Monday, February 28, 2011

Swag Bag 2011

By now, you probably know who this year’s Oscar winners and losers are. At least you’ll know if you care to know.

So far, I haven’t seen any of the nominated movies.

Not that I don’t like the movies. It’s just that I don’t actually go to the movies more than once or twice a year (if that). I just wait around for them to come on Pay Per View or On Demand, by which time I’ve already forgotten whether I wanted to see them or not. I do get around to seeing some of them. Eventually. Thus, I celebrated Oscar weekend by finally watching the multiply-nominated – in 2003, that is -  Lost In Translation. Which was okay. Certainly, I liked Sofia Copolla better on the other side of the camera, as the director, than I did as an actor (Godfather III). My main take-away: Never noticed before how much Bill Murray resembles my late Uncle Ted. 

While I used to go the movies all the time, even in my movie-going prime I was never a major fan of watching the Oscars. Something about the smiley-faced falsity of the whole thing, the we’re all buddies out here crap, the self-congratulatory what-ever, and the fact that it always struck me as one major collective self-ass-kiss.

How I know all this I’m not quite sure because, if memory serves, I’ve only watched it in its entirety once (when Hugh Jackman – or was it Hugh Laurie? or Hugh Grant? – hosted it a couple of years ago). I was entertained, but not enough to turn the viewing dial to whatever network it was on the following year.

Not that I don’t watch plenty-o-crap on TV, but awards ceremonies have never held a lot of appeal to me for some reason.

Nonetheless, ever since Christopher Moltisanti mugged Lauren Bacall for hers on an episode of The Sopranos, I’ve been intrigued by the notion of the swag bag, which all nominees are given, and the existence of gifting suites, where celebrities can come and collect all sorts of goodies – kind of like an upscale version of the trade show floor.

And why wouldn’t we expect that the rich and famous would want to cadge free stuff?

After all, haven’t we had it hammered into our heads often enough over the years that “Celebrities: They’re Just Like Us.”

Or so US Magazine tells me. (Honestly: I only read it at the hairdressers. Now People is another story.)

So, just like us, they have an inner-child with a greedy, trembling hand poised to lunge for any handout available.

Thus,just as in my trade-show going days I’d grab pens, notepads, thumb drives, tee-shirts, caps, visors, key chains, candy, mouse pads, frisbees, glow-in-the-dark yo-yos, squeeze balls, mugs, and other paraphernalia that was being given away in the booths, celebrities graze on what’s available in the gifting suites.

And because the goodies on offer to the rich and famous are worth a bit more than a leaking logo-pen, the rich and famous probably don’t end up with all that much grabber’s remorse. (Think of all the stuff left behind in hotel rooms after a grade show – not only all the swag that’s not worth packing and schlepping, but all those brochures….)  Instead of leaking logo pens, celebrities get to nab stuff like Dell tablet computers and gold-plated iPhones. And so continues the inexorable march of the rich getting richer.

Not that trade show swag was all leaking pens, of course. I saw plenty of good stuff at trade shows over the years, mostly being raffled off. At one tech show I attended, a company was raffling off a bright orange HumVee. I didn’t win but, of course, in these types of raffles, the business cards of non-prospects do tend to find themselves glued to the sides of the fishbowl. That said, I did win a video camera in a competitor’s booth at iWorld when that was the business tech event. They clearly didn’t know the “rule” about eligibility for qualified prospects only.

Anyway, in addition to what’s available in the invitation-only gifting suites that surround the Oscars (and other awards shows), there are swag bags for the nominees, which contain:

Here is a complete list of what is in the 2011 Oscar swag bag:

  • StemSational Skin Regeneration Serum
  • Body Wrap Sheer Iridescent fashion-forward shapewear
  • blu Cigs special edition electronic cigarettes
  • Cookies by Joey
  • An all-inclusive stay at the Winvian Luxury Hotel
  • Full split-level Load Runner duffels
  • earthpawz pet safe + toxic free cleaning products
  • Total Indulgence Skin Trio by LaVigne Organic Skincare
  • Nulo natural & nutritious pet food
  • It’s a 10 Haircare
  • Chocolatines’ Chocouture Jewelry Box
  • BlacMéra couture tunics/earrings/neckties
  • Kiwaii True Spring Water
  • The Kim Kardashian Signature Watch Collection by The Brissmor Company
  • Huntley Drive Fitness personal training packages
  • MILLIANNA python cuffs
  • complimentary services from The Salon by Maxime
  • Dreams by Neihulé Nail Polish
  • Slimware portion-control plates
  • J. Holly International featuring Mon Platin Natural Dead Sea Mud Pack
  • Positive Only Celebrity News
  • XTI Active-Shield 360 and Nano Facemask
  • Leg Luxury hosiery
  • sugar-free low-carb Bonita’s Mixes
  • JulAir odor eliminator
  • R.A.T.S. Atelier men’s apparel
  • Kosanka anti-aging açai beverages
  • Virgin Galactic limited edition sub-orbital space craft scale model
  • Lalo Fitness, 1 month unlimited training sessions with Lalo Fuentes
  • 6-month unlimited Executive Membership to Circuit Works
  • Nozin nasal products
  • Notebook and Persian medallion from Shokoufeh Malekkiani benefiting the United Nations World Food Programme in Iran
  • A $5,000 all-inclusive week-long fitness retreat from Live In Fitness Enterprise, Barradoro VIP Luxury Lifestyle Experience
  • Slimming Act body contouring cream from Dr. Jules Nabet
  • A $12,000 Belize getaway at Cayo Espanto – A Private Island
  • A $16,000 all-inclusive getaway to Huvafen Fushi luxury resort in the Maldives compliments of Premier Tours

Source: Gather; the blogger didn’t source this info…

Whether any celebrity actually uses what’s in the swag bag or not, just being in the annual bag is probably worth something in terms of the publicity that surrounds it. After all, I’ve now heard of Nozin nasal products, Nulo natural and nutritious pet food, and Slimware portion control plates (LOL, if not ROTFLMAO, to this one).

And if Annette Bening is actually photographed in a BlacMéra couture tunic, well, all the better.

I say Annette Bening here because, while she’s not all that old, she’s the only Best Actress nominee north of 50, and I tuniccan’t see Natalie Portman or Michelle Williams wearing something called a tunic. Now if Bea Arthur were around to be nominated, or Annette’s sister-in-law, Shirley Maclaine, we might be talking. (I suppose James Franco could find a use for it.)

Interesting, isn’t it, how many of the swag items are vanity related: shapeware, regeneration serum, mudpack, body contouring cream, anti-aging beverage. Then there’s the one month unlimited fitness work with Lalo Fuentes.

Anyway, body contouring cream and tunics aside, I can’t see anyone nominated for anything wearing a Kim Kardashian inspired watch.

I suspect that today, all over Hollywood, personal assistants, maids, nannies and gardeners are wondering what to do with python cuffs and Persian medallions.

Or asking themselves whether it’s okay to light up a blu Cigs electronic cigarette while on the property. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!

Friday, February 25, 2011

So many choices…

I may be one of the last folks in this country who can make this statement, but I have a neighborhood pharmacy.

No, I don’t go there all the time.

Although Gary Drug is a lot closer than one of the, oh, three-hundred-seventy-four CVS’s within walking distance, Gary isn’t on my usual path. So I’m more likely to be passing a CVS on my day to day rounds. So I do stop and shop there.

But I do prefer Gary Drug.

It’s one of those great little local stores where you can get your apothecary, cosmeticky stuff, Dr. Scholl’s whatever, stationery essentials (like little spiral notebooks and manila envelopes), papers and magazines, candy bars… Plus they send and receive faxes for you. Plus the people who work there are incredibly helpful and friendly. An altogether wonderful little drug store. If they had room for a soda fountain with a couple of swirl-around chrome and leatherette stools, it’d be perfect. (Also, while they do sell mini-packs of Chiclets, they don’t have a gumball machine.)

But one of the absolute best things about it is that, since it’s about 200 square feet in size, there’s a relatively limited number of choices you have to make when it comes to toothpaste and cough syrup. Not that there are no choices to be made. Given the size of the store, it has incredible variety - breadth and depth. (It helps that the shelves go all the way to the ceiling, and the one and only aisle is about 18-inches wide.) So you do get to pick and choose among the cough-cold-stuffy nose-scratching throat-watery eyes variety of cold elixirs.

It’s just that the choice is not anywhere near as overwhelming as it is in CVS. Not to mention that the Gary Drug folks are right there at your elbow to help you work through the decision process.

But at CVS, with those rows upon rows of choice:

Choice = (all possible combinations) x (multiple delivery modes x multiple brands)

Pill. Capsule. Liquid. Spray.

Delsym. Robitussin. NyQuil. DayQuil. TheraFlu. Zi-Cam.

They’re all pretty much the same, aren’t they?  (Other than Zi-Cam, which has its own little weirdness thing going for it.)

Anyway: Oy!

At least most (although not all) of the cold medicine choices are relevant to your particular condition: sneezing? wheezing? hacking? spitting? stuffed? runny?

Of course, you may not be able to find your particular symptom relievers in combo.

Still, the choices seem more meaningful than some of those you get when it comes to toothpaste:

Mint? Gel? Cream? Mixed-striped mint gel/white cream? With or without baking soda? Standard squeeze tube? Upright harder-sided mustard-container type?

Crest.  Gleem. Arm and Hammer. Sensodyne. Tom’s of Maine (when I’m feeling virtuous).

Alas, I haven’t seen Bucky Beaver’s Ipana in years.

Actually, strike that “alas”. Good that there’s one less brand choice to worry about.

Still, all those choices.

For some reason, I never remember from toothpaste purchase to toothpaste purchase whether I like the gel.  Let alone whether I want or need tartar control or breath freshening.

Apparently, I’m not alone.

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal the other day – aptly titled “Whitens, Brightens and Confuses” on how annoying, how bewildering, some people find shopping for toothpaste has become.

An explosion of specialized pastes and gels brag about their powers to whiten teeth, reduce plaque, curb sensitivity and fight gingivitis, sometimes all at the same time. Add in all the flavors and sizes, plus ever-rising prices, and the simple errand turns into sensory overload.

