Thursday, October 08, 2015

Not to blame Victim 1 and Victim 2, but wouldn’t you think they’d have noticed something was wrong a bit earlier

I don’t know why – I’ve never been an embezzler,* and to my knowledge, I’ve never known one – but I’m always intrigued by news items about employees with their hand in their boss’s cookie jar. And over the years, I’ve blogged about more than my share of them.

There was the woman – a volunteer, actually - who bought thousands of dollars worth of Pandora charms, and a fancy SUV for her husband – with money ($1M!) she embezzled from her kids’ hockey league. (When Hockey Moms Go Bad.)

I remember another woman who filched money from the construction firm she worked for. With it, she built herself a swell vacation house, and hired Burt Bacharach to sing at her brother’s wedding. But wait, there’s more. Having looked at my earlier post, I found that this thief had gone on beyond Burt Barcharach. She:

...indulged her love of Halloween by purchasing a 20-foot-tall, smoke-spewing dragon statue, mechanical talking trees, and a life-sized Al Capone statute [sic], federal prosecutors said...Prosecutors [also] said Platt threw lavish parties and flaunted her wealth, despite a $40,000 salary. For her brother's planned wedding in 2006, she hired legendary singer/songwriter Burt Bacharach and dancers from "Riverdance." (The original source of this excerpt was The Boston Globe, page no longer available. But my post on it is.)

Then there was the charming local who light-fingered $800K from a small-town library. That’s awful lot of overdue book fines.

The latest entry into the Pink Slip embezzlement sweeps is a local nanny who, over a year and change, ripped more than $280K from the Boston couple she nannied for.

According to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Sheila R. Magoon, [Stephanie] Fox allegedly took checks from the victims’ checkbook, made them payable to herself, and cashed them with forged signatures. The couple is identified only as Victim 1 and Victim 2 in court filings. (Source: The Boston Globe)

Ms. Fox – no Mary Poppins, she – had tastes that went far beyond a black umbrella and carpet bag.

Fox used the money to purchase jewelry including a diamond pendant necklace and three Movado watches,” Magoon wrote [in her affidavit]. “She also used the money for travel, including trips to the Bahamas, Aruba, Hawaii, Newport, Cape Cod and Disney. Fox also made a $10,000 down payment on a new truck.”

I don’t expect that embezzlers are going to spend their misbegotten moola on things like sensible shoes, So a diamond necklace and a few pricier-than-Timex watches are no surprise. Nor are the trips. But those must have been some trips.

Fox took $280K. What was she spending on the Cape – sure, she must have been staying in the Chatham Bars Inn, and not in Brownie’s Cabins, but still - that she couldn’t afford to pay cash on that new truck, but only made a modest $10K down-payment on it?

But the real surprise for me in all this is that it took Victim 1 and Victim 2 – I almost wrote Thing 1 and Thing 2 there – over a year to figure out that someone had written $280K in forged checks on their account.

Admittedly, I don’t balance my checkbook, and haven’t for years. I used to just do an adjusting entry each month and, as long as it was $100 or less, I wouldn’t bother to track it down. I certainly keep high-level tabs on what’s flowing in and what’s flowing out, but life’s too short to balance down to the penny. (Sorry, Ma!) Once I got overdraft protection, well, clear sailing.

Yet even I would most assuredly notice if someone had bilked $2.8K over a 16 month period, let alone $280K. (Not that $280K would have been a possibility, even with overdraft protection.)

Did neither Victim 1 nor Victim 2 ever bother to look at what was going on in their checking account? Apparently not. Nobody gets physical canceled checks anymore, but some folks gt paper statements, and the rest of us at least glance online once in a while. (Mr. and Mrs. Victim still get physical statements. According to the Patriot Ledger, Ms. Fox destroyed the statements before the Victims could see them. Didn’t’ they, ummmm, ever wonder?)

