Monday, September 30, 2013

September is sewing month. So what, you say?

Today is the last day on which to celebrate National Sewing Month.

As I look back at the month, I will note that I did a bit of sewing: a button on a pair of black slacks, a few stitches to a pink cable-knit sweater where the body of the sweater was separating from the neck trim. I used thread and needle from my very own, fully-equipped  sewing basket – a basket that’s pretty ugly (if there’s a way to make butterflies appear unattractive, the designers of my basket succeeded in finding it), but which I hang on to because my mother gave it to me.

My sewing basket doubles as a button box in which I keep the spare buttons and wisps of yarn that come with sweaters. Now that I think of it, it would also make a logical repository for all the mini-sewing kits I accumulated from hotel stays over the years. One more little item for the to-do list.

My mother always kept a separate button box, a round reddish-purplish tin box with flowers on the cover, and she’d allow us to look through it from time to time, examining the dozens of different colors and shapes of buttons she had saved there. I loved sifting through the button box, and if that sounds like something straight out of Laura Ingalls Wilder, all I can say is, back in the day there were only three channels on your black and white TV, and there was only so much to do when you were stuck in doors on a rainy day.

The buttons in my mother’s button box were the extras that came with a set she would have  purchased for one of her sewing projects, or would have been stripped from an item of clothing that was destined for the rag bag. For years I, too, stripped the buttons from garments that were too awful to donate anywhere and were just going into the trash. (Let’s face it, I don’t need rags like my mother did.) That was until I took a good look at myself, old fashioned razor blade in hand, sawing away at the thread attaching that little white button to a button down shirt and asked, What in god’s name are you doing?

Anyway, other than the occasional minor repair or hemming job, I don’t sew. But I did grow up during The Great Sewing Your Own Clothes Era. At least it was that era in my house.

As I said, it’s not as if I ever sewed.

I did take sewing lessons at the Girls Club, but all I ever made was what I guess was a sleeveless muu-muu. I remember the pattern quite vividly: purple and green calico cats on an ecru background. And I have a quite vivid recall of my having sewed the yoke on crooked, so that it only appeared even if I hunched my right shoulder up. I’m not sure what the original purpose of the garment was – beach cover-up? – but it never made it out of the house.

If I had intended it as a beach cover-up, it was with ample reason, as one of the items my mother took it upon to sew for my sister Kathleen and I was a bathing suit. One of these beauties was blue and white striped ticking, with red rick-rack trim, the other a turquoise, black, and white geometric design. Neither one was exactly au courant for the early sixties, when every other girl had a tank suit or a madras two piece. The ticking one would not have been out of place on the boardwalk at Atlantic City, circa 1920.

Neither fabric was not exactly designed for frolicking in the water, either.

The ticking, in particular, absorbed water like a sponge and, unless you could manage to bunch up some sort of air pocket – not all that difficult, given that my mother believed that a bathing suit on an early-teen girl should pass the Amish mother modesty test – you sunk like a rock. Talk about don’t go near the water.

Most of my mother’s sewing jobs were not this awful. Some of the outfits she made us were actually quite stylin’. I had a nice paisley dress that even looked as if it could have come from a store.

We weren’t the only ones with home-sewn clothing, of course.

Kath and I were friends with a sister pair, the Shea girls, and one year we all wore matching corduroy jumpers for the fist day of school – one of the few days we didn’t have to wear matching green gabardine jumpers. Mine was a very nice royal blue, and I wore it with a blue and white striped blouse that was store-bought.

(Earlier on, my mother had taken apart my father’s naval uniforms and made us – that would be me and Kath; somehow, boys are exempt from home-made clothing, and Trish was not yet on the scene – shorts out of the whites, and spring coats out of the blues.)

In the Age of Sewing at Home, it was actually fun to look through the pattern books – Vogue and McCall - and pick out fabrics, but I will say that once I had the money to buy my own clothing, that’s the route I took.

And, unlike my sisters Kath and Trish, I never did learn how to sew.

One of Trish’s endeavors, while she was in high school, was making a nice plaid wool jacket. For me. In the course of stitching it up, she ran her thumb under the needle, necessitating a trip to the emergency room, as I recall. I’m still squeamish when I think of that incident…

I don’t think either Kath or Trish do much sewing these days, other than running up an occasional pair of curtains.

Trish did make her daughter Molly a kick-ass bee costume when Mols was two or three years old. Although Molly originally resisted putting it on – needless to say, much to Trish’s frustration – my brother-in-law was eventually able to convince her to wear it. Wish I had a picture to scan in here: it was ultra cute.

With the cost of clothing so low – thank you China,  Bangladesh, Vietnam – and the growing emphasis on quantity over quality, I don’t imagine as many people sew their own any more. Maybe in states that have big 4-H groups and state fairs…

Whatever the current state of sewing in America. I am happy to salute those who get on their Singers and sew.

Just be sure to make sure you don’t run your thumb under the needle.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Bowlinged Over: Counter Evolution puts some old alleys to good use

The two coolest old bowling alleys I’ve ever seen were both in Maine.

One was on Kezar Lake, in a cottage enclave on the grounds of what was once the summer retreat site of the Diamond Match Company. The enclave had a clubhouse that featured an old-timey bowling alley with a couple of wobbly old wooden lanes. Way cool.

The other was in Boothbay Harbor, and was an altogether excellent little bowling alley – I’m pretty sure it was candlepin, to boot (this is, after all, New England). This alley was so quaint I almost expected to see a group of keglers straight out of Rip Van Winkle rolling away. How excellent was this bowling alley? It even had unscreened wooden-shuttered windows that opened out onto the street so you could stick your head in and catch the action.

I didn’t bowl at either alley. (My husband and niece did at the latter, however.)

Then, again, I’ve never been much of a bowler.

I’ve been bowling on occasion, but it’s not something that I grew up with.

No one I knew went bowling, placing it pretty much in the category of pogo sticks and pinball machines: you knew they existed, but that was about it.

I don’t know if either the Kezar or Boothbay Harbor alleys are still standing, but if they’re on their way out, Jim Malone of Counter Evolution can put those old wooden alleys to good use.

He takes wood from old bowling lanes and turns it into tables, chairs and benches.

His Brooklyn-based CounterEvolution makes pieces that can be found as the counters and tabletops of restaurants and coffee shops in New York and around the country. (Source: WSJ.)

Malone didn’t start out in the bowling alley conversion business. He was a singer-songwriter and, later, worked “as the voice director for the English-dubbed version of "Pokemon" and other anime shows.” (Why is everyone else’s résumé is always so much more interesting than mine? I do have combat boot polisher and Durgin-Park waitress on the long-form, but still…)

But Malone seen his opportunities and he took ‘em.

Those opportunities included the general decline of the bowling industry – as in Bowling Alone – and the particular demise of the wooden bowling alley, which have been almost fully replaced by synthetic materials.

As lanes have closed, demolition crews and lumber companies have sought out CounterEvolution and others to find new uses for the bowling-alley wood.

“I may not compost, but I'm definitely doing something that has a positive impact on the environment," said Mr. Malone.

The designs are not in the least bit hokey – no legskingpindining-2 made out of bowling pins. The table pictured here (the Kingpin) is quite lovely.

Much of his work is done for commercial customers: the salad chain Sweetgreen, Shake Shack, and Starbucks. The Starbucks in Davis Square, Cambridge, has a testimonial on the Counter Evolution site,. I’ll have to stop in and check it out next time I’m in Davis Square.

Malone doesn’t just repurpose bowling alleys, but reclaims wood from other tear-downs, as well.

He’s making his furniture in Brooklyn, and will be opening a retail outlet in Manhattan later this year. His mission, by the way, isn’t to become some green fanatic, where anything goes as long as it’s green (i.e., ignore the aesthetic and defy people to have the audacity to declare something ugly if it’s eco-friendly). Malone mostly wants to make things that are beautiful and functional.

He’s also doing something that gladdens the hearts of owners of defunct bowling alleys.

Dave Mitcheltree, whose family owned a 32-lane bowling center in South Chicago Heights, Ill., lost AMF as a tenant amid the company's bankruptcy proceeding and had a hard time finding someone else to run the business. He connected with Mr. Malone and agreed to saw up about 1,300 square feet of the heart pine, load it onto a flatbed truck and send it to Brooklyn.

"The idea that it is going to be used in furniture just makes me feel good," Mr. Mitcheltree said.

If I knew Jim Malone were going to be making something out of that bowling alley from Boothbay Harbor, I might be tempted to start saving up. We could use a new coffee table.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Let’s hear it for the Hack Bureau

Last Saturday, we took a cab from JFK to our temporary (one week) home away on the Upper East Side. In terms of coming into The City, the timing wasn’t perfect. Unbeknownst to us, the Steuben Day Parade – which celebrates all things German (well, not all things German: just the good ones) – was blitzing down Fifth Avenue, causing all sorts of traffic tie ups. And the UES – that’s Upper East Side to you provincials – was crawling with Steuben Day revelers, recognizable by their dirndls, lederhosen, and some get-up that made the men wearing it look like chimney sweeps.

