Friday, June 29, 2007

IMail. YouMail. He, She, or ItMails

Well, just when you thought you'd gotten all your tech "to do's" under control - you've got every number you ever call in your cell phone directory; your iPod is completely full; your calendars are all in synch; you've mastered Tivo - something new appears on the horizon.

Introducing (at least to me) something called YouMail, which lets you create personalized voicemail messages tied to the caller's number.  Here's what YouMail has to say for themselves:

Make your voicemail greeting more personal, with special greetings for the people you care about the most.

  • Easy to do, just enter their phone number and record the greeting - on the phone or on the computer.
  • We even provide pre-recorded greetings for a variety of situations, so you can get started now. Choose from fun greetings, professional greetings - even greetings with your name.

And how's that for a personal touch: "pre-recorded greetings for a variety of situations." (I listened to a few of them, and they can be funny - if overlong. But WHO NEEDS SOMEONE ELSE WRITING/RECORDING THEIR VOICEMAIL GREETING FOR THEM? My 82 year old aunt has her own greeting. And, yes, we all know people who leave the standard "factory-made" greetings on there forever. I'm, in fact, related to a couple of them and that, "Hello, please leave a message" robot voice drives me nuts.)

The service is - what else? - free, and YouMail plans to make money with - what else? - online ads. If you use YouMail, you manage/host your voicemail there, so you'll be on their site regularly. At least that's how I think it works (From my read of a Boston Globe article on the subject by Irene Sege.)

The article does mention one extremely useful feature:

For those persistent former boyfriends or telemarketers you'd rather not hear from, YouMail offers DitchMail, which blocks unwanted callers from being able to leave a message.

My favorite part of Sege's article covered the YouMail usage of a fellow who uses the service to record specific message-messages - not just greetings - for people.

"I can tell them what I want to tell them without having to talk to them."

Couldn't he simply leave that message on their voice mail when he placed the original call? "I don't know why I didn't think of that."

A perfect example of make-work technology in action.

Sure, it might be kind of fun to have nice little personalized greetings for your kids, but it seems that the kids who'd most like to hear Mommy's or Daddy's special message just for them are likely to be too young to have cell phones.

But, of course, we're all so narcissistic, people will probably be clamoring for personalized greetings and will be ticked off at you if you keep with the one-size-fits-all approach.

Years ago, in the early days of the Internet, seeing a button that read www.uselesswasteoftime.

As a blogger, I'll be the first to admit that the Internet is not - and never has been - a useless waste of time. But it sure has spawned plenty of them. And, in my phone book, YouMail is one of them.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tweet, tweet, tweet for Tweeter folks

I'm am always saddened to hear about companies that are laying people off, filing for bankruptcy, or going out of business. Unlike those who celebrate the Darwinian brilliance with which capitalism corrects its mistakes and evolves on, I always find myself thinking about the employees who get caught in the crossfire.

And I'm always saddened when the company doing the laying off, bankruptcy filing, and going out of business is local.

As in Tweeter, which is located in Canton, Massachusetts.

Now, I don't know if I actually ever bought anything at Tweeter, but the Tweeter store in Back Bay was a frequent stop of walks, a grown up candy store where my husband could lust in his heart after a mega-flatscreen TV. I haven't been by in a while, so I don't know if it's still there, or is going, going, gone.

In any case, Tweeter - with its high end products and services has been boxed out by the big box stores and their relentless, race to the bottom pricing and service strategies - has fallen on hard times.

When they began making noises about shutting down certain parts of their operation (stores and distribution centers) earlier this year, some employees jumped ship right away.  Others were encouraged to stay in exchange for a severance package.

That was then. This is now.

A recent Boston Globe article by Se Young Lee chronicled the troubles of one Ron Rivera, a Tweeter employee in California who hung on to help shut down the distribution center where he worked, agreeing to stay on until mid-May.

Rivera, counting on almost $7,000 from the company, as well as a month of paid health insurance, turned down two job offers and decided to take a month off to spend time with his two teenage daughters.

But Rivera did not get a check on June 15, when the first payment was supposed to arrive. When he called the company Monday, he learned what hundreds of other employees who stayed on at one of the 49 stores being closed are finding out: There is no check coming, because of the Canton company's June 11 bankruptcy filing.

The CEO, Joe McGuire, who is clearly in a very difficult and painful position here, was unfortunately quoted as saying,

"Employees were expecting severance, and the company was really hoping to pay it. It's unfortunate, but it is what it is."

It is what it is.

Thanks, Joe, for those words of wisdom.

The 150 or so employees who have had their severance pay severed are obviously aggrieved. They have been told that they can file a claim with the Bankruptcy Court, where, I expect, they'll need to get in line.

When I volunteered for separation from Genuity in 2002, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. I left in May and the company filed, I believe, in July.

Within about 3 1/2 seconds of filing, there was a rumor swirling around the ex-Genu listserv that severance packages were going to be a casualty of the bankruptcy filing. I can't recall the exact structure of the Genuity six-months severance package I got, but I think I got paid regularly for a couple of months and was then going to get a lump sum payment for the remaining four months, due any day.

One of the reasons I raised my hand for the Spring 2002 lay-off at Genuity was that I figured it was going to be the last reduction that came with good severance packages. I was wrong. Bankruptcy and all, the company paid out the same severance packages until the bitter end, and also honored the bonus deals it made with those who agree to stick around and turn the lights out. I don't know how they did it, but it's apparently true that - at least in some cases - even in bankruptcy, companies can still pay severance out.

 As I awaited my final payment from Genuity, I can honestly say that I sweated it out. The day it arrived, I rushed to the bank to deposit it and continued to sweat until the check cleared. So I can imagine how Ron Rivera of Tweeter felt:

"It was kind of like a big rock falling on you," he said.

"All of a sudden I have a mortgage to worry about and a car payment to worry about. I'm in a bad spot right now."

When you're counting on a severance package and it falls apart, I'm sure it does feel exactly like a big rock falling on you.

My sympathies to Ron Rivera and the other former employees, sitting there stunned. Just as if they were hit in the head with a big rock. Warehouse men, store clerks, distribution center employees. Don't those rocks seem to fall disproportionately on the little guys?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

There's no fighting City Hall (with voice mail, at any rate)

The problem with long term political incumbents who have virtually no electoral competition is that they can get just a tad dictatorial. As has apparently happened - and quite a while back - with the mayor of Boston, Tom Menino, who outlawed the use of voice mail for city workers some ten years ago.

As reported in a recent Boston Globe article by Donovan Slack, Hizzoner banned the use of voice mail because he was irritated by having to listen to a long-winded recording when he was trying to reach a city department.

Of course, what's the good of Banned in Boston if you can't subvert the ban, which City Hall denizens do by setting up off-the-books extensions - need to know basis, only - that do use e-mail.

Menino has been known to sniff out clandestine voice mail and leave indignant messages.

"I'll leave them a message saying, 'You're obviously not part of the Menino administration.' " he said in a recent interview. " 'Why don't you call me back and tell me who you're working for?' "

Well, here's one City of Boston taxpayer who thinks it's the height of absurdity to ban voice mail - and another step up from the height of absurdity that our mayor spends time trying to root out sub rosa voice mail usage.

Yes, like everyone else, I get annoyed when I have to listen to a protracted recording - especially when it has a complex menu of options.  But I also don't expect that everyone will be sitting at their desk awaiting my call, nor do I expect (or want to pay for) administrative support personnel who pick up the phone and jot the message down on a pink "while you were out" slip.

It seems to me that a better course would be to let voice mail be used, but set some policies (and enforcement) around it. Here's what I'd like to see:

  • No complex, long-winded messages. (I'm with the Mayor here.) I don't know what the magic number is for length, but I'm sure somebody out there does.

    How about a short message as a default: You've reached Joe Blow at the Election Office, please leave a message and I'll get back to you within 24 business hours.

    And a longer option, as needed: You've reached Joe Blow at the Election Office. I'm out of the office until Wednesday the 10th. Please leave a message, or call Mary Moe at extension 123.

    Those with jobs where there might be an actual time-critical emergency should add an emergency number. Which should be manned (or womanned) 24/7.
  • Observe - and enforce - the 24 hour (or whatever number of hours makes sense) rule for getting back to people. Post a number on the City web site to call if you don't hear back from a human being in a timely manner.
  • There should always be a "press zero" option that goes to a human being in the department of interest during regular hours., and to a general operator during off-hours - just in case something is an emergency.
  • Department phone numbers always get answered by a human during regular hours of operations, but it doesn't seem to me that calls to a specific person in that department have to be "live." Let the person answering the phone ask whether the caller would like to leave a message, or get put through to a specific person (where they may have to leave a - dreaded - voice message).

It's always nice to get a real, live human when you're looking for information or have a problem. But not have voice mail can be an impediment to getting your job done.

Yes, I know all about deliberately gaming the system with "phone tag" messages left when you know someone is not going to be there. Not that I've ever done it, but everyone knows the drill: you don't actually have to do something about a problem, you  just have to tag the caller back. Burden's now on them: you "tried".

Still, it's hard to believe that the City of Boston can't and won't allow its employees to use voice mail. I'd just as soon reach the voice mail of the person I was after than leave a message with someone 2 floors down and 6 offices over.

But Mayor Menino's got a lot of power, and he's definitely been around long enough to use it.

As a citizen (and voter), I'd rather see him use it on things that matter. Our streets and sidewalks aren't all that clean; there's little by way of affordable housing; and an 8 year old kid was shot and killed the other day.

