Friday, August 29, 2014

Wednesday in Bellows Falls: oh, what a day…

When we found out that my husband’s time on earth was short, Jim and I spent some talking about where he wanted his ashes to go.

Most of them, we decided, would be buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

But he also wanted some to go to the places he loved: to Ireland (they’re now in Galway Bay), to Paris, to New York City. I told him that I would be placing a bit on my parents’ graves (done), as that’s a place I visit a couple of times a year.

After I mentioned that I would be bringing him to Worcester, he said that, while I was there, he’d like to get a bit of himself buried with my Aunt Margaret. My cousin okayed this, so that’s done, too.

Jim then said that he wanted some to go to his parents’ graves in Bellows Falls, VT, and to the graves of his Uncle Bill and Aunt Carrie in Western Mass.

That Jim wanted part of himself to be with Bill and Carrie didn’t surprise me. He was very close to them, and I considered them my in-laws.

I was a bit surprised by the Bellows Falls request.

In general, Jim had no great fondness for his home town.

Jim grew up poor in a town that never seemed to have shaken itself out of the Depression. His father died in a hideous work accident when Jim was 11. Jim had an indifferent relationship with his mother, and our visits to her and to Bellows Falls were rare.

Anyway, earlier this week I went up to Bellows Falls to make good on repatriating Jim to his home ground.

The visit to the cemetery was tough. I think it was seeing the name “Diggins” on the gravestone that really did it. That and playing Dolores Keane’s version of “Jimmy Mo Mhile Stor.” Jim would have groaned at the translation – “Jimmy, my thousand treasures” – but he liked Irish traditional music, and the You Tube video I played was made at the Quays in Galway, a place where Jim and I had gone many times. We sat through plenty of trad sessions there, but never saw anyone quite as wonderful as Dolores Keane. (I’m no good at embedding videos. Here’s the link. Well worth a listen.)

I decided to spend the night in Bellows Falls, which has fortunately picked up in the years since I last saw it, which was shortly before Jim’s mother died eight years ago.

I stayed at the Readmore Inn, a wonderful B&B in a fabulous Victorian mansion. The couple who run it are named Read, and they’re readers, so there are books everywhere. Anyway, the place is completely charming. It may even be enough of a reason to head back to Bellow Falls at some point. (Actually, Jim and I had looked in on it once when we were in BF, but never ended up staying there.)

I did a bit of walking around town, and swung by the house where Jim had grown up, in the poor and rough north side of Bellows Falls. The house has been spruced up a bit since Grace (Jim’s mother) died, but the people living there, lounging around on the front porch smoking, looked scary-trashy.

I also stuck my head in at St. Charles, where Jim had been an altar boy. It was a classic old late 19th/early 20th century R.C. church, built by the Irish immigrants who populated the town. (For a town founded by Yankees, BF was very Catholic. A town of 3,000, there were two Catholic churches: the Polish one (Sacred Heart), and the Irish one (St. Charles). The St. Charles stained glass windows were very beautiful. And the church was so old-timey that they even had real light-with-a-match votive lights. (How could I resist?)

While trucking around Bellows Falls, which is not all that large a place, and, thus, has limited trucking around opportunities, I did some shopping at Village Square Books, an indie bookstore that I wish were in my neighborhood.

While there shopping away, I started chatting with the owner, a blow-in who’d grown up in Queens, and asked her if she had any books about Bellows Falls.

Among the books that she brought out was Behind the Iron Horse: The People Who Made the Trains Run in the Bellows Falls, Vermont Area (1941-1980). The book was published by the Vermont Historical Society, and written by Giro Patalano, a name I recognized from Jim’s talking about his childhood.

Well, I figured that this book would surely have something about the death of Jimmy Diggins, who was killed while working on the railroad in 1955.

There was no index, but I decided to spring for it anyway.

Giro had a lot to say about Jimmy Diggins, who was a friend and fellow-worker of his.

Jimmy was “memorable…energetic, keen of mind…agile of foot and articulation…not averse to taking a drink…[but someone who] could hold his liquor.” (He also put his keen mind to work getting himself on extra shifts to support his family.)

