Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dream(liner) On!

A few years back, my friend Sean’s son had a laptop malfunction: the battery blew. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but if that laptop had at the time been in use as a laptop (i.e., perched on someone’s lap), well…that might have hurt.

I thought of this laptop mishap when we began hearing about the Dreamliner battery problems, which first came to notice when a Dreamliner electrical fire at Logan Airport resulted in the plane being grounded. A follow-on incident in another plane a few weeks later, and all of the Dreamliners in operation have had their wheels chocked while Boeing, the FAA, and the NTSB do root cause analysis and figure out the fix.

I really and truly want to like the Dreamliner. It’s more fuel efficient than most planes, which will squeeze some of the guilt out of flying. (Not that I feel guilty about flying. But, given my tremendous capacity for guilt, it’s entirely possible that at some point I might add my couple-of-times-a-year flights to my gilt-edge guilt list.)  And maybe some ticket costs – like that fuel surcharge – can be squeezed out, too.

And then there’s the fact that aircraft are one of the US’s largest exports. Given our unquenchable thirst for i-Whatevers, flat screen TV’s, Nikes, and Halloween costumes made somewhere else, it’s nice to balance up the trade a bit. So Lord knows we want people to keep ordering from Boeing.

And, of course, there’s that wondrous name: The Dreamliner.

Let’s face it, most airplanes are numbers, not names. We fly Boeing 767’s or Airbus A320’s. The last plane with a cool name was the Tri-Star, but we all called it the L1011. Boring, boring, boring.

How much more romantic it is to fly on a Dreamliner.

The very name harkens back to the early days of air travel, when male passengers wore suits and ties, and women passengers kept their hats on (if not their gloves) for the entire flight; when meals were served on real china, even if you weren’t in first class; when you dabbed your mouth with a real linen napkin, even if you weren’t in first class; when the food tasted like food, even if you weren’t in first class; and when stewardesses were also RN’s just in case something untoward happened to a suited or hatted passenger midflight.

In those days, passengers congratulated themselves on making “the crossing” more speedily than on the Queen Mary, and more safely than on the Hindenburg. (“Oh, the humanity.”)

Who wouldn’t want to fly on a Dreamliner, rather than on the typical nightmare-liner, with its cramped seats, fetid toilets, and still half-frozen dinner rolls?

Alas, it may be a while before the Dreamliner is back in operation, as the world tries to determine what went wrong  - and maybe even what Boeing knew, and when did they know it.

For now, of course, the news is being revived that there may have been early-on problems with Boeing’s lithium battery strategy.

In fact, a 787 battery blew its stack during a test in 2006, and burned the lab building down:

The Arizona lab fire showed the challenges facing Boeing’s strategy to safely manage that energy, prevent such a blowout and contain any less serious battery problems.

A single battery connected to prototype equipment exploded, and despite a massive fire-department response the whole building burned down.  (Source: Seattle Times)

Boeing did come up with an approach, which the FAA approved, to make sure that a “catastrophic blowout” wouldn’t happen. But  given the Logan fire and the later emergency landing of a 787 – which I guess should start going by its number alone, until they solve the problem and put the dream back in Dreamliner – is sending Boeing back to the drawing boards.

While there’ve “only” been two battery incidents out of a total of 18,000 actual flights, by airliner standards, that’s way to common. Thus the 787’s remain o the ground.

Meanwhile, Boeing has been (somewhat) downplaying the problem, stating that it has designed the system so that any battery meltdown pretty much contains itself, and that you have to trust that the plane will be A-OK.  According to Boeing VP – and chief engineer on the 787 project – Mike Sinnett:

Boeing’s design solution is to contain that outcome until the combusting battery cell or cells burn out.

“You have to assume that it’s going to go and that it’s going to expend all of its energy…You have to be good with the amount of heat and smoke that’s generated from that event,” he added.

At this point, it does appear that the 787 incidents, while certainly troubling, weren’t of the supremely dangerous variety. So far, it looks like overheated batteries causing small fires versus overcharged batteries exploding.  When that happens, well… Here’s what occurred at that lab in 2006:

During testing of a prototype charging-system design in the 2006 incident, “the battery caught fire, exploded, and Securaplane’s entire administrative building burned to the ground,” according to a summary by the administrative law judge in a related employment lawsuit.

The ruinous fire resisted the initial efforts of two employees with fire extinguishers, and escalated, despite the dispatch of a fleet of fire trucks, to destroy the 10,000-square-foot building.

It reached temperatures of about 1,200 degrees and resulted in losses of millions of dollars.

The cause of the battery explosion was not firmly established. The battery may have been overcharged, and human error in the testing was not ruled out. Indeed, Boeing insists it was an improper test setup.

In any case, it’s not something you want to happen when you’re flying 30,000 feet over the cold, gray Atlantic at night. (It’s not like hitting an iceberg and having a lot of time to fret about who’s getting a seat in one of the too-few lifeboats, but it still probably seems like a long way down when you’re trying to figure out if you’re in a nosedive or going to make a flat-belly landing and water slide into a rubber raft. Maybe planes should start including orchestra renditions of “Nearer My God to Thee” on one of the inflight entertainment channels.)

In the meantime, at Boeing, it’s Dreamliner, errrr, 787 on:

Boeing has little choice but to keep its assembly lines in South Carolina and Washington State running at their normal pace, building five jets a month. A significant slowdown in production, let alone a full shutdown, would be too costly for both Boeing and its suppliers who are counting on making parts for the aircraft….A halt in production or even a slow down would risk crucial suppliers going out of business. "They need to keep the lines running to support the supply chain. They can't do that to suppliers that barely survived the three year delay in producing the first plane," [said Carter Leake, an aerospace analyst with BB&T Capital Markets].(Source: Money-CNN.)

Good to know that the production line goes on, and that the improved fuel economy that the 787 promises has kept airliners from canceling any orders – yet.  Boeing is, of course, hoping that all the investigations will conclude quickly, and that the fix won’t be major. Me, too. (I can dream, can’t I?)

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*And a tip of the jaunty stewardess cap of yore to friend and Pink Slip reader Valerie for alerting me to the 2006 battery problem.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Slicing a banana is so darned hard. If there were only a special tool to help with it.

We’ve been experiencing some heating difficulties of late, Chez Nous.

Living, as we do, in a creaky old building. Having, as we do, twelve-foot ceilings in the living room. Experiencing, as we have been, some truly bitter cold, we’ve been seeing a fair amount of our HVAC service company. (Not to mention revving our electric bill up by blasting all the emergency baseboard heaters.Talk about meter frenzy! Can’t wait to see the January invoice!)

Anyway, when Dylan – our HVAC guy – was by last week, he asked if we’d seen the banana slicer reviews on Amazon.

We had not, but I pranced right over to Amazon to see what there was to say about banana slicers, an item that I was not even aware existed.

Behold the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer, available for a mere $4.29.

Even by the want- and need-creation standards of modern capitalism, a banana slicer certainly stands out as a WTF.

Come on. Cherry pitter, I can see. Pineapple corer, but definitely. Maybe even a special strawberry huller (although, having hulled thousands of strawberries while waitressing at Durgin-Park, I can guarantee that a plain old teaspoon works just fine). But a banana slicer?

Sorry, but I don’t really buy the benefits statements for the Hutzler 571:

  • Faster, safer than using a knife
  • Great for cereal
  • Plastic, dishwasher safe
  • Slice your banana with one quick motion
  • Kids love slicing their own bananas

The argument can perhaps be made that the Hutzler is faster than using a knife, even with the second or two it would take you to position the banana on the slicer. But safer than using a knife? Given that a banana can be sliced with something as dull as a butter-spreader, who’s using a dangerous knife for purposes of cereal prep? In truth, I’ve been known to just break a banana up with my very own fingers!

And is it the Hutzler that’s great for cereal, or the banana itself? (Honestly, marketers…)

Sure, the Hutzler is dishwasher safe, but so’s your average silver-drawer knife. And I’ll just bet that slicing that banana with one quick motion ends up leaving some residue banana on the blades (or strings or whatever they’re called) that’s harder to clean off than any gunk you might get on your knife.

Kids may well love slicing their own bananas, but do they really need a purpose-built slicer to do so? How about introducing your three year old to the culinary arts while teaching self-sufficiency and the multiple uses of the kitchen knife, by letting him slice the banana with a knife that’s the sharps equivalent of those plastic kindergarten scissors.

You might suppose that the Hutzler is a one-off, a novelty act, the only banana slicer out there. But you would be dead wrong:

There is, after all, William Sonoma’s upscale version, available for $9.95, and no doubt making it on to many a bridal registry list.

Families will go bananas over Chef’n Banana Slicerthis clever kitchen tool. Designed to make the kid-friendly fruit more fun than ever, our innovative banana slicer quickly creates thin, uniform slices. Just squeeze the handle!

  • A fun, easy-to-use tool that makes lightning-fast work of slicing bananas.
  • Just squeeze the handle to create 5 thin, uniform slices at a time.
  • Stainless–steel blades guarantee precision slicing.
  • Innovative design ensures safety, protecting fingers from the blades.

Ah, the promise of making “lightning-fast work” out of the oh, so time consuming and arduous task of slicing a banana. Of course, anal compulsives may well be drawn to the concept of “thin, uniform slices,” and the guarantee of “precision slicing.” Personally, I’m not all that concerned with having uniform banana slices. (My admission about occasionally breaking a banana up into pieces by hand may have given my concerns about precision away.)