Come on, Mr. Mayor, do you really need to be policing voice mail?

I'm thinking about fighting City Hall on this. Fortunately, it sounds like if I call to protest this 10 year old injustice I just might get to speak with the Mayor himself.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Coming Soon to Your Town: Pursue the Passion

I don't know Brett Farmiloe - yet - but I do know that he's a man on a mission.

That mission revolves around understanding what separates those with a career that they're passionate about, and those who settle for paying the bills and worrying about "the passion thing" when they get around to it. Or who decide to compartmentalize their existence: work's in this compartment, passion occurs elsewhere.

Here's a bit about what Brett Farmiloe is up to: When he graduated from the University of Arizona last year, he decided that it would be nice to have some help figuring out just what to do with his life. So he cooked up the idea of talking to people who've "made it" to see if he could learn the secret to having a passion-filled career. With two friends, he started on a road trip that resulted in 75 interviews - and a passion for sharing what he's learned with others who are early on in their life's journey. Brett shares the wealth on his web site, Pursue The Passion (PTP). (I'm sure there's a book in there, somewhere, too.)

I haven't read all the stories on Brett's site yet, but I do know that he's on to something. Because if there's one thing I've figured out, it's that if you combine something that you care deeply about with the way you earn a living, you will have work that you'll be just as happy with at 65 as you are at 25.

And, let's face it, many/most of us are still going to be working at something or other once we hit 65. And that's not just because we don't have pensions, we're piss-poor savers, we're living longer and healthier than ever, we need medical insurance, and/or we can't think of anything better to do with ourselves - although, come to think of it, these are pretty compelling reasons to think about postponing retirement beyond the absurdly young age of 65. (And trust me, the closer you get to 65, the more absurdly young it seems.)

The truth is that, much as we like to grouse about it, the work we do - whether paid, family-related, volunteer, creative, or whatever - helps give our lives shape and meaning. It keeps us thinking, provides us the opportunity to keep building new social relationships, and gets us out of our own heads and houses.

Work is just a whole hell of a lot easier if you're crazy about at least part of what you do. And if you're in your early twenties and staring at the minimum of 45 or 50 years of work-work you likely have ahead of you, it's definitely worth thinking about what's going to make work tick for you.

Personally, I started out my career on the wrong foot. I went to business school not because I was passionate about business. (Au con-frickin-traire.) I went for the retro-reason that my boyfriend thought it was a good idea. Pursue the passion: not!

So I stumbled headlong into a career in business, and more than a few years into it, I stumbled headlong into marketing.

And then occurred a "small wattage light bulb goes off" moment.

Marketing had elements of creativity, analysis, and writing.

I was getting warmer...

Some parts of marketing I liked better than others, so I decided to focus on product marketing. Not quite as much fun creative stuff, perhaps, but the job required explaining things clearly. It involved getting the product story, the product message, down in clear, compelling, and interesting ways. In writing.

I was getting warmer still.

I finally decided that writing was so damned important to me that I needed to make more time for it in my life. And damned if all that product marketing experience didn't make it possible for me to find decently paid free-lance projects that give me the all important FREE TIME I want for writing.

Better late than never, I'm pursuing the passion.

So bravo, Brett, for trying to help people figure out how to find work they love.

This summer, Brett and a couple of his PTP colleagues (James Whiting and Noah Pollock) are embarking on a second road trip, with an ambitious cross-country schedule. They're probably coming soon to a city near you. They're looking for people to talk to about what makes them tick, so that they can pass the word on to those starting out. (I also took an ambitious cross-country trip when I was Brett's age, but my goal was to See the U.S.A. while avoiding trying to figure out what to do with my life - a road trip that was probably closer to the spirit of J. Kerouac than B. Farmiloe.)

Yes, I know that people really have to figure the whole "what am I going to do when I grow up?" thing out for themselves, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have someone encouraging them to think about it, suggesting how they go about it, and warning them that, if they don't have work that they love, it can get pretty ugly.

Check out the PTP site, and drop Brett a line if you have something to contribute to the conversation (or want to connect with him while he's on the road - the "tour dates" are on the site).

Here's Brett's contact info:
(707) 888-0757

Monday, June 25, 2007

Lawrence Small's Big Sick Days

NPR the other day reported on one Lawrence Small, who recently resigned as head of the Smithsonian Institution (which runs the Smithsonian Museum, the National Gallery, and the National Zoo).

I've only been there once, but I'm a big fan of the Smithsonian. It's the type of place that I hope someday to get really lost in. (Note to self: get lost in the Smithsonian before you're so old you really get lost in the Smithsonian.) Plus, the one time I went there, the Air & Space Museum was displaying a GeeBee, a barnstorming plane of the 1930's. GeeBee stands for Granville Brothers, and Tom Granville was married to my husband's Aunt Agnes. After Jim's father died (when Jim was only 11), Tom Granville was especially kind to Jim. Although I never met Tom, I have a soft spot for him in my heart (and, by extension, a soft spot for the Smithsonian). I also like looking through their catalog.

In any case, what I found intriguing about the report on Small's tenure at the Smithsonian, where he was reported to have presided over "'an imperialistic and insular culture,'" was not his half-a-mil salary. Nor his housing allowance. ($150K a year - that's sure a decent downpayment or a whole lot of rent.)

No, what struck me was that between 2000 and 2007, Small "missed 550 workdays while earning millions on outside projects."

Even generously allowing for 7 full years on the job, that's nearly 80 days per year. Even generously assuming that there are 250 work days in a year, that's nearly 1/3 of all worktime.  Out sick. On what I believe is largely our dime, since a lot of the Smithsonian funding comes from Federal tax dollars.

Now sick days are a funny thing, especially among the "professional class." People get their jobs done - putting in the extra hours, going the extra miles - in exchange for a certain amount of flexibility. But this flexibility usually doesn't translate into sick days. I know that there are chiselers and abusers, And, with the exception of a stray mental health day, most people don't take sick days unless they're, well, you know, actually sick. Really sick. Can't get out of bed sick. Can't get out of the bathroom sick. Head exploding sick.

Not 80 days a year sick. Not well enough to earn millions on outside projects sick.

Or, if they have to take 80 days a year, they're completely out of commission and on long term disability. And not getting rich off of it.

Personally, I have always enjoyed exceedingly good health. In the course of my 25-ish years in the corporate world, I may have taken 10 or so days off. In total. Threw my back out. Food poisoning. Bronchitis. Minor surgery. Maybe it was 15 days.

I took one - count 'em, one - mental health day. I was working at Wang and just could not face the day going in there. And I felt so guilty, I ended up making myself sick and spending the day in bed.

550 sick days in 7 years? Un-flipping-imaginable unless you're really sick.

What I don't get is why someone at that level didn't just negotiate a deal that said, "I'll get the job done, in exchange for which I'll have any time left over for me, myself, and I." Calling them sick days as an accounting convenience is ludicrous, an embarrassment, sheer farce. Not to mention that half the people in the country probably don't even get any paid sick time. So why would we want our tax dollars going to underwriting Lawrence Small's quote-unquote sick days?

Just the idea of it makes me sick. Not enough to call in sick. But sick nonetheless.

And I can't help but think that, for all the good that Lawrence Small did the Smithsonian, and he no doubt did some, he could have done more if he hadn't taken all that sick leave. For starters, he could no doubt have found and restored a few more of those fabulous GeeBee's.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Best Jobs for Baby Boomers

Somehow or another, I tripped over an article on CareerBuilder that listed the 25 Best Jobs for Baby Boomers. The top 25 were whittled down from a list of the "225 Best Jobs for Baby Boomers,"  from a book by that very name by Michael Farr and Laurence Shatkin. Their job list was derived for Bureau of Labor Statistics data on jobs in which "40 percent of the workforce is age 45 or older," and which "had the best combination of high salaries, fast growth, and ample job openings."

By desire (Who wants to retire quite yet and be considered irrelevant?) or necessity (Hmmmmm. Might have been nice if I'd ever worked anyplace that had a pension plan. Make that a pension plan that was actually going to survive.), a lot of Baby Boomers are going to keep on truckin' to work even after they turn 60 (which started happening to the Boomers last year).

We are assured that, given demographic ebbs and flows, our presence in the workplace, if not exactly welcome, will be needed. Which means that employers will have to overlook our higher health care premiums; boring "when I was first starting out...." and "remember when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan for the first time" reminiscences; and the fact that our graying, sagging, aging presence will start reminding the graying, sagging, aging Gen-Xers of their own mortality.

Management Analysts
Teachers, Postsecondary
General and Operations Managers
Registered Nurses
General Internists
Obstetricians & Gynecologists
Family & General Practitioners
General Pediatricians
Medical & Health Services Managers
Financial Mangers, Branch or Department
Treasurers, Controllers, and CFO
Chief Executives
Government Service Executives
Private Sector Executives
Education Administrators, Elementary & Secondary School
Administrative Services Managers
Sales Representatives, Agricultural
Sales Representatives, Chemical & Pharmaceutical
Sales Representatives, Electrical/Electronic

What strikes me about this list is that most of the jobs sound like darned good jobs if you're already in them, but aren't exactly great choices for second careers.

Come on. There may be a latter-day Boomer (say, one born in 1964) who's willing and able to go back to Med School and put in all that extra training to become a Surgeon, but it's not all that plausible a second career choice. And for us first wave boomers, just do the math. Assuming that someone born in 1950 could go directly to Med School without taking a year or so to brush up on their Organic Chemistry, they'd be 61 when the got out. Add on a few years for internships and residency, then the extra stuff you need to do for surgery. I don't think becoming a Board Certified Surgeon at 70 makes all that much sense. (Although I'm sure there's some example out there of the-WWII-medic-who-always-wanted-to-be-a-doctor-and-became-one-the-same-day-his-grandson-did.)

