Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nothing Like a the Sweet Smell of a Pig Farm

When I was growing up, I can't say that Central Massachusetts was exactly rural, but there was a great deal more countryside around that was not yet filled up with suburban developments and shopping malls. And one of the things my city boy (Worcester) father and CITY GIRL (CHICAGO) mother liked to do on a summer's evening or a Sunday afternoon was load the kid in the car and "take a spin" out to the country.

In the city, we got to smell things like newly tarred roads, creosote on telephone polls, garbage trucks, diesel bus fumes, and nature's own cut grass, lilacs, and peonies.

In the country, you still got the newly tarred roads, but you also got dairy farm, chicken farm, and pig farm.

We never thought to roll up the windows when we passed by. Country smell was one of the reasons we took a spin out that way. If nothing else, it was one more reason we were happy to be city people.

But, of course, this was way before the advent of the factory farm (at least in Worcester County). Dairy farms, chicken farms, and pig farms were small.

In any case, I was interested in an article in last week's Boston Globe on a controversy taking place in Tewksbury, a town about 30 miles north of here, where "a fight over a pig farm's stench has the community in an uproar, frustrating public officials and turning neighbors into bitter enemies."

My first thought as I began reading the article was, typical.

People move out to "the country", where they find houses that are cheaper than they would in either city or near burb - and one reason they're cheaper is that there are things like pig farms there.

And the article reinforced this perception:

Some complaints come from residents at a luxury subdivision next to the farm, even though the people who live there signed a legal document recognizing the farm's existence at the time of purchase and the pig farm was there long before the residents..

But then I checked out chief complainer David Powers' website, the pungently named Tewksburyodor.org, and it appears that there may be more to this than meets the nose.

A few years ago, Powers noticed that the smell from a nearby farm was getting a lot worse, and he smelled a rat. Errrrrr, a pig. Make that lots of pigs.

Powers started sleuthing around and realized that one of the largest pig farms in the town had expanded its operations. He can't figure out the exact number of pigs that are now down on the farm, because:

Local health officials refuse to give information about the number of pigs on Krochmal Farm, saying to release that information violates Homeland Security rules protecting the secrecy of the nation's food supply.

I, for one, am sleeping more safely knowing that the country is "protecting the secrecy of the nation's food supply," but the number of pigs on what has become something of a factory farm is estimated at 900 poor swine which:

live in a barn perched atop a 500,000 gallon manure pit, all of which sits a light breeze away from vast tracts of ranch houses and minimansions.

According to Powers' website:

The odor problems worsened, according to many neighbors, about three years ago after the construction of a large pig confinement and waste storage structure which the Mass. Dept. of Agricultural Resources admits is "not prevalent in Massachusetts where pig farms are generally smaller". This building has large fans which force the gases that emanate from the pigs' waste into the air of a suburban residential neighborhood. This waste is kept directly below the pigs in a large, storage tank that can hold almost a HALF MILLION GALLONS OF WASTE near wetlands and only a matter of feet from homes. The fans keep the pigs from being asphyxiated and poisoned by these gases, and the neighbors pay the price.

And one of the nubs of the matter is that Krochmal farm didn't get the required permits to build this structure.

So Powers et al are advocating for a new set of rules.

The new rules would require swine farmers to get a permit from a newly established authority. They would also be asked to file manure management, pest control, and environmental plans with the town. Problems, including vile odors, would be reviewed by the new permitting authority, which could revoke a pig farmer's permit....

The new rules would counter the current state law, which holds that:

...the smells emanating from farms "engaged in generally accepted farming procedures" are exempt from state nuisance laws. This includes smells from pig and cow farms. (Source: Boston Globe article cited above.)

In this corner: the farmers who are just trying to make a living - and big, factory-type barns (with the attendant manure reservoirs) are the means to making a better living. And on their side, the argument that they were here first.

In the other corner: suburbanites who thought they were getting some 'breathe deeply, we're in the country" sort of smell - but who are now getting the "quick, close the windows, this place stinks!" sort of smell. On their side, this little pig farm just got bigger - and the research that Powers has compiled on ways to run a less odiferous pig farm.

But what's my favorite aspect of this story - at least so far?

At the bottom of the Globe story, third on the list of Google ads - right behind how to reduce belly fat (you pig!), and how to get a farm grant (live high on the hog off the taxpayer", is an ad from GoVeg.com:

Keep Pork off Your Fork
Check out our list of the Top 10 reasons not to eat pigs.

Now, if I gave any more thought to pig farms, I would not doubt be going veg. But that would mean doing without occasionally bringing home the bacon and making myself a good old fashioned BLT.

Monday, September 29, 2008

On the Old Treadmill

Sure, my personal favored analogy was always the gerbil spinning madly on the flywheel, but who among us has not, at one point or another, talked about their work as being on the old treadmill?
Now with the Walkstation workstation from Steelcase - a company likely familiar to anyone who's logged time in cubicle land - you can quite literally work on a treadmill. 
I learned about this from a recent NY Times article, pointed out to me by my brother-in-law, Rick, who - because he bicycles a kazillion miles a day - has no need for a Walkstation.
The Walkstation is the brainchild of Mayo Clinic endocrinologist James Levine.
To incorporate extra movement into the routines of sedentary workers (himself included), Dr. Levine constructed the first known treadmill desk by sliding a bedside hospital tray over a $400 treadmill. With a laptop and a phone headset, he said he can go all day at a leisurely 1.4 miles an hour.
The idea has been  refined - no more balancing a hospital tray on any old treadmill - and the Walkstation been available since last November. According to the article, over 300 - to the tune of about $4K -  have been sold to organizations that include Humana, Mutual of Omaha, GlaxoSmithKline, and Best Buy.
Most are situated in communal areas that people can use for a while during the day; some are in conference rooms (which seems like an excellent idea). Some folks are using them when on conference calls (which seems like another excellent idea). For individuals, Steelcase has a model that has a switch-off capability that lets you move from sitting to walking mode.
These machines aren't the sweat-hogs you may be used to from the gym, and they don't provide anything near a full, rigorous cardio workout. They max out at a very gradual 2 m.p.h. which is not enough for most people to break a sweat. But it is steady exercise and walking on one should improve your general health and fitness. And it's certainly a lot easier to incorporate a bit of fitness into your daily routine if you don't have to stop at the gym and don special workout clothes in order to do so.
Gradual walking is also an exercise that most people can do while still focusing on their work.
But that's most - not all - people, as not
...everyone [has] the coordination to walk and work, said Andrew Wood, the director of ergonomics and corporate services for Muve, a weight-management consultancy affiliated with the Mayo Clinic.
“If you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, this may not be the workstation for you,” Mr. Wood said. But it should be a piece of cake for most people, he added.
A piece of cake.
Perhaps not the most felicitous word choice, given that the sedentary life style that us "knowledge workers" lead - that comes hand in hand with gloppily-frosted sheet cakes for birthdays, showers, and going away parties - has gotten us to the point where we need to be on the treadmill while working to burn off a few more calories than we do leaning back in our ergonomic office chairs.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Nigerians 1, Michael Axel 0

Apparently, Mr Michael Axel - formerly of the New York City stock brokerage Tripp & Company - is not a reader of Pink Slip. If he had been, he might have been aware of the Nigerian e-mail scams.

Although as it stands, the Nigerian e-mail scam is only a small part of the trouble that Mr. Michael Axel has fallen into.

A recent New York Times article reported that Mr. Axel has been charged with bilking his brokerage customers out of $60oK. At 68, he could be looking at 15 years in the slammer if convicted- plenty of time to think about the folly of bilking his brokerage customers out of $600K. And plenty of time to think about the folly of getting sucked into to a Nigerian Internet scam.

Mr. Axel - who has pleaded not guilty - is alleged to have cut checks from client accounts. Those clients included a school teacher who lost $150K (which I'm guessing is a pretty healthy proportion of a school teacher's portfolio); a 90 year old who'd just moved into assisted living when $400K was ripped out of her account; and a couple of other elderly victims.

Well, never kid a kidder. Or is it,  you'd can't sucker an honest man with a get-rich-quick scam.

In any case, the NY prosecutors claim that Mr. Axel was himself a victim of sorts.

