The Man in the White Suit – Ben Collins Stig Book

ben collins is the stig 2010 and a pretty hot guy if you ask me.I just finished The Man in the White Suit by Ben Collins and I found it to be an interesting look into the life of a man that landed in an amazing job on TopGear UK, and a telling look at the life of TopGear behind the scenes.

I was one of the many people saying “why?!” after I heard that The Stig published a book about his experiences on TopGear and revealed his identity and effectively lost his job. It seemed like career suicide to do this and lose this sweet gig racing some of the rarest cars on the planet and hooning some of the funniest moments in car television for an audience of 350 million people worldwide.

After reading the book I understand his motivations a bit more. In the press Ben Collins has said that he revealed this information in order to better move on in his career rather than be taunted by Jeremy and the other presenters about the difference in pay and benefits. And, I agree that taunting or lording things over the heads of your employees will produce resentment that can’t be undone and eventually things always end badly.

Reading this book has surprised me though, about the man who was The Stig and about how TopGear UK is actually run on a daily basis.

I think the first thing people realized after hearing that The Stig had written the book (after they were initially upset to lose the stig on the show) was that they had never heard of Ben Collins and most of the speculation up until that point was about F1 drivers in this role.

The truth seems that while Ben Collins was talented and up and coming in the racing circuit ranks of England he did not make it to F1 or stay in any one race style for that long. His race story started late in life (teenage years) and was mostly considered too old for positions with teams or had bad timing/luck with the teams he was on. But that is the story for 99% of race car drivers isn’t it? We just never hear about them so it seems unusual.

So, TopGear coming up as an opportunity was a blessing in a way, almost as much as it was a curse. What it seemed to be was a very-very part time job that despite the risk involved, would not provide enough regular pay to live on. The calls for doing appearances seemed irregular and in order to make ends meet after ditching his marketing career in favor of race driving, he had to enlist in the army in order to pay the bills.

Something does strike me as slightly crazy about Ben Collins knowing that at one point he was working in Marketing, racing cars, doing stunt work on films, enlisted in the Army and doing TG all at once. Who does this? It isn’t possible. That is like burning the candle at four ends. Nobody can keep that up and not end up dead somewhere. (yes, marketing is deadly)

On the same note Ben has also had some amazing skill/luck combinations that have mostly kept him out of the hospital/emergency room with a racing, stunt driving and military career. He only details one serious crash injury and with all those miles. It seems amazing it has only happened once considering all the crashes in racing that you see on TV.

On other notes it is surprising that in the Top Gear early days many of the stunts and shots they want to get with the Stig are vaguely defined and not at all specked/planned out from a safety or logistical perspective before Ben Collins gets there. It seems to be all managers and idea people pointing at him to figure it out and do the stunts without killing himself. This knack for figuring it out and nicely working for people who don’t really know what they’re doing landed him in his fifth career as a stunt driver and that has worked out in providing some choice movie driving roles, but again not regular salaried work.

I don’t know if I identify with the side of Ben Collins that puts himself through grueling Army military exercises running marathons through the un-marked wilderness while practically starving… but the side that shows juggling act of career with ambition is one that most people face and can relate to, so that angle in his writing works. I think most people have genuinely appreciated the creativity, skill and tenacity that he has brought to The Stig role over the last six years (this was way longer than the time the last stig was able to remain anonymous).

Do I think Ben did the right or wrong thing in reveling his identity? I think he realized that this job like most had an expiration date on it, and with the press on his heels he would be fired eventually when they published some weird proof of his identity without his knowledge. I think he just wanted to get in front of that and get the real story out before it got ahead of him and he lost his job as a result. Everyone wants some kind of control over their career and he hasn’t been allowed any in the last 6 years by taking extreme measures to remain anonymous and it was hampering his ability to get legitimate work so I can understand the motivation on his part.

