Monday, February 24, 2020


There was a recent business advice column in the Washington Post in which an aggrieved worker wrote in to complain about a co-worker who spends an inordinate amount of time Facebooking, texting, and shopping. They had reported the underworked colleague to their manager, who pretty much told them to M.Y.O.B. Advice with which the advice columnist occurred. As did most of the folks who wrote in to comment on the original article.

I'm with the M.Y.O.B. brigade.

Yes, it is completely disheartening to have do-nothing, slacker, gold-bricking fellow workers. Especially when you're busting your ass.

But somewhere along the line, you just have to assume that their do-nothing, slacker, gold-bricking ways will catch up with them and they'll be gone. Managers generally have a pretty good sense of who's productive and who's not. Or they should have. I know that it doesn't always work out this way, but no one needs you ratting out a co-worker to their supervisor. Annoying as it is, sometimes you just need to suck it up. (And managers who are too dunderheaded to recognize and do anything about useless employees will at some point or another be found out. And be gone. At least one can hope...)

As for "reporting" poor employees, I know that, as a manager, the last thing I wanted was someone darkening my door to finger point at someone else in my group. (Oh, shut up, shut up, shut up.)

And it may be that your seemingly do-little colleagues are doing more than you see. Especially in these days of "always on."

The person you think is spending three hours shopping may have spent three hours answering emails the evening before. Maybe they got up in the middle of the night and went on a work spree, as has been known to happen, and are now chillaxin.

Okay, these are occasional situations. But the truth is you really don't know what's going. So bitch to your friends, gripe to yourself, but don't take it on yourself to tattle-tale.

It also may be that the person you perceive as slacking is highly productive - a lot more productive than you are - and that they get through their assignments at warp speeed, and can thus afford to while away a few hours looking at bathmats on Wayfair or shoes on Zappo's.

Case in point is a colleague of mine from the pre-Internet days.

In her office she had a small black & white TV, on which she watched soaps and talk shows. While she was watching, she was also knitting - the most elaborate and gorgeous sweaters imaginable.

Sometimes, I would overhear people grousing about her. How bad for morale it was to walk by her office and see her watching TV and knitting.

As I was always happy to explain to the grousers, this woman was the most productive coder we had. While she was watching Oprah and Days of Our Lives, while she was knitting and purling, she was thinking through coding problems in her head. (And she was the one always given the thorniest problems to solve, the biggest bowls full of spaghetti code to untangle.) When she sat down to code, she was fast and meticulous.

I think if someone had said anything to her manager - rather than just pissing and moaning around the halls - he would have laughed in her face. He'd have been happy to have an entire team composed of folks like her.

My bottom line is that there always have been and always will be shirkers. Yes, it's aggravating and annoying. But if they don't report to you, you really can't do much about it other than cross your fingers and hope they do themselves in. The best advice here is definitely Mind Your Own Business.

Friday, February 21, 2020

When the Zume hits your eye, like a big pizza pie...

Just in case you're under the mistaken notion that all Silicon Valley crazy money gets invested in apps, Softbank dropped a bundle - admittedly a smallish bunder of $375M - on Zume, a pizza company. 

Oh, Zume wasn't any old pizza money. It combined the beauty and wonder of the food truck with the beauty and wonder of robotics. That and the beauty and wonder of pizza dough and toppings.

Here's the Zume vision:

Their trucks were going to be equipped with pizza ovens that would bake the pizza on the way to making a delivery. No more luke-warm pizza served out of an insulated bag. And the pizza wouldn't be made by a guy standing behind a little window in the kitchen - the guy who you watch tossing the pizza dough in the air, only you can't see his head, only the pizza dough flying up and down. Zume pizza would be put together by a robot. 

There's only one pizza maker I remember whose head you could see while he dough-tossed. This was at Regina's Pizzeria in the 1970's - back before Regina's was a chain, back when Regina's was just the little place on Thatcher and North Margin that you had to wait for hours to get into but which was worth it once you got in. Their pizzas were oily but delish. And I think the only drink at that time was Coke in glass bottles. What else do you need to go with oily pizza?