In 2005, officials said, Mr. Axel received an e-mail message from someone claiming to be a lawyer for a distant relative who had died and left Mr. Axel $8,750,000. In fact, the money didn’t exist and the e-mail message was part of a common fraud scheme.

But prosecutors said Mr. Axel wired overseas more than $400,000 of the stolen money, “apparently believing that the money would aid in the release of the supposed inheritance.”

Truly, who would believe that some long lost overseas relative had left him nearly $9M? Wouldn't you check this out a bit before wiring off the $400K needed to "aid in the release of the supposed inheritance"?

The brokerage firm has made good on the stolen money; and Mr. Axel has made partial restitution to his former employee.

Stealing from your clients is one thing. It's certainly not a very good one thing, but it is one thing.

But wouldn't you think that a 68 year old NYC stock broker would be savvy enough not to get sucked into a Nigerian Internet scam?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The End of the World as We Knew It

I'm sure I'm not the only one avoiding much of the news these days, the only one who can't bear to read one more disheartening article about the election (spare me the First Dude, please) and/or the economy (spare me the bailouts, please).

But I am a reader, so I've turned my newspaper reading to stories of a softer and squishier nature, like the one in last week's Boston Globe on how Brown University accepted too many freshmen for their dorm capacity, and so is putting students up in lounge areas and dorm kitchens or pretty much any space where there's space.

For some freshmen, this is apparently working out just fine, as in the two guys who lucked into a lounge with 25-inch TV and a full kitchen. They'd like to claim it for all four years.

Others have been less fortunate.

Some upper-classmen had opted out of the dining plan, intending to cook for themselves, only to find that there are now folks living in the kitchen they'd planned to use.

For a handful of unlucky freshmen, it means living in a dorm outside of the complex where the other first year students live, which means they're missing out on some opportunities to make friends.

One such freshman, Sammy F - whose name I won't print fully, as there's no need for his parents to google and find a complete stranger poking fun at the young fellow -

...was stuck in King House, home to a co-ed literary fraternity.

"I was kind of weirded out," F said. "I didn't know what kind of person you'd have to be to join a society designed for people who read a lot. I'm not a part of it, and I don't plan on becoming a part of it."

"....what kind of a person you'd have to be to join a society designed for people who read a lot"?

Am I the only person who would have thought that acceptance to Brown - which is on just about every Top Ten college list I've ever seen - would/should place someone in the society of people who read a lot?

"....what kind of a person you'd have to be..."

Maybe someone who is curious about the world. Who likes to read. Who likes to think. Who likes to discuss.

Wouldn't you think this describes pretty much every student at an Ivy League school (with the obvious legacy admissions and jocks aside)?

I mean, Brown isn't exactly Party State U. Sure, the kids party, but there are some pretty steep admissions standards at play here. And Brown isn't exactly College of the Last Resort, the sort of place that's postcard pretty and that you've heard of often enough that you think it's good, but which - in actuality - has one criterion for admission, and that's parental ability to pay a hefty tuition.

Okay, just because you read doesn't mean you want to hang out with a bunch of literary snobs. Or deadheads who'd rather curl up with a good book than pass out at a kegger.

Maybe Sammy F does read a lot. Maybe he just doesn't want to socialize with a bunch of weirdos who want to sit around comparing and contrasting Pliny the Elder with Pliny the Younger. Who believe that Proust is so much better in French. Who sleep with Middlemarch under their pillows. Who read aloud - truly the only way to go - from Finnegan's Wake at dinner.

(And I really and truly understand that Sammy F is, indeed, missing out on a key experience by not getting to hang out morning, noon, and night with a bunch of fellow freshmen.)

Still, this is Brown.

If kids at Brown sneer at serious reading, what's the world coming to?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Old Cell Phones Don't Die....

Nor do they fade away.

A year or so ago, the battery in my perfectly good cell phone died. When I went to replace the battery, I was informed that I had to replace the phone. Grrrrrr.

My sister Kath had a worse experience: she was told that she nad to get a new phone or start paying more, because they her provider no longer wanted to support the crappy old tech phones.

It's not as if either of these phones were rotary dial, black Bakelite relics from the 1950's.

They were relatively new, still working phones.

But, oh, that built in obsolescence.

When I got my newbie, I gave Verizon my old faithful, with some vague notion that they were going to refurbish it and give it to a soldier in Iraq (who would no doubt disdain the clunky low-tech-ness of ) or to someone in the third world (ditto).

But I have often wondered where old cell phones really go and now, thanks to the Technology Review (MIT Alumnae Magazine, September - October 2008), I know where at least a goodly number of them go. And I know that there's an awfully goodly - even ungodly number - in the potential re-use bin: the article I read on recycling cell phones noted a Gartner fast-fact that over half a billion cell phones were traded in during 2007. (Mine was  -unwillingly - one of them.)

The place where a goodly number of cell phones go is a company called ReCellular, in Dexter, Michigan. Since I had visions of heaps of cell phones washing up on the shores of Bangladesh where gleaners worked them over for 14  cents an hour, I'm actually happy to learn that phones that get born somewhere else actually get reborn in the USA.

ReCellular, "the world's largest recycler and reseller of used cellular phones and accessories."  refurbishes used phones - doing some on their own, and farming out less popular models to other companies in both the US and abroad.  The cell phones head back into circulation. The article didn't state how and where, ReCellular - which, in addition to it's clever name, has a a clever motto: Hello Again - has:

...long-standing relationships with key industry players such as Verizon Wireless, Motorola, Sprint and Best Buy (to name a few).

I've never noticed used phones for sale at Verizon, but I may not have been paying all that much attention. (I just hope I haven't unknowingly purchased one.)

All I can say is that, given that the old timers like the one I surrendered a year ago aren't supported by the phone service providers, there must be an awful lot of folks giving up cell phones that are far more current than the sucker that was pried out of my grip.

Phones that can't be refurbished by ReCellular are recycled at Sims Recycling Solutions  - and isn't everything a solution these days? - a smelter outside of Chicago.

Sims, which processes 30,000 pounds of cell phones a month - an awful lot of phones, given that I just weighed mine on a postage scale and it's 3.5 ounces. They shred them, incinerate the plastic, and save the residual gunk, which breaks down into a couple of alloys. Slag, which is largely silica, gets recycled for use in "shingles and road construction". What's left is cooled into bars and passed on to other companies, which extract the precious metals contained within: "80 ounces of silver, eight ounces of gold, and three ounces of palladium [can be recovered] from a ton of cell phones.

Well, I for one am happy that all these cell phones are being recycled rather than ending up in suppurating, poisonous landfills.

And who'd thunk that there's palladium in them thar' phones?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dream Job at Lehman Brothers

Every year, a goodly swath of the brightest - if not necessarily the best - graduates of  the country's top business schools head to Wall Street to take up careers in investment banking. A number of these MBA's would, quite naturally, have decided to ply their trade at Lehman Brothers.

Sure, the hours were going to be long - 80 hour weeks are the norm, 100 hour weeks are not unheard of - but, oh, the upside: $200K starting packages and the prospect of a life of expensive cigars, bespoke suits, swank co-operatives, and retirement at 50 or so, after which you can turn to philanthropy and/or golf and/or making even more money now that the pressure's off.

But when that pressure's on, it's sure intense - and ultra competitive.

I have a friend (Stanford MBA) who started his career many years ago at Morgan Stanley (at that time, jokingly referred to by those in the associate ranks as MS - Crippler of Young Adults). While visiting us over a holiday weekend, he remembered that he had left a confidential file out on his desk. Knowing that someone would be at work, he called and spoke to a colleague (Wharton MBA, if I remember correctly), asking her to put the file in a drawer.

"Why should I?" she asked. "I'm working you're not. Put your own damn file away."

And so my friend took the next shuttle back to NYC for the sole purpose of opening a drawer and tucking a file into it.

As the stakes have gotten even higher - mo' better money - I'm sure that the competition for the plum jobs (and the competition to keep them) has gotten even more fiercer than it was 25 years ago.

Last spring, when second year MBA's at Stanford, Wharton, Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, Sloan/MIT and the other top schools were weighing their offers, plenty of them weighed in on Lehman Brothers (thanking the gods of finance that they hadn't taken the bid from Bear Sterns before that august institution went belly-up).

