Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And now, reporting for and on BP…

Hey, I’m in marketing.

True, I’m on the side of true dat, black and white, ‘what’s it do and how does it do it?’ marketing, but still…

But when you work in marketing, or PR, or corporate communications, there will be times when you have to put a little spin on the old curve ball that you’ve been handed.  (Try marketing an OS2-based product after OS2’s pictured on the cover of InfoWeek in a casket with a lily on top of it, why don’t you…)

Given a lemon, or even a bottle of ReaLemon juice, some days you just have to suck it up and make that pitcher of lemonade.

But you still want to be able to look yourself in the mirror every third day of so. Which means you need to avoid going out of your way to make a damned lemon meringue pie out of it.

Which to some extent is what BP has at its corps of in-house “journalists” doing.

There was a story on BP’s reporting (for an in-house rag called Planet BP, as well as on a blog by BP-styled “BP reporter” Tom Seslar on what’s going on down in the Gulf) in a WSJ Online post by Benoit Faucon last week.

The big howler that’s pointed out is certainly a lemon meringue pie in the face, given the environmental and economic devastation that BP’s slack standards and risky business model brought about. This from one of Seslar’s reports:

“Much of the region’s [nonfishing boat] businesses — particularly the hotels — have been prospering because so many people have come here from BP and other oil emergency response teams,” another report says. Indeed, one tourist official in a local town makes it clear that “BP has always been a very great partner of ours here…We have always valued the business that BP sent us.”

Okay. This has got to be among the Top Ten Most Ludicrous Spins placed on the disaster. (Right up with BP’s nobly  putting aside the money they make on the trace amount of oil – 20,000 – 30,000 barrels a day – they’re recovering, for the National Wildlife Foundation.)

So I was all set to join the punditry – including my MFN (most favorite newsperson) Rachel Maddow – and  heap on Tom Seslar, BP’s flack, for the nonsense spewing from his keyboard almost as rapidly as the endless crude gushing from the well. But then I read his blog, which is obviously on the spin cycle, but isn’t exactly deranged or imbecilic. (Although there is a completely corn-pone piece on his encounter with a wise old Houston cab-driver that, while it may not make the Top Ten Most Ludicrous Spins list, is definitely lame-o.) And then I read that he’s been with BP for nearly 40 years, and was a reporter for a few years before that.

Which probably puts Tom Seslar somewhere in his 60’s, so my naturally sympathetic tendencies naturally fell into place. Thus, instead of jumping on the this guy’s a bad journalist bandwagon, on which there’s no room, anyway, I decided to set up my own little bandwagon, and make up my own little story about Tom Seslar.

He’s pre-Lou Grant, but he definitely grew up wanting to be a journalist. Maybe he was inspired by Clark Kent. He was on the college newspaper, and hit his stride once he got his degree and landed a job with a paper that folks had actually heard of.

But that was tough going, and there was too much chasing ambulances for too little dough,and he wanted to settle down, make a bit more money, start a family. So he went over to corporate, where he got to work on things like the in-house print magazine (where he may have had a by-line), speeches for the VP of Whatever, and other communications pieces.

Sure, over the years he sometimes felt like the Willy Loman of the journalism world. Or like Terry Malloy, the Marlon Brando character in On the Waterfront, who “could have been a contender.” So Tom never won the Pulitzer Prize, or broke the big story, but he got to do what he likes to do, which is write. And so what if it was mostly drab and anonymous stuff on the guys who work on the new oil rig in the Hebrides; or the 10,000th BP gas station that opened in East Gum Shoe, Oklahoma; or the sweet little secretary who retired after 50 years. It was a living. He liked the company well enough to stay there for 37 years. And there’s always the novel in the desk drawer…

Tom’s not ready to retire quite yet – hey, he’s only in his 60’s. Maybe he’s got a kid still in college. Maybe he likes to work. Maybe he thinks it’s cool that after all those years on in-house stuff, he gets to write a blog. Maybe he sincerely believes that the company is trying to make good, and will make good. Hell, he’s spent his lifetime there. Does he want to even consider for a moment that he’s spent those 37 years working for the worst company in the history of mankind. Which, bad as it is, BP obviously isn’t. (It’s not like they’re producing Zyklon-B or using slave-laborers.)

Then all of a sudden, Tom Seslar gets his 15 minutes of fame. He’s the man on the scene. It’s almost like he’s an actual reporter. Then he finds himself being made fun of in the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, the CJR (Columbia Journalism Review), and MSBNC.

Me, I feel for the guy.

He didn’t cause the Gulf debacle, and while BP is certainly being shown to be greedy, shoddy, and tone-deaf, it’s not as if Tom Seslar’s a good German just following orders. He’s just a guy working for a big, greedy, shoddy, tone-deaf company. (Plenty more where that came from.)

To quote from one of my favorite bards, Bill Morrissey:

He ain’t the last, he ain’t the first.
He ain’t the best, he ain’t the worst.

(Actually, I’m paraphrasing here. In Married for Money “he’s” really “she”.)

I may have this entirely wrong. Maybe Tom Seslar is a really slick, corrupt, terrible, dishonest person doing his best to cover up for BP in its hour of travesty. But I don’t think so.

He’s just a guy writing for a living. Ain’t no one reading his work who doesn’t know he’s working for BP. It’s not like his articles are appearing anywhere as neutral journalism. (At least I hope they’re not.) Sure calling himself a reporter sounds like a trope, but maybe that’s how he’s thought of himself all these years.

I’m not suggesting that we get off of  BP’s back, of course. That we have to stay on. But Tom Seslar? Why don’t we just leave the guy alone.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Making life simpler, easier, and just plain better, one Bounce at a time

I’ve only seen it a couple of times – and I couldn’t find it on YouTube for a replay – but my current favorite TV ad is the one in which a “real person” extols the virtues of the Bounce Dryer Bar.

Haven’t heard of the Bounce Dryer Bar? Well, neither had I until I saw this ad. Now, thankfully, I know what it is.  It’s something you stick on the side of your clothes dryer in lieu of using dryer sheets to eliminate static – and ensure that your clothing smells “outdoor fresh,” “fresh linen,” “spring fresh,” or “fresh lavender.” If you just want your clothing to smell like, well, clothing, you use “free.”  Which is what I use. Who wants the repeated shocks that fabric that hasn’t been softened up produce in the dead of winter? So I do admit/confess to using dryer sheets. I just don’t want the artificial, chemical additive version of life that marketers have convinced us means “fresh.”

But the Bounce Dryer Bar?

Who knew that it was so onerous to have to toss in  a dryer sheet with every load?

Well, the Bounce scientists at P&G apparently did.

So they invented the Dryer Bar.

Which, to hear the woman in the Bounce ad testify, just makes doing laundry a whole heck of a lot easier, simpler, more convenient, less time consuming, less nerve-wracking.  Your benefit goes here.

Naturally, this got me thinking about just how much of an enervating drag the dryer sheet process is that someone would belly up to the Bar so effusively.

So the other day, when I did a couple of loads of laundry, I estimated just how much time it took, and just how inconvenient it was, to throw in a dryer sheet.

I don’t have a stop watch, and my watch doesn’t have a second hand, but using the “one-mississippi” method, I estimate that it took one second to get the box off of the shelf, one second to take out two sheets, and then a combined one second per load to get them in and out of the dryer.

Total time for using dryer sheets for two loads of wash done back to back: four seconds.

Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but if I do this twice a week, over the course of a year, it all ads up: 4 x 2 x 52 = 416 seconds per year, of nearly 7 minutes.

What I couldn’t do with that seven minutes, I tell you.

Make a cup of tea. Read a couple of “Talk of the Town” pieces in the The New Yorker. Start going through my sock drawer.

And I’m just doing wash for two clean adults. For a family of four, I bet someone could tote up a good twenty or thirty minutes in time savings.

I know, I know. It’s like the one about nine women pregnant for one month each thinking they could make a baby: you don’t get the entire seven, twenty, or thirty minutes in one block. And four seconds per laundry episode is hard to take advantage of for something productive.

You could always, however, do something non-productive, like stare off into space.

I do want to make a fair comparison here, because the Bounce Dryer Bar – which lasts 2-4 months, depending on number of loads and dryer heat – does have some start up costs.

Although I bet it takes bit longer, I’ll give it two seconds to take the Bounce Dryer Bar package off the shelf and open it up. Here’s where the first snag hits: it takes 15 seconds worth of firm pressing to attach the bar’s holder to the side of the dryer. You don’t have to replace the holder every time the bar starts reading “REPLACE”, but still, it does contribute to the total cost of ownership. As does the possibility – all over the web – that the bar crumbles and you have to pick it out of your laundry, then rub the stains it causes out with a bar of soap.

If you’re lucky, however, that won’t happen, and you’ll get your return on time investment pretty darned quickly.

With the take off the shelf, press against dryer, and insert bar in holder, I’m guessing start up costs of about 20 seconds.

So, a few loads into it – based on my estimate of eight seconds per week – you’re at break-even in two and a half weeks.

Assuming the bar lasts three months, and adding a couple of seconds on to the total for sticking your head in the dryer a couple of times to see if it says REPLACE yet, over the course of that three months you’ve saved quite a tidy sum worth of seconds.

With my traditional dryer sheet approach, I’ve used up 104 seconds of precious time, while the canny Bounce Dryer Bar user has only expended 24 seconds.


These things must be flying off the shelves!

I don’t know what the cost differential is in terms of dollars, but on time savings alone, I’ve done enough ROI exercises in my time (justifying spending big bucks on software with no clear benefits) to know a winner when I see one.

Add to that the softer benefit, which the woman in the ad brings up, of not having to worry about running out of dryer sheets.

I’d forgotten about that one!