There’s also the Garden Fresh (that thing over there that doesn’t even look like a banana, but has helpful pics of teeny-tiny bananas on its ends), the Amco (“Serrated edge for starting soft bananas at stem”), the Fox Run (which gives us the quite useful hint about peeling the banana first: “Just place over peeled banana and press down”).

Why, there’s even a YouTube comparison of the Hutzler vs. the Garden Fresh.

The Internet is indeed a wondrous “place”.

Of course, if you really want to go high-end, there’s the dual purpose Kamenstein banana hanger cum slicer, but f41d1LjJ1I2L._AA160_[1]or $18.25. But at that price, you’ve really got to want to hang as well as slice your bananas.

With all these banana slicers on the market, I was perhaps to quick to ask the WTF question. While I know I’m not much in the kitchen, something tells me that if I want to remain a consumer in good standing, I need to start rethinking my strategy of using my mother’s old stamped aluminum fruit bowl to keep my bananas in, and using a kitchen knife (let alone my fingers) as slicers.

I really do need to embrace innovation, seize on a disruptive technology.

(Wonder what I can get for that vintage aluminum fruit bowl on eBay?)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

If I were looking for a high six- low seven-figure job…

Saturday’s Boston Globe had an article by Stan Grossfeld that highlighted the “plight” of former Celtic basketball great Robert Parish, who, like so many folks, is looking for a job. And, as we well know, if you’re closing in on 60, this is especially difficult.

“I want to get the word out,” Parish said. “NBA coach, assistant coach, front office, or television would be fine.’’ (Source: Boston.com)

Well, he got the word out alright…

Among the other words he got out:

Parish, who earned roughly $24 million in 21 years in the NBA, says he needs a job with a substantial six-to-seven-figure salary. “I don’t want to have to start over. I’m not homeless and I’m not penniless, but I need to work.”

Well, I know that no one but no one likes to make a lifestyle change, but seriously folks, no one but no one actually needs a job “with a substantial six-to-seven figure salary.” Insubstantial six figures I can definitely see, especially if you live around here.

And, of course, substantial six is what assistant NBA coaches make, so he’s in the right ballpark, even if he does have scant coaching experience and hasn’t worked for some time. Many NBA coaches and assistant coaches are former players who didn’t have coaching experience before they became coaches, so this isn’t a deal breaker. (Although being 59 without having serious coaching experience behind you probably doesn’t help.)

And it is always wise to begin your job search knowing what salary ballpark you do want to be in. Still, it does seem somewhat unwise to draw this line in the public sand by mentioning it to a reporter, and putting it out there so boldly. One thing to make sure your agent, or the recruiter you’re working with, knows what you’re after. Another thing to air it in an article that will be read by thousands, and commented on by hundreds – mostly negatively, I’m afraid – in that sterling way that anonymous commenters have of turning every article that appears in The Globe into an opportunity to vent political, social, and racial spleen.

But it’s not the money talk that I found so misguided.

Nope, what was most misguided was Parish’s trashing the NBA for not returning his calls, and his former teammates for not jumping all over themselves to help him out.

Parish, it seems, never did much of anything to build his network, and is now doing his best to alienate and piss of the network he never built.

Of particular interest to Celtic fans was his sounding off on Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, who alongside Parish, formed The Big Three that gave the Celtics three championships in the 1980’s.

Anyway, even though they weren’t great buds off the court – Parish was pretty aloof during and after his playing days, and referred to Bird and McHale as “acquaintances” – Parish claims to have reached out to them for help, only to have been snubbed.

Bird says otherwise.

Traveling, he sent a concise text in response to questions from the Globe: “Robert never called me for a job. Period.”

McHale, in keeping with his voluble personality, had more to say:

McHale, for his part, expressed remorse in a voicemail. He said he tried to hire Parish when he was in Minnesota, but “I went back and checked . . . we were actually reducing spots at the time. Then I was let go from Minnesota.”

“I feel terrible about the whole thing, but I just didn’t have a position,’’ McHale said. “I would have loved to have hired Robert if something would’ve came up.”

Having Larry Bird contradict you is not a good thing to have happen if you’re looking for a job in basketball. But being snitty about Kevin McHale is far worse. McHale is not, of course, universally loved – he was way too tough a ballplayer for that – but he pretty much considered an engaging, genuine, funny, and altogether decent guy. And, oh yeah, unlike Bird, he’s still active in basketball (head coach of Houston.) And, oh yeah, his twenty-something daughter died of lupus a couple of months ago. Think twice before you publicly call out this guy.

“In my case, I don’t have any friends,’’ Parish said… “Across the board, most NBA teams do not call back. You need a court order just to get a phone call back from these organizations. I’m not a part of their fraternity.”

Well, Robert, just what do you expect? You’re 59, and you’re just now realizing that, in the real world, you need to be part of a network to find a job, especially when you have a spotty post-player resume?

Parish also took on former teammate, and current president of operations for the Celtic:

“You would think Danny would’ve stepped up and said something,’’ he said. “I think he’s got a little pull with the organization. But I didn’t take it personal. I understood.’’

He then characterized Ainge as “selfish”, because in their playing days, Parish had taken fewer shots to give Ainge more scoring opportunities.

Now Ainge may well be a stunningly selfish a-hole, but if I were looking for a job in basketball, I might not be out there criticizing one of the head guys of a fairly well known franchise.

Throughout the article, Parish keeps claiming that he’s not resentful, not angry, not whining.

“I have never sat here and said those [expletive] didn’t call me back. Not one time. I am very proud of this fact.”

But, errrr, Robert, aren’t you kinda/sorta saying it now?

Meanwhile, the fact is that Parish, who earned $24 million during his career, has had to sell his championship, Hall of Fame, and 50 Greatest Player rings to keep going, which is just pathetic.

I know, I know, by pro athlete standards, $24 million over 21 years is not a great deal of money. (If Parish were playing now, he’d be making that per year, between salary and endorsements.) There are a lot of people with their hands out when you’ve “made it,” and it’s plenty easy to squander a million bucks a year if you’re not careful, which Parish admittedly wasn’t.

But if you’re looking for work, letting yourself get sucked into this sort of interview doesn’t seem to best way to go about it. Of course, excise out the good tidbits, like calling Ainge selfish (my personal favorite), and the story is just another boring saga about yet another sad sack jock who wasn’t able to hold it together.

“People shouldn’t feel sad; they should help me get a job,” said the Hall of Fame center with the deep voice on the other end. “I need a coaching job in the NBA. I’m restless and I need money. ”

Well, Robert, my guess is that most people – beyond a reflexive, human interest, ‘pretty sad to see such a great athlete end up like this’ – won’t feel particularly sad once they’ve finished reading the article and move on to more important concerns.  But I’m guessing that they won’t be helping you get a job, either.

The one possibility, I’m thinking, would be if Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Catholic Guilt Guy, Kevin McHale could find Parish an assistant coaching spot with the Houston Rockets.

But being restless, needing money, wanting a coaching job – and carping about how the “fraternity” isn’t all over themselves reaching out to you – isn’t all that compelling a “hire me” argument.

Sorry, Robert, but this is pretty sad.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Sisterhood Is Powerful

I am not one of those folks who have a warmly sentimental (and largely patronizing) feeling towards nuns. No maudlin Bells of St. Mary’s BS for me. No “isn’t Sister Bertrille cute?” No gutsy Mother Superior holding the carburetor – or whatever that was – the kept the Nazis from hopping into their staff car and going after the Von Trapp family. Not even – as much as I liked the movie – Whoopie Goldberg in Sister Act.

Too much time logged up close and personal with those nuns from the era of Church Triumphant, when I was in school in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Not that they were all psychotics and sadists, completely ill-suited to be around children.

For every crackpot who told a bunch of six year olds who’d put their arms across the aisle to block a boy’s passage back from the blackboard that they were going to reform school, there was one who was kind and pleasant, and maybe even a decent teacher. And I’ve met many, many nuns over the years who were just fabulous people: good, smart, kind, honest, funny, and absolutely driven to do good work.

But back to that first grade teacher – who was by no means an aberration - as if reform school weren’t bad enough on its own, if those bad boys brought lunch, that would be their last meal ever. If not, breakfast was going to be it. So, as if reform school weren’t bad enough on its own, you were going to starve to death. But wait, there’s more! Sister Marie Leo’s capper: “And I hope you kissed your mother goodbye, because you’re never going to see her again.”

So, no, I don’t sentimentalize or hero worship at the altar of the sisterhood.

That said, I will acknowledge that there are plenty of them who actually are on a mission from God. One that doesn’t involve torturing kids, but is about social justice.

Think Nuns on the Bus. Think Sister Helen Prejean of Dead Man Walking. Think Peggy C. from my class in high school, who went “in” and stayed, and has had a long career working with poor refugees.

And now I can also think Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, who was profiled recently in a WSJ blog for her work with women coming out of prison.

What caught The Journal’s interest was Sister Fitzgerald’s business acumen, and how she funds her organization, Hour Children. Sister Fitzgerald is in the thrift store business:

The three thrift stores that Sister Fitzgerald currently operates are filled wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with inventory. Everything from a white baby grand piano to a sheared beaver cape to an armoire believed to be from Brittany is waiting to find a new home.

She’s now in the process of consolidating her stores into a mega-store she’s developing in an abandoned nightclub in the Queens that had been in business for 15 years, making lots of noise and getting into lots of trouble for servicing underage kids. Lots of puking, lots of horns blasting, lots of pissing between parked cars and in doorways.