Psychiatrist is another one? Don't you have to have a PhD and an MD? Too much time!

Financial managers and controllers might be a better choice for second career. Indoors. Sedentary. Definitely lends itself to part time. Baby Boomers know how to do arithmetic in their heads without requiring machine intervention. But CFO, other than of an itsy-bitsy company, might be a stretch goal. Someone might want real experience, there, especially in the post-Enron, SarBox world.

Personally, I have no interest in becoming a CEO at this stage, but I do think wistfully about becoming a Government Service Executive, which would have a very nice government service pension. At least until the tax-paying rabble decides that they don't want their tax money to go for pensions, given that their pension plan never existed or went bust and their trying to decide on a third-career at age 80. (Wal-Mart greeter, stuffing envelopes at home, of 900-talk-nasty phone rep?)

Postsecondary Teacher. Sounds great! Other than those helicopter parents intervening to change their kids' grades. And the petty-yet-cut-throat  faculty politics. And publish or perish - hey, we're starting to learn all about perishing. But, wait a minute. Are we talking about nice, cushy tenure position with light teaching load and TA's to run the sections and do the grading? Or are we talking about cruddy, over-worked-under-paid adjunct jobs for $2K a course?

And while I truly regret that I never did sales during my career at any point, I don't think it sounds like a good career choice at my age. Wilhelmina Loman, anyone?

I admit that I may have some career changish thing up my sleeve before I decide to pack it in - which I have no intention of doing at this point. But it probably won't be anything on the best jobs list - although "Management Analyst" sounds like it could be right up my alley, given all the time I've spent thinking about screwed up management.

For now, I'll keep doing what comes naturally, which is product marketing, i.e., the same kind of work I've been doing all along. It actually seems to be something I'm good at. It actually seems to be something that people need. And it actually seems to be something you can do on your own terms, without getting sucked back into a full time corporate stint.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Toil & Trouble for Salem Witches?

My sister Trish and her family live in Salem, Massachusetts, so I spend quite a bit of time there.

It is a charming little city, with all kinds of interesting historic (cemetery where the witches are buried) and literary (House of the Seven Gables) sites, a gem of an museum (Peabody-Essex), and some wonderful restaurants (personal favorites: Bella Verona and The Grapevine).

With its rich, witch history, Salem is not without its quirks, and one of those quirks is that it's the home what has to be one of the country's largest Halloween celebrations, which lasts throughout the month of October, during which time the streets are thronged with tourists, half of whom are in costume. Salem is also the home to to a number of practicing witches.

The witches are allied in a group called the Witches' Public Awareness League, and like any other trade association, they lobby to protect their turf.

In this case, that turf includes palm reading and fortunetelling.

This is all coming to a head because the Salem City Council recently passed an ordinance (as reported by Claire Cummings in The Boston Globe) to:

...license palm readers and fortunetellers who have been in Salem for at least a year, pass a criminal background check, and submit a résumé showing at least five years of experience.

If you get past the fact that licensing here doesn't implied that the holder is actually a qualified, competent psychic, this sounds reasonable enough.

But trouble seems to be brewing in The Witch City.

The Witches' Public Awareness League apparently don't think that the new ordinance is "enough to stop interlopers who show up during the busy Halloween season and steal their business." They're looking for a limit to (and a daily licensing fee for) the psychics who blow into town for the high season in October.

Laurie Stathopoulos, a card reader for more than two decades, said that many depend on Halloween profits to get through the year.

"To put 40 psychics in the same street is outrageous," Stathopoulos said before the meeting. "We hold people's lives in the palm of our hand sometimes."

Forget the "outsiders" who come in to exploit the October crowds. There's also appears to be friction between the incumbent, resident psychic haves and have nots. The City had a prior limit of 12 on the number of official psychics. The new ordinance would expand this number and legitimize those who have permanent businesses in Salem, but who have been operating unlicensed.

Joanna Thomas is one of the have nots who is looking to go legit:

Every day, two chairs sit empty in front of her crystal ball , because she had not been legally allowed to offer tarot readings in the shop.

"It wasn't fair that they haven't been giving out licenses all this time, but I am happy they are recognizing businesses [as being] as important as residents," she said.

Then there's one Frank Fagley, who is quoted as saying:

"I know a lot of readers in town, a lot of people who don't deserve their license...They've got to put some kind of restriction on it."  


I'd hate to see the Salem City Council have to start vetting whether the psychics - licensed or not - were any good or were just charlatans.

Would they ask the psychics to predict the outcome of the next elections? Read each Council member's palm? Gaze into their crystal balls and foretell how many snow days there were going to be next winter?

Just what does it mean to be a licensed psychic, anyway?

Do I predict a bit more toil and trouble in Salem?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Chapter 11 for Ronco

Things aren't going too well for the slices-and-dices folks, I see.

They have, in fact filed their Chapter 11 papers in Bankruptcy Court in California. (Source: Bloomberg news article, reported in The Boston Globe, June 16.)

I certainly help that the company - or at least it's oddball products - survive.  The world would be a far less interesting place without the inventions of the great Ron Popeil. Popeil, by the way, is still involved with Ronco as a spokesman and inventor, but he sold out a couple of years ago. 

I never actually bought anything from Ronco. At one point in my life, if they'd had a Popeil Decision-Maker, I would have sprung for that. No, if I wasn't exactly a loyal customer, or any kind of customer, in fact, I was a loyal follower. And over the years I've just loved the idea of  Ronco and the absolutely captivating inventions of the zany Mr. Popeil.

Like the Ronco Buttoneer, for those who are incapable of performing the one domestic task that's accessible to pretty much anyone. 

Did I say one domestic task that pretty much anyone can perform? Pardon me. I blogged too soon. That would have to go, hands down, to the Inside The Shell Egg Scrambler. Come on. Is there anyone who can't take a fork and twirl it around until the yolk and the whites are mixed together? The hardest part of making a scrambled egg is actually cracking the egg and making sure you don't get any stray eggshell pieces. The Inside the Shell Scrambler doesn't solve that problem. But it does make me think of another idea for Ron Popeil: some invention that can  pick those pesky little pieces of eggshell out of the batter or sauce or whatever you're making. The best I've come up with is "Insert finger in mixture. Scootch piece to edge of mixing bowl. Draw up side of bowl until you can grab it and throw it out. Rinse finger."

Not that Ron ever needed any ideas from me.

The Veg-O-Matic. The Smokeless Ashtray. The Bass-o-Matic. No, wait, that was Saturday Night Live.

One of the best things about Ronco products was, of course, the cheeseball ads for them.

My personal favorite was the ad for Mr. Microphone, in which these really "cool" guys in a convertible drive by a nice looking gal. "Hey, good looking," the one manning the Mr. Microphone calls over to her, "I'll be back to pick you up later." Yea. Right.

There's some speculation that ol' Ron might buy back the bankrupt Ronco.

"Now, what would you pay for" an eponymous company that you'd made a household world, and made you big bucks when you sold it off just too years ago?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Those Happy Golden Dog Years

What with doggy day care, companies dedicated to picking up dog messes, dog groomers who make house calls, and all the rest of the myriad businesses dedicated to man's best friend, I guess the dog nursing homes were just a matter of time.

So I learned when I saw a brief article in the Boston Globe on the subject. (AP News, I think, was the source.)

Now, while I do not at present own a dog, I am a dog person. I am also a past and future dog owner, with vague plans, at some vague future date, to once again have a dog. Current fantasy plans call for a black Lab (as yet unnamed) or a black standard poodle, fantasy code name: Pantaloon, after the eponymous "hero" of one of my favorite books as a child.

When I think about the time I will send with my future pup, I of course dwell on the rollicking good times I will have playing Frisbee, scratching behind ears, and talking baby talk. I do not tend to think of the less pleasant aspects of dog ownership: pulling out ticks, picking up poop, and, eventually, putting the dog down.

As anyone who has watched a beloved pet become enfeebled, or who has had to walk that pet that last, longest mile to the vet to get put into the Big Sleep, I can certainly understand why someone would come up with the idea of a nursing home for dogs. I just don't particularly like it.

The dog nursing home, which just opened in Japan, will have the usual nursing home amenities, like "round-the-clock monitoring by doctors." The dogs will also be fed fortified food to, I guess, keep them alive longer, which at $800 a month, would definitely be in the nursing home's interest. The company that runs the nursing home is a pet products company which, I'm guessing, produces that fortified food. What's most intriguing about the nursing home, however, is that it:

...will also employ puppies to play with the aging dogs to help them keep fit and feel younger, the release said.

It seems to me that, if a pooch that's getting on in dog years is still capable of keeping fit and feeling younger, it doesn't really belong in a nursing home, does it? Couldn't it just stay at home, growing old with family, in familiar surroundings, where it could still rely on an occasional scratch behind the ears or round of baby talk?

And I've always thought of Japan as a country that revered old age, that didn't cast aside its elderly or warehouse them? I guess they're getting like everyone else in the modern world these days: we don't like being reminded that, however many face lifts you have, however many wonder pills you take, however often you look in the mirror and say, "not me," life for all of us is only going in one direction.