Man, the amount of time  and energy I’ve devoted to fretting about whether that box on the shelf only has one sheet left in it or – worse yet – is actually empty…I can tell you, many the toss-and-turn night I’ve awoken in a 2 a.m. sweat, wondering whether there’s a dryer sheet for the load I want to do first thing in the morning. So, I have to get up and out of my nice, warm, comfy bed and pad on over to the hall closet where I keep the laundry stuff,to inventory my dryer sheets. No sheets? I’m not going to say no problem. What I am going to say is I’m now facing a big decision.

Do I run out in the middle of the night – does the 24/7 CVS down the street even carry dryer sheets – or do I wait until morning?

Or can I just let it go, throw caution to the winds, risk electrocution, and end up sprinkling perfectly dry clothing with water to get rid of the static in my sheets?

Thank you, P&G, for the Bounce Dryer Bar, which I only have to worry about every few months, rather than every living, breathing, laundry day.  I still haven’t decided whether I’ll try one out – I do worry about things like concentrated chemicals in a hot environment. (I also worry about those plug in air fresheners…) Still, I welcome the Bounce Dryer Bar to the market.

Some might say that this is but an infinitesimally small and marginal improvement, and I’ll concede that they may have a point.

Certainly, it’s not the advance that the wringer-washer was over the zinc tub and scrub board. Or that the automated washer was over the wringer-washer. (I know whereof I speak. I remember when we upgraded from a wringer-washer – you had to run the wash through a hand-cranked roller to wring the water out – to one with a spin cycle.)

And the dryer was certainly an improvement over hanging clothing out of doors. I remember that upgrade, too. It was one that actually had an impact on my life. I was too young to have operated the roller-washer, but I spent many hours hanging laundry out, and taking it down.

So I know up close and personal that the dryer was an improvement over hanging things out – other than in one respect (other than the big kahuna of energy savings). Clothing hung outside smells better.

It actually smells like “outdoor fresh,” “spring fresh”, and “fresh linen.” Without the chemical additives that go into the Bounce products (bar or sheet).

Smell-test aside, if the Bounce Dryer Bar is a big improvement, a major life simplifier, might it be argued that our lives are just too darned cushy to begin with?


What is our obsession with things smelling Madison Avenue defined “fresh”?

In addition to the Bounce Dryer Bar, Bounce is giving us new and advanced dryer sheets that come in two scents, Paradise Thrill and Renewing Rain.  Let’s have the P&G marketers tell us a bit of what these products can do for us:

Want to experience a little bit of paradise? Now you can with Bounce® Awakenings Paradise Thrill! Paradise Thrill is infused with Renew-Refresh scent beads that renew the freshness of your clothes as you move, so you can enjoy the unique blend of fresh citrus, floral, and green scents throughout your day! Awaken ordinary moments™ with the intense and long-lasting freshness of Bounce® Awakenings™ Paradise Thrill™!


Awaken ordinary moments™ with the modern, fresh, watery scents of Bounce® Awakenings Renewing Rain! Take a moment to enjoy the fresh exhilaration of this light, yet long-lasting, scent that renews the freshness of your clothes with Renew-Refresh scent beads as you move throughout your day!

Can it we healthy for our bodies or the environment to have chemmy little scent beads time-releasing on us?  One more reason not to rue the day I chose B2B tech over consumer marketing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

P-O’d about an IPO? Been there, done that.

There was a brief article in the NY Times the other day on the fortunes of this year’s IPO market. Given that a couple of folks near and dear to me have an oar in this particular water, I read the article with some interest. Nothing substantial in it: this year’s better than last, the market for IPO’s is still jumpy, good offerings will do well. It kind of reminded me of an article I saw years ago on the financial pages somewhere or other, in which some magus predicted that the market would go up, go down, or stay the same. (Wish I could get paid a pundits wages…)

The article did, however, remind me that this week Genuity alumni celebrate that tenth anniversary of the company’s spectacularly failed IPO – the greatest failure in history, up until then, or so we were told. Definitely one of the worst IPO’s of what was a dot.bombingly dismal year.

Not that I expected to get rich-rich, but, like everyone else in the company, I spun out a bit of “what if” analysis.

After all, as a director, I had quite a few options.

And certainly, in that long-ago time, before the go-go years went going, going, gone, the expectation that the options could yield a modest gain of ten bucks per was not unreasonable. Sometimes I let myself dream even bigger.

Then there was the IPO itself, and the chance to augment those options with a bit of friends and family.

At first I dithered around about investing. Surely those options would be enough…

But then I decided – little miss goody-two shoes manager – that, as a director leading a large and growing team, I really had to show faith in the company.  Over tea with a friend, we talked about what we were willing to risk, and we both came up with the not so magic number of $11,000. Which represented 1,000 shares at the favored nation, pre-IPO share price of $11.

A few days before we had to sign up, there was an article in The Boston Globe on the complexities of the Genuity offering. The company was an Internet Services Provider that had to be spun out of the parent company, Verizon, for some convoluted regulatory reason. The article warned, “This one’s for the pros.”

Well, the pros pretty much avoided it. We amateurs, on the other hand…

I can’t remember what the deal was, but I think you could purchase pre-IPO shares worth up to half of your income. An “opportunity” that a lot of my colleagues took “advantage” of.

For weeks on end, you couldn’t pass a fax machine without seeing an application for a second mortgage being sent.  I knew folks who cashed in their kids’ college funds. One friend, who had taken a pass on a friends and family opportunity at AOL a few year earlier, wasn’t going to miss out this time. He and his wife both worked for Genuity, and they went for the max – an amount well in excess of $100K in shares.

The great day neared. Whatever the IPO’s outcome, it was slated to be The First Day of the Rest of Our Life as a company. Speculation about speculation was rife. But the unsettling under currents were starting to flow. Was the smart money in or out? Time would tell – and it did, along with the realization that the Rest of Our Life as a company would be nasty, brutish, and short.

We had to sign some type of commitment letter to purchase our shares, and the night before IPO day, agents from Smith Barney called to confirm the purchase.

When I asked what the offer was going to go out at, the Smith Barnoid gave me a figure that was less than what the company had told us it was aiming for. I asked whether this meant that the book had not been sold. Oh, no, she assured me. All was lookin’ good.

I’m not 100% sure, but I believe that Genuity got to ring the bell at the opening of the market on our day.

Talk about for whom the bell tolls.

I learned a lot about non-verbal communications that day.

By noon, no one needed to say word one.

Those who had gone big were the gaunt, gray-faced, ones cradling their heads in their hands. The ones looking relieved had missed the call from Smith Barney to confirm their purchase and were, as it turned out, off the hook, even though they’d signed a commitment letter. The folks trying not to smile were the ones who had taken a pass. For them, this was a win-win. They didn’t lose a dime, plus they didn’t have to eat their hearts, livers, and spleens out while those of us who had paid to play got rich.

Which, of course, would have taken at least six months, since that was the amount of time we had to hold our shares. We might have known when to fold ‘em, but we were required by law to hold ‘em.

We all knew from the opening bell that we’d been gonged.

Trading opened at $11 and proceeded to drop from there. Six months in, I believe the price was approaching zero.

In keeping with the Genuity tradition of over-the-top spending, there was a Big IPO Party planned for late that afternoon, out on The Quad. Champagne, nice eats. And a goodie box to help us commemorate the day.

The boxes held a fleece (how fitting) blanket, an IOU for the polo shirt that was still on order, an instant camera that produced pictures on stamps, noise makers and, even more fitting than the fleece, brightly colored nylon fools caps.

We were all supposed to don our gay apparel, blow on our noisemakers, snap candids of each other celebrating (and wear them on our sleeves), and drink champagne toasts to our good fortune.

Well, that didn’t happen.

Worst, they started to run low on goodie boxes and, in a scene that recalled the Vietnamese leave-behinds grasping at the struts of the last helicopter to take off from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon, employees – fearing they wouldn’t secure a goodie box – stormed the dwindling goodie box pile. The marketing folks – all young women who worked on events and tschotkes – tried to hold back the rabble, or at least limit the take to one per person. Good luck with that, ladies. Boxes were flying over head, and employees were scooping them up and running off, arms full.

This scene topped what was a generally – no surprise here – dispirited event. Our execs tried gamely and lamely to rally the troops. (“Turning this around is in our control…”) But soon enough we knew why our CEO looked so stricken. Alone among senior execs, I believe, he had a million dollars worth of skin in this particular game.

Which, of course, didn’t make him immune to the employee grumblings that they’d been  unconscionably, even immorally led astray by senior management’s pushing the IPO.

Back at Party Central, I sipped a bit of champagne with a colleague who’d gotten his wife’s family in on the friends and family. “My father-in-law didn’t like me to begin with,” he said ruefully.

By Day Two, I’d assessed the lay of this particular land and announced that there weren’t enough office supplies in the cabinets to make the losses up to employees. We were all just going to have to suck it up.

I can’t remember whether this was the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, for Genuity. It could have been both.

Fortunately, our drunken sailor on shore spree days weren’t quite over yet, so I was able to more or less recoup my $11K investment.

That happened the next spring, when I was one of 50 “iLeaders” (don’t ask) invited to join the sales winners circle on their awards trip to Hawaii. One week in paradise, no expense spared, don’t even need to take vacation days? Even the presence of the sales team wasn’t enough to negate that deal.

When I toted up what it must have cost the company to send me and my sister Trish on this jaunt, it came out to be just about $11K (tax free because we all attended one bogus, half-hour breakfast meeting at which a couple of sales winners talked work).

Given the capital loss I was able to take on the $11k stock purchase, I even came out ahead of the game. Who said this IPO was for the pros?

Anyway, all this happy anniversary stuff came to mind when I read about this year’s crop of IPOs.

I wish them all (well, maybe not Booz Allen) the best of fortune – especially the one my near and dear are involved in.