And speaking of oily, at Regina's, they had this good-enough looking young guy who wore his hair in an ultra slick, Brylcreemed up pompadour that was a throw back to the doo-wop 1950's. He fancied himself a ladies' man, and would wink at and flirt with all the "girls" (as we then thought of ourselves) who came into Regina's. He was a total hoot, but he could absolutely toss a pizza.

I doubt that the Zume robot could do that!

Not that we'll be finding out. 

In January, Zume downsized, cutting 360 jobs and trimming itself to 300 employees. Employees who'll be focused on Zume's new business:
...packaging and efficiency gains for other food delivery companies. In a note to employees, [CEO Alex] Garden said that improving the global food system required increased focus and that the pizzas had served as “inspiration” for higher-growth businesses. (Source: Bloomberg)
So that's where the $375M from Soft-in-the-head-Bank went. For inspiration.

Most of it, perhaps, but some of it went to buy and refurbish a double-decker London bus that  they were planning for using for their Day-Z launch date - one of  the 10,000 buses (not all double-decker imports) that the company envisioned it would need once the robot-made-baked-on-route concept took off.

Which it did not.

As it turned out, humans still had to be involved in production. It took humans "to load the racks of assembled, unbaked pizzas into the trucks." (Pre-assembled, huh? I just knew that those robots weren't going to be pizza-dough-tossers.)

Then there were a couple of problems. Customers complained that the dough was undercooked. That the sauce and toppings were skimpy. And
...the cheese tended to run everywhere as the trucks turned or hit bumps in the road. Instead, the oven trucks began parking in central locations, with runner cars or mopeds transporting the cooked pies.
Domino delivers!

Garden was able to suck in SoftBank as much on his strength as a pitchman as on the soundness of his idea. He wanted to be "the Tesla of fresh food...the Amazon of fresh food." (Where have we seen this show before? WeWork, anyone?) Alas:
A visionary founder with a fire hose of money can’t solve every problem. Often, that combo creates new ones. “I’ve never seen data to suggest that being charismatic and confident and overly brash is linked to a successful business,” says Kellie McElhaney, founding director of the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership at the University of California at Berkeley’s business school
So now Zume is remaking itself. Packaging is part of the new and improved Zume. But the company's experiencing a few hiccups along the new way, too. Zume purchased a packaging company "to jump-start its ability to sell compostable containers to other business." Unfortunately, this packaging company's boxes contained chemicals that the EPA has said can be harmful to humans. Because of this, they couldn't be sold in all states. Oopsie.

Anyway, thanks to that SoftBank investment - which Zume, fortunately, didn't completely squander - the pink-slipped employees supposedly got decent severance packages. That said, on lay-off day, employees who were canned in the morning asked if "they could stay through the usual catered lunch." HR told them no. Wonder whether robot-prepared pizza was served.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

One of the odd-ball historic sites in Worcester was a place not far from where I grew up called The Hermitage. It was way up in some pretty creepy woods, and we'd take an annual walk there in the fall (usually on Thanksgiving) and it's near where we went blueberrying in the summer. 

The story was that, in the early 1800's, an eccentric local fellow- a recluse named William Parsons - had carved his will in stone (leaving everything to God), climbed the hill, and attempted to fly to heaven using wings made of wax and feathers. It goes without saying that it was not exactly mission accomplished. We all competed to be the first kid to find the boulder with the will carved in it. (Post on the subject is here.)

But folks have long wanted to fly (c.f., Leonardo daVinci), and a few misses here and there haven't stopped the truly determined from trying. 

Only now they're succeeding. 

At least they are if you're Vince Reffet from Jetman Dubai.

Last Friday, Reffet, using a "jet-powered wingsuit" took off from the ground and reached an altitude of more than one mile. Previous wingsuit flights have been launched from platforms like a helicopter. This was a first ground-up success. 

Folks are referring to Reffet as a real-life Iron Man. Since I have no idea who Iron Man is, I'll harken back to an earlier time and say that he's more like Superman. As in "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound..." 

