimately, themselves.

National Catholic Committee and National Eastern Orthodox Chairs flank NJCOS member
In addition to these opportunities for the Scouts there are large numbers of adult leaders - Scouters - who are there to provide leadership to individual troops who hail from across the country or across the globe or offering their services to enhance the overall experience. One of the more interesting aspects to the Jamborees is how the different religious faith groups support one another at the National Exhibits area. My work with the National Jewish Committee on Scouting has put me in contacts with hundreds of Scouts and Scouters of varying religious persuasions. We are all working for the same league, just on different teams.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Jamboree is on!

Every four years or so, the National Jamboree of the Boy Scouts of America convenes at a place determined to be logistically proper for the 50,000 or so Boy Scouts and 250,000 visitors who will attend the 10-day event. Beginning in 1937 and through the intervening decades, there have been fifteen previous Jamborees, the most recent events being held at Fort A. P. Hill army post outside of Bowling Green, Kentucky. This is the centennial year of Scouting in the United States and because of that the powers that be determined that the Jamboree would be held after five years from the last one held in 2005. In any event it promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Religious spirits

The Mad Hatter at the Beefeater opening at TOC
Many of us may know of the unusual connection between religious orders and the distillation process. Perhaps the best known of these is a product originally made by an abbey in Normandy that bears the name of their order, Benedictine. The Benedictine monks who made their herbal liqueur are not alone in the annals of history. Several other religious groups, like the Carthusians who first made Chartreuse liqueur, have also become famous for their impact on a handful of important libations. No less an authority than Southern Wine and Spirits' own Allen Katz, a Jewish former Baltimore resident, who now lives and works in New York, is ready to reveal all. Katz will be the star at one of the last seminars of the Tales of the Cocktail today, as the incredible series of events put on by the New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society begins to wind down for 2010. Perhaps it is appropriate that such a seminar being given with beer expert Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery is held on a Sunday, the typical day of worship for members of the Christian faith. For Katz, though, his first connections to spirits and drinking in general came about through exposure to Friday night Kiddush and Saturday morning Kiddush which accompanied the conclusion of Jewish prayer services or the beginning of the Sabbath meal. Katz recalled his parents did like an occasional drink. "My impression is that they showed great trust in me and my sister and allowed us to grow up to have respect fro alcohol, but not a fear." So how does a nice Jewish boy get to know so much about Christian - and in particular - Catholic influences on the liquor industry? "I have been exposed to many Catholic orders as they have a monastic tradition of distilling (and brewing)," he explained. "Because of my role as an educator, I am often invited to visit distilleries (and)...have had the opportunity to visit monasteries that still produce their own alcohol for liqueurs or other prodcts as an economic and historic engine." What that means is that he gets to imbibe often as a means of more educated palate. Katz has overseen the growth of Southern Wine and Spirits of New York, which is today the single largest distributor of wines and spirits in the country. It was only natural that the company moved from Florida to New York during its more recent period of growth, even though the name may not be entirely correct in understanding its position vis-à-vis the Mason Dixon line. The fact is Katz's Jewish heritage started him down the road toward becoming a mover and shaker and an expert in the spirits industry. Religiously speaking, we should consider that today's seminar will prove there is more than one way to say "L'chaim."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sazerac Ambassador and Secret Sippers