I guess if you keep enough money in your checking account to not notice that more than a quarter-of-a-million bucks are missing, you have enough money in your life not to notice that more than a quarter-of-a-million bucks are missing. Wow! Just wow! I’m nosy enough to want to know if not who they are, then at least what they did. Hedge funder? Professional athlete? Real estate developer? Wow, just wow.

Meanwhile, I’d say that someone who’s been caught embezzling is not going to be easily employable in the future. Then again, Fox had prior arrests for credit card fraud and identity theft, having stolen patrons’ numbers when she worked as a waitress.

That probably won’t be a problem for a while. Fox is facing 30 years in the slammer.

As for Victim 1 and Victim 2, while Fox will be liable to pay restitution, they’ll be lucky to get those Movados, which are likely beneath their wealth-grade to begin with.

*No, I’ve never been an embezzler, but I did have one infamous night at Durgin-Park when the sadistic owner was out for the evening. I ripped off the price of a couple of prime ribs, and a piece of scrod. Not my proudest moment, but you really had to be there.


Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Women keeping power? That supposes they want it to begin with.

Well, yesterday’s post was on how women could keep their power. Today’s story asks whether women want power all that much to begin with.

According to some research from Harvard Business School – and, let’s face it, who would know better:

Women aren’t in leadership positions because they just don’t want the jobs as much as men do.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), incorporates nine studies conducted on various high-achieving groups. Combined, the research indicates that women value power less than men.. . (Source: Bloomberg)

In one of those studies, researchers found that women don’t want the “stress, burden, conflicts and difficult trade-offs” that come with being at or near the top.

Women have other goals in mind – goals like having a family. They want it all, but recognize that wanting and having are two different animals entirely. Having power involves juggling power with the other items on the most wanted list. Power sometimes loses out. (The studies found that women tend to have more goals than men, and fewer that are power-related.)

This reminds me of a situation involving my sister. Many years ago, when she was discussing her upcoming maternity leave with her manager, she brought up coming back on a part time basis for a few months to ease her transition back into work. Her (male) manager said something along the lines of, “It sounds to me like you care more about your baby that you do about your job.”

Let’s see. Well, one of these things I like well enough, but it will get along just fine without me for a bit, and other I will be head over heels in love with, and that one will actually not be able to live without me for a while. So, duh, yeah. Baby trumps job.

Although for those with seemingly infinite resources (and, yes, power) – like Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo – there appear to be fewer trade-offs. Mayer famously had a nursery built into her office, while at the same time clamping down on employees who wanted to work from home on occasion. To do things like minimize their commute so that they could maximize time with their kids.

In my experience, a whole lot of people – women and men, with and without kids – aren’t especially power mad. They want work that’s interesting (at least some of the time) and challenging (at least some of the time), and decently compensated (all of the time). And they want to spend time with family and friends, and on whatever else floats their boat: travel, sports (playing or watching while lounging around, beer in hand), music (playing or watching while lounging around, Beats on ear), hobbies, volunteering...

Didn’t Freud say something along the lines of love and work, work and love, that’s really all there is?

Hmmmm. I don’t see the word power in there, do I?

Anyway, in my humble experience, I worked with very few women in power positions – and none who were president/CEO.

Part of this was the nature of the particular industry beast I chose: technology. Sure, there are the Marissa Mayers, the Sheryl Sandbergs, the Meg Whitmans, and the Carly Fiorinas of the world. I just never worked for an organization run (or run into the ground) by one of them.

Two of the companies I worked for – companies where I served the majority of my corporate time – each had two women in senior management - VP positions. (At one time or another, I reported directly to three out of the four. At one of these companies, after enough downsizing etc., I ended up the only woman VP.)  Both of these yin-yang dyads would be a case study in itself. Grist for the mill of another day…

(I’ll have to think about whether to spend the time working them into Pink Slip posts – they’ve all, I must say, made a guest appearance or two over the years. Or make them characters in one of the novels I really do intend to write some day. The trouble would come from trying to make them characters that were reasonably believable. In order to do so, I’d have to jettison much of what I knew about them.)