Or is it Sensodyne overload?

Not that I’ve noticed, but manufacturers have realized that they’ve been overwhelming us, and are reining in the urge to keep adding to the dizzying array of toothpaste choices.

Last year, 69 new toothpastes hit store shelves, down from 102 in 2007, according to market-research firm Mintel International Group.

Procter & Gamble Co., in fact, has decided that less, if notexactly more, is better. They’re de-introducing some of their variations on a “Look, Ma, no cavities” theme.

Thanks to P&G and other toothpaste makers there are currently only “352 distinct types or sizes of toothpaste” retailed in the U.S.  Down from 412 just three years ago.

Oh, what a relief it is!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Out of sight…

We like shiny. We like new. We like techie. And we like stuff where, heck, we don’t have to fret about too much of the price we pay going into boring things like paying much of anything to the workers who make the shiny, new, techie stuff we crave.

That’s globalization, and that’s a) mostly inexorable, and b) mostly okay. (Although surely we could have been a bit more plan-full as an economy before we so gleefully lobbed so many manufacturing jobs overseas without thinking through some of the implications.)

And it means I can jettison what starts to feel like a sluggish laptop by year two and get something better,cheaper, faster.

Of course, we don’t actually like it when the stuff we crave poisons us – like when the kids got sick from poison-painted toys and trinkets. But, hey, who asked the kids to gum and suck on those toys, anyway?

Okay. So even if they shouldn’t be gumming and sucking on toys, those little darlings are ours.

Unlike the factory workers in China who produce the stuff we crave, who are theirs. If they suffer a few bouts of poisoning… Well, as long as what happens in China, stays in China.

Not that Apple takes this posture.

They’re actually a pretty stand-up outfit, one that tries to enforce health standards in the factories that are part of its supply chain. And they’re not just stand-up; they’re up-front. So we know about the workers who’ve gotten seriously sick at the plant that makes the iPhone screens because it appeared on Apple’s annual report on labor conditions among its suppliers. (Source: NY Times.)

…137 workers at a factory here had been seriously injured by a toxic chemical used in making the signature slick glass screens of the iPhone.

Apple, describing it as a “core violation” of worker safety, said that it had ordered the contractor to stop using the chemical and to improve safety conditions at the plant. Apple also said that it would monitor the medical conditions of those workers.

On further reading, maybe, like most of us, they’re stand-up, up-front wannabes..

…in interviews last weekend, nearly a dozen employees who say they were harmed by the chemical said they had never heard from anyone at Apple.

The workers claim that Wintek, the Apple supplier (which is Taiwanese-owned), has been putting the full court press on the affected employees to accept a cash payout, in exchange for waiving their rights to go back for more in damages.

Wintek, denies that they’re pressuring workers. (Sur-prise!)

“Wintek’s policy of handling this is to put workers’ benefit as the first priority,” [a company spokesman] said.

And who am I to doubt what Wintek’s number one priority is?

Anyway, the chemical that’s sickening so many workers is something called n-hexane.  Even the name sounds evil. And evil it is, purportedly causing limb-soreness, extreme weakness, body thermometer malfunction, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and all the other symptoms we’ve come to associate with chemical poisoning. All suffered in return for a cool $200/month, which includes overtime.

This $200 is, of course, a lot more than the monthly take of your average Chinese peasant living in a rural area whose sole possessions are likely the clothes on his back, a bucket, and a hoe. Which is precisely why so much manufacturing has migrated there. And Chinese factory conditions - Triangle Shirtwaist, anyone? -  not to mention environmental depredations, are probably not a whole hell of a lot more miserable than they were in American factories of yore. 

But does that have to mean that it’s a stage that every economy has to pass through on their way from sub-subsistence existence in a hovel, to something where there are a few more creature comforts, a few more opportunities for personal enrichment and enjoyment? Couldn’t they jump to reasonably safe, if not still crappily paid? Even if it means we have to pay another $5 for an iPhone, or $20 for a laptop?

Anyway, the good news is that n-hexane is no longer being used at the factory.

Still, it’s one more cautionary tale, one more hint at the trade-offs in our perhaps to zestful and blind-eyed embrace of the glories and wonders of globalization.

But, hey, now that I think of it, we could have factories like this, too. In fact we used to, before all those pesky regulators started nosing around. We can have this again, couldn’t we? What are we waiting for?  Let’s go!


And as for all those baby dolphins dying in the Gulf. Well, survival of the fittest, no?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How not to get the job

There was yet another one of those time-wasting “Top X Something-or-others” non-articles on the other day – this one being ‘How not to fail the job interview’ -  and I let myself do a bit of time wasting by clicking through it.

Honestly, the biggest downside of reading the newspaper online is spotting a headline of some interest, only to realize it’s not really an article. It’s a series of captioned pictures – stock photo that somewhat illustrates the point – accompanied by a couple of sentences of content supporting the point. Grrrrr. I may be part of the incredibly shrinking coterie of folks who actually like to read entire paragraphs. Or even articles. That you have to turn the page (physically or virtually) to complete. But there are still some of us out there who are so not looking forward to the day when the Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded to someone whose oeuvre is a collection of tweets. (Not that you can’t compact an awful lot of good writing into short form. After all, even the brilliant and classic lead in - It was a dark and stormy night. –consumes a mere 31 characters.)

Second worst downside of online newspaper reading is spotting a headline of some interest, only to realize it’s a video.

I am so not wired for the time when writing and reading as we once knew it are completely obsolete.

But, as I am wont to do, I digress.

Here, paraphrased, is the list of ten ways to flunk a job interview and, hence, not get the job.

Show up too early or too late.

I definitely get the late, but why would it aggravate someone so mightily if the job candidate showed up early? A couple of hours, I can see, but the recommended time frame in the non-article was 20 minutes. I suppose you could sit in your car, or stand in the lobby, or find a nearby coffee shop, but what’s so terrible about 30 minutes? It doesn’t mean the interviewer needs to stop what they’re doing and bound out to meet you. And isn’t that what reception areas are for? You know, the ones stocked with back-issues of Technology Whatever – the one that features the company’s advertorial spread. Speaking of reception areas, I can never figure out whether it’s okay to help yourself to the candy bowl on the receptionist’s desk. I always want to, but am held back by fear of looking inner-child, or piggy. And who wants the evil-eye from the receptionist who reserves the Bull’s Eyes for the cute guy in AP? Sometimes I will nab something small and neutral – one of those red and white peppermint swirl candies, or a butterscotch.  And note to receptionists everywhere: you can keep those Jolly Ranchers. Might as well set out unwrapped ribbon candy.

Pick the wrong network contact

Here you were thinking it’s just hunky-dory to get your résumé pulled from the pile because your college roommate’s brother-in-law plays golf with the guy in AP who likes Bull’s Eyes and -  forget the receptionist; she’s not that cute – is dating the cute gal in HR. Come to find out that his name is anathema, that he’s known for stuffing the résumé box with paper from anyone he even tangentially knows, in hopes of occasionally bagging a bounty of $1K per hire that will save the company twenty times that on a head-hunter fee.

On the one hand, it makes perfect sense not to have a bad node in your network. It certainly won’t help your cause if the biggest jerk in the place, who compound’s his biggest jerk-hood by having no juice, puts in a kind word for you. On the other hand, how are you going to know that this is the case. And if he’s that big a jerk, why’d they call you in for an interview, huh?

So, this one isn’t all that clear. Yes, to finding the most relevant and well-positioned contact? No, to relying on the kindness of near strangers?

All I know is that, with one exception, every professional job I’ve ever held – including freelance – has come through my network. Maybe I just have some inner genius for picking the right network contacts. Or for picking the right friends, which is pretty much who my network contacts are.

Be unable to come up with any situation in which you made a mistake

Personally, I always hated that ‘what are your weakness?’ question. My inclination was to say ‘I don’t suffer fools gladly,’ but for most jobs that would have been a deal-breaker, of course. By now, everyone knows the trick of coming up with a real fake weakness. (“Sometimes I allow my colleagues to take all the credit.”)

Everyone also needs to have a mistakes-were-made problem situation in their back pocket. They just need to make sure that it’s not an “I always”, but, rather, an “I learned from” mistake.

And it goes without saying that the mistake (even if you learned from it) shouldn’t be one that  reflects on any deep-seated professional or moral failing. As in, “I used to pad my expense account, but I got caught so I don’t do that anymore.”

Say something non-PC (“culturally insensitive”)

On surface, this one is duh obvious, but you never know what’s going to set off someone’s dudgeon-o-meter, do you?

I have no idea whether I’ve ever set someone’s off during an interview, but I sure had mine set off at least once.

We were interviewing a fellow for VP of Development at a small software company I worked for. He came in guns-a-blazing, criticizing our web site and collateral. Which was both amazing and amusing to me – and I’ll admit, a bit annoying – given that he knew I was the VP of Marketing and, thus, might have had just a teensy-tiny bit to do with them. But what really got me to torpedo this guy’s candidacy was the mention on his résumé that one of his foremost attributes was his ability to resolve conflicts among warring parties. Harrumph to that. Maybe he got good at this by stirring the conflict pots to begin with. Anyway, I made sure he didn’t get the job.

Talk about another job – the one you really want

As the hiring manager, this has happened to me a couple of times.

In one instance, I was interviewing someone for an internship. What we wanted the intern to do was clean up and manage our prospect data base, and then pitch in on any other marketing task we needed to get done, which, on our small team, was pretty much how we rolled. The prospective intern explained to me what she was looking for. Which was pretty much my job, without the pitch in on any other marketing task aspects. She didn’t get the job (mine or the internship).

In the other instance, I was interviewing an internal candidate for a position that, it became immediately clear, he had no interest in or affinity for. He really and truly wanted to be somewhere else, in an entirely different career. The job on offer was assistant product manager for a product that presented and analyzed near real-time stock market data (when this was a big deal). The candidate was quite upfront that he really didn’t want to be a tech product management dweeb, and that his only interest in the position was access to the data, as he really wanted to be a money manager. I told my boss that I was taking a pass on this fellow, only to have it explained that, if I didn’t hire him, I would lose the job req. Foolishly, I took him on, only to find that all he did all day was play with the data. As a result, we laid him off and he went on to become – ta-da – a successful money manager.

