Monday, September 25, 2006

At the Office

Though I have plenty of experiences to share in great detail, I think that it is time to post on what we as interns are actually doing at The Vision Forum, and what I have learned so far.

To start with, the arrival of this past Monday initiated a new rotation of job assignments. Christopher left the quiet department of accounting to the fast paced atmosphere in the warehouse. Tait then filled Christopher’s void as I took over Tait’s chair in customer service. Jason, well, Jason remains in his little unchanging “IT world”, as he calls it.

Jason has done well in his department. Monday brought about some changes for him as well as the IT chief left for three weeks of vacation. The real test, however, came a few days ago when three of Mr. Phillips hard drives crashed in the same day. As Jason calmly tried test after test, made several phone calls to different manufacturers, and gulped down a Venti black which I delivered earlier that evening, he was finally able to give Mr. Phillips a promising report at around 8:30 PM. Failure in this department is not acceptable and can be very damaging. Thankfully, Jason has responded very well and is very much appreciated by the VF staff and Mr. Phillips.

Christopher thoroughly enjoyed assisting Mr. Short in the accounting department for the past few weeks. As his father is a CPA, some of those number crunching genes must have given him a great aptitude for this particular atmosphere. He made deposits, recorded payments, reconciled statements, and suggested Excel ideas whenever he saw a way to improve productivity.

Tait had to be practically shoved out of the customer service department. The interaction with the department head, Mr. Gobart, combined with the many different opportunities offered in the department, proved to offer an experience which he enjoyed and did not want to depart from.
I must say that the warehouse probably has the widest array of physical jobs to perform. An extensive account of a day in the warehouse would be as follows. The morning starts off with Mr. Coughlin giving me a multi page list of items to “pick” for the day. Isle numbers, shelve category, and the precise spot of every item ordered that day guide me to the right spot as I push a large shopping cart up and down each section. Once the items from one isle are placed in the cart, I then place them on a table which lies at the end of the row. Isle A has a table, isle B has a table, and so forth.

The next stage is to grab one of the hundreds of freshly printed packing invoices for the day, walk to the appropriate table (A,B,C…) grab the item(s), put them in a box or trey, and place them on the inspection table.

After inspection takes place, the items are then placed on a moving packing line. These items are then place in boxes deems appropriate size by the packer. After countless air packets are strategically secured around the purchase, the sealed box is then placed on the shipping line. The boxes are then scanned, a UPS label applied, stacked on a pallet, and then shipped out at the end of each day.

This is only the most basic daily activity of the day but I’ll leave the aspects of the warehouse for either Tait or Christopher to explain.

Things learned while working in the warehouse would include the importance of paying attention to detail (saves a lot of time and effort, just like anything else), and being diligent in what I may consider menial tasks (packing right saves lots of VF resources). Also, I have learned that everything I do in the warehouse becomes much more significant when I take the time to think about how many different family’s lives will be touched, maybe even turned around, by the materials they would soon receive…if I do my job right.

Now I have a new learning curve to develop in the Customer Service Department. New insights from this new perspective of business will soon be shared. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Vision Forum Photoshoot

We got the call around 3 PM. The message was that we were to arrive at the planned location within the hour. With three cases of water in tow, we made our way towards an estate located on the outskirts of downtown San Antonio. The goal for the day was to assist those responsible for capturing photos pertaining to items which will soon be featured in Vision Forum’s 2007 catalog in whichever way necessary.

After admiring the upscale ranches we passed along the way, we finally drove up to a gate which guarded the entrance of a exquisite looking mansion, preceded by a winding loop through the front of the property. After entering the gate code we then drove up to and parked near a house/garage situated 200 yards away from the main residence.

Upon our arrival we gazed in wonder at the beautiful property and the enormous house. As we walked along we met the photographer and his daughter, who served as his assistant. After introductions were made we all split up, starting out on various tasks. Jason helped by getting the bottled water out of my trunk and putting them in an ice filled chest. Tait started offloading the photographer’s equipment from a truck, and Chris and I started pulling potted flowers out of Mrs. Phillips’s vehicle, who had arrived shortly after us.