Of the four senior-most women I worked with, I would certainly say that three were absolutely driven by the desire for power. (Two of these women had children, by the way.) The other I’d have to say appeared more driven by the acquisition of expensive clothing, jewelry, and furniture. Her nickname was, in fact, Material Girl. (This was at the outset of the Age of Madonna.)

One of these four women has dropped off the face of the work earth, but the others seem to have done okay for themselves – one in particular has achieved quite a bit of success. But none of them made it to the top of any corporate pinnacle as far as I can tell. Maybe, like most of the rest of us, they just didn’t want power all that badly. (And given that these women were all my age or a bit older, they’re all pretty much winding things down, not revving things up the ladder)

What am I trying to get at here? After re-reading the post up to this point, I’m not quite sure myself.

Maybe it’s the simple observation that women probably do have less of a tendency to go after power. Maybe it’s the simple observation that most people actually don’t want top-dog power to begin – it’s just not worth it. Or maybe it’s the simple observation that, unless you want power, you’re probably not going to go after it. And, even if you go after it, there’s no guarantee that you’ll do much with it when you get it. Assuming you get it to begin with…

Damn. Blogging sure is hard at times. Maybe I should have gone after power instead…

My personal bottom line: happy to be living in a work zone where I don’t have to worry about power one way or the other. (Assuming that folks that hire me manage to hang on to theirs…)

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

I’ve got the power! So, how do you keep it.

A couple of weeks back, I saw a post by Bonnie Marcus on Forbes in which she described the ways in which women give away their power.This is pretty familiar terrain, and certainly something that working women have been grappling with for as long as there’ve been working women.

As I look back on my experiences in technology companies, where I was – depending on the size of the company – either in upper-mid-level management or senior management, I find it an interesting and realistic list. Even if it’s a bit disheartening to read that issues haven’t changed over a generation. (I date the start of my “serious” professional career to 1981, when I graduated from business school. I worked in corporate settings until 2004, and have been freelancing since.)

Here’s the Marcus list on the ways in which women de-power themselves, (Her categories are in bold; all indented material is from Marcus.)

The use of minimizing language
Twenty years ago, give or take a few years, I read that women needed to stop saying “I think” and “I feel”, and replace these words with “I know.” I used to argue that my “think” was as good as some guy’s “I know”, but I finally had to acknowledge that, when you have a seat at the table – especially if you’re the only woman there - “know” trumped “think.” Today’s advice – from Jerry Weissman – gussies things up a bit. “I’m confident,” I’m convinced,” “I expect” should replace think/believe/feel. I don’t see that “I expect” is any more powerful than “I think”, but I kind of wish I’d tossed in a bit more of “I’m confident” and “I’m convinced.” Especially I’m confident. Like it.

Marcus herself recommends that we excise the word “just”.

I’m not convinced about this one. I do a lot of “just wanted to check” emails when I want to move someone along on a project or a payment. It generally works, without being accusatory or confrontational. Maybe it’s the difference between working in corporate, where you actually may want power, and working freelance, where you just want projects and payments.

Unnecessary apologies
Power, apparently, means never having to say you’re sorry. Or almost never.

Saying you’re sorry unnecessarily puts you in a subservient position. Women’s tendency to apologize and, in fact over apologize, is another subtle way we give our power away.

Even though I’m a generally non-confrontational person who doesn’t exactly thrive on conflict, I actually don’t remember all that much apologizing during my career. What sticks out is apologizing to the mega-polite, WASP-y gentile president of our company for having called him an asshole. His response was perfect – and perfectly him: “I wasn’t aware that you had.”

Other than that, I did notice that women – self included – were much more likely to admit that we’d screwed something up than men were. We’d have these project post-mortems or root cause analyses of problems and, as often as not, I was the only one to put on the table the things that I could have done better. Guess I was giving away power. And those ingrates never once thanked me for it.