Stifle your personality

This may seem at odds with the suggestion that you should never be non-PC, but, in truth, the worst thing you can possibly do on an interview is repress the real you. If you have a sense of humor, do you really want to work with a bunch of dour gloomiacs? If you really are someone who works best on your own, should you be swooning and yelping for joy when the hiring manager explains that everything is done on teams?

I worked for one small company that had a pretty casual atmosphere with a ton of back and forth. Before we hired anyone, we invited them to “Friday Lunch”, when everyone in the company got together. We figured that anyone who couldn’t take the give-and-take of a Friday Lunch would pretty much self-select out of working there. And we were mostly right. But, occasionally, someone took the job despite the fact that they were too uptight, humorless, and sensitive to go with that company’s particular flow. They all left eventually.

Have a phone interview at a time when you’re not in a quiet place without distractions

Talk about duh obvious.

That said, here’s a phone interview tip I read somewhere: stand up while you’re talking. You’ll be more energized and engaged. For whatever reason, it works. (Don’t know if the current phone interview expectation is that you’ll be on video as well as audio, which would completely change the dynamics – luckily, in my book.)

Meanwhile, if someone calls for an impromptu interview, you need to gracefully propose a time-change when you will be prepared, and in a quiet place without distractions.

Keep harping on the same accomplishment, rather than have a diverse set of  bragging-rights across multiple jobs

Seems pretty straightforward, although difficult for us shrinking violet types who don’t like to put ourselves forward. Then again, given the way the world’s going, the only people who get interviews will be the pushy “brand me” narcissists, for whom this will present no problema. Us introverts will have to take in laundry, I suppose….

Assume that everyone will recognize the name of the companies you’ve worked for

I, for one, have never been able to make that particular assumption, and have generally had a couple of words to place the company (e.g., small, defunct, dysfunctional – prior to its becoming defunct – B2T (that’s business-to-techie) software company).

I guess if you work for a Google or an IBM or some other household name-ish outfit, you might want to slot in the division or something.

Misspellings and grammos in written communications

I used to be a real stickler here, but, now that I’m a blogger.   Wheeeeee. Standards have fallen, and I’m pretty sure I could overlook the odd typo or spello, perhaps even a grammo. But an out and out dumb-o.

No way.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hedging your bets

They were the best of friends, they were the worst of friends…

Best man caliber best friends.

That was until insider trading made a mess of their BFF-hood, and the Feds played an opening round of prisoner’s dilemma with Noah Freeman. Freeman made the rational, yet slimy, move of ratting out the best man at his last year’s wedding, Donald Longueuil. Of course, it wasn’t really much of a prisoner’s dilemma, as Longueuil hadn’t yet been invited to play.

In this game, first in apparently gets the advantage, and Freeman has likely parlayed his willingness to wear a wire to get his friend (perhaps ex-friend is the better term) to agree that they had both traded on insider information into what will likely be a lesser sentence.

As attorney Solomon Wisenberg explains in his blog post on Freeman’s guilty plea, Freeman doesn’t yet know what sentence he will receive in return for his plea and for co-operating with the Feds. (He is theoretically facing 25 years in the stir, which will cut quite a swath in his career path and life. Freeman’s 35.) But, as Wisenberg notes, this is a tactic that will allow Freeman, when he’s on the witness stand against Longueuil, to say he co-operated without any guarantees in return – when, in all wink-wink, nudge-nudge likelihood, he will get off with greatly reduced prison time, and perhaps even probation. Thus, Freeman may be the eponymous free-man, not to mention a Noah who was pretty darned quick to hoist the gangplank to his own personal ark.

But what are friends for, when it comes to facing jail time?

Which is certainly likely what will happen to Longueuil, unless he coughs up an even bigger fish for this fish-fry.

While he was doing buddy talk with Freeman, Longueuil also detailed how, after he’d read a Wall Street Journal article on a widening (or narrowing, depending on whose neck’s being fitted for the noose) investigation that was starting to get a little too darned close, he panicked:

Using two pairs of pliers, he destroyed the computer hard drives where the government said he kept inside information, according to last week's complaint.

At 2 a.m., a few hours after the Journal article was published, Mr. Longueuil left his New York apartment with another person, according to the complaint against him. He walked 20 blocks and dumped mangled pieces of computer drives in four separate garbage trucks, according to the complaint. (Source: Wall Street Journal.)

What makes this story more interesting than most every-day insider trading scandals is the back story. If Wall Street (the original, anyway) made for good Hollywood, what will they be able to make of the story lines here?

  • Both Freeman and Longueuil were competitive speed-skaters, which is how they met. (Longueuil had been a 2002 Olympic hopeful.)
  • Several years back, Longueuil talked Freeman off the metaphorical ledge after his (apparently prescient) fiancée dumped him. (“'I needed Don to get me out of bed this morning,’ he said at one point, according to the person familiar with the situation.”)
  • Freeman, whose broken heart recovered, proposed to his now wife in the midst of a triathlon.
  • Freeman worked out with a triathlon team called "Team Psycho," but they turned down his membership application because “he didn't always support others with what the club describes as positive ‘psycho karma.’” Bet the Team Psychos are feeling pretty good about that decision.
  • Longueuil’s fiancée, a Princeton crewmate of Freeman’s wife, has the wondrously preppy name of P. Mackenzie Mudgett. (The couple, meanwhile, has postponed their nuptials, which had been scheduled for this coming weekend. And at which Freeman had been slated to act as best man – one stand up guy standing up for another. Any takers on whether this wedding ever goes through? Could have been worse. Insider trading’s bad, but it’s not like Longueuil turned out to be the Craigslist killer.)
  • Mudgett, while not charged with anything, was apparently the second party who accompanied Longueuil on his 2 a.m. Manhattan reverse dumpster dive. Wonder how he explained that to her. “Hey, honey, I’ve got to run out for a few minutes. Wanna come help me toss baggies full of incriminating evidence into some garbage trucks?”
  • Mudgett and Longueuil had served as volunteer bellringers for the Salvation Army this past Christmas. (Awwwwwwwwww. Bet they even wore matching Santa hats.) (Source: UK Daily Mail.)
  • Then there’s the rabbi who’s in prison because he tried to shakedown SAC Capital, where Freeman and Longueuil traded, for money to fund a school he runs, but claiming that he’d blow the whistle on insider trading there if he didn’t get the mega-donation he was soliciting. (That’s another whole story.)

Meanwhile, Freeman has been given permission, while he awaits his sentencing, to jet off to St. Croix and Puerto Rico to compete in triathlons there. The St. Croix event is where he proposed to his wife a few years back. Sentimental guy. Have I said “awwwwwwww” already? Or maybe he’s thinking that he better get his last couple of Iron-man’s in, just in case he does end up doing some time. Which, god knows, he ought to. Jeez. If Martha Stewart goes to prison for making chump change on an insider-info inspired trade, someone whose hedge fund comped him 20% on his trades – which were a whole lot bigger than Martha’s – ought to wear the orange jumpsuit for a bit.

While it’s hard to expend much sympathy on a couple of greedy hedgies who got caught with their yellow suspenders down, it’s hard not to cough up a smidgeon of inter-personal sympathy for Longueuil.

Not only is he looking at a hefty prison sentence, he has to live with the fact that his best man – for all his big, strong triathlon-ism – dimed him. Sure, Longueuil might well have done the same thing if the bread crumbs had led to his door first, instead of to Freeman’s. But they didn’t.

As for the plea non-bargain that Freeman struck, if it turns out that they were equally culpable, it really won’t seem fair if he gets off with zippo, while Longueuil does hard time.

How about they split the difference, and give them both 12.5 years?

Maybe they can even be cell-mates.

Justice served!

Monday, February 21, 2011

“Don’t Know Much About History…”

Before we had Presidents’ Day, we had George Washington’s Birthday.

Even as a child I always thought that Abraham Lincoln got short shrift when it came to presidential birthday celebration – you didn’t, after all, get Lincoln’s February 12th birthday off, at least not if you lived in Massachusetts. (We were no doubt saving ourselves for the better weather, Boston Marathon holiday that is Patriots’ Day.)

So, on behalf of Abe, and a couple of other presidents that I liked an admired – any guesses? -  I didn’t mind so much when George Washington’s Birthday kinda-sorta morphed into Presidents’ Day, even though, in Massachusetts, it still goes by GW B-day.

Good, bad, or indifferent – and we’ve had plenty of all kinds – I don’t think it’s such a bad idea to celebrate the men who've, in the course of human events, taken on the onerous and colossally difficult (not to mention dangerous) job of leading our decidedly flawed but amazingly (so far, anyway) resilient and fortunate nation.

Anyway, this holiday has gotten me to think about history, which, although I don’t consider myself a buff of any sort, I have always enjoyed. And do read about, if not obsessively, at least with some regularity. Mainly, I read U.S. history, mostly, and my “likes” are the Civil War, the Depression, and World War II.

I just made a bet with myself that I could rattle off the names of all of the presidents. I lost – but not by much – and if I’d given myself a bit more time than the 90 seconds I allotted to the task, I’m sure I would have gotten Buchanan, Arthur, and Garfield. (How could I have forgotten Garfield, who was assassinated. Talk about a hazardous job, by the way: 4 out of 44 presidents have been killed in office, which must rank right up there in terms of on the job mortality.) I will admit I was a bit mushy on the order between Jackson and Lincoln, and clearly late 19th century is not my sweet spot. But I did pretty good.

I also know lots of other things about history, and I started thinking about that not just because it’s Presidents’ Day, but because of a bit of fractured history I overheard yesterday while walking through Boston Common.

Just as I was ambling by the Founders Memorial, which commemorates the city’s founding in 1630, I passed a mother with her young son, and overheard her giving the boy – who was about 4 or 5 – an ignorance-is-bliss history lesson.

Founders Memorial - Wally Gobetz

Although I was some distance from the pair, I could not help overhearing her, because she was using that self-conscious, officious voice that some parents deploy when speaking to their children in public places. (God, I hope they don’t use those voices in private, as well.) You know the ones. They’re from the look at me, hear-ye-hear-ye school of parenting that seeks to draw attention to the fact that while schlubby, run of the mill, every day parents might be telling their kid to hurry it up or stop licking the snot off their top lip, they are taking the time to impart knowledge to their children. Carpe diem: this here is a teaching moment.

