Friday, March 29, 2013

In Your Easter Bonnet, with All the Peeps Upon It

Even if this is a miserably early Easter, it’s certainly the time of year when there’s a feeling of Peeps in the air.

Especially so because The Washington Post just announced the winners of its annual Peeps Diorama contest, for which they received 650 entries. (Note to sisters: we have to figure out something to do here. This should definitely tap the inner Peep artiste that lives in each of us. Maybe if the Gardner gets its stolen paintings back, there’s a tie in there. Arty ones tend to do pretty well.)

There were many excellent dioramas, and I don’t envy the WP editors who had to narrow the field down to the chosen few that were considered.

I do note with mild dismay, however, that Peep bunnies seem to have replaced the original Peep chicks. I don’t remember this having been quite as pronounced in the past, but it’s really no surprise, as the rabbit Peeps, with their upright almost humanoid form, better lend themselves to representing peeple than do the originals. (I still maintain that the original is still the greatest.)

Anyway, here’s one of my favorite entrants: Peep Roller Derby.

Bringing all the action of the D.C. roller derby scene to the tiny track. Submitted by Erin Seagraves, 28, Meg Conlan, 24, PC Zai, 28, Abby Loeffler, 33, and Sophia Yan, 22, of the District.

Then there’s this also quite excellent, albeit a bit more disturbing, portrayal of the creation of pink slime hamburgers, which was in the news quite a bit last year.

The expose on Pink Slime burgers being served in cafeterias comes too late to save these Pink Peeps. Submitted by Peter Yeo, 49, of Chevy Chase.

Culture vulture that I am, and as someone who took Art History 101, I adored the Peep-lica of Seurat’s Dejuenuer sur La Grande Jatte


Truly a masterpiece in its own right. I could barely tell the difference between the diorama and the real thing.

The grand prize winner was this excellent tableau. It’s hard to fully appreciate it at this small size, but it’s a funeral for the Twinkie.

The Peep-Pope presides over the funeral service of the Twinkie, a product of Hostess which announced it would file for bankruptcy last fall. Peeps mourn the loss of one of their own who will be buried along with other bygone sugary snacks. Submitted by Leslie Brown, 55, and Lani Hoza, 48, of Charlottesville, Va.

Here’s one close up. (Love the stained-glass window.)

And here’s a shot that shows Twinkie in its casket.

: Peeps Show VII: 2013 Diorama Contest winners: This year’s standouts include reproductions of oil paintings and controversial films, as well as replicas of iconic landmarks and democratic institutions. But ultimately nostalgia won. The diorama, “Twinkie: Rest in Peeps,” stole the most hearts and votes from The Post newsroom.

Rumors of Twinkie’s demise may well have been exaggerated, as a private equity firm (I think) will be resurrecting the brand.

As a local girl, my favorite diorama was, of course, the L.L. Peep. Simple, charming, and an excellent approximation of an L.L. Bean catalog.

Celebrating the 100-year anniversary of L.L.Bean. Submitted by Elizabeth Vogt,14, Lucy Vogt, 11, Brad Vogt, 47, of the District., and Peter Vogt, 71, of Cabin John.

In fact, I think that L.L. should consider using it.

Meanwhile, Happy Easter to all, and to all a good Peep.


I’m not saying I'm exactly obsessed with Peeps, but if you are, there are few more Peep-inspired posts here:

Peeps on Earth, Good Will to Men, Women and Children

Product Innovation in the Peep-able Kingdom

Not a Peep Out of You 

 The Harley Davidson of the Candy World.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Degree inflation

You know how sixty is the new forty? How red is the new black? And, I suppose, how sick is the new healthy?

It’s getting to be official:

The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job. (Source: NY Times.)

I actually don’t think that this is all that new. As far as I can tell, it’s been a long time coming.

Still, it’s kind of shocking to read that a law firm in Atlanta will only hire college grads, and, thus, employs a $10 an hour courier who “schleps documents back and forth between the courthouse and the office” while in possession of a college degree.

There was a time when a college grad would take a crappy “entry level” position in a company to get their foot in the door in hopes of doing such a good job that they’d get promoted into something more professional.

Does this happen any more?

And how could it occur in a law firm? You get to move from ten-buck an hour courier to eleven-buck an hour receptionist? [Actually, as I saw later in the article, that job is taken. And it pays a lot better than eleven bucks an hour. The current incumbent makes $37K a year. Not bad for a receptionist, until you consider that she’s got $100K worth of college debt.]

The all college, all the time, law firm is Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh, and here’s their rationale:

“College graduates are just more career-oriented,” said Adam Slipakoff, the firm’s managing partner. “Going to college means they are making a real commitment to their futures. They’re not just looking for a paycheck.”

Well, yes and no.

A commitment to their future is at least part of the reason that kids go to college, but there are those equal parts of parental determination and the fact that going to college is just What. You Do.

As for that “not just looking for a  paycheck.”

That really sounds to me like code for “we’ll pay you crap while flattering you that ‘you’re not just looking for a paycheck.’”

There are many downsides to this “degree inflation”.

One is that so many kids are coming out of college carrying super-sized debt. Sure, they’re “not just looking for a paycheck,” but they sure do need that paycheck to try to work that debt down. And if someone borrowed a lot of money to get a basket-weave degree from a lousy college that is only going to translate into a $10 an hour job, well… Maybe they would have been better off going into the trades.

Not that there’s anything wrong with education for the sake of education.

I’m all for book learnin’.

But to incur debt so that you can live the life of an indentured servant is just plain awful.


This up-credentialing is pushing the less educated even further down the food chain, and it helps explain why the unemployment rate for workers with no more than a high school diploma is more than twice that for workers with a bachelor’s degree: 8.1 percent versus 3.7 percent.

No word on how many among the 3.7 percent are miserably and perhaps permanently under-employed.

But, as The Times points out, “it’s a buyer’s market for employers.”

Thus, you get the law firm courier who is happier to be running around Atlanta delivering briefs an contracts to his previous post-graduate job: washing cars for a car rental firm.

In truth, all the young folk interviewed from Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh seem both happy and appreciative. Many – including the schlepper, who’s now applying to law school (good luck, kid) – have, surprisingly (at least to me) gotten promotions. One jumped from file clerk to paralegal.

Still, if more and more companies start requiring higher degrees for jobs that really don’t need them, and if those higher degrees mean higher and higher debt – while at the same time shorting opportunities for high school grads – we are on one big collision course with reality.

Of course, collision course is pretty much the new reality, all the way around.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Too good to be true: Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Every time I see one of their [expensive] ads on TV, I think about how awful it must be to live in a place where you don’t have access to first rate medical care. Where you might decide that your only hope is to leave home, to travel to a for-profit hospital. Especially one that leads you to believe that they get better outcomes than other health care providers. You know that “other” type: local, non-profit, implicitly not focused on results since they’re not, you know, profit-makers. Losers!

No, Cancer Treatment Centers of America are the Lake Woebegone of health care providers, only instead of all their children being above average, all their cancer treatment outcomes beat the national averages.

Layer on, of course, that their appeal is to people with advanced stage cancer, who desperately want to hear “curable” when their oncologist is telling them “treatable,” or who even more desperately want to hear “treatable” when their oncologist is telling them “end game.”

Trust me when I say that I understand this appeal.

Yet every time I see an ad for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, I thank my lucky stars that my husband’s cancer is being treated by the magnificent doctors and nurses at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Where we believe that Jim is getting the finest care possible, with an equal – and, more likely, better – probability of a positive outcome than we’d get anywhere else on the face of the earth. Despite what those ads for CTCA, and the glowing stats presented on their web site, are bragging about.

As it turns out, as far as CTCA is concerned, there’s truth in advertising, and then there’s truth in advertising.

And the truthiness of their truth is – as I had long suspected – just a tad bit suspect.

So sayeth a Reuters report on CTCA that came out a couple of weeks ago.

Part of CTCA’s “magic” is turning away most of those who are likely to have not so great outcomes. Like those on Medicare, who don’t have as good a shot at surviving cancer as someone much younger, just because, well, they’re older. And like those on Medicaid, who are poor and, thus, are far more likely to have other health ills – hypertension, diabetes – that make surviving cancer more of a crap shoot.

CTCA is not unique in turning away patients. A lot of doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers in the United States decline to treat people who can't pay, or have inadequate insurance, among other reasons. What sets CTCA apart is that rejecting certain patients and, even more, culling some of its patients from its survival data lets the company tout in ads and post on its website patient outcomes that look dramatically better than they would if the company treated all comers. (Source: Reuters.)

Reuters engaged with cancer and medical statistics experts who determined that CTCA’s website claims about higher survival rates are “misleading.”

The experts were unanimous that CTCA's patients are different from the patients the company compares them to.

Among other tricks up the old CTCA white-coated sleeve: they count only those patients who weren’t treated elsewhere first. Thus, they don’t include:

…those who have exhausted treatment options closer to home and arrive at a CTCA facility with advanced disease.

So, you’re treated someplace local – someplace great, like MGH, or someplace not so great, like Podunk Community Hospital – and, having survived chemo, radiation, surgery, and whatever else that’s been thrown at you, you’re told that there’s nothing more they can do for you.

Then you see all those healthily glowing folks – folks with your very cancer – who have been cured at CTCA, and you go for it. (Why not?)

So you muster up the strength (and money) for a visit to CTCA, with the promise of better outcomes. (Unless you read the fine print.)

Only to find out that, if they deign to let you in, you won’t be counted as a loss if you die on their watch.