Letting others take credit for ideas
After years of being galled when someone (male) would raise a point that I’d already made, and get the credit and praise for it, I started saying, “Thanks, Joe Blow, for supporting my point.”  According to Marcus, I was doing the right thing:

When we stay silent and let others take credit for our ideas, we give our power away. I coach my clients to take back the credit. “Thank you for bringing up this idea that I proposed earlier.” Make a statement that will remind the attendees of your ownership of the idea.

I’ve got the power! (Or did have it, back in the day.)

Anyway, as I’ve said many times – and written here just the other day – A woman’s voice is like a dog whistle. Only some ears are attuned to hearing it.

The hesitancy to self-promote
For a while, I would wait around for someone to notice my brilliance and competence. Then I figured two things out. Sometimes, in order to get ahead, you just have to step up and say “I’ll do it.” And sometimes you just have to outright self-promote. Which is how I got to be a VP in small Company A, and almost got to be a VP in large Company B. (In large Company B, when I broached the subject of VP-hood with the CMO, he said, “If you want to be a VP, I’ll make you a VP.” Then I thought about it in the context of this particular company, and decided that I’d rather have people asking why I wasn’t a VP than asking why I was. Turned out to be the right move. Sometimes personal authority/power is better than positional authority/power.)

Not understanding or using our influence
Based on my experience, this is good advice:

Offering to help others achieve their goals creates credibility that results in influence. Volunteering for special projects at work highlights our competence and influence.

Not leveraging relationships
Somewhere along the line, I figured this one out, although oddly the clearest example of my using it was when I wanted to get on the lay-off list at Company B. We were nearing a major lay-off, and I’d pretty much had it. Trouble was, the company had recently sent a group of VP’s and Directors off to a pricey one-week mini-MBA at Babson. We were supposed to come up with a plan for saving the company – hah – but whether that was going to happen or not, the president had apparently declared that no one on the Babson list could be pink slipped. I leveraged my relationships with all the more-senior folks I could think of, working like mad to get on the list. I made it. Then, oddly, on lay off day, no one bothered to lay me off – my manager was dealing with people who were crushed by getting their walking papers – so I left my laptop and Palm Pilot on my desk and just sort of walked away. One of the best career decisions I ever made!

Being reactive not proactive
Hard to argue this one.

A lack of allies and champions
Well, this seems to overlap with leveraging relationships, but, hey, I’m too lazy to re-read these sections to see if I can determine the differences.

I’ll just say that, as anyone who’s worked in an organization for more than four hours knows, you need a network in order to survive. I always focused on network-building with people I actually liked and/or respected. Bogus networks based on ass-kissing, short term alliances that were nothing more than conniving power-grabs – way too cunning and Machiavellian for my liking.

A desire to be liked
For better or for worse, I like to be liked and, gosh-golly, without going all Sally Fields here, this has stood me in excellent stead throughout my career. I did well in the corporate world because, for the most part, people liked me.I get my freelance gigs because people enjoy working with me. But I also figured out that I was not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, and that there were going to be plenty of times when I was going to have to be unliked. And I was, by Nick B. and that red-headed woman in sales (Joan something?). By Steve P. By Bernie L. And guess what? I didn’t like them much, either.

As Marcus notes,

Power comes from: being nice, effective, and powerful.

I wouldn’t exactly say that reading the article made me miss my old corporate power-play days. But it was fun thinking about them.

Monday, October 05, 2015

There’s Peeple that’s creeple Then there’s Peeple the peephole people. (I stand with the peepholers.)

A decade or so back, some enterprising recent Duke grad set up a site called JuicyCampus, on which students – not surprisingly, mostly frat bros and sorority girls - could spread malicious rumors, tell outright lies, or just in general trashtalk and malign fellow students – all with the guarantee of full anonymity. Just what the world needed!

Fortunately, the market spoke, and JuicyCampus went out of business. (Interestingly, its founder seems to have matured. He has more recently developed an app, Kindr, which is focused on trying a little kindness.)

But now some enterprising Canadian women decided that the world did, indeed, need an app in which people could rate other people, “basically Yelp, but for humans.”