At one point, my sister Trish lived next door to a bar in Brooklyn, one that catered to bridge and tunnel folks, not yuppies. (Not that yuppies would have been any better, but there was a particular flavor to this crowd.) When the folks spilled out on weekends at closing time, you could always hear some girl sobbing, “Sean, when we gonna get married?. Sean? When?” And some guy screaming, “Mario, I’m gonna eat your fuckin’ heart out.”

So I have a pretty good idea just what this Queens nightclub was like.

“We needed to get rid of four bars, a dance floor and a lot of questionable rooms in the basement,” Sister Fitzgerald said. “I don’t want to know what they did down there.”

And you don’t want to know, Sister. It was most assuredly the devil’s work, lit by strobe lights.

Her stores take care of the furniture and clothing needs of women who’ve just left the prison system, and are now living, reunited with their children, in one of the five transitional houses that Sister Fitzgerald runs.

“The women are released from prison without any clothes. We have anything they want. We have sweaters and suits and coats. At any given time we have 20 strollers. And we have bling,” she says in a conspiratorial whisper. “Everyone wants some bling.”

A few years back, someone spoke to the St. Francis House board about a program SFH was running for recently released prisoners. He told us that when folks are released from the county houses of correction, they’re often released wearing the clothing they were arrested in. So, if they went to jail in July and they’re out in January, they may be left off at the nearest mall wearing shorts and a tee-shirt. St. Francis House sees a lot of ex-cons. And, like Sister Fitzgerald, gives out a lot of clothing. (We take so much for granted: which of my 20 winter sweaters will I wear today, which pair of boots.)

But Sister Fitzgerald has made a business out of her thrift shops, grossing $400K last year, and hoping to double it in 2013 with their new combined digs.

Good for her! A more-than-capable business woman who’s also fighting the good fight.

Sometimes the sisterhood is powerful.

Here’s a link to Hour Children. Donations welcome, I’m quite sure.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Smile and say “Rhino”

Much as I love animals, I don’t think I’ll ever make it to an African game park to bump around in a Range Rover looking at lions, and tigers, and wildebeests – oh, my!

Too far, too hot, too poor, too politically unstable. (Okay, it’s a big continent, but there is an awful lot of instability spread across it. Plus I just read Little Bee, about a Nigerian refugee in Britain…).

So it’s unlikely that I’ll be ordering up a bush hat and sunscreen anytime soon – make that ever. Which means I won’t be staying at the Aloe Ridge Hotel and Nature Reserve anytime soon, either. And I suspect that a lot of travelers, even those far more intrepid than I, are feeling the same way these days.

Not after the park owner doing the honors for a photo op for a couple of tourists suggested that they "stand jo-CHANTAL-BEYER-RHINO-ATTACK-570ust a little bit closer" to those handsome and photogenic rhinos. This is the before shot of Chantal Beyer and her beau.  Didn’t see the after shot, but it involves a goring, collapsed lung, and a couple of broken ribs.  And if South Africans are any where near as litigious as Americans, it will no doubt be Exhibit A in a law suit.

Oh, I’m sure – especially if South Africans are any where near as litigious as Americans – that this couple signed a legal te absolvo before heading out on a photo safari. Still…

What was owner/tour guide Alex Richter thinking when he:

…told a group of visitors to get out of their vehicle to take photos and even encouraged the rhinos to come closer with food. (Source: Huffington Post.)

(Here, rhino, rhino, rhino…)

Okay, I’m guilty of shoddy journalism here. I omitted the word “allegedly” before the word “told.” My bad. This is exactly how cyber-rumors get moving, how folks get convicted in the press, how conspiracy theorists whip themselves into a pet about how President Obama engineered the Newtown Massacre to further some nefarious personal agenda.

But even without “allegedly” fronting for “told”, I haven’t heard anyone contesting the fact the Richter was the shutterbug. and that he was the person in charge.

Ms. Beyer’s is 24, which should be old enough to know that a massive animal sporting a horn is not something you want to snuggle up to. But it’s understandable that she deferred to a wildlife expert. Her uncle was quoted as saying:

'There were quite a few young people on the vehicle and they probably felt they could trust Richter, who was an adult.'

Sheesh. Didn’t these young people ever hear that they’d be better off not trusting anyone over 30?

Meanwhile, Aloe Ridge is playing mum, and the rhino remains number three on the list of species “sighted at close range” that visitors have:

…the ideal opportunity to gameview from a custom built 14 seater open Landrover or any of our Game Vehicles and enjoy the fresh tranquillity of the bush.

Gored by a rhino is not my idea of fresh tranquility. Maybe fresh tranquillity means something else in Afrikaans.

Meanwhile, Aloe Ridge has been getting mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, with one advisor reporting that “baboons [are] running around and threatening to attack people.”

Not that I’d want to take on a baboon, but I’d take my chances bungling in the jungle with a baboon’s fangs before I’d turn my back on a bull rhino running with a sharply pointed object sharply pointed at me.

Gameview on!

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Today’s the 42nd anniversary of my father’s death, who never did and never would have let any of his kids end up gored by a rhino. Not that we had many/any rhinos in Main South Worcester. Just saying. (Still miss you, Dad!)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Outsourcing takes on a new dimension

There’s goldbricking, and then there’s goldbricking. And ‘Bob’, the software developer discovered to have been outsourcing his work to a cut-rate coder in China, will have to go down in the annals of goldbricking as a Top Ten.

For those who missed this exceptionally marvelous story, Andrew Valentine had a recent blog post on a security investigation that Verizon was brought in on during 2012. (Valentine is with Verizon Business/Cybertrust’s Forensics and Investigative Response Team.)

A U.S. tech company hired Verizon to check out some “anomalous activity” they’d detected around an employee who was doing occasional telecommuting.

Many telecommuters access corporate systems through virtual private networks (VPNs), which was how this tech company operated. Somewhere along the line, the company decided it would be prudent to look at the VPN activity logs.

What they found startled and surprised them: an open and active VPN connection from Shenyang, China! As in, this connection was LIVE when they discovered it. (Source: Andrew Valentine/Verizon Security Blog.)

The company was a tad surprised, since they’re a “critical U.S. infrastructure” provider that had NO authorized VPN connections to China. Plus they use a relatively strong (two-factor) authentication protocol (using a token) which, if it had been hacked, would have been a big WOW. Not to mention that they made their discovery that Bob’s credentials were being used from China on a day when Bob happened to be in the office “working.” And, thus, could not have been in China telecommuting.

The company did not initially suspect Bob – Bob, after all, was a trusted employee, the best coder in the building – so they went ahead and hired Verizon’s sleuths to figure out wazzup.

Investigators took a look at Bob’s workstation, figuring they’d find some malware lurking there that, unbeknownst to Bob, was enabling Chinese hackers to get into their systems. Instead:

What we found surprised us – hundreds of .pdf invoices from a third party contractor/developer in (you guessed it) Shenyang, China.

The enterprising Bob was, in fact, outsourcing his own work to a Chinese consulting firm. Their cut? Twenty percent of his six-figure salary. (Bob was also, they theorize, running the same scam for other companies. Nice work if you can get it.)

Bob had sent the consulting firm – via FedEx (when it absolutely, positively, has to be there overnight) – his personal security token so that they could get in and do his work for him, keeping to Bob’s regular 9 to 5 schedule.

Investigators also checked Bob’s browsing history to figure out just what he was doing while his Chinese contractors were doing his coding for him.

Turns out that what old Bob was spending his mornings on was farting around on Reddit and looking at cute kitten videos on YouTube. After a leisurely lunch, he hung out on Ebay for awhile, followed by updates to Facebook and LinkedIn. His capstone activity for the day was sending his boss an e-mail detailing what he’d accomplished during his day. (Presumably, he left out the time spent watching cute kitten videos.)

Since Valentine’s blog post appeared last week, this story has taken off. And a lot of the commentary is lauding Bob for his entrepreneurial spirit, his initiative, his hustle. These sentiments might have some merit, if it weren’t for the fact that Bob sent his credentials – including his physical security token – to folks he didn’t know from Adam, located in a country well-known for technological espionage and the theft of intellectual property. Which are among the reasons why certain organizations are loath to outsource certain jobs there.

If Bob’s company is, indeed, on the ‘critical U.S.  infrastructure provider’, then Bob very likely had agreed to abide by security rules and regulations. He very likely had to sign something.

So he’s no nerd hero, no personal Robin Hood robin hooding for me-myself-and-I. He’s really what you might call your out-and-out cheater pants.

Pretty bad behavior, I’d say.

Not to mention, however smart he was on one level, studip.

Sure, he got away with it for a while, but if he were so clever, he might have been a little more secure about his thieving ways.

Keeping pdf’s of his invoices on his workstation? Wasn’t he aware of Bring Your Own Device?

Bob may well have a future in being a middle-man between tech companies and Chinese code consultants. With the glowing reviews “his” code earned him –best in the building – it’s apparent that he knows how to communicate information and expectations to someone whose second language is English. He sounds like a decent enough project manager, juggling his salaried work with his outsourcing activities.

On the flip side of skills and attributes, there are those cute kitten videos…

Seriously, folks, just how professional and trustworthy is someone who spends half of his morning watching kitties chase string, peek out of oversized teacups, and  look at their reflections in toilet bowls.