Genuity, of course, is long since gone, living on in the Genuity backpack I carry my laptop in. I use it proudly enough, especially since most people no longer remember anything about its debaclish run as a company. In fact, a couple of months back, while waiting to board my flight to Paris, I was tapped on the back by an old friend from Genu days. She was heading to Paris on business and, sure enough, she was lugging her laptop in her trusty Genuity backpack. Like me, J had been on the Hawaii winners trip. That, plus the nifty backpack? Whatever she had invested in the Genuity IPO, at least she got some of it back…

Friday, June 25, 2010

David Siegel’s Versailles

Just when we thought that the sun had set on stories about the wretched, retch-inducing excess of the go-go years, comes news that there’s a 90,000 square foot “home” for sale in Florida.

For the $75M asking price, you’d think you’d get something broom-clean and in move-in condition but, alas, David Siegel’s Versailles – which was, in fact, begun as the wretched, retch-inducing go-go years drew to a close – is a fixer-upper. (Source for this article:  Wall Street Journal. Content may require subscription. Can’t afford one? Maybe David Siegel can spot you the fee, given all the money he’s saving by not completely Versailles.)  The $75M covers the WYSIWYG. Finishing up is expected to cost another $25M.

Here’s what the pile looks like now – and what you’d be buying ‘as is.’

But here’s what it was supposed to look like.

Personally, I call U-G-L-Y either way.

But I’m not in the market or the mood for a 90,000 square foot house. (And talk about a house is not a home…)

However, just in case you’re in the mood, here’s what’s in the plans:

13 bedrooms, 23 full bathrooms, a 6,000-square-foot master suite (with plans in place for a bed on a rotating platform), a banquet kitchen plus 10 satellite kitchens, a 20-car garage, three pools, a two-story wine cellar and a grand hall with a 30-foot stained glass dome….There’s also a boat house, formal gardens, a baseball field, two tennis courts and a rock grotto with a waterfall, a fitness center, a two-lane bowling alley, a roller rink, a video arcade and a theater.

Well, maybe the Siegels have 12 kids and nobody wants to share a bedroom.  But, basically, I’m thinking what was he thinking?

The baseball field, wine cellar, and roller rink I can see. But what motivates someone to want 10 satellite kitchens? Although who wants to have to walk a quarter of a mile to get a cookie and milk in the middle of the night. (By the way, I’m betting that the bowling alley is big-ball. Siegel doesn’t sound like the candlepin type.)

The master suite is 6,000 square feet, “with plans in place for a bed on a rotating platform”.

Not that there aren’t plenty of times when I wish I had a 6,000 square foot master suite. But that makes it 5 times larger than our entire condo. What must be in that suite? Even if you say 1,000 square feet for the bedroom, and another 2,000 for the requisite his and her bathrooms, his and her walk in closets, and his and her office/sitting room, it’s still a bit hard for me to even begin to imagine the full 6,000 feet.

And don’t get me going on the rotating bed.

Poconos honeymoon/porn star tackiness of it aside, who wants to get up to pee in the middle of the night to pee and have to step out of a rotating bed?

We stayed earlier this week in a lovely old B&B in Connecticut for the night. The four-poster in our bedroom was so high it had little his and hers step stools to get in and out of it. I slept fitfully, fitfully expecting that I was going to end up forgetting I was in a mile-high bed and break an ankle on the way down. At least it wasn’t rotating. Still, who wants a weird-o bed?

Siegel’s selling because his business – Westgate Resorts – is in the doldrums. Westgate does time sharing and resorts, and has properties in all the usual places one might expect resorts run by someone who’d conceive of building a 90,000 square foot home for himself: Orlando, Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, Branson.

“Instead of putting [his extra money] into this home, he’s putting it back into the company to save the employees,” says listing agent of Lorraine Barrett of Coldwell Banker, noting that Mr. Siegel has had to cut some of his 12,000 employees at Orlando-based Westgate Resorts.

With his Versailles on the market, the Siegels are going to have to hang out in their 26,000 square foot starter home, which must be starting to feel like living in an RV, compared to what they were dreaming about. (What, Daddy, no roller rink? I hate you, you big meany!)

No buyer yet, but there have been a few nibbles from – surprise, surprise – Russia and the Middle East.

This one does have Russian oligarch written all over it, doesn’t it?

But given the current climate with respect to immigrants, I would think that foreigners might only be able to come on a temporary visitor visa. Which would make Versailles a vacation home. Which, I guess was what Versailles-Versailles was, no? (No mention if there’s a sheep pasture on the grounds.)

The realtor, has put some deep thought into who might buy:

Ms. Barrett speculates a potential buyer would likely have several children, as well as an estate manger, nannies, a cook and extended family living with them.

Yes, certainly, several children would justify a larger house. And if you have 10 satellite kitchens, you could naturally use a cook.

By the way, if 90,000 sounds a bit too biggish for you – perhaps you’re an empty nester – there are a couple of smaller mega homes for sale: 30,000 square feet in NJ - 19 bedrooms, 12 baths, and a basketball court.  Personally, I don’t like the idea of having to share a bath, but that’s just me.

And there’s a pending on a 48,000 square footer in Bel Air, California. But you know how pendings are these days – that jumbo mortgage could fall through.

In case you’re wondering, David Siegel’s Versailles is a play-house compared to the “real” Versailles, which weighs in at 87,728,720  square feet (according to wikipedia).

But over 200 years after it was built, Versailles is still standing.

Any takers on whether Versailles of Florida will be have avoided the wrecker ball even 50 years out. Unless, of course, it doesn’t get converted to a hotel/school/nursing home or some other socially or commercially useful construct.

(Hope that don’t have any of that sulfur-ridden wallboard in there. I heard that in the Florida damp it starts to smell, plus corrodes all the wiring. Maybe for $75-100M you get plaster walls.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

(Candlepin) bowled over.

I am, to say the least, a crappy bowler.

As with any sports-y thing that requires a bit of concentration – pool, mini-golf – I am completely incapable of sustaining focus. Even when I start off okay – under par on the front nine in mini-golf – I end up blowing up on the back nine. I know the plot alright, and can always tell when someone else is lining their shot up for failure. But I just run out of concentration steam.  Getting it right – if I have to think about it – just never seems worth. It’s not all that interesting to me.

So it is with bowling.

I get, more of less, what you’re supposed to do – and am, in fact, capable of doing it. Sometimes.

Thus, my scores (with or without side bumpers) for big- ball- bowling tend to run along the lines of nine or ten for one frame, followed by a zero or one in the next.

I’m sure that averaging one game of bowling per year doesn’t help me out much, but I think the max I’ve ever scored in big ball bowling is between 110 and 120.

I don’t know what my max is for candlepins, but I clearly remember my minimum: a score of 13, the first time I went bowling, when I was in 7th grade, with the Junior Catholic Daughters of America. (Boy, is it hard to believe I was ever a member of an organization that was spawned by the Knights of Columbus, but there you have it.)

If you’re reading this and you did not grow up in New England, you may be asking yourself just what candlepin bowling is. But if you look at the picture to your right, you’ll see that the pins are straighter (tapered only at the ends) and smaller than those used in big-ball-bowling. And, from the size of the ball, you can see why us native candle-pinners call the other kind big-ball-bowling.

The ball in candlepin, well, it can almost be cradled in the palm of your hand.

Another difference is that, in candlepin, the downed pins aren’t swept away between rolls. They’re left where they are. So your follow up shots use the wood on the ground to fell the pins that are still standing. Also, in candlepin, you get three rolls per frame, not two. (All of this explains why, when I’ve been big-ball bowling, I’ve been confused. Didn’t you used to get three rolls? Didn’t there used to be deadwood pins left to play off of?)

This, of course, may make it sound easier than in big-ball-bowling.

But it’s not.

While perfect games are a dime a dozen in big-ball-bowling - (Okay. They’re not a dime a dozen when I bowl, but tens of thousands of perfect games have been recorded.)  - there’s never, ever, ever been a perfect game played in candlepin.

The record, according to the International Candlepin Bowling Association stands at 245, since the invention – or was it the discovery – of candlepin bowling in (ta-DA) Worcester, Massachusetts, late in the 19th century. (Of all the fabulosity that’s come out of the Heart of the Commonwealth – the liquid fuel rocket, the diner, the smiley face – candlepin bowling is right up there.)

Candlepin bowling alleys outnumber big-ball-bowling alleys by 3 to 1 in these parts. (Source for this an further info: Boston Globe Magazine article on candlepin bowling from a while back.)

Is it any wonder that a game in which perfection is seemingly impossible would take hold in New England?

What with the Puritan heritage and wave upon wave of Catholic immigrant groups filling our cities and our bowling alleys… Talk about the folks who not only wouldn’t think perfection is attainable here on earth, they wouldn’t want anyone to attain perfection here on earth. Certainly not the guy in the next alley, that’s for sure.

The Globe article reminisced about the good old days when we had multiple weekly candlepin bowling shows on the air, including Candlepin Bowling and it’s first-cousin, Candlepins for Cash. (They failed to mention the unsavory detail that one of the hosts –initials: BG: I don’t want to use his name -  of Candlepins for Cash  is now in federal prison for buying kiddy-porn online.  But we won’t let that take away from the glories of candlepin bowling.)

Even more lamentable, well after Candlepin Bowling went off the air in 1996, the last remnant of televised candlepin was dumped by Comcast last year. (I hadn’t heard. Perhaps if more of us had known…)

Worse yet, most dire:

At the end of last year, the pro tour folded.

Does this mean that there will be no more professional candlepin bowlers? One more buggy-whipped profession?

Maybe not quite yet:

Already, some of the best young bowlers in the game have stepped in to save the sport by reinventing it. If they have their way, the new era of candlepin begins now.

That would be guys like John Zappi who, with a couple of 20 and 30-something buds, has re-invented the tournament game, making it livelier, more exciting, and quicker than the old everybody bowl 10 strings approach. (Go read the article for the details on this livelier, more exciting, and quicker approach.)