When the app does launch, probably in late November, you will be able to assign reviews and one- to five-star ratings to everyone you know: your exes, your co-workers, the old guy who lives next door. You can’t opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. And you can’t delete bad or biased reviews — that would defeat the whole purpose. (Source: Washington Post)

(After the interview, co-founder Julia Cordray walked back the “can’t delete” feature. People (peeple?) can ask for something they “deem inaccurate” to be removed.)

And, unlike JuicyCampus, this is not an anonymous app. Reviewers need to use their real name, which should tamp down some of the more odious comments.

“As two empathetic, female entrepreneurs in the tech space, we want to spread love and positivity,” Cordray stressed. “We want to operate with thoughtfulness.”

Well, it seems to me that truly operating with thoughtfulness would be to not provide the opportunity for individuals to rate each other online.

What it you don’t want to be rated?

It’s not as if most of us are running hotels that might have bedbugs or something. We’re just trying to live our lives.

Here’s WaPo’s Caitlin Dewey’s take:

It’s inherently invasive, even when complimentary. And it’s objectifying and reductive in the manner of all online reviews. One does not have to stretch far to imagine the distress and anxiety that such a system would cause even a slightly self-conscious person; it’s not merely the anxiety of being harassed or maligned on the platform — but of being watched and judged, at all times, by an objectifying gaze to which you did not consent.

To Cordray, it’s all “feedback” that “You can really use it to your advantage.”

I already know that I’m podgy and sarcastic. So what do I need with feedback already?

But wait, there’s more! There’s another entrepreneur with a product named Peeple:

…a smart, Internet-enabled peephole that lets you peer at your phone to see who’s at your door. “It’s like virtual caller ID for your home,” [founder Chris Chuter] says, happily grabbing a miniature door frame (“my doorframe for ants”) and dragging it into view of our video chat. A bright orange circular gadget on the door shows you who’s on the other side, even when you aren’t home. (Source: Wired) 

The good news for Peeple is that they’ve been winning awards and kudos for innovation. The bad news is they’re getting caught up in the trashtalk, errrrr, feedback, Peeple app.

Peeple the peephole people have a trademark in the US. The creeple Peeple are going for trademark in Canada.

With luck, the creeple Peeple will meet the same fate as JuicyCampus.

I’m standing with the peephole Peeple.

Real people should feel free to rate this product online. But rating real people. Bad enough when it’s done in private, or in the privacy of our brains. Who needs or wants it all living on line forever?

Friday, October 02, 2015

Remind me not to buy any lottery tickets next time I’m in Chicagoland

I don’t play obsessively, but I do pick up an occasional lottery ticket or two. I may even be a winner who just doesn’t realize it yet. I tend to forget about  the tickets I have until months later, when I come across a little wad of Power Ball-MegaBucks-MassCash tickets. I then do a quick check, and generally find that, in what must be somehow against the laws of probability, I never even have one number that matches. Ever.

But I play. It’s especially fun when the payouts get up there. What to do, what to do with all that free money?

While I may not be a Play-ah, I’m not philosophically opposed to state lotteries.

And yet, when I see some of the folks who spend a ton of money on tickets that, from the looks of it, they can ill afford, I wince a little at what a nastily regressive tax playing the lottery is.

When I do buy tickets, it’s usually from Bob the Key Guy who has a lottery ticket sideline. He’s just around the corner from a veterans’ shelter, and on days when the disability checks come in, I see an awful lot of guys buying an awful lot of scratch tickets. Okay. If I can dream, they can dream. Still, sometimes the lottery seems like a kind of underhanded way to extract some tax coin from those least able to pay – and to get at those who likely don’t pay much by way of normal taxes.

The lottery is, of course, also a well known way to do money laundering. If you’ve seen Black Mass, a movie about James “Whitey” Bulger, Boston’s own psychopath gangster, there’s a bit about the time Bulger “won” the lottery. Sure he did…Anyone willing to bet he didn’t make someone in Southie an offer they couldn’t refuse?