CTCA, of course, refutes that there’s anything misleading about their statistical approach.

But I’m pretty sure that Reuters has got it right.

Which is not to say that some patients don’t get cured there. It’s not as if CTCA is full of quacks giving coffee enemas and swearing that cling peaches solve everything. (They do, however, incorporate some non-traditional treatment methods – think reiki – that are a bit off the beaten path.) And not that their approach doesn’t work for their patients.

The CTCA formula resonates with many patients. According to Healthgrades, a doctor- and hospital-ratings site, CTCA facilities consistently beat national averages in patient satisfaction.

And yet, there are those “statistics” they tout:

CTCA also appears to exclude the vast majority of its patients when it calculates survival data. In survival results from 2004 to 2008 posted on its website, CTCA reported 61 patients with advanced prostate cancer, 97 with advanced breast cancer, 434 with advanced lung cancer, and 165 with advanced colon or rectal cancer. These are the four most common solid tumors. In the same period, CTCA treated thousands of patients at its Zion [Illinois] facility alone, according to filings with state regulators.

A cancer diagnosis is a gut punch. Hearing the words “treatable not curable” is an even bigger one. I can only imagine the gut punch magnitude when you hear the word “hospice.”

So I understand why someone would want to grasp on to whatever sometimes true, sometimes false hope that CTCA is offering.

Me, I’ll take my chances at Mass General.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Charlie Sheen: giving new meaning to the acronym P.O.S.

I have long been a fan of Martin Sheen, not only as an actor but as President of the United States. Oh, wait, I forgot for a moment. Josh Bartlett was a fictional president. Martin Sheen just played him.

As for his son?

Sorry, Charlie.

It’s been pretty much all down hill since Wall Street.

His latest act – or, as it is so often with Charlie, his latest acting out - has to do with a reign of terror he called down on a school that supposedly did nothing to stop his daughter from being bullied.

Now I can understand a parent wanting to jump in and defend his kid.

Years ago, when my niece Molly was about two, a kid about four sidled up to her as M and a bunch of other kids were enjoying jumping from rock to rock in this cool fountain-ish space in Salem. I could read that little s.o.b.’s mind and body language loud and clear. He was just itching to push Molly into the drink.

I made eye contact with the potential micreant, giving him that fabulous adult-to-kid stink eye that screams I know what you’re up to and don’t you dare even try it.

Really, if he had tried it, I had a vision of myself going over and kicking him in the butt. Not that I would have, but I completely understand that protect and defend feeling.

Still, going on twitter asking his absurdly loyal followers to attack his daughter’s former school (and to particularize the attack by using the name of the alleged bully girl) seems a bit out of control, even by Charlie Sheen standards. Here’s Charlie’s “ask”:

"If you have a rotten egg, a roll of toilet paper or some dog s**t, I urge you to deliver it with 'extreme prejudice' to the campus run by trolls and charlatans. Make me proud."
Charlie goes on: "And if you're feeling the 'show and tell' of it all, smear the s**t to spell one name on the front door: VICTORIA." (Source: TMZ)

These kids are nine, by the way. Even if this VICTORIA is a mean, snipey little beeyotch, for a grown man to call her out by name…

Wow, just wow.

Of course, Charlie – after first having defended his call to arms – is now claiming that his rant-o-rama was “merely metaphoric.”

But that wasn’t until a company that’s business is the delivery of packaged up animal business to someone’s enemies, friends, or relations, had to stop deliveries to schools in Los Angeles:

A rep for Yodish* -- which lets you send poo in the mail to your friends -- tells TMZ, they've suspended all orders to L.A. schools after seeing a recent upsurge in L.A. school poo deliveries. (Source: yet another TMZ article.)

Yes, folks, as unbelievable as Charlie Sheen and his antics are, it is even more unbelievable that there is a company that specializes in mailing out shit.

Yo Dish it is based in Las Vegas, Nevada and our products are collected, and packaged and Made in the USA.

We tell it like it is. We literally are full of S#!T. We specialize in S#!T. That's what we do.

Our products are green. So green, they're brown. And all of our products are organic, 100% natural and brought to you directly from the source. And that's NO S#!T! We recycle what has already been recycled by nature. Our Product Features include;

  • Made in the USA
  • All Natural Ingredients
  • Top Quality S#!T
  • The Perfect Novelty Gag Gift
  • 100% Pure, and brought to you directly from the source

Wow. Just wow.

The once mighty U. S. of A, we the people who once churned out all that steel, all those TVs, all those sneakers, all those cars, are now proudly touting that our shit is made in the USA. (USA! USA! USA!)

Available direct, or through Amazon.

Fortunately, they only provide animal feces. But what’s to stop them from brand extension to include the human animal?

After all, if horse or bull shit makes “The Perfect Novelty Gag Gift”, how much more perfectly novel a gift would human excrement be? Talk about gag gift!

And, just in case you’re wondering, you can send your “gift” anonymously. Which I suspect was how most of Charlie’s fans were sending theirs before Yo Dish it decided that inundating a school with bags of crap was not, perhaps, the best sort of business to associate your brand with.

Not that a company that sells shit is likely to have much concern about what their brand is associated with.

In truth, they probably stopped delivering to LA because they ran out of inventory and just couldn’t keep up with demand fast enough.

Charlie’s cri du coeur – which in truth probably emanates from a place lower and further back than Charlie’s heart – was likely a great day for Yo Dish it’s business.

It’s just that it was very likely a tremendously shitty day for Charlie Sheen’s little girl.


Thanks to my sister Trish for spotting this one.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Donglegate. (No winners here, folks.)

The tech community has been all a-twitter this past week about a couple of firings that were set in motion when a female PyCon attendee got her metaphorical shorts in a knot after overhearing a couple of male PyCon attendees making dongle jokes.

I am quite sure that, over the years, most folks in technology  – M & F alike – have heard and/or made and/or at least thought their share of cracks about the perhaps unfortunately named dongle. Same goes for male-female connectors.  And I did spend a few years working for a company named Wang. (Wang? Wang! Get it? Let the merriment begin!)

I’m sure if I put my mind to it, I could come up with a raft of others. (But I can’t get my thought process passed the fact that I was once the product manager for a data forecasting application called AutoBJ – which was sold to Wall Street quants, so you can imagine the great fun that was had by all, excepting, perhaps, the product manager.)

Anyway, a couple of PyCon-ners – this conference is for users of the programming language Python (a name which, I’m quite sure, provides ample opportunity for sexual innuendo, even if it’s not in the same league as dongle or AutoBJ) – were talking to each other, when the woman in front of them decided to take very public umbrage.

Unfortunately for the guys doing the dongle-speak, this wasn’t just any old woman sitting in front of them. It was Adria Richards.

Now, I had never heard of Adria Richards until l’affaire Donglegate, but she is A Big Deal – a very prominent force in the tech community, with A Big Deal Blog and thousands of Twitter followers.

So Adria decided to play Valkyrie-in-Chief, snapping a pictures of the nerdly donglers, and putting it out there for all the world to see.

Having worked in high tech companies since the mainframe computer days, I well understand that “techies” – a largely male cohort – can be puerile to the max. Putting up with their juvenile behavior can be irritating (even when it’s only occasional, and when their eye-rollingly-boring remarks aren’t directed anywhere at or even near you).

But in outing these jokers, Adria got more than she presumably bargained for.

Once the tweet hit the fan, one of the techies was fired from his company, Play Haven, which – given all the furor that ensued – blogged about it:

PlayHaven had an employee who was identified as making inappropriate comments at PyCon, and as a company that is dedicated to gender equality and values honorable behavior, we conducted a thorough investigation. The result of this investigation led to the unfortunate outcome of having to let this employee go. (Source: PlayHaven.)

The fired techie – as yet unnamed – took to Hacker News to tell his side. After explaining that some of what Adria had been so irritated by – chatter about forking code – had not been sexual in the least, he wrote:

My second comment is this, Adria has an audience and is a successful person of the media. Just check out her web page linked in her twitter account, her hard work and social activism speaks for itself. With that great power and reach comes responsibility. As a result of the picture she took I was let go from my job today. Which sucks because I have 3 kids and I really liked that job.

She gave me no warning, she smiled while she snapped the pic and sealed my fate. (Source: Venture Beat).

Adria did not intend – or want – this guy to be fired, but, as the fellow says, “With that great power and reach comes responsibility.”

It certainly would have been more appropriate if she had chosen a more measured option. Like turning around and saying “would you please just knock it off.” Or tweeting and blogging about how a couple of PyCon attendees were driving her nuts with their stupid, middle-school caliber joking, without sending their pictures out there.

But if Adria’s reaction was disproportionate – and it does strike me as being so: the comments were a private conversation; nothing was directed at her; dongle (and even code-forking) jokes are, on the crude and offensive continuum, pretty mild fare – the anti-reaction to her was even more so.

All of a sudden, she was being inundated with death and rape threats. Nice going, fellows.

Anonymous took it upon “themselves” to launch a denial of service attack against the place where she works, which subsequently/consequently decided that they no longer needed her services as an evangelist. In their post, SendGrid wrote:

We understand that Adria believed the conduct to be inappropriate and support her right to report the incident to PyCon personnel…What we do not support was how she reported the conduct. Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. Publicly shaming the offenders – and bystanders – was not the appropriate way to handle the situation…

A SendGrid developer evangelist’s responsibility is to build and strengthen our Developer Community across the globe. In light of the events over the last 48+ hours, it has become obvious that her actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite. As a result, she can no longer be effective in her role at SendGrid. (Source: SendGrid)

Arm chair quarterbacking, twenty-twenty hindsight, etc.