While the bowlers themselves are out organizing a new pro tour, Bob Parrella  - of Paramount Industries, the last company that still makes candlepin bowling balls – is trying to get some TV interest going.

Unfortunately, no one will be interested unless they find a way to lower the geezer demographic of those willing to sit around at home on a Saturday afternoon and watch candlepin bowling.

In the old days, this was not much of a problem. There was less to do in general. There was certainly less on television. Everyone, at one point of another, logged some time in front of the TV – probably before or after Killer Kowalski or Bruno San Martino or Andre the Giant wrestled – watching candlepin bowling.

However, no adults in my house growing up watched it.

I just can’t conceive of either of my parents watching bowling on TV, even if one of the many rotten jobs my father had had as a kid was as a pin-setter in a candlepin bowling alley. At least I think the alley was candlepin. It was, after all, in Worcester.

So the demographic used to skew younger, that’s for sure.

But Parrella believes that, in order to woo in the younger folks, bowling alleys are gong to have to modernize a bit and get the kiddoes playing candlepin.

He’s calling for bumper lanes in candlepin alleys. (Where were they when I needed them?) Electronic scoring. Something called “glow-bowling”. (Don’t know what they is, but it sounds like fun.)

“Too many [bowling center owners] say, ‘The old is charming. The old is what customers like.’ That’s because they’re old,” Parrella barks. “How many kids want to go to a nursing home on the weekends?”

Well, old is charming. And the older I get, the more charming old gets, too, by the way.

But I’m with Parrella on the modernization.

While their interest is dying out now that they’re teenagers, I’ve been bowling many times with my nieces over the years, and it’s been big-ball-bowling.

So bring on the bumpers, the electronics, and the glow-bowling.

New England needs you if candlepin bowling is going to survive!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Girl talk: Best Buy reaches out to women shoppers

I’m not exactly what you might call a typical denizen of the big box store. But if there’s one b-b where I actually enjoy shopping, it’s Best Buy.

Okay, enjoy may be way too strong a word, given that 90% of the time when I find myself in a Best Buy, I’m on a frantic mission from hell to repair or replace a failed or failing laptop.

But, in my experience, the folks who work there are unfailingly courteous, helpful, pleasant, informative, and -  given the frothing, frenetic state I’m typically in when I’m dealing with them -  wonderfully calming and empathetic. 

This may not be the universal Best Buy experience, but it’s mine at the outlet on the corner of Newbury Street and Mass. Ave in Boston.

Given my – dare I say – affection for Best Buy, I was interested to see an article in The Wall Street Journal on their efforts to reach out to women shoppers. While Best Buy’s overall market share of consumer electronics sales in the US is 22%, their share among women is a relatively paltry 16%.

The company decided to do something about it.

It is empowering female workers and tapping teenage girls to suggest new ways to sell to women.

The first thought that came to my mind was Helen Reddy belting out, “I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore.” (Ugh.) Perhaps it was just the use of the word “empowering.”

Then I thought, oh-oh, I feel a decision to use pink coming on.

Fortunately, that is not the case.

Instead, Best Buy has set up mini-stores, focused on mobile devices, in the malls that women shoppers frequent – and they’re meeting with success.

Of course, one of the pleasures – and disadvantages – of city life is the dearth of malls to walk in, let alone walk to, so I don’t spend a lot of time as a mall rat. Next time I go malling, however, I’ll be on the lookout for one of the Best Buy Mobile outlets.

Another initiative that Best Buy started was building communities of women shoppers and employees, around the country, to kick around ideas. Some of which Best Buy has put into play.

One impact these groups had:

[They] helped increase appliance sales by suggesting that showrooms be redesigned to resemble kitchens.

Forget Helen Reddy, this sounds positively 1950’s hen partyish, no?

Anyway, I’m more apt to want to see my kitchen redesigned to resemble a showroom than I am to want my showroom redesigned to look like a kitchen, but that’s just me. Certainly, Best Buy wouldn’t want their show rooms to look like my kitchen, which could be used by the Smithsonian as an example of the final word in condo kitchens of the 1980’s – right down to the “almond” with oak trim cabinetry.

But at least they didn’t suggest that the kitchen be pink.

Best Buy also turned to teenage “consultants” for their advice:

"BlackBerries: those just aren't cute," said Taylor Brittian, 14, who recommended spotlighting iPhones and colorful phone cases in the front of Atlanta's Best Buy Mobile stores.

Well, Taylor, I have news for youse. My Blackberry – which doesn’t have the clunky and odious typewriter attached – is just as cute as an iPhone, thank you. But I will admit that the colorful phone cases would be a come on to me. (I promise not to shove any of the coveted teen consumers out of my way in my grab for the colorful pink phone case.)

Another teen idea: sanitizer beside the videogame test kiosks.

Not that I plan on spending all that much time test-driving video games, but great idea, this.

Speaking of videogames, the women shoppers came up with the idea of having space in the stores devoted to used videogames.  Great for the moms, I’m sure, but as for the kids… Gee, mom, thanks for giving me this videogame that all the cool kids have rejected. As if I don’t feel creepy and out of it enough already.

Initially, some folks at Best Buy had their doubts about the women’s groups, characterizing them as more or less Oprah-ish. (Actually, that’s the point, isn’t it?)

But their success, so far, speaks to the merits of the idea.

I have not – harrumph – been asked to participate in any of these country-wide women’s groups. (Perhaps they’ve seen my kitchen.)  Still, I’m happy to offer my advice to them, with nary a coupon in return:

Keep hiring the kinds of kids you have working at “my” Best Buy on Newbury.

I’ve yet to have to fight to make eye contact while two “associates” gab on about like, this guy, they, like know.

I’ve never seen their sales folks jaded, slacked jawed, with eyes glazed over with boredom. Having worked retail, I don’t get how this happens. (What, no boredom? No standing around trying to extract the square root of your Social Security number in your head while trying to look busy and engaged?  Retail sure has changed….)

Is there some special Kool-Aid in the break room?  Is it just the Recession, when any job is a good job. Are these kids working retail to pay the bills while waiting for their “real life” to begin?

Maybe they’re kind to me because I remind them of their (grand)mother.

Whatever it is, in the heart of Boston, Best Buy has managed to create a little island of Midwest nice.

The floor sales folks and the Geek Squadders I’ve met have been interested, enthusiastic, and helpful. Either that or they’re all Method Actors.

Want to keep this woman shopper happy?

Forget the showroom that looks like a kitchen. Forget the colorful smart-phone covers.

Just keep employing these Midwest nice kids. (Give ‘em all a bonus while you’re at it. You’ve certainly made enough off of me in the last couple of years to afford it.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Self-awareness. Toreador, olé!

Many years ago, I read an excellent book, How Men Think, by Adrienne Mendell. My purchase price was more than paid back when I was able to negotiate a 20% raise by putting into action some of the suggestions I found in it.

The one point that stands out for me still – a dozen years after the fact – was one in which Mendell writes about how women are typically more willing to speak candidly and openly about their weaknesses and deficiencies. This, Mendell argues, may seem like a good idea, but, to the ears of most men, this will come across not as candor and openness, but as WEAKNESS AND DEFICIENCY.

So, I stopped ever admitting that there were things I sucked at, or had screwed up, and just did what the boys were doing: huffing and puffing about their strengths and accomplishments and ignoring their obvious (to me, anyway) screw ups and weaknesses.  (I will note that, at this stage in my career, I was the only woman on the management team of a small software company. Definitely an experience worth having.)

I thought of Mendell’s book for the first time in years when I read an article last week on HuffPo about a novice Mexican bullfighter who decided to call it quits.

Christian Hernandez apparently did the toreadoric unforgiveable when he:

… decided to bolt across the ring and leap headfirst over a wall as the bull charged forward.

Hey, I can’t blame the guy one little bit. It’s nothing that I, personally, wouldn’t do if confronted by a snorting, two-ton decidedly not Ferdinand-type of bull bearing down on me, horns aiming at my vital organs.

Talk about no way, José.

Olé? NO-lé!

Truly, the only way I’d ever be gored was in the backside, while trying to escape.

But I’ve never actually been a toreadora wannabe. Hernandez, by virtue of being in the ring in fancy costume and snappy cape, obviously was.

Needless to say, the crowd wasn’t exactly thrilled with Hernandez’ performance, and he was mightily jeered and booed. Even worse, after a quick re-appearance in the ring:

… a humiliated Hernandez was later arrested for breach of contract. According to local media reports, he was released by police after paying a fine.

(Can you imagine if folks could get arrested for doing a bad job? There wouldn’t be enough jail to hold all the criminals. I was going to say all us criminals, but then I remembered that I must never admit to any professional weakness…)

Anyway, in a later interview, in which he said he was hanging up his cape and getting out of the ring, Hernandez said:

"There are some things you must be aware of about yourself…I didn't have the ability, I didn't have the balls ... this is not my thing."

I guess Señor Hernandez is the exception that proves the Mendell how men think rule.

So I say to Señor Hernandez: bravo, bravo, bravissimo!

Buena suerte as you look for a new career.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tally-ho, Tony Hayward

Okay, the guy’s entitled to take a day off, especially with the last couple of months he’s been through.

And, no, this is not the type of crisis where we can rightfully expect those involved should never, ever take a break from. This is not a five-hour, five-day, or even five-week kind of crisis, during which the guys in charge might be working a bleary-eyed 24/7, showing up on the news in the same damned shirt for days on end looking gaunt and unshaven, sending us the clear message that they’re doing everything they can do to set things right.

This crisis was engineered to last a while longer, I’m afraid.

Does the crisis mean that every BP executive (not to mention every elected politician) needs to cease and desist from every bit of pleasure until the hole is plugged, the waters clear, and the last Louisiana shrimp boat back in business?

I don’t think so. And I don’t think I’d feel any differently if this was all taking place in my back yard.