Mr. and Mrs. Cocktail flank the Sazerac Ambassador
Ann Tuennerman likes to be called Mrs. Cocktail and no one in New Orleans deserves the title more than she. As the titular head of the annual international Tales of the Cocktail conference that honors mixology industry members, movers and shakers and all things associated with potent potables during this time each year in New Orleans, she has become the most recognized official with the New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society that puts the event on. It goes to say that if there is a Mrs. Cocktail, then a Mr. Cocktail must be by her side. Husband Paul is more than happy to fill that bill as both a supporting figure and a hard working member of the NOCCP. If there is one drink that identifies New Orleans as a city, much like the Singapore Sling identifies Singapore City or the Cuba Libre identifies Havana, then that drink must be the Sazerac, the official cocktail of the city as recognized by no less than the Louisiana State Legislature. The Sazerac was invented here early in the Nineteenth Century and by many peoples' accounts it is the first cocktail of note in America. Although a few researchers have unearthed other references to drinks in newspapers of the day that predate pharmacist Antoine Amédee Peychaud's famous concoction (made with his family's secret bitters formula), it certainly was the foremost drink of its time. So-called coffee houses sprang up in what is now the French Quarter well before the Civil War to offer their own versions of the cocktail in an environment where they were offered strictly for medicinal purposes. The Sazerac brand today is controlled by Republic Distillery, but the history of the name is as New Orleans as a poboy or a beignet. Throughout the past year, the Tales of the Cocktail staff assembled a group of Secret Sippers to ascertain in their opinion who offered the most consistent and tasty Sazerac cocktail in New Orleans. Like any product that identifies a particular venue, it was important to Ann, Paul and her NOCCP staff that those that carried the tradition of making a very good Sazerac be honored. In all the Secret Sippers visited numerous locations around town making their assessments. In the end at least three Secret Sippers visited the several top locations on three occasions before decrying them worthy of the title of the Sazerac Seal of Approval. In the end Bar Tonique, the Carousel Bar (in the Monteleone Hotel), Irvin Maybield's Jazz Playhouse, the Sazerac Bar (in the Roosevelt Hotel), DBA, French 75, Cure and Bar Uncommon were all selected to receive recognition as the very first Sazerac Seal of Approval Award winners. Each received an impressive glass trophy emblazoned with their name and the title of the award. Also in the previous years of the Tales of the Cocktail, a Sazerac Ambassador has been named from within the mixology industry as a mover and shaker or as a celebrity bartender. This year the title of Sazerac Ambassador went to Wendy Waren, the vice-president of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, a longtime supporter of the NOCCP and its very important work promoting the cocktail and liquid living in general. All awards took place at the steps of the Monteleone Hotel, which has served as the headquarters for this very interesting series of lectures and tastings each year.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tales of the Cocktail 2010

TOC's incredible Ann Tuennerman
©Photos Alan Smason
The annual international conference of spirits distributors, purveyors, bartenders and lovers of all manner of libations opens officially today with Ann Tuennerman and her husband Paul as the hosts for Tales of the Cocktail. Of course, Ann's crackerjack staff (including Michelle and several others) works tirelessly to ensure that all of the visitors and local media enjoy the best possible time while sampling the newest and most innovative creations to ever come down a bar. Today New Orleans is at the epicenter of the spirits universe. Numerous events like the welcome reception tonight by Beefeater's Gin will continue throughout the remainder of the week. Yesterday's initial offerings including a sushi and art showing by Japanese distiller Ty-Ku. Their magnificent sakes (white and black) were a perfect pairing for the sushi prepared by Sake Café chef Hao Gong. The Ty-Ku licquer green bottles on display actually lit up when one touched them - a nice touch to an interesting spirit that made a lovely lemonade.
Ty-Ku's unusual bottle that lights at the touch
Drambuie put on an amazing show last night in the historic Blue Room of the Roosevelt Hotel with Jeremy Davenport leading his band in joyful jazz as four different types of Drambuie concoctions were sampled. My favorites included the Southern Nail and the New York Nail, also called the Scotland Yard, which included a generous portion of muddled basil. Wow!

New York Nail with basil by Duane Fernandez, Jr.
Grey Goose Vodka's gathering at Latrobe's on Royal Street was a madhouse with numerous bartenders showing off their stuff for the Sundance cameras who are documenting the entire event.
Grey Goose Vodka's bartender Kevin Henry
The Tales of the Cocktails seminars begin now and continue through the next several days. More on TOC to follow.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The cap is on -nu?