Anyway, at least if you play the lottery in Massachusetts, and you do happen to win, you can pretty much count on being able to collect your winnings.

Not so in Illinois.

The state is pretty much broke, and in a big general political mess. As a result, lottery winners aren’t getting their payouts.

Of course, given that other creditors include “state employees whose health premiums aren’t being covered and private vendors who haven’t seen checks since the last budget ran out on July 1,” it’s hard to have all that much sympathy for someone whose quick-pick payout isn’t getting made.

But the lottery is pretty much a pay-for-itself item. Folks who play the lottery drop oodles of money into the coffers and, in return, they get a fraction of that oodles back. So it would seem as if the great state of Illinois would have the money to pay those winners.

Certainly, one would hope that there’s no one out there who’s actually relying on their winnings to get them through the day to day. But if you win, you win, no?

And sometimes baby really does need a new pair of shoes.

Info source: Bloomberg

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Too. Much. Choice. (Too. Many. Decisions.)

We’re about half way through my renovation project.

I say “we” – perhaps royally – because, any day that I have any involvement in the project – and that would be pretty much any day – I come home (actually my sister Kath’s home) and go into a swoon. Find me a fainting couch, ASAP.

I drop by my “real” home every couple of days to pick up my mail and to the see what’s up  Or tp make some decision about something that, prior to being asked to make a decision, I didn’t know existed. And that, post being asked about it, I realize I really don’t have an opinion on. Nor do I give a damn about.

Some things I do care about. Like paint colors. And they’re something I more or less understand. Or at least I know my own tastes.

In the past, I’d just go to the hardware store and figure out what colors I liked.

But this is a real project. And I made the mistake of sending away for a couple of Benjamin Moore color wheels.* Yowza!

Fortunately, I made a bee-line to the colors that are “mine.” And even more fortunately, I decided to use a professional to help figure out how the colors would hang together as we moved from room to room. The colors I ended up with aren’t that different than what I would have done on my own – hey, I picked Blue Hydrangea for the bedroom, and Blue Jean for the hall outside the bedroom – and Manchester Tan (which in my mind is actually called Manchester United, which I think would make it red) in the living room is pretty much what I already had there. Yet Linda’s deft touch is going to make the entire thing hang together. Blues and neutrals are us, with a slight detour into green (Peaceful Garden) for one of the bathrooms.

Most of my decisions were made over the summer: Plumbing fixtures: Grohe Seabury downstairs (Peaceful Garden) bathroom; Symmons Carrington upstairs (Santa Monica Blue) bathroom. Kitchen flooring: Armstrong Alterna – Enchanted Fog?; etc. (Why are there so many choices for kitchen sink???? My contract picked it up today so that we could have it for the countertop template. “Is this the one you ordered?” he

Yesterday’s pick of the day was the knobs and pulls for the kitchen cabinets. Easy-peasy.

Today’s is the countertops.

I had originally wanted to go with tempered glass. And I did my research, which suggested that it was going to be about twice what any normal person would spend on kitchen countertops. But, hey, I argued, this is a pretty small kitchen, and more than half of those countertops are only 12” wide. So I threw in what I thought was a fairly outlandish figure into my budget. Only to get an estimated that came in at nearly $500 per square foot. (How much of this is the Beacon Hill Markup is anyone’s guess. I’m guessing at least 50% of a whack for the address premium.)

For that kind of money, they should throw in both new pots and pans and a chef.

So today I’m going to pick something out.

Hey, tempered glass would have been nice, but I’ve had crappy formica countertops for the last 25 years. Anything will be an improvement. (I was leaning toward marble, until I read that if you squeeze a lemon or spill red wine within 20 feet of them, they turn into pitted messes. No thanks.)

We’re getting towards the end of the spending spree.

I still need to figure out a medicine cabinet for bathroom one, and a mirror for bathroom two. That should be relatively straightforward. I had to wait on these because bringing the bathrooms up to code meant the incredible shrinking vanity, and the incredible shrinking medicine chest. I think we’ve got it now.