What this mother was doing was explaining something about Christopher Columbus to her son.

Now, I’m not accusing her of confusing John Winthrop with Christopher Columbus. Just because she was walking by the Founders Memorial doesn’t mean that her kid was asking her what it was. They could just have been having one of those mid-winter Christopher Columbus  conversations that come up every now and then, even when it’s not October 12th.

No, my problem was what she was telling the boy.

“Christopher Columbus,” she declaimed in her very bestest outdoor voice, “Sailed to America on the Santa and the Maria.”

I thought about hollering out that he sailed over with the Buchanan, the Garfield, and the Arthur the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, but I was moving too fast, I was too stunned, and I just didn’t have it in me to use my officious, pedantic, cranky old lady voice to show her up in front of her child.

And I bet all you had been worrying about on this holiday was whether U.S. children don’t know much biology, don’t know much trigonometry, don’t know much about algebra, don’t know what a slide rule is for.

If their parents are telling them that Columbus sailed the ocean blue on the Santa and the Maria, they ain’t going to know much about history, either.


Photo from Wally Gobetz’s FlickR site.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Playing a corpse: it’s a living

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m a cop show junkie.

I mean it’s not like I have withdrawal symptoms if I go a month or so without seeing one. And I don’t wake up every morning jonesing for a show featuring a man in uniform.

Still, if I feel like watching TV, and one of the options is a cop show, there’s a pretty high likelihood that this is the option I’ll go with.

Even as a kid, I liked cop shows: Naked City, 87th Precinct, The Untouchables, and, for a change of pace, Car-54 Where Are You? Over the years, I’ve been a big fan of Hill Street, NYPD Blue, and the many manifestations of Law and Order (none more so than the late, lamented original and still the greatest). Not exactly “must watch” TV, but I am apt to turn on Law and Order: SVU (even though I find the plots increasingly preposterous) and Detroit 1-8-7 (if only to watch the marvelous Michael Imperioli, who having played Mafiosi Christopher Moltisanti on The Sopranos, has made the shift from bad guy to good guy; and the marvelous James McDaniel, who used to play Lt. Fancy on NYPD Blue.)

Given my fondness for cop shows, I was interested in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal on one of the few job growth areas for actors: playing a corpse. On a cop show.

As reality TV has forced out what is referred to as scripted TV - as if, ahem, reality TV weren’t scripted – there are fewer and fewer roles for the legions of actors who eke out a living on bit parts. Thus, we have the likes of Snookie, The Situation, and The “Real” Housewives of Wherever edging out real actors. As is the case with so many call centers that ended up back in the States, this is yet another instance of outsourcing at its not so finest: we’re turning our entertainment over to those whose only credentials are narcissism and pushiness, and whose only talent, as it were, is a stunning lack of shame.

Not that life has ever been all that rosy for actors. Most actors (painters, musicians, writers…) have always had to keep their day jobs. Years ago, I was walking down Charles Street when I saw a painter – as in house painter – going into a building carrying a ladder. He looked familiar, and it took me a moment to realize that I had seen him in a Súgán Theatre production a few nights before. Good he kept his day job – the Súgán has been out of biz for a while now.

Anyway, there’s a reasonably decent (casting) call for those who can play a dead body.

In the past few years, TV dramas have responded to feature-film trends and HDTV, which shows everything in more realistic detail, by upping the violence and delivering more shock value on the autopsy table.

The Screen Actors Guild doesn't keep figures on corpse roles, but currently, seven of the top 10 most-watched TV dramas use corpse actors, including CBS's "CSI," "NCIS" and spinoff "NCIS: Los Angeles." …

It all means more work for extras, casting agents and makeup artists who supply corpses in various stages of decomposition.

The Journal journalist got to play a shooting vic on Law and Order: Los Angeles. She was told that she was lucky to play a fresh kill.

A body that is "morgue dead" requires an actor to be still for three hours or more to get into chalky-white full-body makeup and a "Y incision" across the chest.

Cop shows also use mannequins, but that’s apparently only when an actor with more of a role than playing a victim is involved. Mannequins cost about $8K to produce.

Which is a lot more than the going rate for an actor playing a stiff, who, by the way, has only to demonstrate that they can lie still and control their breathing in order to secure a part. They get paid about $139 for an eight hour day, plus OT. Plus they get fed. They can also make an extra $100 if they have to pose for stills of the victim in the good old days, when they were alive. And if you end up floating face down in the East River for your part, you can earn a whopping extra $14 to $18 per diem. There may also be “hardship” pay associated with having to play a dead body in bad weather, as happened to one extra on Law & Order: SVU . She had to hang out in 14 degree weather with little by way of clothing on.

Hardship pay or no, it pays something approximating crap to play a dead body. Especially when you take into consideration that you can’t count on the crappy pay from one week to the next. Plus it doesn’t exactly liven up a résumé to have rolled over and played dead:

Playing dead on a TV show makes it hard to return to the living in another part.

Oh, yeah, and you get treated like crap, too, by the “stars”:

A production assistant who herds us around during the 11-hour day warns us that "people treat background actors like trash, walking props."

And yet it’s apparently one of the few jobs for actors that’s growing.

Sounds an awful lot like the general paradigm for the economy: a lot of decent paying jobs going bye-bye, replaced (if that) by the dregs.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Westminster Doggy Style

The Westminster Dog Show was held this week, and the winner was a Scottish Deerhound named Hickory. (Full nom d’dog show: GCH Foxcliffe Hickory Wind.) I’d never heard of a Scottish Deerhound, but that doesn’t mean much. I’d never heard of a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, a Kuvasz, or a Petit Bassetts Griffon Vendeen, either.

I like the looks of this year’s winner. I’d rather see a full-frontal face picture, rather than this tail between the legs shot, but Hickory appears to have a dog look I find quite appealing, that of an FFM (Fur-Faced Mutt).

Hickory, of course, is no mutt.

Mutts may the the most common dog out and about, but the Westminster Kennel Club is strictly NMNA – No Mutts Need Apply. Pure-breds, only. Which matters, because in competition they score them on all sorts of breed-specific markers that only folks obsessing about breed perfection need to know about. (Ratio of tan to black, width of chest, droopiness of ears, pointiness of snout, alignment of teeth [perfect dog bite]…) How they compare breed to breed to come up with Best in Show must be another story.

Still, this bitch looks mighty cute – and here I’m using the official doggy gender designation. Under “sex”, dogs are listed as “bitch” or “dog” rather than F and M. Another indication that it’s a man’s world – male dogs get the good name; females get the pejorative. Those curs!

Anyway, on the news the other night, someone interviewed at the dog show said that you need to invest about $50K in your show pup in order to win a ribbon, even for the canine equivalent of Miss Congeniality. (Bitch Tailwagger?)

But to win the Best in Show, this person claimed, you’d have to drop about $1M. That’s an awful lot of Milk Bones.

There are plenty of reasons why it costs an arm and a leg a paw and a tail to win The Big One.

David Frei, director of communications for the Westminster Kennel Club, said preparing a dog to compete at the highest level would cost an owner upwards of six figures annually.

The bulk of that price comes from enlisting a professional handler, Frei said.

“At the heart and soul of this sport are the owner/handlers,” Frei said. “They have dogs living with them full-time as members of their families. Campaigning a dog as a top 20 potential is probably going to cost you six figures between handling fees, boarding for the handler, grooming, travel, show entries and advertising.” (Source: Fox Business News.)

Advertising? Huh? It must be like the studios that take the ads out in Variety to plump for their stars to win an Oscar.

Advertising aside, I find it kind of sad that the owners actually don’t have their doggies living with them. Instead, they farm them out to breeders who get all the love and face licks – do show dogs even lick facess? – but who are, essentially, providing a love-for-sale kind of service. This seems like sending a seven year old off to boarding school. Why’d you have them if you don’t want them around?

But the primo-dog show circuit is big time, and those who invest in it as a hobby are, apparently, not that interested in the face lick, tail wag, and hop in bed aspects of dog ownership. (Here we’ll ignore the dog-fart, poop-scooping, shoe-chewing aspects of dog ownership.)

So owners pay the big bucks to have the dogs groomed, handled, and trained for show – not for fun, companionship, amusement, and affection.

They are, after all, owners, so they can do whatever they want with their property.

In this, they are unlike most dog owners I know who, in fact, are not really dog owners, as they are a part of a family with a canine member or two. Which – since that first brave and canny person decided that a wolf puppy might be fun to have around - has pretty much been what dogs have become.

At the bottom line, owning a show dog is kind of like owning a race horse. Except that no one wrestles with a horse, or feeds one from a bowl on the kitchen floor. And the stud fees for the big dog show winners aren’t quite up to the level commanded by a Kentucky Derby stud.

The individuals (and syndicates) who own show dogs don’t get much of a payback.

“It doesn’t … touch what you spend,” Frei said.

As I said up-front, I was happy to see a cute-faced dog win, not to mention a dog that wasn’t all frou-frou’d up.

The dogs I feel really bad for are the standard poodles, which are nice, smart, cute old pooches. But you’d never know this to see the ones who take home the non-doggy bowl at Westminster.

This poor bitch was this year’s Best of Breed.


Yikes! This is kind of like dressing your two-year old up to look like Lady Gaga. Some things are just not right. And, most assuredly, no standard poodle would choose this look for itself.

Bad enough when it’s done for a bitch, but they do it for boy dogs, too.

Poodle 2

How can this poor bastard look a mutt in the eye?

Not all show dogs look ridiculous, of course. C.f., Hickory.

But they all do seem to have grandiose names. No Fido. No Rex. No Prince.

In honor of my dog-nephew, plain old Jack, I thought I’d check out the names of some of the black lab entrants at Westminster.

Camelot’s Dragon Toy. Tabatha’s Glacieridge Briar. Ghoststone’s Otterly Fantastic Hollywood Kid.