But, seriously, after Adria’s dunder-headed move, to have PlayHaven – some haven, huh? – fire a developer over this. How’s that for an over-reaction? Maybe there’s something else to it, but other than the guy’s likely being on company time at PyCon (and wearing the company’s name on his badge), what was he doing that was so darned firing-offense awful? It’s not as if he had been giving a public presentation on PlayHaven’s behalf, and made off-color, sexist, racist, whatever remarks. He was having a private conversation and made a joke about a dongle. Maybe a slight slap on the wrist’s in order.

But a dongle joke? That’s worth firing someone over?

SendGrid may have a slightly better story. This incident would no doubt have made it more difficult for Adria to build relationships with (some in) the tech community. Still, it seems to me that they could have used this as a “learning opportunity” (gag: sorry) to talk about both real and perceived problems with sexism in the still male-dominated tech world.

And then there’s the Anonymous brigade. But I guess that inappropriate, flamingly emotional, and downright nasty responses aren’t an unknown weapon in their mighty Anonymous arsenal, to be used against anyone who doesn’t agree with them on something.

No winners here, folks.

At least not so far.

Maybe Adria and the fired guy both get new gigs that are even better.

Hope so.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Let’s go fly a kite. (Farewell, André Cassagnes)

Kites were one of those toys – like pogo sticks and scooters – that were supposedly popular with kids when I was one, but which weren’t. They seemed to be the realm of the synthetic, slightly off, and mostly pukey boys and girls we saw on TV, or of the kids depicted in books from the 1930’s and 1940’s: boys in knickerbockers, girls playing in dresses. (Who played in a dress?)

Not that there were no kites around. Unlike pogo sticks and scooters, which I don’t believe I ever saw in real life as a child, we did occasionally try to make and fly a kite.

The kite kits we used cost ten cents at Woolworth’s or Aubuchon’s Hardware, and, even by a dime’s standard, were pretty flimsy. A couple of balsa wood struts and some thin tissue paper that ripped if you so much as glanced at it. I remember trying to make kites, but I don’t recall ever getting one airborne until I was in college, when kites had something of a revival. There were sturdier kites around – made with thin plastic, not thin tissue paper – and every once in a while, my friends and I would go fly a kite. I’ve also done an occasional kite-fly since – maybe once a decade or so (in decades with an “r” in them).

I will say that when I do see “real” kite-flyers on the beach, I always enjoy watching them in action.

In any event, I was touched to read the obituary of André Cassagnes that was published in The Economist a month or so ago. M. Cassagnes was a French kite maker – or, as the French would have it, fabricant de cerf-volant - whose creations:

…were masterpieces: great cellular wheels 13 feet in diameter, a double wheel called “the Crown”, clocks, castles, star-shapes made of tetrahedrons, and five interlocking rings in honour of the Olympic games. No kitemaker was more celebrated in France, and he was closely followed, too, in Germany and America. He had invented a plastic connection that allowed his floating constructions of nylon and aluminium to be assembled and disassembled in a trice. He had also devised a kite-ferry that could run up a line, fold the kite’s wings, slide down the line, reopen them, then climb again, in perpetual motion, like a butterfly. Few stunts were more impressive.

A far cry from the ten-cent kites from Aubuchon’s…

Kites aside, there was one other thing that M. Cassagnes was well – if not well enough – known for: he invented the Etch-a-Sketch.

This toy, licensed in 1960, sold more than 100m units worldwide in 50 years and earned a place in America’s National Toy Hall of Fame, alongside Barbie and Mr Potato Head.

And, of course, figured rather prominently in a 2012 American election meme.

As is so often the case when the little guy comes up with something cool, Etch-a-Sketch fame and fortune flowed to others

He could not afford to buy the patent, so a man called Arthur Grandjean did the paperwork and got his name on it. His name, too, went into the Toy Hall of Fame. Mrs Cassagnes was intensely frustrated by this. Her husband however, never seemed to mind much.

He had his kites to think about.

Still, I was thinking that it’s about time that the Toy Hall of Fame gave M. Cassagnes the credit he’s owed.

But, The Economist aside (or perhaps because of) they’ve apparently done so already:

French electrical technician André Cassagnes applied his experience with the clinging properties of an electrostatic charge to invent a mechanical drawing toy with no spare parts. He called his creation L’Ecran Magique, the magic screen. Introduced at the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1959, the gadget failed to draw much attention. Numerous manufacturers passed over a chance to pick up the new toy, concluding that Cassagnes wanted too much money for it. However, the Ohio Art Company took a second look and invested $25,000, more than they had ever paid for a license. Ohio Art renamed the toy “Etch A Sketch” and began mass production later that year. (Source: Toy Hall of Fame)

Nary a mention of the not-so-grand Arthur Grandjean.

So, attention has been paid, justice has been served, wrongs have been righted.

Adieu, André Cassagnes.

I hope that there’s an afterlife, if only so you can be flying your cerfs-volants, and sketching out new ideas on L’Ecran Magique.


For those who took French, and want to know how “flying deer” got to be the French word for kite, you can find the etymology here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Think I’ll do a stay-cation this year

Well, I just looked through Market Watch’s list of the ten countries with the fastest growing tourism, and I must save that I have a hankering to go to none of them. Okay, Montenegro (which used to be part of Yugoslavia, a place I have been to, back in the day when Yugoslavia used to be Yugoslavia) is somewhere I might conceivably go to one day. Maybe when I’m on my way back from Dubrovnik or something.

And it’s also possible that, at some point in my traveling life, I’ll get to South America, so Chile’s a possibility.

But Qatar?

Yes, most of those who travel are going on business, but “leisure travel” last year increased by nearly 30%.  Of course, I do understand that the really cool like to go where it’s really hot, so they can show off their pan-national bona fides and maintain MBAs without borders cred by swanning around luxury hotels AC’d to the hilt, and adding sand skiing/skateboarding to their sportive lists. And while I do appreciate that women in Qatar are probably treated better than they are in many Arab states – they can drive and vote -  I do have this question in general: Given that you want to keep women covered up, why, in the name of all that’s good and holy, can’t they at least cover up in something white (reflecting) rather than black (absorbing)? I notice that the men in these areas where white, so they’ve obviously figured out it’s cooler to do so when out in the noonday sun. Forcing women into black shmatas just seems really, really mean.

And Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan?  Yowza. Maybe it’s my complete lack of adventure-style imagination, my coward’s cling to the comfy-cozy ways of the West, but aren’t these places all kind of dusty, barren, windswept, etc. Sure, all the big bronze statues of Stalin have long been toppled, but when I hear the name of a country that ends in “jan” or “stan”, it just doesn’t chirp “welcome, tourist” to me. It says “grim”. It says “cold.” (Alternately: “sun-baked.”)  It says “cement block.” And the voice that’s saying all that is decidedly non-chirpy.

And if Qatar suffers from a surfeit of Escada and Louis Vuitton outlets, my shopping image is of bazaars selling things made out of sheep that still smell like sheep.

This is, of course, because I am so very lacking in adventure-stan, but I can’t imagine waking up one morning and saying “let’s go” to one of these places rather than, say, Paris.

Belarus is yet another of the offspring of the USSR somehow surviving on its own. I guess through a big increase in tourism. But I just can’t get past the Minsk vs. Pinsk jokes to get serious about visiting Belarus. Oh, I’m sure it’s beautiful in its own way – as are, no doubt, the “jans’ and “stans.” Still…
Tunisia’s tourism is up, in no small part because it’s the home of the Star Wars fictional planet of Tatooine. As someone who walked out one-quarter of the way through the original Star Wars and never looked back, being a Star Wars set does little to commend Tunisia to me. And, by the way, if you think Tunisia’s some kind of bargain, think again. Maybe you can find cheaper digs in Tatooine, but the average beachfront hotel in Gammarth, a suburb of Tunisia’s capital of Tunis, rose 59% last year, to a whopping $463 per night. Spending the night in an oceanfront hotel in Tunisia would, of course, be preferable to spending the night in a land-locked hotel in Minsk or Pinsk. But I’d be mighty concerned about all those would-be Princess Leias and Luke Skywalkers hanging about.

Even before the advent of jet travel, I’m quite sure that time flew. But it really does seem to fly faster and faster these days, doesn’t it? Thus I still tend to think of Panama as a country run by dictator Manual Noreiga, rather than a place I’d like to go as a tourist. But it’s becoming a major tourist destination. Admittedly, I would get a kick out of going through the locks, taking me from the Caribbean to the Pacific, without having to round Cape Horn (with or without the help of Dramamine). Still, I pretty much make it a rule to stay out of climates described as “tropical.” (At least in Qatar, it would be a dry heat. And, as we all well know, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.)

The final place on the top ten tourist growth countries list is held by The Philippines. This is because it’s got friendly people – who speak English, as anyone who’s called a call center recently knows – and good food. Plus, like most of the places on the list, it has not (yet) been “overrun” by tourists. That “overrun” may have to wait a while.

(The U.S. State Department issued a warning earlier this year, urging citizens to avoid nonessential travel to the Philippines’s Sulu Archipelago due to terrorism-linked violence there.)

Okay, that’s just one part of the country, but still, if the State Department was warning me to stay out of parts of any country due to “terrorism-linked violence there,” I might reach for the next tourist guide of the shelf. Why, if it isn’t for Pinsk…

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

One more reason to love Ben and Jerry’s

No doubt the quality’s gone down since they were acquired by Unilever. For all I know they put the same ingredients in Cherry Garcia fro-yo that they do in Dove soap and Vaseline.

