Monday, January 31, 2011

Hand me my smelling salts. On second thought…

When I was in grammar school, one of the high points of any school day was the distribution of a recently mimeographed quiz, Christmas pageant script, or note home with some important announcement.

As the copies were passed from student to student, we would take ours and breathe deeply.

Whatever the “special sauce” was that printed that purple on white paper, it had a definite aroma to it – alcohol and some other je ne sais quoi.

The nuns didn’t allow us many great pleasures, but they seemed to tolerate – at least for a second – the sight of 48 kids, nose pressed close to the newly mimeo’d whatever, all inhaling at once.


I also liked the smell of a gasoline, and used to fantasize about living over the pumps in this cool gas station on Route 9 that had an apartment built out over the station, the part over the pumps resting on stone pillars.

I don’t actually think that a whiff or either a mimeo’d catechism quiz or gasoline was all that intoxicating. But I sure liked it.

That said, I never huffed paint thinner, shook aspirins up in Pepsi bottles, did Reddi-Whip whippets, or did any of the other things that adolescents were supposed to do to get high. (Truly: during high school I was such a straight arrow, I never had a drink or smoked a cigarette, let alone lit up a joint. I wasn’t much of a substance user, let alone abuser, in college, either, for that matter. Being out of control and out of my mind was not all that high on my list of things to do.)

The latest bit of get-high derring-do involves bath salts, of all things.

Although I only take a bath salt bath once a year or so, I do tend to have them around.

I was easily able to lay my hands on a packet of Lord & Mayfair raspberry bath salts. They look like they came from a hotel stay, and promise to “appeal to your senses and skin while providing a refreshing balance to your day.” For adult use only, by the way.

Apparently there are bath salts uses that go above and beyond this appeal to skin and sense – this according to an AP article I saw in the Wall Street Journal.

Kids are apparently snorting, injecting and smoking bath salts, and doing quite a bit of harm to themselves in the process.

Some say the effects of the powders are as powerful as abusing methamphetamine. Increasingly, law enforcement agents and poison-control centers say the bath salts with complex chemical names are an emerging menace in several U.S. states where authorities talk of banning their sale.

It’s not clear whether all bath salts, like my little packet of Lord & Mayfair Raspberry, can be used to get high and/or are dangerous. Certainly, I’m not going to find out. If and when I ever use my packet, it will be by following the directions to the tee: pour contents into running bath water.

But Ivory Wave, Bliss, Vanilla Sky, White Lightning and Hurricane Charlie – which are the names named in the bath salts article, and which are all on sale OTC -

…can cause hallucinations, paranoia, rapid heart rates and suicidal thoughts.

(Interesting names. Ivory Wave, Bliss, and Vanilla Sky sound innocuous enough, but certainly something marketed as White Lightning or Hurricane Charlie is not aimed at those who are looking for a good, comforting soak in the tub.)

Anyway, given the potential disturbing effects of bath salt use, maybe I’ll just dispose of that Lord & Mayfair Raspberry in the trash. I certainly don’t want to be lolling around in the bath water worrying about hallucinations or suicidal thoughts. I’m paranoid enough already, thank you.

The rash of bad reactions to bath salts has been particularly acute in the south, and Louisiana has already outlawed bath salts. Mississippi and Kentucky are considering bans. (Apparently, they’re not aware that, when bath salts are outlawed, only outlaws will have bath salts.)

Not that I want to make light of this. There are reported instances of bath salt overdoses, suicides, murder under the influence, and, in the case of one young man who:

…got high on bath salts, he took his skinning knife and slit his face and stomach repeatedly.

The bad bath salts contain MDPV and mephedrone. These chemicals are made in a lab from cathinone, which is plant-based, and they apparently are addictive.

The bath salts problem may be growing because of crackdowns on the sale of pseudoephedrine, and the consequent blow to the methamphetamine business, which used pseudospehed as its prime ingredient. One police officer interviewed in the article pointed out that the bath salt users he’d been seeing were meth addicts.

It sounds to me as if trying to solve this problem by banning bath salts is a temporary fix. Meth heads who’d turned into bath salt heads will find something else to get high on until whatever’s causing them to use drugs like this is taken care of. Still, it’s got to be scary for parents to think that something that a pack of Vanilla Sky bath salts that could easily have found its way into their daughter’s Christmas stocking could be used to make their son slit his throat.

Ghastly news, this.

One more lousy thing to worry about.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Uninvited: snubbed by Davos, yet again

The World Economic Forum – or, as those of us in the know refer to it, Davos; or, as I sometimes think of it as, the Big Kloster – is on this week and, yet again, Pink Slip was not invited.

Just not smart enough.  Big-thinking enough. Successful enough. Elite enough.

Boo-hoo, sniff-sniff: no one wants to network with me!

This is not quite as hurtful as not being invited to Kathy O’s birthday party in fifth grade, but it’ll do.

Don’t they realize that the Common Man, not to mention the Common Woman, also wants to fix the world, save humanity, star-gaze, and sip champagne.

Sure, I suppose we could go hang around Sundance if we want to be around some movers and shakers,  but that’s just The Movies. There’s star-gazing aplenty – with stars that are more recognizable than the CEO’s of Lucent and HIS, and even more recognizable than Bono, who’s also a Davos man. But we don’t want to just spot celebrities. We want to “improve the state of the world…[and] shape global, regional and industry agendas.” And that means, Davos, baby.

I guess I should count myself fortunate in one respect: Davos-ing costs a lot of moola to attend. (Note to self: add not rich enough to Davos-related things I’m not.)

The NY Times (Andrew Ross Sorkin’s column) had some of the lowdown on what a run to Davos might set you back if you really need and want to go “chasing successful people who want to be seen with other successful people. That’s the game,” in the words of author Nassim Taleb.

In order to wangle an invite to Davos, you have to have a pre-invite to become a member of the World Economic Forum.

There are several levels of membership: the basic level, which will get you one invitation to Davos, costs 50,000 Swiss francs, or about $52,000. The ticket itself is another 18,000 Swiss francs ($19,000), plus tax, bringing the total cost of membership and entrance fee to $71,000.

But this just gets you into the tent, not into any of the side shows, where the real interesting stuff happens. So you really want to get into the private sessions, as opposed to the events that are open to the Great Unwashed with their measly $71K membership and ticket. (Double-L Loser!) To get into the private events, that’ll be $156K. But I say, in for a dime, in for a dollar.

If you’re going to do Davos, I say do Davos.

Quibbling over a few bucks is so non-Davosian.

The fees cited above give you one ticket – no two-fers here. If you want to bring a buddy, you have to pay more. A lot more. But let’s face it, you certainly don’t want to be there alone at a private function. What if no-one recognizes you? At least if you have a minion colleague by your side, there’s someone you can be pretending to discuss Big Ideas with while you try to figure out whether it’s tacky to ask Bono for his autograph, rather than his Big Ideas. (Oh, those first timers! So easily star-struck…)

Bringing a best-bud is not a matter of ponying up the marginal cost of another ticket. You need the upgrade package. $301K (with two tickets).

If you travel with more than one, the ante’s upped further. You could drop $622K if you want to bring four friends with you. But at least that gets you into the private, good stuff.

And perhaps the biggest perk of all, your car and driver are given a sticker allowing door-to-door pickup service.

Not everyone can join the club at this level. Apparently, there are enough Western-types around already. Applications are only being accepted from companies from China or India that are on the Global 250 list.

(The Times writer points out that all levels of membership grant you invites to other World Economic Forum pow-wows, plus access to research projects. But he was pointing this out “in fairness.” I have so little interest in being fair about Davos, when I’m still smarting from not being there.)

None of the above includes T&E, of course. And nobody flies coach to Davos. Actually, nobody flies coach to Zurich, from whence they can proceed to Davos by helicopter for $3.4K.

(The forum provides a free bus service for those worried about their environmental footprint.)

This is a very good point. You can cheap out and take the bus, Gus, while letting it be known that you care more about the polar bear than the show-offs who are coptering in.

As at any good trade show, companies sponsor events – dinners, cocktail receptions, parties.

The bigger parties, like one that will be given by Google on Friday night for several hundred people, can run more than $250,000 for the evening. (In years past, Google has flown in the band and bartenders; one year, the company had an oxygen bar.)

Oxygen bar. Wowie, zowie.

Some, however, are claiming that Davos is on the wane as a must-attend event.

As one attendee, the author David Rothkopf, recently wrote on his blog, “The entire endeavor is fading for several reasons, all associated with the inadequacy of Davos as a networking forum.”

He explained, “As Steve Case,  founder of AOL, once told me while standing at the bar in the middle of the hubbub of the main conference center: ‘You always feel like you are in the wrong place in Davos, like there is some better meeting going on somewhere in one of the hotels that you really ought to be at. Like the real Davos is happening in secret somewhere.’ “

And if that’s how Steve Case is feeling, well, can you just imagine what would be going through Pink Slip’s mind if she had been able to wangle an invite to the Google oxygen bar.

Davos, Schmavos. Feh!

This weekend The Banshees – my sisters/cousins gang – are having our own personal Davos in Portsmouth, NH. We may do more shopping and gossiping than world saving. But I’ll bet we’ll have more fun than those who go to Davos hoping that Bono will make eye contact with them and tell them they had something interesting to say.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Protect your interests: start registering all those nasty domain names

This is apparently yesterday’s news – or at least last month’s – but I just came across a PC World article that picked up on Bank of America’s:

…feverishly registering domains that include the names of its directors and executives combined with "sucks" or "blows," according to Domain Name Wire. Hundreds of domain names were registered by the bank on December 17 alone, Domain Name Wire said.

Not only did they take care of CEO Brian Moynihan (a.k.a., BrianTMoynihan), but they even protected their CMO, Anne Finucane. (Funny to think of someone going after a marketing person, isn’t it?) They did not, apparently, extend their whirlwind of domain registration activity to friends and family. Finucane is married to political commentator Mike Barnicle, and, if anyone’s interested, MikeBarnicleSucks and MikeBarnicleBlows are still there for the grabbing. As is MikeBarnicleBlowhard.