Jack would have to have a more resplendent moniker in order to compete. North Shore Animal Shelter Pound Puppy Jack? Cutie Pie Kong-Mowing Lay-about Jack? Dog-bed Chewing Let Me Sleep Poop Already Jack?

Nah. Just plain Jack is good enough- it’s all the style that doggy needs.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I don’t really care how SEO works, but this can’t possibly be good marketing

Almost four years ago, I posted about a workplace killing in Michigan. (Workplace Violence: Be Careful Out There). While there’s only one comment on that post, I did get a couple of e-mails from employees at the company I’d written about, thanking me for what I’ve written.

Since then, the post has been sitting there, idling. Which is what most old blog posts do.

They are, however, a frequent target of comment-spammers – of the “Hey, great post, keep up the good work” or “Thanks for writing about this topic, I found it very helpful” variety. These generic comments always come with a link to something wildly unrelated.

Somehow, in a way that I neither know nor care to know about, these comments are supposed to to improve a site’s ranking.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), from what I gather, has gotten a bit more sophisticated than this, and there’s an art and science to picking keywords, having associated content on your site, knowing which links are valuable and which aren’t, etc. I get involved on the periphery of SEO, occasionally writing that keyword-associated content, or, as happened recently, editing/rewriting some associated content that was pumped out by an offshore content mill.

The mill’s writers had such a weak grasp on the technology they were trying to “write” about that they got a lot of things dead-wrong, and came up with some things that were suppressed-giggle silly. What the content millworkers appear to do is google on the keyword of interest, grab a bunch of content online, and change it up a bit so it’s not out and out plagiarism. It then gets run through some check-out engine to make sure it’s not out and out plagiarism, after which it gets posted to a site.

You get what you pay for with this approach, and I don’t think that “real” writers have to fear for their jobs quite yet. Still, with all this content out there for the grabbing at everyone’s mouse-tip, there’s yet another reason to rue the decline of the written word. Sigh…)

Roundabout way of getting to a spam comment – now deleted – that appeared the other day on the Workplace Violence post. Here’s the comment:

three months ago i have big problem which is usual of many of us ! what should do and how to go on living, I did not understood ((I have stopped [b]smiling at ALL!!!![/b] :( yes!!,i have bad teeth because of [b]heredity[/b] ... why it so? Teeth is the first thing you see when meet anybody,or doing smth like this, I found a solution in putting [url=http://getNAME OF DENTAL VENEER PRODUCT]NAME OF DENTAL VENEER PRODUCT REDACTED[/url] ! and i must say it has guaranteed 100% result,now i know its a good decision

I have redacted the name of the dental veneer product because I don’t want to help these guys optimize their search – if, indeed, this clumsy and inept approach actually does so. And I don’t want anyone to take “it’s working!” credit for this bit of idiocy.

Nice that someone out there’s getting to practice their English, but can it really help your company and its reputation to have something like this (make that ‘smth like this’) floating around out there? I suppose they (correctly) assume that nobody’s going to see “it” on a nearly four year old blog post about a workplace murder in Michigan. Still, wouldn’t you want your company and its products associated with a blog post that’s at least marginally related, not to mention with a comment that’s at least marginally well-written?  Why not supply the comment you want to use? It would take about a nano-second for someone to edit this comment into shape.

I have a friend who’s an SEO expert, so I’ll have to check with him and see if this is how it works, and that if you strew enough of these malformed comments out into the blogosphere, enough of them will get left in to help with the rankings.

By the way, when you google ‘dental veneers’, the DENTAL VENEER PRODUCT REDACTED comes up in the Top Five. So it’s (alas) either working or they didn’t need to resort to this kind of marketing-by-spam.

As for SEO, if this is how you get it to work for you, I can only grab a few words from the spam-commenter and ask ‘why it so?’

If this is what the marketing world is coming down to, I’m sure happy to be in the twilight of my career.

Meanwhile, while I won’t mention the veneer product itself, I will mention the company it belongs to: Den-Mat. If the VP of Marketing for Den-Mat wants to enlighten me on why this is effective marketing, well, come on down.


Last summer, over the course of a couple of days, I had a spate of comments, several hundred in all, made to old blog posts. The commnets came from a single source, I think in India. What was peculiar about them was that, while they were obviously spam (links to Viagra sites, etc.), the person making them had obviously read enough of my post to be able to make a relevant comment. Maybe they were just trying to get a bit more out of what must be a numbingly boring job (i.e., getting by the CAPTCHA in order to put an irrelevant comment on a blog), but I really felt like I was being stalked. After deleting all the comments – and it took a while – I reported the spammer to blogspot/google, and they haven’t been back since.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Professor Philip Brown’s stunningly career-destroying move

I am always shocked when someone commits career suicide.

Don’t they realize that, while suicide can be botched, it is often fatal?

Don’t they know that stuff like sending cheesecake photos to someone you met on Craigslist can be hazardous to your career health, as an upstate NY congressman found out last week?

But Congressman Lee’s relatively minor lapse in judgment was quickly knocked out of the headlines by the news of the nutty professor from Colby. Economist Philip Brown resigned from his position once it was discovered that he’d secretly done some bathroom filming of a group of female students who accompanied him on a recent school-related trip to China. (I was going to write that he “chaperoned” the trip, but that, obviously, wasn’t right. The next word that popped into my head was “squired.” Hah!)

All the tenure in the world wasn’t going to protect this bad boy once the  news came out.

Here’s the story (summarized/quoted from a story in the Kennebec Maine Journal):

Brown, who is an expert on China’s economy, had taken a group of students to China as part of an intersession project. Using Brown’s laptop, the students blogged about their trip, with their entries posted on Colby’s website. When a couple of students went to recover an inadvertently deleted post, they came across semi-nude pictures of one of their fellow students. The images were taken by a surveillance camera that Brown had cagily placed in the bathroom of the hotel room the female students were sharing. He had placed the camera in an emergency “medical kit” and instructed the students to keep it in the bathroom so they’d always know where it was.

Once the pictures were discovered, the students checked out the famous medical kit and found the camera, and reported their findings to college officials, who contacted local (Waterville, Maine) police.

The college acted swiftly, confronting Brown while he was still in China, and calling him back to campus where he was forced to resign – after admitting that he had also done this on an earlier trip to China, as well as “’only once in his apartment but not with a Colby College student.’" Which should come as a relief to the Colby family, but not necessarily to any woman that this creep had ever dated.

Not clear whether the in-your-own-home surveillance camera is a crime-crime, or just a complete, utter, and tasteless “ick”, but so far there’s nothing that can be prosecuted in the U.S., since the filming happened in another jurisdiction.

Brown, who had recently received tenure, was described in the college newspaper,

…The Colby Echo [as] "…a well-liked professor before his resignation" and "was known for being a challenging professor as well," but he had a "sometimes-unpleasant demeanor."

Little did they know….

Brown got generally high scores and glowing reviews on RateMyProfessors, with a couple of students claiming he’d inspired them to join the Peace Corps, to get a PhD.

…he is SO nice. Easily the best teacher I have had at Colby.

Great prof!

Wish all profs were this good at integrating assignments with real life.

Well, real life sure has integrated into Philip Brown’s, hasn’t it?

Maybe some company desperate for someone who “knows” China will hire him as a consultant. Maybe he’ll end up a pundit. Maybe some community college somewhere will hire him to adjunct for a couple of thousand bucks an occasional semester. Certainly no college of the caliber of Colby is going to grant this jamoke tenure.

And, unless there’s someone who this type of behavior holds a certain kinky appeal, I’d say his dating days are up for a while.

So what is it with someone who’d behave like this?

Is he just so I’m-so-smart hubris packed that he never thought he’d get caught? Well, the old “hidden camera in the first aid kit” trick might have worked, but why have students using the laptop you kept the pictures on? Not so smart, professor, unless you had a secret wish to be caught, with all the attendant mortification. (Psycho, meet sexual.)

Is Brown a truly disturbed individual, or just a garden variety, I like to watch girls pee creep. (Surely, he could indulge in this hobby on line somewhere, but I guess the thrill must be in knowing the women and/or the risk of getting caught.)

Anyway, Philip Brown (assuming he stays out of jail) has a long life of quasi-, job-cadging employment ahead of him. Instead of the nice tenured faculty position, at a good little college on a beautiful campus.

I didn’t read through all Brown’s student reviews, but there was one student who apparently wasn’t buying the BS:

Omg such a bad experience. He's ridiculous in his grading - unclear about what he wants. His lectures are boring and full of facts from textbooks. Not a smart professor and not a smart way of teaching. Worst econ prof ever had.

Brown may not be the worst econ prof ever, but “not a smart professor and not a smart way of teaching” seems to fill the bill nicely, don’t you think?

Monday, February 14, 2011

It may be Valentine’s Day, but fashionistas aren’t seeing red

Just as you can go decades without running into anyone under the age of 80 named Jacob, only to get gob-smacked with Jacob as the number one boy’s name. Just as you can never have heard of chopped salad, chicken Caesar, or focaccia until it’s on every damned menu. Just as you all of a sudden – OMG – realize that everyone is speaking in TXT. So, apparently the designers of the world are simultaneously visited by an emissary of the great fashion beyond to let them know what color is in. (That or they collude.)

So we find ourselves hearing that pink is the new neutral, or red is the new black, or pastel is the new power color.

And, this time around, the tablets handed down to the fashion mavens have it writ large that, come this spring, orange is the “it” color. (Source: Wall Street Journal.)

Apparently they didn’t get the message that bright orange doesn’t look good on an awful lot of people. Or maybe this is just one more sign that the American Century – peopled by all those whey-faced, pale-eyed offspring of British Isle and Northern Europe stock – has drawn to an abrupt and irrevocable close. It’s someone else’s turn to look good.

Of course, even us whey-faced, pale-eyed yesteryear lookers could get away with an orange watch, those spiOrange_0212jpgkes, or – better and more comfortably yet - those Nikes. A bangle bracelet. A shopping bag. But for anything up close and personal, like next to the face, navel-orange orange is going to make an awful lot of people look awful. Even my sister Kath, of the autumn palette, who looks great in coral, burnt orange, and rust, is probably not going to start cruising the racks for anything in popsicle orange. (Creamsicle, maybe.)