Well, aside from that “agile of foot,” all I can say is that my Jim was a chip off the old block.

After Giro talks about Jimmy, there a section on the accident that killed him – he was crushed between a train and a line shack, in what was called a “close clearance” situation. The railroad was supposed to have taken care of it, but hadn’t.

Anyway, Giro was one of the first to reach Jimmy after he was crushed, and wrote that “his death hit me hard.”

Giro Patalano, as the union rep, was the one who fought for Jim’s mother to get a settlement from the railroad for their negligence. The settlement wasn’t a lot of money, but Jim’s part of that settlement put him through college.

[And just for the record: Jim’s father was sober when he was killed.]

The railroad book was written 17 years ago, and Jim and I had been in this bookstore a couple of times over the years.

Although going through the details of his father’s death would have been plenty painful, how Jim would have loved reading about his father! (Also painful would have been the picture of the “close clearance” – track and line shack – where Jimmy was crushed.)

I read the book while having lunch at a nice little café called, I think, the Village Café, where I had a very nice sandwich and lemonade. It was kind of a crunchy granola place, but that’s, in fact, what Bellows Falls has pretty much become: a kind of classic Vermont hippy-ish, folky, artsy community.

Not that everyone in the Café was a classic Vermont hippy-ish, folky, artsy type.

In fact, one of the folks in the Café was Red Sox great, and Hall of Famer, Carlton Fisk, who grew up nearby.

Carlton Fisk!

He of the beautiful wave it fair homerun in the doomed 1975 World Series against the Reds. The moment that, upPudge and Moe until the curse was lifted in 2004, was just about the greatest moment in Red Sox history.

Well, here was one famous person that I wasn’t going to pass up meeting. He was very gracious and charming, and agreed to a picture.

I immediately sent the pic off to my sister Trish, who – as I told Pudge – had a crush on him when she was a kid.

Later that evening, I had dinner at a very upscale, very modern Italian restaurant, Popolo, which most decidedly was not there the last time Jim and I were in town. I had a scrumptious dinner, with dessert – lemon panettone with blueberries  - on the house, based on my telling the waitress about the mission I was on.

Oh, what a day.


The day after, I had lunch with Jim’s cousin and his wife, and buried a bit of Jim with Bill and Carrie. Few more places still to go on Diggy’s ashes-to-ashes wish list…

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Practical skills? You better shop around.

I went to an all-girls high school in the 1960’s, so of course there were no shop classes. There were no home ec courses offered, either.

Not that we needed them.

Most of us came from large families, and, as the first wave of baby boomers, most of us were somewhere up near the front of the pack. So we got to learn how to do plenty, domestic-wise.  My sister Kath and I learned how to cook  - well, at least she did: I learned how to bake. We learned how to hem a skirt and sew a button on. We learned how to knit – Kath became a wiz, while I pretty much got stuck in knit-purl. We learned how to crochet. We learned how to embroider. (Talk about a lost art…) We learned how to make all sorts of crafts. (Contact me if you want to know how to make a piggy bank out of a plastic Clorox bottle.) We learned how to clean. We learned how to change diapers, give a bottle, and pace around with a colicky baby.

What could we possibly learn from a nun in a home ed class that we weren’t getting via on the job training at home? (On second thought, on the job implies you were being paid. We learned all this stuff through the indenture system known as childhood.)

As for shop, there was less opportunity to learn at home, at least in our house.

My father liked to wash the car and care for the lawn, but he wasn’t the home handyman type, one of those dads with the basement workbench.

So we all, of course, learned how to wash a car and care for a lawn.

But I don’t recall him doing anything but the most rudimentary of home repairs. (My mother rewired the lamps…)

But somewhere along the line, I learned how to hammer a nail in straight, use an electric drill, change the gizmos in the toilet tank, and rewire a lamp.

My husband was actually pretty handy, but he, unfortunately, didn’t give a damn what any of his handyman specials looked like.. As long as it worked, it didn’t really matter that the air vent in the bedroom was partially covered up by a piece of cardboard held in place with an alligator clip.

But  I do know how to use the phone to call someone to take care of the home repairs that need getting done. And one of these days, I’m actually going to put that know-how into practice.

