Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Snowmageddon! Snowpocalypse! Snowlapolooza!

Well, I don’t know about you, but I do enjoy me a snow day every once in a while, and yesterday was one of them.

The lead up to it was, of course, over the top.

Since NYC was expected to get clobbered, the storm – which even got named: Juno – was the focus on all news attention on the 24/7 networks (CNN, MSNBC, and, I suppose Fox, although I don’t get that particular network) starting on Monday.

While Juno may have been the storm’s “official” name, those of us in “the impact areas” could not help but thinking of it in more extravagant terms: Snowmageddon! Snowpocalypse! Snowlapolooza!

Up to three feet predicted! Yikes ! Yay!

After all, when you come right down to it, there’s not all that much difference between 24” and 36”, and 36”, why that’s historic. And if you’re in the news biz, well, historic is plenty of reason to go histrionic. And histrionic, well, that’s sure good for the ratings.

For NYC, Juno became the one that got away.

Anticipating a Sandy-level disaster, the Mayor pretty much shut the city down – no subways, even – so when the snow totaled to a meager, less than a foot amount, it was all pretty deflating. (And, for those who don’t believe that we’re experiencing climate change, plenty of ammo: see, if they can’t predict a snow storm,, how can they predict that the polar ice cap’s melting.)

I had actually planned on being in New York yesterday, hoping to celebrate my husband’s birthday having a glass of ale in his honor at McSorley’s Ale House (Jim’s favorite watering McSorley'shole of all time), and – quite possibly - by leaving a few grains of his ashes in the pot-belly stove there.

But last week, the forecast was that it would be in the low-twenties, with the possibility of light snow, so I changed my plans. McSorley’s in the spring, when it will be more fun to be in New York.

As a substitute for commemorating Jim’s birthday doing something he would like (the ale drinking, not the ash-scattering – although if Jim could have figured out how to scatter his own ashes, he would have been totally down with it), I decided to do something that he would have hated: I scheduled an appliance and kitchen showroom  excursion with my just-retired friend, Peter.

By Sunday, we realized that the storm was going to put a kibosh on that jaunt.

So I spent my snow day doing what people do on snow days when they don’t have to shovel out (which, blessedly, I no longer have to do, as our condo association has finally come up with a system that seems to be working; I do end up doing a  marginal bit of shoveling, and have assumed solo responsibility for the storm drain on the corner, now that my 80+ year old neighbor Dick, with whom  I used to share this good citizen task, has hung up his shovel and ice pick).

I looked out the window and plunked on the couch with the channel cruiser and swung from one station to the next keeping up with the storm news, vaguely monitoring the count on how many houses in Scituate, Marshfield, and Duxbury (on Boston’s South Shore) had been condemned, and noting that Plum Island (on Boston’s North Shore) – which generally leads the pack on houses swept away in big storms- had been somehow spared.

Oh, I got up to do things like make a cup of tea and answer a couple of e-mails. And I made a few half-hearted stabs at reading a book (hah!) or doing some work (hah-hah-hah!). Inexorably, I was drawn back to the news, rooting with the local weather-folks that we could salvage something out of this storm.

If not the biggest on record, at least let us make it into the Top Five. Or at least the Top Five for the month of January.

As of this writing (mid-afternoon), it does look like we’ll easily make it into the Top Five for January – maybe even the all-time January storm. The cold is your friend here: it makes the snow light and fluffy, so the amounts are bigger. Plus it’s easier to shovel. The downside of having a blockbuster in January is that it doesn’t melt away as easily as February storms do. Instead, it ices up and hangs around for a while, with those pristine snow banks turning into crusty, boogery mounds covered with car exhaust and dog pee.

But for now it sure looks pretty.

Here’s the view from the kitchen, mid-afternoon, during a bit of a lull:

Out the Kitchen

I like the artistic inclusion of the ice cream cone to the left.