Nor did BofA take care of all of its own board members and execs, having left a couple off of their list, at least initially. As PC World reported, board members Monica C. Lozano and Thomas May were left off the list. Whether this was an oversight, or a deliberate decision based on someone’s belief that Monica C. Lozano and Thomas May are way, way, way too nice for anyone in their right mind to set up a suck or blow website aimed at them. (May is CEO of NSTAR; Lozano is a newspaper editor.)

Unfortunately for BofA, the granddaddy (not GoDaddy) of all anti-Bank of America domain names – BankOfAmericaSucks – is long since taken.

No doubt it’s just a matter of time before domain names are irrelevant, and everything’s just hovering out there in one seemingly free-form, massive cloud that’s far more indexed and tied to every thought, word, or deed all of us have been involved in than what’s out there now. The cloud will be searchable in nano-time by some brilliant and colossal engine that figures out who, what, and why we want something. And, voila, information, will be delivered to our all-in-one nano electronic device, perhaps contained in a  sub-cutaneous chip of sorts. Or it will be delivered directly to our very own brain. (Of course, by that point the concept of “very own brain” will not doubt be different than our current view of the personal nature of what goes on in the still private reaches of the mind.)

Or maybe “it” will figure out what “they” want us to know. Forget net neutrality. Perhaps BofA and other megas will pay big bucks to make sure that no restuls ever gets returned in a top 100 spot from a search for some combination of “executive name” and “sucks” and/or “blows”. 

And the engines that do let us find the good stuff will charge us for the privilege. Really want to find “executive name” and “sucks” and/or “blows.” That’s cost you.

Meanwhile, there’ll be a thought police engine keeping track of who did this sort of depraved anti-corporate, or anti-government, or anti-whatever-"they”-don’t-want-us-to do, searching, and will be keeping records on everyone to such a degree that Nixon’s enemies lists will look both ludicrous and harmless. (Wow! Just think about how much easier it would be to run a police state if you don’t have to rely on neighbors spying on neighbors, or kids ratting out their parents. I’m currently reading the immediate-post-war novel, “Every Man Dies Alone,” by Hans Fallada, which chronicles quotidian life in Nazi Germany, so all this is much on my mind. Which is still, thankfully, still my very own mind.  No domain name, and no URL, since this is a resource that, while universal to me, is not one that anyone else can locate, thank you. At least for now.)

Anyway, at some point, it may not matter whether or not all those suck and blow domain names exist.

But ‘til then, corporations should probably make it part of their promotion or executive hiring practice or board member in-boarding to hoover up any domain name that could come back to bite a promotee or exec or board member in the URL.

When you leave the company, having them continue to pay for the registration can be part of your departure agreement. Or you can rollover the responsibility to your new company, in much the same way you can your 401K.

Personally, I’m not worried. If someone wants to grab “maureenrogerssucks”, have at it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ay, cholita

We all know that, in real life, no one looks like a super-model. That is, other than the super models themselves (and young girls who think this is the way women are supposed to look). But if you do count the super models themselves – taking into account the photo-shopping to make them look even more dramatic (and young girls who think this is the way women are supposed to look), there are at least some women in real life who are 6 feet tall, weigh 110 pounds, and have concave breasts and cheeks.

There are, however, no real life examples that I know of of someone who actually resembles Barbie.

That’s because, if Barbie were real, her neck couldn’t support her head, there’s be no room in her body for vital organs, her bones wouldn’t fit in her arms, and her feet would fit comfortably in baby shoes.

But, hey, let’s not blame Barbie. She’s just a doll.

We don’t blame Raggedy Ann for being floppy and having flaccid muscles, do we? Or Cabbage Patch dolls for looking like odd-balls? (We do, however, blame Bratz dolls for looking like hos, however.)

Still, I was interested to read about some Bolivian artisans who have appropriated Barbie’s figure, but are making it their own by giving her black hair, and dressing her up in the clothing of indigenous Andean women.  (Source: AP article on

The dolls are made in China and imported to the Andean nation, where 15 young artisans at the Creaciones Hugo shop work to transform them.

They do so by dressing them in:

…low black shoes, a shawl and a long, colorful, patterned skirt known as a "pollera." On top is the crowning touch, the bowler hat favored by Aymara women who dress in "cholita" style.

They must use a different mold than classic Barbie, as classic Barbie’s tippy-toe, perpendicular feet just wouldn’t fit in a boring black flat. Nothing but Cholita5plastic high heels for our gal. Maybe it’s the bowler hat, or that fact that they’re not dressed like hookers, but I think they’re cute. If I saw one on sale in La Paz, I might be tempted to buy me one. (I do think I’d take a pass on those Bolivian Ken dolls who are lurking behind the Bolivian Barbies wearing what, I can’t determine, but it looks authentically something or other. And so what if these cholita dolls exactly resemble a more authentic Bolivian cholita?


Who among us looks like Barbie? If you were paying attention above the answer is “no one”.  And so what if little Bolivian girls want a doll who’s pretty? (“Por favor, mamacita, I don’t want that authentic folk doll that’s short, stubby, and smells like a lama.”)

And yet…something there is that doesn’t love the fact that one of our country’s most pervasive, lasting, and – alas – imitated exports is the 11.5” of plastic weirdery known as Barbie.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Funeral Advantage. (What’s in a name?)

Product naming sounds like it should be fun, doesn’t it?

After all, it’s creative – and creative’s fun!

And, after all, it’s not brain-hard work like figuring out what the market needs, and what a product should actually do. And it’s not a walk-the-tightrope task like coming up with product pricing, where you’re trying to balance the need for an attractive enough price vs. the risk that you’ll be leaving some money on the table.

Product naming? Well, it’s just a name, and what’s in a name?

After all, even if your best friend ditzes out and names her firstborn Alphonse or Mildred, once you get to know and love the baby, well, the name kind of grows on you.

Still, I was involved in any number of product-naming exercises over the years, and they were all pretty much a waste of time and/or a no-win effort.

But before I ever got name a product, I got stuck with a few doozies.

Most memorably, there was AutoBJ, a data analysis and forecasting application based on Box-Jenkins autoregressive integrated moving average modeling. (You had to be there.) Anyway, the folks using AutoBJ were Wall Street quants, all guys in those days, and they just loved, loved, loved asking the female product manager for AutoBJ just what else the product could do. Wink-wink. Nudge-nudge. Ho-ho. I think it’s safe to say that I have heard every possible bad joke known to man that can possibly be associated with a product named AutoBJ.

Things went from bad, but not to worse. They actually went to better.

Having a product named ATF (for the Automated Test Facility) to sell in the wake of Waco wasn’t exactly fun (especially since an element of the product was called the ATF Agent). At trade shows, odd-balls would occasionally drift into our booth and start raving about Branch Davidians and/or the FBI and/or gun laws (pro and/or con).

Another component of the product was called the ATF Executive, so-named because, from its server base, it ran everything that happened on the client computers.

After one booth demo to someone who seemed to be getting what we were talking about as we explained the product, subtly underscoring why it made sense to pay about five times the going rate for a test tool (and one that required OS/2, to boot), the person we were demoing to shrugged and said, “I really can’t see an executive using this product.”

Well, neither could we.

The best we could ever hope for was that we could hoodwink convince some executive to buy the product, and order some poor schnook of a minion to figure out how to use it.

When I was stuck with product naming, my usual modus operandi was to make a contest out of it.

After all, talk of AutoBJ and ATF aside, in technology companies it does not, for the most part, matter what you call your products. Most folks are going to use the name of the company, not the product. Tech is not like consumer goods, where a lot of money goes into branding Tide and Crest. Product names? Who cares? Does an Oracle database have or need any name other than Oracle?

So, hey, kids, let’s have a product naming contest and see what we can come up with. And I was not above whispering a name I liked into someone’s ear to make sure that at least one name I liked was entered in the contest. Anyway, the contests produced names that were so memorable, even I can’t remember any of them.)

When I was at Genuity, the CMO – having told us that he was thinking of Black Rocket - asked for suggestions for naming a new hosting service we were launching. We came up with plenty of decent suggestions, but to our complete surprise and amazement, the winning name turned out to be – ta-da – Black Rocket. Which, in turn, turned out to be the name of a powerful hashish sold in the Netherlands, and a brand of condom found in Spain. But, never mind, it’s not like we actually ever sold a Black Rocket in Holland or Spain. Or in the U.S., for that matter. But after a $40M marketing spend to launch the Rocket, we weren’t going to come away empty handed. So the company started declaring that every sale of any hosting services was a Black Rocket. Mission accomplished!

The head guys do have a way of getting their way, don’t they?

A few years after Black Rocket, I was at another company, doing yet another employee contest to rename an old set of services that we were going to relaunch.

As I was meeting with the Executive Team to go over the finalists – don’t even ask what the Executive Team was doing getting involved in this bit trivial pursuit when the company was having trouble making its numbers – the disembodied voice of the COO came over the phone.

“Alphonse likes A, B, and C,” he intoned. Alphonse was our CEO. A, B, and C weren’t on my list of candidates.

I was about to say, fine, let’s vote, we can add A, B, and C to the ballot, when our perkier-than-thou VP of Sales chirped up.

“A, B, and C. That’s brilliant! Wow, Alphonse is great at product naming.”

Soon, the other “Executives” were adding their props.

“A! B! C! How brilliant! No wonder Alphonse is the CEO! What a mind!”

I declared A, B, and C victors by acclamation.

And, of course, it really didn’t matter. Customers continued to use the name of the company when referring to our services. And, for the rest of us, A, B, and C did end up growing on us.