I know that there are some circumstances under which there is no choice other than to put a loved one (of the human variety) in a nursing home. I've seen friends delay a decision about parents as long as possible, but sometimes they're left with no other recourse. I was fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it.) never to have faced such a decision. My father died young. My mother died while she was still very active. At the time of her death, she was volunteering several days a week, and had three trips planned: Chicago for a great-niece's wedding; Cape May New Jersey bus trip with the parish retirees' club; and Vienna-Prague tour. Not bad for 81.

Like everyone else, I hope to die with my boots on, but I know that we all can't be that fortunate.

Nor can our dogs.

But one big difference between humans and dogs is the famous "dog year." The twilight years for a human can last for quite a while, and in their final years, a human being may be so infirm that they need round the clock care. That's not quite the case with dog twilight years, and here's where the one-to-seven ratio really pays off. However long your dog takes to grow old and die, well, it's probably not really going to take all that long.

Another big difference between humans and dogs is that you can humanely, legally, morally, and ethically, put a dog down when the time comes. Wonderful as dogs are, they are, in fact, dogs and not humans.

If a dog is still frisky enough to keep fit and frolic with puppies, maybe they should be at home and you can put your $800 a month to better use. If not, maybe they should be at home, where it's probably just a matter of not very long a time. Or they should be at home for as long as they are comfortable and continent, when they may well be better off put - as the euphemism has it - to sleep.

This is not to minimize the pain and anguish that comes with dealing with the death of a beloved pet. (Hey, I'm already tearing up about Pantaloon, and he doesn't even exist yet.)

It's just that paying $10K a year for a dog nursing home - there just seems to be some greater good that all those dollars could fetch.


*My ever-alert sister Trish, who pointed this story out to me, wants to know what the puppies who are "employed" to frolic with the geezer dogs get paid. (She is also a big Pantaloon fan.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Made in America: A Real, Reel Lawnmower

Yesterday was Father's Day, so lawnmowers were on the minds of the folks over at Nightline last Friday, when they ran a little feature on the American Lawn Mower Company.

Yes, I know that it's ridiculous, by I continue to like the idea that there are useful, understandable, concrete objects that are still Made in America, and one of those things is the Reel Lawn Mower, made since 1985 in Shelbyville, Indiana.

In a age when there's no time for a leisurely lawn mowing outing, and in a time when sprawling suburban lawns practically cry out for a sit-down mower the size of the earth moving equipment designed to cut strip mines in the sides of mountains, the Reel Lawn Mower is the real deal: it's a hand mower.

In American Mower's own words:

They're light. They're maneuverable. They're better for the lawn. They're economical. They're environmentally responsible. They're quiet. They're practically maintenance-free. They've always been in style.

They naturally place a lot of emphasis on the power source, which in this day and age, is a critical one:

The power source behind our mowers hasn't changed much in 100 years. It's still readily available on demand.You can still fuel it for the price of a banana and a glass of milk. It always works when you want it to... It's people. The power behind our mowers in 1895, and the power behind them today.

Too bad I don't have any need for a lawn mower, or I'd go out and get myself a Reel one.

The first lawn mower I recall was actually the scythe that my father and Uncle Charlie (mostly my father; Charlie wasn't much of a one for work) used to cut the tough, reedy grass on the steep bank in front of my grandmother's house, where we all lived.

We also had a hand mower for the side yard, where there wasn't much grass, since much of the territory was taken up by Bridal Wreathe, a lilac bush, and a big shaggy fir tree. The back yard was so dark that nothing grew there other than moss.

After a while, we moved to our own house. It was only four houses down and one street over, but we had more lawn, front and back.

My father got two lawn mowers: a gas-powered mower for the back and a hand mower for the front. (I think it was a Toro.) When they got old enough, my brothers were "allowed" to use the power mower on the back yard, which was pretty big by city standards.

My father's pride and joy was the front lawn, which he babied and manicured. In bare feet, it was like walking on velvet.

While I walked on the lawn in bare feet, I never mowed it.

We had mostly gender-based chores in our household. One task that crossed the gender line was taking out the garbage and burning the trash which we did, until is was outlawed and everyone had to get an indoor incinerator, in a big trash barrel that rusted out every year or so and had to be replaced. I absolutely loved burning trash, especially in the winter. I would throw one of my father's old Navy blankets around me and stand there warming my hands, pretending I was a refugee - a World War II D.P. living in a cold, hard, camp, or a hobo during the Depression.

Taking out the garbage was another thing entirely. Smelly and rotten and, at least once a summer, no matter how carefully my mother wrapped those coffee grounds and egg shells in newspaper and tied it up with a string (which was what people did in The Time Before Hefty Bags), we got maggots. If you were the unlucky one to spot the maggots (and were dumb enough to report it), you got to clean out the garbage can and get rid of them, which was done with the hose nozzle on full power and a dose of Clorox.

The other all-in chore was raking leaves. I didn't much mind raking, other than in the spring when we had to rake out The Ravine. The Ravine was a little wooded hilly area next to our house and part of our property. First nice Saturday in April. Year in, year out. Ravine raking.

Now, my father had a phenomenal sense of humor about just about everything.

But not when it came to raking The Ravine.

So we kept our wise guy remarks to ourselves. But we did get quite good at out-of-earshot grousing about it. Who ever heard of raking the woods? Was he insane or what?

Now I'm guessing that my father wanted to create a fire-break between our house and the woods, which went on for quite a while.

A note on the odd neighborhood I grew up in. If you went out our front door and turned left, you were in the city: Densely packed houses. Lots of little shops and stores. Vic the Blind Barber's. (Not blind-blind, just severe myopia; he looked like Mr. Magoo. He trimmed girls' bangs choppily and gave boys big, over the ear white-wall hair cuts. My father refused to go to him, not wanting to risk the little hair he had. My mother made us kids go to Vic because she felt bad for him.)

The Paree Beauty Salon, which was kind of an oddity: a "real" hair salon in a neighborhood where women mostly got their hair done in little shops that other women set up in their basements. Morris Market, where we got our groceries because my mother-the-butcher's-daughter believed in small grocery stores and because they delivered. (PeaPod before its time.) Sol's Maincrest Pharmacy, where we swore that he'd glued the lucky gumballs to the side of the gumball dispenser. (If one of the yellow and red striped gumballs came out, you won a candy bar. Nobody ever did.) Teddy the Tailor and dry cleaner. The guy who fixed lamps and sold lightbulbs. The people who sold cemetery monuments from their front yard. Trimble Motors, which sold used cars from the thirties, forties, and early fifties, so ancient to our eyes (used to everyone getting a new car every two years) that they looked like flivvers.

Yes, out the door and to your left, it was city.

Turn right: the country. Woods that stretched for miles. Hendy's Pond, where we skated every afternoon in the winter. Grandma Grigas' farm, with her screeching hens and the cows she kept until the winter they froze standing in place, and the city had to send the DPW up with a bulldozer to knock them over and bury them.

Thus, we lived in the city, but we still had to woods to rake.

But we didn't have to mow the front lawn. That was strictly my father's territory.

Even through the long years of his illness, that front lawn always - in the man's own words - looked like a million bucks.

When my father died, the front lawn died, too. Not fully, but you couldn't expect a couple of teen-aged boys to care for it quite the way their father had. They had better things to do. The younger one wanted to play baseball and drink beer; the older one wanted to smoke dope and chase girls.

The lawn never felt like velvet again.

Ah, Father's Day.

If my father had lived, he'd be a very old man. If my father had lived, he'd be dead already. Probably. Although my grandmother lived to 97, and her sister Roseanne and brother Pat made it well into their 90's, too. So maybe...

If my father had lived. If he still had the house. If he wasn't too creaky to still mow the lawn, I'd have gotten him a Reel Mower for Father's Day.

I think he would have liked it a lot.

Friday, June 15, 2007

More on the Hooksett Four

A while back I wrote about a brouhaha up in New Hampshire in which four long time town workers (all women) were fired for gossiping about the Town Manager. Last week, the town council finally got around to making their first public statement on the firings, and they placed themselves squarely in the camp of the aggrieved town manager.

For those who missed the story the first time around, here's a bit from an article by Greta Cuyler which appeared in the June 6th Manchester Union Leader.

On April 11, the nine-member town council voted to fire the four women after reviewing a factfinder's report that detailed that at least one employee had called Town Administrator David Jodoin "a little f_______" and all discussed rumors of a possible affair between Jodoin and a subordinate employee.

Although the former employees claim they neither initiated nor spread rumors of an affair, the council disagrees.

"This was malicious slander, not idle gossip," said Town Council Chairman George Longfellow.

Another of the councilors, Jim Gorton, weighed in on the issue. Gorton was not exactly borrowing a line for New Hampshire's great orator Daniel Webster when he said:

"My opinion was, 'Don't let the door hit you ... on the way out."

Cuyler's article drew a number of comments, the majority of which seem to come down on the side of the Hooksett 4. It looks like the town of Hooksett is still roiling in this controversy.

Meanwhile, my earlier H-4 post drew a few comments from people who claimed that they were victims of malicious comments - including one from a woman who was a prior victim of the gang of four.

It's hard not to sympathize with someone who's been the victim a vicious gossips. (And, God knows, based on the pictures I've seen of the Hooksett Four they certainly look the part.) I can imagine that lives can be made hell - just putting up with wagging tongues, raised eyebrows, rolled eyes, closed doors, walk-by sniggering; not to mention the sleepless nights and heartache caused by damage to the victim's reputation.