Anyway, the cab dropped us off  amid mega-traffic, yelling cops (yelling at us, or at least at our cabbie), tipsy lederhosers, honking cabs, etc.Foolishly, amidst this chaos, I decided to conserve our cash – and why not, it being nearly impossible to find an ATM in a pokey little town like this – and use the credit card system in the back of the cab. This decision was doubly foolish, given that, on the way in from JFK, I had remarked to my husband how cloudy the screen was on the all-purpose information screen now present in all cabs. And aren’t these devices such a welcome addition to the cab ride experience? After all, we wouldn’t want to be deprived of diversion for a nano-second, would we? In this case, the “entertainment” was a perpetual Jimmy Fallon-Brian Williams  loop that repeated every 3 minutes or so. I tuned Jimmy Fallon out, but Bri -  who I’m kind of sweet on, so I couldn’t just tune him out -  was talking about how wunderbar the folks out in Colorado were for jumping in to help out their flooded-out fellow citizen, I couldn’t actually see Bri, as the screen – the same screen that’s used to take care of a fare-paying credit card transaction –was very blurry. And the decision to pay by credit card, rather than fork over the cash, was triply foolish given that my husband – now standing outside the cab with our bags, while another couple, anxious to get away from the Steuben Tag-ers, were trying to get into the cab – was yelling at me to just pay cash.

But once I started down the path of paying by credit card, well…

Did I mention that the screen was cloudy-blurry?

Coached by the cabbie, whose English was not quite of the highest order (I kept trying to explain to him that I couldn’t read what was on the screen, while he kept telling me something I couldn’t comprehend), I put in the amount, swiped the card, and – fortunately – asked for a receipt.

As we settled into our digs, I mentally recalculated the amount I had just paid, and realized that I hadn’t given the cabbie as large a tip as I would normally have, having added in a total amount without taking into consideration the surcharge amount.

Oh, well, I told myself, I would always make it up next time…

Little did I know…

Several hours later, I happened to glance at the receipt and saw that what I thought I had entered as the total amount had been entered as the tip – a tip that was $55 more than I would have given.

So I quickly went from worrying about whether I’d been a cheapskate to kicking myself for not being able to read the blurry/cloudy screen.

I immediately called the credit card company, and they tried to get through to the reporting number that they had for the cab company, which, alas, was closed for the day. The fellow from Capital One gave me the number and suggested I call on Monday. He told me that if I couldn’t get it cleared up, I should call back and start disputing the charge.

Anyway, I called the number the Cliff at Capital One – who was very helpful, by the way; think what you will about Crapital One, but they have excellent customer service – had given me, and was surprised to find that it wasn’t the cab company, but the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, formerly known as the Hack Bureau.

Since I had what they told me was going to be a 19 minute wait – to which adviso my mental response was ‘yeah, right’ – I had plenty of time to anticipate just what a lovely experience I was going to have communicating with what was, by any other name, the Hack Bureau.

Precisely 19 minutes into my wait, a woman came on the line and quite pleasantly asked how she could help me.

I explained the situation – emphasizing that I was not reporting an “incident”, i.e., did not feel that the cabbie/cab company had tried to screw me. Fortunately, the receipt had all the detail one might want or need (except for the phone number of the cab company) including the key bits of information: the medallion and hack numbers. The TLC woman – who I was now thinking of as part of TLC, rather than a Hack Bureau Apparatchik –  immediately put me through to the cabbie’s phone number, suggesting that I leave a message using my first name only, and let him know what the problem was. Given his limitations with English, and mine with Urdu, I didn’t think that this was going to work out all that well, but I followed her advice. She then put me through to the cab company itself, where I was able to explain what had happened to the manager there. He took down the information, asked me what I wanted the tip to be – which I upped to be a bit higher than my 20% norm – and he told me what refund he would put through.

As we concluded the call, I said, “Thank you, New York cab bureau lady, if you’re still on the line.” She said, “Yes I am, and my name is Valerie.”

So  thank you Valerie. You were pleasant, courteous, thorough, clear and good humored. And I just want on the TLC web site to let the commisioner know.

So far, the refund from the cab company has not yet gone through. Nonetheless, Valerie has restored my faith in people in general and government workers in particular.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Football, football, rah-rah-rah. (Block those taxes!)

Sometimes I surprise myself.

As I did when I read an article that started out:

If you're planning to attend Super Bowl XLVIII this February…

Never say never, but I suspect I’m as likely to attend a NASCAR event, or the Iditarod, or the World Series of Poker, as I am to attend a Super Bowl.

It’s not that I don’t like football. I do. Kinda, sorta. Mostly. More or less.

It’s just that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I never saw another football game, live or Memorex. I just wouldn’t miss it at all.

And that goes double for Super Bowl.

Sometimes I watch it. Kinda, sorta.

If the Patriots are in, I mostly watch. Unless, of course, Tom Brady gets sacked for a safety on the first possession, at which point I make the call: here and no further. No commercial, however clever, is going to make it worth my while enough to sit through this debacle.

A pretty good indicator of what little interest I have in SB is the fact that, in 2010, when Green Bay won, we turned off the half-time show to watch a re-run special, which we had already seen, on the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Such was our level of interest in the Super Bowl that we stuck with a show we’d already seen, about an event the outcome of which we were 100% certain, and enjoyed it more than we were enjoying that ultimate of real-time sporting events: The Super Bowl.

Come to think of it, of the major professional sports (and I’ll even include soccer, tennis, golf, and – god help us – wrestling), football is the one I’ve never seen in person. (I DO NOT count boxing.)

I suppose if the weather were perfect, and someone gave me a ticket for free, and I had a hotel room in walking distance of the stadium, I’d go to a professional football game…

Anyway, I guess it’s pretty clear that, no, I’m not planning on attending Super Bowl XLVIII, or any other Super Bowl, anytime soon. (While I’m at it, what’s with that pompous use of Roman numerals?)

Nonetheless, I read the remainder of the article and learned that, when Super Bowl comes into the cold this February, for an old-fashioned outdoor game in an inclement weather location (Giants’ home field in New Jersey), things are going to get pricey.

The NFL is on the verge of approving a plan that would more than double the prices the league charges for the most coveted Super Bowl tickets. According to three league officials familiar with the plan, club-level seats in the mezzanine with access to indoor restaurants are likely to cost about $2,600—a mammoth hike from last year's game in New Orleans, where the top tickets went for $1,250.

The next-cheapest tranche of seats (those in the lower bowl) would cost about $1,500, the executives said, up from $950 for the second-tier seats sold in New Orleans.(Source: WSJ.)

(While I’m at it, what’s with that pompous use of the word “tranche”?)

The NFL – poor dears – is just trying to capture some of the value they’re losing to fans who decide not to go, and to ticket brokers, the legitimate scalpers who grab a mitt-ful of tickets and plump up the prices. (I suppose I could start WSJ-ing it up and throw in terms like dead-weight loss, and Pareto’s optimum, and demand curve. But that would be pompous. And I’d probably get it all wrong, anyway.)

I’m fine with the NFL charging whatever the market can bear for their tickets. Why not?

This isn’t exactly an average fan event, to begin with. Like most big deal sporting events, Super Bowl has got corporate written all over it.

The result is that a large portion of the audience at any Super Bowl consists of people who are attending the game on someone else's dime.

So the average fan can watch from the comfort of his couch, paying far less for his own nachos and Buds, and peeing in his very own toilet.

Interesting, even among those fans who manage to score tickets, a lot of them would rather be able to watch, nosh, and pee in peace:

At the last Super Bowl, the league held a lottery for $600 tickets in the upper bowl in the corners of the end zones—drawing some 30,000 entries. But of the 500 winners, the NFL said, 60% flipped their tickets within 24 hours. This season, the NFL plans to raffle off 1,000 $500 tickets—but those tickets will be non-transferrable.

Apparently, there’s still plenty of untapped value for the NFL to tap:

According to the NFL, research on the secondary market during the 2013 Super Bowl shows many $600 tickets sold for $2,000 while seats near midfield went for up to $6,100 and premium club seats changed hands for $6,400—both multiples of their face value.

So it looks like those-who-scalp will still be able to extract a few bucks on the secondary market. Bless the generous little heart of the NFL!

Part of the NFL’s argument for raising prices this year is that the game is being played in the NY metro where there are a lot more people. A lot more people who live close enough to drive. So the money being saved on airfare and hotels can and should go into the NFL’s coffers.

Why should that extra money go to the actual ticket buyer?

After all, the NFL is a poor old nonprofit.

Nonprofit, one might ask.

Nonprofit, indeed.

This is not, of course, to say that NFL teams are nonprofits. For the most part, they’re completely lucrative, veritable gold mines that are shrewd enough to sucker state and local governments into spending hard-earned, grudgingly paid taxes to build swank new stadiums for them to play in. And the teams themselves do pay taxes. Of course, they get to deduct the dues they pay to the NFL Which each year distributes all the money (from TV rights, jerseys, etc.) that’s left over after expenses back to the teams… So, around, and around, and around we go….

The NFL’s tax-exempt status is part of some lip kiss that Congress gave them when the AFL and NFL merged in the way-back.

At least one senator – Tom Coburn of Oklahoma – thinks that NFL as 501 (c) has got to go.

There may not be many things I agree with Tom Coburn on, but this would be one of them.

Just as a matter of principal, eliminating this farce seems like the right thing to do. Football commissioner Roger Goodell is paid $30 million a year. What kind of a nonprofit is that?

“Tax earmarks are essentially tax increases for everyone who doesn’t receive the benefit,” Coburn said in his press release proposing to tax America’s most popular sport. “In this case, working Americans are paying artificially high rates in order to subsidize special breaks for sports leagues. This is hardly fair.” The NFL did not respond to requests for comment. (Source: Business Week.)

Coburn’s not going out on a shaky limb in terms of his home state here. Oklahoma does not have an NFL team of its own.

Still, standing up to Big Sports is not without risk, and I’m sure he’s caught some flak.