My last gasp with product naming came a couple of years ago. My colleague Sean and I were hired to help a company come up with a new naming architecture for their product line. We actually put a good deal of effort into it, and came up with some (we thought) excellent options. Only to have everything we came up with shot down for some incredibly lame reason – including being told that “a product name can’t begin with a vowel”? Take that, Excel!

We finally figured out that, in their minds, the best naming scheme in the whole wide world, the one they really wanted to go with, was based on the name of another company. In fact, that other company had been founded by a group of engineers who had left the company Sean and I were working with. So the name they wanted was really kinda-sorta taken by their ex-colleagues.

Anyway, while elliptical-ing at the gym the other day, an ad came on TV for something called Funeral Advantage.

Funeral Advantage is end-of-life insurance, earmarked for burial and other final expenses (party-after).

But what’s the advantage here?

Sure, you get the funeral and everything, but it’s not exactly yours to enjoy, even if it may spell the difference between a sleek metal casket and a pine box that looks like it would have done the honors for Doc Holliday. And it’s something of an advantage over passing that hat at your wake that your loved ones won’t have to go out-of-pocket for the organist and a couple of vases full of gladioli. Still, it’s hard to see what the big advantage is here.

Not that I’ve got anything against the use of the word advantage in the product. I know I tossed it in there more than once on products I was naming. In fact, just the other day, when emptying out an old backpack, I found a dried up Softbridge Test Advantage pen. But my product advantages were righteous uses of the word advantage.

Funeral Advantage, baaaahhhh.

I really wasn’t thinking of it, until I went to set the post date, but today is the 40th anniversary of my father’s death. Still miss you, Dad…

Monday, January 24, 2011

Seven brides for seven brothers? No problem if you’ve got the cash.

Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of Indian men who were in arranged marriages.

But I never knew anyone who’d married a mail order bride.

There are plenty of them out there, though. In 2007, there were 16,500 mail order marriages in the U.S. alone. (Source: Business Week.)

A lot of those brides came from Thailand or the Philippines. Others came from Russia or the Ukraine.

And some of them came from the Czech Republic, many (paid) courtesy of Joseph Weiner, a Wharton MBA from NYC whose second career (after investment banking) was entrepreneurial. He founded Hand-in-Hand, which matches fellows with marriage on their mind with Czech women.

"Every guy wants a beautiful younger woman," [Weiner] explains. "It's the nature of us."

Let’s face it, as the Hand-in-Hand web site tell us:

In the 21st century, more and more women are deciding to focus on their careers and other interests rather than settling down with a successful and interesting man. However, the advent of introduction agencies such as HAND-IN-HAND can make the dream, which many men aspire to, of having a beautiful, educated, reasonably younger and unique woman by your side a REALITY…This program is designed for single men looking for a true life partner who is beautiful, significantly younger, educated, is unspoiled by feminism and whose culture is one of support & respect.

In its 14 years in a business apparently unspoiled by feminism – which, lets face it, has spoiled so very much for so very many -  Hand-in-Hand has grown from a single outfit, to a global empire with 30 satellite offices  in the U.S., Western Europe, and Abu Dhabi. These offices are franchises – the franchisee having paid Hand-in-Hand $16K for the privilege of….

What, eaxactly?

I was definitely a bit confused here, trying to figure out what value-add a franchisee could bring to an on-line matchmaking business.

But, sho nuff, you can get an answer to pretty much anything – possibly excepting the meaning of life – by a bit of a google. So on FranchiseClique, I learned that Hand-in-Hand franchisee make their $16K back:

1. By selling our services to men in your territory.
2. By offering our packages to travel agents in your own area, and getting an override on all the business they do with us. We are the only company that has a package that allows you to walk into travel agents and do business, so you have little or no competition.
3. By offering our services to the huge gay population. We are the only agency that facilitates the introduction of men to younger, handsome men in Eastern Europe. It's not incumbent on you to sell this service but it is a very profitable part of our business and comes with the franchise package and free leads at no extra cost.

Okay. Other than #2, I still don’t complete get how the franchisees make money, other than acting as a middle man to someone who couldn’t find his way directly to Hand-in-Hand.  Does Hand-in-Hand hand-in-hand over the leads that come in from the franchisee’s territory, and have them work them, up close and personal? Point #3 does mention “free leads.” Whatever.

All I know is that Weiner’s sold 30 of them to folks interested in:

…potential profits of $250,000 per year for an initial investment of as little as $16,000, and the
opportunity to own a franchise in an interesting and glamorous industry that you can operate from your home or small office.

I’ll grant them that this is an interesting industry, but, ah, I’m having a hard time seeing how trafficking in humans is all that glamorous – even if all the women that get trafficked do, actually, look like the glam girls on the Hand-in-Hand site.

And they are all girls. The franchisees who want to work with the gay community must get a secret handshake link to the site where the glam boys are.

Needless to say, where money changes hands in exchange for human beings, there’s bound to be some controversy, and because of some nasty business associated with international matchmaking,

… the U.S. passed the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA). The statute requires background checks on U.S. citizens before communication via the matchmakers.

Okay. That somewhat protects the mail order brides themselves. What protects the prospective bridegrooms from getting scammed?

Perhaps it’s working with an agency like Hand-in-Hand that is respectable enough to have been profiled in Business Week.

Whether Hand-in-Hand is on the up-and-up or not, they do have a way with words.

Beautiful Czech women and Prague women are the cynosure of all eyes. They possess all the essential qualities that men desire to have in their life partners. It is a dream of every man on this planet to meet gorgeous Czech brides and make them their soul mates... The beauty of Prague ladies lies not only in their sensual look, but they are at the same time adventurous, highly literate, well-acquainted with modern gadgets and courteous with deep respect for family values and traditions.

Who says marketing people exaggerate? (“It is the dream of every man on this planet….”)  Who says marketing people don’t know how to use big words? (“…the cynosure of all eyes”). Who says marketing people never get the technical facts straight. (“….well-acquainted with modern gadgets”). 

And who says marketing people have no sense of humor:

If you want to join the mounting list of males who are mad to meet gorgeous Czech brides, then open the doors of eternal love and happiness- Contact Us. (Italics mine.)

And lest you think that these Czech lovelies are gold-diggers, we are told that Hand-in-Hand is not only about women who are unspoiled by feminism, but who are similarly unspoiled by the rampant consumerism that has undeniably tainted the world, never more so than in the last several decades:

Keeping materialism at bay, these attractive ladies as prospective brides believe in serious relationship full of love and commitment.


These gorgeous Czech women are interested in men they don’t know who are twice their age, as opposed to Czech fellows their own age, and it has nothing to do with materialism?


As for seven brides for seven brothers? At $2K per capita, that’ll cost you $14K if you don’t bother with the trip to Prague, but just have the brides delivered F.O.B.

For another $2K, you might as well go ahead a buy a franchise.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Butling: yet another career in demand

Why waste your time trying to develop valuable technical skills at ITT Tech? Why bother with an online MBA from the University of Phoenix? Don’t even think about shifting gears and learning how to drive an 18 wheeler.

If you really want to prepare yourself for the brave new world, in which a relative handful of global elite kabillionaires live large, while the rest of us live and work out our miserable existences at their sufferance, you’ll want to consider becoming a butler. And, come April, you’ll have a place state-side to learn how to do so. That’s because,

Come April, Ms. [Dorothy] Hamilton, the founder and CEO of the International Culinary Center, will inaugurate an Estate Management Studies program, its mission, according to a press release, being "to Train a New Caliber of Household Staff." (Source: WSJ Online.)

Right there in New York City. On Broadway.

The dean, if that’s the right term, is Christopher Ely, who was a footman at Buckingham Palace, and the butler to the late Brooke Astor. (Who’s on your cv?)

The program will ultimately cover as many as 20 skill sets within the framework of household cleaning and organization, and culinary and laundry essentials. These include silver polishing, pressing, stain removal, organizing closets, packing, making beds, creating healthy meals and, perhaps most important of all, doing no harm to your employer's Warhols, Chippendale chairs or 18th-century Limoges dinner service.

Well, I could probably waive out of laundry, as I’m actually pretty okay at it. (Although, admittedly, I’m not the world’s foremost iron-er). Being able to waive a course will save me about $1.5K, which is the cost for a unit (which takes a week to get through). By waiving out, however, I would have to forego a certificate, suitable for framing. But, what the heck’s a colored printer for, anyway? I could probably forge make my own laundry certificate.

Here’s a link to Butler U. (No, not that Butler U, the one that made it to the NCAA basketball finals last year. The other Butler U. The one where you learn stuff like silver polishing and making beds.)

I do think they should have a unit on bed bugs, by the way. Just saying.

Although they don’t yet do bed bugs, specifically, they are considering a course for the nouveau riche who may be ordering around staff for the first time.

I do want to point out that I copped on to the coming demand for butling way back in April, 2008, when I wrote about:

Charles MacPherson, president of his own placement and consulting agency and former head of the International Guild of Professional Butlers, [who] has declared a nationwide butler shortage.

The Guild is going to start a school "to help offset the lack of supply."

(Am I a trend-spotter, or what?)

As for The Guild, they did, indeed establish a school: the Butling & House Management School and Agency.  For Americans, it’s not as conveniently located as the NYC program – it’s in Holland, at:

Kasteel Oost (literally translated Castle of the East) is beautifully located in the historical city of Valkenburg (officially the city is called Valkenburg aan de Geul) in the south of The Netherland.

But, hey, you get to go to school in a castle.

They welcome applicants of all ages, and have had a graduate as old as 68, butling, perhaps, being the one profession where  advanced age may actuallycount for something. No time to gTIBA Chairman Robert Wennekes with studentso back to school to learn butling? You may want to settle for self-paced, eLearning on Napkin Folding over at the Butler’s Guild. (I must away. As I do not (yet) have a butler of me own, I want to master the Cardinal’s Hat before my next dinner party. Fortunately, I have plenty of time.)