Photo:Vlad Lazerian, Creative Commons, Flickr
In Yiddish there is the expression "nu?", which more or less translates into "so?" The question is now that the kindly folks at British Petroleum have deemed that the crisis may be in its waning days, what do we do from here? As a computer networking consultant and a writer working in New Orleans, I have no claim to any of the $20 billion slush fund appropriated by Congress and managed by Ken Feinberg. Those local fishers and other industry people affected by the downturn - and in many cases the paralysis - of their economy due to fallout from the spewing oil beneath the Gulf of Mexico are rightly entitled to petition the government for a redress of their losses. In most cases, though, only a fraction of their actual losses will be recovered. How they hold on financially and mentally during this time of trepidation will be telling. Already there are several horrible stories of people having been forced to move away to Texas or other fishing areas unaffected by the crisis in order to fend for their families. Some boat captains faced with financial ruin have taken their own lives rather than deal with the crisis head on. It is very sad and, unfortunately, these kind of pressures will continue unabated even after the spiggot of oil have been finally turned off. But the good news is that now there is some measure of hope and the beginning of the end is somewhat more now in view. The crisis began with the tragic deaths of 11 oilfield workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon. The numbers of affected families from the resulting crisis now numbers in the hundreds of thousands along the shores and stretch all the way down to Miami. So, the question is what can any of us do to help ensure this never happens again? Is a six-month moratorium on offshore oil exploration going to help stop this kind of event from recurring? Frankly, I doubt it. This was a series of breakdowns where each culpable party blamed the other with the bottom line being the only object truly being served. Had the blowout preventer manufacturer engineered their device properly, had the necessary tests been run to make sure it was working properly and had the B.P. engineers on board the rig not ignored the signs that showed fluctuations in pressure early on, none of this tragedy would have occurred and probably all of those whose lives were lost would have been saved and those whose way of life have been changed might still be productive and happy. I don't feel particularly safe now that the cap is on and the moratorium is still being sought by the government. When it all comes down to profit and loss statements, corners will be cut and, unfortunately, greed will rise to have its say. To add a moratorium to the oil exploration industry might hamper the little business that's still ongoing. If we want to shut down offshore exploration and send it off to Nigeria or other promising areas in South America, then we should consider that option. But, if we want to save the jobs and related industries that are still thriving, but barely so, then the government should proceed. That's why I'm somewhat happy, but also somewhat ambivalent. Nu?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Raise the Bastille Radiothon, 37 years later

A photo taken of Professor Longhair circa the Raise the Bastille Radiothon in 1973.
(©Michael P. Smith Photography)

Back in 1973 a friend of mine from Loyola University, Mike McHugh, and I were trying to figure out how to get notice for our tiny ten-watt FM college radio station, WTUL. Mike and I played jazz and my specialty "oldies" show had been underway for about a year. This was the first summer that the station was continuously on the air on the FM band, having previously been a carrier-current AM station, heard only in the dormitories and in some areas on campus like the university center. Somehow and someway we decided that a concert would be a great opportunity for us. But what could we do? We needed something that would get the attention of the news media, but also something that might be of value to the community. When could we do this? Looking at the calendar, we chose the weekend of July 14 to stage the event. Wait a second, we said. July 14 is Bastille Day. The bastille was a jail stormed by a Parisian mob at the start of what became the French Revolution. Why not call the Orleans Parish Prison and see if we could raise money for the prisoners by doing a benefit show for them and broadcasting it live over the radio? We would have to see the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff, Lewis Heyd. He agreed to a meeting with the two of us and Warden Adam Falkenstein. It was our first time in the facility and we struck by the number of guns and mean-looking guards at the prison. After eyeing us up and down, the sheriff and the warden told us they weren't so sure that this was such a good idea. The last time a performance was held at the prison, they informed us, there was a riot there. Shows of that type were now strictly verboten. Somehow and someway, though, to our great surprise and against all credulity, the two officials gave us permission to proceed. We met with the inmate who ran the nearly exhausted inmate welfare fund there and it was agreed that all donated funds pledged at the event would go to that fund. Mike and I were beside ourselves, but now we needed to gather all of the performers we could find and ask them to perform at a benefit at Parish Prison and do so for free. Where to start? Where do you find a gathering of performers where you can pitch the idea to them all at once? All of a sudden we were struck with an idea. There was an upcoming show of old New Orleans performers that was being promoted at the St. Bernard Civic Auditorium. The show featured a number of "one hit wonders" whose hits had become their middle names on posters. People like Jesse "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" Hill, Oliver "Who Shot the La La ?" Morgan, Robert "Barefootin'" Parker and others with multiple hits like Lee Dorsey ("Ya Ya" and "Working in the Coal Mine") and Chris Kenner ("Land of 1000 Dances" and "I Like It Like That") were on the bill. Somehow we got backstage at the concert and talked to each and every one of the performers and, incredibly, they all agreed to perform live on the radio for free. We even got the famous Meters (Art Neville, Leo Nocentelli, Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste and George Porter, Jr.) and New Orleans' self-styled voodoo rocker Dr. John to perform. The piece-de-resistance, though was the coup we pulled off when we called on Roy Byrd, the grandfather of New Orleans rock and roll known invariably as Professor Longhair or just "Fess" to come out of semi-retirement and perform at the prison. It was the first stereophonic live broadcast in New Orleans history, but it soon became a mono event when one of the balanced lines the radio station had paid for was cut. Nevertheless, that was the biggest downside of the event. The music was pure joy and the inmates all were well-behaved and enjoyed themselves. I will say that the first group escorted to the interior cement-paved yard where the broadcast show was being broadcast were those prisoners who were gender questionable. For young impressionable college students it was our first exposure to the bizarre lifestyle many incarcerated members of the penal system practice. They, too, were model prisoners and I would guess that the ability to get out of their cells and hear live music was probably too good a thing for them to ruin, especially since the previous concert had ended on such a bad note. The show was one of the best I'd ever seen with the Meters, Dr. John and Professor Longhair rocking out at one time. Sadly, we did not get Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint or Irma Thomas to play for the event, but the first two rarely perform (even today) and Irma was living and working in California at the time. Following the live acts, several DJs, including a lovely college coed, played records live from the site and asked for pledges. The phone lines rang and donations were tallied to the tune of nearly $1,000. That may not seem like much, but think also about how much talent was donated to the prisoners and, ultimately, the positive press generated by the event for the promotion of a brand new tiny FM station. These were great times and I only regret that the tape that was made of the several live performances was stolen in the months following the event. Somehow and someway the Raise the Bastille Radiothon became a part of history and I marvel at how two home-grown kids could pull off such a feat.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Wiki this and wiki that