Not that I’m in the market for a caftan or argyle vest, orange or otherwise, so maybe I’m just miffed because orange is third only to camel and olive drab on the list of colors that make me look terrible. Or maybe it’s first on the list. I’ve actual made fashion-mistake purchases of the camel and olive drab variety, only to decide two years post-purchase, that the reason that fabulous, mark-downed, cool-design dress still has the tags on it is because it makes me look like my personal death-knell is about to toll. With the exception of a baseball cap I got to wear to a Syracuse basketball game last year  - trust me, you don’t casually roll into the Carrier Dome without a bit of wearin’ o’ the orange – I have never purchased an article of clothing that is bright orange.

As a child, I had a very sporty pair of bright orange shorts that I tastefully partnered with a hunter green short sleeve sweater. I wore this when I was swirling my orange hula hoop around my hips. During the rage, my father brought home two hula hoops: one blue and the other orange. I glommed onto the blue one, but when my sister Kath expressed a liking for the orange one – she of the more sophisticated taste (then and now) – I immediately decided that I wanted it. True to her older sister cool, Kath -  who  fought tooth and nail with me about plenty, but never about the last/best/only whatever - just shrugged it off and gave it to me. Not that we had all that much to quibble over, but she was past master of getting my goat by her colossal indifference to whether she got the last fake-fudgicle in the freezer, or the orange hula hoop. (Note to self: ask Kath whether she actually gave a rat’s patoot or not, or whether she just wanted to irritate me by so easily giving in on the object of my desire that it’s value completely and utterly diminished.)

And I did have an orange blouse when I was in seventh grade, which I remember because I was wearing it the day I got my first period. (Post hoc non ergo propter hoc.) Other than that…

I do like the color, however, and have things that are orange that go quite nicely, thank you, with things that are blue. Of which I have a lot.

But if the taste-makers want us to run out and buy a lot of new stuff and, thus, revive the economy, you’d think they’d pick a color more neutral than bright orange. Then again, maybe they don’t care what the average whey-faced, pale-eyed American does with her clothing allowance. Let them wear navy blue clunkers from Talbot’s!

This all puts me in mind of something that happened years ago, when I worked at Genuity. I was on the steering committee for a marketing off-site, and the goodie-bag giveaway was going to a sailing jacket. The committee member in charge of goodie-bags who, needless to say was not boring-old-content-maker-me, modeled a few styles. The team members were all leaning toward the neutrals: black, navy, or light khaki. She was liking the canary yellow.

Which was not surprising, since she had the coloring for it, and looked fabulous in a color that made the rest of us look like stale, squashed Peeps.

Let’s just say my husband was happy to have a bright yellow rain jacket.

Anyway, orange you glad you don’t need to follow the merciless dictates of fashion?


And a Happy Valentine’s Day to all Pink Slip readers, and to my very own funny valentine.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Thanks to my friend John Whiteside, I saw a blog post by Cory Doctorow, over on BoingBoing, about the rise of fly-by-night outplacement services that:
…assign their "coaches" 15 clients per day, send out amateurish, typo-laden job applications on behalf of job-seekers (without their knowledge, signing their names to the cover letters, no less), and generally make a piss-poor hash out of their charges' future employment prospects.
I’m sure that there are any number of such outfits out there, bottom-feeders taking advantage of mass-layoffs. And, of course, there are plenty of mass-laying-off companies that unwittingly sign on with these fly-by-nighters because they don’t know any better, and think they’re really providing their ex-employees with a service. Or that, quite cynically, just want to satisfy a checklist item as cheaply as possible, so that they can stand there in front of their huddled masses and tell them that they’re providing outplacement for everyone who’s just been remaindered.

I’ve used outplacement services twice, and both times I was quite fortunate.

This can in part be attributed to having been at a decent enough level in the company to get the “premium service.” I know that in both cases where I thought the services were excellent, there was a lot of grumbling among rank-and-file lay-off-ees who’d felt that all they got was a couple of hours in a résumé mill.
The first time I was laid off – fired, actually, after getting in a heated argument with the company president over how we were going to position our upcoming lay-offs – the outplacement counselor I worked with was quite excellent.

When I first met with her, I was completely upset and panicked, and she got me to calm down and figure out what I wanted to do next. Which was to not find myself in the same sort of situation I’d just left after nearly 10 years. Since I had a decent severance package to soften the blow, I was able to take my time. And while I certainly didn’t manage to avoid yet another dysfunctional mess of a company, I actually liked the content of my new job better than I had at the prior dysfunctional mess of a company. So thank you, Nancy, for that.

My time in outplacement was supposed to be three months, but, because I participated in their networking sessions, and helped other displaced persons with their résumés and cover letters, they told me I could hang on for as long as I wanted. Which turned out to be another two months. During my time in lay-off vile, it was completely helpful to have a place to get up and go to every morning, since that’s what I’d been doing for the prior 20 years.

The second time around, having volunteered for separation from the dysfunctional mess of a company I’d gone to after being fired from my earlier dysfunctional mess of a company, I knew I was going to take six months off to chill and enjoy my severance. Still, it was good to have a place to go and hang out a couple of days a week, and connect with my now-former colleagues. Again, my outplacement counselor was excellent, and Geralyn and I became friendly enough to stay vaguely connected for a couple of years of occasional lunches. Again, even after the three months allotted time was up, the firm was quite loosey-goosey about letting those of us whose time was up continue to drift in and out, use their conference rooms, etc. Which is what I did with two former colleagues, with whom I planned a new business. As it turns out, it never took off as a business, per se, mostly because we were all doing our own thing and never focused all that much on any joint work. Though we never actually did business as a business – although we did have a cool logo and Christmas cards – the three of us are still connected, and a number of my consulting gigs (including two active current ones) are through these guys.

In neither case did “my” outplacement services directly help me find a new job. But they were both tremendously helpful in terms of getting me to get my act together, providing support, and giving me a place to go. And if you’re used to leaving the house at 7 every morning, and returning at 7 in the evening, the value of having a place to go cannot be overestimated.

But my experience, of course, is based on having been in the (relatively) senior ranks at both companies that sprung for outplacement for me. I’m sure I would have felt a lot different it I’d just gotten 15 minutes with an apparatchik who scanned my résumé for obvious typos, and told me where to file for unemployment.

My outplace days are, of course, behind me.

While I’m not going to say that I exactly remember them fondly, all in all, both times were pretty good experiences.

Sounds like a case of lucky me.

By the way, Cory Doctorow includes this little horror story in his post:
I'm always reminded of my friend's outplacement horror story: when he was laid off, he was called into a board room with the other unlucky unemployment lotto winners, where a high price consultant had scattered coins all over the floor and furniture and dimmed the lights save for a few dramatic spots. "Change," he intoned, "is all around you. And there's no need to fear it."
I suppose it could have been worse. Think if they’d decided to go with a theme of “shit happens.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Snow job: $4,800 to shovel off a roof? (Ah, the free market in action!)

For the past week or so, the news reports in these parts have carried regular stories about roofs collapsing under the weight of all that snow. Makes me nervous about living in a flat-top building, but, hey, our roof has held up for 100years. Plus we had a worker go up and clear drains and toss a bit of snow around. So we should be good. Nonetheless, I’m relieved we live on a lower floor, far away from the roof.

But folks are scared, and where folks are scared, folks can be scammed. And that’s what happened to an elderly fellow north of Boston who got duped by some contractors – oddly enough, named Snow – into paying $4,800 to clear his roof.

The Snows modus operandi, which they also deploy during the summer months as pavers, is strictly don’t call us, we’ll call you.  They show up at someone’s home (generally an older someone) and offer to do some work. It’s not clear whether they generally do it for an agreed upon, but exorbitant, amount, or whether they announce the charge (or new charge) after the fact. Whether there is outright dishonestly or bullying involved is not all that clear. What is clear is that this outfit does appear to be preying on the elderly.

[Amesbury Police Lt. Jeffrey] Worthen said the Snows typically drive around looking for customers and most times offer to do work for people without first settling on a price for their services. When the job is completed, the Snows then hand the unsuspecting customer a huge bill. Last summer, police in Danvers, Beverly, Plum Island and Salisbury received complaints about the Snows' business practices.  (Source here and below, until the Boston Globe clicks in: The Daily News of Newburyport. )

In the case of the $4,800 snow job, it seems that the old fellow agreed to pay, likely having been convinced that this was a fair price and/or that his house was in danger of any-time-now collapse. His daughter got wind of things and called the cops, who made the Snows give back the shakedown the snow off the roof money, or else be charged with something or other. Back most of the money went, and the contractors ended up with $250.

Which appears to be within the range, plus or minus, that most of the frothing online commentariat claims is the going rate.

For, needless to say, this brouhaha is grabbing local headlines. (And, of course, the online commentariat has been off to the races. One of the interesting threads has been whether or not the Snows are Irish Travelers (a.k.a., gypsies or Tinkers), and whether or not it’s bigoted to say so. I have to admit that when I first heard of this, and then saw the Snows’ names associated with paving jobs, my first, oh-so-bigoted thought was “Tinkers.”)

It certainly doesn’t help that the Snows – they are a father and sons team – have a wee bit of a history:

The family's sketchy reputation stretches all the way to California where Kevin Jr. and George Snow, along with a Connecticut man, were arrested in June 2009 following a yearlong investigation on charges of improper practices. According to California officials, the trio reached plea agreements on several felony fraud charges last July and agreed to pay $130,000 in fines.

In 2002, Amesbury police charged at least one of the Snows with larceny over $250 for a similar incident, Worthen said. The case was continued without finding for a year, and the accused Snow was sentenced to a year of probation, Worthen said.

The Snows aren’t slinking off the scene, however.

They’re mad as hell, and they’re fighting back. (At least one of them, anyway.)

Kevin Snow, Junior, in Wednesday’s Boston Globe, had this to say for himself.

I want people to know, I'm not scamming, I'm making a living," Kevin Snow Jr., 23, said this morning …

The elderly customer agreed on the price prior to the job and also requested that his garage roof be shoveled, which added to the cost, Snow said.

“It’s called aggressive sale,” he said. “There’s no law against it.”