Thursday, January 20, 2011

“Residue, residue, residue”: bad foreclosed house vibes be gone…

There’s probably not a lot going on for the professional witches of Salem, Massachusetts, once Halloween’s over.

Sure, a lot of them still have their shops open, but there’s just not the crazy buzz, the tremendous commercial vibes there are during the month of October when being in Salem is just one big meshugas, culminating in the meshugas to end all meshugas on October 31st.

As my sister Trish lives in Salem, I get to see the meshugas up close and personal, and it’s great fun if you a) don’t have to drive through it (I train it and walk to my sister’s house); and b) you have a place of refuge when the meshugas gets too meshugassy (I walk to my sister’s house).

Still, I always wondered what the witches do during their off-season, and had assumed that many of them had a diversified portfolio of skills to fall back on when black and orange are no longer the colors du jour.

And now, thanks to the Wall Street Journal, I know what some of them do. They rid foreclosed houses of their bad ju-ju so the new owners don’t have to deal with it.

I had heard of the practice of burying a statue of St. Joseph, upside down in your yard to help you sell a house. But I hadn’t heard about using witches to whisk away any negativity in a house you’d just bought.

Witch Lori Bruno and warlock Christian Day – and if that isn’t a great name for a warlock, I don’t know what is – helped Salem house-buyer Tony Barletta with his new home before he started gutting it. (Apparently just tearing out the old sheetrock and ripping up the old linoleum isn’t enough, when it comes to a foreclosure.) To help Barletta out, Bruno and Day:

…clanged bells and sprayed holy water, poured kosher salt on doorways and raised iron swords at windows.

I really like that melding of the Judeo-Christian traditions. (Would gargling with holy water with kosher salt in it relieve a sore throat better than tap water and Morton’s, I wonder?)

Ms. Bruno also hollered the bad stuff away:

"Residue, residue, residue is in this house. It has to come out…Lord of fire, lord flame, blessed be thy holy name...All negativity must be gone!"

That negativity is all those “’energy imprints from past discussions, arguments, money problems. All of that is absorbed by the house." This according to a “so-called intuitive” who seems to know something about distressed home sales in California. (Why am I not surprised that a “so-called intuitive” has hung her shingle out in Orange County?  Meanwhile, if, by “intuitive” they mean Myers-Briggs personality test intuitive – as in INTJ – then maybe I can do foreclosed house de-negativity-ing.  I’m an “N”, after all, which is Myers-Briggs for “intuitive” since the “I” was already hogged by “introvert”. See how easy it is to get diverted?)

Salem has seen an upswing in the use of cleansing rituals on foreclosed houses: there were eight last year, compared to one or none most years.

The witches of Salem aren’t getting rich on this, by the way.

Ms. Bruno and the other Salem witch mentioned in the story don’t charge for it. (I hope they take tips at least…)

For them, this is goodness-of-the-heart kind of work, but there are others elsewhere trying to turn house cleansing into a business.

Austin, Texas-based feng shui consultant Logynn B. Northrhip is teaming up with Scottsdale, Ariz., real-estate agent Jason Goldberg to offer a package of services to create better vibes in a home, either before sale or after purchase. The two met at a yoga retreat.

Good luck with the competition, which not only includes the good-hearted witches of Salem, but also:

…psychics, priests and feng shui consultants, among others, [who] bless or exorcise dwellings.

While they don’t get paid for their house-cleansing services, it is  head’s up marketing for Mr. Day and Ms. Bruno.

He owns the Hex Old World Witchery magic shop downtown [Salem] and she gives psychic readings there.

Now that I think of it, I actually live in a foreclosed home, a condo bought at auction in 1991 from a flim-flam man who’d done a bit of real estate speculating. When we first bought our place, he was still living in the building, but eventually “his” unit, too, went on the auction block, and he was given the old heave-ho.

When I consider all the odd-ball aspects of living where I do, beginning with the flim-flam man and continuing to the present day of general building weirdness, I’m starting to wonder whether we shouldn’t have done an exorcism of some kind before we moved in.


Wonder if Ms. Bruno and Mr. Day would consider an ex post facto bad ju-ju cast out?

Of course, it’s not contained in our unit: it’s the whole building. But since they don’t charge to begin with, I guess they wouldn’t charge extra.

I’d pay their transpo. Plus give them a nice fat tip.

Wonder if it’s too late to rid our building goof-ball negativity?

I know where I can buy kosher salt; I guess I could stop by a Catholic Church and poach a bit of holy water from a holy water font.

Would you have to believe in it to make the cast-out effective?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It may not be in the Comic Book Code, but…

I just love a good say-something-stupid-on-the-web stupidity story and this one, as they say, is a capital L-U-L-U lulu. With a couple of Pink Slip bonus points awarded because the stupidity involves blogging.

Here’s the scoop:

There’s a local business man in these parts who runs an online comic book and graphic novel site.

I am not a frequenter of said/unsaid site.

I was a kid during the 1950’s and 1960’s, but, unlike the kids on TV, we didn’t really go in for comic books. Other than the odd Little Lulu or Archie, I don’t remember ever buying a comic book. (Other than MAD, but that’s another story.) As I did with every other difference between the way we lived and acted, and the way kids on TV lived an acted, I chalked the proclivity to purchase a comic book up to a function of religion. Kids on TV were Protestants; we were Catholic. They just had a different sense of humor than we did, and must have actually thought comic books were funny. We didn’t. Case closed.

So, no, I am not a frequenter of the comic book/graphic novel site in question.

But somebody must be, because it’s apparently how the local businessman makes at least some part of his living.

By the way, while this fellow may be guilty of online stupidity, he is not your run of the mill dummy.  He:

…is a National Merit Scholarship winner, and graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Computer Science and Roman History, and worked at a succession of startups in the Boston area. (Source: CrunchBase.)

But, National Merit Scholar or no, this guy is now in big trouble for a post-Tucson comment or blog posting he made:

…saying “one down 534 to go” in reference to [Gabrielle] Giffords and the other 534 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. (Source here on out:

As a result, police buzzed in and seized a “large amount” or guns and ammo that Mr. Degree in Computer Science and Roman History kept in his home, and suspended his firearms license.

Perhaps the online comic book industry is more dangerous than one might think. Or perhaps this guy is just one of those folks we affectionately refer to as a “gun nut.” Or maybe he’s  just a(formerly) armed and dangerous person.

Whatever he is, this guy has demonstrated a complete and utter lack of judgment, and I can’t help but believe that this will at some point come back to haunt him. Surely someone, someday, who’s considering investing in this man’s start-up, or who’s thinking of hiring him, would read about this comment (and, frankly, all that gun ownership) and take a pass. Or at least a long drawn out pause.

I know, I know. this individual’s probably not the only person to (shamefully) think or utter such a thought in the wake of the shootings. And sticks and stones break bones, not words. (Yes, but: words matter.) But, in this day and age, to put something like this online without thinking that there may, just may, be some repercussions? Wow? What was he thinking?

[He] has since redacted the comments, but police consider the threat to be credible until they can prove otherwise. Police have also contacted federal law enforcement agencies about the comment.

Of course, since stupid isn’t always as stupid does, this may end up being an absolute free publicity business coup for Mr. National Merit. Think of all the smart bloggers who are posting about his comic book business… Some are even using his name, and providing a direct link to his comic book/graphic novel site, rather than making you work for it by clicking through on the hyperlink to CrunchBase or which the Bloggers’ Code requires that I put in.

For all I know, Mr. High Above Cayuga’s Waters has become something of an insta-hero among some element of the comic book/graphic novel and/or ‘I hate the government’ set, who believe that – ho-ho – making this kind of joke was all in as much good fun as ordering sea monkeys from the back of an Archie and Veronica comic book.

Still, it really can’t be good for business to have the Feds and the locals crawling up and down your arse, and to have exposed yourself as an out-and-out, tasteless cretin who thinks it’s funny to joke about our elected representatives - no matter how loathsome and reprehensible one might find them to be – getting shot at.

You think the country’s in terrible straits now? Just imagine how dire those straits would be if that loathsome and reprehensible scenario played out.

Whatever happened to the Comic Book Code?  Sheesshhhh.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nevergreen: more mfg. jobs exit the Bay State

In terms of weathering The Great Recession, Massachusetts has been more fortunate than many other states. We were spared, of course, by having lost so much of our manufacturing base decades ago, and by not having had anything resembling a crazed building boom. There’s something to be said for living in a non-Go-Go kind of place.

That said, life hasn’t been all that easy for blue collar workers who never made the transition to higher skilled professions in industries that have been doing okay, like technology.

So, when we do have some decently paid manufacturing jobs as part of our mix, there’s always something feel good about it.

Thus, we rejoiced when Evergreen Solar, maker of solar panels, invested (with the help of $43M from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) in a factory built on the site of the old Fort Devens. The factory employed 800, whose jobs, after less than three years, are now gone with the wind.

That wind took the jobs to China.

And not just because the average factory worker makes a whopping $300 a month, compared to Massachusetts’ average factory pay of $5,400.  This amount sounds absolutely tycoonish, but we’ve long shed all our really low skilled factory jobs in textiles, shoes, plastic toys, etc., and instead focused on more technical, higher skilled production jobs, mostly in smaller shops.

Evergreen’s ability to compete had been compromised because the price for solar panels has gone down.

No surprise here: products do tend to get commoditized, and we all get to have more stuff, cheaper. (A decidedly mixed blessing, of course.)

But Evergreen’s CEO, Michael El-Hillow, lays at least part of the blame for those 800 pink slips on the extensive subsidies that manufacturers get from the Chinese government, which has prompted Evergreen to close down its factory in Massachusetts, and move all production to its facility in China. (This facility is supposedly built on a site which “municipal police had used…for mass executions into the 1980s.” Nice tidbit, that.)