Meanwhile, last year,

…Coburn estimated that the change could “generate at least $91 million of federal revenue every year” from the NHL and NFL alone

Accounting pencils being as sharp as they are, the net-net to the government would probably be zilch.

Still, I wish the best of luck to the esteemed junior senator from the great state of Oklahoma.

Boola, boola to him!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Come along and wear my party dress…

They’re called “ward-robers”, and what they do is stretch their clothing allowances by borrowing those items they’ll only need for an isolated occasion. Items that, even if the occasion weren’t so isolated, you wouldn’t want to show up wearing if you’d already worn the same item at some prior occasion. Items like party dresses.

But ward-robers don’t do what the rest of us have done for as long as there have been friends and sisters within one standard deviation of our own size. I.e.,  borrow those items.

These days, borrowing from friends and family is, apparently, passé. After all, what you get that a-way is apt to be the wrong color. Or last year’s model. Or a bit off in size. Or already been worn for a special occasion.

So ward-robers take themselves shopping.

And once they find an item they like, they actually buy it.

They then get to wear it.

Ah, the benefits of ownership!

And then, once Cinderella returns from the ball, the ball gown does a disappearing act. But the ward-rober isn’t stuck sitting around in rags.

No, the cagey ward-rober just returns the “gently worn” item and gets her money back.

This is a big problem: retailers estimate that about 3 percent of their returns involve some type of fraud. Like returning something that you’ve already warned.

As with so many other things these days, the problem of:

…wardrobing has been exacerbated by social media. Call it the Instagram effect. “We love our selfies,” [Susan Scafidi, a Fordham University law professor who specializes in fashion] says. “More items become single-wear, in effect, because everybody has seen you in it.” (Source: Business Week.)

It’s a bit difficult for someone who wore a green jumper and white blouse every day for twelve years to get too excited about everybody having seen her in something, but there you have it.

Bloomingdale’s, for one, is mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. They’re affixing big chunks of black plastic to items:

The tags, fixed to high-fashion garments in highly visible places, are the department store’s new strategy to keep crafty shoppers from buying clothes, wearing them, and then returning them. Once buyers remove the tags, Bloomingdale’s, a unit of Macy’s, won’t take back the garments.

I don’t know how this is going to work if an item turns out to be defective in some way, and someone has a legitimate reason to return it. But maybe that’s just a problem that occurs when the hem unravels on a twelve-dollar tee-shirt after a couple of washings, and not on a “$1,100 red leather dress.” (Not that wardrobe malfunctions never happen…)

Some industry watchers think that this is a bad idea:

“In an era when the shoppers have all the power, the last thing you do is anything that might alienate them,” [Mark] Ellwood says. “It’s the retail equivalent of not dating anyone until you’ve seen their STD tests.”

Well, if Mark Ellwood has a better idea for catching ward-robers…

As a matter of fact, he does. In the world of big data, stores can:

…flag shoppers who return items frequently.

And just how does this help them thwart ward-robers? Can they refuse to sell to, or take returns from, frequent returners?

If I were a store selling the sorts of upscale items that lend themselves to ward-robing, I think I’d hire someone to monitor social media for signs that frequent returners had gotten some wear out of something.  It might actually be kind of fun confronting a ward-rober with evidence of her malfeasance. (Sorry to keep referring to a ward-rober as “she.” Guess I’m profiling a bit here.)

Nordstrom’s, by the way, has no intention of tagging their items with big chunks of black plastic.

“Our experience is that if you treat the customer with respect, they respect you back,” [spokesman Colin Johnson] told Bloomberg.

I love Nordstrom’s, and wish one would open nearby. (There is a Nordstrom Rack, but it’s not the same.) But what about those 3 percent scofflaws who are shoplifting or ward-robing, which, as far as I can tell, is pretty much just risk-free shoplifting? Maybe the 3 percent violators don’t count as customers to begin with.

Many long years ago, I was actually the victim of ward-robing. And it had nothing to do with a red leather party dress worth $1,100.

I had purchased a madras shirtwaist dress at Filene’s Basement.

It was a good bargain. I loved the colors (purples and blues). And I figured that, coupled with a navy jacket, it would make a decent enough work outfit.

It was just the right size. I didn’t even bother to try it on.

Until I got home.

And realized that it had been previously worn by someone with incredibly powerful BO – far more potent than anything that could have been given off by merely trying an item on. Nope, this was the real BO deal: that sucker had been worn on a very sweaty day.

Ugh, ugh, ugh.

I really wanted that dress, so, rather than bring it back to The B, I tried to wash it out. A couple of times. But that was a pure Lady Macbeth effort. No matter how hard I scrubbed, I was never able to get that whiff of some complete stranger’s BO out of my nostrils.

The dress ended up in the charity donation bag. Unworn. At least unworn by me.

So to hell with ward-robers.

I hope Bloomingdale’s nabs them all.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Knickerbocker Holiday

I like New York in June, how about you?

I also like New York in September, and apparently everyone else and his brother does, too.

So when we made a quasi last-minute decision to spend a bit of time in our favorite city in the world (other than Boston, at least for me), it was a bit difficult digging up digs.

For the last few trips we’ve made to The City, we’ve gone the short term apartment rental route, and have found interesting places, East Side, West Side, all around the town. We thought that, once again, we’d have our pick of location, and were focusing on Gramercy Park and the West Village.

Alas, we had left things pretty late. And we hadn’t factored in the recent crackdown on short term rentals that has resulted in, among other things, Airbnb being declared illegal.

Not that we were looking at Airbnb. They’re a bit too Millenial hipster for our tastes, and we’re not all that interested in throwing our sleeping bags down in someone’s living room.

But, thanks to the hotel industry – and landlords who weren’t thrilled with their tenants subletting, and condo and co-op owners who didn’t like finding strangers roaming their halls – the mellow of foregoing a hotel room in favor of a real apartment in a real neighborhood has been somewhat harshed. Fines have been levied, and plenty of rentees are running scared.

While we were looking around, I called a number for a listing that had one property with a 30 day minimum, and an indication that they had other places, as well. The woman that I spoke with – who sounded like the actual owner, not an intermediary – was almost tearful when she told me that anything less than 30 days was illegal.

Personally, I can see why a landlord wouldn’t want his renters turning around and doing short term sub-rentals. And co-op ownership is sufficiently weird that you don’t actually own your own place, so I can see them being finicky. But if you own a condo, why is renting it out any different than a homeowner on The Cape renting their place out for a few weeks during July? Or a condo owner in Vail renting their unit out when they’re not going to be there during ski season? As long as the taxes get paid… And as long as renters (that would be us) understand that, in dealing with some of the outfits that take care of the short term rentals, it’s caveat emptor.

(We almost bit on one place which looked pretty nice, only to find a couple of reviews that talked about the agency as doing some fine-print bait and switch: suckering people into a 10% discount, then putting them in terrible, totally sub-par rentals, which the renter had agreed to by taking the 10% discount. Thank you, Internet!)

Hypocritically, I must say that I wouldn’t want to see an endless parade of short-term renters revolving dooring it in our condo building. But NIMBY aside, surely an occasional “paying guest” is okay – especially in NYC, especially if that paying guest is me.

Anyway, it was looking as if our search might fail, and we were thinking of throwing in the towel and checking into a hotel, when we decided to take a chance on someone we had rented from before.  In the interest of diversifying the neighborhoods we “lived” in, we weren’t all that interested in going back there. But we had enjoyed the area, so…

Fortunately, they had just had a cancellation, and we were able to grab a flat in this nice little half resi-half commercial building (medical doctors and shrinks, and the property management company that we’re renting from) in a charming little neighborhood not far from Central Park on the Upper East Side.

We had to sign one more agreement than we had before, but, what the hell. I’m pretty sure that the owner/manager, while a mover, is on the up and up, crosses her t’s and dots her I’s, and pays her taxes. I gave the new form a scan, and we’re only on the hook for our week. We’ve done business with the owner/manager.  There’s nothing negative about her that I could find by going to the google. And if anything gets f’d up, she is just a blog post away from being savaged.

So I think we’re legal, but, ssshhhh, don’t start spreading the news.

We are looking forward to a week away from it all, which these days pretty much means we won’t be logging any hours at Mass General Hospital.

No plans, other than a lot of nice walks, a lot of nice meals, and a lot of nice chillaxin’ in our home away from home.

When we were in NY in July, the weather was putrid: 90’s and humid. So our walks were pretty much limited to out to lunch, out to dinner. Fortunately, there were plenty of excellent restaurants that were short hops from our pad. (The highlight of that trip, by the way, was running into Gloria Steinem on the street. We chatted with her for a few minutes, and she was quite gracious and charming. And let me tell you, we should all look that good at 79 years of age…)

So here we are, New Yorkers for the week.

We’ll trip the lights fantastic, on the sidewalks of New York.

Friday, September 20, 2013

I call nitwit on this looming patent fight

A few years ago, it was those rubber band bracelets that came in different shapes: animals, dinosaurs, txt terms (OMG, BFF), alphabet…

I just checked to see if they were still around and found that they are indeed, and that there are a lot more “themes” out there. You can now get Barbie, Angry Birds,  Justin sillybandz_kardashianBieber and Kardashian packs. (They don’t call ‘em Silly Bandz for nothing.)

Then there were the bracelets made with colored threads. (I may even have a couple of those around here somewhere.)

But the new kit on the kids’ fad bracelet block is a loom for weaving rubber bands together and “a plastic C-shaped fastener [that] enables kids around the U.S. to connect loops of colored rubber bands to form bracelets,” that look like this:


Cool enough. Looks kind of like a less bulky, more wrist-friendly version of the gimp lanyards we made back in the day. And we handcrafted them without a loom or C-shaped fastener.