Still, it’s hard for me not to love Ben & Jerry’s.

Vermont-made. Hippy-dippy old lefties. And, of course, Cherry Garcia, one of the all time great ice cream and/or frozen yogurt flavors. Okay, it’s not as good as that place in Truro, but I can pretty much get Ben & Jerry’s anywhere. Wish I had some right now…

So I really got a kick out of an article in last week’s Globe on a factory tour the company ran for a bunch of local folks who had written B&J’s a complaint letter.

They rented a luxury bus and ferried a group up to HQ in Waterbury, Vermont, to get an up close and personal tour of the factory, and an up close and personal response to the concerns they had raised.

My late Aunt Margaret wrote completely charming notes when there was something wrong with the Dromedary dates (or whatever.

Among other things my aunt managed to snag were the payback dates, which she needed for her famous (and famously wonderful) date-nut bread. (Wish I had some now.) She also wrote to the Yankee Drummer Inn to complain that, when my grandmother, aunts, and uncle were on from Chicago for my father’s dead-of-winter funeral, there was no heat in the inn. The now out-of-business Yankee Drummer Inn sent her an invitation for dinner on the house, which Margaret, my mother, and the Rogers kids took them up on – the Chicago relatives long since having returned to their nice warm homes in Chicago.

For a while, following in Margaret’s footsteps (handwriting?), I, too, wrote (what I thought were) completely charming notes when I had a problem with some consumer good or another.

I wrote to Cracker Jack to let them know there were too-few peanuts in the mix. In return, I got a carton of Cracker Jacks. (This was in the good old days when most companies followed up with product rather than coupons.)

Another time, I wrote the good folks at Tootsie Roll to inform them that I’d had a couple of Tootsie Pops that were virtually Tootsie-less. They, too, sent me a big box of Tootsie Pops.

More recently, a few years back, I wrote to L.L. Bean to let them know that, after I had washed some tee-shirts a couple of times, the hems fell out. L.L. has a completely wonderful returns policy, so they made good on the tee-shirts. (I think they changed suppliers, too, since I haven’t had that problem again.)

A few years ago, I was gearing up to write a letter to some Whole Food-ish cracker company when I found a tiny piece of rock baked into one of their crackers. When I spit the rock out, however, I saw that it looked quite a bit like a piece of tooth. At which point, my tongue detected that there was a very good reason why that little white thing looked like a piece of tooth. So I rescinded that complaint even before I could make it.

But I have not had any reason to write to Ben & Jerry’s. So I, alas, was not invited on the road trip.

Not so Scott White.

“I complained about a pint of Half Baked,” said Scott White, 24, a carpenter from Framingham. Six months ago, he dipped a spoon into a pint of the stuff — chocolate and vanilla ice cream studded with fudge brownies and chocolate chip cookie dough — and found the brownies “hard and powdery.” (Source:

White had e-mailed B&J’s, and they, in turn, had sent him a coupon and a refund check. A few months later, the magical not-so-mystery tour invite arrived.

“It’s like a Willy Wonka-type journey into a factory and I’ve got a golden ticket,” said White.

Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t bring everybody who writes a complaint letter to Waterbury. They do get about 7,500 such billets doux each year.  But Boston is close. And it’s a major market.

The journey and visit were an “attempt to say, ‘We heard you and you are right,’ ” said Kelly Mohr, a Ben & Jerry’s spokesman. “We didn’t want to just take the complaint; we wanted to move it further.

The customers got to go behind the scenes, even meeting with the quality manager, who told the folks what had happened with their specific complaints.

Those stale pistachios in Pistachio Pistachio that had pistachioed a woman from Waltham off?  They were “were roasted a little too long; they were a little stale.” Problem: no fixed.

As part of the tour, the complainants:

…were given lab coats, hairnets, and safety vests so they could go on the manufacturing floor during production... The group peered into blend tanks, saw homogenizers, and even tossed in a few ingredients.

Sure, this is a far cry from the days when Jerry himself would personally answer every complaint letter.

Ben & Jerry’s has no plans to run these trips regularly. (Too bad, I was kind of hoping I’d find a pit in my next pint of Cherry Garcia.)

Still, if I needed another reason to (still) love Ben & Jerry’s, this would be it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Florian Homm goes off the lam

Although I had not actually been aware of Florian Homm’s existence until the other day, I am delighted to report that he is no longer a fugitive from justice.

Now he’s just another hedgie gone bad, cooling his heels in an Italian jail while he awaits extradition to the U.S. to stand trial for defrauding investors.

He had managed to stay on the lam for nearly six years before being arrested while hiding in plain sight: strolling around the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, checking out BFugitive Fund Manager Stuffed Underwear With Cash, Fled otticelli’s Birth of Venus – or maybe just the babes.

Anyway, as you can tell by the picture to the right, he’s my kind of guy – even if he did con folks out of a lot of money and disappear in the middle of the night, which must have been a tad bit difficult, given that he’s six-foot-seven…


Homm is accused in a criminal complaint filed March 6 in federal court in Los Angeles of defrauding investors in hedge funds he controlled, causing $200 million in losses. He is charged with four counts of conspiracy, wire fraud and securities fraud. He faces as long as 75 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

The founder and former chief investment officer of Absolute Capital Management Holdings Ltd. is accused of “cross trading” billions of shares of penny stocks between the company’s funds to boost the value of the otherwise illiquid securities.

The trades, through a Los Angeles-based broker-dealer that Homm co-owned, generated fees for Homm and Absolute Capital and also inflated the price of Absolute Capital’s shares, U.S. prosecutors said. Homm “dumped” his shares and resigned from Absolute Capital on Sept. 18, 2007, “in the middle of the night,” according to the U.S. (Source: Bloomberg.)

When Homm decamped he went to Colombia, where he passed most of his away time before returning to his homeland of Germany last year. He came back not to face the music, but rather to promote his book - Rogue Financier: The Adventures of an Estranged Capitalist – which became a best seller in Germany last year.  He wrote of his flight flight to Colombia in poignant, even heart breaking terms:

"As the jet climbed I was profoundly unsettled, my mind in a dense fog. I was breaking all connections to my former existence: colleagues, clients, acquaintances, friends, bimbos, dogs, family and children, and annihilating my fast fortune in the process."

Poor fellow. It’s one thing to have to sever your connections to colleagues, friends, family, dogs, and children. But bimbos?

Forget jail time, this guy has suffered enough.

And to show what an inner mensch he is, the proceeds of his best seller are going to a charity that benefits poor children in Liberia, the country that, coincidentally, provided him with the diplomatic passport that enabled him to travel without anyone patting him down to find the $500K he had stuffed in his pants when he fled.

But this plot is thicker than a Liberian diplomatic passport.

The initial leg of Homm’s passage to Colombia may have been a trip to Panama, using an Irish passport, and the name “Colin Trainor”. This is, of course, of special interest to me, given that me grandmother was a Trainor. She did not, to my knowledge, ever travel to Panama or Colombia. Or Ireland, for that matter.

The arrest in Italy is interesting, I must say, mostly because if he’d stayed put in Germany, Homm could not have been extradited to the U.S., since Germany allows extradition to EU countries only.

So perhaps Homm was looking to come in from the cold – he supposedly had a hefty bounty on his head, and also believes that at one point his bodyguard was lining up to kidnap him - and is hoping that he won’t be convicted. After all, he once hobnobbed with the likes of Boris Becker and Michael Douglas. Oh, wait, Michael Douglas couldn’t even keep his own son out of jail. Sorry, Florian. (It goes without saying that Homm claims he’s innocent of the charges against him.)

Meanwhile, Business Week is providing us with a tremendous public service by outlining some best practices for disappearing.

First rule: be prepared, by having money stashed away. “The best white-collar criminals think like mobsters” – think Whitey Bulger with all that cash behind the sheetrock – and, presumably, Homm had more money spread around than the $500K he stuffed in his Calvins. (Even in Colombia, that wouldn’t go all that far, especially if you were used to consorting with bimbos and Michael Douglas.)

A diplomatic passport, which is available at a price on the black market, lets you slip through airport customs pretty easily. And apparently Homm didn’t even have to pay for his. He was some sort of Liberian cultural attaché. (Yeah, right.)

You also have to pick your destination wisely.

As an entire generation of Nazis discovered, South America has long been a place to go.

“If you’re in Colombia and you give $10,000 to the chief of police, you’re now the mayor,” says J.T. Mullen, a 77-year-old private detective based in Manhattan.

Surprisingly, Britain, Israel, and Belgium are also good places for white-collar criminals. (So’s Brazil, but that’s hardly a surprise.) Canada, apparently, has carved out a niche among “Chinese plutocrats with criminal records.” (Who knew? Other than Chinese plutocrats with criminal records.)

It also helps to be accused of financial crime, rather than be a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden or a smaller-scale murder like Our Whitey.

Oh, and don’t bother to fake your death. That’s considered a dead giveaway of guilt, and no one will believe you unless you leave behind something as substantial as a limb as evidence.

Another no-no is contacting family and friends – so don’t call mom on Mother’s Day.

Assuming you can keep getting away with it is another mistake that folks on the lam make. You get careless. Which may be what happened with Florian Homm.

Or – ta-da – you get bored.

You get used to the cigars, the Michael Douglases, the nightlife, the bespoke suits, the bims… Then all of a sudden, you’re a nobody.