I'm not sure when class starts in investment banking - having been nowhere near being brightest or best when I was in business school, nor having any interest whatsoever in anything to do with finance - but I'm guessing that some folks began their careers in June, while others took the summer off to see Machu Pichu, get married, or stock up on braces, cufflinks, and bow ties.

Welcome back!

This is Lehman Brothers.

You're well on your way to becoming a Master (or Mistress) of the Universe.

Barely time to get the sterling Tiffany frame holding a picture of your beloved up on your desk before the venerable old institution's crumbling down around your ears. Even the building's up for grabs. Yikes!

Oh, some of the departments will be sucked into still-viable investment banks. But, hey, you just got your MBA in June and you don't exactly have a track record, other than crunching a few numbers for a deal that hadn't gone down quite yet.

So much for the dream job at Lehman.

Calls are now being placed to the placement departments at all those fancy B-schools. Get me out of here!

Should I even bother to put Lehman on my résumé? After all, I was only there three weeks....

I do feel kind of sorry for all these folks who took the offer from Lehman and assumed they had a good shot at a long and lucrative career. Of course, they still have a good shot at a long and lucrative career - they've got fancy MBA's from fancy B-schools. It's just not going to be at Lehman. So they're likely feeling a bit panicky right now, and trying to avoid the sympathy (and, no doubt, a few gloating smirks) on the other end of the line from their former classmates who took the dream job at Goldman Sachs.

Yeah, I do feel kind of sorry for them.

But you know who I feel sorrier for?

The folks in IT, marketing, HR, operations, accounting. The receptionists. The support staff.  The assistants. The guys in the back office and elsewhere behind the scenes who made it all work. The waiters in the corporate dining room.

The people who made a decent living but who were never going to strike it rich. The people who probably had their savings invested in Lehman stock. The people who spent 10, 20, 30 years there (not just 10, 20, 30 days), and who thought they had a job for life.

Pink slips are coming at Lehman Brothers.

Lots of people there to feel sorry for, and the newly minted MBA's who thought they had a lock on their dream job may not be at the bottom on my list (that's where CEO Dick Fuld is). But they're sure in the lower quartile - probably for the first time in their lives.



UPDATE: September 25:

eMindful.com  - which "brings live online classes in stress reduction, complementary healing, and personal growth, via video conferencing, into people's homes and offices" - is offering a free online stress reduction classes for those who are impacted by the current Wall Street woes. I can't vouch for the classes (and I don't want to sign up for one and take the place of some Wall Streeter who could really use one), but this is marketing at its best. Sure, they're capitalizing on a current crisis, but they're offering something that is to the point, useful, and free. (Kudos to Jeff Porter of APCO Worldwide, eMindful's communications firm, for letting me know about it.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Curb that age bias!

I was poking around the WSJ Online the other day, and stumbled across an article on what job-seekers over 50 need to do if they want to get hired. Actually, I'm going to change my wording here, since I want to avoid a word like stumble, which may be construed as something that old people do. Rather, I'll now say that I searched and purposely found said article. (Said article, by the way, may be subscription-only. I subscribe, admitting to a clear old-fogy predisposition to actually pay for content when there's so much good stuff out there for free.)

One part of the article dealt with tips on handling the delicate matter of your being of a certain age:

Curb age bias. You can address some of the common, unspoken predispositions that hiring managers may have about senior candidates -- like fears that older workers lack energy or are already looking ahead to retirement -- says Mr. [Dave] Opton [president and founder of Execunet]. Casually reveal information to counteract that, he explains. You might say, "I'm sorry I wasn't in when you called...I was in the middle of a six-mile jog."

Excellent advice - to which I'll add a few suggestions of my own on what to say and what not to say on an interview:

What to say What not to say
This year for vacation, I'm thinking of bungee jumping off the North Face of the Grand Canyon. My husband and I are considering one of those pricey alumni tours to New Zealand - you know, the ones where you stay in fancy hotels, eat gourmet meals, and the tour guides schlep your bags for you.
I go back and forth on Coldplay, and right now I'm in the over-rated camp. I still like listening to Meet the Beetles on the portable hi-fi I got as a high school graduation gift.
Round the clock cable news and, of course, the Internet are making for a more informed society.
Nothing I like better than a rainy Sunday and The New York Sunday Times.
There's a great sale on at Ann Taylor's.
I buy all my clothes at Talbots.
I was considering an iPhone, but for business I really think that a Blackberry is a better choice.
Let me put that date in my FiloFax.
My last manager, who will be happy to provide a reference, is now at Google. The first manager I worked for, who will be happy to provide a reference, survived the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach. (If you reach him by phone, please shout.)
I was considering running Chicago again, but it's so darned flat. Three minutes on the Stairmaster is a near-death experience.
I'm so happy that there are more vegetarian options on the menu - and smaller portions.
That tub of Five Alarm Chili looks good, but I can't risk the heartburn.
Hard to believe that 9-11 was seven years ago. Hard to believe that JFK's been dead nearly 45 years.
I'm playing in a squash tourney that evening.
I'll be babysitting my grandkids that evening.
My BMI is 22. I can't manage to shed those 20 pounds I gained in my 40's.
Twittering can be addictive. Who cares that you just ate a peach?
24/7 connectivity and availability gives me true work-life balance. 24/7 connectivity and availability makes you a slave to the office.
Blogs are an excellent way for a company to communicate with customers and prospects. What's a blog?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Inflight Yakety-Yak: not so fast

Last month, I posted on cell phone calls  on airplanes. While my initial inclination is to say 'no way', I had seen some interesting early results that suggested that, in a few trials, users weren't abusers.

But maybe those trials were too limited, and maybe those who travel on Emirates Airline  and AirFrance just aren't big talkers. Maybe there should have been a trial on an American airline, with impatient, blustery American business people.

In any case, worries about inflight phone-a-thons may have been premature.

Thanks to Joe Sharkey's essay in the Sunday NY Times, I've got a little more skinny on inflight phone calls.

It seems that American Airlines is now offering Aircell's Internet access, and Delta and Virgin will be soon. But they're blocking use of VoIP phones.

E-mail, surfing, IM - have at it. But no Skyping.

Reflecting the continuing battles over cellphone use in other public settings, Aircell and American Airlines — so far the only airline offering Aircell’s in-flight Internet access, called Gogo — have erected technological barriers to block Skype and similar software programs from enabling voice calls in the insulated environment of the airplane cabin. American Airlines began offering Gogo last month.

The techier among us will no doubt find a work-around - I just hope not to be sitting next to one of them when he has his Eureka! moment and realizes he can start dialing for dollars.

...while there are raging controversies about cellphone use on ground-based public transportation like trains and buses, imagine how much more intense the concern becomes in an airplane cabin, where passengers are confined, often for long hours, in close proximity, unable to flee.

Worried about the in-flight equivalent of road rage, airlines have been less than enthusiastic about any form of voice-call capability.

I hope that if they can e-mail and IM, people should feel connected enough, without having to get into protracted (boring, loud, distracting) phone conversations.

Who know what will end up happening here, but so far Aircell says that if they find people sneaking a little VoIP into their communications mix, they'll turn off their access.

We'll see. (Or, rather, we'll hear.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Drinking wine, spo-dee-oh-dee, drinking wine

When I was a kid, nobody I knew drank wine.

Sure, we saw those Chianti bottles with the melted candles in them in movies.

And my parents kept a bottle of Man-Oh-Manneschevitz around. My father would - once in a blue moon -  make my mother a wine cooler (which I think was wine and ginger ale).

When people drank, they drank beer or high-balls (4Roses and some sort of mix).

At Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday dinners, we had apple cider. I have no recall of what the grownups drank on Easter (high-balls?), but kids drank milk.

Then, when I was in college, there was wine.

Hey, hey, hey, Mateus Rose, with its nifty bottle as straw-flower vase. Same went for the Lancer's Rose bottle.

There was also Blue Nun Liebfraumilch, which, now that I parse the name a bit: Dear Lady's Milk, is kind of disgusting, especially when it's associated with a Blue Nun.

There was also white wine in a green bottle shaped like a fish.

Then there were the jugs of Gallo Brothers' Hearty Burgundy and Chablis.

Then, all of a sudden, everyone was drinking wine. French wine. Italian wine. German wine (and not just a little Blue Nun). Australian. Hungarian. Romanian. Chilean.

And, meanwhile, California wine was on beyond the Gallo Brothers. It was really good.