But it's also hard not to see that firing four employees with unblemished records for gossiping may have been a really stupid thing to do. (Even if we ask ourselve whether those records were unblemished because people were scared of the Hooksett 4, or were they genuinely competent, decent employees?)

The sum total of what this has accomplished seems to be:

  • Giving nationwide traction to a small town, Peyton Place-like rumor.
  • Making the Town Manager look like someone how is completely inept when it comes to managing.
  • Putting the town of Hooksett 4 at risk for coming out on the losing end of a big, fat, lawsuit.

Not in a million years is anyone going to make gossip go away. Not to mention that it's very impossible to draw the line between run-of-the-mill "Did you hear that Rob popped the question"; weasel-word eye-rolling comments like, "Something's up between those two...."; and out and out malicious gossip of the "John and Mary worked late again last night. Mark my words, those two are going hot and heavy and we'll end up seeing at least one divorce come out of this."

(I also believe that some people (mostly women, I'm afraid) just can't stand it when a man and a woman become close friends in the workplace. Since they've never had real friendships with men, they don't seem to believe that it's possible. In their eyes, a man and a woman who hang out in each other's offices, have lunch together, and generally buddy around, must have something else going on. Instead, it's just a phenomenon that I've come to think of as having an office spouse. Some people just dont get it or like it. I wouldn't be surprised to find that there's something of this at the foundation of the Hooksett 4 situation.)

It still comes down to trying to figure out where the dividing line lies. What's the partition between gossip and scandal? Does it make any difference if what you're talking about turns out to be true or not? Like the judge said about pornography, when it comes to malicious gossip, I know it when I see it. (In this case, here it.)

From a management perspective, the story is all about managerial competence - or in this case, managerial incompetence.

So, how could the Town Manager have a done a better job with this situation?

Well, it's way too late for my best advice, but obviously if the tongue-wagging had been an issue that was poisoning the office (and there's no doubt in my mind that this could well have been the case), then the Town Manager and/or HR should have called the gossips in and given them a warning, and started building the case for getting rid of them. The problem with this approach is that it's so hard to define what's harmful gossip - especially when so much can be done with dotted line commentary, raised eyebrows, eye rolling, and tone. Still, if there was too much personnel chatter going on in the workplace, the Town Manager could certainly have taken some steps to tone it down.

Better yet, he could have gone to one of the alpha-gossips and enlisted her on his side. Maybe he should have just told her, "Look, you may not even be aware of it, but there's some talk going around about me and A. It's obviously untrue, but I don't know how to put a stop to it? You're pretty tuned in here. Any ideas?"

Sure, this one could backfire, and the alpha-gossip could have gone and broadcast a 'where there's smoke there's fire' alert. But my guess is that the Town Manager would have co-opted the gossip, made an ally, and shut the b.s. down.' It would have been worth a try.

Too late for any of these little remedies.

The Town Manager has spoken. Now the Town Council has spoken. Time for the Hooksett Four to a bit more speaking.

My guess their first words will be "See you in court."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Modest Proposal for Jury Duty

It seems that demand for jurors in Boston is hitting an all time high, while supply, come October, hits an all time low when there's a possibility that "Suffolk County, facing a years-long surge in violent crime and a spike in trials, will run out of prospective jurors by October" (which is apparently not unprecedented: the county ran out of jurors during Christmas week of 2006). This is according to an article by Michael Levenson and Jonathan Saltzman that appeared in The Globe the other day.

We're low on jurors for a number of reasons. First, the trial business is booming, with demand for jurors skyrocketing from 45,000 a year in 2002 to 62,000 in 2005. And this may understate the current demand, since a whole bunch of grand juries have been added to the mix. Then we have a lot of students, who apparently aren't so good at showing up and/or are pretty good at being excused. We also have a lot of immigrants, non-U.S. citizens, non-English speakers. Apparently, a lot of big cities face similar problems.

Boston's are exacerbated by the "three calendar year" rule, which states that you can't be summoned for jury duty in the three calendar years following the year in which you received your summons. I'm not entirely clear on this, but I think that it translates into: if I got a summons for jury duty in January 2007, I would have to show up for jury duty in April 2007. I would then be off the hook for the next three calendar years. Thus, I could not be re-summoned until January 2011. However it works, we give more time off for good juror behavior than most states, which summon prospective jurors every year or every other year.

From the article, I can't figure out the actual arithmetic of how many jurors are summoned, how many show up, and how many are blown through before a jury is impaneled, but it sounds like only one out of three even bother to show up - despite the threat of a $2K fine.

I think that at my trial earlier this year they went through nearly 200 jurors before settling on the 12 jurors, plus two alternates who sat on the jury I served on. And apparently it's even worse for grand juries, when it is claimed that it takes 800 prospective jurors to find 23 to sit on the grand jury. No wonder there: a sentence to sit on a grand jury is hard time in terms of the length of service.

One thing that Massachusetts is doing to rectify the problem is getting rid of the "calendar year" language loophole, which will goose the pool by quite a few additional jurors.

But I was thinking of things that the courts could do - applying business principles - that would make it easier to find jurors.

Now I'm not a big one believing that applying business principles to every problem does the trick. I don't believe that every government function can be improved by being privatized. I recognize that there is a BIG difference between citizen and employee, and that - much as they'd like to sometimes - governments can't just lay-off citizens. I have also seen little or no evidence that those with a business background make good office holders. (Au contraire, I might even venture, if I were politically inclined.)

So, here are a few ideas that make the whole thing work better.

  • Reduce the number of jurors required for a trial. Unless there is some statistical evidence that 12 people make a better collective decision than 10, or 8, or 6,* why not go with a lower number? Massachusetts uses a 6 person jury for misdemeanor trials. Would a number lower than 12 work for felonies? And where did the notion that 12 is the magic number come from? It certainly predates the movie Twelve Angry Men, and - so help me God - if I found out that it was based on the 12 apostles I'd be one angry woman.
  • Pay jurors more than $50 a day. Isn't increasing the wage rate what you do when there's a labor shortage? Sure, many people get reimbursed by their employers, but I'm guessing that a large proportion of those who shirk jury duty are self-employed, or have some type of iffy employment situation in which they're out money if they're out of work. So up the ante already. How about $100 bucks. Maybe you don't want to start paying on Day One, since that would mean paying people whether they were used or not. (In Massachusetts, if you show up and aren't put on a jury on that day, you're off the hook for those three bee-oo-ti-ful calendar years.) But if you're on a trial, you should get paid. Jury duty should not become a financial hardship for anyone. Let jurors who don't need the money waive it.
  • Reimburse for use of public transportation. Hey, I was lucky in that I could walk to the courthouse. My husband was not so lucky in his jury, and had to go to the back-ass-of-nowhere. He took a cab, which he can well afford. He would not need to be reimbursed. But someone of lesser means who had to spend $5 or so a day getting back and forth to court...Again, jury duty should not be a financial hardship for people.
  • Schedule trials that last more than a day or two so that people have time off for good behavior. I.e., two afternoons a week. Or no trial on Friday. I'm sure that if people were assured that they could get into work for a couple of hours here and there during their trials, the trials would be less of a, well, trial. Fewer "I'm too busy, I'll have a nervous breakdown if I'm stuck on a trial" types would weasel out. (For all I know, this may be how it works already. In the trial I was on, we did a variation of full and half-days.) This wouldn't work for sequestered juries, but for plain old trials it might make people more willing to serve.

I've someone who actually takes citizenship fairly seriously. I pay attention to this stuff. I know what bi-cameral means. I can name all the Supremes. I never miss an opportunity to vote, even in the off-year state primaries, and the mid-term elections that crop up occasionally for minor local offices.

Yes, citizenship comes with obligations. Like it or not, one of those obligations may mean serving on a jury.

That doesn't mean that there shouldn't be changes to the way that juries work now - especially if they're not working, as may become apparent this October when Suffolk County runs out of options.  (Note to self: avoid walking anywhere near Suffolk Superior Court House in October, just in case they decide to ignore my modest proposal and elect instead to dragoon innocent passers-by into serving on juries.)


*After the fact of writing Googling found reference on the American Judicature Society site to a study that found the following:

[An article on jury decision making] examines social science research on the effects of reducing jury size from the traditional 12, and concludes that in criminal cases smaller juries took significantly less time to deliberate; participation tended to be less and more variable; larger juries were more likely to contain a racial or ethnic minority; 12-person juries hung less often; and 12-person juries were no more likely to arrive at the “correct” outcome as defined by a majority of the population surveyed.  Social science research regarding jury size in civil cases was too inconclusive to warrant drawing any conclusions. (Dennis J. Devine, et al., "Jury Decision Making: 45 Years of Empirical Research on Deliberating Groups," 7 Psychology, Pub. Pol. & L.  622 (2001).  )

Okay. This sounds like 12 is better than other numbers, but what were the other numbers they looked at? Maybe it's okay to go with 10 during "jury emergencies."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


It was a throwaway item in the latest Atlantic Monthly:

In response to a sharp increase in text-messaged layoffs, South Korea, a country mad for thumb-typing, will change its employment laws in July and require employers to provide hard copies of pink slips.

 Okay, we know that IM is a great and wondrous form of communication.

But laying someone off via IM? Can this possibly be true? I know that Radio Shack sent out e-mail pink slips last summer. While that raised howls - including mine - it was a far kinder and gentler solution than getting a text message on your cell or an IM popping up on your screen.

Lay-offs are no fun. Especially when you're the one delivering the message. But if you're grown up and responsible enough to be in a management role, guess what? You should be grown up and responsible enough to sit down face to face with someone and tell them that they no longer have a job.