This was from one of those fake stained glass window kits that my husband bought for my niece Molly a good dozen years ago. Since it’s been baking in the afternoon sun for those good dozen years, it’s pretty much soldered on there and I think I’d have to replace the window to get rid of it. But who wants to get rid of it? Looking at it reminds me of how much fun Molly and Diggy (my husband’s nom de famille) used to have.

All’s quiet on the southern front (outside the front door), too.

Front Door

That’s Beacon Street, which is generally pretty well-trafficked.

Not today!

My grandmother Rogers always used to tell us that she was going to send a sign when she died, letting us know whether God, indeed, existed.

Well, the day she died started out as a perfectly pleasant day in April, but while I was on the phone with my sister Kath, who had called to tell me that Nanny was gone, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees, the skies turned black, and it began to rain sideways.

What we never figured out whether Nanny meant the sign to say “yes” or “no”, leaving each of her descendants to decide for themselves.

And here we are on Diggy’s birthday, getting clobbered by a couple of feet of snow….


(If that’s an afterlife “yes”, I miss you, Diggy….)



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Is the handwriting about handwriting on the wall?

On January 23rd, National Handwriting Day was observed.

Not surprisingly, National Handwriting Day is sponsored by those who will stand to benefit from a national focus on handwriting. Here it’s the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association.

Writing Instrument!

What a charming notion, what a quaint name. None of this boring “Pen and Pencil Manufacturers Association” stuff.  And it’s no surprise that these folks have an association: pens, pencils, and markers – errrr, writing instruments – is a $4.5 billion industry.

The purpose of National Handwriting Day is to alert the public to the importance of handwriting. According to WIMA, National Handwriting Day is a chance for all of us to re-explore the purity and power of handwriting.(Source: WIMA)

I don’t know about the purity and power of handwriting, but I love to open the mailbox and find something that’s actually addressed to me by an honest to goodness human being. Like everyone else, I live by the e-mail and the text, but there’s something about a card or a note with a stamp and your handwritten name on it. And I believe that it’s as blessed to give as to receive. I send an awful lot of cards over the course of a year, and most of them include at least a bit of a note. And while I didn’t explicitly celebrate National Handwriting Day, I did send a friend a sympathy card (with long note) on Friday, and a hand-addressed birthday card (with brief note) to my aunt.

WIMA sponsors National Handwriting Day every January 23 in conjunction with John Hancock’s birthday. Hancock was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence and is famous for his large, bold signature.

Well, I may not have a particularly large or especially bold and Hancock-ian signature, but it’s not bad. (Thank you, I suppose, to a long line of penmanship torture nuns, starting with Sister Aloysius St. James.)

According to WIMA:

The lost art of handwriting is one of the few ways we can uniquely express ourselves. There’s something poetic about grasping a writing instrument and feeling it hit the paper as your thoughts flow through your fingers and pour into words….Handwriting allows us to be artists and individuals during a time when we often use computers, faxes and e-mail to communicate. Fonts are the same no matter what computer you use or how you use it. Fonts lack a personal touch. Handwriting can add intimacy to a letter and reveal details about the writer’s personality. Throughout history, handwritten documents have sparked love affairs, started wars, established peace, freed slaves, created movements and declared independence.

I’m sorry to say that grasping a writing instrument hasn’t made me feel like a poet or an artist, but I do agree that fonts lack a personal touch, even if you do choose one of the more off-beat ones, like Broadway or Boopee. (Personally, I’m a Calibri kind of gal.)

It does seem a shame that so much of the above good stuff like love affairs and movements  now happens via Facetime or texting. LOL…

By the way, there’s more to know about writing instruments than you might have imagined, including:

An unpainted pencil inserted into the soil of a potted plant can eliminate mealy bugs on plants.

Seeing a pencil in your dream indicates that you are making a temporary impact in a situation. It may also suggest that a relationship may not last long.

Not everything that there is to know about writing instruments is good:

Comedian, actor and educator, Bill Cosby is the most famous pen enthusiast in the world.

Time to update the website, WIMA.