By this time, Mr. Turley had arrived with props, ranging from books, trebuchets, armor, several different sword styles and a few helmets. After these were unloaded we interns all made our way in through large solid oak doors which lead into the foyer of the house. Marble tile covered the floor while two white carpeted staircases, each on either sides of the entrance hall, led to the upper level of the house. We walked through the doors, passed under stair cases and then found our way to a richly decorated office. If you have seen last years “Henty shot” with Joshua Phillips and Samuel Turley posing atop a bear rug then you have seen part of the office I am talking about. Tait and I started setting up light stands while Jason was looking for a place to plug in the power box, a mechanism which makes all of the lighting flash at once. Meanwhile, Chris started putting up the overhead lighting and I was re-assigned to go back to the office to pick up some more supplies.

By the time I arrived back at the country estate the new Henty shot was complete and the crew was moving props outside under Mr. Phillips direction. Josh and Sam changed out of their period costumes as Justice was fitted with an authentic Jamestown breastplate by two professional costume assistants, Tait and I. Mr. Phillips then proceeded to photograph Justice in various poses while the main photographer (I forgot his name, sorry) instructed Sam and Joshua on how to interact with a trebuchet (very nice piece of work, everybody needs a few).

Next on the schedule were some new Beautiful Girlhood shots. While setting up for this scene one of the first tasks was to refill a snack tray that was partly a prop and partly, well, a snack. Time and sunlight were going faster than desired so Jason and I sprinted a hasty return to the shooting location after refilling a tray with some fresh cheese and crackers. Soon thereafter the cameras started clicking. I must say that those girls really had a strenuous job, particularly the two who were sitting on a tree limb while holding a doll and book. But everyone around offered words of encouragement, advice, and/or cracked jokes, thus making the girls perform their best.

About a hundred shots later we then moved to a different location, all the while Jason and Tait were employed by either holding flashes in various places or helping the camera man test the camera for the best lighting settings. Chris helped move different items around while I stood by Mr. Phillips, holding the different cameras was not using at the moment. During the second shoot, two of the models, miss Mary Ellen Turley and miss Faith Phillips, were excused from a particular photo arrangement and thus sat together reading a book. Overhearing that a couple of words were proving difficult I offered to read the book to them. They excitedly complied and I sat down. This lasted until the entire photo shoot was pronounced complete and so I started to get to work on wrapping things up. However, Faith begged me to at least finish the chapter I was on, and so it was I who then complied.

With the sun starting to dip behind the horizon and the shadows of the many trees stretching far across the yard, we quickly started winding up cords, putting away props, taking down lighting structures, storing the wardrobe, and making sure we left everything just as we found it. At the end of the day it was nice to see that both the photographer and Mr. Phillips were pleased with the result of the entire event and that all the day’s goals were reached.

During the entire event I was impressed to see how well everyone worked together in such a high stress environment. This is not that anybody was stressed out, but with uncooperative sunlight and cloud cover, the heat, and the needed urgency to take all of the necessary shots before the sunlight was insufficient, certainly presented plenty of opportunities for anybody on the set to get a little short. Another thing I observed first hand, and was impressed by, was Mr. Phillips interaction with his children, particularly his sons. He treated them like men and they responded to him with the deepest respect. When he spoke they listened and when they spoke they chose their words carefully. What a great opportunity to witness the good fruit Godly child training.

Going behind the scenes of the catalog shoot was both interesting and exciting. I learned few things and felt honored to participate in the event. Now it’s up to our Creative Media department to go through the hundreds of pictures taken and find the ones that will best suit the catalog. It’s only one more week till we are scheduled to send the completed project off to the printers and eventually to your home. I’m sure your family will enjoy the new products as much as we have by building, testing, or by otherwise indirectly helping to produce them. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What makes your neighborhood unique?

As I sit here in a different house, in a different neighborhood, I look back and remember the things which have made the place where I lived very unique. Here is a look into what happens with semi-average consistency around my home in Washington State. I am still observing the oddities around my place here in San Antonio.


Home has always meant a great many things to a great deal of different people. Some say itÂ’s where the heart is; others insist itÂ’s where you hang your hat. But, whether you think about it or not, home may also be the place where many strange and perplexing activities might be observed.