Sadly, though, actually knowing how to do things that don’t get done via app on a mobile device is becoming an all-round thing of the past.

Sure, the doomsday preppers know how to make raccoon stew and stitch together a coonskin cap, but the rest of us, especially the young folks, don’t know squat. Everyone’s gotten so hell-bent on getting a college degree that they look down their noses at learning shoppish things.

Which is too bad, because those shoppish things are where some of the good jobs are, as I read in a recent article on Bloomberg.

With schools focused on preparing kids for college, shop class has gone the way of stenography class in much of the U.S. Companies from Toyota Motor Corp. to Siemens AG and International Business Machines Corp. are pushing high schools to graduate students with the real-world skills business needs.

The message is getting through. This year, for the first time in a decade, the U.S. government boosted funding for high school and college vocational education, though the $1.125 billion war chest is $188 million smaller than it was in 2004.  (Source: Bloomberg)

Kids with practical skills are earning a good living, thank you. And, as the article points out, vocational education can be a gateway to a middle class life: buy a car, start a family, build a home. Without having it set you back $200K in student loans taken out so that your could major in general studies at Whatsamatta U.

Proponents say re-emphasizing vocational education will help reverse the hollowing out of America’s middle class and combat rising inequality. Wage growth since 2009 has been the weakest since World War II even as the rich get richer.

There are 29 million “middle-education” jobs that pay more than $35,000 a year, considered a threshold to the middle class, according to Georgetown University research. Of those, 22.9 million require only high school or some post high-school training.

Even some of the college bound kids are figuring out that it helps to have some hands-on experience that doesn’t involve rapid thumb movement alone.

Seth Bates, who teaches applied engineering at San Jose State University, started a remedial shop class for aspiring engineers who can’t use a power drill properly.

Come on. Even I can use a power drill properly (sort of).

“By 1995, a student who came to us who had actually worked with tools was exceedingly rare, and now it’s almost unheard of,” he said. “Maybe it’s one out of 50 today. Most of them come in without a clue.”

And while it’s important for engineering students, it might not be a bad idea for all kids to learn how to make a bookcase.

Come on, kids, you better shop around!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Warning labels on choclat? Just say non!

I am a complete and firm believer that a chocolate a day (at minimum) keeps, if not the doctor, then the psychiatrist, away. And that a day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine. Or something like that.

I must acknowledge that I have taken my belief in the restorative and joy-giving powers of chocolate a real workout over the last couple of years. And that I’m now trying to shed the handful of entirely unnecessary and, frankly, pretty mean-spirited – haven’t I been going through enough, without having to experience a weight gain while I’m at it? – extra pounds that I’ve acquired of late.

Still, while I’ve cut down, my passionate affair with chocolate is one of long-standing, and I suspect it is one that I’ll take with me to the grave.

Ah, chocolate.

How miserable it was when we stopped at the Cherry Bowl for ice cream on a summer’s evening, and my father declared that we would not be eating at the Cherry Bowl, but consuming our cones in the car. That meant no chocolate, which apparently did terrible things to the cloth seat covers in a Ford Fairlane.

As one of my sibs would likely be quick to point out, the fatwa on chocolate ice cream – which was directed to me personally – may have come about because of my peculiar habit of biting the tip off the bottom of a sugar cone, and sucking the melting ice cream out that-a-way. A guaranteed mess, especially when the melting ice cream sucking out was performed by a child who was none too fastidious.

So on non-chocolate nights, I had to settle for chocolate chip, maple walnut, or peach.

Similarly, if the Fahrenheit exceeded 90, my father would omit chocolate frosted from the weekly Sunday run to Dunkin Donuts. Jelly donuts are all well and good, but just cannot compare to a chocolate donuts, my friend. If only there’d been such a thing as a chocolate honey-dipped back in the day.

Ah, chocolate.

Chocolate-chip, my favorite cookie.

Brownies, my favorite bar.

Devil Dog, my favorite snack cake.

Layer cake, cupcake, pudding, candy.

Chocolate ‘r me.

At the age of eight, I almost OD’d on it.

Somehow, I had in my possession a full quarter to spend in the vending machines at the YWCA. This at a time when a candy bar cost a nickel.