And time to start lobbying schools about teaching handwriting – if you’re not already doing it.

I really do believe that kids should learn how to read and write cursive. After all, someday there may be a letter they want to read or write. Someday there may be notes they want to take. And someday there may not be an electronic device to capture the moment.

Sadly, I suspect that cursive will go the way of Beowulf-era English.

I’ve written about penmanship in the past:

This Is a Specimen of My Best Palmer Handwriting…and The Lost Art of Penmanship: Cursive, Foiled Again, in which post I wrote:

When I see anything that was written by either of my parents, by my Aunt Margaret, by my grandmother, I am moved and feel connected in a way that I would never be if whatever it is - it doesn't even have to be a personal message  - had been typed up. (Nothing like picking up a recipe card in my mother's hand to get me going...)

The list of handwriting that gets to me is growing.

A couple of months ago, I got a birthday card from a friend. I had never noticed before how closely her handwriting resembled that of my dear and wonderful friend Marie, who died in April. When I saw my name there, in Marie’s handwriting, I let out a little gasp.

Today would have been my husband’s birthday. Nearly a year after Jim’s death, whenever I pick up anything with his writing on it (always in red ink, often in printing rather than cursive) my heart stops.

There really is something about the handwritten word. I hope that we won’t be seeing the handwriting on the wall about it anytime soon.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Balls! (Or will Ball-Ghazi ever end?)

Last fall, I decided that, although I love watching sports, I would be removing football from my playlist.

There were a number of reasons: concussions, wife-battering, child abuse, rape, football’s conflation with Americanism (well, yes: violent, exceptional, exceptionally violent), a hyped-up (one might even say overinflated)  sense of self-importance , etc.

As I’ve maintained for years, watching football is like eating veal. If you thought about it for a moment, you wouldn’t do it.

But, just as I went ahead and ordered the scrumptious orecchiette vitello at Tuscano’s, there I was as the season wound down taking an occasional (quarterback) sneak peek at a Patriots game.

No, I was nowhere near my all time high NFL watching level, achieved in the last couple of years of my husband’s life when we often found ourselves sitting through a couple of games on Sunday, then Monday night, then Thursday night, then all the playoffs and then, even Super Bowl – something we’d really done unless the Pat were playing in it.

Still, with Super Bowl now in “our” sights, I was back to watching the NFL. And I was delighted to take in the Pats-Ravens playoff game in the company of my sister and her family, and the Pats-Colts AFC playoff at my cousin’s.

While I would not have been crushed if the Pats had lost that game – I’m just not that big a fan – I left MB and Dan’s after a Pats victory a wee bit excited about the prospect of their making it to the Big Game.  And more than a wee bit dreading what the next two weeks of wall-to-wall, all Super Bowl, all the time, coverage was going to be like.

No, no, a thousand times no to every newscast leading off with what size pom-pom was on the hat Tom Brady wore to practice, what Devon McCourty ate for breakfast, and whether or not Rob Gronkowski had read the soft-core ebook that he inspired (A Gronking to Remember: Book One in the Rob Gronkowski Erotica Series).

In a sports-crazed city such as the one I live in, coverage is non-stop, obsessive, and down right silly at times. And any period leading up to a Super Bowl in which the Patriots are playing is one of those times.

But then we wake up to DeflateGate, the deep dark night of the football soul crisis that has completely consumed not just local but national coverage since it was found that the Pats had played the first half of their playoff against the Colts with footballs that were marginally deflated in terms of pressure per square inch.

DeflateGate – personally, I prefer Ball-Ghazi – got blown way out of proportion for a number of reasons.

Mostly it’s the fathomless maw of the 24/7 “news” cycle that needs to be filled. That and the blog-erati. But I suspect that if the situation involved the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Carolina Panthers all it would have gotten is 15 minutes of fame and that would be that. Three and out; one and done.

But this is the Patriots, so we’re talking about:

Widespread dislike hatred, fomented in part because the Pats win a lot, in part because they’re fairly arrogant about it, in part because they play in New England – a region that’s so despised for reasons that would take up a post in its entirety, so I’ll save it for a rainy day.