Here’s what we’re up against:

Evergreen, with help from its partners — the Wuhan municipal government and the Hubei provincial government — borrowed two-thirds of the cost of its Wuhan factory from two Chinese banks, at an interest rate that under certain conditions could go as low as 4.8 percent, Mr. El-Hillow said in August. Best of all, no principal payments or interest payments will be due until the end of the loan in 2015.

By contrast, a $21 million grant from Massachusetts covered 5 percent of the cost of the Devens factory, and the company had to borrow the rest from banks, Mr. El-Hillow said.

I dunno.

We seem to keep trying to convince ourselves that economic redemption of the job creating kind will come in on the big green wave of demand for non-fossil fuel based energy.

Doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen any time soon.

If we can’t keep the dirty old manufacturing jobs, and we can’t keep the cool new green manufacturing jobs, just what is it that Americans who are never going to be nano-scientists, genome mappers, or (blecchhh) investment bankers actually going to do to make a living?

Nothing that hasn’t been said before, but the end of those 800 Evergreen jobs got me thinking about it again.

Living in interesting times is scary, no?

Source for this post: NY Times.

Monday, January 17, 2011

“There she is, lighter than air she is…”

I saw in the news the other day that the Miss America contest was held over the weekend, apparently when I was watching football.

It was held in Las Vegas, where it emigrated to from its home in Atlantic City a few years ago. (Is Las Vegas all that much more wholesome than Atlantic City, or just a place that people would rather be?)

Because I was watching football, I did not see Teresa Scanlan of Gerig, Nebraska, the 17-year old who will wear the crown for the next year.

That seems awfully young to me, but this is perhaps one of those cases where the judges hoped to crown someone without much mileage on her  - similar in reasoning to why The Royals opted for the sweet young Diana as an appropriate bride for the older Prince Charles. I.e., they are in hopes that there will be no surprises emerging – no YouTube scandals in the wings. And Miss Scanlan – I was going to write “Ms. Scanlan”, but I think not – has the requisite bland, conventional, whiter-than-white teeth looks that go with the territory.

Plus, Miss Scanlan  is a student at Patrick Henry College, a conservative Christian college hoping to turn out conservative Christian politicians and judges, both of which Miss Scanlan hopes to be someday.

She beat out our Miss Massachusetts, Loren Geller Rabinowitz, who I suspect didn’t have a prayer of a chance.

Ms. Rabinowitz – and I think I’m on safe ground with the Ms. here – was profiled the other day in The Boston Globe.  She’s only 5’2”, which puts here at more than a munchkin-sized disadvantage when compared to the statuesque, leggy swimsuit blondes. (There hasn’t been a winner this short since 1921.) And, while she’s plenty attractive, her looks aren’t of the bland and conventionally pretty variety. She’s also Jewish, and, if she’d won, would have been only the second Jewish Miss A. (Bess Myerson remains the one and only.) Not the mention that she would have been the first to graduate from Harvard. (Fight fiercely, Harvard!)

What Ms. Geller is, however, in every other aspect of her life, something of a superstar.

It was exhausting just reading about her: Ivy League grad (magna), championship skater, poet, concert pianist, combo skating coach-tutor, and future pediatrician. She’s weighing her med school acceptances now. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that she will not have to attend med school in Grenada. While at Harvard, she won  the David McCord Prize for "depth of talent in the literary arts," and the Harvard University Le Baron Briggs Prize, "for work as a humanitarian and poet." Oh, yeah, and she’s the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor.

I’m guessing that there were few Miss America candidates who could top Ms. Rabinowitz when it comes to résumé or likelihood of stellar future accomplishment.

But none of this helped get her the crown, or even a place in the semi-finals.

Probably the biggest thing she had going against her was being from Massachusetts, which has never, ever, ever in the whole wide world has had a candidate who won. Only a handful have even placed in the semis. One was 1st runner-up. (Thanks, Wikipedia, for confirming what I knew in my heart, anyway. Massachusetts across your however ample chest is a kiss of Miss America death.)

I guess there’s just not all that much of a beauty pageant culture in these parts. No Little Miss Cunning starter events for three year olds who’ve already had their eyebrows done. No, “oh, goodie, Miss America is coming to town for a ribbon cutting at the new WalMart.”

So instead of sending contenders, we apparently send girls from Massachusetts who are actually in it for the scholarship loot.

I do, however, believe that Ms. Rabinowitz stood a better chance than our 1965 candidate, Mabel Bendiksen, whose talent was a Dramatic Reading & Folk Singing of "The Hazards of Nuclear Fallout" & "What Have They Done to the Rain".

Bet that went over big with the judges!

Anyway, Mabel Bendiksen was handily beaten by Vonda Kay VanDyke, a signing ventriloquist.

Take that, Mabel Bendiksen.

When I was in high school, a girl from our parish, Carol Ann Kennedy, was Miss Massachusetts. She was a dancer and, as I recall, a pretty enough blonde who did The Commonwealth proud by making it to the semi-finals. I remember seeing her once, in a convertible, wearing her crown on the way to some function.

I did not, however, know her personally because she lived in a different neighborhood and, more important, was a “pub”, i.e., someone who attended public school. Unless you lived next door to one, you just didn’t know any pubs.

Carol Ann Kennedy did, however, factor tangentially in an earlier event in my life.

Every year, each grade at Our Lady of Angels grammar school put on some bit of entertainment as part of the annual Christmas Pageant (the only “pageant” any of us were ever associated with). One grade might have a “rhythm band” (clap sticks and tambourines); another might play “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” on their recorders. The eighth grade always did the Nativity tableau. Generally, there was some latitude in what each nun picked for her grade.

In fifth grade, Sister Saint Wilhelmina decided that we would all don kelly-green crepe paper vests and sing “Christmas in Killarney,” while a hand-picked selection of girls step danced. Since Sister Saint Wilhelmina despised me (among a number of other girls, one of whom I’m guessing is reading this blog), I was not one of the chosen few. Sister Saint Wilhelmina also thought it would look better if all the step dancers were short, which further knocked me (not to mention that other girl, my cousin MB, who I’m guessing is reading this blog) out of the box. She did, however, invite her pets among the tall girls (MB and I not among them) to “join in the fun of the jigs and reels” and learn to step dance.

Step dancing was taught by Carol Ann Kennedy, still in her pre-Miss Massachusetts days, and a catechism student of Sister Saint Wilhelmina. (Catholic pubs had to attend weekly religious education classes. On catechism day, we were warned to bring anything valuable home, and to hide our pens and pencils in the back of our desks so it would be harder for the pubs to filch them. I’m guessing that Carol Ann Kennedy was not a pencil-filching pub.)

Surprisingly, given the Irish-American majority in our parish, I didn’t actually know anyone who took step dancing.

We all knew about it, as it was a frequent act on Community Auditions, “New England’s Showcase for Talented Amateurs”, which ran on Channel 4 ever Sunday morning for years. Our neighborhood talented amateurs took piano, tap, or baton.

Anyway, because I was both tall and despised by Sister Saint Wilhelmina, I did not get the opportunity to meet the future Miss Massachusetts personally.

Thanks, Sister Saint Wilhelmina. Thanks for nothing.

Think how ticked off I would be if Carol Ann Kennedy had actually gone on to win the whole shebang?

Friday, January 14, 2011

See amid the winter snow. (All those recycled Yellow Pages….)

I have a long and glorious history of complaining about the annual attack of the Yellow Pages, White Pages, Yellow Books.  Here I am on my old marketing blog, in January 200,9 and here’s a  Pink Slip post from just a couple of months ago. I also did a slightly more benevolent read on Yellow Pages in 2007 – ages ago, for sure.

Yellow Pages (and variants thereof) are on my mind because yesterday I performed my annual ritual: The Dumping of the Phone Books, in which I place a couple of dozen Yellow Pages, White Pages, and Yellow Books into recycle bags, and leave them out for the recycling truck, which roams the neighborhood today.

I live in a six-unit condo building, and – blame it on the landlines – more than six of each of these books are delivered to our building every year.

They’re left on the top step, and I’m, invariably, the one who brings them in.

I leave them in the communal foyer, on the communal table, for a few days. My watchful waiting period.

The other residents of the building either a) ignore them entirely, or b) toss one into the communal recycling basket that sits in the communal foyer.

I am the emptier of the communal recycling basket. And the cleaner-upper of the communal table.

Thus, I am the one schlepping the full complement of Yellow/White Pages from the front of the house (where they’re dropped off) to the back of the house (where the trash guys pick up).

In a couple of hours, they will be removed from their perch on the snow bank out back, and tossed into the maws of the recycle truck. Or into the non-caring, non-discriminating general purpose garbage truck, that I occasionally catch grabbing the recycle. (In much the same way as, years ago, I observed my company’s cleaning staff emptying the waste baskets and the blue recycle tubs into the same trash bucket.)

Personally, having done my best, I don’t care whose maw these books end up in, as long as they’re out of our foyer.

Satan, be gone!

Still, I do have to wonder what the business impetus is behind continually producing directories that no one under the age of 91 refers to – I’m using the “if she were alive” age of my mother  here. How do they continue to con businesses into thinking it makes sense to appear in a paper directory, which 99.99% of the time ends up in the dump or in the recycle brew?

I get that you’d want to be in their online directory, but who’s buying the quarter-page ads these days? (I could tell you if I hadn’t already jettisoned the stash sent to our business; and, as of this blogging, I am not going to chance the snow, ice, and gloom of night out there in order to retrieve one to take a look.

Truly, I can’t conceive of what the long-run business model is here.

I did see something in the papers – read, by the way, online – that quoted someone official as raving about how these tomes are now all on recyclable paper. But recycling still takes energy, etc., and wouldn’t it be, overall, a more kindly gesture to Mother Earth to just give up on printing them entirely.

Let those who need them order them. (Online.)

Let those who need them pay for them – or get subsidized by those of us who cast kindly eyes on 91 year olds who need to look up a new optometrist, or a florist where they can order a bouquet of white roses for their great-granddaughters First Holy Communion. Or whatever.