“We didn’t break any laws and that is what offends me -- I will be looked at in town like a bum," he said.

Snow said that he, his brother, and five other workers spent six hours shoveling the roof, garage, bulkhead, three walkways, and two porches, and de-icing the gutters.

…People should know I’m fair with them,” he said. “They know I have a heart and always give them a price up front.”

Now, other than the ridiculous whining about being “looked at in town like a bum”, and that ridiculous people “know I have a heart” statement, I do have a question here.

Is it against the law to give someone a (however ludicrously) high quote for a project, and then, when they agree to it, charge them for it?

It’s certainly predatory. It’s certainly nasty. It’s certainly unethical.

But is it actually illegal?

And, if it is, at what age do you become a “victim” vs. a “sucker”?

After all, in this case, work was completed, and at a stated price.

If the facts and figures that Snow cited are correct – and, of course, there’s really no reason to believe they are: 7 guys working for 6 hours sounds like an awful lot of mighty big shoveling; I think you could clear the White House roof, and shovel out a walkway to the portico, in under that time – then someone made a killing. Over $100 bucks an hour, for what is pretty mindless work. But it is not without some danger. And it’s not without some risk. And while I, personally, wouldn’t pay someone $100+ an hour to shovel, maybe someone else would.

So, when does it stop being caveat emptor, and start being stop in the name of the law?

What’s the age when it clicks in? Am I over it?

In truth, I kind of live the small town way of justice that went into handling this:  Call the cops. Cops blast the guys. Old geezer gets his money back (if not his pride). No one goes to jail. But if the number of man-hours that Snow claims are true (and, again, there’s no reason to believe they are precisely accurate, is there?), then $250 for the entire job is way too little. That’s six bucks and hour. Minimum wage in Massachusetts is $8.00/hour. And surely when you factor in a bit of risk, shoveling off the roof may be worth a tad more.

But again I ask, if indeed the man was quoted “$4,800” and went ahead and gave the okay, what exactly is illegal here? And who gets to decide the fair price?

I’m not condoning this, by the way. Whatever Kevin Snow Jr. might say for himself a bum is a bum is a bum.

And I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me that when Kevin Snow Jr. says:

“It’s called aggressive sale,” he said. “There’s no law against it.”

He may be right.

But on the overall business front, in a day and age when more and more people actually do go to the google and check out a business before they give the go ahead for an expensive project, it’s really not a particularly smart business strategy to develop a reputation as someone with questionable judgment and ethics. Maybe it’s a reasonable short term approach to grab the money and run. To price gouge because you could get away with it. And, hey, it’s legal. But in the long run, it doesn’t strike me as a very savvy way to build a business.

Do you know anyone who’d do business with the Snow family?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Mutiny on the Cheap Flight

While grazing on Huffington Post the other day – and completely sticking with my New Year’s resolution not to read the annoying and depressing comments -  I came across an article on yet another passenger mutiny on board a Ryanair flight.

Yet another?

Yes indeed-y.

All you need to do is google “Ryanair mutiny” and you’ll find a reference to June’s Strathclyde uprising, fomented by a four hour drinkless, foodless tarmac wait at Prestwick Airport, and quelled only when police went out of pocket to buy bottled water and Mars bars for the beleaguered passengers. Not exactly the drama and peril of the raid on Entebbe, but, still, an admirable intervention on the part of the local constabulary. (Source story.)

Then there were the November flights to Paris-Beauvais, diverted to Liege in Belgium because of French fog. Ryanair had buses lined up to transport the travelers, but 100 passengers staged a sit-in. Hell, no, we won’t go. Wonder if they sang, We Shall Not, We Shall Not be Moved.  Not exactly the drama and peril of the Greensboro lunch-counter sit-ins of 1960 but, hey, I guess one man’s petulant acting out – just hop on the bus, Gus – is another man’s crucible. (Source story.)

The latest tempest occurred a few days ago in the Canary Islands, when police had to take a number of unruly passengers off a plane after a mutiny prompted by Ryanair trying to get a passenger to pony up the surcharge for excess carry-on. Of the 168 passengers, over 100 apparently leapt to the defense of the big-bagger. After the police arrived, only 64 were allowed to stay on the flight. Not exactly the Mutiny on the Bounty, but, while the Canary Islands are no Tahiti, if you’re going to be stranded somewhere because you’ve been bounced from your flight for “disruptive behavior”, you might as well be stranded on a tourist island. (I guess.)

What these episodes have in common, of course, is that they involve Ryanair, the airline that added the word “basement” to the bargain airline category. They’ve long offered stripped down flights to secondary and tertiary airports “near” popular tourist destinations – note that Paris Beauvais is about 50 miles from Paris. In exchange for getting to within approximate range of your destination quite cheaply, you pay for everything. Last year, Ryanair’s head guy even toyed with the idea of charging for use of the toilet. That add-on hasn’t gone through yet. I guess the thought of a bunch of guys whipping it out and peeing in the aisles gave Ryanair a bit of a pause. (If they could figure out how to role down the windows, however….)

While Ryanair has been in the vanguard of no-frills flying, and many more mainstream airlines have followed suit.

What Ryanair has done is also make vacation travel affordable to a lot of folks (mostly in Europe) who might otherwise have stayed at home, content to vacation in their own little countries, however blighted the weather and crappy the food. Ryanair made it possible for the Irish to stop shivering in 60 degree “beach weather” in Bundoran, and the Brits to forego bathing in parkas in the chill waters of Brighton, and head to Spain.

But where there are folks on holiday, there is drinking. And high spirits. And cranky kids. All of which, no doubt, contributes to some of the restive behavior that Ryanair seems to attract.

Not that experienced business travelers don’t get unruly on occasion. I remember the story of one (drunken) Wall Street big shot flying from South America to NYC. When he was denied any more mini-bottles, he proceeded to drop trou and crap on the drink cart. Resulting in his arrest, and some sort of compensation awarded to those who had to witness this indecent act up close and personal. (Talk about “eww’. And I thought it was stomach-churning to have to sit beside a nose-picker all the way form LAX to BOS.)

Personally, I’ve never been part of an on-board mutiny. Not that I can’t envision circumstances under which I would do a bit of online rabble-rousing. It’s just that I’ve never actually experienced those circumstances.

A couple of times I was caught in a tarmac trap – once in the sweltering summertime heat in Newark for a couple of hours; another time in Phillie, where, since all the airport restaurants were closed, they boarded us and fed us on the ground, so we didn’t have to call for the police to rescue us with candy bars. And I have been caught in plenty of long delays in the waiting area, most notably a six hour delay at Shannon caused, the pilot informed us once we were in flight, by having to give the plane an especially thorough check out, as it had been struck by lightning on the trip over from the States the night before. Thanks for sharing, Captain!

So I can’t really appreciate these Ryanair mutinies.

Not that you’re going to starve to death if you don’t eat for four hours, but everyone who flies should make sure that they have a bit of a snack with them – trail mix, candy bar, piece of fruit, bag of nuts. And, obviously, no airline should deny passengers access to the toilet. (This isn’t an EST session, after all.) Beyond that, all sorts of things can conspire to make plane travel unpleasant. Bad weather. Mechanical failure. Crew problems. Air traffic controller strike.

You have absolutely no control over this whatsoever. So lean back and leave the flying to them.

As for those who jumped in to support a passenger being charged extra for carrying on outsized baggage.

This I don’t get at all.

Having been inconvenienced on plenty of occasions by folks trying to cram a bag that appears to contain the content of a full-sized dumpster in it, into the already packed overhead bin, I can’t imagine taking someone’s side who’s gotten in a tiff with the airline about it. Especially on Ryanair.

Come on, folks, sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

Fortunately, I am blessed with an extraordinary capacity to sleep in an upright position, on the ground or in the air, and to keep myself content as long as I have something to read. I can, however, see leading a mutiny if I finished up my book, its backup, and the emergency Vanity Fair I brought at the airport. Especially if the crossword, Sudoku, and Mensa puzzles in the inflight mags had already been filled in. In that case, aux barricades!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

All Over (Includin’ the Shoutin’): a few thoughts on Super Bowl XLV

Well, I just heard that 111 million 0r, rather CXI million - viewers watched Sunday’s Super Bowl.

My husband and I were among them, more or less. (I’ll get to that less part later.)

First, I will say that I am happy with a Green Bay Packer victory. I’ve always like The Pack, and I like the fact that a) they’re the only game in town out there; b) the team is owned by their fans; and c) they play their home games under some of the most miserable weather conditions known to footballkind. Plus my friend Sean, despite having grown up in NJ, and living in NY, is a huge Packers fan. He told me yesterday morning that he is retiring his tattered old Packers jammies and getting some new Super Bowl victory gear.

In truth, I have always sort of liked the Pittsburgh Steelers, too. With the Packers – as in meat packers – the Steelers were named during a time when blue collar guys went to factories and produced things. Like meat. And steel. The Steelers also play cold-weather, hard-nosed football and, while they’re not owned by the citizens of Pittsburgh, they’ve been owned for generations by the Rooney family, which seem like a decent enough lot. Less so Steeler’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who has been involved in a couple of sexual assault cases. Nothing that’s ever made it to court, mind you – these unseemly incidents do have a way of disappearing – but enough to make me not want to root for Big Ben, indicative as they are of the entitled, macho, piggish side of athletics.

Anyway, I watched The Game. More or less. And had been planning on doing a post on the ads, as I’d done the last couple of years on my now more or less defunct marketing blog, Opinionated Marketers. (Old blogs don’t die, and they don’t fade away, either. I really need to do something end-game-ish about that puppy.)

But, as it turned out, I missed most of the ads.  As it happened, while The Game was on, I was too distracted thumbing through the Lands End catalog, making a quick supper, and getting some laundry done to pay all that much attention to the ads. The ones I did notice were not particularly memorable, other than the ones I found offensive (Dorito’s guy sucking chip crumbs off of his pants; Pepsi Max woman hurling the can at her boyfriend’s head). There were some technically nifty car ads, but, in truth, I can’t really recall which one was for Mercedes and which one was for CarMax. Which would be a problem for marketers spending $3M for 30 seconds on the ad space (plus whatever they spent on creative and production) if I were their target demographic. Which, of course, I’m not.