The profile of Bob identified him as a 40-something “family man.”

I’m sure the wife was happy that her hubby was bringing in several hundred thousand dollars a year, between his “job” and the other contracts he outsourced.

Maybe she was in cahoots with him, or maybe she just thought he was a good provider, and is more than a tiny bit annoyed that this particular gravy train has dried up. For some reason, I’m reminded of a local incident a few years back. Some Boston parking meter collectors were nabbed for having made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars in quarters over the years. These fellows were living in nice suburban houses that would have been well beyond the economic reach of meter collectors. Plus they were doing their grocery shopping with bags of quarters. One of the wives told a reporter “I just thought he was a good provider.”

Okay, Bob wasn’t bringing home canvas bags full of change. Still…

Meanwhile, there are those kitten videos.

Is that really any way for a grownup to spend his or her day. A few minutes in the morning, maybe a few more in the afternoon if there’s an especially cute one.

Still…

 

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A tip of the goldbrickin’ hat to my sister Trish, who sent this one along to me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

But some things are looking up, career-wise

Yesterday was a bad news blog day, focusing as it did on a set of jobs that will be going bye-bye in the next decade.

Au revoir, correspondence clerk. Fare-thee-well, sewing machine operator.

Today’s more upbeat, more go-go, more world on a string.

I give you, “Eight Emerging Careers for 2013”, courtesy of Monster, a roundup of “bright-outlook occupations” that the US Department of Labor considers emerging.

Forget farmer. That Homer Hayseed stuff is so yesterday. What you want to be these days is a precision agriculture technician, who use GPS and GIS technology to advise farmers on what to plant where, how much to water, and what to do about pesticides. And if you’re not wild about that job title, you can call yourself a precision agronomist or a nutrient management specialist. The pay’s not great – $43K is the median – but most of the jobs are likely located in spots where the cost of living is not quite as high as it is in Manhattan or San Francisco.

Higher up the pay scale, mechatronics engineers make about double that. But unlike a precision agronomist, who gets the satisfaction of seeing a corn stalk push it’s little head-y up, a mechatronics engineer’s job is to decrease the number of jobs there are by figuring out how to automate industrial tasks. (Do they eventually design themselves out of a job by automating mechatronics?)

Maybe it’s just me, but energy broker sounds a bit sketchy. A bit too Enron-ish, perhaps. I’m channeling Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. Still, as long as there’s energy, there’ll probably always be demand for energy brokers, who buy and sell energy at the behest of financial service firms and energy companies.

If you want to work for WalMart – and who doesn’t – go become a logistics analyst. Monitor all that cool RFID tagging technology to figure out whether they need blue sweaters in Pocatello, and/or Furbies in Flagstaff, and how to get them from here to there, by way of letting the supply chain in China know what you want them to gear up for.

If laboring in and for Benton, Arkansas is of limited appeal, biostatisticians student disease patterns, and try to figure out how to make healthcare delivery more efficient. (If you can do that, you’re worth every penny of that $74K median salary.)

Cytogenetic technologists “look for indicators of genetic abnormalities in fetuses and are increasingly studying genetic signatures of various cancers and indicators of genetic diseases.” Which sounds incredibly useful, while also incredibly, mind-numbingly boring, in a kind of fascinating way. (And I will confess to being a tad bit disappointed with this one. I had first thought it said “cryogenic technologist.” Which led me to conclude that enough of the more narcissistic of the Baby Boomers are starting to die, or have come to the realization that dying is actually a possibility, pumping up demand to be quiescently frozen until someone figures out how to re-animate a freeze-dried carcass.)

And speaking of Baby Boomers, our collective aging will spur “demand for products and workplaces that are less physically demanding”. Which will, ergo, create the need for ergonomists (or human factors engineers). For starters, how about a keyboard you can type on incessantly that doesn’t result in your developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Can’t hurt to ask.

If you want to make decent money – median salary is $90K – while doing some good, environmental economists “help protect the environment by determining the economic impact of policy decisions relating to air, water, land and renewable-energy resources.” That’s what the good ones do, anyway. The bad ones help destroy the environment by whoring it up for energy companies.

I might have enjoyed being a logistics analyst, an ergonomist, an environmental economist (of the non-whoring variety). But nothing here to make me regret my career choice. Now if short-story writer had been on the list of jobs of and with a future. Where do I sign up?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

More buggy whips, please, sir.

Thanks to Monster, we now know what jobs died  during 2012.

I suspect that rumors of their demise have been if not greatly, then at least moderately, exaggerated. Old jobs really don’t tend to die, they just fade away.  (Actually, although the article’s titled mentioned job death and dying, it focuses on those jobs that are on their way to obsolescence.)

At any rate – or at least at the minimum wage rate - it was interesting to glance through the Monster list to see what jobs, based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast of substantial negative growth over this decade, are going to be the buggy whip makers of the near future.

If you’ve been dreaming your entire life of becoming a sewing machine operator, you’re pretty much out of luck.

Forget about ‘looking for the union label.’ It’s not even worth bothering to look for the ‘Made in the USA’ label.

While this is not good news if being a garment worker is one of the few job options open to you, it is not something that I ever would have been good at. I do, vaguely, know how to operate a sewing machine. But even under a complete lack of piece-work pressure, the one and only item I ever sewed – a hideous shift-dress/nightgown, cream background, with green and purple calico cats on it – ended up with a crooked yoke. It only looked even if I dipped one shoulder. I was in 6th or 7th grade, but my hopes of becoming a seamstress were dashed. I never went back to it. (Interesting, one of my fears was always that I would end up with my thumb impaled on the needle. Which was precisely what happened, many years later, to my sister Trish, when she was making a very nice blue plaid wool jacket for me. Sorry, Trish. Once you got back from the hospital and made your recovery, the jacket really turned out nicely.)

You’re also out of luck if you wanted to be Ernestine the Operator. No more one-ringy-dingy for you, my dear. The telephone operator profession is going down. Good-bye, Central.

I was actually a bit surprised to find desktop publishing on the soon-to-be-defunct list. No, it’s not a job I’ve heard mentioned in, oh, ten or fifteen years. And I know there are all sorts of templates out there that even the most amateur of designers can tap into. Still, I would have thought there was some demand for folks who can pull together a decent looking PowerPoint preso or a pdf. Which I guess is the case. While the end of print is translating into the end of desktop publishing, there is demand for graphic designers and Web designers. (I could, in fact, use one for my blog. And, beyond my modest needs, if you can learn how to do infographics, you’ve got a rosy future.) But there aren’t too many businesses any more who wants a nifty print newsletter.

Correspondence clerk is on the decline, but I would have thought it was dead already. Correspondence clerk? This sounds like a job held for the likes of Bob Cratchit or Bartleby the Scrivener. In any case, we’re all our own correspondence clerks these days, aren’t we? Better to spend your time learning to be a digital archivist than making sure you’ve got the alphabet straight, which you should have pretty much down by the time you’re in kindergarten. (Other than dithering about whether  “Mc” comes at the beginning of the “M’s” or not.)

Typist/word processor is also getting buggy whipped. The argument is that, these days, everyone learns how to type. But there’s typing and then there’s typing. And if you’re not touch-typing, you’re not typing-typing. You’re hunting and pecking. I may never have become a complete w.p.m. maven, but I’m a reasonably accurate touch typist, and I am ever so happy that I took a typing course between my freshman and sophomore years in high school. (My only foray into the Worcester Public Schools, beyond my kindergarten year at Gates Lane, where I mastered the alphabet and learned how to shake cream into butter.)

The final item on the about-to-be-lost job list is motion picture projectionist. Another job that has been digitized out of existence. I suppose there are some vintage film houses that still go reel to reel, but mostly…

Anyway, if you’re about to start a job search, and you think it might be cool to be a correspondence clerk or motion picture projectionist, better find yourself a way-back machine. You might as well be looking for job on the buggy-whip assembly line.

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Source: Monster, via a tip from my sister Kath who, along with my mother and sister Trish, was a good seamstress.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bottom feeders. (Have I got a used car for you…)

A crisis event tends to bring out the best in some of the people, some of the time. Thus, we hear the post-Sandy stories of heroism, selflessness, drop-everything-and-go-help-ism.

Everyone, of course, can’t be a best-y, but a crisis event does manage to bring out the good in some of the other people, some of the time. Thus, we have all the folks texting ten bucks to the Red Cross after they hear The Boss or Jon Bon Jovi dedicate a song to the Jersey Shore and ask for money.

And a crisis event, unfortunately but quite naturally, also manages to bring out the worst, the complete POS-iness in some of the people, some of the time.

For nomination to this latter fine category, I give you the used car dealers who are deliberately and knowingly selling cars that were totaled in the floods after Hurricane Sandy.

At a recent Mannheim auction, a lot of Sandy’s vehicular victims – drained of saltwater, buffed up a bit, folks were snapping up damaged goods.

Some were to be dismantled into salvageable parts, like wheels and fenders; some were to be melted down for their rubber and steel. And yet, while all have titles branding them flood cars, not all were destined for the scrap heap.

Many were headed to out-of-state resale markets where, because of inconsistencies in state laws, buyers will have no inkling that the vehicles were so damaged by floodwater that insurance companies deemed them a total loss.  (Source: NY Times.)