Hey, I’ve worked in some de-pressing places over the years.

You know the type: keep re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; keep holding up that wall, while the opposite wall collapses, conking you (and everyone else in its path) on the noggin; the “we’re, alas, ahead of the market” kinds of places; the “we’re, alas, behind the market” kinds of places.

I know, up close and personal, what it’s like to be in a failing organization.

But I am singularly lacking in the imagination that would enable me to truly picture what it must be like to work in sales or marketing for “The Pages” businesses.

Talk about buggy whips at ten paces.

As the Irish say, I’m sorry for your troubles.

But not sorry enough to do anything but toss these bad-boys into the recycle bucket.

(And, yes, I have tried calling/e-mailing to get delivery stopped.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow Day

When I was a child, there were no words sweeter than those uttered by the radio voice on WTAG or WNEB, informing the eager kiddies of Worcester that there was “No school. All schools. Worcester public and parochial.”

There had to be at least a foot of snow for this to happen - none of this candy-assed couple of inches shut down. And school was never called off in advance. I remember trudging up the hill from grammar school in complete white out, blizzard conditions when a storm began during the school day.

Even though almost everyone had a mother at home, there was no such thing as early release.  Nope, you waited until the bell rang at 3 p.m., and then you braved the elements. Hoping all the way home that the storm would last long enough so that we’d hear that “No school. All schools. Worcester public and parochial.”

(I also remember, in first grade, trudging up the hill, all by my lonesome, in complete white out, blizzard conditions because I’d forgotten to bring in my signed permission card for the polio shot. The shots weren’t being given that day, mind you. We were just supposed to have the form in. And Sister Marie Leo was not one for giving any of us a pass. So, she sent a bunch of us out in the storm, Little Evas on the ice floes. I’m not sure how many of us were sent home, but Kathy Shea and Kevin Mulcahy, as I recall, were among the unforgiven. I was the first kid back. The other mothers insisted that their kids warm up a bit. Kathy Shea’s mother even made her a cup of cocoa. I can’t remember if my mother offered. At the time, she would have had an infant and a three-year-old on her hands, so she might not have been in the offering mood. Plus I probably would have convinced myself that it was a mortal sin not to speed right back with the signed polio shot form. After all, this was the same Sister Marie Leo who’d told us it was a mortal sin to step toe on the “holy grass” that surrounded the church. What a life, where you could go to hell for touching a blad of “holy grass.”)

At least in grammar school, we could walk home – school was only about a half-mile away.

In high school, getting home during a bad storm could take hours. It required taking the special bus into downtown Worcester, then waiting to transfer to a regular city bus. (The 19 Cherry Valley, usually.  Or the 33 Brookfield.  I can’t remember the route numbers, but there was also an Apricot bus. And a Grand View that you could take – but that was only in dire circumstances, as it was a long schlep home from the Grand View stop.) Naturally, during a bad storm, buses took 4EVA.

There were many times when I stood huddling with my friends, shivering in our loden coats, waiting for the 19 Cherry Valley to appear. Not to mention that our feet would be soaked right through the soles of our Bass Weejun penny loafers. Boots? Who knew there was going to be a freaking blizzard when we’d left for school in the morning?

Fast forward a few years….

During the Blizzard of ‘78, everyone was snowed in. I was already living on Beacon Hill by then, and the city of Boston was totally shut down. It was something to see the National Guard called out for snow removal. And something else to see folks grabbing a dozen loaves of bread when the first post-blizzard deliveries were made to the stores.  Banks were closed for a couple of days, too, and this was the era before the ATM. (Remember having to plan your cash that carefully?)

Yesterday’s storm was supposed to be a big deal. And it was in other parts of the state.

But I think we only got about 8 – 10 inches.

In the old days, that was certainly not enough for “No school. All schools. Worcester public and parochial.” But Worcester schools were closed today, and they’re closed tomorrow. As are Boston’s. Of course, Worcester probably got at least twice as much snow as Boston did.

The night before this latest storm, I’d joined the panicked hordes at Whole Foods, where the bread shelves were stripped nearly clean by the time I arrived. Well provisioned, we were all set.

So I took a snow day yesterday, and didn’t budge out of the house. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as “No work. All work.” A downside of the always on, live by the computer world we live in.

But it does appear that our condo association has found a shoveler who is not me. And our mailman, who didn’t have to deliver anything other than first class mail because of the weather conditions, brought me my New Yorker, anyway.

So I was able to enjoy my sandwich on the near last loaf of bread (When Pigs Fly Tuscan Wheat) from Whole Foods while flipping through the New Yorker.

Snow days are fun!

This morning, I will venture forth.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cold mouse hand, warm (mouse) heart

I was grazing around Huffington Post, tempting fate but deliberately trying to avoid all contact with articles on last weekend’s shootings in Tucson  - which we can only hope is the nadir point in American political life for the decade -  when I came across a roundup of what someone at HuffPo felt were the worst products to come out of the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Although I did rather like the funky colored, though completely unneeded, headsets for cell phones, most of HuffPo’s worst of CES didn’t strike me one way or the other.

But I did wonder as I wandered about the heated mouse pads.

This, I guess, is a solution to the cold hand on the mouse problem that I didn’t realize we had.

But then, of course, I went to The Google and, sure enough, there are any number of warming mouse and mouse pads on offer out there.  These range from the good for the professional office ones I found at HeatedMouse (there really is a URL for everything, isn’t there?),  to the more whimsical ones that were on display at CES, which, as you can see, included a monkey, a Jolly Roger, and a strawberry. Okay, that frog sticking its tongue out is admittedly kind of cute. But do we really need special-purpose products to tend to a hand that might get cold while using a computer.

This is actually a condition that I’m quite familiar with.

My home office is cold. Really cold. There’s an electric heater on the wall under my desk, but when it’s on, my home office gets hot. Really hot. So I only flip it on to take the chill off when the office gets cold. Really cold.

Because my home office is cold. Really cold. I do sometimes get a cold mouse hand.

And, over the years, I’ve developed a couple of work-arounds that keep my fingers pliant and toasty warm, and that save me from having to buy a mouse warmer to keep my mouse in.

  • Wear mitts. Sure, it’s a tad bit Louisa May Alcott, but, as I type, I am wearing a pair that my sister Kath knit for me. Your fingers are free, there’s a nifty thumb-hole, the non-finger parts of your hands remain warm, and you can tuck your fingers up under the wool if you need to warm them up. Wearing the mitts is no impediment whatsoever to operating keyboard or mouse.

But you may not have a sister who can knit your a pair of mitts. Or you may not have your mitts with you at all time. In that case, you can:

  • Blow on your fingers. This is the classic old-time, completely portable, always available cure for cold fingers.
  • Rub your hands together. This is another one of those never in style, never out of style, 24/7 high-availability solutions for cold fingers.

You may be thinking here that I am overlooking people who don’t have fingers to blow on, or hands to rub together. But, I submit, those folks have probably got bigger problems than cold mouse hand.

To continue, a couple of other solutions to cold mouse hand:

  • Put your hands between your legs. Once again, this has the benefit of portability, availability, and ease of use. It’s practically impossible to have operator error here, by the way. (Alternative approach if putting your hands between your legs seems too, ah, weird: put them under your arms.)
  • Wrap hands around mug containing your hot liquid of choice. Although sometimes I do cocoa, mostly I do tea. Coffee, of course, would also work, as would, I suppose, hot buttered rum.

There is, of course, a reasonably high tech solution to the scourge of cold mouse hand, which works with laptops, and that’s to put your hand underneath the laptop, where it will come in contact with the heating pad that is your computer. (Watch out for burna-burna.)

So chalk it up to Yankee ingenuity, growing up with Depression era parents, or whatever you want to call it, but I do believe there are any number of ways to take care of cold mouse hand. And it does seem to me that a heated mouse pad is one of those solutions in search of a problem.

That said, if they come up with something for cold nose….





Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bull Riders take Manhattan

What I know about professional bull riding can pretty much be summed up in a single word: nothing.

In fact, until I saw an article on it in the WSJ the other day, it had not crossed my consciousness that there is a difference between a rodeo and a professional bull riding event. (Not that I know anything about rodeo, either, when I get much beyond the Mouseketeers singing “Saddle your ponies, here we go, down to the talent rodeo. Bring along Susie, Jack and Joe, join the talent round-up.” Which, come to think of it, had little to do with rodeo, other than the fact that the Mouseketeers wore fringed shirts and cowboy hats on talent round up day. So I guess that what I know about rodeos can pretty much be summed up in a single word: nothing.)

Of course, thanks to the WSJ, I now know that professional bull riding is a subset of rodeo, which also includes calf roping and pole bending (huh?). There was no mention of bucking broncos.

My ignorance of things rodeo- and bull riding-ish can be explained by being a lifer in a region not known for either.

In fact, the Professional Bull Riding Invitational event, a traveling show, doesn’t get this far northeast. The closest it comes is that urban cowboy mecca, New York City, which this past weekend hosted the Invitational at Madison Square Garden.

Yee-haw! (Or something.)

There are over 800 professional bull riders, according to the Professional Bull Riders, Inc.  And some of them actually can make decent money. PBR boasts that “the following bull riders can claim that competing in the PBR has made them millionaires, in some cases over the span of just a couple of years.”

Well, not exactly.

What followed that claim was a list of over 1,000 bull riders, ranging from top dog Justin McBride, who’d earned $5.1 million during his career, down to poor ol’ Randen Henry, who’d managed to rustle up a meager $2K.

All told, there were 23 riders with career earnings over $1M on the list. But I know, and you know, and maybe even PBR knows that someone who’s earned a couple of million dollars in the course of their career is not necessarily going to be a millionaire.

But I wouldn’t bet against Justin McBride and the other leaders.