My sister Kath having sent me a link to some ad previews, I did find the ones from Audi that featured Luxury Prison pretty amusing – both the prison break one with the Kenny G music, and the “Startled Smart”teaser ad – a take off on Scared Straight, in which Richy Rich kids are warned about what could happen if they keep doing stuff like wearing four polo shirts at once.

I’m not quite sure what marketers want out of these big Super Bowl spends – Clios? Going viral?  - but, in the case of the Audi ads, at least it looks like they had fun making them.

Anyway, since I didn’t actually see all that many of them, I guess I can’t say I just watch Super Bowl for the ads.

I don’t watch it for the renditions of the national anthem, either.

In fact, I was not in the room when Christina Aguilera warbled away. But I was in ear shot and the lyric flub -  “what so proudly we watched at the twilight’s last gleaming” (or reaming, as some thought she’d come out with)  - didn’t bother me near as much as all the embroidery that Christina, like so many other artistes, seemed compelled to do to make The Star Spangled Banner her very own personal anthem. Note to next superstar called on to open the next Super Bowl: Why don’t you just sing the freakin’ thing like you did in grammar school when you may not have understood the words, but you probably knew them. No showing off; just belt it out without all sorts of frippery. Bet when that tune was better known as a British drinking song there weren’t all kinds of extraneous riffs added.

And how’s this for a novel approach: why not ask everyone in the audience to sing along with you. Hey, it’s our national anthem, too.

So if I missed Ms. Aguilera’s (mis)take of the national anthem, I did get TV-side in time to watch and hear Michael Douglas intone something about Super Bowl being more than just a football game.

How so, Michael?

Basically, it’s just a bunch of highly determined, athletic men playing a rough and tumble, highly physical, sometimes brain damaging (to those playing, and not, fortunately to us watching – at least I don’t think so) sport, for which they get paid (some of them a lot) and we get entertained. Yes, you can wrap the whole thing up in all kinds of  patriotic trappings and militaristic overlay, but at the end of the evening, it’s a game.  (And, yes, it is one that I enjoy watching.)

As for the “it brings us together”, well, sure, it brought 111 million “together” and gave them enough ammunition for a week’s worth of office small talk and bet-settling. But as far as I can tell, that’s about 200 million people short of bringing the entire U.S. us together. And 200 million is a lot of folks, which means that everyone who elected not to watch Super Bowl was not necessarily comatose and/or anti-American.

I’m not sure what most of the 200 million non-watchers were doing. But I can tell you what a couple of the partial watchers (which makes us partial non-watchers) were up to at some point.

During the half-time show, which Jim and I were not particularly enjoying (even though, unlike my husband, I had actually heard of and like the Black Eyed Peas), we flipped over to ESPN, which was rerunning a film they’d done on the 2004 American League Championship Series in which the Boston Red Sox shook off the curse and beat the NY Yankees after being down 3-0.

Despite the fact that we knew the outcome. Despite the fact that we’d already seen the show. Despite the fact  that my husband is not a particularly enthusiastic baseball fan, we stayed put and watched the film in its entirety, exhilarated and, yes, a bit misty-eyed when our boys won.

Perhaps we would not have been quick to channel cruise if another set of our boys – the Patriots – were in the Super Bowl this year. But that wasn’t the case, so we ended up missing most of the third quarter before we rejoined our fellow 111 million citizens of football fandom.

Meanwhile, pitchers and catchers report next week to spring training.


But while I’m still, more or less, on the subject of the Super Bowl, what is with the use of the Roman numerals? Is it supposed to confer on this event some greater meaning, that it’s really not, as Michael Douglas informed us,  just a football game? Do they even teach how to read Roman numerals in school anymore? Anyway, it’s just one more of the overblown, pompous aspects of professional football that I’m not wild about. (No surprise that, until the Patriots got good, I hadn’t watched pro football since the days when New Englanders rooted for the NY Giants.)  Pink Slip to the NFL: get rid of the ridiculous Roman numerals, already.

And did I mention that pitchers and catchers report next week?

Monday, February 07, 2011


About ten years ago, I went to some tech entrepreneurship something-or-other  - don’t remember quite what, but I believe it was held in the MIT Faculty or Alumni something-or-other over on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Perhaps if I were a bit younger, or perhaps if the intervening decade had not been quite so jammed packed with multiple sources of overloading information, I might remember the details more clearly. But I don’t, other than to say that I was working at NaviSite at the time; the company was a member of NEBATA, the New England Business and Technology Council; and among the technologies that were showcased at the something-or-other I went to over in Cambridge were an RFID tagging system, nanotechnology, and something related to IM. NaviSite also had a table at the NEBATA awards dinner – held at either the Copley Plaza or the Park Plaza Hotel. (Whew! I do like to give the old memory an occasional workout, since it’s one of my strong points – ask me what I wore for the first day or kindergarten – and I’m a believer in use it or lose it. And I just checked. The dinner was at the Copley.)

What I remember most about the something-or-other I went to in Cambridge, however, was a presentation by Joseph Coughlin of MIT’s AgeLab, which develops technology that will help keep elders independent. Even at the tender age of fifty-something, I remember thinking (and I do remember): this is good, interesting, and useful stuff.

I made a mental note about the Age Lab, and filed it away in a folder in the virtual file cabinet of my mind. The mental note said this is good, interesting, and useful stuff.

And there the mental note stayed, the paper yellowing a bit, until I saw an article in yesterday’s NY Times on the Lab.

The article’s writer had recently spent a bit of time trying to maneuver around wearing the Lab’s Age Gain Now Empathy System, orAGNES, a “souped up jumpsuit” with helmet that mimics the effects of aging – stiffer gait, dimming vision, less mobility and agility in general.

When I read through the catalog of difficulties that wearing, or being, AGNES resulted in, I figured that AGNES must replicate being in your eighties or nineties.

But, no, Aggie is designed “to simulate the dexterity, mobility, strength and balance of a 74-year-old.”

Jeez, Louise. That’s just 13 years around the corner. (Note to self: admit that you’ve been slacking a bit on some parts of the thrice-weekly exercise regime. Let’s face it, those parts are boring. Plus my knee hurts from chopping all that ice in the clogged up storm drain on the corner. But stop with the excuses already and start revving up the routine a bit. Plus start taking the stairs at The Writers’ Room. I was going to write ‘it won’t kill you’, but in fact it probably could. Those suckers are steep and narrow, and there are some linoleum tiles missing on the landings. Talk about tripping hazard. Plus I’m always wearing a heavy back pack. Plus The Room is on the 5th floor. So climbing those stairs probably could kill me. Probably not a heart attack on the way up. I may need to take a breather at the fourth floor, but climbing those 71 stairs – not that I’m counting – is something my ticker can withstand. I’m more likely to stumble on the way down and tumble arse over tea-kettle into a broken neck. Further note to self: update will before starting to take the stairs down.)

Anyway, AGNES helps with the work that the Age Lab does coming up with products that make life easier for the aging – bonus points if these products have appeal to the younger set, as well.

Researchers at AgeLab are studying the stress levels of older adults who operate a hands-free parallel-parking system developed by Ford Motor. Although this ultrasonic-assisted system may make backing up easier for older adults who can’t turn their necks to the same degree they once did, the car’s features — like blind-spot detection and a voice-activated audio system — are intended to appeal to all drivers who enjoy smart technology.

“With any luck, if I am successful,” Professor Coughlin says, “retailers won’t know they are putting things on the shelves for older adults.”

As it happens, one of my earliest posts on Pink Slip was devoted to sneering at cars with automated parallel parking. (Look Ma, No Hands.) I sneered, of course, because parallel parking is one of the few mechanical anythings that I’m actually really, really good at. Now that I’m living the car free life, those skills may have atrophied a tad, but anyone who’s owned a car and no parking space in a city had better get good at parallel parking. I no doubt burned out a clutch or two doggedly getting into or out of a parking space that was only four inches longer than my car, but, damn it, I got into it. (Forget the clutch cost. What about the opportunity cost of spending 45 minutes getting into a space when I could just go and pay to park somewhere…)

Anyway, I now see the selfish error my sneering ways, and recognize that automated parallel parking is not for wusses. It’s for older folks who really can’t turn their necks like they used to.

Not that I ever intend to own a car again, but I would definitely consider this feature next time around, if there were to be another next time around. Which there probably won’t be.

Meanwhile, there was other interesting information in The Times article on aids for independent living. Which I am so all for.

I’ve got a few ideas of my own for things that would help.

I’d like to see someone come up with a little device for figuring out what’s navy and what’s black. Something other than floor gouging crampons to keep you upright when walking on ice-slicked brick sidewalks. (You have to be outside your house, sitting on the freezing cold steps, to put them on and/or take them off.) And something to permanently remove that one weird lip hair that keeps popping out. (Okay, you can still live independently with a rogue lip hair, but you might poke your eye out with a tweezer trying to remove it.)

It’s still a few years before I’m completely AGNES-like in my ability to get around, but I must say I love that old-fashioned name. Half of the nuns I had in school seemed to be Sister Agnes Something (as in Sister Agnes Miriam), or Sister Something Agnes(as in Sister James Agnes). But I had very few contemporaries with this moniker. I did go to grammar school with a Mary Agnes, but she was called Mary A.

I do have an Agnes story, however, and it is this:

When I was in college, I was walking on Brookline Avenue in Boston when I passed a harried mother trying to pack her kids into a cab. One of the children, a girl who appeared to be about eight or nine, was balking for some reason, and the mother was getting increasingly agitated.

After a few back-and-forths with the amazingly stubborn child, the mother got, as we wouldn’t have said then, into the kid’s grill.

“I is the mother,” she shouted at her daughter. “You is the Agnes. Now get in the cab.”

Agnes obeyed. How could she not in the face of her mother’s supreme grasp of power dynamics?

For all of us, there are times when we get to play The Mother, and other times when we get to be The Agnes.

But, if we live long enough, we all age into some sort of AGNES or another.

If we’re lucky enough, prepared enough, and attentive enough it may not be all that bad.

A shout out to the MIT Age Lab for all they do to help make life better for tomorrow’s geezers.