Not that we didn’t use looms.

Obviously, it was a lot easier to make a lumpy little potholder if you had a loom. Theoretically, you could make a potholder without a loom. But it would sure be a lot cruder and lumpier than the versions we made with a loom.

I suppose that the Knit-Wit was a sort of a loom, as well. As I recall, there were a couple of different versions of a Knit-Wit – which was pretty much a shape with pegs on it that wound yarn around to make things. There was one where you made some type of floret that you could put together to make scarves or, I suppose, if you were ambitious enough, an afghan.

Then there was this type, which was used to make yarn tubes used for what purpose I can’t quite remember. If you coiled enough of them, you could turn it into a yarn trivet, a chair pad, or a rag rug. Not that I ever did.

But whatever I made with a Knit-Wit, I did on my own, home-brewed version of it.

Crafty child that I was, I made my own Knit-Wit of the tubular variety by hammering a bunch of brads into a hollow cylindrical block (bright red – and thanks to whichever brother sacrificed this block in the interest of letting me make yarn tubes that were turned into nothing other than yarn tubes).

There was also something called a Doodle Loom, but I’m not quite sure what that was used for.

Anyway, trouble has reared its ugly head in contemporary loomville:

In August, the founder of three-year-old Rainbow Loom—a rubber-band jewelry-making kit that is a blockbuster seller this fall—sued rival Zenacon LLC, claiming it copied the "distinctive trade dress" of Rainbow Loom's "unique" C-shaped clips with its competing FunLoom product. (Source: WSJ.)

Admittedly, I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout birthin’ no invention, but it seems to me that there’s not a lot that’s unique about a C-clip, or the type of loom that lets you thread a bunch of rubber bands together. Not all that different than potholder looms or Knit-Wits, in the eye of this beholder.


Rainbow Loom's creator, Cheong Choon Ng , says he was angry enough to sue because FunLoom "works exactly the same as Rainbow Loom," and because he's responsible for creating a market for rubber-band craft-making.

"I made this famous," says Mr. Ng, who says he's sold more than 1.2 million Rainbow Loom kits so far. "I worked on it for three years and now everyone wants to come in."

Rainbow is also suing Toys ‘R’ Us for selling other rival looms. (For the time being, Rainbow only sells through Michaels.)

The FunLoomers aren’t buying it:

Steven Verona, whose company Zenacon makes FunLoom, denies the allegations. "Is a loom something new and novel? It isn't. It has been around for hundreds of years. Same as rubber bands," he says.

Plus Verona claims that both his C-clips and looms are superior. So there.

I’m sure that Mr. Ng is frustrated with the time he put into coming up with a fad toy, but this isn’t exactly a world-changing breakthrough like the Salk vaccine or the windshield wiper. Do we really think that this will even have the longevity of, say, the wiffle ball?

According to the WSJ, this is part of a looming problem that will only get worse as 3-D printing technology is more broadly adopted, and manufacturers will quickly be able to hop on the fad bandwagon, leaving the originator little time to capitalize on his inventiveness.

It’s also no doubt an outcropping of IP-palooza, in which people try to trademark/patent anything and everything where there may be a buck to be made. (Come on, was Pat Riley really the first person to coin the term Three-peat?)

See you in court!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Montessori Management

To say that the Montessori was not the approach of Our Lady of the Angels grammar school is to understate the obvious.

Let’s see (thank you, Wikipedia):

  • Emphasis on independence
  • Freedom within limits
  • Respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical and social development

Well, uncheck, uncheck, uncheck.

Much as I’m sure the nuns wanted to run things this way, with 50 kids in a classroom, it just wasn’t possible.

For a couple of months in 7th grade, we actually had 100 kids in our class. Our nun had a nervous breakdown. So while they tried to line up a sub – which wasn’t that easy, midway through the year, when all the nuns were assigned. It wasn’t like they were going to spring for a lay teacher or anything - they doubled us up: two kids to a desk while they conducted their “search.” They ended up plucking a very sweet young nun who had not yet completed teacher training/college. She probably wasn’t that much older than we were. By the by, there were fewer discipline problems with Sister Martinet, I mean Sister Paulina, than there were with the poor nun who we gave a nervous breakdown. (They did not, of course, tell us that Sister F had an NB. This came out the next year when a nun let it slip in a diatribe. As in, “And it’s no wonder Sister F had a nervous breakdown.”)

Anyway, we’re not here to debate the merits of born-free Montessori, unleash the genius within vs. the standard parochial school ‘who do you think you are?’ approach of my childhood.

We’re here to talk about Montessori Management, which is – at least according to The Economist – how some hip and happenin’ companies are run. After nipping at Google a bit for its “juvenile tastes,” they note that:

Box, a Silicon Valley company, has installed swings in its headquarters. Red Bull, an energy-drinks firm, has a reception desk in the shape of a giant skateboard in its London office. Businesses of all types have moved towards sitting workers in groups in open-plan rooms, just like at nursery school. Time was when firms modeled themselves on the armed forces, with officers (who thought about strategy) and chains of command. Now many model themselves on learning-through-play “Montessori” schools. (Source: The Economist.)

The closest I came to a Montessorian environment was a quirky little Cambridge company that had a couple of video games in the kitchen. Not that I would have played, but by the time I got there, the games were pretty much obsolete. Interestingly, this place also went the this-is-the-Army-Mr.Jones route, bringing in a retired U.S. Navy admiral as COO to get the place ship-shape.

I suspect that, before he was piped aboard, The Admiral had nary a clue just how resistant our culture would be to his military charms. I got to work pretty closely with him on a couple of things and, at one point I said to him, “You know, Jim, if you had 17 legs you couldn’t kick ass hard enough and fast enough to get anything done around here.” He ruefully agreed.

Mostly, I spent my career in traditionally managed – by tech standards, anyway – companies. There were hierarchies. Managers managed. Underlings underlinged (and bitched).  I worked in several places that had bona fide tech genius around, but none of these companies ever managed to break through the overall managerial incompetence ceiling and become a household word.

Perhaps this was because our folks in charge – while they may not have suffered abuse by Montessori standards at OLA – had not been to Montessori schools. I find it amazing that:

The bosses of Google (Larry Page and Sergey Brin), Amazon (Jeff Bezos) and Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales) were all educated in Montessori schools. So was Will Wright, a video-game )pioneer.

And, for the most part, they credit Montessori with their creativity.

But it would be wrong to conclude that the success of Google and Amazon vindicates Montessori management. Both companies have pragmatically mixed progressive ideas with more traditional ones such as encouraging internal competition and measuring performance. Mr Bezos is also an enthusiastic employer of ex-military personnel.

Wonder if The Admiral is still working?


Anyway, there’s been a bit of backlash forming against placing too much faith in Montessori’s “free-flowing creativity, endless collaboration and all things open-plan.”

Some are finding that all that emphasis on teamwork and collaboration actually stifles creativity, and results in “groupthink, conformity and mediocrity.” Not that those things don’t happen in non-Montessori environments…

There’s also some pushback on those open-plan office set ups that everyone’s gone so gaga over. In one study, researchers:

…found an astonishing amount of antipathy. Workers say that open-plan offices make it more difficult to concentrate, because the hubbub of human and electronic noise is so distracting. What they really value is the ability to focus on their jobs with as few distractions as possible. Ironically, going open-plan defeats another of Montessori management’s main objectives: workers say it prevents them from collaborating, because they cannot talk without disturbing others or inviting an audience. Other studies show that people who work in open-plan offices are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, stress and airborne infections such as flu.

Give me an office with a door that closes, any old day.

Having spent those months in the 100 kid classroom, I could live without an open plan…

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Revel-ation. (Meet me tonight in Atlantic City.)

Aside from the occasion – okay, regular – lottery ticket, and the purchase of any raffle ticket that’s put before me, I’m never had the gambling bug.

I’ve been to the track a few times, and enjoyed it, but I’m strictly a $2 window – if that even exists any more – kind of gal, betting only on ponies with names that I like, or basing my wagers on the colors of the jockey’s silks.

In a casino, I’m good for as long as a $10 roll of quarters will last in the slots.

I guess you could say that every company I worked for back in the day was something of a gamble, and, sadly, none of them paid off big. I made a few bucks when one company I worked for was sold, but mostly, well, let’s just say that if I had a dollar for every underwater option I was ever granted, I might not be lighting cigars with five-dollar bills, but I’d be sitting prettier.

No, gambling is a vice that has never held much appeal. It’s just at such damnable odds with my closely held beliefs that, other than the occasional quarter found on the sidewalk, you generally don’t get something for nothing, and that, at the end of a long, clockless, windowless day, the house always win.

I have to believe that, deep down, gamblers know this as well.

How can they not?

It’s just for gamblers, the lure of something for nothing and/or beating the house must be just too powerful.

I’m not talking about professional gamblers here – pro poker players with excellent memories and the ability to interpret the other guy’s “tell”; Wall Street types who either truly understand or are good guessers about market direction – but the little guy schnooks who think that there’s easy money to be made if you just perfect-a the trifecta, who keep buying those PowerBall tickets (which, as someone with the benefit of an advanced degree from MIT well knows, is a complete chump’s game), and who have no problem pulling the arm of the one-armed bandit in hopes that a fortune in quarters will come spewing out.