After all, Abraham Lincoln took in an occasional play during the Civil War, most of which – up until the last one – probably made for a nice diversion. FDR took breaks in Warm Springs, Georgia throughout the Depression and World War II, most of which – up until the last one – probably made for a nice diversion.

Somebody should probably be doing something about the Gulf Gusher at every waking hour of the day. But everybody doesn’t have to be on perpetual watch.

And I really don’t expect BP’s chief exec, Tony Hayward, to be swabbing the nostrils of pelicans with q-tips.

But is there anything more quintessentially, to the hounds, let them eat-cake-ally Brit – or is it rich exec-ally, in general -  than going off yachting while the broekn BP well keeps on bubblin’ up crude.

Talk about tin-ear wrong, wrong, wrong from a PR perspective. Hayward would have been better off if his day off had been spent punting on the Thames, or with champagne and strawberries at Wimbledon.

Come on, what were you thinking, Tony – other than poor me, and I deserve a break, and I’ve been so taking it in the neck, and (sniff, sniff) I really do rather enjoy sailing - getting on your million dollar yacht for a race in clean, ocean water, while your company’s negligence has resulted in despoiling a lot of what just a few short months ago was clean water and pristine shoreline.  Just like the type of clean and pristine that Hayward enjoyed racing around the Isle of Wight – not with Vera, Chuck, and Dave, but with the other swells taking part in the JP Morgan Asset Management Around the Island Race.

It’s not quite clear whether Hayward was sailing or spectating, but he really should have chosen a different weekend getaway – one that wouldn’t have brought up the stark comparisons between expensive pleasure boats, gloriously a-sail, and working boats, ingloriously awash in oil. Couldn’t he have just stayed home with friends and family, pounding down Hendricks and cucumbers, and railing about how greedy grubbing Americans are?

I just don’t understand how it is that accomplished executives, working for sophisticated enterprises with communications and PR experts on staff and on hire, can’t seem to figure out what you can do and what you can’t do when the old shit-er-ina hits the old fan-er-oo.

You’d think, wouldn’t you…..

But, no. (Or is it, hell, no.)

Even the Brits have raised their eyebrows on this latest:

The British press, much more sympathetic than the American media to BP's plight, has expressed disbelief at the company's strategy.

"It is hard to recall a more catastrophically mishandled public relations response to a crisis than the one we are witnessing," the Daily Telegraph's Jeremy Warner wrote Friday. (Source: AP article in the Boston Globe.)

If it’s any comfort, I went over to the race site and checked things out.  Hayward’s boat, Bob, came in fourth in its class, behind Desperado, but ahead of Baraka (phew! thank god for the difference between an “a” and a “c”), Venomous, and Oyster Catcher – the latter, indeed, a fitting name, given the devastation that the BP blowout has wrought upon the Gulf oystering business.

Anyway, I’m sure we’ll see poor Tony back on the job this week, refreshed and energized by his bracing sail and fourth place finish. Perhaps he’ll even be ready to do battle with the extra criticism that will be raining down on his head, given that he didn’t have the good sense to do something else on his precious little time off.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My World Cup, it take me hearing, that damned vuvuzela*

I’m not what you would call a colossal soccer fan.

As a general-purpose sports fan, I enjoy watching an occasional game. I’ll be keeping a semi-close eye on the progress of the U.S. team’s World Cup fortunes. And I’ll likely watch the final game – make that definitely watch the final - if by some Miracle Off Ice “we’re” in it.

But I won’t be keeping a semi-close ear on it, thank you.

No sporting event is worth going deaf for – or catching your death from rhinovirus.

Which is apparently what health officials are warning can happen to fans exposed to a match-full of blaring vuvuzelas.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, the vuvuzela is the long plastic horn - they look a lot like the blarers that folks blow on New Year’s Eve – that South African soccer fans blast away on. Apparently they do so continuously during matches – much to the annoyance of non-vuvuzela aficionados, not to mention the players who can’t hear themselves think. Here’s picture of one in use from Vivienne Mackie’s travel blog.


Viv apparently had her ear to the ground early on with respect to the vuvuzela. Historically banned from World Cup, an exception was made this year because this instrument is so much a part of South African football culture.

Now, of course, with the World Cup on, vuvuzela chatter has been all over the blogosphere, with lots of pro and con back and forthing.  I’ve seen cries of racism, countered by cries of “this will make South Africans look rude”.  Prince William, in South Africa on a royal field trip with one of the Jonas Brothers (huh?), had a vuvuzela blown full force in his heir’s ear by a kid, after he was unable to master the art of noisemaking on his own.

Fans who like the traditional soccer fan chanting, singing, and drumming have found themselves drowned out. And they’re understandably pissed.

There are even calls to FIFA to forbid use of the vuvuzelas in the final match – but FIFA has no plans to do so at this juncture.

Meanwhile, TV broadcasters have been toning the blare down so that watchers can hear the announcers. (This hasn’t been enough for some:  they find the vuvuzela noise so overwhelming, they turn the sound off entirely. There’s even an app on the market that can shut the vuvu noise down.)

Fear is spreading that, now that the vuvus have been on such a center stage, their use will sweep through the soccer universe. (All those hundreds of thousands of souvenir vuvuzelas packed home in the suitcase.)

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal weighed in on the matter, with an article on the dangers that too much trumpeting can bring on when vuvuzela madness is loosed upon the land:

Beyond the stadiums, the horns can be heard from early morning to late at night on South Africa's streets during the World Cup. South African newspapers have reported workplace clashes involving employees blowing the horn. They have caused conflict among bus and train passengers as well.

More important, it seems that all that noise, in addition to being an out and out, head-splitting annoyance to so many, and the cause of off-the-pitch strife:

…can cause hearing loss and possibly spread colds, the flu and other infectious diseases to spectators in stadiums.

A hearing foundation claims that, at 127 decibels, exposure for even a few minutes to vuvuzela noise can cause hearing loss, let alone for the full 90 minutes of a match. (Plus whatever, seemingly arbitrary to the casual observer, over-time gets tacked on the end of a game.)

In an indication of how loud the horns are, the nonprofit Deaf Federation of South Africa has offered sign-language training to coaches and players to help them communicate on a noisy soccer field.

I think I’d be okay with an occasional tootle from a vuvuzela, but I don’t think I’d want to go an entire match with 100,000 in my ear. I find it annoying enough with an occasionally cat-calling jerk sits behind me at a Red Sox game.  (The worst: the guy who kept shouting at the White Sox – who that season sported some goof-ball, soft-ball looking uniforms - “put on your John Wayne trick-or-treat suits.” (Say the f what?)

But the claims of the anti-vuvuzela brigade may be overstated:

The organization hasn't been approached yet by a team, according to Bruno Druchen, its national director [Deaf Federation of South Africa]. No cases of hearing loss from the vuvuzelas have been reported to his organization, he said in an email.

But the biggest problem with the vuvuzela may be those pesky germs:

Blowing hard into vuvuzelas may spray droplets of spittle onto nearby spectators, and with it the flu and other diseases. "We measured what happens when healthy people blow the vuvuzela and were astonished at the number of aerosols formed," said Ruth McNerney of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "If someone with a chest or throat infection uses the vuvuzela in a crowded place then they could spread the infection to people around them."

If nothing else, you don’t want to wrap your mouth around a strange vuvuzela. You don’t know where it’s been, and it may well be infected.

All told, it does sound like you could go to the World Cup and come home deaf, with a bad cold, chicken pox, or even:

…more threatening diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, tuberculosis and the H1N1 swine flu, according to Dr. McNerney."Coughs and sneezes spread diseases, and so might the vuvuzela," she said.

This and the fact that you could have purchased tickets a year ago, only to have your team knocked out in the first round.

Meanwhile, Team USA plays its second match today.

Don’t let those vuvuzelas get to you, boys!


Today’s post is dedicated to my soccer-loving brother-in-law John, who is taking the day off of work to watch the US – Slovenia match. Easy on the vuvuzela, John.

*For those of you too young to remember Harry Belafonte, this is a take off on the song, “Mathilda, she took me money, and run a-Venezuela”, which he publicized in a long ago time, when no one in America had even heard of soccer.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The princess and the pea. (Resting easy on a $69.5K mattress.)

Personally, I’m a believer in a good, solid, comfy mattress.

About 10 years ago, I took a bad fall down a flight of icy steps, which resulted in a bit of minor embarrassment – nothing like being sprawled on the brick sidewalk in front of your house at 7 a.m. – and more than a bit of major backache.

I decided that our crappy old mattress wasn’t doing my aching back any good, so we went out and bought a TempurPedic.

Now, I know that TP’s aren’t to everyone’s liking, but they are to mine – and my back’s. (Zzzzzzzzz.)  We paid plenty for that mattress – at least by our standards. But apparently, when it comes to things-mattress-y, our standards are pretty darned low.

As part of what appears to be a regular us vs. them bit of reportage, The Wall Street Journal the other day had a piece about stratospherically upper-end mattresses that make the TempurPedic look like an army cot. (Access to this article may require a subscription. I believe online comes with a paper subscription, if you’re thinking about creating your own mattress by stuffing ticking with a bunch of old newspapers.)

You don’t have to spend $69.5K, by the way, to get something decent.

For a mere $33K you can get:

E.S. Kluft & Co.'s hand-tufted, king-size Palais Royale mattress and box spring, currently the most expensive American-made mattress set on the market. The company says it has sold about 100 since introducing it in 2008…it takes 10 craftsmen about three days to make the Palais Royale, which contains 10 layers and more than 10 pounds of cashmere, mohair, silk and New Zealand wool that has been washed, dried and crimped

Or you can hold out for the Kluft Sublime model at $44K, scheduled for release by end of year.

(In addition to all the other goodies, the Sublime contains some “horsehair for resiliency.” Hey, they’re the mattress boffins, but the one and only time I slept on a horsehair mattress it was as hard as a rock saddle.)