The Pats also operate under a cloud of suspicion because the team and its famously grumpy and taciturn head coach, Bill Belichick, were punished and fined a while back for illegally taping their opponents. The frothing commenters, who have been moth-to-flame drawn out of their troll-caves by DeflateGate are acting as if what the Pats did was completely despicable, totally heinous, and indicative of the Cheatin’ Heart beating at the core of Patriots Nation. Commenters act as if the Pats taped and no one else did. The facts have shown that many/most teams taped, and that what the Pats had violated was a new rule that said you can tape from vantage point A, but you can no longer tape from vantage point B.

Undoubtedly, the Pats and Belichick (in the eyes of many, henceforth Belicheat) were cocking a snook at the NFL over what they thought was a stupid rule. (Having spent so many years in parochial school, I consider myself something of a connoisseur when it comes to stupid rules myself, so I can see the Patriots’ point on this one.)

SpyGate, as this earlier hoo-hah was branded, became the rallying cry for those who hated the Pats to begin with.

Since then, every win that the Pats have had is tainted, every record they break should be asterisked.

The competitive edges that other teams come up with – like encouraging their fans to drown out the audibles of the opposing team – are good clean fun. Anything the Pats do – such as run an unorthodox (but perfectly legal) formation - is indicative of their evil ways.

And the deftlaters are now going about and beyond DeflateGate and SpyGate, and throwing up new claims that is is statistically unlikely that the Pats have as few fumbles as they do, etc.

That the game is rigged so that the teams that the NFL wants in the Super Bowl end up there – in the Pats case, because of the friendship between FNL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Pats’ owner Bob Kraft (a.k.a., Krafty).

And just how is it that a 6th round draft pick like Tom Brady ends up being a superstar and gets the girl, who’s so rich that he can take a salary discount for the good of the team? Plus he’s handsome to boot. So while we may think of him as Tom Terrific, or our Tom, the rest of the world calls for the downfall of Shady Brady.

Maybe the Pats did somehow engineer a tremendous feat of cheat. Maybe there’s a scientific explanation of the case of the shrinking balls. Maybe the league has always tolerated a bit of under-and-over on ball inflation measurements, and some teams have taken advantage of it. (The Pats aren’t alone. The Green Bay Packer’s St. Aaron of Rodgers, perhaps second only to Tom Brady in the sanctity of his image, has said something along the lines that he likes a ball that’s slightly overinflated, and he’ll use them until the league catches him at it.)

I certainly hope the Pats didn’t cheat. (This sort of cheating is, by the way, considered a fairly minor infraction. That said, there doesn’t appear to be any great consistency with respect to how rules are interpreted and enforced in the NFL.)

But let’s get on with the show…

No, I don’t have to watch or read the news. I don’t have to watch or read about the Super Bowl.

But I will.

So let’s dropkick DeflateGate to the sidelines of history where it belongs.

As our Tom said in his press conference, ‘this isn’t ISIS.’

So let’s get down to the real news of the day – like whether or not Gronk liked the book.

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Friday, January 23, 2015


It’s the dead of winter and, this being New England, that means it’s pretty darned dead.

And what with the deadening effects of winter in general and this winter in particular, I was casting about for the blogging idea that would be the equivalent of an amuse-bouche to end the week on. You know, a little something that would tickle the funny bone of the reader’s mind, not the mention the funny bone of the writer’s.

(If I’m not making any sense here, it’s because it is the dead of winter, and I have sadly found the answer to the question ‘would I be willing to take a long walk – or even a medium-sized walk - every day, even if it’s 15 degrees out?’ And that answer is a resounding ‘No!’ So I’m no doubt suffering from a bit of cabin fever.)

Anyway, just as I was despairing of ever finding my blog idea version of an amuse-bouche du jour, I heard a news bit on TV on the runpee app.