I’m not sure what the BBC, Andy Willman, Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the TopGear staff should do about this. It is obvious that the unknown driver element is crucial to the Stig character but there are serious gaps in their understanding of what constitutes a full time job. Either find different drivers to freelance all the time or find one to employ with regular pay and benefits. Even if that means they have a desk job the rest of the time or something. You will have far less resentment between presenters if there is more fairness in the compensation structure of the show. That said, keeping secrets in a TV show that is seen by 350 million people in the camera phone internet connected world is going to get more and more difficult. The person tasked with this needs to be compensated/rewarded as much for their secrecy and confidentiality as their driving skill since that is half the work.

I hope that the BBC and TopGear can come up with a solution for this because I certainly can’t. It is weird from all angles and delicate for the BBC as well as the Driver and the fans of the show. I will still enjoy the show regardless though, because of the creativity and general nuttyness of what they continue to do.

Yet, we are dealing with a completley different issue here in our family this week so with a slight change of topic I’d like to remember our car past here a bit. We are mourning the loss of one of our dear friends here that was a hoon-tastic car loving, Granada driving part of our high school years back in the 90’s. This reminds me that there are guys (and girls) all over America that could and would be great TG presenters (and Stigs) because of their love of cars and of pushing the boundaries with them (and laughing at them). 

In comparison, looking at the issues facing the BBC and Ben Collins, it is hard to identify with either side at this point, because they have both had so much success with their shows/careers already and probably have worked something out within five minutes. I’m not sure it is worth getting upset about.

granada whiteWe had just as many laughs with the guys from DGS high school and their Camaros, Mustangs, Fords and Imports over the years as TG has on a daily basis. Now years later it is sad that we’ve seen that some of them have had some serious issues in their lives and in this case we’ve lost one of the best guys to ever take apart a motor. We will miss Edgar Schuster and always remember his 8-track stayin-alive tapes, the 70’s white Granada and the snow tires with spikes doing sparky burnouts while driving my brother to school in 1994-95. Almost all of the four-corners guys showed up to pay their respects this weekend and say goodbye. For my brother, things just won’t be the same without his friend Ed. I’ve heard there is a VHS tape floating around of some hoontastic stuff, maybe worth uploading at some point. Maybe some car-sledding?

Why is it that the brightest stars go out the fastest?

camaro n mustang

I didn't have a picture of the Granada or Ed all I could find on facebook was this one of Scott and Brian from that era. It seems like a blink of an eye and yet it was 15 years ago. Brian says this is the only time Scott wasn't behind him while they were racing and Scott says that Brian has a broken dryer vent sticking out from under his car. I'm just glad they couldn't afford cars with very much horsepower back then when they were 18. Edgar's Granada probably smoked both of them with his nitrous.

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Campbells Soup in Smaller Cans With No Soup? Sucks

Ok, this marketing blog has turned into the marketing and product rant blog as I find more and more companies making boneheaded decisions about their marketing and products. This week’s winner is Campbell’s Soups. I bought a bunch of Campbell’s soup a few weeks ago because in Chicago winter starts in late October and ends in June. Canned condensed Campbell’s soup is an easy and not-going-to-kill-you type microwave dinner I keep around all winter in case of a lack of groceries. (or any brand for that matter)

This new batch of cans though is either smaller or they have decided to cram so many more noodles, vegetables and pasta into the can so that there is now no room at all for the actual soup. The vegetable soup I opened last week was solid when I opened it. It would not pour at all. I had to scoop it out in large chunks and even after I added the can of water the condensed soup solids inside the noodles would not dissolve. It was like water with floating soup chunks in it. Gross.

Today was worse, peas and ham soup was solid as a rock and the water did not blend well here either. All the solid peas sat at the bottom of a soup that used to be puree style. WTF? Is gas that expensive that you can’t include water or actual soup in your cans anymore? Is space that much of a premium? Did an MBA tell you this would work? I thought so. Assholes.

IT DOESN’T WORK!