Lay-off are no fun. Deciding how many is agonizing enough. Deciding who is torture.

Sure, you might be able to nail a poor performer or two in the first round, but in the subsequent waves - and I've yet to work at any lay-off prone company that didn't have multiple waves of lay-offs - you're making hard decisions. Really hard decisions.

And one of the implications of those hard decisions is a face to face sit-down (or if someone's remote, a phone-to-phone sit-down), an encounter unmediated by technology. Person to person. Human to human. "I regret to inform...."

You get to regret to inform, then you get to put up with the tears, the bargaining, the anger, the bitterness.

Did I mention that lay-offs are no fun?

Even when someone asks to be put on the list, it's still not pretty.

And it's something I decidedly do not miss about working in full-time corporate role.

It's not that I've done lay-offs all that many times. In a lot of the lay-offs I went through, I was an aftermath buddy (officially or unofficially), helping people pack up and tote their cartons to their cars. On many occasions, I was one of the people helping figure out who was getting laid off. Sometimes, even if the people getting riffed were in my group, my manager cowboyed up and did the actual laying off (with or without my being there). But sometimes I was the one sitting there with the tissue box, the HR person, and the packet of information.

One thing about the lay-offs I've been through: whether large or small in number, they haven't involved decimation of entire groups or departments. They've all been piecemeal, and "executed" (gotta love that word) at a small group or deparment level. None of this massive, anonymous shut down when the announcement is made to an entire group at once (and after they've already seen it in the local newspapers).

Here's how I think you should handle the actual lay-offs of the sort I'm used to. (This does not take into account how to make the tortured decision on who goes and who stays).

First off, you have to deal with the fact that, the higher up you are in an organization, the more likely you are to have information before, say, the folks who work under you. And you can't, of course, reveal that information.

The folks who work under you are very likely to have rumors. Lots of them. Pretty good ones, too.

So here's how I started handling lay-offs, predicated on how I would want to be treated under the same circumstances, which was having at least a vague head's up that there might be a head rolling. Namely, mine.

At a group meeting, when someone asked about rumors, I would make a comment along the lines of "yes, there are rumors, and, given past events and current circumstances, it would be prudent to believe that there was some truth to the rumors."  I'd add something about how it might be prudent for everyone to have a current resume. How it might be prudent for someone in the group wanted to pull together a list with everyone's personal contact information in it. How it might be prudent not to sit around fantasizing about our group being exempt.

I would also say that I expected people to get their work done, and not spend an inordinate amount of time rumor-mongering. And that I didn't expect anyone to be looking for another job on company time. Maybe a peek at Monster during lunch, but no job searches and letter writing campaigns. I also said that if someone was planning on taking time off to interview, that was personal time they were taking off, not company time.

As lay-off day neared, and the names were about to be named, I informally told people who were being laid off that their jobs might be at risk.

I know that in doing this, I was going beyond company policy. But what I wanted to do was help people mentally prepare themselves for the actual event. Most of the people I told were happy I'd done so. No, it didn't spare me the tears and bitter comments. I didn't expect it to. I just didn't want anyone to walk into the lay-off conversation completely blind-sided, feeling ambushed and betrayed.

Surprisingly, despite warnings that I thought were pretty clear (i.e., "your job may be at risk"), some people were still completely shocked when they got handed their pink slip. Which shocked me. There was no way I would have told someone ahead of time that they were officially on the list (other than an exception I made for a very dear friend). But someone who didn't translate "job at risk" into "I'm probably toast"...well, everyone's got some denial going on at some point in their life.

In any case, I was never the best manager on the face of the earth, nor the most benevolent and wise.  But I do know a bit about lay-offs, and a big part of what I know is that it's personal. Which means it should be handled personally.

Not through e-mail. Not through voice-mail. And certainly not through IM.

Pink slipped via IM? Beyond the pale.

There shouldn't have to be, but there ought to be a law.

And now, in South Korea, there apparently is.



I haven't done tons of googling to see whether there actuallly have been layoffs by IM, but it doesn't appear to be listed on Snopes as an urban legend.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Doggone it

Two things that I'm always interested in are quirky businesses and clear marketing messages.  Oddball businesses have their appeal, I guess, because I've never worked in one. Quirky companies? Absolutely. Quirky businesses? Absolutely not (unless you consider the likes of B2B software and web hosting quirky). So I like hearing about businesses that are off the obviously well-worn track.

On the clear message front, I've come - over my long commuting years -  to the conclusion that the most concise messages are those that are on the backs of vans. (I wrote about this a couple of months ago over on Opinionated Marketers.) Some of this is the nature of the product or service: plumbing is naturally easier to convey and  "get" than, say, embeddable programming languages. Still, every time I see a van and know right away what they do (hey, they sell sausages!), I heave a little sigh and hope that someday I work on a product with a message as clear as my all time favorite, 'We clean blinds.'

Well, my interest in quirky businesses and clear messaging collided the other day, when I saw a van for a company called The Dog Scoop. Aha, I said, eee-ew. They must be in the business of picking up dog litter.

Come to find out, I was wrong. They are, instead, a doggie day care business. (When I read the founder's bio, and saw that he'd spent a number of years in software sales, it occurred to me that he's got all the experience he needs to extend his business to the messier side of dog life. Still, as a daycare provider, I'm sure he cleans his share of dog messes.

Although I don't have a dog, I was aware of the doggie day care business, because the "school bus" for one such outfit (Common Dog) picks up and drops off a few doors up from my house. I especially like seeing them drop off the pooches at the end of the day. All the doggies are sitting in bus seats, waiting for their owners to pick them up. The bus, in fact, stops at pretty much the same place as the bus for a swank private school, which may say something about kids as child substitutes. Still, if you have a dog and work all day, it's nice to think that they can be out and about playing with their pals, rather than just lounging around on the living room couch.

But in searching for The Dog Scoop online, I found that there are, in fact, quite a few companies specializing in cleaning up dog messes. They all, of course, have cutesie names: Doody Calls, the Poop Butler, Pooper Scooper,Kanine Kleanup. Which all  pretty much pass my screen for a company name that tells us what the company does.

I'm sure they provide a valuable service, but I guess I'm amazed to see that there are that many people out there who let their dog crap in the yard.  So much for my romantic fantasy that suburban dogs are allowed to roam free, spending the night padding around the neighborhood knocking over garbage cans and getting into other doggy mischief. It must also mean that harried people have no time to walk the dog anywhere he/she can go au naturel - that little wooded area, perhaps. Or that suburbanites are averse to walking the dog down the road and cleaning up after it on the spot. Which is what city people pretty much do - and do pretty well. I remember when Beacon Hillers were not quite so conscientious about picking up after their dogs. This meant that pedestrians had to be ever vigilant. I used to say that, if you lived on the Hill, your feet had better have eyes.

That's not so true anymore. All the campaigning about picking up after has worked. There are occasional messes to be contended with, but nothing like it used to be. All this picking up after, of course, means that our trash receptacles are full of tied plastic bags that smell to the high heavens, especially during the summer. But it beats the alternative. And services like Doody Calls would be pretty impractical in a city.

Still, it's amazing to me that there are so many companies providing dog cleanup. I guess it's one job that will never get outsourced.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Hired? I Quit! Billy Donovan's Smart Move

By now, sports fans (at least of the basketball variety) are well aware that University of Florida coach Billy Donovan was released from a five day old contract with the Orlando Magic and is staying on as coach at Florida.

For those who haven't been following the story, Donovan is the coach of the Gator basketball team that has won the last two NCAA championship. By anyone's standards (or lack thereof), Florida is a major program (i.e., a basketball factory), and Donovan was paid plenty to coach there.

Still, there was the lure of coaching in the NBA, and, like a lot of successful college coaches (Rick Pitino, anyone?), Donovan was lured. His 'see-ya-later-alligator' deal was worth $27.5 million dollars over five years, which would have put him at least vaguely in league with what the non-superstar players manage to bring down.

Immediately after signing the deal, Donovan had a change of heart and asked to be released from his contract. He was. And he's now back at Florida, looking for a 3-Peat of his NCAA back-to-back championship seasons.

Predictably, the sports blogosphere (and, I'm sure, the radio shows) have been full of criticism and praise for Donovan's decision.

Well, whatever the combination of personal, professional, and emotional factors that went into his decision to ask out of his not-so-Magic contract, I've got to give Billy Donovan some props for doing it. In asking out, Donovan put himself in a position where he was going to be vilified, ridiculed, and second guessed. He may also have put himself in a position that will restrict future opportunities to coach in the NBA, if he has a re-change of heart. (Supposedly, one of the parameters of the deal repeal states that he can't coach in the NBA for five years.)

That Donovan woke up with coach's remorse and decided to reverse it is something to think about for anyone who's ever started a new job and on Day One realized that they've made a Big Mistake.

Of course, most of us who've quit one job for another don't have any re-entry visa that will get us our old job back, as Donovan apparently did. And most of us aren't working with multi-million dollar, multi-year contracts.

Still, if you know that you've made a mistake, the best thing to do is unmake it.

I'll have to admit that, on the several occasions when someone insti-quit the company I was with, or the team (no, not that kind of team, work team) I was on. In one small company I worked for, one long-awaited hire spent his first morning on the job figuring out how to use the e-mail system to send a resignation letter to his boss. Figuring out the e-mail was no small feat in those mainframe days, but this fellow was smart enough to do so. His resignation letter included a scathing criticism of the company, too.  Pretty amazing, given he'd only been there half a day that he was able to make such a detailed criticism of our technology and products. I can no longer remember this fellow's name, but I remember exactly what he looked like. For years, he and his e-mail were brought up when us old-timers were swapping Dynamics tales.