Don't know if Reffet made it to "faster than a speeding bullet," but:

While traveling at an average speed of nearly 150 mph, Reffett was able to reach 1,000 meters of altitude in 30 seconds. Reffett was even able to
perform a roll and loop with the wingsuit. His flight lasted approximately three minutes, and he opened his parachute at 1,500 meters before landing safely to the ground. (Source: CNN)
I am no one's candidate for wingsuit flight. I can't stand heights and, while I'm always happy to be on an airplane, I don't think I'd be comfortable doing the airborne equivalent of skinny dipping. It doesn't make me anywhere near as apprehensive as thinking of aerialist Philippe Petit and his historic wire-walk between the Twin Towers back in 1974. Just writing about that triggers a total hair-standing-on-end freeze in me. And I can see myself in a wingsuit before I can envision myself jumping out of an airplane. Still, up close and personal flight is not on my bucket list at all.

But it's plenty cool that someone out there is adventurous enough to want to (in the words of a young RCAF pilot who was killed in a crash early on during World War II) "slip the surly bonds of earth." Talk about earning your wings.
Reffet was equipped with a carbon fibre wing powered by four mini jet engines. Controlled by the human body, the equipment enables the Jetman to reach speeds of 400kmh, as well as hovering, changing direction and performing loops. (Source:
My husband would have loved this. Jim always talked about how super it would be if you could fly, and it was a frequent subject of his dreams. (Yes, someone else's dreams are usually not all that interesting, and I only vaguely paid attention to his, but what I wouldn't give to have him tell me his latest...)

I've never dreamed of personal flying, but one of my favorite books as a kid was "The Magic Sandbox," in which a couple of kids took off in their sandbox and explored their neighborhood. But that magic sandbox was more or less an aircraft. If not terra firma, at least something underneath your feet that was a bit on the firma side.
At the end of his three-minute flight, Reffet performed a roll and a loop at 1,800m altitude, before opening his parachute at 1,500m and landing back at Skydive Dubai.
Unlike Superman, Reffet may not be able to "change the course of mighty rivers," or "bend steel in his bare hands."  But this is a pretty impressive feat. And it sure beats William Parsons, up there in the Worcester woods, trying to wing his way to heaven.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Plant stylist? Oh, why not.

My mother was a plant lady. We always had plants in the house, and part of the routine Saturday chore list (which included dusting, mopping, vacuuming, waste-basket-emptying, and bathroom scrubbing) for me and my sister Kath was watering the plants. Sansevieria. Coleus. Cactus. Pothos. Christmas Cactus. Geraniums. Spider plants. Ficus.

But it was only after she made her way into empty-nester that my mother really went to town. 

Half the back wall in the family room was taken up by a bay window. It got a lot of sun, so it became Plant Central. I don't know how many plants there were there, but Lizzie eventually had staging built in front of the window to hold more of her plants. She also got some sort of long plant hose attached to the kitchen sink so she didn't have to keep going back and forth with the watering can. In her later years, she spent a month each winter visiting a friend in Florida, and she had to hire someone to come in and water her plants.

I didn't inherit my mother's interest in plants, or her green thumb. I'm not a black thumb exactly -  and as I write this I'm getting the urge to do a bit of plant shopping - but I'm just not much into plants. I have plants off and on - mostly off (if you don't count pointsettias, which I usually hang onto after Christmas and give up on in July; for some reason, this year, I gave mine the boot right after the new year). 

At present, I have one plant. A geranium that's kind of stalky and which currently has no flowers, no buds. I'm on the fence between aggressively pinching it back to see if I can get another flower or two out of it, or just tossing it out. I'll probably do a bit of pinching and hang on to it for a while longer - flowered or flowerless - because I love that geranium smell. 

But I wouldn't mind having a few more plants around. So maybe I should consider hiring a plant stylist.

Plant stylist? Yes, plant stylist. And I hadn't heard of it, either, until my sister Kath sent me a link to an article in the NY Times on the subject.