At any rate, I was interested to read that a couple of Jersey boys (okay, one was a woman; I just anted to say Jersey Boys) are suing the Revel Casino in Atlantic City:

…for more than $35 million, claiming it “lured” patrons to its Atlantic City slot machines in July with a bogus promise to refund all losses…The suit, on behalf of “tens of thousands” of slot players in five states and Washington DC, accuses Revel Entertainment Group of breach of contract, unjust enrichment and violating state consumer-protection laws.  (Source, I’m a tad embarrassed to admit: NY Post. At least it’s not the Daily Mail….)

Revel had apparently been running a come-on ad campaign, promising:

“All July long, we’re going to refund all slot losses” and “You really can’t lose . . . If you win, you win. If you lose, we’ll give it all back!”

Which suckered those “tens of thousands” of slots players in without their reading the fine print, which the suit claims was “virtually illegible.”

If they read the fine print, they’d have seen that their losses would be covered by free slot play, done at 5% a week over 20 consecutive weeks.

So, if you lost, say $1K, in July, you could come back 20 times through the rest of the year an get comped for $50 worth of quarters a shot. Which, of course, if you’re a big enough gambler to be suing Revel, would just be pogey bait to get you to keep throwing good money after free money.

And while I’ve never been to Atlantic City, I suspect that even the most ardent of Jersey-ites aren’t willing to spend twenty consecutive weeks traipsing down there to hit the slots. (Does Atlantic City on a gray and drear November day sound like anything other than drop-dead depressing?)

Maybe I could make my way down there once or twice, if Bruce Springsteen were going to be there and personally sing, just for me, Thunder Road, Promised Land, and:

Well now, everything dies, baby, that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Part of the suit whines claims that Revel used their terrible come-on-a-my-house campaign to turn around their business:

“This deceptive business scheme . . . result[ed] in the first-ever profitable period since [Revel’s] opening 18 months ago,” according to the the court papers. It emerged from bankruptcy in May with a new marketing strategy aimed at a more traditional Atlantic City crowd.

(I.e., a crowd that smoked, didn’t like expensive food and booze, and was turned off by Revel’s initial “high-brow” la-di-da attitude.)

Well, duh-a-duh.

Revel’s is a business, and if its enticing ad filled the casino and the house won, well, that, like the Hokey Pokey, is what it’s all about.

How could anyone think that any casino was going to be playing “head’s you win, tails I lose”?

Come on!

This is the daffiest thing I’ve heard since Newt Gingrich set out his Social Security privatization scheme that would make anyone who gambled and lost back into the program and made whole. (So much for the notion that Republican’s are more sensible fiscal actors.)

How can you be grown up enough to go out gambling and not understand that if something sounds too good to be true, it is?

Isn’t this one of the few things you can pretty much always bet on and win.

Sadly, there are some folks out there for whom this is a revelation.

Sure, it was a bit snake-y (snake-eyes-y) of Revel to run that kind of a campaign. But, come on.

Maybe they’ll win there suit, but I, for one, wouldn’t bet on it.

If baby needs a new pair of shoes, they might be better off scanning the boardwalk for dropped quarters.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Anti-ballistic whiteboards for the classroom? Will Safeboards really make us safer?

Remember when the only projectile you had to worry about in the classroom was a nun hurling an eraser on someone’s head? Or some slimy boy hitting you in the back of the neck with a spit ball? (Ewwwww.)

Well, Columbine, Newtown, and the myriad school gun incidents in between, have certainly put those sorts of worries to a rest.

And now a company with a long history in the armored vehicle biz is bringing out bullet-proof bullet-resistant white boards for teachers and kids to get behind to protect themselves. (While reminiscing a bit here, remember a kinder, gentler time when sticking your head under a desk – good old ‘duck and cover’ – was going to protect you from a nuclear attack?)

Two school districts—one in Arizona and one in Utah, where IAC [International Armoring Corp.] is based—approached [chief executive Mark] Burton more than a year ago concerned about armed intruders. This, alas, was before the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The districts asked IAC to provide them with some kind of armored protection that would be discreet, functional, and affordable for use in elementary schools. “They didn’t want the classroom to look like a fortress,” says Burton.

IAC designed special walls it calls Safeboards that can be used as whiteboards—and can also withstand the firepower of handguns, automatic weapons, and nearly every shoulder-mounted weapon. When teachers hear an alarm or suspect trouble, they can slide the whiteboards over the doors to their classrooms. IAC can install corner partitions made up of sliding walls for more protection, a feature Burton calls safe havens. Each one can hold 37 kindergarteners. “We’re buying time until the authorities get there,” says Burton. (Source: Business Week.)

“Each on e can hold 37 kindergarteners.” This has to be among the sadness things I’ve read in a good long time.

Personally, I’d rather see more money go into mental health (including early detection of sociopathic youth) and trying to keep guns out of the hands of the sort of psychos who would shoot 37 kindergarteners as soon as look at them.

But you can’t blame schools and parents for being worried.

So now, no doubt, having pumped-up school security will become a budget line item, knocking out old-school things like books and student enrichment.

And we’ll get even more inured to the notion that guards carrying submachine guns, commando-suited SWAT teams (snarling German Shepherds optional) and – now! at last! - safe cloakrooms in classrooms = SECURITY.

The sliding whiteboard starts at $1,850, and each corner partition costs about $5,800. Elementary schools have an average of 25 classrooms, and Burton knows not all school districts can afford his products. For administrators, he says, deciding which schools, or even which classrooms, get the security systems can be a touchy subject.

As in “is a kindergartener’s life worth more than a third-grader’s life” kind of touchy subject. Not to mention as in “is the life of a kindergartener in a leafy suburb right out of a John Hughes movie more valuable than a kindergartener in a run down blue collar exurb” kind of touchy subject.

Because let’s face it, although “Safeboard™ is designed with functionality and cost in mind,” IAC will be catering to well-to-do, albeit paranoid, school districts.

The well-to-do and governments are natural constituencies for IAC.Their core business is armoring expensive vehicles – Mercedes, BMW, Range Rover, Lexus, Cayenne  - so selling into posh local governments should be relatively straightforward.

They’re already polishing up their messaging:

Safeboard is a cost effective solution to protecting those in the classroom.

Giving peace of mind to parents.

No need to worry about losing classroom space. Safeboard is right up against the wall and blends in with the rest of the classroom.

Blending an anti-ballistic wall in with the rest of the classroom is exactly what I do feel the need to worry about.

How can any of us enjoy peace of mind while living in a world where armor-all-ing kindergarten classrooms seems like a reasonable and prudent idea?

On my last day of kindergarten, we all wore party clothes to school, and had some ginchy little ceremony where we all wore mortarboards we’d made out of construction paper. It was a big day: next stop, first grade!

It was a warm late spring afternoon, and we were sitting around in our final semi-circle, basking in the affection of Mrs. Julia B. Hackett, perhaps the finest and kindest kindergarten teacher in the history of mankind. (If our other kindergarten teacher, the crabby Miss Bowen, was there that day, I’m blocking her out.) While we were sitting there in our finest, listening to Mrs. Hackett for the final time, some loud-mouthed young men were walking by Gates Lane School, heading over to Bennett Field to do their loud-mouthed hanging out, and one of them tossed a lit cigar into our classroom. They weren’t the usual suspects – grammar or even high school boys who might think it was a fun idea to harass a bunch of five-year-olds. They were, as we saw when we ran over to the windows to see for ourselves just who would do such a despicable thing, college boys.

Since we were on the second floor, whoever tossed the cigar in must have had a pretty good arm.

But what were they thinking?

Obviously not that the cigar could have hit – and burned (however minimally) – a kid.

Fortunately for all of us, the cigar landed safely in the middle of our story circle,where it sat stinking and smoldering for a few seconds until Mrs. Julia B. Hackett disposed of it

And that, my friends, is how kindergarten should be: the worst that can happen is some lout tossing a smelly cigar your way.

Anti-ballistic whiteboards.

God help us.

Monday, September 16, 2013

“Computer leave”? It’s Greek to me…

I’ll admit it. It’s exceedingly easy to kick a country when it’s down. But in this case, Greece is more of less wearing a “Kick Me” sign.

Not that they’re not trying to do something positive here – they’re planning to eliminate one of the many truly ridiculous bonuses that Greek – in this case government -  employees have long enjoyed.

Yet the admission that they even gave out such a bonus to begin with is yet another reminder of how profoundly wacky the Greek workers’ paradise was.

Here’s the story:

Last week, the Greek government eliminated a bonus that has been in place since the late 1980’s, when computers were first introduced into the workplace in great numbers:

The bonus, known as "computer leave," applied to workers whose job involved sitting in front of a computer for more than five hours a day—basically most of the staff working in ministries and public services.

"It belongs to another era," Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the administrative reform minister, said. "Today, in the era of crisis, we cannot maintain anachronistic privileges." (Source: WSJ Online.)

The reasoning behind this bonus – six extra days off (with pay) – for using a computer. was that those who work on computers are entitled to a 15 minute break every couple of hours. Since it’s not generally possible to take those breaks – even in Greece, I guess – those quarter-hour missed breaks were aggregated into an extra six paid holidays for civil servants who used screens and keyboards while on the job.

If we had this in the private sector, looks like I’d be lining up to collect 180+ vakay days. Sweet!

Yet while working on a computer all day can be a drag -  tired eyes, carpal tunnel – it seems that there are other things that are more hazardous to your mental and physical health.

How about accruing bonus pay for time served sitting through incessant and boring meetings where nothing is accomplished? Even if you subtracted the hours spent in interesting and productive meetings, most everyone I know would end up with plenty of meeting-wasted hours to spare.