This sucks, the soup comes out gross every time and I will have to switch brands again to get back to actual soup broth in a can. This just goes to show you can never trust an MBA to actually give you suggestions that will work. They always F up the product with lower quality everything and take away important features that the customer values in the name of saving a few pennies and paying their 150K per year salary.

I buy this kind of Campbell’s soup because it is easy to make and is edible right out of the can with minimal changes. Now I end up microwaving it until it is boiling and the soup solids still won’t dissolve. Well, I guess that is enough for this rant. Campbell’s has lost my money, we will see how long it takes them to figure it out before they loose a lot more people too. Hello Progresso.

Email management for overloaded email boxes circa 2008

I have noticed I spend a lot of time sifting through email these days. I have several accounts for different purposes and they fill up quickly with both subscriptions I have started and a lot of spam I never requested. I know that spam is just the price we pay right now for an app like email, but I hope that someday the spammers are put out of business because of the awful things they do stealing identities and personal information.

Anyway, my post wasn’t supposed to be about spam. It was about email volume circa 2008. I do get a lot of spam, and because one email address I have dates back to 1996 that one gets about 50% spam.  The spam filter I have does catch about 80% of it but the other 20% is annoying and dangerous.

The other 60% of that old email address mail is a lot of subscriptions since I am more likely to read an email than go find a bookmark of a blog every few days. The web based email is about 25% spam and the work email is maybe 1% spam, they are pretty good at blocking it.

I found this feedblitz and email update technology immensely helpful in the beginning since I check email anyway and it was a way to kill 2 tasks with one stone. Now though, things have gotten out of hand. I estimate that I get about 200 emails per day between 3 accounts. That is a bit more than I intended. True, it may be time to unsubscribe to some newsletters and updates but then it might go down to 150. Knowing this, you might understand why I gave up on RSS feeds in 2004.

Email is just too ingrained into our business and consumer culture as a communication medium. Or at least it is for Gen-Xers like myself. I do feel the pressure of the millennials and Gen-Yers to go to a social networking communication platform and I have profiles on all the major sites with plenty of contacts/friends but it’s just not home base for me. For a while one circle of people I knew were using MySpace as a hub for communication, but they were in the Arts, as many MySpacers are. Now that I no longer have time for extra cirricular activities I have lost touch with them and my MySpace page. I also have an online client email I use for personal stuff and of course the ubiquitous work email. I also have a 4th email that I don’t use because 3 is really enough.

I was reading this article today about how people manage their emails and BAM it was exactly how I managed them without me even really thinking about how I categorize things. Literally things just evolved the way they worked best over the past 10 years. The old old email became a place for all the sign ups you had to complete for one reason or another, login info for registrations and updates and such but not time sensitive stuff because I moved my most critical emails over to the web based email when it got too cluttered and I wanted to be able to access it anywhere rather than just at home on my computer in outlook. The second web based email also became a place to move personal communication off the work email account since in the beginning there was no line between them and then there suddenly was one day in about 2004. The work account also gets some alerts and such but only work related. (yes, that’s a blurry line since its online media and marketing that I work in)

Overall, I was surprised that I fit their archetype “to a tee” and that I evolved this way without even thinking of it. The gen-x and gen-y people have a hard time separating work from personal (especially if you work in onlinemedia, its all online anyway at the click of a mouse, it only takes a second!) and this will only provide harder in the future as more is expected of us as we balance family and work all in less time. I hope this setup satisfies the need for different urgencies, disclosures and personalizations of emails as well as productivity and time management. All this digital overload is consuming in a very empty way really. I feel like I must look through all this and read it every day yet very little is really going to impact my work or my life. I am mostly off email on weekends and I find it not that different but I have more time suddenly. Hmmm…must pare down email newsletters soon.

I have a compulsion to keep my email boxes cleaned out once a day and reply to anything that needs it from work or personal in 24 hours. I wonder if I will be able to keep that up in the future and if I will have to integrate more mandatory social networking at some point to keep up with those 10 years younger than me? 