Brooklyn-based Lisa Muñoz is a plant stylist/designer/caretaker who runs Leaf and June. Starting at $2,000, she'll swing by your home and strategically and aesthetically place plants in it. I looked at her website, and it's all very beautiful. But $2K? Seems like a lot to pay someone to perch a plant in a terracotta pot on your windowsill. But this is New York we're talking about.  

Not that NYC is alone here. I googled "plant stylist Boston" and it turns out there's a plant stylist just a couple of blocks from where I live. Her "gallery" is in the basement of the Restoration Hardware store, which is all in keeping with her look and feel. She doesn't advertise her prices, but I'm guessing a lot but not $2K for starters.

In some ways, plant styling is nothing new.

Nurseries and flower shops have long provided professional plant care for offices and homes. Most billionaires of Park Avenue, one assumes, don’t water their ficus trees. Ms. Muñoz offers such maintenance services to her clients, too.

But her real role is in performing the job that a fashion stylist or art consultant might — to make aesthetic choices and sound investments on someone’s behalf. Just … about plants.
There's more to plants than just the plants. Plant stylists are not just about the pothos. They're about the pots.
For one Brooklyn homeowner, Ms. Muñoz put a schefflera tree in the kids’ room, with rich, green foliage that droops like an umbrella. She paired it with a showstopper pot — a $1,500 ceramic planter from Bzippy & Co.
That "drooping like an umbrella" sounds cool, but who puts a $1,500 planter in a kids' room? 

Anyway, plant stylist is a more interesting gig than a lot of the non-do-it-yourselfer gigs that have sprung up from the gig economy. I remember reading about someone who contacted Task Rabbit after he stepped in dog crap and "needed" someone to go out and buy him a new pair of Tom's so he could continue on his way. And plant stylist pays better than Task Rabbit-ing. (C.f., $2,000 minimum.)

Me? I have definitely convinced myself that, when the weather gets a bit nicer, I'm going to go out and get me a plant. I'm thinking a nice variegated coleus for starters.  Or maybe something in the sansevieria family. And pot shopping will be fun, even though I won't be forking over $1,500 for a planter. 

Style on!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Oh those poor Wayfair-ing ex-employees

Having spent my career in an industry - high tech - notorious for lay-offs, I decided years ago that there really is no good way to conduct one. And plenty of bad ones.

I had a friend whose small tech company called everyone into a large meeting room. At the door, when they checked in, each employee was handed a colored card. Blue cards got to keep their jobs; the folks holding the pink cards were told they were being laid off. So long, it's been good to know you.

One of my cousins was laid off at a group meeting, when his boss announced that he and another colleauge no longer had their jobs. Thanks for letting us know!

During a major RIF at Wang, when thousands of folks were losing their jobs, employees were told to stay at their desks on a Friday. A team of executioneers HR people then went around and individually tapped those about to be let go on the shoulder, brought them into a private room, and handed them their package. (One techie in my group who lost his job was a Russian immigrant. He said when they came to his cubicle to tap his shoulder, it felt like the KGB was coming for him) While it was good to see that each person was treated as an individual entitled to privacy during a tough time (most rank and file Wang employees worked in cubicles), the company ran out of Friday. 

So late in the afternoon, they announced that they hadn't completed the layoffs yet, and everyone had to come back on Monday, sit in their office, and wait to see if they had a job. My group was given the all clear for some reason, so we all us survivors went home knowing we had jobs. Everyone else spent an agonizing weekend. (This was my 40th birthday - a real cheery one! When the grim HR reapers were on my floor, there were people standing on the desks, yelling out the names of those who were being laid off. "The've just taken Alice." "They're coming for Jay." A spectacle beyond belief.)

One of the most despicable human beings I've ever known laid off an employee while that employee was in the NICU with his newborn son, waiting to see whether the baby was going to live. Couldn't have waited a day or two to give my colleague the news. Shortly after this incident, I was in a meeting with Mr. Despicable, and he told us that he had really enjoyed laying off this person. (It goes without saying that the fellow that was fired was a) a good employee; b) a great guy.)

Years ago, I read that some company - was in Radio Shack? - laid folks off via text message.