Special time off could also have been given based on the number of times someone else took credit for your work. Again, for the sake of fairness, this one should net out those occasions when you may have done a bit of credit-grabbing of your own. (Lesser points taken off when it was a sin of omission – letting someone think you were responsible for something good – vs. a sin of commission, where you explicitly hogged the kudos.)

I think it would have been nice if women got at least one day off a year for having to put up with the “voice as dog whistle” syndrome, in which a suggestion made by a woman is ignored, until it is taken up a couple of minutes later by a man, at which point it is wholeheartedly embraced.

And speaking of women, in Greece, they had previously done away a perk that surely must come under the heading “anachronistic privilege":

It has already limited the pensions that unmarried daughters are allowed to collect when their father dies.

My father died when I was 21. I didn’t get married until I was fifty.

You do the math.

Even a paltry stipend of $100 a month would have added up for may over the years.

And they also:

… scrapped a bonus for showing up to work on time.


I’ve heard of getting your pay docked for clocking in one minute after the whistle blew, but getting paid more to get to work on time?

It must be hell to be there now, but, boy, it must have been a blast being a Greek while the good times were rolling.

I read somewhere else that there was also a bonus given to some workers if they washed their hands regularly.

Perhaps this would be a good one to institute, given how germy the workplace can be, and how careless some folks are when it comes to hand hygiene. (Grossness alert: I was once in a bathroom where, from the sounds of things, a woman took out a used tampon and put in a fresh one, and then walked out without washing her hands.) But can you imagine keeping tabs on it?

I guess you could do it now by having “smart soap dispensers” and “smart faucets” that read your “smart employee badge” and recorded whether you used soap, how long you let the tap run, and how energetically you scrubbed.

The Greeks are surely being punished now by the spectacularly egregious, economically idiotic, sins of their past.

But when you read about bonuses like “computer leave” and the one for showing up on time, it’s no wonder that Germany and the EU sometimes wish they could wash their hands of the entire situation.

Friday, September 13, 2013

And you thought this job was not to be truffled with!

I bag my own groceries (and think I do a better job than the average grape-crushers). I pump my own gas (but would generally prefer to have someone else do the pumping in the sleet and frigid weather – if only there were enough full-service stations around). And in the last year, I’ve learned how to manage the equipment used for tube feeding through the stomach, and how to take down a portable chemo pump when the portable chemo’s done pumping.

It almost goes without saying that toll takers are an EZ-Pass away from obsolescence.

And somewhere in the “developing world” there’s someone brushing up on his English so he can offer to write blog posts and white papers for my clients for 75 cents an hour. (So what if they’ll be poorly written gibberish. It’s the price that counts!)

Except for maybe the Kardashians and LeBron James, no one’s indispensible, no one’s irreplaceable, no one’s secure. If you can work from home on your computer, someone in Bangalore can work from home on his – for a lot less. And if what you’re doing is so unskilled that anyone can do it, e.g., pumping gas and bagging groceries, “they” will find some way to con you into doing it for yourself in the name of efficiency and cost savings (that somehow never get passed on to you).

Oh, what is the world coming to?

Wasn’t it just a few short generations ago that we managed to claw our toothless and rag-garbed way off the dirt floor, up the gangway, onto the coffin ship, and off to Amerikay and middle class respectability? We were on the pig’s back for a while there, but, ah Jayzus, how long can we keep our grip?

Well, if you’re an actual pig, or a pig in the weight class of a hog, and you’ve been pridefully working as a truffle hog, you may not be able to hang onto that job for much longer.

As I saw in a recent Business Week article, man’s best friend is nosing out Wilbur and Babe in the truffle trade:

For centuries, pigs had a virtual lock as the hired noses of the truffle-hunting industry. The aromatic subterranean mushroom has been a delicacy since the Roman Empire, and pigs have been used to hunt them for that long. Swine have sensitive noses that they like sticking in the earth—and like (some) people, they have a taste for truffles. There’s some speculation that truffles contain compounds found in porcine sex hormones, though experimental evidence casts doubt on that explanation for the affinity.

Despite their prodigious truffle-hunting talents, however, pigs have begun losing out to dogs in the labor market, according to a recent story in Modern Farmer.

There are a number of reasons behind this trend.

Dogs have more stamina. Surprisingly – given that hogs are reputed to be so darned smart – dogs are considered easier to train. And, far better, they don’t like truffles, so they’re not apt to scarf down the product.

“…But the real competitive advantage for canines lies in truffle hunting’s furtive nature. Truffle harvesting grounds are carefully kept secrets, with hunters being wildly protective of their turf. “If you have a pig on a leash, everyone knows what you’re doing,” says [Charles] Lefevre [organizer of the annual Oregon Truffle Festival]. But if you spot someone with a pooch on a leash, they could just be enjoying some fresh country air.”

As with so many other outsourcing initiatives, this one is occurring most frequently in the US, where “a small industry has grown up there to train truffle hounds.”

Well, I don’t want to come across as a looks-ist, buLagottot all I can say is, if this is what the average truffle hound looks like, there’s another compelling reason why it’s out with the pig and in with the dog.

That pup is a Lagotto Romagnolo, and the Lagotto is one of the preferred breeds for truffle hunting. (Also, I’m assuming, a preferred breed for out-and-out doggie cuteness.) But other breeds can apply to become truffle hounds, as well.

They may need to, as it seems that some working dogs are being displaced from their traditional profession, i.e., working as seeing-eye dogs.

If you’re thinking they’re being replaced by robot or monkey, think again. There are now miniature horses on the job – with a cautionary emphasis on miniature. 

The Guide Horse Foundation is against the use of riding size horses indoors because of the risk of injury to the horses, the blind handler and the general public. While our research has indicated that Miniature horses make suitable guide animals,  large guide animals of any species can create a hazard for the public when used in an inappropriate setting for an animal of that size.

And, yes, in answer to your question:

A Guide Horse can be housebroken. When they need relief, the horses are trained to paw at the door or make nickering noises.

But they’re really not suited to city-dwelling. Best where they can have a corral to live and (and another horse for a companion).

Sure, the guide horses are plenty cute.

But whether they become truffle hounds, or are cut out of their job as guide dogs, I don’t think dogs have much to worry about, employment-wise. They’re personably, adorable, cuddly, lovable, and can always fall back on their wonderful profession of pet.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Red Planet Mars Awaits

“Listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.”

Well, maybe it’s not a universe, exactly. But Mars is a planet. And it’s apparently a hell of a good planet. Why else would well over 100,000 folks have applied to the Mars One Project for a – bang, zoom – one way trip to the red planet.

The Mars One project wants to colonize the red planet, beginning in 2022. There are financial and practical questions about this venture that haven't been clarified. Will there be enough money? Will people really be able to survive on Mars? But these haven't stopped some 30,000 [later data: 37,000+] Americans from signing up. (Source: CNN.)

My idea of boldly going to where no man (or woman) has gone before is pretty much to stay home and read about it.

Still, I guess you have to admire the spirit of those willing to slip the surly bonds of earth, not to mention the surly bonds of family, friends, jobs, etc. and head off into the Capital U Unknown.

I thought I’d go check out some of the more serious applicants – i.e., the relatively tiny percentage of the 165,000 applicants who were actually willing to plunk down the entry fee (about $38 for Americans – “the price based on the gross domestic product per capita of each nation”; Qataris pay more, Somalis pay less) and submit a video.

There was Knox, a sort of a left-over hippy dude who, at 60, was one of the older folks applying. Knox feels that the trip will be “awesome”, and thinks his “creativity will really get going” on Mars. As someone who “likes getting silly”, he’s the “perfect candidate.”

Cecilia’s a nerd-girl, interested in the science-y aspects of the project.

Matthew, like Knox, thinks his sense of humor will hold him in good stead in the great beyond, but mostly he wants to go to help ensure the survival of humankind.

I’m not sure what the applicant rating system on Mars One is for, but Alexis, and engineering student from Colorado, was one of the few I saw with five stars. She, too, has a wonderful sense of humor – she’s a prankster – but of the videos I viewed, she struck me as the least odd-ball applicant out there.

Charles, yet another good-humored (puns)science guy  had the most polished video of the ones I saw, and he pictures himself in an orange astronaut suit, so he’s ready to go.

Well, I could have spent all day over there looking through videos, if it weren’t for the Bill Walczak for Mayor ads that kept popping up all over the place. (Seriously, Bill. Is this where you want your ad placements?)

Out of the applicants, Mars One said it will select a multicontinental group of 40 astronauts this year. Four of them -- two men and two women -- are set to leave for Mars in September 2022, landing in April 2023.

Adam One, Adam Two, Eve One, Eve Two.

Another multicontinental group of four will be deployed two years later, according to the Mars One plan. None of them will return to Earth.

I bet it will be a relief for the first two Adams and the first two Eves when the next cohort lands. Unless, of course, they’ve been connected to their earthling BFF’s and ‘rents by Skype or their iPhones, which is almost as good as being there.

Also, there’s no mention of pets. I’m sure not interested in moving to any planet where there are no dogs.

The astronauts will undergo a required eight-year training in a secluded location.According to the project site, they will learn how to repair habitat structures, grow vegetables in confined spaces and address "both routine and serious medical issues such as dental upkeep, muscle tears and bone fractures."

The “landers” will each bring food and other supplies (including solar panels) with them, but they’ll be mining their own water from Martian soil, which will also be the source of “oxygen for the breathing atmosphere.”  Over time – centuries – they will “terraform” Mars so that it will more closely resemble Earth.