I live in a suburb of Olympia in a housing community known as Marvin Gardens. Now this unassuming name, combined with my complacent initial overview of the area, left me with a content overall sense of complete security, peace, and privacy as my family and I moved in. The only qualities of my surroundings which I failed to investigate were the neighbors. Now for an uppity name like Marvin Garden, which after all is a valued property in the game of Monopoly, one might expect to have completely unobtrusive, sane, and apathetic neighbors. And that assumption was right, at least for the most part.

To give a few examples of were I was wrong in my assessment of the neighborhood I will relate a few of my experiences. To start with, there is the unknown citizen who drives at about 50 MPH up the road behind our house with a dog hanging out the passenger side window, barking continuously. This is done about twice a week and the dog can be heard for miles. Nobody knows were he goes or what he does, and I never hear them return. Many questions have since raced through my brain in response: What happens to the dog? Is this man part of an underworld animal ring? Or does the canine simply lose its voice on the return trip?

Another example can be taken from an immediate neighbor to the right of our house who lives a mostly quiet and peaceable life. But you know that the stillness of the air will soon become modified when the elderly house dweller starts dragging junk out of his backyard garage. Now to the average person this may seem like a good sign; an indication of attempted progress in purification. But I have come to know better. The stacks of lawn chairs and unidentifiable trash bag covered items strewn across my neighbors yard only indicates that he is yet going to grace the community with his synthesized rock organ. Presently I am then confronted with a very loud, prerecorded background track accompanied by my neighbor playing two or three different chords repeatedly. I then ask myself: Is the man deaf? Did he used to play in a band somewhere? Or is he simply making use of a piece of equipment which he previously thought was a necessity but has since been sitting in the garage for over twenty years?

Now the barking dog and this hypnotizing organ music may seem pretty abnormal, but they pale in comparison to the all out weirdness of some other folks I live by. There is a family of three that live in a huge house across from ours, but there are a few things that set them apart from “resident normalcy” as I call it. The first thing is that the homeowners never come out during the day, unless it is on the business of driving 100ft. to mailbox and back. The second thing of note is that the coupleÂ’s only son still lives at home, is in his mid-forties, and has never been married. This sonÂ’s daily activities consist of opening the garage door at around 10:15 each morning, backing the old truck out and parking it on the side of the house, opening the hood and tinkering inside for about 3 hours, returning the vehicle to the garage, and finally closing the garage door behind him. The third weird part about this family is that during the Christmas season we felt that it was our duty, as neighborhood newcomers, to distribute home baked goods throughout the community. Our last stop on our mission of good will was the home across the street. My sister and I slowly walked up the long, dark driveway and rang the door bell. Finally the porch light turned on, the homeowner opened the door, grunted something, and returned inside. His wife then came out, politely refused any and all of the treats we made, and retuned inside. From the moment the door was shut in our face, the questions again started. What exactly do they do indoors all day? Why is it necessary to drive to the mail box 365 days a year? What does their son find so interesting in the hood of that old truck? And did they think we were trying to poison them with our Christmas cheer?

The month of June marks the one year anniversary of our arrival to our beautiful house, and one year of contact with the residents of Marvin Gardens. The overall experience has been one of normalcy and enjoyment. But the events that happen in between the points of what is normal and what is not, are the things that truly make life amusing and colorful. And though I have not yet answered all of my questions in regard to motives of my neighbor’s actions, I am content to know that I reside in a diverse and truly authentic American community. This is my neighborhood. A place where the oddities never end, and were each day is quite unpredictable.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Coming Soon...

...A behind the scenes look at the 2007 catalog VF photoshoot. With preparations well under way, and with our graphics department working 14 hour days, we are getting closer to the publication of next years catalog. I have already seen, and tested, numerous new products which are under consideration and I can assure you that there is some good stuff on the way. The photoshoot is scheduled for tomorrow at a mansion in San Antonio. We interns will be present to help with lighting, props, entertainment of restless children, and whatever else in the world needs to be done. Pictures will be on the way soon!