And while it won’t be directly by Mannheim – see no evil, hear no evil - those buyers will be steamrolled. Those cars might look okay. If you lick the upholstery, you may not taste salt, but sitting in a saline solution is not healthy for cars. Especially now that cars are so full of electronics. Salt water may be good for making salt water taffy, but when it’s in your car, it ends up corroding its innards. But while the engine may turn over, and the car may run sort of okay, in the long run, the autos may turn out to be, if not unsafe at any speed, then complete lemons, This will give their owners even more and worse problems than those that often accompany used cars.

It all starts out on the up and up.

Your insurance agent swoops in, declares the car a total loss, and writes you a check. From the water-logged car owner’s perspective, it’s all good (especially if they had full replacement cost insurance). Sure, they may have lost the glow-in-the-dark safety triangle and flare they had in the trunk. That AAA triptych of their cross-country road trip may no longer be usable. And those power bars kept for the just in case emergency, like getting stranded on a highway during a blizzard, now belong to the ages. But, other than those little car-owner losses, so far, so good.

At this point, the insurance company brings in an outfit that specializes in reselling the damaged goods. This is a serious business. One of the specialists even:

…employs people to study weather forecasts and predict where the next disaster will be.

Once they luck out and disaster strikes, they clean up the cars and sell them at auction (which is where most used cars that end up on the lots with the little plastic pennants come from).

Cars that had sustained storm damage can arrive at auction branded improperly, or have their titles fudged after they leave. In most states, cars destroyed by flooding are required to have their titles marked, or branded, to indicate that fact. But clearing that scarlet letter can be as easy as re-registering for a title in another state that does not require the flood brand carry-over, a process known as “title washing.” Unscrupulous dealers pile their purchases on flatbeds and head straight for those states, like Colorado and Vermont.

So the fear is that thousands of title-washed cars will be entering the market. States, the National Automobile Dealers Associates, and outfits like CarFax, are starting to issue warnings.

If you’re in the market for a used car, you really want to know where that Vehicle Identification Number’s been. Be very suspicious of a car that’s lived in the Garden State or on Staten Island. And just to be on the safe side, give any car you’re considering buying a lick test. Those who have spruced up the cars have no doubt wiped down the dashboard and the pleather seats. But they may not have cleansed the insides of, say, the glove compartment. So wet your pointer, swipe it across the inside surface of that glove compartment, and give it a tiny little lick with the tip of your tongue.

Remind you of a pretzel?

Run, don’t walk, to another used car lot and start over – maybe ask to see a car that grew up in New Mexico.

Duping people into buying a title-washed car that they think’s okay? It’s enough to give the used car business a bad name.

Oh, wait a minute…

Friday, January 18, 2013

Ah, the old kill your kid’s avatar trick

When my sister Trish decided that it was time for her daughter to put away childish things, she resorted to a bit of good, old-fashioned bribery.  Figuring that 3 was old enough to give up the binky lifestyle, Trish let Molly know that, if she left her collection of binkies out for the Easter Bunny, he’d leave a present for her.

Present time?

Molly was so there.

All went well. The only blip – a minor one – occurred a few weeks later when Molly asker her mother, “Hey, what happened to my binkies?”

But Miss M got over that pretty quickly, and has now been binky-free for 13 years.

Sometimes, however, it’s more difficult to get your offspring to grow the f up.

As has been the experience of one Chinese father trying to get his slacker  son up off the couch and into the workforce.

Xiao Feng is 23, and – at least in the view of his old man – addicted to online role-playing games, which is apparently this generation’s version of long hair, guitar, and bong.

And after he [Feng the son] failed to complete a placement at a software development company, his father stepped up his campaign to lift his son's eyes from his computer screen once and for all. (Source: HuffPo.)

Rather than cancel the family Internet access, or send his son off to addiction camp – imagine how much fun that must be in China: shades of the Red Guard re-educating all those folks who must have been subversive brainiacs because they wore glasses – Feng Senior decided to fight fire (power) with fire (power).

So he found some players who were at higher achievement levels in his son’s favorite games, and hired them to take out his son’s avatars – just snuff them out immediately when Feng Junior logged on.

The idea was that his son would get so bored of being relentlessly killed, that he would eventually give up.

But I guess you should never underestimate the perseverance of an addicted game-boy.

Feng Junior flipped his father the Chinese equivalent of the bird, and told him he wasn’t interested in settling. He was looking for the perfect fit.

The son told his dad that he wasn't looking for "any job, I want to take some time to find one that suits me".

This was enough for Feng Senior to have the online assassins stand down, but I think he may have given up on the pressure a bit too soon.

On the one hand, folks should look for a job that “suits” them. When the job doesn’t fit, you pretty much know it immediately. And it can make you profoundly miserable to stay in it.

On the other hand, you can learn an awful lot in a terrible job. How to get along with jerks. How to find ways to do something interesting and – dare I say it – meaningful with your day. How to ferret out the good guys. And, perhaps most important, how to crystalize in your own little mind just what kind of outfit would be your ideal workplace.

And even in the most god-awful job is seldom so irredeemably bad that you won’t have an occasional laugh or to.

Maybe Feng Junior figured this all out at the software company that he couldn’t quite hack.

Or maybe he’s just a spoiled brat who’d just as soon lump around the house all day online gaming, as opposed to slogging away at some boring job.

One thing I will say about working: nothing makes you focus on making the best of a bad job situation and/or finding a job you like better than knowing that you have to pay your bills.

Maybe it’s time for Feng Senior to switch to Plan B and start charging the kid rent. Or, at minimum, an access fee.

Game on, Feng Senior, game on.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gadgets! Gizmos! Sheer, unadulterated nonsense! The Consumer Electronics Show had it all…

The only thing I’ve ever been an “early adopter” of was the New Beetle. That, of course, was because I hadn’t been an adopter at all of the Old Beetle, and always regretted it. I had ridden in them. I’d driven them. Id’ admired them. But I’d never owned one, which I always felt made me something of a lesser-order Baby Boomer. (As a car owner, I’ve been something of a Baby Boomer and American-love-affair-with-the-automobile failure. I was well into my thirties before I owned my first car – a 1981 rust bucket Civic – and have only had two cars since, including the aforementioned New Beetle. At present, I am car-less, and there is certainly a high probability that I will never own another car in my life. Here’s hoping, anyway.)

Early adopter of anything to do with technology? Not me! Second wave only… For tablets, well, the iPad’s on my to-do list, but I may have already missed the second wave – at least I feel that way when I get e-mails from some of the least techie of my friends that come with the signature “sent from my iPad.” 

And I suppose I’m spending enough time fretting over whether my next laptop is a laptop or a super-tablet that looks as cool as a tablet but has all the nerd business functionality I need for my work to put me line to become a second-wave super-tablet adopter.

At any rate, I do enjoy taking a glance or two at the wares on display at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. (This year’s edition was held last week in Las Vegas.)

Not that I have to worry about potty training, but does the world really need an iPad connected to a potty chair (or is it a potty iPottychair connected to an iPad)? And not that I haven’t been known to read on the pot, but holding a book or a magazine seems to me at some remove than having a hands-on iPad experience with the same hands that, well…We’re talking little guys here. Little guys who, in fact, may not consider things like pee and poo gross when they come into contact with their little fingers.

And electronics, we are told, are complete germ carriers, that need to be regularly sanitized. I’ve never heard that about a book. So I'm not a huge proponent of electronics in the toilet-place. Can’t you just give your toddler a physical copy of One Fish, Two Fish or The Tawny, Scrawny Lion? Or just sit there with him and have a bonding and affirmation experience?

On the other end of the how-a-mouthful-becomes-a-dump spectrum, there’s the HapiFork, which promotes a healthier approach to eating for those who bolt their food. The HapiFork does so by vibrating if you don’t take at least 10 seconds between bites. As a gulp-and-go gal myself, I think I’d get used to a small vibration pretty darned quickly. This product would work better for most, I suspect, if it gave you an electric shock. Or if it whipped out of your hand and put the food back on your plate. Or said, out loud, “You’re eating like a pig.” In any case, that name HapiFork is something of a misnomer. HapiFork? Says who? A HapiFork wouldn’t be reminding me that I’m wolfing my food down…(Not to mention that the picture of the HapiFork shows the inventor eating raw veggies with it. Do you really need to slow your eating down if it’s carrot sticks and celery?)

This item,which looks like something designed for a paraplegic, is the uChair, a reclining chair with half a keyboard in each of its armrests. As a carpal tunnel sufferer, this sure looks like it would help relieve wrist strain. On the other hand, it also looks like it might well cause brain strain. For those of us used to a keyboard of a certain size, how easy would it be to retrain your typing fingers so that, at such great remove, your left hand knew what your right hand was doing. With the footrest, you can take care of functions like carriage return. More brain strain. It reminds me of a one man band: foot pedal to thump the drum, harmonica on a brace around your head, using your hands to play the accordion. Too much going on… Plus it’s ugly. And weird. Carpal tunnel aside, I’ll take a pass.

For those who thought that watches were going the way of the spat and the puttee, there’s a new smart watch:

On the surface, the Pebble seems to be your standard smart timepiece. It syncs to phones, either Android or iOS, to display incoming messages and caller information. What sets this device apart, though, are its powerful and flexible software skills and stunning good looks. For instance you'll be able to configure the device via the cloud and have custom alerts pushed to the watch.

Let me get this straight: your smartphone now needs a companion device of its own, for when you don’t want to have to take it out of your pocket to check the time or your text messages. O-kay…

And girls, don’t let your husbands know that Samsung’s come out with a 110-inch TV screen that would do a multiplex theater proud.