Our holiday meals all of a sudden featured wine - lots of it.

Some folks still drank beer, but no one had a high-ball. (Maybe a Bloody Mary before, if someone was mixing. And a Bailey's after.)

Most of that wine came from California.

Oh, sometimes a New York state wine might sneak in an appearance. Or, more booster-y, something from a Massachusetts vineyard.

Now, I learn from a brief article in The Economist (August 23, 2008), that all 50 states now have wineries. Some import grapes, but there are also vineyards in most states, as well.

Ohio has 108 wineries; Michigan has 112. And Ohio even has a state viticulturist. And the University of Minnesota is breeding grapes that can survive a temps as low as -36 degrees Fahrenheit. That will be some hearty burgundy, alright.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Well, who wouldn't be motivated by a barking toilet seat

My friend John sent me this  link to a local Houston blog he saw that noted a curious motivational tactic used by a sales VP at Royce Home Builders.

While I am surely no expert on what might motivate a sales force in the home building biz, I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that being forced to rub a toilet seat with my boss' face painted on it, while chanting the company's name.

The toilet seat would also be manipulated, puppet-like, and would seem to be barking out the name Royce.

It couldn't have been that powerful of a motivator, since the VP who used it was apparently laid off recently as part of some pretty substantial cut backs at the company.

I've been to a number of sales conferences, so I've seen my share of motivational speakers, but nothing like this.

No, I've just been subjected to videos of football tackles, rah-rah chanting, and - once - a pep talk by Mia Hamm. (She was actually pretty good.)

I've also seen some anti-motivators in my time, like the product line VP at one company I worked for who started his preso on his new products with a bastardization of Thomas Hobbes. "Last year," our VP intoned, "was nasty, brutish, and short."

Well, I had remembered it as nasty and brutish, but it hadn't seemed all that short.

At the same sales conference, the VP of my product line told the sales force that we'd be "moving forward with all the momentum of an entrenched juggernaut." I was sitting next to my buddy Bill and he yelped, "How much momentum does something entrenched have?"

I was too caught up in trying to figure out why anyone would want to use the image of a juggernaut  - entrenched or otherwise.

Another time - same company - the president came by a meeting with my group and said that the only reason we'd been successful the year before was because the market was up. That was pretty much true, but I sure wish he'd thrown us a bone or two about our hard work.

Ah, motivation.

If it were all that easy, no one would have to resort to the barking toilet seat, I guess.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pssst. Wanna buy a used merry-go-round?

The last couple of weeks have brought all sorts of grim news on the nostalgia front. Killer Kowalski, a superstar of the Saturday morning wrestling broadcasts of my childhood, died. The bakery that makes Hostess Twinkies and Drake's Devil Dogs may go bankrupt. And Coney Island's Astroland is closing.

Not that I ever actually made it to Astroland, or Coney Island for that matter, but that doesn't stop me from pining for it.

Astroland is a theme park of sorts and, given that it opened in 1962, no one will be surprised to learn that it has a space theme. This was, after all, the year of John Glenn's historic flight in which he orbited the earth three times.

And now, alas, I have missed my chance to visit, as Astroland went dark last Sunday.

According to The NY Times article that announced Astroland's demise, the owners had sold the property - for a cool $30M (that's an awful lot of caramel corn and cotton candy) -  a couple of years ago, and haven't been able to work out a lease deal with the owners. Thor Equities has said that they're interested in keeping an amusement park on the location, but a lot of folks suspect that there will be condos rather than Caterpillars and Tilt-a-Whirls going up there.

Fortunately, Coney Island's Cyclone wooden roller coaster has landmark status and will continue to run, as will a few other rides.

Of the amusement parks of my youth, nothing survives of White City, which was razed for - what else - a shopping plaza. White City was a tawdry little park on the shores of Lake Quinsigamond. My clearest memory there was falling in the barrel of fun (hah!), and being helped out by an older boy.

Then there was Paragon Park at Nantasket Beach, which was part of the whole package: a day at the beach; salt water taffy; and an amusement park. My main Nantasket memory is finding a starfish on the beach and being yucked out by it. I threw it blindly away, and hit some old geezer in the back of the neck. Ooops!

Paragon Park is all gone now, although the wonderful carousel is still there. And Nantasket Beach itself is eroding - it's down to nothingness at high tide.

Until I saw The Times article, however, I had never wondered where the old rides go when amusement parks shut down.

Well, you can actually buy them at Rides4U, where twenty Astroland rides are up for bid - along with a lot of other neat stuff. Located in New Jersey:

Rides-4-U, Inc., founded in 1995 has emerged as an industry leader in both new and used amusement equipment. Through consistent performance, attention to detail, a customer service approach, and the creativity to get the deal done, our company is the one-authority for all of you ride needs.

If you want a piece of Astroland, you can get the Kiddie Boats for the low-low price of $15K. I rather like the Tea Cups for $39K.  But the Water Flume ($199K), Dante's Inferno ($225K), and Break Dance ($299K) are, I'm afraid, way out of my league.

I've always been partial to Tilt-a-Whirls, and they have quite a price range: $16.5K to $199K - no indication of what the difference is, but I'm sure those in the know can read between those lines.

Rides4U also sells new rides. I like the sound of the Apache Helicopter Dactylus and the Energy Rush. And what's the difference between the Family Tower and the Gravity Tower?

In any case, here's another wonderful business that I didn't even know existed. I have been so limited by my career in high tech.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Almost Famous: Pink Slip gets a nod

WE Magazine for women has named me - and Pink Slip - one of their 101 Women Bloggers to Watch. (And read, of course.)

The Minor Leagues

Last week I was in Boston's North Station, waiting for a train to take me to my sister's in Salem.

It had been a hectic day.

I was coming from the hospital, where I'd visited my steadily improving brother, and was - at 4 p.m. - having a late-lunch bagel.

The only seat in the waiting room was next to a young man with two huge duffle bags. As I sat on the bench, he began shoving the bags - which weren't at all in my way - aside. I told him I was fine, then noticed that one duffle bag said "Sea Dogs" and the other said "Red Sox."

Well, North Station's where you get the train to Portland - which is where the Sea Dogs (a Red Sox Double-A minor league team) play - so I asked if he played for the Sea Dogs.

"I did earlier in the season," he told me. "But I've been with Pawtucket. The season's over, and I've got to get back up to Portland and pick up all my stuff."

"Pawtucket," I said. "That's a promotion."

The kid grinned.

Pawtucket is Triple-A.

Players get called up from Pawtucket.

Red Sox coming off the Disabled List often put in a stint with Pawtucket before coming back to The Bigs.

We chatted for a while - about the Sea Dogs park up in Portland - where years ago I'd seen Nomar Garciaparra play for the Trenton Thunder; about my having seen Ted Williams play; about him having played at Arizona State with Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox star first baseman and "a great guy."

He told me his name: Beau Vaughn.

At first I heard it as "Mo Vaughn" who played for the Red Sox some years ago, and who I always enjoyed watching play. He also donated $1,000 to St. Francis House ( every time he hit a home run, and I liked him for that. And naturally I liked hearing the crowds at Fenway chanting "Mo, Mo, Mo", even though it wasn't for me.

Beau Vaughn also told me that he was getting old - he's 27 - for the minor leagues, but that he had nothing better to do. So he was going to stick with it and see how it played out.

I checked Beau out, and according to "The Google", he still has reasonable major league prospects. Here's his scouting report:

Aggressive righty has a fastball reaching 91 mph with good sinking movement.  Vaughan is able to throw his biting curve for strikes often.  Four strong pitches, but needs a little work on keeping a consistent delivery for all of his pitches. Gets a lot of groundball outs. Struggles against left-handed batters.   Fierce with a good mound presence. Good control.  Vaughan has moved through the system slowly but surely - he was actually drafted the round before Jonathan Papelbon in 2003.  Despite being old for his leagues along the way, Vaughan still has a very good chance to be an effective MLB reliever.

(By the way, if you do click on the link above, I don't know where that picture came from. The Beau Vaughn I sat next to was very good looking, resembling not in the least the guy in the picture who looks like he was just zapped with a cattle prod.)

My train was called.

"Good luck," I told Beau Vaughn. "I'll be looking for you at Fenway."