The jaunt to Mars is, of course, not as riskless (hah!) as it may seem. Radiation exposure is the danger biggie.

In any case, if you haven’t yet applied, you have nothing to fear from Mars-related radiation poisoning, as the window of application opportunity closed on August 31st.

Mars One is now starting the winnowing process:

"We'll select the good ones for Round 2 — this will be the job interview round," Bas Lansdorp, the venture's co-founder and CEO, told NBC News in an email. "There is no fixed upper limit. ... We expect to announce who passes to Round 2 within two or three months, depending on how many people apply in these last 10 days." (Source: NBC News.)

Those who make the first cut will be interviewed “bye local selection committees.”

Mars One says the third round would involve regional-level, reality-TV contests, in which 20 to 40 applicants will participate in the sorts of challenges they might face during a mission to Mars. Think of these televised contests as "American Idol" auditions, but for spaceflight rather than singing. In each region, the audience could select one of the finalists, and Mars One experts would choose the others.

But wait, there’s more:

Round 4 would bring the regional finalists together for preliminary training at a Mars-style habitat on Earth — a facility like the simulated Mars settlements in Utah, Hawaii and the Canadian Arctic. Then there'd be a global reality-TV extravaganza, resulting in the selection of six four-person crews.

Eurovision on steroids! Bet this will be even zanier than the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics. (So why am I channeling The Hunger Games?)

Circle your calendar for 2022, when away you go!

And remember, once you’re there, you can look homeward, angel. But you can’t go home again.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Blinded by the light

The architectural buzz out of London these days surrounds 20 Fenchurch Street, a skyscraper in The City that’s got some folks up in arms, and some things up in flames.walkie-talkie-building

The building, dubbed the Walkie-Talkie because of its resemblance to, well, a Walkie-Talkie, has been reflecting off such intense light that it managed to melt part of of Jaguar parked a few blocks away. (Londoners are quite fond of nicknaming their buildings. The shorter, bullet-shaped building to the left of (facing) the Walkie-Talkie is called the Gherkin.)

The Jaguar’s meltdown – plastic parts turned to soft-serve by the glare, to the tune of $1,500 worth or repair work (it didn’t help that the car was a heat-absorbing black) – was only part of the light show:

There have also been reports of a smouldering bicycle seat, singed fabric and blistered paintwork. (Source: BBC)

Ah, when buildings go bad…

I remember when the Hancock Building – Boston’s tallest – went up. Not only did it create a wind tunnel, but – likely due to the wind tunnel - windows kept popping out. Since people couldn’t yell “Incoming!”, and then duck and cover faHancock Plywoodst enough, the sidewalks around the building were closed. And the hellzapoppin’ windows were boarded over with plywood.

All’s well now, but this was a real mess for a while.

Meanwhile, the Walkie-Talkie – renamed, for the duration, the Walkie-Scorchie – works the same way that the mean kid burning ants with a mirror did:

"Fundamentally it's reflection. If a building creates enough of a curve with a series of flat windows, which act like mirrors, the reflections all converge at one point, focusing and concentrating the light," says Chris Shepherd, from the Institute of Physics.

Fortunately – for Jaguar parkers, at least – the developers can pinpoint where the glare is and close the area off to parking. Which won’t help you out much if your object is more fixed – say, a storefront.

The developers have also noted that the problem is tied to the elevation of the sun in the sky, which will fix itself in a couple of weeks. So it looks like they have until next summer to get the permanent fix in.

The Walkie-Talkie is not the first building to be a scorcher.

In 2003, the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, designed by architect Frank Gehry, hit a similar stumbling block.

"The building was clad from head to toe, right down to the pavement, in stainless steel panels, and they would send the sun dazzling across the sidewalks to hotspots where people were. It was measured up to 60C (140F).

While this is not enough to melt the metal in a car – can you imagine blobs of molten vehicle all over the place? - PVC plastic melts well below that point, and people, while they don’t so easily melt or soften, can get awfully, awfully hot.

"Local people living there complained they were having to crank their air conditioning up to maximum to cool things down," [architectural critic Jonathan Glancey] says…

After computer models and sensor equipment identified the panels causing the problem, they were sanded down to break up the sun's rays.

There’s also a glaring precedent when it comes to the Walkie-Talkie’s architect himself.

Rafael Viñoly, the Uruguayan-born architect who designed the new London building that's now frying eggs across the street because of its intense reflection, is the same architect who designed another notorious "fry-scraper" in Las Vegas years ago.

In 2010, guests of Viñoly's Vdara Hotel and Spa at MGM's Aria began complaining of severe burns from the glare being reflected off the building's facade.

"It felt like I had a chemical burn. I couldn't imagine why my head was burning," the Daily Mail quoted one lawyer as saying. "Within 30 seconds, the back of my legs were burning. My first thought was, 'Jesus, they destroyed the ozone layer!'"

…The Mail went on to report that Viñoly "foresaw the issue with the reflecting sun but thought they had solved it by installing a high-tech film on the south-facing panes of glass," but that an MGM spokesman had conceded the measures fell short. (Source: Business Insider.)

So, Viñoly has had the problem in the past, but made the same/similar mistake again?


Did he figure that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and that the weather in London is a lot cloudier, rainier, and just plain grayer. Seriously, when you think London, nobody really thinks glaring sun.

Still, don’t architects get paid to figure out potential problems and factor that into their designs?

Who pays to rectify this one? The architect? The developers?

A parking ban in the sun spot just won’t cut it as a the solution.

Meanwhile, I saw over on Viñoly’s site that one of his current projects is in Boston, where he’s the architect for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate. It’s going up over at UMass-Boston where the (John F.) KennedyLibrary is located.

I’m not over that way too often, but I’ll have to remember to take my parasol, wear my shades, and slather on the SPF 50 before I go.

Modern architecture can be just so dazzling!


This being 9/11, I didn’t want to let the anniversary glide by unnoted. Here’s a post I wrote a few years back. It still holds.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kopi Luwak: so NOT my cup of coffee

For me, the best part of waking up is decidedly not Folgers in my cup. I may drink about a dozen or so cups of coffee a year, max.

Personally, my hot bev of choice is a tea, which I find good to the very last drop.

And not any of your fancy-schmancy teas either.

Give me a cuppa black tea: Irish Breakfast, English Breakfast, good old orange pekoe. A bit of milk, a bit of sugar: good to go!

Thus, as a non-coffee drinker, I am not apt to go out of my way to spend an exorbitant amount for a any particular brew, even a rarified one like kopi luwak.

Especially after I’ve learned where those coffee beans have been.

To make Kopi Luwak you must, of course, start with high-quality beans. But then you have to feed them to palm civets, wait while they pass through the animals’ guts (having their fleshy exteriors digested as they go) and be ready to collect them when they come out of the other end. The result, when cleaned, fermented, dried, roasted, ground and brewed, sells for as much as $80 a cup. The reason for this apparently ludicrous price is the sublime effect on the beans’ flavour of the chemical reactions they undergo in a civet’s stomach. (Source: The Economist, which you probably already knew from the way they spell flavor.)

In the wild, i.e., on/near the grounds (hah!) of a coffee plantation, it’s actually possible to find civets in their natural habitat voluntarily dropping pellets for the Juan Valdezes of the kopi luwak world to glean for you. But that’s the old school way, old bean. Today’s demand demands factory farming, in which civets are scrunched into small, squalid cages and force fed coffee beans until they die an early death. Which puts kopi luwak right up their with foie gras and veal as a product that makes animals die for our sins of gluttony.

But for coffee snobs, looking down their noses at all those slobs drinking vanilla hazelnut from K-cups, there’s something very special about kopi luwak that makes it worth the cost and the hassle – especially since the hassle is all on the part of the poor civets.

Needless to say, when there’s demand for a scarce and pricey item, fakery will abound.

And that’s what’s happened in the wonderful world of kopi luwak, where it’s been pretty much caveat coffee drinker. With the big caveat that there has been no way to detect whether you’re getting real kopi luwak or fake kopi luwak.

No, up until now, you pretty much had to see the civet defecate for yourself in order to guarantee yourself the distinctive cup of joe that is kopi luwak.

Eiichiro Fukusaki of Osaka University, in Japan, plans to change that. As he describes in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, he and his colleagues in Japan and Indonesia have developed a chemical test which, they believe, can reliably detect essence of civet in coffee.

Just when you thought that the scientists of the world were unwilling or unable to work on truly important projects!

There remains some fear in the kopi luwak community that, over time, counterfeiters will figure out how to use lab chemicals to mimic what goes on in a civet’s gullet. If this were to happen, it would, according to The Economist, have a couple of upsides:

…it would relieve the civets of their onerous task and open up the drinking of Kopi Luwak to mere mortals.

Well, only if legitimate coffee producers got into the game. It wouldn’t actually make counterfeiters turn honest overnight. Of course, the counterfeiters could end up saturating the market with their fakes, which would drive prices down. (Hey, sometimes Economics 101 does come in handy.)

Anyway, I was curious about how kopi luwak came about to begin with.

I mean, ‘he was a bold man who first ate an oyster’ and all that, but who took that first long look at civet scat and thought, ‘hmmmmmm’?

Well, there’s an answer for everything and, as often as not, it’s found on Wikipedia.

The origin of kopi luwak is closely connected with the history of coffee production in Indonesia. In the early 18th century the Dutch established the cash-crop coffee plantations in their colony in the Dutch East Indies islands of Java and Sumatra…During the era of Cultuurstelsel (1830—1870), the Dutch prohibited the native farmers and plantation workers from picking coffee fruits for their own use. Still, the native farmers wanted to have a taste of the famed coffee beverage. Soon, the natives learned that certain species of musang or luwak (Asian Palm Civet) consumed the coffee fruits, yet they left the coffee seeds undigested in their droppings. The natives collected these luwaks' coffee seed droppings, then cleaned, roasted and ground them to make their own coffee beverage.