Surely a blog-worthy topic, given that there is no end to my amazement at the sheer volume of seemingly useless apps that are out there. And here was an app that identified the sections of a movie where theatergoers could take a pee break without missing out on the plot. Is this really something that the world has been holding its breath – and its bladder – for?

But as I sat down to do my post, I had something of a Groundhog Day (boring bit: maybe when they’re on the highway?) moment.

‘Hey,’ I asked myself, ‘Didn’t I blog about this app, like, a million useless apps ago?’

And indeed I did, way back in June of ought-nine, in a post entitled RunPee…because. (A title that is something of an in-joke for women of a certain age, as it takes off on the Modess…because ads of our girlhood. Back then, the sanitary napkin was a product that dared not mention its name. We’ve come along way, baby, what with all sorts of “feminine” products – including birth control and douches – saying it loud and saying it proud. Not to be outdone, of course, the guys have all the ED ads warning about those pesky erections that last more than four hours. Okay. This is neither here nor there w.r.t. runpee, but I just wanted to do a shout out to my fellow dames d’un certain age, especially given that, as we age, so do our bladders and we’re always on the lookout for clean bathrooms and we’re always devising workarounds, like don’t drink a cup of tea before climbing into the car. Don’t know what’s with all the French today, either. It’s not like I speak he language. Maybe it’s a dead of winter thing. Or the image of John Kerry and James Taylor giving France a hug, or whatever it is they were doing last week.)

Anyway, I’m sticking to my original read on runpee, which is a reasonable entertaining post, made a bit more entertaining by the fact that the founder of runpee stopped by to make a comment.

But I do want to say a couple of things.

First, it’s amazing that these guys are still around after all these years, isn’t it?

Second, it’s amazing that these guys are still capable of generating fresh publicity – like mentions on national news – after all these years, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s time for me to dream up a useless app of my own, which I may well be inspired to do once I drop my Blackberry into the recycle bin of life and step into the world of app-o-rama, of app-a-palooza.

One thought: why not an app reminding movie goers to pee before they get seated for the movie. With an add-on telling them to order the small-sized soda. Now that would be useful for those who haven’t yet figured this out on their own. Given the longevity of runpee, there must be plenty of them.

Meanwhile, since I’ve already done my rant on runpee, I need to look for a fresh app to make fun of.

I swear that the other day I saw something about an app that you use in conjunction with teeth-whiteners. Something that you shine on your teeth to accelerate the whitening process?


What was I thinking when I didn’t seize the time and click through on it.

And now I can’t find it.*

Which means maybe I dreamed it up. Which means that, once I get a smarter smartphone, maybe I can even invent it. Especially with all the time I have on my hands, given that it’s too damned cold to go out and take a long – or even medium-sized – walk.

Watch this space…


*Nope. I didn’t dream it up. Someone else did. As was inevitable, after I wrote this post, I stumbled upon it. There is, indeed an app called White Tooth that promises to accelerate the whitening process.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Business booming for private eyes

For those of us who grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the two dominant TV show themes were westerns and private detectives.

Westerns occupied most of the terrain on the small screen, but there were plenty of PI’s, too.

Seventy-seven Sunset Strip. Surfside Six. Hawaiian Eye. Peter Gunn. And our appetites continued to be fed during the 1970’s and 1980’s with Rockford Files and Magnum PI.

Our introduction to PI’s came, of course, from HoFadoozlewdy Doody, where we first learned about the profession through Inspector Fadoozle, “America’s Number One Private Eye” (pictured here with Flub-a-dub. And lest you think that John J. Fadoozle was anything other than an important figure in American culture, in 2002 his marionette fetched $40K at auction.)

But although PI’s have lived on in detective fiction – think Mickey Bolitar and Stephanie Plum – they’re not quite as present on TV as they once were. (I know that there’s a show that’s kind of about Sherlock Holmes, but most of TV detectives these days work for a PD or for NCIS. So they’re public, not private.)

In real life, however, the PI business is booming.