Today's blog will cover in a rudimentary fashion the concept of a wiki. The idea of collaboration between peers was the brainchild of what is now called a wiki. Some of you may have heard the term wiki, with its most famous web presence Wikipedia, but have never quite understood what it was. Consider the early days of computer networking. If one wanted to share data with a second or third party, he had to know what common applications were shared between users. An end user with Corel Word Perfect could compose a document, but if the people he sent the document to only had Microsoft Word, it was as if he were talking Chinese and they only understood Urdu. In order to allow all parties to share equally, the public document format was created, the best known application of which is the free Adobe reader. Documents created by the proprietary Adobe products can be read by those possessing the free reader, although there are several other free readers available too. Similarly, early collaborators using the hypertext markup language (HTML) of the Internet found content management very cumbersome. First, everything was written in that code. Brilliant websites of stunning design required myriad lines of code, which on first examination looked like a random collection of phrases, characters and cyphers. It looked like gobbeldy-gook, but when it was published, it was a work of beauty. Everyone with a browser could experience all of its brilliant colors, catchy animation and varying sounds. The computer browser became the common tool shared by web surfers and its importance to the development of the World Wide Web can never be overstated. When the public demanded more information be placed on the Internet for research purposes and when team members working on projects screamed for better ways to share materials, the genesis of the wiki was sparked. Browser end users imagined a content management software that would work with the browsers and resemble, more or less, what the final product would be. The term for this kind of program was borrowed from a famous character by the late comedian Flip Wilson. Geraldine, as his drag character was called, would occasionally utter the famous phrase "what you see is what you get!" This became the cute catchphrase - WYSIWYG - for the text editors that came about. The websites created by these text editors could approximate the look of what the final html code would render. Now, all collaborators could see the same thing at once and, if they were online and sharing a network with common protocols, they could equally contribute to an internal or external site. Wiki was the Hawaiian name for "fast" chosen by its developer as a kitschy phrase for others. Wiki sites are common today and used by corporations for sharing collaborative ideas between peers. Projects are commonly brainstormed using wikis with all submissions given equal weight, which is to say they are all treated as equally reasonable or equally preposterous. In the case of Wikipedia, there are more specific rules placed before a citation can be attributed and its verification is of supreme importance. Anyone can upload information to Wikipedia, but if that information is proved to be of questionable reliability, it can also be readily removed. In today's fast moving offices wikis are of great utility, especially in terms of group collaboration that is both immediate and productive. It is suspected that most wiki activity goes on in private networks rather than on public ones. But as to Wikipedia, keep in mind that what goes up on that site is not always reliable or verifiable. Although the volunteers of Wikipedia do a very good job of self-policing entries that are dubious, sometimes erroneous information or outright gossip can hit the website. It may take time before it is stricken from the site. As a result, most colleges won't consider a Wikipedia citation as worthy of scholarly research. So I ask you: what would a weary, wistful wiki worker want with wonderment? (wait...wait...wait) Writing with wholly wonderful wit, wisdom and weight.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lake Pontchartrain and the Tar Ball Baby - a modern allegory

One day Brer Lake Pontchartrain was minding his own business providing a place for all manner of fish and fowl to enjoy his broad waters. He was especially proud of how clean he was now following decades of dredging and abuse by men of environmental ill repute. He was basking in the sunshine and enjoying the tidal motion of his brackish water when all of a sudden he felt an unusual presence near the junction of nearby Lake Borgne and the Rigolets inlet (for those of you who don't know the proper pronunciation that's Borgne, which is a homophone with "born" and Rigolets, which is pronounced RIG-o-leez). He looked and noticed a series of barges had been put into place, preventing much of the salt water from the Gulf of Mexico from moving into his basin.