Last Thursday, it was Wayfair's turn to figure out the "right" way to lay off 350 people who were working in their downtown Boston headquarters.

There had been rumors. (There are always rumors.) Last November, Wayfair had implemented a "headcount review process," which is always ominous. They'd started rating employees on a stricter curve, which is always ominous. (Grading on the curve: now there's a post for another day...)

And then:

At 2 a.m. Thursday morning, employees got a Slack message that said some internal systems were being locked so that engineers would not able to deploy code or make significant data changes. Also on Tuesday, an IT team in the Berlin office was laid off, according to an employee who was among those who lost their jobs. The former employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said more layoffs were to come in Boston.
Around 10 a.m. in the Copley Place mall, scores of employees began to descend the escalator from Wayfair’s offices. Many were visibly upset and declined to comment about the layoffs.
One employee, who was not laid off and declined to give their name, said hundreds of employees were called to a general meeting this morning, and all of them were laid off. The employee said those who were not called to the meeting still had to talk with their direct supervisors, and were told they needed to be more efficient.  (Source: Boston Globe)
Ah, the mass layoff. My first thought was, this is appalling. And then I reconsidered. Is it any more appalling than sitting around on a Friday, frozen to your office chair, all day, waiting to know if you have a job - only to be told to come back in on Monday to find out? Yes, being laid off is upsetting - there are tears, there's anger, there's fear - and a lot of people prefer to vent their emotions in a private setting. But in many ways, it's preferable to hear all at once, rather than agonize over if and when "it" is going to happen. And misery does love company.

Anyway, Wayfair has been - in terms of hiring - a real high flyer, growing aggressively, and renting top-of-the-line office space in downtown Boston. They've grown their revenues, too, but they've yet to make a profit. And Amazon has apparently set their sites on them. If I were Wayfair, I wouldn't bet my supply chain against anything that Amazon can do. So the handwriting's been on the wall.

Still, I hate to see a local company in distress. And I know it sucks to lose your job.

I was laid off 3 times. Once, I volunteered for separation, so my only agony was waiting to find out whether my offer to part company would be accepted. (I had been one of 50 midmanagers who a few months earlier had been selected to spend a week at Babson College trying to figure out how to turn the company around, and the company president didn't want anyone on his golden 50 list to leave.) 

Another time, I was collateral damage in a battle between the Tall Guys and the Short Guys. My boss was one of the leaders of the Tall Guys faction, and when they lost to the Short Guys, those of us most closely identified with "our" Tall Guy knew that all of our days were numbered. (They were.)

The other time, I was fired after getting into an argument with the company president on how we were going to position our looming layoff to the surviving employees. He won, I lost. Oh, well.

So when I was a layoff-ee, it wasn't done the traditional way.

But I've survived many a layoff, and I know how rotten it is in the days/weeks/months leading up to it. Talk about fear factor. When I worked at Wang, one fellow was so stressed out in the runup to a major reduction that he had a heart attack in his cubicle - which was near mine - and died. 

But I've never actually experienced how terrible it is to get tapped on the shoulder, to sit on the other side of the table and be handed the package. I do know that, as one who's done the tapping and been there for the handing, that the layoff-er side of the table is pretty awful.

And, let's face it, for most of us, our colleagues form an important part of our social circle. Even if it's temporary, it's your fellow employees who you see every day, chat with at the coffee machine, grab lunch with, etc. It's not just the loss of a paycheck, by any means.

Good luck to the newbie-ly laid off from Wayfair. May you find new work quickly, and land in a better place. 

As for the survivors, you heard your supervisor. You've just got to become more efficient. And, if experience counts for anything, I'm guessing that there will be more Wayfairing layoffs in the future. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Holiday/Not Holiday

Well, in keeping with tradition, Pink Slip is celebrating the holiday by doing what we do best: kicking back and doing not much of anything.