And because of its rarity, kopi luwak’s popularity took off in some Dutch circles, and eventually spread throughout the world.

True coffee pros apparently don’t think all that highly of kopi luwak, considering it a “gimmick” that’s bought for the story line, rather than for the actual taste.

Personally, if I were going to be willing to spend $80 for a cup of coffee, in which the coffee beans were extracted through what amounts to animal torture (not to mention through that tortured animal’s intestines), I’d at least want it to taste good.

But when it comes to coffee, what do I know?

Coffee is so not my cup of tea.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Caution: meme crossing (Hasselhoff sign edition)

There are some things that are worth dying for. And some things that are even worth killing for.

But in the grand scheme of things, a life-sized cardboard cutout of David Hasselhoff doesn’t seem to meet the threshold for either.

Nonetheless, a Cumberland Farms (New England convenience store chain) clerk in Connecticut chased after a some kids who nicked a couple of signs – part of a Cumby ad campaign for iced coffee, a.k.a., Iced Hoffee – as they attempted to make their getaway. Unclear from the unclear stories whether the clerk was deliberately dragged by the SUV that the evil and reckless sign thieves were driving, icedhoffee-304or whether it was something less nefarious – hand on the door as the SUV sped off, causing the clerk to fall -  but the poor clerk found himself hospitalized in critical condition with brain injuries.  (Despite a falsely promising headline that an arrest had been made, I could find no indication that the SUV driver, who came forward voluntarily to meet with the police, has been arrested. Thus, I’m guessing that the circumstance was more likely the latter than the former.)


Clearly, if the kids in the SUV hadn’t been stealing the Hasselhoff signs, the clerk wouldn’t have fallen and injured himself. And, certainly, all hopes are that the man will fully recover from his injuries. A fall on the noggin severe enough to land you in critical can’t be any fun.

In any case, I’m quite sure that, in pursuing the Hasselhoff sign thieves, the clerk wasn’t thinking about the (non-) value – in real terms. Or about whether it was worthwhile going after a thief to begin with. We are always told, after all, that retail clerks are trained to give it up, and that however much cash is in the register, it isn’t worth their life. And if cash in the register isn’t worth a life, then surely a Hasselhoff sign isn’t either.

The clerk was probably thinking, ‘Damned kids. I just put that sign up.’ (Or maybe he was thinking ‘I’m sick of people stealing stuff. It’s just plain wrong. But at least in the case of a Hasselhoff sign theft, the thief isn’t likely to be armed and dangerous. So I’m going after these a-holes.’)

The clerk has not been identified, so it’s also easy to imagine that he may well be a “foreigner”, who doesn’t get petty-ante, lack of respect pranks like Hasselhoff sign theft. Or get the camp nature of the Hasselhoff iced coffee campaign. Let alone the hold that the continued existence of David Hasselhoff has on the nation’s collective imagination.

Not surprisingly, The Hoff took to social media when he learned of the incident:

“I am shocked & truly saddened about the Cumberland farms store clerk tragedy,” Hasselhoff said in a posting on his official Twitter account. “My heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with him and his family!” (Source: Boston CBS Local.)

By the way, it should be noted that the Shelton, Connecticut sign thieves are by no means the only ones.

Since the ad campaign featuring The Hoff was launched last summer – and an incredibly cheesy (deliberately so, of course) campaign it is -  swiping a Hasselhoff sign from Cumby’s has been memed.

Over five-hundred of the signs have been taken, and this year the store ordered extra ones to have on hand in anticipation that the meme would continue. (Year over year, however, sign theft is down. Time to get a new iced coffee meme going…)

Anyway, is anyone willing to bet against Cumby and their ad agency wanting these signs taken, hoping that all the publicity would raise awareness of Cumberland Farms and sell a few more cups of Iced Hoffee?

Too bad no one explicitly told the store clerk in Shelton to just let it go.


In truth, the Cumby clerk’s injury aside, the widespread theft of the Hasselhoff signs is actually pretty funny. And as kids-will-be-kids goes, it’s essentially pretty harmless.

It’s not like defacing property with graffiti. It’s not like destructive vandalism of the ‘let’s break into the grammar school and trash all the classrooms’ variety.It’s not like drunk driving. Or OD-ing on molly at a concert. Or sharing a gang rape on Instagram. Or bullying. Or slut shaming.

It’s pretty much good clean goofy fun.

Sure, it’s stealing. But,let’s face it, that sign was going to end up in the Cumby dumpster the minute the ad campaign ended.

This is really no big deal.

Perhaps my ethical sensitivities have been dulled by having grown up in an era when every other dorm room had a “No Parking” or “One Way” sign in it.

And there can’t be many folks of my era who didn’t have at least one colored plastic milk crate from a real milk company find its way into their possession. (They were just such an excellent storage container for LP’s, in that long ago time before there were stores specializing in storage containers.)

So I guess this is just a post that says:

  1. I hope the Cumby clerk is okay.
  2. Assuming they meant no harm, I hope not too much legal trouble befalls the Hasselhoff sign thieves.
  3. I can’t say for sure that, if I were 19 years old, I might not think it was pretty darned funny to nick a Hasselhoff sign myself.


Other info source:

Friday, September 06, 2013

Does the oPhone pass the sniff test?

If I were the inventive type which, unfortunately, I am not, I like to think that I’d invent stuff that was useful.

Like something that Pied Pipered the drain flies right out of my bathtub drain and into oblivion.

A telepathic iron unplugger so that, once the flight to Paris has lifted off the ground, I could just think “unplug iron” and the iron would unplug.

How about self-cleaning eyeglasses, so that someone trying to look me in the eye would never, ever, ever see those smudges and smears and think ‘what a slob.’

But I don’t think I’d ever, ever, ever invent a smartphone accessory that emitted a smell.

So I never, ever, ever would have come up with the oPhone.

Then again, I’m not the inventive type. And Harvard Professor David Edwards clearly is:

The current oPhone…is a separate handheld device that is linked to a smartphone via Bluetooth. (Obviously, the long-term vision is to have it integrated into phones, or perhaps designed to be a protective case for the phone.) When triggered by an incoming e-mail, it can emit one of four aromas: espresso, hazelnut, latte, and mocha. "There's a small cartridge inside that has the ability to deliver these micro-odors when it is heated," Edwards says. (Source:

You mean someday I won’t have to be content with just having bespoke ring-tones for everyone on my contact list (which, come to think of it, I’ve been meaning to get around to)? But I’ll be able to have a special micro-odor for everyone as well? Which means if my phone is on silent, I’ll still be able to tell who’s incoming?

Wow-weeeee! What a breakthrough!

You tell me the world hasn’t been waiting for this one…

After all, haven’t we been hoping against hope that someone, somewhere, would come up with the ways and means to inject even more chemicals into the atmosphere?

Think of all the applications:

…like using smell to persuade you to book a spa treatment, or stop by a bakery to grab a fresh baguette.

New car smell to convince you to dump your car. Balsam to get you to buy more Christmas presents. Incense to get you longing for church.

But Edwards has other ideas, too: "You might go to see a movie, and you'd get a cartridge that's synchronized with the movie, and integrates with the drama. It could be relevant in gaming — a scent track you could design for a game or any audio or video program." Edwards is also interested in what you might call therapeutic smells: a unique aroma that helps you fall asleep at night, or makes you less hungry.

Okay. I’ll concede that something that makes you less hungry might be a useful smell to have around. After all, most good smells – think baguette – get you to want to eat more.

But smells integrated with a movie’s drama?

Movies are supposed to smell like stale popcorn and Raisenets, aren’t they?

What else do you need?

I have been to a couple of movies where the theater experience included unplanned special effects, and, to tell you the truth, they were pretty distracting.

My sister Trish and I were at a screening of Mommy Dearest, when some guy came running through the theater, chased by another fellow waving a gun. Unbelievably, Trish and I were among the only people who left the theater, and when we told the guy in the lobby what was going on, he just shrugged. Which might have made sense if the pursuit had been a Joan Crawford look-a-like chasing a Cheryl Crawford look-a-like with a wire hanger.

Then there was the time my friend Mary Beth and I were watching one of the worst movies ever made – Lena Wertmuller’s Swept Away – when the power in the old Exeter Theater went out. Fortunately, we were able to get a rain check, usable for a movie other than Lena Wertmuller’s Swept Away. Talk about an act of God.

And don’t get me going on the screaming infant at the late night showing of The Harder They Come, which my sister Kathleen will no doubt remember.

Personally, between what’s happening on the screen; the impromptu occurrences like the off-screen chase scene avec gun; the smell of stale popcorn; and the boobs in the row behind you who don’t understand that paying money to see a film in a movie theater with a couple of hundred strangers does not entitle you to spend the entirety of show-time prattling in a loud voice to your companion, there’s already quite enough going on without adding some olfactory nonsense.

I do not need the smell of napalm when I’m watching Apocalypse Now, thank you.

Edwards is not all about goofball stuff like the oPhone.

He was a co-founder of a company now known as Civitas Therapeutics, which is developing an inhalable prescription drug for Parkinson's disease.

Which sounds wonderfully useful, and makes a lot more sense than a scent-omitting smartphone.

All I can say is, there’s one question I don’t need or want an answer to, and that’s What will they think of next?