McBride has a less bone-rattling second career, as a country singer. Plus I saw a picture of him wearing chaps advertising Copenhagen chew. And his web site mentions that he appeared at the grand opening of the Elk City, OK, WalMart.  And I’ll bet that wasn’t for free.

Still, there are a lot more Randen Henry’s on the list, and the midpoint rider (Clovis Crane) had earned a whoppin’ $9.9K.

However many day jobs these boys have to keep, it is nonetheless interesting that there are so many professional bull riders, no?

I didn’t read through the entire long list of riders on the PBR list, but I must note that at least two of them were from Massachusetts. And not from western Massachusetts, either, parder. No, there were two fellows from Somerville, of all places. (For those unfamiliar with Boston, Somerville is a densely packed, blue-collar city that borders on Boston. Think ex-urb, not suburb.)

But somewhere along the line, a couple of Somerville guys cowboyed up.

Most of the professionals, of course, come from places like Antler, Oklahoma and Petrolia, Texas. (Don’t know about you, but I think I’d rather live in a place called Antler than in a place called Petrolia. Just saying.)

Professional Bull Riding also has a fantasy league, with a draft and everything. I didn’t really get into it, but I believe you draft both bulls and riders.

Not to mention an online store, a twitter account, and an official energy drink (Rockstar).

Who knew?

We in the jaded, effete Northeast surely do miss out on a lot.

Thank goodness that the professional bull riders at least get to New York City.

Maybe next year.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Starving Artist, indeed

I caught an ad on TV for an upcoming Starving Artists sale, where you can buy pedestrian, tacky paintings on the cheap.  The “art work” is sold out of rented rooms in local hotels, one step above the level of no-tell motel where you might find one of the pedestrian, tacky paintings hanging over a lumpy bed with those spongy acrylic blankets that set off spark showers every time you roll over.  Anything more assertive than rolling over could produce lightning that would strike you dead. (Which you might well deserve if you were doing anything assertive in a no-tell motel.)

Even if you don’t frequent no-tell motels, I’m sure you know the exact type of paintings I’m talking about: landscapes done in lurid colors; a boy in patched overalls, fishing pole over shoulder, walking into the sunset; a little kiddy couple – little kiddy boy presenting frog to little kiddy girl (awwww…); clowns; more clowns; the Eifel Tower; powerful waves; abstracts for those retro types with living room sofas upholstered in turquoise lamé. The sort of art work that makes Thomas Kinkade, painter of light, look like Rembrandt.

As a sample of the types of works that would be going on sale nearby flashed by, I got to wondering just how these masterpieces were produced.

Were they paint by numbers? They certainly had that lifelike lifeless quality. Were they mass produced in a factory, where artists smeared on a bit of extra paint to give them some dimension? Were they done by “artists” who specialized in speed painting, capable of turning a couple of full blown works out in an hour or two? (Industrial blowers in the background, drying them.)

Not that I expected to find the answer on their site, and not that I tried very hard to find it, but the google did not quickly bring up a link to the outfit that runs these hotel sales – and I couldn’t remember whether the ad I saw on TV contained a URL.

But it did bring up the site of one Dr. Lori, an art historian, who had the skinny on  just where and how this junk is produced.

The where is “outdated printing plants and Asian sweatshops.”

Those that come from the “outdated printing plants” are oleographs, cheap prints coated with “a clear varnish used to simulate brushstrokes.”  Produced by ill-paid factory workers in God-knows-where, Asia.

Or, they could be “real” art, done by:

Factory workers [who] stand, for hours at a time, in front of machines that support a long roll of blank canvas. With brushes and paint, each worker is responsible for painting one image or portion of a painting’s entire composition. For instance, when producing a landscape painting, Artist #1 will paint a tree, Artist #2 will paint a bird, and so on. At intervals and without warning, the canvas is automatically repositioned by machine to expose the next blank area of canvas to the workers who will paint it. The workers repeat the painting process. During the process, Artist #1 paints that same tree over and over again for the next 14 hours straight. 

Thank you, Henry Ford, for perfecting the assembly line.

In addition to the tree, bird, and clown nose painters, there’s a worker whose job it is to sign the paintings with a “common western surname.” Because who would want a clown painting signed by Tran, Li, or Gupta?

Once it comes to the end of the line, the rolling canvas is sliced, stretched, stapled, framed, and crated for delivery to a hotel near you.

I always wondered.  Now I know.

As Dr. Lori says, if you have $50 to spend on one of these little horrors, you have $50 to buy a pencil sketch from a real starving artist.

Not that the “artists” slaving in the painting factories aren’t starving, too. Ill paid, ill treated, ill fed, ill clothed, ill housed…

My sympathies.

But not enough to suggest that anyone buy one of these pedestrian, tacky wares. Even if they do have a turquoise lamé covered couch to hang it over.

So, no, I did not go to the starving artists hotel sale yesterday in Peabody.

But I would have been tempted, just to see the types involved in running this sort of grim import business that’s the worst of both worlds: exploited workers on one end, and pedestrian, tacky, tawdry junk on the other.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Pepsi Generation, 21st Century Edition

Every time I see charities get swept up in one of those “vote us so we can win some money” contests, I am mildly disheartened. Oh, I’m always hopeful that someone has vetted the non-profits so that no one’s voting for a moi charity. Still, the winner will not necessarily be the worthiest charity on the list – just the one who can get out the vote. Which is okay, as long as they do it on the up and up.

Still, it makes me wistful for the good old days, when corporations that were going to make donations to good causes did so behind closed doors. So we never got to see the way in which they decided who gets the grant. Organizational merit is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. I may roll my eyes at an outfit that teaches cats to play the xylophone, but the cat xylophone fans may roll their eyes at my charities of choice. No doubt grant awarding has always been some part  capricious, some part arbitrary, some part who you know, some part ‘this is of interest’, and some part ‘this one really does good.’

Now, of course, many corporations want to get a bit more bang than a press release and a mention in the annual fund raising dinner program for their philanthropic buck.

Enter the contest, in which non-profits have to do all sorts of attention getting and general meshugas in order to beat out the other guys and walk off with that philanthropic buck.

In some respects, this is a win-win: the corporation gets its name and logo in front of a lot of people, and some charities get the dough.

But, of course, where there’s online voting in this age of spam, there’s bound to be manipulation.  And the latest fund-raising contest getting heat for voter fraud is Pepsi.

Pepsi Refresh, the online fund-raising contest with a $20 million giveaway for charitable causes and nonprofit groups, is again receiving complaints that its results are being manipulated. (Source:  NY Times.)

I took a quick look through Pepsi Refresh, and most of the organizations I saw were decidedly not of the Metropolitan Opera, Boys & Girls Clubs, American Cancer Society variety.

It’s folks looking to spay cats, improve the health of our honeybee population, start using recyclable lunch trays, help fund the Luther Michigan library,  spruce up a Girl Scout Camp in South Carolina. Local, particular, personal… As in send the Green Lake, Wisconsin marching band to the Fourth of July Parade in Washington.

Many of the groups are those for which a boost of $5K would be a very big deal. And winning online probably seems a lot cooler, and with less heavy lifting, than a car wash or lollipop day in front of the local supermarket. (With Pepsi Refresh, organizations can vie for $5K, $25K, $50K, or $250K awards.)

I’m sure that a lot of them just put their ideas out there to see what happens.  And that many others have done a tremendous amount of work getting out the vote legitimately.  Which means no proxy voting, no voting from international locations.

“I feel like we were cheated out of a win,” said Ann Goody, a founder of the Three Ring Ranch, an exotic-animal sanctuary in Kona, Hawaii, that participated in the contest for many months. “We worked our hearts out with e-mails, phone calls, Facebook, kids handing out candy canes at Wal-Mart and then we find out our win was stolen from us by people breaking the rules.”

Ms. Goody was narrowly beaten out by a late surge by Guardian Angel Feline Rescue. She is one of several animal shelter entrants who believe that voting irregularities were what nabbed that $50K win for Guardian.

Cat-fight! (Hell hath no fury like an animal shelter scorned in this dog eat dog world.)

Pepsi says that it’s taking all fraud allegations seriously, and that it hasn’t smelled a rat yet.

Still, there is the claim that, with Guardian Angel, a “third party service was used to generate proxy votes from abroad.”

Claimants believe that someone named “Mr. Magic” was at work.

Mr. Magic is an go-getter from India who offers to goose vote totals for a fee, or a percentage of the winnings.

“Someone sent us an e-mail …a couple of months ago, asking us if we wanted this service,” said Jeff Hynes, the founder of Cash for Critters, a nonprofit group in Euclid, Ohio, that won $25,000 in the contest last month. “I think we just deleted it because we didn’t want anything to do with that. We tried to do this the way it’s supposed to be done.”

But Ms. Goody thinks she has the smoking gun on Guardian Angel: an e-mail in which its director appears to be complaining about the difficulty of getting her payment to Mr. Magic.

I hope that Pepsi can clear the air here.

Meanwhile, the polls are open.

I almost voted for a rescue outfit that specializes in Labrador retrievers, but even a puppy as cute as my dog-nephew Jack can’t get me to surrender my e-mail address and date of birth to Pepsi.

Still, it is interesting to see how what the new Pepsi generation’s up to.

Forget the pompom shaking cheerleaders and smooth guys in madras shirts who made up the first Pepsi generation.

These days, it’s Mr. Magic, spamming from India.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Oh, Beebe. (One more town that’s permanently off my bucket list.)

I actually don’t have much of a bucket list.  Other than get our will rewritten, but that’s no fun.

Given that I’m at the age where, if the end is not exactly in sight, I should no longer be all that surprised if it’s around some corner or another, smirking at me.

So, yes, I should get a bucket list going.

I do have a couple of must-see places on it. First on the list is Venice. I’d also like to hit New Zealand, Alaska, and Pittsburgh. (No kidding, by the way. For whatever reason I’ve had a number of dreams that took place at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers. Not that dreams have to always be telling me something, but this one seems to be. So at some point, it’ll be a weekend in Pittsburgh. See Pittsburgh and die…)

But I do have one place that’s permanently off.