What else was there out there?

Sorry. Need to know basis only.

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Info sources:  c/net and, errrrr, c/net.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Just when you think there’s nothing to look forward to, a photo of Princess Di goes on the auction block

Even when they’re not particularly long and dreary, New England winters tend to be pretty darned long and dreary. And January, expected thaw aside, is just one big, gaping, 31 day drag. There’s just no way you can X off those days fast enough to get you through to February when there’s all kinds of good stuff like Groundhog Day, the evening’s staying light later, and the odd crocus peeping it’s little headie out.

And then comes the decidedly marvelous news that, later this week, a couple of photos of Lady Di are going to be auctioned off.

There’s this one of the pre-glam Diana chillin’ with a pal at just about the time that her engagement to Prince Charles was made public. This is from the time when she was just plain, old vanilla Diana Spencer, step-granddaughter of the far more famous Barbara Cartland, who wrote all those ghastly romance novels that looked reality-based next to the Diana-Charles “fairytale”. The extra good news for those who have perhaps been priced out of the Diana memorabilia market, the minimum bid for this photo is a mere $200.


                     
              This image provided by RR Auction shows a photograph marked "not to be published" of a teenage Diana Spencer before she became Princess of Wales, with a young friend seated beside her. The print will be featured in a January 2013 auction in New Hampshire. Stamped February 1981 on the back, the photo was taken around the time Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer ended months of speculation and announced they were to be married. (AP Photo/RR Auction)

Fast forward a few years, and here’s our girl more coiffed, dyed, and made up – and sporting that definite late-1980’s look – looking mighty pensive. Perhaps because she’s attending a marriage click to enlargeconflict resolution seminar. It must have been part of HRH’s royal duties, because the minimum bid for this is only $100. Surely, if the marriage conflict resolution were her own, personal marriage conflict resolution seminar, and that arm belonged to the very Prince of Wales, sitting there wishing he were Camilla’s tampon, or whatever wishful thinking he used to engage in, this snap would demand more than $100.

(Years ago, a non-profit I’m involved with was given a donation of a Princess Di gown. Visions of big bucks danced in our heads but, alas, we got about one-third of what we’d fantasized getting. Can’t remember whether it was before or after Diana’s death, but the value wasn’t all that great, mainly because she had an awful lot of gowns, and ours hadn’t been used for any spectacular occasion.)

Anyway, I’m wondering just who would be willing to pay $100 or $200 for a photograph that they could, well, just print off this blog and frame up for themselves. I mean, it’s not as if it’s an original Matthew Brady shot of dead Union soldiers. Or an Alfred Stieglitz shot of Paris.

But you never know.

If I remember to look it up, I will be interested in seeing how much these snapshots go for.

RR Action, up in Amherst NH, is doing the honors on the Di pic sale, and it’s definitely worth looking at the other stuff they have on offer.

Good stuff like a tube of juice that Yuri Gagarin took into space.

And signed calling cards of famous folks like Thomas Edison, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Gago Coutinho.

Gago Coutinho, you may be asking yourself:

Aviation pioneer (1869–1959) who was the first to cross the South Atlantic Ocean by air in 1922. Original personal calling card bearing Coutinho’s name, 3.5 x 2, signed in fountain pen, “Gago Coutinho,” and dated October 1931. In fine condition.

Then there are all sorts of photos being auctioned off, including a handful of shots of “Hippies” (minimum bid for 20 snaps: $200).

Groovy!

I will say that all this is just the kind of crap that, if I stumbled across it in a junk antique shop, I’d completely scoop up for a few bucks, tuck it somewhere, and, when I stumbled across it a few years later, I’d be scratching my head wondering why and what.

Interesting stuff, nonetheless.

Bid away on those Diana photos…

 

Source for article on auction: Boston.com

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cloney boy, cloney boy, won’t you be my cloney boy

There is way, way, way TMI out there, and keeping up with all the mission-critical (at least for a blogger) topics out there could easily become a full-time job in and of itself. Just not enough hours in the day.

Thus, I hope I can be forgiven that I’ve, up until now, missed out on the fact that there’s a tremendous new business emerging, one that will impact those of us who live, breathe and die by what up with the Sport of Kings.

I am writing, of course, about the cloning of polo ponies, which will take the guess work out of breeding and ensure that we the fans, not to mention fine polo-playing chaps like Charles, William, and Harry, will have continued access to the finest finest finest of mounts mounts mounts.

Anyway, thanks to the ever-wonderful Economist, I’m now in the know on polo pony cloning, and, as ever with Pink Slip, I am committed to sharing this wealth of knowledge.

In 2010 the world’s first cloned polo pony was born. The technique has since caught fire in Argentina, the global capital of professional polo. Adolfo Cambiaso, probably the world’s best player, has teamed up with Alan Meeker of Crestview Genetics, a Texan firm, to clone eight of his mounts.

Cloned ponies don’t come cheap, in a world where best of breed can run you $200 K,

A three-month-old clone of Mr Cambiaso’s Cuartetera fetched $800,000 at auction in Buenos Aires—the most expensive sale in polo history.

Just how successful the cloney ponies will be once they’re out there in the heat of a chukker remains to be seen – polo ponies don’t join the team until they’re five years old. But this will be an interesting test of whether nature really does trump nurture. But breeding, as we all know, counts. As, presumably, does cloning.

Anyway, while $800 K for a chip off the old Cuartetera block seemed pricey enough, its owner was offered a cool $2 Million for a chip off the chip off the old block.

However, Crestview – which has partnered with Cuartetera II’s owner -  doesn’t want to debase the currency.  One polo playing clone per original.

Instead they will channel some clones to competition, and sell the ovules and sperm of others to breeders. “The idea is not to have games where four Cuarteteras are playing four Cuarteteras,” insists Mr Meeker.

Other cloning factories may not share these scruples. One polo player is looking for 100 clones of his trusty steed.

In any case, business for polo pony cloners has been brisk. Crestview competitor Kheiron has a backlog, and is “booked solid” for another year and a half.

Nice to learn that some businesses – i.e., the ones that cater to those who aren’t harmed by the types of recessions that plague those poor slobs in the lower orders – are bad-economy proof.

Crestview, by the by, is somewhat circumspect about their biz.  Not much on their website. No pop-ups that scream “We Clone Ponies”. There is a mention of “state-of-the-art biotechnological reproduction processes.”  And the more marketing-oriented caption about “breathing new life into the legacy of legendary horses.”’

Kheiron is a bit more upfront about what they do. They’re all about the horse cloning, and make no bones about it.  They want to “narrow the nature vs. nurture equation” (sounds good, if you don’t try to think too hard about what narrowing and equation actually means).  And, as they point out, cloning allows the neutered “who otherwise would never have passed on his superior genetic” to become play-ahs. (Male polo ponies are typically castrati.)

Personally, if polo players want to bring a string of clones to the next game, they are welcome to do so. I’ve mallets towards none. But all this cloning kind of takes the kismet out of seeing what happens when ovules and sperm collide, even when it’s all carefully planned out by the breeder. (Yikes: it’s a redhead!)

Meanwhile, for readers who do not share my background, in which my siblings and I were out polo playing when the other kids in the neighborhood were wasting their time on Hide-and-Seek, Statue Man, and D-O-N-K-E-Y, I offer you this abstract from a nifty FAQ provided by Polo101.

  • They’re ponies, not horses, because “a horse that is fifty-eight inches or less is considered a pony.” There’s no height rule in polo, but smaller = faster = better.
  • Polo ponies must “love the game.”
  • One reason they must “love the game” is that it’s exhausting. All that running around… Which is why most ponies don’t play an entire game, but are rested. Which means that you need more than one polo pony. Thus the Sport of Kings…
  • White pants are worn because that’s the way they roll  in India, where the game was invented, and where it’s hot. Thus the white. (It goes without saying that polo gets a dispensation from the ultra-important rule that white pants may not be worn before Memorial Day and after Labor Day.)
  • As I obviously know from my early polo days in Worcester, at halftime, spectators are welcome onto the playing field to stomp the divots back in. (This wasn’t always the case: groundskeepers used to do this. But, as we are well aware from having to pump our own gas and bag our own groceries, if you can get someone to do it for free, well, that price is right.)
  • There are no left-handed polo players. (Just think of: “the panic you’d feel in that situation is just what a right-handed polo player feels when he and a lefty approach the ball from opposite directions.”) Fortunately, I’m a righty, so this didn’t impede me in the least.
  • Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, polo is unlikely to be a widely televised sport. (Don’t go making the snide assumption that this is because no one gives a cloned pony’s arse about polo. After all, arm wrestling matches are sometimes televised…)
  • The ponies might be short, but the games can run long. The record is held by a 2010 game in South Carolina in which a game involving over 50 players and 200 ponies lasted 8 hours. The team sponsored by Land Rover won. After which they no doubt went off for a fun evening waxing their Barbour jackets and sipping Pimm’s Cups. Which is what we used to do at my house after a hard-fought game.

Anyway, if any of the polo cloning outfits go public, you might want in. (You heard it here.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Rex Trailer: Gone to the Boomtown in the Sky

When the news broke on Friday, I’m guessing that, roughly 90% of the “kids” who grew up in the Boston-area, and had the TV on at all, at all, between 1956 and 1974, immediately burst into the Boomtown theme song.  What else was there to do when you heard that the star of the show, Rex Trailer, had died?