By the way, I don’t want to quibble about the name Palais Royale, but I’m a-guessin’ that in the real Palais Royale the mattresses were featherbeds. But that’s quibble – and what red-blooded American democracy-lover doesn’t believe that he or she occasionally deserves the royal treatment. (Apparently the red-blooded Americans at E.S. Kluft hold this truth to be self evident. Their motto is “The Royal Standard.” Let’s forget for a mo’ that sometimes the royal standard means getting shoved into a tumbrel and rolled off to the guillotine, after which the royal head-y will never again go beddy-bye.)

As for the Sublime model, at $44K it better be.

Of course, if you’re a Europhile, where they really get royalty and sublimity, you can get yourself a Vividus king for $69.5K from Hästens Sängar of Sweden.

Just what is it with royalty and mattresses? Hästens’ motto is “sleep like a princess”, and they claim to be “purveyors to the Royal Court.” Of what, it’s not clear.

Hästens has all kinds of dandy stuff on their site – like ten sleep tips (e.g., “If you can’t sleep get up…when you’re tired go back to bed,” and other breathless hints about sleeping in the dark, etc.). The picture that goes along with the tips shows a woman in full make-up and a pair of what appears to be 4 carat diamond earrings. If I’d written those ten tips, I’d have put one in that said “Don’t get into bed wearing something that could hurt you if you roll over on it.”

There’s also an iPhone app from the Hästens “mind spa”.

Of course, you’d expect a company from Sweden, where it’s night six months out of the year, to know beaucoup about sleeping. Certainly more than the folks at Kluft, which is located in Southern California, where there are all kinds of other things to do – like play beach volleyball – rather than sleep. (Years ago, I had a colleague in California who told me that he thought it was kind of pathetic that people on the East Coast were interested in politics, read books, and watched professional sports. People in his ‘hood, he explained, had better things to do with their time – namely, playing beach volleyball.)

I’m a bit disappointed that there’s no Hästens store around here. But my Chicago relatives are in luck: you can get one downtown, on N. Wells, or in Winnetka.

While they haven’t climbed anywhere near Kluft territory- let alone into the terra incognita (by me, at least) occupied by Hästens - good old Sealy (of Posturepedic fame) has come out with a new high-end offering to their higher-end Stearns & Foster line. The Golden Elegance goes for about $5K, and I am pleased to report that a cursory look at the Sealy site reveals nary a royal utterance. (Born in the USA! Born in the USA!)

And I will say that while Sealy doesn’t quite have the modern touch of Hästens, what with the iPhone app and what-not, they do have ZZ as their ticker symbol – a bit of clever marketing, that.

The WSJ article catalogs some other pricey mattresses, including one “covered with fabric containing 22-karat gold.” (Why?)

Speaking of why:

Exactly how much better will a person sleep on a super-expensive mattress, a shopper might ask. Not much, according to one sleep expert, Clete Kushida, medical director of the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center. "For the vast majority of people who are generally healthy, bed surface won't make much of a difference in terms of their sleep," Dr. Kushida says.

Of course, as with oh so many other luxury goods, there’s a lot of “because I can” that likely goes into the purchase decision.

I can believe that a $5K mattress is better than a $500 mattress, and that there’s a difference between a $10K mattress and a $1K mattress. But I’m guessing that people are dreaming if they think that having 22-karat gold infused fabric is going to get them an objectively better night’s sleep. (I will concede that there may be a comfort factor of knowing you’re rich as Croesus that lets some high end mattressers sleep better at night.)

Anyway, one thing we’re sure of, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, we’ll continue to see more and more “stuff” from the luxe end of the market – and probably from the dead end, as well. (Mattresses stuffed with corn husks, anyone?)

Meanwhile, for those of you poor slobs who don’t have $69.5K to drop on a mattress, remember you can always:

Take Sominex tonight and sleep, safe and restful, sleep, sleep, sleep.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I’m your puppet

It’s no secret that I love a good obituary.  And The NY Times is a reasonably good source of interesting ones.

The other day, what with the death of Jimmy Dean of pork sausage and country music fame, I thought I had found my topic: hambone/cornpone entertainer turns business shrewdy and builds up a lucrative food business, which he sells out to Sara Lee for big bucks.

But even while Jimmy Dean’s super hit - “Big Bad John” – was stomping around in my brain:

…..and everybody knew ya didn’t give no lip to Big John…

My eye drifted down to the obit below his:

Frank W. Ballard, Who Trained Puppeteers at UConn, Dies at 80

Say what?

Trained puppeteers at UConn?

Now there was a story out of Storrs.

Nearly 50 years ago, Ballard founded the puppetry program at UConn.

It is beyond rare for an institution of higher learning to grant degrees in puppetry. Connecticut is one of only a few in the world to do so, offering B.F.A., M.A. and M.F.A. degrees through the program, which is part of the dramatic arts department. Despite the program’s renown, however, its students have grown used to hearing astonished classmates ask, “You can major in that?”

I’ll bet there are even more astonished parents uttering those very words.

Still, in a world of accounting and computer science majors, there is something refreshing about someone who wants to give puppetry a whirl. And:

Today the program’s graduates, who come from all over the world, are sought-after masters who ply their trade in film, theater and television.

Which is more than you can say for the average French lit major, I’m afraid. (“You can major in that?”)

Still, I wouldn’t say that I am now or ever have been a particularly avid puppet fan. Personally, I’m afraid that I found the signature puppet of my generation – that would be Howdy Doody – out and out creepy. The word “perv” was not in my kindergarten vocabulary, but there was always something a bit unsettling to me about old Howdy. Maybe it was the little scarf he wore, or those folded up blue jeans, or the way he walked, but Howdy was a little “off”. (I felt the same way about his sidekick, Buffalo Bob Smith, and about the Lone Ranger, so I didn’t reserve this particular sense of ick factor for those made out of wood and string.)

My feelings about Howdy Doody were such that I will have to confess that one of the few times I’ve been scared on a plane flight was when the pilot introduced himself as Howdy Doody. (Make that two nips of Beefeaters and a parachute, please.)  I was so very happy when the wheels touched down in Des Moines.

I didn’t feel particularly creeped out by Howdy’s pals, however.

Not that I would have wanted to hang out with Mr. Bluster – the old grouch – but, if I had to be stranded on a desert island with someone from the Howdy Doody Show, it would have been Dilly Dally (even though he was none too bright), or Flubadub.

Better yet, I would be dee-lighted to be marooned with any number of the Muppets, including but not limited to Miss Piggy, Kermie, Statler and Waldorf, Bunsen and Beaker, and Elmo.

So, Howdy aside, I’m generally down with puppets. For the most part, they don’t hold anywhere near the same scariness factor as their first cousin, the ventriloquist dummy, or their second cousin, twice-removed, the clown.

And – again, Howdy Doody aside – there can be something exceedingly beautiful and artistic about puppets. (This is unlike the ventriloquist dummy, all of which (whom?) look alike.)

Anyway, Frank Ballard made a life out of puppets.

There’s even the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at UConn.

So, he left his mark, and it’s likely indelible in a way that, say, Jimmy Dean pork sausages aren’t. (Ever notice how “indelible” and “inedible” are almost the same word?)

I was going to write something snarky about “The Attack of the Puppet People,” but, hey, it seems like Frank Ballard led quite a life, doing what he wanted to do from the moment – age 5 – when he made his first puppet.

…..and everybody knows ya don’t give no lip to those lucky and determined enough to forge that kind of a career.

So, no attack of or on the puppet people here, thank you.


Just about a year ago, Pink Slip had plenty to say about ventriloquist dummies.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Small is beautiful

My first week on the job at Wang, where I was the senior product manager for their investment-related products, I decided to go on a trip to New York.  I was, after all, the liaison with the group (part of a Wang acquisition) that was the source of the data for our investment related products. Plus, I figured I was going to be doing a lot with the NYC sales team, since most of the customers and prospects for “my” products were on Wall Street.

I came to Wang from a much smaller firm. When I needed to go somewhere – to visit customers, go on sales calls, participate in some event – I pretty much decided on my own, and let my boss know where and when I was going. We had a group (outsourced, as I recall) that made our arrangements. A call to them, and I was on my way.

I figured the same would happen at Wang.

After all, I was a senior product manager, and wouldn’t just be flying around willy-nilly, wasting time and money picking up frequent flyer miles.

Anyway, since my boss wasn’t there to inform – he was off on a business trip the week I started – I mentioned to the group secretary that I was planning on going to New York later in the week.

“Did you get your forms signed yet?” she asked.

“What forms,” I responded.

Well, it seems that, in order to get permission to go on a trip – even a day trip on the shuttle to NYC – you needed a form signed by your boss, his boss, his boss, and his boss – who was an EVP of the organization.

I was stunned.

Horace Tsiang, and EVP of a 30,000 employee company had to sign off on a trip that was going to cost the company about $200?

This being Wang, it got even better.

The travel policy was such that you didn’t learn you had permission (and tickets) to go on your trip until 5 p.m. the night before.

Anyway, this was my first experience in a Big Company, and it quickly reinforced my preconception that, when it comes to the workplace, Small is Beautiful, and Big is U-G-L-Y. (And it ain’t got no alibi.)

This all came to mind when I saw a Q&A in the Career Journal section of the WSJ Online in which someone asked whether it was risky, in terms of future opportunities with big companies, to take a job with smaller firm.

The answer was fine: it shouldn’t hurt you, just make sure the job is what you want, etc.

But it did get me thinking about the differences between small and large firms and why I, almost invariably, come down on the side of small. I also recognize that there are certainly ways in which Bigger is Better.