I wish I'd asked for his autograph for my nieces Caroline and Molly. I wish I'd said I know how tough it must be to see younger guys like Justin Masterson make it to The Show before you. I wish I'd said, "You're right, Beau Vaughn, there's nothing better you can do than try your all to make it doing something you love."


He's still a kid.

I'm reading all the time about Baby Boomers launching new careers in their fifties. I went back to business school at the age of 29.

Hey, Beau Vaughn, give it another couple of years.

I'll be rooting for you.

Friday, September 12, 2008

That does it: Twinkies may go bankrupt

Well, yesterday's grim news wasn't just Lehman Brothers' tsouris - not to mention our collective misery when we see how much Dick Fuld, their Chief Exec, will manage to salvage in terms of his compensation this year. Last year he made forty large - which is just about half of what Interstate Bakeries is looking for ($79 million) as an additional amount needed when its current financing package expires in a couple of weeks.

According to an AP article picked up by Business Week, if Interstate doesn't get the dough, and an extension on their expired financing, they'll have to liquidate.

Interstate Bakeries has quite a brand portfolio: Wonder Bread; Hostess - Cupcakes, SnoBalls, and Twinkies; and my own personal favorite, Drakes (Yodels, Ring Dings, and Devil Dogs).

Even though it built strong bodies twelve ways, my mother never bought Wonder Bread. We got bread delivered from the Cushman Bakery truck (which also made knock-off English muffins), Nissen, or Sunbeam. Nissen and Sunbeam are also brands that have been gobbled up by Interstate along the way. As was Roman Meal - this weird health bread my mother also used to buy, I think because it was lower cal than standard gloppy white bread.

It goes without saying that we didn't have a lot of Hostess products in our house. My mother was a scratch baker, and baked nearly every day to satisfy the sweet tooth of my father and a subset of his offspring (myself included). But we did occasionally get a Hostess treat, most notably on Halloween when one of the families on the street gave out SnoBalls. (The husband delivered Continental Bakery goods, and the SnoBalls must have been day-old, or fallen off the truck.) I still remember the sheer joy of peeling off the glutinous, coconut flecked pink and white covers and eating the faux chocolate cake inside. Yummy!

I was never a major Twinkies fan - chocolate was always my game - but I didn't mind the ones that had the plasticine chocolate frosting with the white curlicues on them.

On my wander over to the Interstate website, I learned that I'd missed the Twinkies recipe contest, held a couple of years ago to celebrate Twinkies 75th anniversary.

I don't know what ended up in the "special commemorative 75th anniversary cookbook", but the call for recipes mentioned Twinkie crepes, Twinkie-misu, and Twinkie Toffee Treat. (Why do my teeth all feel as if they're being drilled by 75 little mini-drills - and I don't have any novocaine?)

Truly, the best recipe for Twinkies should be open package, remove Twinkie, take bite, discard remainder.

But I'm most alarmed that Interstate's liquidation could put the end to the Drake's Devil Dog, truly one of the premier snack cakes ever invented.devil_dogs_sm

I still remember my father taking us over to Sol's Maincrest Pharmacy and buying us Devil Dogs. Or putting a nickel in my sweaty palm and letting me jog on over to Sol's and pick one up on my own.

So - all you praying types out there - say a quick one to St. Elizabeth of Hungary, one of the patron saints of bakers- and wouldn't you know it, my patron saint (my middle name's Elizabeth) and that of my mother. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

As if I didn't already like the guy

  • He's smart.
  • He was rejected by Harvard Business School (or so I read on Wikipedia).
  • He seems to have a good sense of humor.
  • He looks like a nice guy.
  • He lives in his very own home town.
  • He doesn't live in a 40,000 square foot, indulge-my-every-whim mansion.
  • He's a mega-philanthropist.
  • Hate (as if) to tip my political hand, but he gives a fair amount of money to my political party.

But watching Tuesday night's Red Sox game on TV, I learned that Warren Buffett is a Red Sox fan.

Yes, he grew up in Omaha, where he - with geographic logic - was a St. Louis Cardinals fan. But he's apparently been a bi-leaguer, and is also a Red Sox fan. At one point when he was a kid, he even wrote a letter to Ted Williams.

Wonder who he roots for when the Red Sox pay the Cardinals in the World Series, as has happened in 1946 (Boo!), 1967 (Boo-hoo!), and 2004 (Yea!).

No, I won't let myself go there.

I like Warren Buffett just the way he is now: a Red Sox fan. (Even though he didn't bring the boys good luck  - they blew the game in the 9th and lost by a run.)


Here's to those who went to work on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 - a beautiful day in NYC, Washington, and Boston - thinking it was just another work day. Hard to believe it's been 7 years. Here's what I was doing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

One Road Not Taken

I get a lot of e-mails, and part of the lot are ones that come from the Wiser Worker, a job site dedicated to work for the Largest Demographic of all: us aging Baby Boomers. (I hope we don't start getting known as the Largest Demographic in the same way our parents' demographic is known as the Greatest Generation. What a downer!)

I don't actually know how I got onto Wiser Worker's mailing list - could it be that I'm plunk in the middle of the Largest Demographic of all and am, in fact, one of those Wiser Workers? (I know we're supposed to think "older but wiser", but why do I always channel "The sadder but wiser girl's the girl for me" from the Music Man -  a musical well known to the Largest Semographic.)

In any case, I get lots of e-mails from them, but the one the other day caught my eye: Career in Truck Driving...Is It Right for You?

Well, truck driving is one career road that I'd actually never considered taking.

But the Wiser Worker tells us that 65% of truck drivers are over 50, which implies a certain friendliness towards us gray heads. (It also makes me wonder where the truck drivers of the future are going to be coming from. Not to mention the RN's - I've been spending lots of time in the hospital these days, and the wonderful nurses who've been taking care of my brother mostly fall into the Largest Demographic. The good news appears to be that they'll all be able to work as long as they're physically (and mentally - what a stressful, demanding job) able. But where are the RN's of tomorrow coming from? The good news is that a lot of the younger doctors we've been dealing with are women, and they have been as wonderful as the nurses. But where are the RN's of tomorrow coming from?)

Well, back to truck driving.

Apparently, the profession has some appeal to the folks who would like to be driving around the country in an RV that's as long as a semi, but who want to get paid for their travels. The cab of the truck may not be quite the equivalent of an RV the size of the house I grew up in, but some of these rigs are pretty well fitted up.

But I'd never really considered it.

I haven't known many - or any, really - truck drivers in my life.

Lots of men in the neighborhood I grew up in had trucks - but they were the trucks they used in their work: moving guys, carpenters, TV repairmen, the guy around the corner who delivered for the Hostess Cupcake company. But they weren't long haul, trucker-truckers.

That was until the girl next store - who was a half dozen years older than me - started dating a truck driver. He'd park his cab right outside my bedroom window and, to get it warmed up in the morning, he started the engine at about 4:30 a.m.

Nothing like the sound of an idling Kenworth 15 feet from your head to lure you out of a sound sleep.

In my youth, I did some long-haul hitchhiking, and thus met a few truck drivers.

Once, when my friend Charlie and I were hitching from NYC to Providence, we got picked up by a driver, Lenny P, who had driven straight through from Lincoln, Nebraska.

At first, he told us that he was driving straight, but once he got to know us and realized that we really weren't truck inspectors posing as Mod Squad hippies, he opened up and revealed that he lived on Black Beauties.

But back to the Wiser Worker's provocative question: Career in Truck Driving....Is It Right for You?

On the plus side, I like to drive. Years ago, I drove cross-country - there and back - and had a great old time. And up there in a big rig I'd probably see things differently than in the low-down Karmann Ghia I drove that first time.

I like to travel.

I like meeting new people.

On the downside, while I'm an excellent parallel parker, I don't really like to spend too much time in reverse, and the thought of backing up a big tractor trailer give me agita.

I also don't like the idea of having to get in and out of the cab.

I also just saw a special on underage prostitution in truck stops, and I don't think the sorts of folks who traffic in or otherwise utilize young girls in a prostitution ring are the sorts of new people I'd like to meet.

And, while I am drawn to the truck stop diet of eggs over light with hashbrowns, meat loaf and gravy, mac and cheese, and pie - glorious pie! - that sort of diet would really be a heart attack on a plate after a few meals, and I'd certainly find myself trying to maneuver the rig into the squinchy parking lot of a Whole Foods so I could run in and by a pound of organic cherries and a $7 loaf of When Pigs Fly bread.