For those who grew up elsewhere, and were exposed to their own local kiddie shows, Rex Trailer was a genial “cowboy” who twirled his lasso, showed Popeye cartoons, joshed with his sidekick, did tricks with his horse Goldrush, and was always kind to the kids in the audience.  Think Mr. Rogers in fringed buckskin and a cowboy hat. (Yikes: look at that picture! Can you imagine a kid show of today – if they had them – in which the star did gun tricks? I can’t either, unless the NRA sponsored it.)

For my era, Rex’s sidekick was Pablo, a “Si, SeƱor” character, played by Richard Kilbride. As one can imagine, a stock Mexican played by someone named Kilbride may not have been the most PC character in the history of TV, but, hey, it was the 1950’s. For all we knew, all Mexicans wore serapes, were kind of dopey, and sounded like Jose Jimenez. Kilbride, as I recall, died of leukemia and was replaced by Sgt. Billy, I think. (Not entirely sure: I had outgrown Boomtown by then, and only watched on occasion with my younger sibs.)

Rex Trailer was one of many local kids’ shows, a genre that I don’t believe exists any longer.

Rex was the second most notable.

For my cohort – the first wave Baby Boomers – the Number One position was held by Big Brother Bob Emery, a ukulele playing old fart who was reputed to hate kids. Years before we speculated on what the scandalous words to Louis, Louis might be, we traded rumors on what Big Brother Bob may  (or may not – the story might be apocryphal) have said to the kids when he thought the cameras had stopped rolling.  The consensus: “Get these g.d. brats out of here.”

On the plus side, Big Brother had two excellent theme songs: The Grass Is Always Greener in The Other Fellow’s Yard, and So Long, Small Fry” He also showed nature films, one of which featured “The Huggable Potto,” which became the nickname for “our” new baby, my sister Trish, originally known as Potto, and later shortened to Po.

Big Brother – great name, no? – also ran what was known as a Curlicue Contest. He’d show a squiggle on the screen, and ask kids to send in a drawing that incorporated the squiggle. A picture I submitted – of a man in a wheel chair – won me a prize: a Huckleberry Hound Carbon Copy Kit (which featured colored carbon paper). Which was more than I got from Miss Frances of Ding Dong School. I sent her my greatest oeuvre -  bunny in clover – hoping that she’d display it on her show and give me a shout out. I legged it home every day from kindergarten to ask my mother – who would have watched the show with my brother Tom – whether my picture had been on. Alas, the answer was always no. (Maybe they missed the show where it appeared…)

So Rex came in Number Two, in my book, although for sheer exuberant, off-the-wall craziness (as opposed to dull earnestness), Major Mudd the astronaut should take the second, if not the first, position in my kid show pantheon. Just how anarchic was Major Mudd? Let’s just say he showed The Stooges.

I also liked Salty Brine, who wore a sea captain hat and sat around in a fisherman’s shack, and had and showed Jasper Jinx cartoons.

Occasionally, when the rabbit ears were on full tilt and there was nothing else on, we’d pick up Uncle Al (What a Pal) from a low-watt New Hampshire TV station. Uncle Al wore a striped jacket and played the accordion.

And speaking of rabbit ears, there was a “woman’s show” hosted by Louise Morgan on in the early afternoon. My mother was not much of a daytime TV watcher, but she would let us put Louise on if we begged. Not that we wanted to listen to Louise, who – to kids at least – was ultra-boring. The only interesting thing about her was her smoker-voice Yankee drawl. But she did on occasion show a Crusader Rabbit cartoon. Not often enough, but still we were always hopeful.

Willie Whistle was perhaps the worst. Not only was he a clown, but he didn’t speak in a normal voice, but through a whistle. Unfunny and annoying is a potent combination.

Boston also had its own franchised versions of Bozo – “how would you like to be Butch for the day? -  and Romper Room, too.  Ours had Miss Jean.

It was certainly a kinder, gentler time. (As long as you were a white middle class kid, anyway.)

Meanwhile, Rex Trailer has, sigh, gone on to the Boomtown in the Sky, where he’ll be reunited with Pablo and Goldrush.

Truly, he had a reputation as a genuinely nice guy – good to the kids in the live audience, lots of work with Down kids, etc. One of my grammar school friends got to meet him – as I remember, Rex’s horse trailer had broken down, and her father had stopped to help him (or their car had broken down, and Rex stopped to help them). Her family’s verdict (however tempered by how star struck my friend would certainly have been) was that he was a very nice man.

Anyhow, Rex died last week, at 84, so he had a good run. One more piece of the past that’s gone.

Come along, folks, we’re glad to meet you in Boom! Boom! Boomtown!

So long, Rex.

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A tip of the cowboy hat to my cousin Mary Beth, who e-mailed me the news from her iPhone. Her message:

Us cowpokes are sad in "Boom Boom Boomtown"!!!

Yes, we are.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Today, in tribute to Formal Friday, I’m wearing a suit

My career was in high tech, and from the outset, in the early 1980’s, the dress code was generally business casual. Suits were for client calls or client visits.  (And, of course, for job interviews.)The rest of the week was, for women, dress and jacket or skirt and jacket. Maybe slacks and a nice sweater.

Over time, things became more casual: jeans okay on Friday; then mostly jeans okay anytime. I was never a huge jeans-at-work person, but occasionally I did go fully cas.

My second job out of B-school was with Wang, and that was pretty much all suit, all the time for folks in product management and marketing. Very nice separates were okay, and very nice slacks with a very nice sweater on a Friday were okay. Maybe. As long as there were no clients visiting. And there were always clients visiting, even though at the time Wang was already slip siding away. (Techies were, of course, exempt from the suit rule.)

So I went out and augmented my couple-of-suit wardrobe with a closetful of power suits – menswear skirt suits that would have lasted forever if I’d had any need for them, and which were worn with silk shirts with self-bows or – ugh! – broadcloth shirts with – ugh! ugh! – floppy bow ties.

One summer day I decided to go a bit wild, and wore a pretty colorful – think white, navy, royal blue and chartreuse – Ellen Tracy skirt and matching sweater. When I got on the elevator with a colleague whom I vaguely knew, I though her eyes were going to fall out of her head. Ah, the year – or the one fine summer’s day - of living sartorially dangerously!

My post-Wang job was in an extremely casual environment, but I never fully got into the cut offs, flip flops, and ripped tee-shirt look. The men seemed to embrace ultra-casual more readily than the women did. (Who needed to give one of the male powers-that-were yet another reason to treat you less seriously than they were already doing?)

Once in a blue moon, I wore jeans, but not very often. And always with a nice sweater.

Subsequent jobs were more or less business casual, with the techie dispensation to be fully casual.

As someone who always went on customer calls and participated in client visits, I always had a few good suits in the closet.

Meanwhile, since I left full-time work, I’ve shed most of my “important” business clothes. Suits, skirts, jackets, slacks, mostly retired.

Sometimes I forget they’re retired, as I realized when for some reason I went looking for my good navy skirt suit a few months ago. Oops!

I kept a couple of pant suits – black and beige (bor-ing) – but they were just for when I had an initial meeting with a local client.

When I work from home, I’m in jeans, cords, khakis, workout clothes, or – I’ll admit it – my bathrobe.

Last spring, I sprung for a new suit – a nice black pant suit (with a more updated look than my old nice black pant suit) from Nordstrom, which has come in handy for client meetings and any events where I had to be a bit dressy. (It was also an excellent traveling suit when we went to Rome last April.)

Last month, I got a new client – a tech company, surprisingly located in downtown Boston. I wore the new black suit to my first meeting with them and figured that, if I was going to be working with that outfit, I’d better get me another decent outfit. So I stopped at Lord & Taylor’s on the way home and lucked into a sale: $600 suit for $233.

Which is the suit I’m wearing today to my second meeting at the new downtown client. And which I’ll don for a board meeting next week, and a different client meeting the week after.

So I guess I’m having a Formal Friday.

Who even knew there was such a thing?

But apparently there is…

Having seen the rest of the boring, corporate world embrace the notion of casual Friday, Silicon Valley is starting a new tradition: Formal Friday. Suits on!

At some tech startups, Formal Fridays stem from employees' desire to free themselves from the hoodies and jeans that are standard weekday dress…

For some Silicon Valley companies, like gaming giant Zynga Inc., there are informal Formal Friday traditions, where small groups of employees dress up on occasional Fridays.

Even Facebook, whose chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, took the hoodie and T-shirt uniform to new heights, has a design team that often dresses up for what has come to be known as "Corporate Friday," a team tradition that dates back to as early as 2005. (Source: WSJ Online.)

There’s even a little company with three – count ‘em – three full time employees that does a “semiregular Formal Friday” as:

…a way to introduce some cohesiveness in a company with no formal office, he says.

So they dress up and go to each other’s homes, which for whatever reason reminds me of when my parents friends would come over on a Saturday night to play cards: the men in suits and ties, the women in nice dresses and heels. Let’s get down with the Old Fashioneds and the whist. (Or was it pinochle.) The thought of getting dressed up to go to someone’s home… Yikes. (Needless to say, I’m not the type who’s invited to fancy dinner parties.)

I really can’t see Formal Friday catching on.

Whether you’re in full business drag, or business casual on Mondays through Thursday, Friday’s the last day of the week you want to suit up.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I suppose that Lance Armstrong’s finally ‘fessing up could be considered a good career move…

Competitive cycling is not a sport I generally follow.