On another occasion (also at Dynamics), a much vaunted techie was coming in from our parent company (Interactive Data Corporation) to join the team working on my products. I wrote a very nice, "Please welcome Steve S" memo, and was a little pissed when his first act in our office was to announce that he was leaving. (I can't remember what he was doing instead, but it was something noble or brainy.)

(A few years later, we both ended up working at another company together. He was great to work with, by the way.)

At least both of these guys had the presence to not stick something out to save face, or because they felt guilty, or whatever. (I still wonder why e-Mail Guy ever joined our company to begin with. At least Steve S. had a compelling reason to take off. I just wish he'd told me before I'd sent out such an effusive welcoming memo.)

I have had two jobs where I knew immediately that it wasn't going to work out.

One I quit. At the other, I stuck it out.

After graduating from college and spending an abortive year in grad school, I worked as a waitress. The tips - never reported in those days - financed a long camping trip cross-country, and an extended bum-around-Europe adventure with my college roommate.

When Joyce and I got back from the cross-country trip, we decided that we'd had it with waitressing at Durgin-Park (the historic Boston tourist trap, working at which had financed that trip). Instead, we took jobs at Vallee's Steak House, a small, now defunct New England restaurant chain.

We showed up on a rainy Saturday morning for training, and when we were given our lunch break mid-afternoon, Joyce and I decided to head down the road to Friendly's.

I don't know what there was about Vallee's: the almost military regimentation which was in such stark comparison to the Durgin-Park chaos; the head waitress, whom we didn't like; carrying heavy trays, which we weren't used to. Whatever it was, we sat down at Friendly's, ordered our Big Beefs, looked at each other and burst out laughing.

We flipped a coin to see who would use the pay-phone to call Vallee's and quit. They were, predictably, pissed. Even more so when we showed up a week later to pick up our $8 paychecks for the training shift.

We went back to Durgin, where we knew the ropes and the meshugas.

Fast forward a few years to my first day at Wang.

I don't know what possessed me when I took the job, given my strong a priori sense that a hyper-bureaucratic organizations with a centralized command and control management structure was not going to be a good fit.

But, having called a head-hunter in a snit at my boss, and having landed a position that came with a hefty salary increase, I was out the door of Interactive Data and in the door at Wang.

On Day One I knew it was a Big Mistake.

For starters, I was used to a private office. Here I was in a cubicle maze. Worse, there was a paging system, and the speaker for the area was right over my head.

Office ambience aside, I got my first reality shock when I told our group's that I was going to go down to New York City later in the week to introduce myself to the group I'd be working closely with down there.

She produced the travel rules and regulations, which required that I get the signature of my boss (who was out of the country for the week). Plus his boss. Plus his boss. Plus the EVP who ran the overall development group (which, as a product manager, I was part of). The only one who didn't have to sign off on my trip was Dr. Wang himself.

I was in a 30,000 person company. An EVP who had thousands of employees under him, including all the product managers who traveled very frequently in support of sales, had to sign off on what was a less than $200 trip to New York. If I went ahead without his signature, I risked not getting reimbursed for the trip.

Oh, boy. I knew then and there that, between the cacophonous paging system and the mind numbing bureaucracy I wasn't going to like it much at Wang.

I was right.

I tell people now that, if my PC had been operative on Day One, I would have used it to write my resignation letter. But it wasn't, and I didn't. I didn't want to admit that I'd made a mistake. I didn't want to piss off my boss. Or the head hunter. I didn't want to see if I could get my old job back. I didn't want to just quit and be in no-man's land without a paycheck. Etc. Etc.

So I came back for Day Two. And Three.

I ended up staying about two-and-a-half years, but pretty much loathed the experience. As always, the people I worked with were great, but I disliked the company and its modus operandi  so intensely that those two years, seven months, and fifteen days were pure misery. Sure, places I'd worked before and after Wang were screwed up, but they were screwed up in ways that it was easier for me to live with. Never in a million years could I have made peace with the bureaucracy and authoritarian structures at Wang. (I will say that it was pleasure to subvert them, which is how a lot of people survived in that environment.)

Whatever it was Billy Donovan realized about taking a job in the NBA vs. staying at the University of Florida (which I'm guessing is every bit the pressure cooker that a professional team is - maybe even more so: it's not a chicken-out move), he didn't let any feeling of embarrassment get in the way of getting out.

Good for him.

This is not, in any way, an endorsement of the University of Florida pre-professional basketball team to win next year's NCAA championship. I follow college basketball very lightly, but I always take a look at the ladders when they're published. Romantic that I am, I am always rooting for the lower-seeded Cinderella teams. The ones that seem to come out of nowhere. Extra rooting points if they actually graduate their student athletes.

No, it's just to say good for Billy Donovan for figuring it out sooner rather than later. From The Magic's viewpoint, I'm sure that sooner looks a lot like later. But better a little discomfort and embarassment as you wriggle out of a decision that's not quite right for you.

Good for him.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Why I Miss Techies: snarfing down junk food at work

I gave blood the other day, and when I was hanging around after the fact restoring my fluids and eating Oreos, I started thinking about the extraordinary ability of techies to hoover up whatever junk food is laying about.

And, in case you're wondering, there's actually a connection between giving blood and techie food consumption - at least in my experience (and mind).

Many years ago, I was the day's last donor at a Bloodmobile that had been parked in front of the building I worked at. At that time, the Boston Red Cross' usual snack food was Cheezits crackers and Hydrox cookies (poor man's Oreo), neither a big favorite of mine but a tolerable reward for giving blood.

On this day, however there were neither Cheezits nor Hydroxes in sight. It was December 23rd, and I supposed that the Red Cross believed they were being of good cheer when they laid out Christmas cookies. And I wouldn't have minded if they'd been my mother's idea of Christmas cookies: home-made Frosty Fruit Bars, Nutmeg Logs, or Christmas Tree cookies. No, these were bad Christmas cookies. Really bad Christmas cookies. So bad they made me hunger for a Hydrox cookie, which I normally would have scorned.

Ignoring the plastic tray upon plastic tray, with their untouched rows red and green sprinkled sugar cookies, I prepared to leave. In my weakened state, I pondered whether I'd be able to make it to the candy machine for a restorative bad of M&M's before passing out.

As I mustered my strength to leave, one of the phlebotomists on duty mentioned the law that stated that everything that wasn't consumed in the Bloodmobile during the day had to be tossed out. I don't imagine this would have applied to wrapped packages of Hydrox cookies or Cheezits, but it apparently covered open trays of red and green sprinkled, uniquely uninspired and insipid sugar cookies.

"Thrown out?" I asked.

As any Baby Boomer raised by Depression era parents well knows, you don't just throw out perfectly good food, however bland and tasteless.

"Thrown out," the phlebotomist told me solemnly.

"I'll take them," I said.

And so I became the lucky recipient of three large plastic trays full of lousy cookies.

It was about four o'clock when I set the cookies out in the company kitchen. Four o'clock on the day before the day before Christmas, when work was somewhat slowing down.

I didn't even have to spread the word.

Before the trays had settled, a horde of techies had descended on the kitchen, each grabbing handfuls of cookies.

I hadn't gauged just how rapidly (or was it rabidly) the techies would have gone through the booty, but I had, of course, been extremely confident that the cookies would all be consumed. I had, after all, been working with this crew for a couple of years, and had yet to see any food - no matter how heinous - go to waste.

For one Friday Party - a weekly company get together where wine and beer were modestly partaken of, but where junk food was inhaled in vast quantity - my friend Michele and I had done a little experiment to see if there was anything our guys wouldn't eat. We bought a bag of flavored potato chips - ketchup flavored? shrimp? I can't recall - and put it out to see what happened. When we'd opened the bag, we'd both been thrown back by the smell. I nibbled the corner of one and immediately spit it out. Yuck! Yucky beyond belief!

The chips actually didn't get eaten during the Party, but by the time I got into work mid-morning on Saturday, the techie contingent of the weekend warriors had manage to mau down those disgusting chips.

Not satisfied with one trial in our experiment, Michele and I also bought some mixed green jelly beans for a St. Patrick's themed Friday Party. Some of the flavors were okay, but some were straight out of Harry Potter. The flavors might just as well have been named vomit, entrail, and snot.

Again, the vile flavors were not the first to be consumed, but there was no jelly bean left behind.

So I was not surprised that the Red Cross Christmas cookies were consumed with zest.

Over my many years in tech, I was continually amazed at what the techies were willing and able to get down. No matter how stale, curled up, or taste-free, anything left out in the communal place would be eaten.

No surprise. These were guys (99.99%), mostly single, working late, oblivious, consumed by their coding. If there was something that they could eat that they didn't have to move very far to get, prepare, or think about, they'd go for it.  The workplace was a natural extension of the college dorm. Fuel was fuel. Taste and nutrition were secondary.

Over the years, the Red Cross cookies have gotten better at the Red Cross. I haven't seen a Hydrox in ages. Now it's Oreos, Famous Amos, or Cameos.

As I ate my Oreos and rehydrated, I thought about all those techies I'd worked with and their wonderful capacity to snarf down lousy food.

One more thing that I miss about being full-time around techies. 