So, I guess the answer is: a career in truck driving is not quite right for me.

But I wonder what jobs out there for the Largest Generation might be.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Up to Snuff

I saw in today's NY Times that the Altria Group - the fancy, "let's not have a name that makes people think about lung cancer" name for Philip Morris  - has acquired UST (the far less disguised name for US Tobacco.

UST is the company we have to thank for "smokeless", dipping tobacco - Copenhagen and Skoal.

The combination raises Altria from “virtually no position” in the $3.7 billion snuff market, the fastest-growing segment of the tobacco industry, the chief executive, Michael E. Szymanczyk, told analysts on Monday. It may ease investor concerns that Altria is too focused on cigarette sales in the United States, which the company expects to shrink by 3.5 percent this year, and counter falling demand for Marlboros.

Who knew that there's a $3.7 billion snuff market? No wonder Altria wanted in. And I'm sure that diversifying with a dip into dip will placate those investors so concerned about Altria's being too focused on gross, smelly, smokey old cigarettes.

UST's share price for the deal is $69.50 - up quite a nip from a year ago, when it was languishing around $50. That said, the company was hurting, as snuff users were  substituting brands that were cheaper than Copenhagen and Skoal.

Anyway, the deal on the table  I would guess is congruent with the lofty mission they had laid out for themselves.

UST's primary mission is to create superior stakeholder value by delivering long-term, sustainable and consistent earnings growth.

(Am I the last person left on earth who thinks that a mission statement that talks only about creating superior stakeholder value is about as appealing as the contents of a spittoon outside the doors of the floor of the US House of Representatives in, say, 1860?)

I'll say one thing for the acquiring company, Altria seems willing to own up to what they do in their mission statement:

Our Mission is to own and develop financially disciplined businesses that are leaders in responsibly providing adult tobacco consumers with superior branded products.

Although you do have to wonder what their definition of "responsibly" is, don't you.

Meanwhile, my wikipedia read-up on snuff tells me all about the difference between gentlemanly, Duke of Leicestershire, pinch of dry snuff in the nostril European snuff - which comes in all sorts of flavors, including cheddar, cola, bourbon, raspberry, and corn. (Corn?) - and the more rough and tumble, cowboy on the range - ballplayer in the dugout moist, rub it on your gums like Anbesol American snuff.

But corn snuff?  Corn snuff?????

And, while I think about it, cheddar snuff?


'snuff said.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Takin' Care of Business

My post today has nothing to do with the business of business, and everything to do with the business of life.

Last Wednesday, my brother collapsed from a bleeding ulcer and nearly bled to death.

If he hadn't had the luck to collapse in his doctor's office, which happens to be in a major teaching hospital, he would have.

As of Sunday as I write this, Rich is still in the ICU, but he's doing very well - and is, in fact, asking whether he'll be back to work this week. (The question, for anyone who knows my brother, is no surprise. The answer, given that on Saturday he had abdominal surgery for what the GI guy told us was the largest ulcer he'd seen in 20 years, is 'no', you won't be going back to work for a couple of weeks.)

Along with the medical factoid that many ulcers - including this one - are caused by bacteria, not stress, what I've learned from this is:

  • If you feel like you're dying, you probably are. My brother is an incredibly hale and strong individual, who is never sick. Other than a nasty cigarette habit (which we now believe is at its end), and what is probably a few too many grab-and-gulp lunches on the fly, Rich leads a pretty healthy life style. But for the last three weeks, he's been sick as a dog, starting with a violent 4 day flu during which he lost 15 pounds, which it appears set off the perfect storm that culminated in the bleeding ulcer. Without going into a case history, he had seen his doctor a couple of times and was having tests done. On Wednesday, he was scheduled for a CAT scan - but the hospital screwed up the appointment, and asked him to come back the next day. Statistically speaking, they had no reason to believe that a generally healthy 52 year old with no history of anything, who saw his doctor regularly, and was never sick, couldn't wait another day.
  • Sometimes you have to fight for your life.  Maybe someone else would have meekly heeded the request to come back the next day, but my brother has always been a fighter for what he believes in. Mostly, that's been the American labor movement. Last Wednesday, however, the belief he was fighting for was that he was dying and he didn't want his 11 year old daughter to have a dead father. So he raised a ruckus in his doctor's office, yelling that he was dying and, as he has told us, probably scaring the crap out of the receptionist. That's the last thing he remembers until he came to at 3 a.m., and saw his three sisters standing around his bedside - which definitely gave him a jolt.
  • If you're really feeling punk, take someone with you to the doctor. Routine visits are one thing, but if it's something really worrisome - or you're getting "the word" about results or treatment, it is ultra-wise to have another person with you to take notes, ask clarifying questions, etc.  I did not actually just learn this - I've known this for years - and had volunteered to go with Rich (as had his ex-wife). But - tough guy - he wanted to go it alone.
  • Make sure your patient information is current. My brother's was way out of date. So the hospital tried to call his wife, who has been his ex-wife for quite a while now. This would actually have been okay if his ex-wife was still at the same number, but she isn't. So, the hospital started dialing for dollars with his cell phone, and it took them quite some time to land on me.
  • Have someone listed as an emergency contact in your contact list.  In olden times, people carried cards in their wallets that said who to contact in case of an emergency. (And if they were Catholics, they probably carried a card that said, "I am a Catholic, in case of an accident, please call a priest," which seemed like a sensible thing during the years when I was a card-carrying-Catholic, but which, if I were still a Catholic - card-carrying or otherwise - I would likely hedge with a "but make sure to call 911 first."  Now people carry cell phones, and should have at least one contact marked "ICE" (In Case of Emergency). My cell phone does now - as does my brother's. While I was at it, I changed nicknames ("Diggy", "Po") to real names - first and last - and, while I was ICE-ing and un-Diggying my husband, I added the word husband after his name, since we don't share the same name.
  • Designate a health care proxy. While my brother was unconscious, I became his health care proxy. In an emergency situation, the hospital will do what needs to get done, but once my sisters and I were on the scene, one of us got to be the designated proxy. I live the closest to my brother, so it's me. We'll make it official over the next few days.
  • Don't wear socks with holes in them.  As with 'bring someone to the doctor with you', I already knew this. The hospital gave me a bag containing Rich's phone, wallet, keys, khakis, shoes, and socks. Earlier, I almost typed "don't wear holes with socks in them."

It's not easy seeing your kid brother so sick, but it looks like he'll be bouncing back.

Something to be thankful for on this lovely September day.

Friday, September 05, 2008

GolfGators: uptight golfers beware! (The guys in the next foursome may actually be having fun.)

Other than a couple of rounds of mini-golf each year, I've never played golf, and I certainly have no intention of taking it up now.

So, I'll never get to be a CEO of anything but my own life.

Hey, that die was cast long ago.

No, I've really never had any inclination to take up the game.

But my father was a golfer. Both of my brothers golf. One of my sisters took it up a year or so ago. My brothers-in-laws all pay golf. I have two young nieces who play a bit. Not to mention oodles of cousins and friends. My husband's family is part owner of a golf course in the western part of Massachusetts, having long ago converted their tobacco farm to a course 40+ years ago.

So while I just don't have the concentrated mindset for it, or any interest in it whatsoever, I do understand the plot.

When we were kids, one of the big outings was going out with my father to watch him hit a bucket of balls. (We all got an ice cream cone out of it.)

I don't recall if he put on his golf shoes to hit a bucket of balls, but I do remember exactly what his golf shoes were: they were a pair of his not-quite-the-best-but-still-with-some-life-in-them brown, Florsheim wingtips to which he had had affixed a set of spikes.

Did purpose-driven golf shoes even exist in the sixties, or did everyone roll - make that spike - their own?

I don't usually think much about golf - let alone about golf shoes. (If I gave them any thought at all it would be filed in there with boring, uptight golf-clothing.)  But I was talking with my friend and colleague Jeff-the-PR-guy the other day, and he told me that he'd been to a big golf trade show in Las Vegas.

And he was there with a friend who's the founder of a company called Golf Gators, which bills itself as "the ultra casual golf shoe company."

Let's hear it for ultra casual.