Sure, there were lots of countries, cities, and towns in the same category of places I’m unlikely to go to, so Beebe, Arkansas by no means stood alone. (Somalia? Paraguay? Baluchistan?) In fact, a lot of the places I’m unlikely to go to happen to be in Arkansas (think Bentonville) and adjoining states. Plenty of these are places which, like Beebe, I’ve never even heard of.

But Beebe’s made the news big time, and in a way that caws loud and clear ‘include me out’ of any travel plans that factor this town in.

What happened in Beebe was not the Biblical raining of frogs, nor the Weather Girls raining of men (alleluia).  On New Years Eve, it started raining red-winged blackbirds. And this was no 4 and 20 blackbirds, baked in a pie. There were about 5,000 of them, which works out to about one per capita per Beebe-an.  And per capita was just about what happened, as some citizens reported near misses of dead bird on their heads. (Source: NY Times.)

The current theory is that the birds were traumatized by fireworks, or a hailstorm, and died of some form of avian PTSD.

Boy, it’s one thing to get crapped on by a bird. It’s another thing to come upon an occasional dead bird just laying about. (One time, in Boston Common, I witnessed a street person talking to a live pigeon, standing next to a dead pigeon. “Was that the missus?” he asked. There was no reply.)

But 5,000 dead birds, coming down over a square mile. That’s an awful lot of dead birds to cope with when all you want to do is usher out the old year, and ring in the new.  Having a lawn covered with dead blackbirds greet you on January 1st just doesn’t seem to portend much positive about the coming year. Although it certainly will make the holiday memorable.

I’d like to quoth the raven, ‘nevermore’, but there’s no guarantee that this won’t happen again. Naturally, I do hope that the good folks of Beebe don’t end up with a repeat performance of this unnatural act. And I do hope that the not so good folks of Beebe don’t start conjuring up some repeat performance to put Beebe on the map.  (“Hey, anyone can go to Times Square and watch the ball drop, or walk around Boston looking at ice sculpture, but if you really want to see something pretty durned unique, just head for Beebe….”)

Poor Beebe! Who wants dead bird rain to be their signature event? It’s one thing to celebrate Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, or the swallows coming back to Capistrano.

I bet if I were a resident of Beebe, I’d be thinking ‘end of days.’

Time to get the bucket list going.

And I’m afraid that Beebe is not now, and never will be, on mine. But I will be adding Machu Pichu in.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Ticket Cashers – now there’s a job for you

Confession (which I’ve already made): I buy lottery tickets.

Not all the time.

But enough of the time.

Especially when there’s big ol’ jackpot just waiting out there.

Sure, I know the odds of winning. (I may not have learned how to make money during my two years of business school at MIT, but I did pick up a few bits about not losing money.) So, yep, I know that the lottery’s a sucker’s game.

But, gosh, wouldn’t it be fun to win $100M (after tax, cash option, thank you) and make a lot of people happy. Self included, once I’d changed my phone number and moved (at least temporarily) to a secret new address so that mendicants weren’t hounding me with their tales of woe.

Having revealed myself as something of a lottery lover, I was interested to read that:

The Massachusetts State Lottery continues to have a widespread problem with "ticket-cashers" who claim prizes valued at millions of dollars, apparently allowing the actual winners to avoid taxes on their winnings, the state auditor said today. (Source: Boston Globe.)

Ticket casher. Now there’s a job for you.

Here’s the deal:

The ticket-cashers are professional gamblers who are allowed to write off gambling losses against winnings.

They buy the winning tickets at a 10 percent discount.

The real winners make out better than if they took the money directly and had to pay federal and state taxes on it.  And the professional gambler gets his (and, yes, I’m guessing most of them are “his-es”) write-off.

This will obviously only work with smaller winnings. In the case of my future $100M win (which would be more like $140M pre-tax), I would think that I would have to report that I’d sold something for $90M, let alone $126M.  I’m pretty darned sure that a transaction of this magnitude would show up in “the system.”  And all I’d have to offset my $90M or $126M would be the lowly one buck I paid for the ticket, my cost of goods sold. And maybe the cost of all those loser-ama tickets I’d chumped for along the way.

But I guess if you win $10,000, and “the man” is going to skim $3K off of that, you’re better off finding a ticket casher to take the ticket off your hands.

The question is, where would you find them?

In the good old days, when I was a waitress and people played the numbers, I knew where to find the numbers runner.  He (and it was always a he) was a busboy or bartender.

Scalpers hang out at the ball park.

Touts at the racetrack.

But where does one find a ticket casher?

I googled, of course, but that just led me to mel phraze, the 20 10 ticket casher who’s a musician. (At least that’s what I think. I didn’t do a click through.)

Most of the links that came up played off the Boston Globe article (cited above).

There was that one other link, but it was just someone misspelling ticket cashier. (O tempora, o spellos.)

Then I did “I need a ticket casher,” to which query the first responder was something about buying tickets on the Metro North train.

But auditors in The Commonwealth are apparently having no problem finding ticket cashers.  Nor are the 5,938 ticket holders who managed to parlay their tickets into their hands.

Auditors found that in 2007, one person cashed 1,492 tickets worth about $2.6 million. Another person cashed 1,120 tickets worth about $1.6 million. Overall, the top 10 ticket-cashers in 2007 cashed in 5,938 tickets for $9.3 million, slightly less than the year before.

Maybe they look it up in the Yellow Pages, which I, for years, have snottily refused to allow into my home, preferring to port it directly from doorstep to recycle bin.

The state Auditor’s office is trying to crack down on ticket cashers, but this has got to be a bit tricky.  After all, as professional gamblers, can’t they just claim that they bought all those tickets professionally?

Average ticket-casher ticket size, by the way, is a paltry $1,566, not the $100M/$126M of my dreams.  Still, if baby needs a new pair of shoes, $1,566 can pay for a lot of booties (unless baby has eyes on Christian Louboutin’s).

Ticket casher.  Now there’s a job for you.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Fargo in December (and not a peep out of the Just Born sales team)

Over the course of my long career, I had any number of opportunities to attend sales kick-offs.  These were generally held in early January or February, and entailed a combination of rah-rah and product training.  If fortune had smiled on the results of the prior year, the kick-off would be held in a place with decent weather (Las Vegas, Bermuda, San Jose).  If not, it would be held on The Cape, in Boston, or (hiss-boo) company headquarters.

Depending on the company, the kick-off may have featured some level of bacchanalia: 2 a.m. toga parties, hot tub mishaps, drunken paddle-boat accidents. Or some level of spend-on-a-celebrity: Mia Hamm, the guy who played Father Guido Sarducci…

At one sales kick-off, in Bermuda, I was involved in a (non-drunken) accident, when, during free time on the first day, I and my rented moped entered a rotary “the American way”, and I overcorrected my way into a stone wall.  This event was captured by the film crew putting together the highlight video that was planned for the final dinner.  I threatened the video team with death if they included my crash clip in the highlight reel and, fortunately, they took me at my word.

At kick-offs, I mostly stuck to the content events, and huddled with the other home-office folks during social hours.  (We were the ones playing Trivial Pursuit when the toga partiers tried to ram our door in with a standing ashtray when we wouldn’t join their maraud through the hotel corridors. (A free-for-all that got the company, already banned from several warm-weather venues for raucous behavior and facility damage, from a hotel on The Cape, as well.)

And these were the kick-offs….I could only imagine what went on at the rewards trips, when the sales folks were freed from the constraint of having to pretend to listen to home office bores trying to explain the intricacies of the product line, when all they really wanted to do was nip a bit of the hair of the dog and crawl back into bed.

Rewards trip lore was legendary. It always included lots of anecdotes of alcohol-fueled hi-jinks, and often included reports on who supposedly joined the Mile High Club on the way to [name of fancy warm-weather resort destination goes here].

When I worked at Genuity, I actually got to go to the Winners Circle trip, as one of 50 home office iLeaders sent along for the ride.  (I never learned whether anointing 50 non-sales people as winners was purposeful, or whether not enough sales guys exceeded plan and they had slots that were already paid for.)

In any case, the trip to a posh Hawaiian destination (accompanied by my sister Trish) was very nice, and, if there were tons of drunken reveling and Mile-Highing, I missed out on it, probably because there were enough fellow home office bores for me to hang out with.

The weather, the island, the side trips, the goodies, the spa, the meals.  All of it was pretty darned good, and no more than we deserved for having put the company on the footing that, a year later, would help result in its bankruptcy.

Long way of setting the stage for why I read with interest the recent article on the Just Born candy company’s decision to host its sales team to an all-expenses-paid trip to Fargo, N.D. in lieu of the all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii if they’d hit their targets.

They convened at the Radisson, at 19 stories the tallest building in beautiful downtown Fargo.

Outside, the temperature was 7 degrees. The ground had 2 feet of snow. (Source: AP Article on Yahoo. )

That’s what you get when you only grow your Peep and Ike ‘n Mike sales by two percent, instead of four.

Although employees from warmer climes needed to invest in winter gear to attend, Just Born cranked it up when it came to the entertainment:

They planned tours of two North Dakota wineries and a winter extravaganza with a sleigh ride, tobogganing and hot toddies around a fireplace inside a chalet.

On their first night in town, they went to the VFW in West Fargo for a spaghetti dinner. Five bucks a plate, all you can eat.

Naturally, they also watched Fargo.

Next winter, if the group fails to reach its goal, they will get an all-expenses paid trip to Rapid City, S.D.

Wow! Consider the possibilities.  Mount Rushmore, that big-arse statue of Crazy Horse, and a side trip to Wall Drug.

Average high temp for December is 36.1, average low is 13.1.

If that’s not an incentive to push more Peeps, I don’t know what is.