“If you can live quietly and not bother other people, he says, there’s a good chance you’ll remain undetected. “But that almost never happens,” laughs [Daniel] Richman [a former federal prosecutor who teaches law at Columbia University].

Living quietly, by the way, is how Whitey Bulger got away with it for so long.

As for Florian Homm, we’ll be seeing him in court.

Monday, March 18, 2013


Well, I’ve certainly known folks whose heads are - there’s no really delicate way to say this - up their asses.

But, other than proctologists, I was not aware that there are folks who make their living putting their heads up the asses of others.

Then, somewhere along the line, I saw a mention of Jackie Stallone, of the illustrious Stallone family and mother of the illustrious Sylvester, who is a bona fide rumpologist – perhaps the foremost American practitioner.

Not familiar with rumpology?

Second cousin, once removed to phrenology (detecting who and what someone is by feeling the lumps in their head) and chirology (palm reading), rumpology is there science pseudoscience of “examining crevices, dimples, warts, moles and folds of a person’s buttocks.”

Stallone has been largely responsible for the supposed "revival" of rumpology in modern times.

Rumpologists have a variety of theories as to the meaning of different posterior characteristics. According to Stallone, the left and right buttocks reveal a person's past and future, respectively, although she has also commented that "The crack of your behind corresponds to the division of the two hemispheres of the brain".  (Thank you, wikipedia.)

So, there is something to being half-assed. I wonder if I’m more left-assed or right-assed. And did I say the Stallones were an illustrious family, or what? First, Sly – Martin Scorsese/Robert DiNiro and Raging Bull aside – was largely responsible for the supposed revival of the boxing movie in modern times, and here his mom does the same for rumpology. (If anyone doubts this is an incredible country and/or that there’s a sucker born every day, I submit the illustrious Stallone family as a complete and utter counterproof.)

Wikipedia has more for us. Ulf Beck, a blind German rumpologist – if you’re wondering about that “blind”, rumpology can be performed by sight, touch, or review of a butt print – has something of a astrology approach to butt typing. Those with muscular bottoms are charismatic and creative. Pear-shapers are down to earth.

Sam Amos, a British rumpologist, claims that round bummers are happy go lucky; and flat-bottomers are vain, negative, and sad.


Ulf Beck claims he can read people's futures by feeling their naked buttocks.

I bet he gets even more out of the encounter, a side benefit, as it were. (Was it good for you, too, Ulfie?)

Jackie Stallone, on the other hand, foretells the future by examining the butts of her Doberman Pinschers, which is how she predicted that George W. Bush was going to be elected in 2000. (No comment.)

Fortune telling!

Here I was thinking that a dog’s asshole was something to be avoided, not learned from. I’ll have to take a closer look at my dog nephew Jack and see what I can divine.

Still working in her early nineties, Jackie is completely impressive. And, while rumpology probably doesn’t require any heavy lifting, it can’t be the easiest job on the face of the earth. Think of the presssure! What if you get it wrong, and mix the left cheek up with the right and give someone the wrong prognosis. You mean to tell them their future, and instead you tell them their past.

Jackie’s still going strong also cheers me, since it means that we may well be able to enjoy the oeuvre of Sylvester Stallone for another thirty or so years.

Jackie’s entire life seems to have been leading up to the point of achieving the acme of the rumpology world, what with one colorful career stop after another along the way.

Born in Washington, DC, Jackie was the daughter of a “prominent attorney” and his “socialite Parisian” wife, who climbed so high up the social ladder that Charles Atlas actually lived with them, teaching Jackie how not to be a 90 pound weakling.

Perhaps it was something Charles Atlas said, or the boredom of having a prominent attorney father and a Parisian socialite mother, or just living in Virginia Beach, but Jackie took off at the age of 15 to join the circus as part of the flying Wallendas.

She went on to host a daily fitness show, created a syndicated TV show on lady wrestlers, and made exercise videos with Richard Simmons.

Meanwhile, she’d always had an interest in astrology, fostered by Edgar Cayce, the noted psychic, who was a neighbor of Jackie’s family when she was growing up. I’m not sure how close they actually were to Edgar Cayce, however,seeing as on her web site, she spells his name Edgar Casey. I suspect the family was closer to Charles Atlas. But that’s just a hunch. (When I look up dog nephew Jack’s bum, I’ll put this on the list of what I’m looking for.)

To top off her many other professional accomplishments:

Jacqueline was responsible for getting astrology accepted as an accredited course in many colleges and universities in this country. (Source for this and the above bio information: )

Thank you, Jackie. If there’s one thing we need more of, it’s college students preparing for the global economy by taking astrology courses.

I understand that, now that you’re in your nineties, you may want to slow down just a bit, but if you could find the time and energy to get rumpology courses accredited…All I can say is that a grateful nation – and grateful parents everywhere – will thank you.

(And sorry to disappoint aspiring astrology majors, but I just googled and couldn’t actually find any college that has astrology courses for credit. Maybe I should have tried using bing….)

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Ides of St. Patrick’s Day

Well, it’s that time of year. Time for my annual St. Patrick’s Day post.

Problem is, I have little to say about SPD that I haven’t said in the past about my feelings about Ireland, the Irish, and being an Irish-American:

2012: Answering Ireland’s Call

2011: St. Patrick’s Day 2011

2010: St. Paddy’s Day No More We’ll Keep.

2009: Irish Eyes Not So Smiling These Days.

2008: You Say Po-tay-to, I say Po-tah-to. Who’s Irish and Who’s Not.

2007: Kiss Me, I’m Irish.

So maybe I should just take the day off from blogging. Instead:

Maybe I should bake some soda bread.

Maybe I should boil a potato.

Maybe I should sing The Long Road and Dirty Old Town in the shower.

Maybe I should dig up my shamrock earrings so I’ll be able to do a bit of wearin’ of the green on Sunday.

Maybe I should listen to a Mary Black and/or DeDannan CD.

Maybe I should read the online Irish Times.

Maybe I should re-read The Dead. (Greatest short story ever.)

Or all of the above.

Which is what I’m going to do.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Meanwhile, I am feeling a bit guilty that I end up mostly ignoring my German heritage. This is, of course, because we grew up around my father’s (Irish) family, in an Irish-American enclave, in a parish where all the nuns and priests were of Irish descent, in a city that seemed to house every possible ethnic group on the face of the earth, other than German. Maybe I’d be more German identified if we’d grown up in my mother’s home town of Chicago, where there are oom-pah bands and beer gardens. Maybe I’d be more German identified if my first name were Brunhilde rather than Maureen. Maybe I’d be more German identified if Germans weren’t so associated with things like Nazis rather than things like pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Anyway, I just looked up St. Boniface’s feast day, and it’s June 5th.

I was gearing up to make a note about blog celebrating my German-ness on that date, when I realized that I knew jack-shit (jack shite? jake-scheiss?) about St. Boniface, other than that he’s the patron saint of Germany.

Come to find out, St. Boniface, like St. Patrick, was born in England.

Turns out I’m not the only one with a mixed background…

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Junk food junky

When I was in business school, a couple of Arthur D. Little consultants paid a call on a marketing class I was taking. The one thing I remember from their presentation was that the reason Alpo Beef Stew for dogs smelled like Dinty Moore Beef Stew for humans was so that humans would perceive that their dogs were getting something yummy to eat.

I, of course, had to put this to a test, so the next time I was near a can of Alpo and had a can opener in hand, I tried a bite.

While it did not smell anywhere near as delish as my mother’s beef stew, it did smell pretty good – maybe like Campbell’s Vegetable Beef soup. But the taste was way too bland – no salt or other tasty additives for the family pooch.

I thought of this while reading a recent article in The New York Times on the lengths that food companies go to to make junk food addictive.

On the one hand, here are these evil-doers, one step removed from the tobacco executives who knowingly made cigarettes addictive, hooking us on stuff that’s no darned good for us, making sure that they always won the “bet you can’t eat just one” bet.

On the other hand, here are canny food company scientists and marketers doing what they can do to push more product by giving us what we want. Unfortunately, what we want is not celery sticks and carrots. It’s Cheetos and M&Ms.

If I had to pick one hand to play, I would have to say that, while I’m a bit sympathetic to the argument that “they” are just giving us what we want (i.e., Cheetos and M&Ms), what “they” are doing – given the humongous rates of obesity we have in this country – is really no better than what the tobacco evil-doers did to get smokers hooked on taking a puff of springtime.

The article starts out with a retelling of a food industry powwow in 1999, when the U.S. obesity rate was a relatively modest 25%. (It’s now 35.7%, according to the 2012 figures from the CDC.)

Jame Behnke, a Pillsbury exec, teed up the meeting by expressing his concerns about the elephant on the food industry’s groaning table:

It was time, he and a handful of others felt, to warn the C.E.O.’s that their companies may have gone too far in creating and marketing products that posed the greatest health concerns.

Behnke was followed by Michael Mudd, a Kraft VP, who ran through the grim obesity statistics, and said:

“For those of us who’ve looked hard at this issue, whether they’re public health professionals or staff specialists in your own companies, we feel sure that the one thing we shouldn’t do is nothing…As a culture, we’ve become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco.”

Having heard the problem laid out, Stephen Sanger, the head of General Mills, which has given us such necessary evils like Lucky Charms:

“Don’t talk to me about nutrition,” he reportedly said, taking on the voice of the typical consumer. “Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.”

To react to the critics, Sanger said, would jeopardize the sanctity of the recipes that had made his products so successful. General Mills would not pull back. He would push his people onward, and he urged his peers to do the same. Sanger’s response effectively ended the meeting.