Investigators across the nation say business has boomed in recent years from clients who want their sweethearts investigated for potentially deal-breaking habits and secrets.

“It’s worth it to them to spend a little in advance to figure out whether they’re hooked up with a loser or a longtime candidate,” said Jerry Bussard, who owns Cincinnati-based AAA Detective Agency Inc., of his clients.

The trend is partly driven, investigators say, by the legions of examples of online daters embellishing their profiles, and of scammers using dating sites to lure people into false romances with the intent of stealing from them. But investigators also say the uptick reflects a world in which a person can divine the outline of another’s life by a simple Google search. The Internet, they say, is like a gateway drug to professional snooping.

“What they are getting is just enough information to make them curious,” said Mr. Bussard. (Source: WSJ Online)

While digging up dirt for personal reasons is a big driver, employee background checks are also on the increase – something that was just not done in the good old days. (A friend recently told me that someone on her team was caught out because he had claimed a degree he had not technically been awarded. What was in the way of getting that degree was an unpaid activities fee from senior year. The employee – who hadn’t thought of it in years; he’d earned the degree, he just hadn’t been given his diploma - was allowed to pay up, so the case was closed. Point being, employees are under increasing scrutiny these days.)

Anyway, annual revenues for detective services have doubled over the past decade and, as of 2012, it was a $5.2 billion business in the U.S.

A lot of the business is conducted via computer which is a bit less exciting than surveillance (at least the parts of surveillance when there’s actually something to see), car chases and fist fights.

Who among us hasn’t been tempted to sign up for one of those criminal background check services to get the dirt on someone we’re curious about? Sure, we think about it but, in the end, if we really want or need to know something, we cede it to the pros.

Sometimes the background investigations reveal something really good, i.e., bad. Other times, there’s nothing new learned. And other times, the whole thing just blows up. As when a Chicago woman called the police about a car that had been suspiciously parked in front of her home. Turns out her boyfriend had hired a PI to investigate her. I suspect that this ended with a ‘not tonight, honey, I’ve got a headache’ of the permanent sort.

In any case, I thought it was interesting to see that business for PI’s is booming.

Wonder what this would have made of Inspector Fadoozle’s claim that he was “America’s Number One Private Eye.”


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Thank you, Elon Musk

Well, Elon Musk has been in the news quite a bit lately.

There was the crash and burn of the Space X Falcon rocket ship, which made a spectacularly unsuccessful landing – talk about rockets’ red glare – on its return from a Pea Pod run to launch a payload of supplies to the International Space Station. (Space X is Musk’s civilian space exploration enterprise.)

Then came the news that Musk plans to be the Al Gore of an Internet designed for outer space.

Not to mention his donation of $10 million to the Future of Life Institute to help protect the world from artificial intelligence (AI):

In the past, Musk has warned that AI could be "potentially more dangerous than nukes." Recently, he and a long list of researchers signed an open letter asking for "robust and beneficial" AI research that would be mindful of future consequences to humans. (Source: NBC News)

And now he has put his money – or a teeny-tiny fraction of it – where his mouth is.

The $10 million will be given out as research grants. "You could certainly construct scenarios where the human race does not recover," Musk said. "When the risk is that severe, it seems like you should be proactive and not reactive."

Although it’s local – headed up by an MIT professor – I wasn’t familiar with the Future of Life Institute. But I’m all in favor of any group “working to mitigate existential risks facing humanity.”

Personally, I would have picked climate change, rogue viruses, mad scientists creating half-human/half musk ox hybrids,  or our increasing general reliance on technology to “run” everything (such that only survivalists will know where water comes from, how to stay warm, and how to navigate by reading a map) as my existential risks. Maybe this latter fear of mine intersects with what the Future of Life Institute is on to. After all, they have very big brains, and understand that AI is more than Amazon suggesting what books you might like. So if they want to focus on the risky business of “human-level artificial intelligence”, well, have at it.

Musk isn't the only famous scientific mind worried about killer machines. In December, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking told the BBC that the "development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."