The designs that CEO/founder Michael Ray has come up with include flip-flops with spikes and mock-Crocs with spikes. (I couldn't pull a shot of the Croc-like spikes ospacklerff the web - darn that Flash - but I did snag a shot of the flip-flops, here posed pedal-to-the-metal of a golf cart.

As you can see, these aren't just any old flip-flops, but are the sturdy, quasi-shoe-ish type with actual heft and arch support. (I guess the spikes would go right for the kind of flip-flops you get at the beach variety store for 59 cents.

They also feature - shades of the flip-flops with the built-in church key I posted about on Opinionated Marketers a while back - have a golf tee in the heel.

Ergonomically designed from space age anti-microbial materials, the whole spring line-up from Golf Gators offers the support, stability, and traction needed to get around even the toughest course with ease, style and just a hint of attitude.

These flip-flops, called the Spackler (whatever) will sell for around $40, and from a Golf Gators press release I found online, we learn:

“There have been some novelty golf flip flops, and a few that were designed for 19th hole, but only Golf Gators’ Spackler’s will take you through the first 18 in comfort and style.” said Michael Ray, CEO of Golf Gators.

Surprisingly - given that they look like more shoe to me - the mock-Crocs will retail for $29.99. They, too, have the built in tee caddy in the heel.

“We're not talking about the PGA tour here, and we're not looking to replace anyone’s golf shoes, but if you go out to your muni at 6:30 on a weeknight, you’ll likely see more than a few guys wearing flip flops. We’re just trying to make that guy more comfortable,” said Ray.

I'm guessing 'that guy' will bear more resemblance to Bill Murray in Caddy Shack than he will to the guy in the Tiger Wood's gear swinging a Callaway. I'm picturing baggy shorts and the type of shirt a parrot-head would wear to a Jimmy Buffett concert maybe.

Anyway, they look like fun - and (support and stability questions aside) they sure look like they'd be practical for a duffer who spends any time in sand traps or water hazards.

And what's even more fun that just looking at them is that thought that golfers wearing them will probably annoy the heck out of those serious golf types who have everything Phil Mickelson does - accept his game.


Having posted about cowboy shirts two days ago, so concludes Pink Slip's Fall Fashion Week.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

No Belles of St. Mary's: the nun beauty contest gets canceled

Other than a brief flirtation with the idea when I was in third grade, a flirtation evidenced mostly by my choice of a Halloween costume that year, I never really wanted to be a nun.

American martyr, dying while defending The Church against invading Commies, yes; but enter the convent: NO.

Instead, by the time I was in high school, I was doing the opposite of what we were all advised. I wasn't praying for a vocation, I was praying against one. I didn't want to shave my head, wear a funny outfit, leave my family, and have absolutely no control over what I was doing, where I was going, or who I was with on a regular basis. Plus - other than in The Bells of St. Mary's, a movie in which Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) and Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) were antiseptic sweethearts, more or less, you didn't get to have a boyfriend. Not that I had a boyfriend in high school, but I wouldn't have minded having one. (And, by the way, Sister Benedict had to die of TB for the sin of being kind of crushy with Father O.)

But Catholic high schools were feeders, contributing girls to the vocation funnel, and a number of girls from my high school "went in."

One of the school year "highlights" - it was a kinder, gentler time and we were less demanding of what constituted entertainment , plus we liked anything that got us out of class for a while - was the assembly when the girl or girls from our school who'd entered the convent the year before came back on what was more or less a recruitment drive.

They'd be introduce to a standing ovation, then tell us all about how much fun they had - basketball games, sundae parties - and what a swell place the novitiate was.

Afterwards, the nuns would talk it up and drop hints about who they thought had a vocation - all underscored by the dire warning that if you had a vocation and you deliberately ignored it, you were going to regret it for the rest of your inevitably miserable life.

Who among us might have a vocation?

"It's the ones you'd least expect," they'd tell us.

It was never, in fact, the ones you'd least expect.

The ones you'd least expect had bleached streaks in their hair; wore eye makeup; smoked in uniform at Leno's after school (a high crime and misdemeanor); drank Tango Screwdrivers; and went parking at Bancroft Tower with their boyfriends. They drove Mustangs, wore Pappagallo shoes that matched their Villager outfits, and carried Bermuda bags. They didn't have to work during the summer  - they went to the Cape and got tans. They didn't have to work during the school year much, either.

Who cared if they got C's on their report cards?

No one, that's who.

Who needed A's? They had money and boyfriends.

Trust me: these girls never went in.

But it wasn't necessarily the rosary-swinging, pious prig, goody-two-shoes, either.

The girls who entered the convent from my high school class were both all-round, nice, normal, attractive-enough (i.e., they looked like everybody else who wasn't one of the school knock-outs) girls. I wasn't really good friends with either of them, but I could just as well have been moderately friendly with them if they'd gone to my grammar school or sat next to me the first day of school.

Maria was out within a year. Peggy, as far as I know, is still "in". (I get fund raising appeals from the order of nuns who staffed the schools I attended, and I've seen Peggy in the newsletters.)

So I was very interested in an article from the Boston Globe my sister Trish (that's my sister-sister, not a nun-sister) sent me on a beauty contest an Italian priest was organizing for nuns.

Prompted by the suggestions of some nuns he works with, and hoping to drum up interest in vocations, Father Antonio Rungi was setting up to run a "Miss Sister 2008" contest, starting this month, hoping to:

...give nuns from around the world a chance to showcase their work and their image.

Rungi was going to have nuns fill in a profile about their life, work, and vocation - and to send in a photo (veil optional).

"We are not going to parade nuns in bathing suits," Rungi said by telephone from his town of Mondragone. "But being ugly is not a requirement for becoming a nun. External beauty is gift from God, and we mustn't hide it."

Once he got the candidates online, Rungi was then planning on having folks vote on their favorite.

Alas, as reported by the BBC, Father Rungi's plans didn't really have a prayer of a chance.

"My superiors were not happy. The local bishop was not happy, but they did not understand me either," Father Rungi told Reuters news agency...

"It was interpreted as more of a physical thing," he said. "Now, no one is saying that nuns can't be beautiful, but I was thinking about something more complete."

Given that Italy is home to the Calendario Romano, which for the last few years has published a calendar featuring an assortment of cutie-pie, beefcake, and charm-boy priests, one would think there'd be ample room for a beauty contest for nuns.

But I guess it's just another way in which women are treated in certain quarter as second class citizens.

I first saw the priest calendar when my sister Kath (that's my sister-sister, not a nun-sister) brought one back from a trip to Rome. Not speaking any Italian, priest calendar we assumed that the calendar was a joke. But given the universal language of soulful and angelic looking young men, who appeared to represent the majority of the priests-of-the month in the calendar that Kath bought, we assumed that the calendar was a gay joke.

T'ain't necessarily so, the Italian-speaking, gay friend we passed it on to, told us. It could still be a joke, but as far as he could tell, the priest calendar was the real thing - someone's idea that a good way to promote the priesthood was to publish a calendar of handsome priests.

So, while there don't appear to be any opportunities for beauty-queen-in-the-making nuns anytime soon, model priests who are interested in a sideline as a pinup can apply to get their handsome mug on the 2010 Calendar.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Jack Weil: the creator of the cowboy-shirt-as-we-know-it rides into the sunset

The Economist always comes through with something of interest, and last week it was an obituary for Jack Weil, founder of Rockmount westernwear, who was pretty much the creator of the cowboy shirt as we know it: the ones with the snap fasteners instead of buttons, the trim fit, and the yokes.

I was not aware until I read the obit that, prior to 1946, cowboy shirts like this didn't exist.

Which, I suppose, shouldn't have surprised me. The Cartwrights on Bonanza didn't wear any duded up cowboy shirts. The one shirt each they did have, which seemed to last them the entire run of the series, were like any old LL Bean or Cabela's shirt - only with even more staying power.

And I just googled Tom Mix and William S. Hart, those old time, silent movie cowboys, and neither of them had on a classic cowboy shirt in their wikipedia pictures.

No, Jack Weil came up with those touches that have become synonymous with the cowboy shirt - some practical (those snap buttons left no button holes to get caught on a steer horn), and some decorative (embroidered designs).

And Jack Weil - what a buckaroo - died at the age of 107 pretty much with his boots on: he worked at his store up until the end.

There's a lot to admire about Jack and his Rockmount business.