So here’s the problem: if there’s more salt, sugar, and fat in it, we’ll eat more of it. Which is good for business. But bad for everyone’s health.

Of course, that’s good for business in the short term.

In the long run, if the junk food junkies all die early, that can’t be good for business, can it?

I like Cheetos and M&Ms as much as the next guy. Even just typing the word Cheeto is making my mouth water.

And yet, like any reasonably nutritionally responsible and health conscious person, I try to limit the mount of junk that I consume, without becoming puritanical and self-depriving about it. This also means recognizing that I feel better when I eat healthy than when I eat crap. This doesn’t get me to eliminate all crap from my diet. After all, that Italian sub from Big Al’s, with onions, pickles, and hots, with a side bag of Utz chips, all washed down with a Diet Coke, tastes pretty darned good going down. It’s just that in the aftermath, my body’s telling me that this wasn’t a wise choice to make.  So most of the time – although by no means all the time – I try to just say no to the worst of the worst foods.

But I’m also someone who can afford to buy healthy foods, and who has access to places to buy them.

I can walk over to Whole Foods and get my produce, so I’ve always got fresh fruits and veggies in the fridge. I can buy free range chicken and grass fed hamburger (which, let me tell you, makes a mighty tasty meat loaf, even if I’ve had to substitute crushed gluten free crackers for breadcrumbs). I can make sure I always have a handful of almonds or dried pineapple to snack on.

Money and access, of course, are not something that’s available to all consumers, especially the poor. And that, of course, is where the obesity epidemic has its greatest hold. And if no one’s force-feeding poor folks – or anyone else -  on junk food, if there’s nothing else around…

But most middle class people can afford and have access to healthy food.

So in order to extend their market beyond poor folks who can only shop at convenience stores selling pop-tarts and beef jerky, the food-industrial complex has to make their wares so addictive. So tasty. So convenient.

Which is how we all get hooked on them.

Including me.

As I write this, it’s 9 p.m. on a snow-stormy night. And I’m tempted to run out to the corner store to see if they have Cheetos. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a Cheeto, but what I wouldn’t give for one melting in my mouth, coating my teeth with sticky Cheeto melt, and turning my fingers a fine orange-y-yellow that I can lick off.

And if I did go out for that bag of Cheetos, I wouldn’t even bother to make a bet with myself.

I know I can’t eat just one.

Anyway, The Times article is an interesting read. But a long one. Make sure you have plenty of (healthy) snacks on hand as you start your read.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

As RH found out the hard(ware) way, sometimes everyone who gets invited actually shows up

The Boston buzz saw was buzzing last week about the opening of the ab-fab new Restoration Hardware store in Back Bay.

Of course, it’s no longer called Restoration Hardware. It’s RH now.

I guess Restoration Hardware sounded too much like the kind of junkyard that savvy this old house rehabbers haunt in hopes of finding a grotty yet clean-up-able claw-foot tub, a marble mantelpiece, and a Tiffany window discarded by some philistine who wanted to go modern.

These days, RH is upscale home furnishings and tchotchkes.

Although I’ve never gotten anything there that costs more than the average stocking-stuffer, I must confess that I love moseying around the RH catalog – which weighs about 8 pounds – when one got sent to our building and tossed into the communal recycle basket. As vice president in charge of said communal recycle basket, I feel incredibly entitled to pull out catalogs, political mailers (sent to the couple of folks in the building who represent The Opposition), and alumni mags. (Come on, how can you have graduated from Princeton and not want to know that Chadsworth Osborne, Junior, Class of ‘58, continues to relish life in Kiawah Island with his second wife, Weezy, relict of classmate Buntington Huntington IV.)

Anyway, while I haven’t seen one for a while, I do so love the RH catalog. (Not to mention Princeton Alumni Weekly. Hold that tiger!)

So I’m sorry to say that I was not one of the 6RH,000 Bostonians invited to the gala opening of their new store. Or should I say gallery. Because they do.

And not just any old gallery. It’s “The Gallery at The Historic Museum of Natural History.”

It has, of course, been many moons – make that many blue moons – since this building was the Historic Museum of Natural History.

When I first got to Boston, it was Bonwit Teller, an upscale albeit somewhat fussy clothing store. Bonwit was replaced by Louis of Boston, an upscale-upscale, high fashion store that decamped from Back Bay a few years back to trendy, ultra-modern digs on the waterfront.

Anyway, the big opening night turned into a big opening night fiasco when the throngs:

…quickly swelled past its 2,000-person capacity, reportedly forcing waiters to double-team it through the crowds and prompting the Boston Police Department to shut down the event early…

The party, where guests packed like sardines reportedly sampled mini lobster rolls and sipped Bellinis, was supposed to go until 8:30. At 8:20, while British singer Edei was performing, a Boston police officer asked the staff to have her stop, according to the Herald. . (Source: Boston Business Journal)

While Rafanelli Events and Kortenhaus Communications, the party planners, were putting out the mealy-mouthed word that they’d put safety first, that they were grateful to BPD and BFD, and that they “regret any inconvenience caused to guests,” a partner in another Boston PR firm was tweeting “This will go down as one of the all-time worst planned events in Boston party history.”

It’s hard to figure out the right angle of blogness to take here, so I’ll start with this: how colossally embarrassing that thousands of Bostonians showed up for the opening of a store.

Go ahead and call it a gallery, and foof around because the building it’s in used to be a museum. (Although nothing as artsy as an art museum. Something tells me that the long-gone Museum of Natural History was largely composed of glass cases full of moth-eaten stuffed owls and dinosaur jaws.)

So what possessed people to show up in such droves for RH’s opening?

Nothing better to do in Boston?

Free food and bev?

Hoping to spot a local celeb? (We don’t have much of an A-list in these parts, but I did see that Hizzoner the Mayor and the owner of the Celtics were in attendance. Seeing them is certainly worth standing out in the cold for. Sadly or blessedly, our only real A-listers, i.e., those who would be invited to parties of the century in NYC and LA, are Tom and Gi. (That would be Our Tom Brady and wife Gisele Bundchen.) And I don’t believe Tom and Gi would lower themselves to show up at a store opening, even though the store was in their old ‘hood.

Then there’s the black-eye for the planners who planned and the promoters who promoted. How embarrassing is embarrassing?And this from Bryan Rafanelli who was the wedding planner for Chelsea Clinton.

But mostly it’s an embarrassment for Boston.

Queuing up for a store opening! I blush for my city.

That said, it does seem that at some point I will be tempted to stick my head in the RH Gallery door. After all, it’s less than a 10 minute walk, and I like gawping and gaping at nicely designed, interesting stuff. And I do hope that the faux Eifel Tower stays up. It reminds me that 100 years ago, they rioted in Paris over the first performance of Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps.  In Boston, we go berserk when a new store opens and we get to nose around looking at high end merch while sipping on a free Bellini.



    Tuesday, March 12, 2013

    Office of the future (no wonder some folks want to work from home)

    Just last week, I saw two – count' ‘em two – articles on hipster office space.

    There’s just so much to say, that I’ll have to devote a separate post to each of the articles, starting with the one that appeared in The New York Times.

    For starters, I will observe that I suspect that offices of The Old Gray Lady  are nowhere near as hip and happenin’ as the workspace occupied by ?What If!, a hip and happenin’ firm that’s “unlocking the promise of innovation”, starting with its hip and happenin’ moniker – a moniker which uncannily reminds us hip and happenin’ folks of the hip and happenin’ abbreviation WTF.

    The new interiors recall the whimsies of larger creative campuses like Google. There are “stimulation” shelves for employees to display objects; white boards in the elevators (“Smiths or Cure?” read one line of graffiti the other day); a “library” with no books (just wallpaper that looks like books); and vintage stereo components that play vinyl. (Source: NY Times)

    Well they do say that there’s nothing new under the sun. Even in the way back, we used to have shelves in our offices where we could display objects. We just didn’t call them “stimulation” shelves. (Which actually sound like they might be displaying items of a certain kind. Oh, never mind: let’s not go there.)

    But in the way back, we weren’t all that collaborative, and we displayed our objects in our own private offices, or our own private cubicles, for our own private amusement, and the private amusement of our very own friends. (Which reminds me, I wonder where my foam statue of Dilbert’s Pointy-haired Boss got to.) We were way too self-centered and focused on the “me” instead of the “we” to put our objects out there for communal stimulation.

    White boards on the elevator strike me as somewhat dangerous. You never know when a subversive will write something on it. Then again, maybe hip and happenin’ workplaces don’t have subversives. So there’ll be no one like the fellow who taped up a paper bag in a prominent spot in one place I worked. Written on the paper bag were there words “Try managing your way out of this, why don’t you.”

    As for the question Smith or Cure.

    Is this really a question that someone under the age of, dare I say, forty would pose? Or are today’s hip and happenin’ millennial innovation promise unlockers into retro, in much the same way that I might have asked colleagues to choose Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman.

    Then there’s the wallpaper in the library that just looks like books. Ho, ho!

    Wouldn’t want to distract an innovation unlocker to actually open a book at random just to see what’s in it. (And love the wallpaper on the ceiling, by the way. Couldn’t unlock that particular promise with real books, unless you glued them on.)

    Most significantly, there are no private cubicles, as this company is keen on what is known as hot seating, the practice of roaming a space and grabbing what’s available. It’s a way to foster “creativity through collisions,” Bart Higgins, the director of ?What If! and the overseer of this renovation, said recently. Mr. Higgins, 42, ducked into a private phone room on Monday to answer a reporter’s questions about the place.