In truth, with the incumbent president, it's hard these days to do an overall celebration of our leaders - especially given the ongoing and increasingly more rapid debasement of the office that Trump is demonstrating. As I wrote last year: Presidents Day? Just Not This President

But there are some presidents I've rather liked and admired, my top three being Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Barack Obama. Even though I recognize that all of the men who've held the office have their flaws, there are other presidents I've held in high regard as well. Just not this travesty of an edition.

Nonetheless, it is a holiday. And holidays are a good thing, especially in the middle of winter - even a winter as benign as this one has been. 

So, even though I don't work, I'm happy to have a holiday. And happy for everyone else who's celebrating today. (Just not this president.)

But February 17th means something else to me. Something not holiday. Not in the least.

Today is the sixth anniversary of the death of my husband, Jim Diggins. Even though it's been six years, there are still times when I wake up in the middle of the night and feel his presence. There are still times when I walk in the door and expect him to be sitting there. To this day, if I come across something in his handwriting - especially something written in Jim's signature red ink - I get a lump in my throat. Even before Jim's death, I already knew that when you lose someone you love, you never really stop missing them. It's just that with Jim's death, I know this more deeply than I had in the past.

As I wrote in last year's post: 
Seems like just yesterday. Seems like a million years ago. 


Friday, February 14, 2020

What the world needs now, is...

Since it's Valentine's Day - and for all the single ladies (all the single ladies), Galentine's Day - you might be thinking that what the world needs now, is love sweet love. But, nah, if you go by what KFC and Crocs are thinking, what the world needs now is Kentucky Fried Chicken Crocs.

I'm sure that KFC was inspired to act by Popeye's recent success with selling out apparel based on its UG-LY burgundy and orange employee uniform. But why Crocs, of all things? While someone might want a white suit and string tie like the Colonel's - or even a peppy red-and-white striped something based on the KFC awning - I can't imagine there's much call for a pair of these Crocs - especially as they'll be going for $59.99 (which is about twice what you'd pay for plain vanilla Crocs).

For the more daring, there's a 4.5 inch high platform version that has the Colonel himself on the sole.
Both pairs of shoes also come with two Jibbitz charms, which you can stick into the holes of your Crocs for decoration. But instead of smiley faces and rainbows, these charms, of course, are shaped like fried chicken drumsticks—and they even smell like fried chicken, too. If you don’t feel like walking around with mini faux-fried chicken on your feet, rest assured, they’re removable. (Source: Food & Wine)
You know, even if I were interested in a pair of KFC-themed Crocs, I don't think I'd want to be walkng around with a drumstick charm that smells like chicken. The squirrels in the Boston Public Garden are already pretty aggressive. Since so many people have been feeding them - there's even a woman who regularly wheels around a carton full of peanuts, calling the squirrles by name (Mr. Bunbun. Benicio...) - they've gotten as bold as brass. The size of a small racoon, these suckers come right up to you, and get a bit pissy if you don't have something to offer them. I can imagine what they'd be like if they got a whiff fried chicken emanating from your tootsies. Why, Mr. Bunbun might latch right onto your foot...

I'm sure that this is a good way for KFC to get some attention.  If Mr. Peanut can kill off Mr. Peanut, if Popeye's can sell (out) their uniforms, why not.

I'm sure there are Kentucky Fried aficianados who'd want a pair. I'm not one of them, but there is, as we see demonstrated time and again, no accounting for taste. 

I'm sure that there are folks who collect Crocs. I'm not one of them, but there is, as we see demonstrated time and again, no accounting for taste. 

And I'm also sure that most of these will end up in landfill, where they'll take a thousand years to decompose. 

Meanwhile, since it is Valentine's Day, I do want to give a shout out to love.  Because the world could use a bit more sweet love and a bit less once and future trash like KFC Crocs.
What the world needs now is love, sweet loveIt's the only thing that there's just too little ofWhat the world needs now is love, sweet love,No not just for some but for everyone.…

(Don't know if that embedded video of Jackie DeShannon singing Burt Bacharach/Hal David's great song from the mid-sixties, here's the link.)

Happy Valentine's Day! 

Think I'll celebrate by heading to Georgetown Cupcakes  for a cupcake with a sugar heart on it. (Happy Valentin'es Day to me.)