Well, that settles things. Any fear of Stephen Hawking is a fear of mine.

All this reminds me of a second-order encounter with AI that I had a few decades back. (I was going to write that it was 20 years ago, but I think it was more like 30. Time flies, even if  you’re not in a rocket ship.)

Anyway, a number of my colleagues – one of them remains one of my closest friends – were bailing out to join an upstart AI company.

What this company was doing was creating a Robby the Robot that would combine a LISP machine with a finance textbook (written by a Sloan School professor) and spit out optimal capital investment recommendations. At least that’s what I recall that the company of geniuses was going to do. It’s been a while. (I did a quick google and found that there is a Harvard Business School case study on this company, which I’m going to try to get my hands on.)

I was eventually invited to interview with this outfit. At least that’s what I recall. I may be being ego-shielding here. I may well have been pounding on their doors begging them to take me. After all, they were only hiring people with big and mighty brains, and what was more crave-worthy than joining that sort of brigade?

Anyway, I went through a number of interviews with everyone from the founders to my would-be manager (who was, in fact, an old-be manager of mine) to my likely peers. 

Along the way, I asked a few questions, mostly around whether there was actually going to be an audience that would pay a million bucks for a black-box that would “make” a decision for them that was currently made via a combination of spreadsheet, back of the napkin, and gut sense for free.  I also poked around a bit about my suspicion that business people were likely to look at the output of that costly black-box and yay or nay the advice based on back of the napkin and gut check.

I thought that, during the interview process, I was amply demonstrating that I had a big and mighty brain – big and mighty enough to make it there.

Apparently, most of what I was demonstrating was that I just didn’t get it.

I was let down gently.

I would not be getting an offer because it was felt that I “was not yet ready to leave my present company.”

Naturally, I was crushed.

And, just as naturally, I was gleeful and felt supremely vindicated when this company – which I kept tabs on through my friend – spent a couple of years going through all sorts of contortions before imploding. (Note to self: you really must get your hands on that HBS case.)

So, having been personally saved from AI, I laud Elon Musk and the Future of Life Institute for recognizing that it can pose an existential threat.

Oh, that Elon Musk. He is really something.

PayPal. Tesla. All that space stuff. Saving us from AI. Not to mention a name straight out of James Bond or Batman. It is good to be Elon Musk. And it is probably good to have Elon Musk as well.


P.S. Special thanks to my friend Valerie, who has a very big and mighty (non-artificial) intelligence for pointing this article out to me. Seriously, it takes a village to keep track of everything that Elon Musk is up to.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Heart of the Commonwealth reborn? (If the New York Times says so…)

When you grow up in a city that’s about a 10 on the ‘meh’ scale of everyone else in the world (at least the proportion that’s actually heard of your less-than-illustrious city), you end up grasping for whatever straws there are out there that have anything to do with your less-than-illustrious city.


We were the birthplace of Dr. Robert Goddard, Robert Benchley, S.N. Behrman (not to be confused with S.J. Perlman), Elizabeth Bishop, Rich Gedman.

So what if you haven’t heard of any of all of these.

They were ours, all ours.

And while Esther Forbes may have (disappointingly) not been born in Worcester, but a few miles down Route 9, she damn well died in Worcester. (Who’s Esther Forbes? Come now: she wrote Johnny Tremain. Don’t you know anything?)

The smiley face?

Invented here!

Only place where Sigmund Freud spoke when he came to the U.S.?


And, by the way, we’re one of a handful of cities which has been named an All-American City five times.

So. There.

We might not be the Hub of the Universe, the Hog Butcher of the World, or the City of Lights.

But we were the Heart of the Commonwealth.

And, boy, was I excited when I read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and saw that Worcester was practically a character:

"One wet afternoon the following November, a Greyhound bus deposited Perry [Smith – one of the killers] in Worcester, a Massachusetts factory town of steep up-and-down streets that even in the best of weathers seem cheerless and hostile." (Original source of quote is In Cold Blood, but I found it on Sean Dacey’s no longer active blog, Unfashionable Sentiments.)