But it wasn't the barges that caught his interest. It was a large black, viscous mass steadily streaming into his clean waters. Little did he know that this tar ball baby had been sent his way by the rascal Brer B.P., who hated the giant lake because no drilling was permitted there. The big black, gooey mess seemed to taunt the lake.

Brer Lake Pontchartrain called out to the mass of tar.

"Good morning," he called out.

The tar ball baby said nothing.

Brer B.P., watching from afar, smiled a broad grin. His plan was working, he thought.

"I said 'Good morning,'" the big lake continued, but there was no answer. Brer Lake Pontchartrain frowned and murmured that this was not a very polite creature, but he tried again. "GOOD MORNING!" he shouted at the tar ball baby, wondering if perhaps he were deaf.

Still no answer.

Brer B.P. was just about ready to split his sides.

Brer Lake Pontchartrain was getting angry now. "I don't know if you'all are deaf or just impolite, but I can't stand nobody that's stuck up!"

Brer B.P. was holding back his laughter.

"I'll teach ya!" Brer Lake Pontchartrain bellowed as he glared hard at the tar ball baby. He took his mighty waves and gave a great swipe at the tar ball baby. It split into hundreds of smaller pieces each wandering off further inside the proud lake. Then, another wave from the gulf brought another thick, gooey mess of tar inside the lake that clung to what was left of the original mass.

"Hello?" shouted Brer Lake Pontchartrain. "Are you makin' fun of me?" He swung again at the tar ball baby, splitting it into thousands of small pieces, each meandering to different areas inside the lake.

This went on for some time until Brer B.P. could no longer contain himself. He jumped up with a packet of contracts for drilling rights and demanded Brer Lake Pontchartrain sign them and allow oil rigs to be erected inside his boundaries.

Brer Lake Pontchartrain thought about what he could do. He didn't want to harm himself any more, but he wasn't sure how to get one over on Brer B.P.

He came up with a plan.

"You can choke off my source and dry me up," Brer Lake Pontchartrain replied, "but you know what you shouldn't do? Please don't have the government come in here and help me out with this paperwork!"

Brer B.P. said out loud: "The government, eh? I'll bet they get you so tied up with more paperwork, you won't have no time to check on environmental issues. You'll be bogged down fa sure!"

So, Brer B.P. called for the government to come in and enforce the new contracts. All kinds of agents came a’ running and swarming all over Brer Lake Pontchartrain. Brer B.P. was distracted by the response and started thinking about how rich he would soon be.

But, no sooner did the government agents start their advance to the middle of Brer Lake Pontchartrain, then the tar ball baby and all his little parts started moving out of the lake, through the Rigolets and on past Lake Borgne. Brer B.P. hadn't noticed, but soon he heard someone whistling a happy tune.

It was Brer Lake Pontchartrain!

He then saw Brer Lake Pontchartrain kicking the last of the tar ball baby out of his beautiful brackish water with the help of a few crabs.

"I was bred on bureaucrats," he said to Brer B.P.. "Ain't no other group on the face of this earth that can muck things up more, especially if you're just getting settled in a new home or counting on them to help you," he called out.

"Yep. Bred on bureaucrats. That poor tar ball baby didn't stand a chance." And Brer Lake Pontchartrain went on about his business, while Brer B.P. gritted his teeth in anger and stamped off in a fit of rage.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The great leveler