I also recently started using the rescue time application to log and review where I am in a day and how much is actually spent on email and work. I have since cut my work email time in 1/2 and ditto for the personal email also. It’s a good application for self time management, but I wouldn’t want to use it for work purposes officially. I like that I have control over it and am not evaluated based on it since I have my days where I am not as productive. But the application helps me get back on track and out of the funk quicker.

As a consumer do I like being emailed by companies? Sometimes yes. If I opt in to your email I may be marginally or really interested in hearing from you depending on how much your product fits my life and work. If the emails provide no help or relevance whatsoever, they will get deleted and unsubscribed within a few months. If you send me discounts, new product info or other locally relevant information or content I am really into that helps me do my job, I am happy to read and click to help your ROI. I think email is better than direct mail because of the targeting and the lack of paper it uses. (save the trees) I would much rather an email from most companies than a flyer in the mail box. Plus it gives me the control to turn it off when it’s no longer relevant. Trust me, I will re-subscribe if the situation changes, I am a newsletter nut, that is for sure. And I think my generation is in general. But don’t expect us to buy-buy-buy stuff just because you emailed it to us. If we don’t need or want it we just consider the offer and decide no this time. It’s ok, we will find you when we need it, even if it is a month or two from now. And frequency is an issue. I am annoyed by some weekly emails because how often do you really need to know about the same product over and over again? Monthly is fine, or how about every other week?  

So, all of this is kind of my unwritten rules of email, work and business, and I hope that we continue to figure things out to make communication and information finding more efficient and less time consuming while still productive. Now if I could only find a way to maintain 3 blogs more efficiently too.

Making New Year’s Resolutions Stick

According to the FiveCentNickel money and finance blog and CNN these are the top consumer money resolutions of the year in 2008:

 1. Pay down debt (33%)
2. Save for retirement (23%)
3. Build an emergency fund (11%)
4. Buy real estate (11%)

I think that last one must be some seriously mis-informed people.

I also think building an emergency fund means that people feel the recessing coming. I know I do. It is looming around every corner in every shopping mall in America.

It may also be a telling statement about debt, that the levels are higher than ever before on average and people have that as their biggest issue and therefore rated #1. I have felt for about 6 months now that the consumer economy is wiped out. The people of the US can’t keep supporting the economy, they are maxed out and mortgaged to the hilt. And we don’t need more stuff, cheap or not. They owe more than they are worth and can’t spend more to finance this country’s economic growth anymore. We have to get big business and industry back operating and manufacturing in this country to support the economy with spending and supply jobs in order to get people and the economy back on track.

The list last year in 2007 looked like this:

1. Saving more (32%)
2. Paying down debt (25%)
3. Making more income (15%)
4. Spending less (13%)
5. Investing more (10%)
6. Saving for a large purchase (4%)
7. Don’t know (1%)

Woah, it’s window washing day here in the high rise,  and we’ve got guys on ropes swinging-about on our windows while washing them from the 31st floor outside. Fwamp! It’s a bit weird when you have meetings going on.

My New Years Resolutions for 2008 (goals) Happy New Year!

This year has been a trying one for me. Both for personal and non-personal reasons especially early in the year. Seriously, it’s not good when TopGear is a highlight of your week. There were some good things later in the year though and I appreciate them a lot. Anyway, here are some of my resolutions for 2008. Hopefully 2008 will be a better year than 2007 was overall.

1. Loose 20 lbs. It’s a necessity. It has been creeping on for 3-4 years and it’s time to take it off again. In real terms this means no deserts, walking or running regularly and no snacks from the vending machine or otherwise. I also have to help my cat Zeus loose some weight. He is also a bit overweight for his size and is equally lazy at the moment.

2. Save 5K more in savings again. I did this in 2007 and intend to do it again in 2008. To have some kind of safety net is important and I took the dependable cash flow from work for granted for too long. I am in ok financial shape now but it can always be better. Then eventually it would be nice to have some money invested again but that might not be until 2009.