    Hmmm. Mr. Higgins is 42? My bet’s on him for Smith v. Cure.

    As for hot seating:

    “This space is forcing us to collide and sit next to people. In so doing, we’re reaching out to people we wouldn’t ordinarily reach out to. The other thing about being able to move around is there’s knowledge in your head, and it’s selfish to keep it locked up in an office.”

    Nice to mix it up with new folks on occasion, I’ll give you that. But just because you’re sitting next to someone doesn’t mean you’re going to have to socially collide with them, does it? Couldn’t you just block out all the noise and distraction and get some solo work done?

    And that riff on it being selfish to keep your knowledge locked up in your head, or your office…

    WTF, sorry, What If!, is no place for introverts, or people who get energized by having more whitespace than whiteboards in their lives.  I might be able to hot seat once in a while, but the thought of hot potato-ing each and every moment of the working day. I’m tired just thinking about it.

    All I can say is I never thought I’d be quoting Maurice Chevalier, but “I’m glad I’m not young anymore.”

    On the other hand, by being a cranky old fart, I miss out on stuff like this:

    We were given this painted cow years ago, and we look to it now as this kind of fun factor in that we’re empowered to do stuff for no other reason except to just do it.

    So it’s things like who can jump the highest, or who’s got the biggest head. So let’s measure each others’ heads. It’s not contrived. It’s just using the space the way we want to.

    I am such a dullard.

    It would never have occurred to me to unlock the promise of innovation by measuring someone’s head.



    From my tiny little home office, which – despite its compact size – features a couple of bookshelves with actual books on them, and a chair with a back, I thank my sister Kathleen for pointing out both these articles on offices to me, and for not grabbing the topic for her own new blog. Kathleen is now blogging M-W-F on the wonderfully acerbic and pretty darned funny My Rolled Trousers.  Thanks to Kath, I now know what a Chantenay is, and have given thought to what might make for a Vatican-based reality show.

    Hey, look, we’re unlocking our minds without having to hot seat anywhere.

    Monday, March 11, 2013

    Pushing out the pushcarts

    Downtown Boston has been a disaster zone for years, mostly because the big revitalization project that was going to go in where Filene’s used to be fell through with the recession. So for the last five years, we’ve had a big old hole sitting there, surrounded on 3.25 sides by the lovely façade of the old Filene’s building. (They really did know how to build elegant, beautiful, charming storefronts back in the day.)

    In addition to the hole from whence Filene’s once sprang, downtown – or as it styles itself, Downtown Crossing - features a dead space where Barnes and Noble went out, oh, maybe ten years back. And another dead space which – much to my lament – Borders once occupied.

    There’s a Macy’s, where I go out of necessity, for necessities (makeup, underwear…) There’s CVS that I’m perpetually in and out of.  And, given that I lose a headset every couple of months, a Verizon store that I use on occasion.

    Sometimes I pick up burrito (Thai chicken) at Boloco. I got a very tasty sandwich at a place called Potbelly a few months back, but, let’s face it, no one with a potbelly wants to frequent a place called Potbelly.

    Other than that, downtown – errr, Downtown Crossing -  is dead and depressing. Boston, it can be said, but the “down” in downtown.

    One thing there is a lot of, especially surrounding the ghost of Filene’s past, is pushcarts.

    They don’t sell anything too exciting: scarves, Boston tee-shirts, baseball caps, necklaces and earrings, pocketbooks, fruit and veg, flowers, and those crunchy-granola Incan wool hats that look like they’d matt up and turn into papier-mâché the minute a drop of water lands of them.

    But they’re there. They’ve been there for a good long while, presumably making a living. And they make downtown slightly less drab, dreary, dead and depressing.

    Not for much longer, I’m afraid.

    A Downtown Crossing business group is shutting down a pushcart program that has operated for over three decades, angering many of the 27 vendors who stuck it out through lean times in the shopping district, now in the midst of a dramatic makeover. (Source:

    Ah, the old dramatic makeover excuse.

    Apparently, the current crop of pushcarts aren’t quite what the brick and mortar businesses want to rub shoulders with, now that the Filene’s glam project is back on. Too much hoi in the pushcart polloi.

    “They” – those powers that be running Downtown Crossing -  want pushcarts that are more upscale – like the ones in Faneuil Hall and Copley Place. You know, those fabulous pushcarts that sell things like nesting maryoshka dolls, sunglasses, watches, and smartphone cases.

    I do understand that once Downtown Crossing is swanked up, and people are living in million dollar condos, eating at posh restaurants, and shopping at Hugo Boss and Movado, they’re not going to want to contend with pretzel vendors and someone selling knock-off MLB merchandise.

    But that doesn’t seem to be enough of a reason to inform the pushcarts that they need to be gone by the end of March.

    Yes, all they’re getting is a few weeks notice before they have to cease and desist.


    Some of the tonier pushcarts are supposedly going to be asked back, and more upscale pushcarts recruited, once the firms for the brave new Downtown Crossing firm up.

    Still, it seems pretty callous and cold to give such little warning to the folks currently located there.

    These are, after all, the little guys. Being picked on by the nasty big guys.

    I can’t imagine where most of the pushcarts will go, other than out of business.  I can’t think of another spot in Boston where they could comfortably end up, other than places where there are already pushcarts galore.

    What harm would it cause to let them stay during  construction, giving them all some time to glam up their business, or find a new place to locate.

    But, no, they’re just getting until the end of March. (Unless, of course, there’s a major hue and outcry, which wouldn’t surprise me.)

    And they say that April is the cruelest month.

    Friday, March 08, 2013

    Corporate culture wars

    Well, I see that Best Buy has joined Yahoo in issuing a fatwa on working from home.

    Having made such a hoop-de-doo about their work from home program – which I don’t recall Yahoo ever having done about its telecommuting policy – it’s quite a walk-back.

    Known as Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), the company evaluated employees solely on performance versus time worked and office attendance. Employees worked when they wanted and wherever they wanted just as long as they got the job done.

    Now most corporate employees will work the traditional 40-hour week, though managers still have discretion to accommodate some workers.

    “It makes sense to consider not just what the results are but how the work gets done,” said Best Buy spokesman Matt Furman. “Bottom line, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business.”(Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune.)

    My first thought was that this is a bit of a boon for lazy-arse managers. After all, it’s obviously easier to base your employee reviews on showing up than it is to have to worry about whether someone’s actually doing anything (other than just showing up). Plus if your employees are hanging around, it’s much more likely that you’ll have that lazy arse kissed.

    My second thought was that I’d really hate to be a corporate flack who has to be the spokes-model on something like this. One day you get to represent how hip and happenin’ your work crib is, only to have to turn around and talk about how it’s not just the results, but how you get the results, that – blah-di-di-blah – matters. Sort of like having to show how you solved the math problem, every step of the way.

    Not that there’s nothing to the importance of collaboration and connection. And it’s not, as I’ve said before – in fact, just the other day in a screed post on Yahoo – that face time isn’t important. It is.

    And not just for work-work, but for the social aspects of work that are ultra important to many of us. Socializing is the one thing – okay, there’s also health, dental, vacation, holidays, and knowing where your next paycheck is coming from – that I miss about full-time work.

    Still, given that the rising generation of workers are so used to being “always on”, with fluid borders between work-me an personal-me, this will no doubt be seen as a turn-off to at least some of Best Buy’s potential employees. Unless there are no cool, “always on” young folk in Richfield, Minnesota.

    Anyway, as with Yahoo, this move is not intended to be mean-spirited, employee-loathing, or misanthropic. As with Yahoo, it’s all about the new CEO’s effort to turnaround the company by putting his/her stamp on the culture. After all, there are some who maintain that both Yahoo and Best Buy are “companies hobbled by dysfunctional cultures.” And, even though it’s highly unlikely that it’s telecommuting that renders a company’s culture dysfunctional - in fact, just the opposite is probably what’s true - clamping down on working from home is visible – aggressively so – and becomes a stand-in for the message that THIS IS SERIOUS.

    Which reminds me of my days at Wang, when they brought in a new CEO, Rick Miller, who was going to – hosanna – turn the good ship Wang around.

    Although I do know that it didn’t work, I have absolutely no idea what he was doing behind the scenes to take care of business. However, I do know what he tried to do to turn the culture around.

    One might have thought Rick would have been better off starting to chip away at the bureaucracy. How bureaucratic was Wang? When I joined the company, I submitted a form to get a bookshelf and file cabinet for my cubicle. The form was sent back because I hadn’t written down the reason why I wanted these accessories. I put down “bookshelf to put books on” and “file  cabinet  to put files in.” That got things approved.

    Or Rick could have tried pushing decision-making (at least on the little things) down a rung or two. In order to take a business trip, you needed the sign off of every manager in your chain of command, up to and including the Executive Vice President. And, by the way, in my group, you weren’t told until the night before you traveled that your trip was approved.

    Maybe Rick could have made an executive decision to rescrew in the light bulbs that were taken out to save on the electric bill. (Or maybe the decommissioning of light bulbs was to ensure that we wouldn’t see how dirty the offices were, once they’d stopped cleaning the peon areas more than once a week.)

    Instead, Rick focused on the few things that made working at Wang, if not enjoyable, then a bit less odious.

    One of the first things he took on was getting rid of flex-time (the 1980’s version of working from home), which he apparently viewed as the province of slackers, shirkers, goldbrickers.

    So he started stationing himself at entrances and introducing himself to employees coming in after 8:30 a.m. and leaving before 5 p.m.