Well, five candy bars later I was sick to my stomach and breaking out in hives.

I blame this incident less on my eight year old lack of self control than on a demonic possession that was inflected upon me by the dark powers when I, as a Catholic, stepped toe in the YWCA where, it was well known, Catholics were not supposed to step toe. It was not quite on a par with stepping toe into Bethany Congregational Church, but it was right up there. (So I blame my parents for ignoring the wishes of the nuns and sending me and my sister to the Y to learn to swim, where we stood out not only as Catholics, but as the girls with the most hideous swim caps. What was up with my father that he bought us completely hideous “flesh” colored caps when everyone in the world wore white?)

Anyway, I just wanted to establish my chocolate bona fides.

Given my deep and abiding love of chocolate, I was alarmed to read a recent article about a proposed nutrition-labeling plan in France:

…that would classify chocolate as a food to be avoided. In a country where the day often starts with a pain au chocolat and ends with a mousse au chocolat, you can guess how that’s going down. (Source: Business Week)

Talk about the sorrow and the pity…

France is considering this move because of an uptick in obesity rates there. In response to the concerns over obesity:

… the government might require color-coded labels on food packaging to encourage healthier eating. Consumers would be urged to eat more foods labeled “green,” such as fruits and vegetables, while avoiding those labeled “red,” including items high in fat, salt, sugar—and chocolate.

While the French obesity rate has more than doubled over the last twenty years, at 14.5 percent, it can’t hold a Ring Ding to the US, which has an obesity rate of 33 percent. (American exceptionalism in action.)

However, as those who are opposing the French anti-chocolat plan maintain, there is no correlation between chocolate and obesity. The Swiss average 13 pounds of chocolate noshing each year, but have a relatively low obesity rate: 11 percent.

And for Americans, apparently, chocolate is not the obesity culprit. We only consume about 5.4 pounds of chocolate per year. You can thank sodas, chips, and super-sized everything for our obesity plague, thank you.

France’s chocolatiers—makers of chocolate pastries and confectionery—contend that discouraging people from eating chocolate would have an economic impact, too, endangering the jobs of some 4,500 “artisan chocolatiers” who employ roughly 15,000 people in their bakeries and shops.

So it’s just plain bad for business.

And that’s only part of France’s chocolate industry. Importers, wholesalers, manufacturers, and other industry players hold the world’s largest chocolate trade show…[and] more than 30 professional schools around the country offer degrees in chocolate confectionery-making.

Maybe I’ll go back to school and become a chocolatier!

Meanwhile, my cousin Ellen and her husband Mike will be spending the month of September in Paris. Mike is not much of a chocolate man, but I trust that Ellen will do her part on the chocolate front. And I’m happy they’re getting to spend some quality time in France before the chocolate warnings go into effect.

Warning labels on chocolat?

Just say non!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thank you for coming to Fenway? Don’t mention it.

I am a baseball fan by both baptism and desire – much my favorite sport. And the Red Sox, even after watching them through so many years that were full of annoyance, frustration, rage, apathy, irrational expectation, despair, disappointment, exuberance, and, on occasion stark ravin’ joy, are much my favorite team.

While I have been watching (or, as was often the case in my early years of fandom, when weekday games weren’t televised, listening to) the Olde Towne Team since the late 1950’s, I will actually pinpoint the day when I truly became an anointed Red Sox fan. That was Friday, July 22, 1960, when I saw my first game at Fenway.

The Red Sox won, 6-4, and Ted Williams hit a home run.

So did Jimmy Piersall, who by then was no longer playing for the Sox.

The attendance – and I did have to look this part up – was nearly 30,000. Not bad, given that Fenway only held about 33,000 at the time, and given that the Sox were having what was so typical of my early years watching them: a lousy year.

They ended up in seventh place out of the eight teams in the American League, with a .422 record that is pretty much how they’re going to end this fiasco of a year.

As Red Sox fans, of course, we knew that we were going to pay the price of last year’s entirely implausible and stunningly enjoyable season, that culminated in an entirely implausible and stunningly enjoyable – at least if you’re a New Englander – World Series win.

In any case, this year ain’t nothing I haven’t seen before.