[As an aside, my senior year in high school I entered an essay contest on Worcester, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, and led off with this quote. I was so naïve about the ways of the world, let alone the Chamber of Commerce, that I was actually surprised when I didn’t win.]

Anyway, Worcester-ites, whether current or past, like it when we get a shout-out.

One of our more recent brushes with fame was when a funeral parlor in Worcester was the only one in the state willing to take the body of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and see that it got a proper burial.

And, most recently, just a couple of weeks ago, there was The New York Times talking about Worcester as a college town.

Oh, The Times tells us, it took Worcester nearly two-hundred years to get that it was a college town. But, day-am, with 35,000 college students – more than 1/6 of its population – it sure is. Holy Cross. Clark. Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Worcester State. Et al. Colleges ‘r Us. And, what’s more, the city is moving beyond college town-ery and is flourishing in general.

From one end of the city’s 245-acre central core to the other, Worcester is attending to the 35,000 college students who study and live here, and its primary boulevards are steadily filling up with the civic amenities that attract new residents. They include a busy public transit hub, comfortable and affordable housing, new restaurants and watering holes, computer stores and coffee shops, a performing arts theater, biotech research facilities, incubators and office space for start-up companies, and renovated parks — including one alongside City Hall with an ice rink larger than the one in Rockefeller Center. (Source: New York Times.)

Although I grew up skating on Henderson Pond (a.k.a., Hendy’s), I am especially delighted about that City Hall outdoor rink. To me, there are few more wonderful urban sights than folks skating on a winter’s day – or night. I try to walk by the Boston Common  rink at least once a day. In the summer, it’s a splash pond, which is fun to see in action as well.

What else up in Worcester?

A mix-used (including apartments) development right near City Hall (which takes the place of the heinous and failed Galleria Mall.) The ongoing fabulous rehab of the fabulous train station. The Hanover Theater – which used to be a dumpy movie theater, the Loew’s Poli and is now a beautiful performance space. (I’ve been to two events there in the past month: it’s gorgeous.) A new Marriott’s going up.

And as often as not, it’s the colleges that are helping Worcester revitalize. (I’m sure in self-defense: they’re competing for students who want to be in cool places like Boston and Providence.)

Worcester Tech’s partnering to turn “an 11-acre parcel on the edge of its 6,000-student campus into a life sciences teaching, research, laboratory and office complex called Gateway Park.”

The Mass College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences built a new campus in beautiful downtown Worcester a few years back.

When Quinsigamond Community College expanded into downtown, it decided not to build-in its own coffee shop and café. It wanted its students to patronize what was already around.

As a result of all this do-goodery:

According to the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Worcester’s steady redevelopment, fostered by well over $1.3 billion in public and private investment, is producing results that are at the top of urban demographic and economic performance in New England. The city’s population has climbed to more than 182,000 residents, up 13 percent from its modern low of under 162,000 in 1990. Worcester is now the second-largest city in New England.

The jobless rate in October, 5.6 percent, was lower than the state’s unemployment rate of 6 percent. The city added 6,900 new jobs from October 2013 to October 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and average wages during that period increased nearly 5 percent.

Resurge, dear Heart of the Commonwealth, resurge.

“We haven’t rushed to rebuild the city,” said Frederick H. Eppinger, the president and chief executive of Hanover Insurance Group [a big part of all the development, including the Hanover Theater].

“Haven’t rushed in?” I’ll say.

Better late than never, and you might as well get it right.

God knows there are plenty of places in Worcester, including the neighborhoods skirting much of downtown, that are bleak and nasty.

But I’m delighted that Worcester’s on the rise.

After all, with the sea levels on the rise, I may end up flooded out here and end up doing a re-lo to Worcester.

God West, old lady, go West.


A tip of the Worcester Tornados (a defunct minor league baseball team) cap to my friend Cathy, who sent me this link.