    God knows, there were plenty of slackers, shirkers, and goldbrickers lazing around Wang, but plenty of them showed up before 8:30 a.m. and never left until 5 p.m. They didn’t actually do anything while they were at work. But they were there.

    The new set hours policy didn’t bother me in the least, as I worked “normal” hours. But it still rubbed me the wrong way – symbolically speaking.

    I will give Rick Miller credit for one thing he did, though, which was how he got the word out on whatever element of the culture was bugging him.

    What Rick would do was regularly eat in the “people’s caf”, ambling around with his tray and asking a table if he could join them. He’d then hold forth on his bugbear du jour.

    Talk about viral marketing. Everyone would spot where Rick had plunked himself, and, if you knew anyone at the table, you immediately gave them a call or sent an e-mail asking what Rick was on about today. Once you found out, you’d let everyone in your network know, etc. Thus, within a few hours after lunch, Wang employees worldwide would know what Rick wanted known. Far more effective than sending out a memo, that’s for sure.

    Anyway, one day I was heading down to lunch with a bunch of folks in our group. We were an excellent combo: product managers/marketers in suits; techies in business casual. We had women. We had men. We had white folks, an African-American, and an Indian.

    On the elevator, I grandly predicted that Rick Miller would not be able to resist our collective lure, and that, if he were stalking the people’s caf, he would be joining us for lunch.

    And indeed he did.

    The message of the day was about the aforementioned flex-time.

    “I don’t buy it,” he informed us. “You need to count on everyone being at work at the same time. If you’re setting your own hours, I guarantee that you’re not getting your work done effectively.”

    Moth, meet flame. There was no way I wasn’t going to get into with Rick on this. But after a round or two I realized that his prerogative was bigger than my prerogative, and gave up my counterpoint to his point. (And did I mention going viral? By the time I got back to my desk, I had about 20 e-mails – including one from Australia – asking me what Rick Miller had said at lunch.)

    Anyway, if I were the gambling type, I’d bet that what’s happening at Yahoo and Best Buy, culture-wise, isn’t going to be any more effective in fixing what ails the company than what happened at Wang 25 years ago.

    Thursday, March 07, 2013

    Hot footing it into court

    Many long years ago, I was walking down a dirt road near the beach. Just before we hit the sand, there was a chain fence across the road the keep cars from getting on the beach. I’d say the fence was about 12 inches high, so I figured I could hop over it pretty easily. Well, that turned out to be not the case, and I ended up falling and fracturing my elbow.

    Come to think of it, I should have sued.

    When I was waitressing at Durgin Park – where I was, by the way, working when I fractured that elbow - I was walking out of the kitchen one day carrying six cups of scalding hot coffee. Four in one hand – balanced two-on-two on top of each other, and two in he other hand (singletons). Well, didn’t one of the old battle-axe waitresses, Flo as I recall, come barreling into the kitchen the wrong way, leaving me with whatever-degree burns on my wrists that made things really, really painful for a couple of weeks.

    Come to think of it, I should have sued Durgin Park. Or Flo. Or both.

    One time, when I was on a job interview, the guy interviewing me told a truly disgusting story, which he thought was pretty amusing, but that someone in the interviewee seat just might have interpreted as an invitation to the metaphorical casting room couch. Not that I wanted the job to begin with – certainly not enough to get into anything with this creep – but it was for a really big company that everyone in the world has heard of.

    Come to think of it, I should have sued the bastards.

    At the now defunct O Henry’s in New York, I once opened a bottle of ketchup, only to have it explode all over me.

    Come to think of it, I should have sued (or at least asked for the cost of replacing that bright yellow sweater that was a terrible color on me to begin with, but I liked because it was a hand-me-up from my younger sister Trish).

    About ten years ago, I slipped on the icy front steps of our condo building, and ended up with an extremely painful bout of sciatica.

    Sure, it would have kind of been like suing myself, at least in 15.34% part, but, come to think of it, I should have sued.

    And, sure, it was niece Molly that got hit in the head with the flying puck last year at a BC-Merrimack game, but it could have been me. And, even though she was making jokes about it even before the EMT got an ice pack on it, it was pretty traumatizing all round.

    Come to think of it, both Molly and I should have sued. (What was I thinking, just sending BC an e-mail, scrounging around for a little something for Mols? Okay, they came through with an autographed team poster, which turned out to be something, given that BC won last year’s NCAA Hockey Championship, but they could have at least sent her a sweatshirt. Maybe we should still sue…)

    Oh, I’ve had plenty of other opportunities to cash in, if I were the clear-thinking litigious type.

    Like local hero Norman Pelletier, who’s suing a marina for $15K in damages because he “burned the soles of his feet while walking barefoot on a metal ramp at a Danvers marina” last June, requiring medical attention.

    Well, attention  - medical or not – must be paid.

    Pelletier’s lawyer alleges the yacht club’s management was negligent because it didn’t warn visitors the ramp might be hot, and failed to provide a ‘‘reasonably safe’’ environment.

    He says the ramp gets up to 120 degrees in the sun.

    Marina officials say they have never had any complaints about the ramp. (Source:

    Oh, some may poke fun at Stormin’ Norman for not knowing that, if you walk barefoot on a metal ramp on a sunny day in summer where there’s glare off the water and everything, you could burn the soles of your feet.

    But I salute him.

    On behalf of every kid who’s ever put his tongue on a light pole in the middle of winter.

    On behalf of every jay-walker.

    On behalf of every skater-on-thin ice.

    On behalf of everyone who ever patted a strange dog without letting him do a sniff-test first.

    On behalf of every red-light-runner on a bicycle.

    On behalf of every beachgoer who ever stepped on a raggedy-edged shell.

    On behalf of every entrant in a chug-a-lug or hot dog eating contest.

    On behalf of everyone who ever snuck through the gap in the fence to take the short cut over the tracks.

    On behalf of every camper who drank pond water without boiling it.

    On behalf of every human being on Planet Earth who has ever done something a bit studip, I salute you.

    I hope that the Danvers Marina shapes up.

    Forget about just posting a sign. I think they need to hire someone to keep a hose on the ramp all summer, to cool the metal down. I think they need to provide free flip-flops to anyone who wants them – better yet, free Sperry Topsiders. I think they should offer optional piggybacks to get yachtsmen down to their boats.

    As for all those opportunities when I foolishly neglected to call my lawyer, I wonder if the statute of limitations has run out.

    If not, see you in court.

    Wednesday, March 06, 2013

    Exit gracefully: Andrew Mason’s parting words

    Over my working years, I saw plenty of executives come and go.

    Often the going – where the going was involuntary -  was accompanied by a mealy-mouthed memo announcing that the oust-ee was leaving to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. In fact, I worked for one company that used pretty much the same form memo whenever a Mr. Big left the stage. And it, did in fact use those very words “pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.”

    There was also the obligatory ‘a grateful nation thanks you’ bit – when we all recognized that the subtext was ‘thanks for nothing, you bum; thanks for not listening to anyone but toadies and ass-kissers; thanks for paying yourself a lot and us a little; thanks for promoting politicos only; thanks for bringing us to the brink of the abyss with your hare-brained ideas; and, by the way, apologies to hares’.

    But I actually can’t remember if anyone being tossed on his ear ever sent out a memo to the rank and file.

    In any case, I can’t imagine that these would have been candid, straightforward, and heartfelt. I’m sure they would have been every bit as mealy-mouthed as the official company memo, with a thick layer of self-justification/self-pity layered on. Maybe a soupcon of bitterness. (Okay, I’m being a bit harsh here. I’m sure there would have been a couple of folks who would have exited gracefully.)

    In any case, I must say that I enjoyed Andrew Mason’s letter to his peeps, sent out after he got the heave-ho. You can see the whole thing by clicking on the above link, but I’ve kept some of the better bits:

    People of Groupon,

    After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why… you haven’t been paying attention.

    Props for the joke about spending time with his family, and for his willingness to use the other “f word”: I was fired. None of this “we mutually agreed” nonsense. Nope. Just three little words.

    From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that’s hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.

    Although it seems like something that should be fairly common, give how ‘duh’ obvious it is, it’s amazing how rarely we ever hear anyone actually say that the buck – or the coupon – stops here.

    For those who are concerned about me, please don’t be – I love Groupon, and I’m terribly proud of what we’ve created. I’m OK with having failed at this part of the journey…

    Okay, there’s a wee dram of ego into that concern about those who are concerned about him. Sure, there are folks at Groupon who liked and maybe even loved him, but, let’s face it, most employee concern is going to be concern about themselves and their prospects. And whether they’ll be able to pay the mortgage, car payments, and tuition. In truth, it’s hard to be all that concerned with someone who, crappy stock price and all, is still a multi-multi-millionaire. Still, money can’t buy you happiness.

    As for the admission that he failed, I could live without the ‘this part of the journey’, ‘journey’ being one of those words (another one’s ‘passion’) that has inserted itself a tad too frequently into work-speak.

    I’ll now take some time to decompress (FYI I’m looking for a good fat camp to lose my Groupon 40, if anyone has a suggestion), and then maybe I’ll figure out how to channel this experience into something productive.

    Hey, Andrew, if you find that fat camp, let me know. I’d like to dump my freelance 10. And I hope you find something that’s (even) more productive than Groupon.

    …This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!

    I will miss you terribly.



    Nice memo Andrew: honest, assured, assuring, warm. And you’re only 32. Trust me when I tell you that, if you want to, there’ll be another company out there for you to fall in love with.