So here goes my two cents:

Small Is Beautiful:

Less bureaucracy: In smaller companies, there is usually no place for the insane bureaucracy that was in evidence everywhere you looked at a place like Wang. It wasn’t just the travel policy. When I ordered a bookcase and file cabinet for my cubicle, the request was bounced back because I hadn’t filled in the reasons. I entered “book case to put books in,” “file cabinet to put files in” and the request sailed through.   Wang was inordinately bureaucratic and, while I recognize that a larger organization will need to have more processes in place and just more bureaucracy in general, bureaucracies can become monster creatures that can grind a place down and stifle any initiative.

Lots of job latitude: I spent many years at a software company called Softbridge. When I joined – blissfully leaving Wang – the company’s informal motto was “the next billion dollar software company.”  To say that this never happened understates the case by several orders of magnitude. The company waxed and waned in terms of number of employees (from 300 down to 17 – in that order – then up again to 50). We had our ups and downs around how much money we could gull out of our ‘what were they thinking?’ investors in any given month.  (I believe the down-the-drain ended up being about $40M, which looks like nothing now, but this was run-up). Revenues, the year I left, hovered around $7M).  While the founds may have been thinking big, we were doing small.

What we used to say at Softbridge was “if you can think of it, you better be able to do it.” This translates into what’s best about small companies: you really do get to try on a lot of hats, and there’s not usually anyone to tell you that you can’t. In small companies, there’s generally an awful lot to do, and too few people to get it done. So you get a lot of do-it-yourself opportunities – which definitely expands your résumé, plus helps you figure out what you like to do and what you don’t like to do.

Little room for politics: Let’s face it, wherever two or more employees are gathered, there’s going to be some political action. But with fewer people, you do tend to find that there aren’t as many factions. (At least this was so in the small places I worked, where the unifying theme was the will to survive.)  In my experience, in small companies less time, in general, is spent on politicking, posturing, and trying to undermine the other guys. It’s not that it doesn’t happen. There’s just less of it. (I did consult to one small company, however, where the politics were relentless and extraordinarily backbiting and vicious. That little outfit ending up breaking in to two pieces, which definitely relieved things on the political end. I, of course, went with the good guys…)

When I joined Genuity – other than Wang, the only large company I’ve worked for – I was stunned by the quantity and quality of the politics that played out. I came to believe that, at the Director level, politics was in the job description at 25%; at the VP level, 50%; and at the EVP level, 99.99%.  (This all, of course, got Genuity no further than the largest failed IPO in history and, eventually, dissolution.)

We are family: This may be exactly why some people would hate, hate, hate working in a small firm, but I always enjoyed knowing everyone and a bit about their lives. I liked traditions like Friday Party (Dynamics and Softbridge) at which everyone got together, had a beer or a glass of wine (or a toke – those were the days), munched on junk food, and let the week wind down. (I also have to admit that these work families were always dysfunctional. Small may be beautiful, but it can also be supremely nutty. )

Big Is Better (in some respects)

More resources: While learning how to do everything yourself is a good learning experience, once you’ve done it, well, the charm wears off. What’s nice about a large company is that there are resources to tap. In marketing, that meant I didn’t have to design collateral, stuff envelopes, put up trade show booths and all sorts of other things that weren’t all that interesting.

Better opportunities:  I can actually argue this one either way, since small companies tend to provide excellent opportunities to learn on the job. In some cases, small companies can provide a Build-a-Bear experience, in which you get to create your own job. In a smaller company, it may also be easier to get (ahem) “executive” experience. (A mixed blessing, I assure you.) On balance, however, once you’ve gotten to a certain point in a small company, the opportunities for advancement tend to be fewer, and the only way to get more responsibility, a bigger job, and maybe just a change of scenery often means leaving the company. Plus larger companies are where you’re more apt to find formal mentoring, clear career tracks, etc. 

Stronger network:  I’ve been fortunate to have made life friends at work – many from my years in small companies. But in terms of building a professional network, nothing beats the time I spent at Genuity. Either directly or indirectly, about 90% of my consulting work comes from people I worked with there. Part of this is because my Genuity experience was just prior to my starting out in consulting. With the exception of a brief stint at another firm (where I worked for my former boss at Genuity), I’ve been freelancing since Genu days. But in smaller companies, there were times when I was marketing, so there were just plain fewer people to network with.  And, I’ve got to say, most of the people in my professional network who have provided me with consulting work are also folks that I consider friends. Still, in terms of building a network, there’s obviously more network-building potential where there are more nodes.

Small doesn’t last: God knows I don’t have a good track record with any size company lasting, but for the most part, the rule of thumb “grow or die” turns out to be true. (What is there about rules of thumb that this happens?)

If you’re a small tech company with a good idea, you need to grow or get acquired. Let’s face it, if you have a good = profitable idea, someone else will want in. Small may be beautiful, but – in terms of tech company (other than consulting) it’s just not that sustainable.

Still and all, I’d take small over large any day.

But that’s me.

When I started out, I wouldn’t have accepted any argument that there were benefits to working large.

Now I can appreciate that there are.

Ah, the wisdom of age.

Still, if I had to pick what size company to get marooned on a desert island with, it’d be small. (Although, come to think of it, that large company I scorned might have the capacity to  figure out how to get us off. Hmmmmm….. Still, if we were going to be stuck-stuck there forever – and I had to work – well, it’s hard for me to get by my gut feeling that small is beautiful.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hey, Dad, do you miss us, too?

Well, if ever there were a headline that didn’t deliver, it’s this one from The NY Times last Friday:

A Well-Wired Hong Kong Offers a Link to the Dead

Here I was thinking that our friends in the East had – Hello, Central -  gone Mary Baker Eddy one better*, and had come up with the killer app.

But – disappointingly – NO.

It’s just another online memorial site, more or less.

This one’s set up by the nicely-named Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government– and available for free to those who use government facilities to bury or cremate their loved ones.  Specifically, the About Us says that the site is open to those:

  • cremated at public crematoria
  • cremains scattered in Gardens of Remembrance/ designated Hong Kong waters
  • cremains kept in public columbaria
  • buried at public cemeteries
  • buried at the Gallant Garden/ Tribute Garden

The site is all very current, with an FAQ, and a notice regarding intellectual property rights:

Unless the materials are uploaded by users themselves or explicitly specified, the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (the Government) is the owner of intellectual property rights in all contents, including but not limited to all texts, graphics, charts, drawings, diagrams, photographs, icons, reports, statistical data or any other format of data or materials ("Work") available on this website.

Well, that takes a bit of the condolence fun out of it for me, but, in this day and age, you really do need to worry about where your IP’s at.

It’s sounds like kind of a Facebook. Folks set up a profile for their beloved, and can vary up how public or restricted they want it to be.

Users have a choice among preset layouts and background music and can upload photos and videos to complement the profiles.

People can leave messages – Wazzup? – and can also set up reminders to alert them when the deceased’s birthday is coming up (note to self: remember to get card for Great Aunt Roseanne), or when the anniversary of someone’s death is approaching. (Do people really need reminders of this? I, like, do know when my parents died. And if  - as the years sail by, and I get older and nearer to my day of departure – if January 25th or August 14th slips by without my thinking about Al and Liz, I don’t believe that I’ll feel one scintilla of guilt.)

The Hong Kong Memorial home page is soothing and welcoming, in a TeleTubbies kind of way – green fields, blue skies, and gently wafting dandelion puffs. Like everyone who steps toe on this earth, gone, gone with the wind…

I availed myself of the search to check out an actual page.

And, while I’m nosy enough to do so, I’m not going to violate the privacy of Ms. L, even if her page is public. If you’d like, you can search on a common Chinese surname and find your own public page to gawk at. Anyway, Ms. L’s is sparsely populated, and most of what’s in there is in Chinese. (The overall site is in Chinese or English.) There’s a very nice picture of Ms. L, as well as a very nice picture (I’m guessing from one of the available templates) of a woman and child walking with umbrellas down a tree-flanked path.

Move along folks, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen on one of the many U.S. based memorial sites. And I never would have tripped over there to begin with if it hadn’t been for that come-on title in The Times article.

Still, maybe The Times, and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, know something we don’t know.

After all, the home page says:

Leave a message for your Beloved One with Memories.

Well, just in case they’re right and I’m wrong:

Dad, I was just thinking about the time you took the Big Three (Kath, me, and Tom) on a Sunday walk, and took us through the shell of an abandoned house that had been gutted by fire. I still remember when you opened one of those inner doors and the floor had fallen through to the cellar. You saved us from a plunge into oblivion! But what were you thinking? Your wife (that would be our mother) would have killed you if she knew that you were poking around a hazard zone with 3 kids under the age of 6.

Ma, remember the time I helped you paint the kitchen cabinets with paint that was supposed to produce a nice wood-grain looking finish, and we both awoke in the middle of the night and found our way into the kitchen, where we collapsed with laughter (which didn’t happen on too many occasions with you, I’ve got to admit) at how hideous it looked: a grotesque reddish-brown the color of Spanish peanut skins. The next day, we repainted those cabinets an olive-y green, which wasn’t all that great but did represent a marked improvement. (Should have stuck with the original yellow.)

Plenty more memories where those came from. If you’d like to hear more from me, just let me know.

Unlike Mary Baker Eddy, I have two working phones. Give me a holler.


*Eddy was long rumored to have a telephone in her mausoleum but  Snopes has debunked this one. (Hiss, boo. Some rumors are just too good to be debunked, thank you. Here I was, all these years, thinking that maybe she really was a Christian Scientist who’d figured out a way to use modern technology to communicate to and from the great beyond.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Jeez Louise. What next?

I realize that I’m a far piece from Lusk, Wyoming.

Still, it’s unsettling to hear that Melanoplus sanguinipes, a.k.a., the same migratory grasshoppers that wreaked havoc on the land during the Dust Bowl, are back again.

These high plains drifters – they can  fly hundreds of miles (which I calculate puts them about a week away from here) – are starting to chomp their way through alfalfa, hay, and wheat. Wide swaths of land in Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota are at risk of attack by these winged vegans.