I think it was in 11th grade that the final inevitability of life actually dawned on me in biology class. I was reading out loud the textbook that stated that all living things on earth had a birth, a period of growth and then death. The text stated the only difference between man and the creatures that crawl upon, swim in or soar above its surface is that we know we will die. It's not a question of if, but when, the text reiterated. Up to that point I had only experienced death or thought about it as something that happened to someone else. Now the message was being made abundantly clear: I was going to die too. Through the intervening years I have lost many relatives and close friends. I was only five when my great-grandfather died, but I remember seeing him for the last time in the hospital room and then he was gone. Several great aunts and great uncles went to their graves and I was sad, but failed to connect the thought that their demise was indeed a fate in store for me. The summer between my sixth and seventh grades I became best friends at summer camp with another kid also from New Orleans. While we were not close at first, we gravitated towards each other and did everything together toward the end of the summer. We pledged to get together during the coming school year. Within just a few weeks we were both back home and in school. One morning I received a phone call from a friend that informed me my buddy had been killed in a tragic car crash with his mother and brother. They had been driving and struck an abutment. The car had caught fire while my friend was still buckled in the back seat. Quick action allowed his brother and mother the chance to get out of the vehicle. They survived, but my friend didn't. I didn't attend the funeral, but I did visit his grave a year or so later and to this day I still miss him. Yet, I don't think the gravitas of his death made quite the impression that the deaths of my grandparents and even more great aunts and great uncles did later. But in retrospect, it should have. He was just a kid, after all. They had lived many more decades, had had an opportunity to have families and to enjoy what others referred to as their golden years. They were able to travel, while he had rarely sojourned from the city of his birth. There have been several friends and close family members I have lost through the years, not the least of whom were my father and wife within just a three-week period. Now, though, I am beginning to realize that the unanticipated mourning for but a few of my contemporaries is about to make the turn towards the expected and commonplace. Yesterday I attended a funeral for an 82-year-old man who was deeply religious and kind beyond description. His memory was still fresh in my mind when I received the startling news that one of my contemporaries, a woman only a few years older than I, has succumbed to an aneurysm. While we were not close, I did feel a loss for her husband and the two grown children she left behind. A religious man might state that G-d really needed her in a hurry, while a secular man might suggest it was just her time. But knowing she was nearly 60, I began to consider actuarial tables. I remember thinking to myself that she will be the first of a new decade of departures. The odds are that some of us will die due to accident, disease or foul play. Many of my contemporaries will die in this coming decade and whether I will be on that list, no one can say. I want to live my life as best I can with the knowledge that what I do is important and enriching to others and myself. I consider my days on earth as precious gifts and I want to treasure those that are left and the possibilities they signify. But in the end, imposed with a sentence of life, I will continue to carry on as any man could or should: with faith, hope and charity deep in my heart.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The truth comes out about Dell

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather when news was leaked on the New York Times and Gizmodo sites yesterday that Dell Computers has finally admitted what industry insiders had long suspected. According to recently unsealed court documents, Dell executives revealed that the company knowingly sold thousands of faulty motherboards with defective capacitors in their OptiPlex desktops that they knew would eventually explode, leaking their contents onto the boards and requiring immediate repair or replacement. According to the testimony, Dell estimated the failure rate at a whopping 97.7%. To those of us in the field, that number seems about right. I know of several businesses that went through their OptiPlex computers like the stuff that goes through a goose. No sooner would a replacement motherboard come in, then another workstation would fail. It wasn't beyond the realm of possibilities that a board would fail, be replaced and then fail again. By the time it failed a second or even a third time, the original warranty by Dell would expire, leaving the owner of the business with the no-brainer of ditching the OptiPlex and getting another workstation in its place. Sometimes, they would figure they had just had bad luck; they had been stuck with a lemon. Others who were a bit more knowledgeable knew that something else was afoot there. In only a few cases did the owners of affected OptiPlex workstations ever decide to abandon the brand. Dell was great at marketing the fact they had very affordable machines and could get shipments out very quickly. For most businesses, cheap and fast was what they were looking for and if they were smart and paid for the three-year gold service contracts, the failures were easier to swallow. During complaint calls it was disclosed that Dell would replace the entire computer if two motherboards failed within a 30-day period. It struck me as odd at the time that a company like Dell would put that policy into place. Now, with 20-20 hindsight, it makes sense. They fully expected the great majority of motherboards to fail and so they needed something to assuage singed customer relations between their company and the employees who suffered the most in the shortest time. I would assume that Dell reasoned if they could keep ahead of the failure curve in terms of the one year warranty period most people opted for, they would come out ahead. Most disgusted buyers purchased another computer rather than repair the problematic one. I admit to having purchased Dell computers for clients still, but the failure rate on motherboards today is much, much lower than it was five years ago. Of course, for those of you who are familiar with the latest Dell promotion for their cute and colorful line of laptops, the quartet of Dell assembly line workers singing "Lollipop" may spring to mind. But beware. In case you forgot the other common name for a's a sucker!