3. To keep things going along well with Steve. This isn’t as much a goal as a hope.

4. To keep up the HPV  Cervical Pre-Cancer Dysplasia health related follow ups and surgery again when it’s needed later in the year.

5. To take some kind of web or HTML class. I have been saying this for years and there is only so much you can learn through mucking around right? I feel like I need it for work.

6. To be better at time management. This means to get to bed early and get up early first of all, and otherwise just try and be more conscious of the clock. I get into tunnel vision and loose all track of time and space. I am also a huge daydreamer and distracted easily person. Lots to do better here.

7. To learn to cook some things. Not a real specific goal here, but in general cooking at home is intended to be cheaper, healthier (less processed) and a learning experience so I don’t have to rely on takeout and pre-prepared foods all the time.

8. To get back into being more career goal oriented again. I have been happily sitting in the role I am in here for more than a year. I think it’s time to innovate it or change somehow to get to the next level again. This could be a new role or just more changes within this one. I feel antsy again, and that happens about every year or so.

 So that’s it and it’s published publicly so I have to follow through now. Happy New Year to all of you too.

What are some of your 2008 Goals?

Tax time – What is an S corporation?

We all know the basics of becoming a company. There are sole proprietorships, partnerships and corporations. So what is an S corporation? And why do some people say this is a good way to save money on Taxes? I don’t really know a lot about accounting or finance laws but this is something I read about that is supposed to provide payroll tax savings. So they say that a one-person sole proprietorship without any other employees can’t take the qualified production activities income deduction because the deduction is limited to fifty percent of the firm’s wages. But as S corporations, these businesses would become eligible to take the qualified production activities income deduction, which equals 6% of profit in 2007, 2008, and 2009. With an S corporation, the owner-operator has to categorize some reasonable percentage of the profits as wages.  I suppose this is interesting if tax law really turns you on…

Hillary Clinton and Cosmetic Surgery

Ok, no one was going to ask this question about the political race for President in 2008 so I will.

Can Hillary Clinton win and be president without another face lift or her teeth veneers replaced?

You think I am joking???

I was looking on the debates and online and the pictures of her and she looks the way she looked right after Bill left office. She was wrinkling up a lot and she had a face lift (I am guessing)  and it all smoothed out again before she was running for senate. (but no one mentioned it) Now she has a lot of wrinkles again and there was a picture of her on Drudge that looked like her teeth veneers were not looking too good either. Apparently cosmetic surgery doesn’t have the shelf life that we think? or is it really about who you choose to do the surgery? Botox is a lesser invasive process but in Hillary’s case freezing up your face reduces expressions and that would be bad for a politician.

I am not to the age yet where this is a concern (nor am I on TV) but if I was in the media like Hillary and had wrinkles like that I would consider a month vacation to work this out. I would look for a board certified surgeon and a top rated clinic that has people available as references that you can personally talk to. A good question for Hillary and everyone else to aks is how long will the effects of this surgery last? How long will it take to heal? What are the side effects and risks of this procedure. And if it checks out where the reward outweighs the risk, and you can afford it, go for it.

In a role like hers, Hillary has to be seen in the media every day. How she looks determines how people percieve her, and unlike men, women don’t look smarter and more distinguished with wrinkles. I think she would be doing even better in the polls if she had gotten another face lift before all the campaigning started. And it’s ok to admit it. People will be ok with her getting plastic surgery because they benefit from it too. They have to look at her every day and will appreciate the difference. The american public accepts these procedures now and they are very common. It’s not looking awful for Hillary yet, but it’s not what it was once either. No one wants to age, and no one thinks it’s fun, but sometimes it pays to get some work done to turn back the clock when you are in the media’s focus 24/7. It’s a superficial business to be in, but politicians accept that when they decide to jump in the race.