Why this year?

With low farm prices last year, many ranchers decided to forgo the $1-an-acre spraying fee for prophylactic grasshopper control. And the ample spring rains this year and last fell with a timing that failed to control the egg numbers, leaving more adults to lay more eggs. (Source: NY Times.)

The result of this perfect storm: there may be 1 trillion of these little sucker gettin’ ready to pounce. (Better prophylactic than sorry, I’d say.)

What a year it’s been!

Bad enough we have to worry about underwear bombers and Times Square terrorists. North Korean madmen and Orly Taitz (who, thankfully, lost her bid for nomination for political office in California).  The sad ending to various Gore marriages, and poor Sandra Bullock. Fergie pimping the royals, and the reported Bernie Madoff tough guy prison message to his victims. (F-you!)

Unemployment. Underemployment. The repossessed, the depossessed, and the endless spout of aggravating, let-the-eat-cake utterance out of the mouths of tone-deaf Wall Streeters. (Talk about F-you!)

Forget global warming and our hormoned-up, fructosed-out, addicting food supply. Those frets are so back-burnered by this point, they’re almost yesterday.

Now we have to worry about 1 trillion hell-bent on crop devastation grasshoppers revving their engines out west.

In one sense, it’s too bad, because grasshoppers – if you live in a city, anyway – have a nice, benevolent image, pretty much.

Okay, so they’re not your go-to guys – that would be the ants.

But they’re kind of fun and frolicky, no?

Out west, they’re the enemy. So we need those crop dusters to – ah, young grasshopper – get kung fu fighting.

Although I’m a city girl, I do have a tad bit of experience with insect plagues. (And I’m not even counting the cockroaches in the toaster when I was in college.)

Years ago, gypsy moths took to the skies of New England.

They nested in trees, and spread some type of netting that looked like the spun-glass angel hair my mother used to put on our Christmas trees. Having nested and infested, the gypsy moths proceeded to pretty much destroy the trees they lived in.

They also left their slick and slimy larvae under the shingles at my mother’s house.

So she enlisted some of us to scrape them out from under.

Par-tay at Ma’s this weekend, boys and girls!

Talk about never ending battle. Talk about dis-gusting.

As I stood there prying out gypsy moth larvae with a screwdriver, I would have given anything for one of those old timey, pump action sprayers full of DDT.

So I have a little up close and personal experience with what our neighbors to the west are going through.

Westward, ho, ye crop dusters! America stands behind you. Dust away!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

N.U.N.A. (No Unemployed Need Apply)

As if it isn’t crappy enough being out of work, some of the companies that are hiring are limiting their recruitment to those who are already working.

Case in point, a job posting referenced in a recent HuffPo article that listed the usual job qualifications, plus:

…red print at the bottom of the ad says, "Client will not consider/review anyone NOT currently employed regardless of the reason."

Those lucky choosers! Never having to deal with beggars.

The company with this less than enlightened (IMHO, anyway) HR policy, by the way, is not some piddling little local outfit that makes an occasional hire. It’s Benchmark Electronics, a NYSE-traded multi-national that provides high-end electronics manufacturing service.

Benchmark has a nifty (if slightly mysterious) motto:

We’re where you want us to be.

Oh, no, you’re not.

Because if you' were where I wanted you to be, you wouldn’t have a wet blanket policy on not hiring those who aren’t currently working.

"It's our preference that they currently be employed," [the Benchmark HR rep] said. "We typically go after people that are happy where they are and then tell them about the opportunities here. We do get a lot of applications blindly from people who are currently unemployed -- with the economy being what it is, we've had a lot of people contact us that don't have the skill sets we want, so we try to minimize the amount of time we spent on that and try to rifle-shoot the folks we're interested in."

Forget the unfortunate choice of the term “rifle-shoot the folks we’re interested in.” (“I was happily working away and, bang, I felt this stinging sensation in my arm. Fortunately, the bullet just nicked me and, as it turned out, the people who were shooting at me offered me a swell new job!”)

The Benchmark HR person makes a reasonable point about hearing from desperate job seekers who will take – I’m getting into the spirit of things here – a scatter shot approach to job hunt, sending out resumes to anyplace that’s hiring, even if they are only tangentially (at best) qualified for a position. I’m sure it’s painful and boring to have to open up 100 resumes from people who were grill cooks who want to make the transition to electronics engineer.

And I’m really not meaning to pick on Benchmark, here. Bully for them that they’re hiring. Plus they’re not alone in refusing to consider candidates who are not currently working.

But  there is something unsettling (especially, no doubt to the unemployed), and a bit off, about this policy.

I’ve been on the giving and receiving ends of lay-offs, so I know that absolutely drop-dead brilliant employees do get pink slipped.

I also know that underperformers have a way of making their way to the top of the layoff list – especially in first rounds, and when the layoff is subjective (as in, ‘We have reduce headcount by 10%. Who do we want to get rid of?) rather than methodical (‘We’re shutting down the plant in East Oshkosh.’)

99.99% – make that 6-nines -  of managers will, if given the opportunity to do their own picking and choosing, take advantage of a layoff opportunity to get rid of deadwood. Managers have also been known to sandbag a couple of underperformers, holding them in reserve if they anticipate a lay-off. This may not be shining star managerial practice, but if there’s a layoff looming, you may not be able to do any hiring. So why get rid of deadwood if you can’t replace them. Especially when you know, know, know that, even if you just sacrificed headcount for the good of the company, you will, will, will be asked to keep sacrificing.

So you prop up your deadwood with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other so that people will think they’re alive and, when you’re asked to toss a few heads on the platter, you’ve got yours.

So, yes, some employees who are laid off may not be stellar performers.

But there are a lot of other reasons you could find yourself on a lay-off list.

Politics is one – and it may not even be politics that you play.  Someone wants to take down your manager, or their manager, for some reason, you may be vulnerable.

You might get the pink slip because you haven’t been around long enough to build up relationships, good will, and a performance record.

Maybe you get picked, even though you’re great at your job, because there’s someone who can do your job well enough, but is great at something else you can’t do – a two-fer, as it were.

Sometimes you hit the lay off list because, for whatever reason, you don’t fit in with the group or company culture. Maybe that shouldn’t matter as much as it does, but it does, indeed matter. Maybe you’ll fit in better somewhere else.

Maybe your product or project got canceled. Maybe your division got shut down. Maybe your industry went bust. Maybe you took a chance with a small company that withered away and died.

Lot’s o’ good reasons why lots o’ good people are unemployed.

Frankly, I really don’t believe that any company would absolutely, positively, categorically refuse to consider hiring ALL the prospective applicants who happen to be out of a job at the mo.

Surely, if one of your best-y workers recommended and vouched for a former colleague, you’d give them a tumble.

I don’t imagine that the No Unemployed Need Apply practice – at least overtly – is all that widespread.

But surely there are hiring managers and HR groups winnowing down their piles full of cover letters and resumes by separating out the perceived chaff of those without jobs.

Personally, I don’t believe that just because someone’s currently employed they’re a better bet than someone “collecting.”

Sure, if someone had a big, gaping hole in their resume, I would want to know why.  But there’s quite a long list of “why’s” that I could look beyond, including, but not limited to:

  • At home with the baby
  • Illness
  • Sick family member
  • Back to school
  • Went out for the Olympic luge team
  • Took time out to write a novel
  • Paddled across the Pacific in a kayak
  • Always wanted to see if they could make a living crocheting (answer: no)
  • Laid off in a bad economy
  • Faced age discrimination

From my own experience, I think it’s kind of nuts to assume that just because someone’s employed they’re any good (even in this dire economy).

I made some major hiring mistakes in my career – and I’m talking Capital L, Capital U, Capital LU LULUs.

Guess what?

They were all in jobs when I hired them.

Maybe their managers were sandbagging them for a layoff. Maybe their managers were chicken shits – I know the feeling – who were just hoping and praying that their misfit would land somewhere else before they had to have “the conversation” with them. Maybe (although, in the case of my Capital L, Capital U, Capital LU LULUs I doubt it) they were actually performing well in their company of origin. Maybe I was just a gasoline-and-match manager for them. (I doubt that, too.)

In any case, they became my problem.

One I sandbagged for a lay-off. One we had to fire – this person had really gone around the old performance bend. One I put on performance notice, and two weeks later she quit. (Yahoo…..I can still remember the feeling of elation. When I told my friend Kevin that “E” was leaving, he high-fived me and said, “That’s addition by subtraction.”)

I don’t know what happened to the one I sandbagged, other than that she moved to California. I actually think she had a lot of raw potential, and I hope things worked out for her.

Number two on that list – the one even soft-hearted I couldn’t sandbag for the next layoff – landed somewhere fast, as the job hunt was already in process, and so far along that the hiring company probably didn’t even realize that the person they were so deliriously happy to get had been let go. For cause. I did hear through the grapevine that this company came to regret it.

The third one didn’t last long at her new job, either.

So bad things can happen to good people if they are deluded enough to think that the fact that someone’s working is a sign from the gods.

Look, there are enough unhappy ending stories in this economy already:

  • Aging boomers who need to work but are slamming up against age discrimination. (Boy, is that don’t trust anyone over thirty coming back to haunt us.)
  • Kids just coming out of school and looking for a springboard first job. (Special sympathy to those with hefty loans.)
  • Folks in industries that have gone permanent bye-bye, and who are extremely unlikely to have jobs at the same skill level that pay as well ever ever again.
  • Et al.

Do hiring companies really have to add to the misery and debilitating angst by making a fetish out of N.U.N.A.?

Why don’t they just specify that they will not look at resumes that don’t 100% fit their qualification list – and be ruthless about it.

The only good thing I can say for them (other than that they’re hiring) is that, when they woo someone who was contented-cow happy at their prior job, that leaves an opening in a company that may be able to look beyond an employment gap on a resume.