Sure, one time when we were in Ireland, some major bike race blew through Galway. Cycling interest in Ireland was pretty high at the time, as local (Dublin, anyway) lad Stephen Roche – who had been a Tour de France winner – was still popular.

We lined up with the crowds near Eyre Square, but the riders came down the hill into Galway at such great speed that all we saw was a streaking blur.

Not much of a spectator sport, to me at least. (Maybe it’s like race car driving: you can’t really see all that much, but you’re always hoping for some kind of blow out, flame out, spin out drama.)

But even if you don’t follow cycling, it would be difficult not to be aware of Lance Armstrong, with his many achievements – all those yellow Tour de France jerseys, his personal story (recovery from cancer), his ads, his bracelets, his good looks, his Sheryl Crow…And, of course, the allegations of doping that were credible enough to result in the loss of those seven Tour de France titles and in his being barred from Olympic competition for life.

As with the doping scandals in all sports, there’s more than a whiff of hypocrisy, not to mention a whiff of self-righteous hysteria,  around the whole thing.

Personally, the one and only reason I can think of to ban professional athletes from using performance-enhancing substances is that they may be emulated by young, impressionable athletes who end up drastically damaging their health (if not killing themselves).  And not letting young athletes go the performance enhancing route is what parents and coaches are for, no?

If the pros want to endanger their own lives, well, have at it, as long as everyone’s upfront about the doping.  As drugs get more sophisticated and complex, it will become harder and harder to decide what’s okay and what’s not, so chasing after this is going to be a hopeless and endless endeavor. Kind of like the greyhound trying to catch Speedy the Rabbit.

And the money is so great in sports nowadays, who can blame an old geezer of 34 from trying to eke out a few more $20M/year seasons?

Maybe all professional sports will end up with two leagues: the naturals and the juiced. My bet is that fans would rather see a ‘roided up Roger Clemens pitching to a ‘roided up Mark McGwire , who sends it out of the park, than watch little Joe Schmoe lob a slow curve to little John Doe, who dribbles out a cheap-o single.

Anyway, the speculation last week was a will-he-won’t-he on whether Lance Armstrong was at long last going to end our long national cycling nightmare and confess that he had, in fact, had a very PED-ded up pedal to the metal all those years.

If he does come clean, he may have his punishment reduced and get back in the saddle again. Maybe not for the Tour de France, but in triathalons and other events that aren’t 100% cycling oriented.

According to the World Anti-Doping Code, an athlete may be eligible for a reduced punishment if he confesses and details his doping. He also must say who helped him and how he got away with doping…Armstrong has been in discussions with the USADA Chief Executive Travis Tygart as he tries to get the lifetime ban reduced, the [New York] Times said, citing a person familiar with the situation. Herman denied his client was talking to Tygart, according to the newspaper. (Source: Bloomberg.)

Well, if Lance does come clean, I suppose it’s a good career move, but there’s certainly going to be an element of too-little-too-late.

He was banned for life from competing in sanctioned events by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which cited a career “fueled from start to finish by doping” when it released a 202-page summary of its investigation into the rider and the U.S. Postal Service cycling team on Oct. 10.

And he has, after all, had his cycling records expunged. He resigned the chairmanship of his cancer foundation, Livestrong. He has lost his endorsements. No more Oakley sunglasses. No more Trek bikes. No more Nike swoosh.

If he does true up, he will no doubt be in line for a major money book contract and movie. And he can always become a clean-up-the-sport-crusader. So he’d have those career pluses…

But wouldn’t it have been easier to have just owned up immediately?

I know, I know.  We all have an incredible capacity to rationalize our behavior: it wasn’t all that bad, it wasn’t illegal, everyone was doing it – this just leveled the mountain passes. Etc. Etc.

But what if Lance Armstrong had stood at the podium when the first rumors started swirling and said, ‘Yep, I did it. And I’m sorry/not sorry. But, let’s face it guys. That’s what this sport is all about, and we can either acknowledge and live with it, or come up with a better way of setting up and enforcing the rules…’

Maybe he would still have loss the Oakleys and the swoosh. Maybe he would still be banned.

But wouldn’t his reputation be in much better shape than it is now, when his maybe/maybe not after the fact confession may be good for the soul, but do a lot less for his career than owning up immediately would have.

On the other hand, is there any possibility that he’s clean?

What a mess.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

‘Permanently depressed?’ Maybe, but here’s hoping for ‘more fulfilled and happy.’

A few weeks ago, I read an at least temporarily depressing article on Bloomberg about the fortunes – or lack thereof – of the Generation Y professionals that started their Generation Y professional careers just as The Great Depression clunked in.

This generation will be permanently depressed* and will be on a lower path of income for probably all of their life -- and at least the next 10 years,” says Rutgers professor Cliff Zukin, a senior research fellow at the university’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. Professionals who start out in jobs other than their first choice tend to stay on the alternative path, earning less than they would have otherwise while becoming less likely to start over again later in preferred fields, Zukin says. (Source: Bloomberg.)

The article catalogued an assortment of bright young things -  a couple of lawyers, an architect,a b-school grad – who thought they were grabbing the brass ring, only to find out it was made of flimsy plastic and broke in their hand.

One lawyer – a Cornell grad – had bounced from a high-paid Manhattan gig to a job in a futures-trading firm in Houston:

…where an irate customer punctuated a recorded voice-mail message with gunfire.

“No one was left with the impression that he just happened to be phoning from a sporting clays range,” [Christina Tretter-Herriger] says.

Well, I wouldn’t have had to listen to a voice-mail punctuated with gunfire twice to remove myself from deep in the heart of Texas. So maybe that’s why Tretter-Herriger now finds herself deep in the heart of upstate New York, making a quarter of what she pulled down when she was working in NYC, and training horses and giving riding lessons on the side. She’s hoping to invest in rental property to she has an income source if she loses yet another job.

“As it is, all of my possessions still fit in the back of my truck,” she says. “I can pack it in a couple hours, pick up the trailer and horses and move anywhere the gas tank will take me at the drop of a hat. What can the system take away from you when you have that kind of freedom?”

Okay, hard to be too for someone from a sufficiently well-heeled background that she keeps a couple of horses. But mostly it’s hard to have anything other than admiration for someone who can fit everything she owns in her truck and trailer. Sounds like she’s going to be able to live the life she wants to, rather than be roped into the high pressure partner-chase Manhattan lifestyle. Riding boots are probably a lot more comfortable than Louboutins, any way.

Admittedly, it may not be good for the overall economy that:

Average incomes for individuals ages 25 to 34 have fallen 8 percent, double the adult population’s total drop, since the recession began in December 2007.

But it may well be long-run better for the mental health of individuals, and for the soul of the country, if people wake up and realize that having a McMansion with a “great room” and chocked-full walk-in closets that size of yesteryear’s average living room is not necessarily the path to happiness.

Would it actually be possible to change the American Dream to one of personal fulfillment, accomplishment, freedom and health that doesn’t include his and her sinks in the en suite bathroom? Or would the economy totally crumble if we all came to a realization that less may well be more, and that experience and relationships (should) trump possessions?

I certainly don’t wish financial hardship on Generation Y, or on all the little Z’s to follow. I certainly hope that they are materially secure enough to buy homes, start families, and save for the future. But maybe those houses don’t have to be 3,000 square feet. Maybe those kids don’t need designer clothing. (No getting away from having to save for the future, however.) And I certainly hope that Generation X, Y, and Z aren’t so overburdened by the longevity of the Baby Boomers that they end up having to slip mickeys into our Ensure to get rid of us.

But if downward mobility, in which the next generation doesn’t earn as much as their parents did, is the wave of the future, let’s make the most of if, why don’t we. It really is possible to find happiness, even if you aren’t driving a Lexus. 

Which is not to say that we as a society shouldn’t be putting more effort into making sure that there are decent, career-track jobs for our college grads. Not to mention our high school grads, who have it a lot worse. It would certainly be nice if everyone who wanted a full-time job could find one…

Maybe colleges need to get more explicit from the get-go about how students need to prepare for the jobs that are out there. I’m all in favor of a liberal arts education, and I don’t want to see colleges turned into trade schools. My fear is that we’re moving towards a society where taking a history or literature course is such a foolish luxury, only those at the most elite colleges will be allowed to do so. (I actually read somewhere that someone had proposed charging liberal arts students more than engineering and business students, to nudge folks into more “practical” choices.) But the sooner kids are made aware of the realities, the sooner they can adjust their expectations. Go ahead and major in the classics. Just make sure you take a couple of computer science courses on the side. Or otherwise figure out how you’re going to make a living that works for you.

A lot of the professional jobs that employed those history and comp. lit. majors are gone, baby, gone. So you’d better be prepared for the jobs that are out there – and/or to live with less. And, hopefully, come to the realization that living with less is not the worst thing that can happen to you.

Easy for me to say, of course. Here I am, perched at the end of a modestly successful, reasonably interesting career. And I was able to have that modestly successful career, even though I spent a good portion of my twenties working as a waitress and traveling. The world was a much more forgiving place then.

It’s shame that Generation Y, under the twin burdens of school debt and consumer expectations shaped by the shopping malls that are today’s cathedrals, aren’t able to do the same.

But no one should be ‘permanently depressed’* because they’ll never live in a house like the one in Home Alone. It really is possible to be fulfilled and happy in more humble digs.

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*And, yes, I get that they mean permanently depressed incomes, not permanently depressed psyches. Just taking a little blog-etic license here…