At least I hope so.

There’s way too many decisions, way too much choice.

It’s going to be great, but, boy, do I want it done.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------*My cousin Ellen had a fun post on color names on her blog, Hello Lamppost. For the record, my favorite OPI name is “I’m Not Your Waitress.”

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Back home again, in Williston, ND

A few months ago, I watched a POV documentary on PBS – how’s that for a nifty double use of acronyms? if only I could have thought up a third – on the shale oil boom town of Williston, North Dakota. The show focused on the men who’ve flocked to the town to work as roughnecks. They were living anyplace they could find: crummy motels, RV’s, cars, trucks, cots on church floors, chicken coops, camps with slapped up quarters that looked like the “nice” portapotty setups. You know, the white plastic looking ones where you can actually flush the toilet and don’t live in fear that your watch and glasses are going to drop into the horrific portapotty slough of despond.

Pretty terrible, all round, and quite a jolt for the residents of a quiet All American town straight out of American Graffiti. Letterman jackets. Ham and bean suppers at the Lutheran Church. Kids decorating their bikes for the 4th of July parade.

Then all of a sudden, their population almost doubles. Mostly single men from somewhere else, without wives and kids. We’re not talking Tom Joad here. No Ma and Pa Joad. No Rose of Sharon. We’re talking about single men, on their own, and bringing with them the problems that come when you’ve got thousands of unaccompanied males with money in their jeans.

Then the oil boom began to get into a bit of a bust.

A lot of those migrants-in became migrants-out.

Unfortunately, not before a building-binge started:

After struggling to house thousands of migrant roughnecks during the boom, the state faces a new real-estate crisis: The frenzied drilling that made it No. 1 in personal-income growth and job creation for five consecutive years hasn’t lasted long enough to support the oil-fueled building explosion.

Civic leaders and developers say many new units were already in the pipeline, and they anticipate another influx of workers when oil prices rise again. But for now, hundreds of dwellings approved during the heady days are rising, skeletons of wood and cement surrounded by rolling grasslands, with too few residents who can afford them. (Source: Bloomberg)

Development companies, it seems, misread both the boom-bust nature of oil production (oil prices are down), and the interest that there would be in family-friendly apartment complexes and suburban subdivisions to begin with.

Apparently, as depressing and hideous as they were, the men folk were pretty content with whatever man camp they found themselves in. They knew they were only their temporarily. When the boom goes bust, they pack it in and head back home to wherever their families are – or on to the next place where there’s an employment rush.

The migrants out are leaving a trail of RV’s behind them:

As the migrant workers leave, their castoffs pile up in scrap yards such as TJ’s Autobody & Salvage outside Alexander, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Williston. More than 400 discarded vehicles crowd its lot, including souped-up pickup trucks and an RV with rotting potatoes and a dead mouse in the sink.

This must be doing wonders for the look and feel of Williston.

Not to mention what the half-built housing subdivisions are doing for it. Most don’t seem to be abandoned – yet. But in the pictures, parts of Williston are starting to look an awful lot like the “ghost estates” that you’d see throughout Ireland in the wake of their real-estate induced economic crisis.

A few years back, on what turned out to be our last trip to Ireland together, my husband and I walked though one near Shannon Airport, where we spent our last night before heading back to Boston. Talk about hideous and depressing.

Back in Williston, some of the property developers claim to be in it for the long pull. They think that there’ll be enough local oil production in the Williston area to attract a more permanent workforce – the kind that live in houses with their families, not in RV’s with rotting potatoes and dead mice.

Good luck to Williston.

As it happens, North Dakota is on my bucket list. I’d like to do all 50 states, and ND is one of the few remaining states on my list (along with Alaska, Kentucky and Tennessee). Maybe when I get to ND, I’ll take a detour from Fargo and check Williston out. Unless there’s another boom, I suspect I’ll be able to get some short term digs pretty cheaply.