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Professionalization of Scrapbooking

When I was a kid, my friends and I all had scrapbooks. We didn't do much with them, but we all had them. For the most part, the scrapbooks themselves were made out of cardboard covered in cheesy leatherette (cream colored or burgundy). Just to make sure that we knew they were scrapbooks, they all had the word "Scrapbook" on the front in some old-fashioned, ornate font. We got the scrapbooks at Woolworth's, and they looked exactly like the scrapbooks our mothers and their mothers had used before us.

I know this because somewhere in my childhood, my sibs and I unearthed a scrapbook my mother had kept as a teenage. It was primarily a homage to Nelson Eddy, with sappy pictures cut out of movie magazines that it was hard to picture my mother ever looking at. But she really loved Nelson Eddy. As usually happens in families with a lot of kids, the lots-of-kids synergy resulted in destruction of whatever came into our path, and one of those things was my mother's Nelson Eddy scrapbook.  (One of the reasons it was destroyed was that the glue on one of the pictures of Nelson had come unstuck, and I found a picture of Shirley Temple on the other side. So I just had to go unstuck every other picture to see if they were any other pictures of Shirley. My mother didn't really care. By her later teens, she had abandoned the pasty, bland Nelson Eddy for the more rugged and sexier Robert Taylor, and was no longer keeping a scrapbook.)

In any case, the scrapbooks kept by me and my friends weren't much of anything. A couple of pasted in birthday cards, the class picture, magazine ads featuring over-the-hill movie stars we'd never heard of flogging products we didn't understand (Mum deodorant and Midol), and - most bizarrely - pictures of beautiful ladies in ball gowns that formed the ad campaign for Modess....because. Because what? Who cared? We just wanted the pictures of the beautiful ladies in ball gowns. We'd write our own captions and draw stuff around the edges.

After a couple of pages, we'd get bored.

Back to playing jacks and jumping through sprinklers.

So, based on proven experience and dedicated interest, I am nobody's candidate for the new scrapbooking mania.

Yet I am disturbed by the turn that scrapbooking has taken. From amateur productions with hand-written notes, hand-drawn embellishments, and magazine pictures of Modess ads, scrapbookers now follow formal, elaborate processes. And use all kinds of little add-ins (stencils, stickers, whatevers) that are all part of the burgeoning scrapbooking industry.

We know that this is serious stuff, alright.

Martha Stewart is involved.

Now, I am not a Martha basher. I admire her business acumen, the self-made narrative, the fact that she looks so good for her age, and her composure in sucking it up and doing her time. (Compare and contrast Paris Hilton's freak-out at the prospect of jail.)

Still, there's all that obsessive-compulsive perfectionism that I'm not so down with.

And part of that obsession has found it's way to the scrapbook industry. Just take a quick peek at Martha Stewart Crafts to see all the tasteful (and pricey) scrapbooks you can buy. Not to mention all the tasteful (and pricey) "embellishments and accents": alphabets, dimensional stickers, flat stickers, glitter, labels, ribbons...

Hey, it's not my hobby and if people want to formalize, codify, and professionalize - not to mention commercialize - it, well, I guess that's their lookout. 

And I suppose I should welcome the emergence of a new industry - scrapbooking - that's letting people make a living. (I found a three year old mention that claimed that it's a $2.5 billion industry, between the scrapbookers and the 3000 stores that support them.)

But I can't help wondering whether 25 years on, someone wouldn't be just as happy - maybe happier - to see a scrapbook that had a handmade "embellishment", a personal "accent." I can't help feeling bad when I see kids who'd rather use stickers than draw their own pictures because the stickers "look better."

And I can't help asking just what's the matter with do-it-yourself? What's the matter with, well, scraps.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Customers on the Attack

The other day, I read an article on "What to do when customers attack." (Hate to get too self-referential here, but I posted on it over on Opinionated Marketers.) The point here is not to cover the same points about setting up RSS feeds and avoiding the temptation to cut and paste brochure content in your response. No, the point is that the title of this article had the impact on me,. Well, if not as evocative as Proust's little nibble on the madeleine, the article prompted a definite bout of painful nostalgia.

The title alone, with nary a bite taken out of it, brought me right back to the good old days when it was a lot harder for customers to air their complaints about you in an out of control, hellazapoppin' forum for all the world to read. (Let's face it, life could be a lot easier then.)

Many years later, I can still cringe when I think of a couple of customer encounters of a decidedly lousy kind.

Both cases involved the same product: an exceedingly high priced, and wildly difficult to use development tool. (Here's where I learned the true meaning of the marketing term "robust" as the cover-story for a lot of hideous product problems.)

It was not as if none of our customers got any use out of the product. But those who did tended to fall into one of two categories. They were either technical geniuses who actually enjoyed that there were only 32 other people on the face of the earth smart enough to use the product, or people who paid us a lot of money to have our customer service folks use it for them. (Twelve of the 33 geniuses capable of using the product actually worked for our company.)

People who fell into neither category? Well, buyer's remorse is not too strong a word.

In one case, the customer tried for years to get the $50K that his company had paid for a license back. Tough luck to him. (And at $50K, we had practically given them the software compared to what some of our customers had paid.)

In any case, we were a pretty close to the bone outfit, and there was no way in hell that we were going to take back software that the company had accepted and had, in fact, used to some extent. I know they used it because I saw them use it with my very own eyes, and because - out of pure desperation - we had engineered a workaround (interface to the interface) that made it possible for anyone who could type to get some use out of the product. No, it wasn't the full blown use that the vaunted genius users could get, but it was something. Last I heard, the customer was still trying to get his money back from the remnants of the remnants of that company. (In truth, I think a lot of this customer's agita was motivated by his belief we were snobby, Eastern city slickers lording it over the folks in Smallville. If only he knew, we were just trying to make payroll that month and really needed the $50K. I can still recall exactly what this customer looked like, and the fact that he was related to a minor character actor with a role on Hill Street Blues. He should have taken the Sarge's advice to be careful out there.)

The other customer was someone that we all really liked an awful lot. In her case, another division in her company was using our software and acted as an internal reference for us. Apparently, she didn't think to ask whether you needed the equivalent of a PhD from CalTech to use the product. Caveat emptor!

She called one day in tears, telling us that she was going to lose her job because she had chosen our product.

As low as I felt when we had layoffs, I can honestly say that I do not recall feeling any lower than when one of my colleague's relayed this conversation to me. Plenty of people who worked at our company lost their jobs because of things we'd done or hadn't done. This was the first case of someone outside of the company going down because of us.

We, of course, sprung into action and came up with all kinds of workarounds and free consulting.

Our customer didn't lose her job - although I don't think they renewed their support agreement, either.

Interesting that in Case 1, we stonewalled and ignored (and privately made fun of) the customer who explicitly attacked us and asked for their money back.  He was a pretty unpleasant, nasty piece of work, and all his attack did was put our backs up. Maybe if we'd liked him better, we'd have done something. (Short of giving the money back, of course.) In this day and age, this customer would have no doubt gone on a completely rabid online rage against us. (I should probably do a little Google and see whether he has.)

In Case 2, the customer had a complaint, but didn't directly attack us. She made a cry for help (quite literally), and we listened and worked with her to save everyone's day. This customer didn't have a particularly aggressive personality, but in today's environment - where trash-talking is just a keystroke away - would she have resisted the impulse to get online and bust us? And how would we have responded? I wonder.

You will NEVER please all your customers, all the time.

There are also situations in which the plain vanilla fact is that all lot of your customers may end up not particulary thrilled to be on your board.

I've been in those situations.

No tasty madeleine there.

Just painful.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Plastic Flamingos Off the Endangered Species List

Last fall, I wrote a lament for Union Products of Leominster, Massachusetts. After 50 years of manufacturing what were by all accounts the world's best plastic lawn flamingos, Union closed its doors, and (sniff, sniff) the last of the Union flamingos flew into the sunset.

There is seldom much happy news on the American manufacturing front, but the Associated Press has reported (in the June 1 Boston Globe) that HMC International of Westmoreland, NY, has picked up the copyright and the plastic molds for the world's best plastic lawn flamingos, and will be going into production mode by early fall.

I, myself, do not have a personal yard, and I don't imagine that the taste police at the Beacon Hill Civic Association would be anywhere near delighted if I was to plunk a few down in the small garden area in front of my historic, Civil War era granite building. Not to mention that I live on a busy street (just down from the still well visited "Cheers Bar"). If thieves are willing to rip off, as they've done on occasion, the permanently cemented Make Way for Ducklings statues from the Public Garden just across the street... If thieves are willing to steal copper medallions on monuments over by the Hatch Shell on the Charles River...I don't suppose that there'd be much to prevent someone from reaching into our little garden plot and plucking out a plastic flamingo - secured only by embedding the tips of its wire legs in the cedar chips. Not that the payoff would be as great as lifting something of real monetary value. On the other hand, a casual, just a bit tipsy jokester might not have any qualms about lifting a plastic flamingo, either.

So, I'm no more inclined to purchase one made by HMC International than I was to purchase one made by Union Products.

Still, it is heartening to see that these flamingos taken off the endangered species list.

Yes, there remained on the market less well-crafted versions, but the head of HMC has stated that "none can hold a candle to the quality and detail [Don Featherstone, who designed the Union flamingo] created."

For those who next spring feel that they may be in the market for a pink flamingo, look for the HMC International label. (Although the article mentioned HMC International, the flamingos are going to be manufactured, quite fittingly I think, by a company that makes artificial flowers and real flower preservative, among other things.)

Accept no substitutes.

These flamingos will be the real thing.

Bonus points that they're made in the good old U.S. of A.