It's in downtown Denver, where it's always been and where it's always gonna be. (No suburban strip mall - just a cool old 1908 building.)

Three generations of Weils have been involved in the business.

And their shirts are made in the good old USA.

ROCKMOUNT is one of the last predominantly US made brands. The company feels that its look is American and so should be its product. Being domestic gives it an advantage over the others because fashion moves fast. Now with the internet, fashion moves at the speed of thought. While other brands take months to get to market, ROCKMOUNT can develop new designs in a week, be in the stores in 6 weeks.

The shirts, while not cheap, don't cost and arm and a leg, either. (Or maybe the world has gotten so out of control I don't think an $80 cowboy shirt is all that pricey.)

While Rockmount's shirts are worn by a lot of non-cowboys - including many musicians - and while a lot of them are gussied up, they were designed to be both fashionable and practical.

Jack A. was motivated to develop a distinctive look for cowboys, ranchers and farmers living in the American West. They had special boots and hats but wore ordinary work shirts. Jack A's special shirt styles have many features different from conventional shirts. His ROCKMOUNT shirts are slim fitting to accentuate the body, whereas conventional shirts were boxy. A better fitting shirt is less likely to get caught or snagged while riding the range. The shirt yokes broaden a man's shoulders. The flap pockets fasten to better hold their contents. The snap fasteners have a break away function to let loose if the shirt got caught, and hold more permanently than buttons. Can you imagine a cowboy who likes to sew? [Note: Jack A is the elder. His son, who also seems to have died this year, was Jack B.]

Lots of famous people have worn Rockmount shirts - movie stars, rockers, and at least one president (Ronald Reagan: say what you will about the Gipper, he looked pretty fine in his cowboy shirt). There are lots of celebrity shots on the Rockmount siPapa Jackte. Alas, the one of Henry Kissinger shows him at the Rockmount facility - but not wearing a Rockmount shirt.

Given that Dr. K wasn't wearing, here's a picture of a Rockmount shirt, as worn by the late Jack Weil (who, like President Reagan,  looked pretty spiffy in his cowboy shirt. And note the bolo tie. While we can praise Jack for the popularization (and urbanization) of the cowboy shirt, he's the one to blame for the creation of the first commercially available bolo tie.

Of course, Rockmount shirts weren't always made for ridin' and ropin' or moseyin' or cowpokin' around.

ROCKMOUNT's magic in popularizing western wear was an appeal to vanity. Cowboys have a strong independent identity and want to be different. Jack A. offered them a special fashion statement. Not so much to be worn while they worked the ranch but to make them stand apart from city slickers when they come to town. These western shirts are dress-up finery, to be worn on Saturday night in town or at the rodeo.

But if you want to see what a real cowboy shirt (not to mention a real cowboy) actually looked like, check out this from Doug and Marna Jean Davis' Shooting Star Enterprise.

So much for the romance of the range - just a toothless, unshaven, no doubt odiferous old coot in a crummy looking (probably none too clean) shirt.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Working at NECCO - that's one sweet job

The Boston Globe  publishes occasional articles on odd jobs, and the one the other day was especially interesting to me.

The article (by Cindy Atoji Keene) profiled Jeff Green, who's in charge of research and quality for the NECCO company, a venerable old New England institution and one that's delightfully retro when it comes to their offerings: NECCO wafers, Sky Bars, and Sweethearts. (Not to mention Mary Janes and Squirrel Nuts, which I think they acquired from the buy-out of another Cambridge candy company.)


It's now located in Revere, Massachusetts, but until recently the NECCO factory was just outside of Central Square in Cambridge, right next to the MIT campus. Having gone to grad school, and later worked, in the area, I loved the cloying sweet-spicy smell that the factory gave off, and still miss it when I happen to be around those parts. (I may be wrong, but I think the NECCO site has been replaced by something bio-tech. Which is, of course, progress.)

And although they were by no means my favorite candy - which was and always will be M&M's, followed closely by Good and Plenty, the non-pareil, and the Hershey's Kiss - I have a fond spot for NECCO products in my increasingly nostalgic heart.

Sky Bars, which combine four different merged together chocolates, gave you variety. More important, from a kid's point of view, it gave you splitability. If you or your friend had a nickel, you could buy a Sky Bar and split it four ways. You may not have gotten your first choice, but you got something that was physically equal to what everyone else got.

NECCO Wafers also gave you variety, and even more share-ability than a Sky Bar, but they were primarily useful as the source of fake communion wafers when you played Mass.  You just separated out the white ones, and away you went. Sure, they had a different flavor than an actual communion wafer. And they were a lot more brittle.  But it's not as if anyone were going to give us real communion wafers to play with - especially in those heretical scenarios in which a girl played the priest. NECCO Wafers were, however, the right shape and size. Plus they had the benefit of not sticking to your teeth or to the roof of your tongue. Not that it would have been a mortal sin to use your finger to dislodge a stuck NECCO Wafer, but still... It seems as if the church could have used some of the properties of the NECCO Wafer when they came up with their design.

I also liked the Sweethearts, chalky and bland, but with a message on them: B MINE, I LUV U, and - if I remember this right - OH YOU KID.

My favorite New England Confectionary Company confection was the Candy Cupboard boxed chocolate assortment, which came into our home seasonally/occasionally, somewhat interchangeably with a Whitman Sampler or a box of Hebert's Candy Mansion candy as a house gift - whatever you could pick up at the drugstore, I assume. I liked Candy Cupboard because of the patchwork lettering design on the cover. Because it didn't scream the company's name, it was useful as a treasure box. (Admittedly, the Whitman Sampler box was better constructed.)

In his job, Jeff Green gets to eat "up to 2 pounds of candy every day."

Even to a sweet-toother like me, that gets the old stomach churning.

But, as Green says, "'You learn to spit after a while.'"

Like everything else, the candy-biz is competitive, and NECCO is always testing out new products to augment it's classic lines.

Right now, they're experimenting with "a mix of crunchy real chai tea centers covered by dark and milk chocolate."

Sounds more interesting than a NECCO Wafer, that's for sure. (But can it top a fresh, soft, chewy Squirrel Nut.)

Green is constantly experimenting, trying out different flavor combinations, working with flavor or ingredient vendors to create new concoctions. He mixes small experimental candy batches in an electric fry pot and larger quantities in a 25-gallon kettle. "The only flavor that doesn't work for my palate is liver," he says.

"I'm playing around with things here that you can't even imagine. I'm even experimenting with french fries, ketchup, and hot dogs. I'm not actually putting chocolate on hot dogs, but I'm looking at the seasoning blend of hot dogs, as well as chili and other things. After all, there are no boundaries - what doesn't go with sugar? Already out on the marketplace, there's chocolate with bacon, dark chocolate with curry, and other interesting twists. Sweet and savory mix well."

Well, hot dog is better than liver in my book, but I can't really see either that or chocolate with bacon. Curry might be a possibility.

A number of interesting things popped out of this article, including that products that don't get sold and waste elements that drop on the floor sometimes gets fed to livestock.

Any why not? If chocolate makes for contented humans, why not contented cows?

Which Green may know something about, since he started out handling quality control for a meat company.

R&D technicians and quality assurance techs can, according to Green, earn decent money, starting out in the $30's, and making over $100K once they've gotten considerable experience.

And, for the most part - or so it seems to me - food production has not yet been as fully off-shored as some other industries.

One of the benefits of Green's job - which presumably didn't exist when he worked in the meat plant - is that he gets to give out real Sky Bars and NECCO Wafer rolls on Halloween. ("None of those little miniature-sized candies. You wouldn't believe how the kids' eyes light up. I'll do it again this year.")

Some things never change - I can still remember how much happier I was to see someone tossing a full sized candy bar into the trick-or-treat bag, as opposed to a couple of minis - or, worse, a little paper bag with a some candy corn or hard candies in them. (What a waste! My mother made us throw anything unwrapped, along with lollipops for some reason, out.)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day, 2008

Q.  How can a blogger devoted (at least nominally) to things related to work not take Labor Day off?

A.  She can't.

Happy Labor Day to all the blue collar, white collar, pink collar, green color, and no collar workers in the U.S.  Especially those who still work by the sweat of their brow. Especially those who are working long hours for short pay. Especially those who got pink slipped over the past year.