One difference now, of course, is the outrageous ticket prices – imagine: $28 to sit in the bleachers! That first game against Cleveland, which may have cost my father seventy-five cents per kid for a bleacher seat, was a lot more fun, even if the bleachers in those days didn’t have backs.

Another difference now, of course, is the outrageous salaries that ball players make. Clay Bucholz, who pitched the game – and why do I even bother to say lost - the game I saw the other night is making $7.7 million this year. Even if he pulls his socks up over the next few weeks, he will likely end up making about $1 million per win. Now that’s what I call a day’s pay for a day’s work. Harrumph.

While the game the other evening was dreadful, it was still, I must admit enjoyable. But that’s because I absolutely love taking myself out to the ballgame, taking myself out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks? Well, I might not go so far as to say that I don’t care if I never get back, but watching a game at Fenway, on a lovely summer’s evening, after walking from home to Fenway Park is, in fact, a little bit of heaven.

Even though the Red Sox are having a near-epic fail of a season, they continue to draw pretty good crowds.

This is, perhaps, because going to a game at Fenway Park is a bit of a sentimental journey for a lot of folks. And because New England, generally at odds with the rest of the country when it comes to things cultural, societal, and sporting – bring on gay marriage, but NASCAR? huh? – is perhaps the last holdout of baseball fandom.

Maybe it’s because so many of us went to parochial school, we’re inured to boredom. Maybe it’s because the Red Sox play to the attributes of our dominant ethnic groups: flinty Yankees (no, not the baseball Yankees, those pinstriped posers – Yankee New Englanders) who can put up with anything; and members of the Irish diaspora who understand full well that they are not worthy of anything, and are thus overly suspicious of the good years, and overly accepting of the bad years as their due. Maybe it’s because winter is so long, and summer is so short, and baseball = summer. (Or course, it also equals sleeting gray days in April and, if you’re lucky enough to make it to the postseason, which “we” most certainly will not this year, sleeting gray days in October.)

Ah, baseball.

Last week’s game was the third I’ve attended this season (fourth, if you count the Red Sox-Rangers game I saw while in Texas this May), and, as I’ve said, I had a good time.

Sure, I was among the Fenway faithful who left after the Red Sox, having blown a lead in the fifth, did nothing to indicate that they had anything left in them after the seventh. So we had to sing Sweet Caroline, the Red Sox anthem played before the bottom of the eighth, while walking down the street behind the Green Monster.

The words don’t ring quite true this season.

“Good times never seemed so good”?

Okay, it’s not exactly “bad times never seemed so bad.” That would be the 2012 season, when the team, which pre-season had been declared The Greatest Team in Baseball Since the 1927 Yankees, and maybe even The Greatest Team in Baseball EVER, went into such a  nosedive that you had to suspect that they were on a suicide mission.

But while I had a good time at last week’s game, it wasn’t exactly a good game.

The Red Sox, of course, continue to count on people having a good time whether or not the game is good or awful.

So they’re curious to learn about how we felt about the overall experience, as I learned when I received an e-mail from the team asking me to fill in an online survey on that experience.

Which I was happy to do, even though I was offered nothing, zip, nada, in return. You’d think that they could have taken all the tickets they’ve yet to sell –and there remain plenty – and put the names of everyone who answered the survey in a cap and raffled off those tickets. (Well, maybe not all the tickets they have left. If the games aren’t sold out already, I can understand why the Red Sox would believe that someone might be interested in the final three games of this abysmal season. The Red Sox are playing the Yankees, and this could turn out to be a spoiler series, in which the Red Sox can destroy whatever chance the Yankees have for a Wild Card spot. And it will be the last time anyone at Fenway will get the chance to see retiring great Derek Jeter play. So they don’t need to put those games in the kitty.)

As for the other games…

I suspect that even the games against the currently division-leading Baltimore Orioles won’t sell out.

But for free, I’d even be willing to take an obstructed view seat.

The online survey, alas, promised nothing, but as a good and loyal marketer, I filled it in anyway.

First, they asked how big a Red Sox fan I am.

Hey, I’m avid enough.

I don’t go to all that many games in person, but I watch a bit of most games on TV (or, failing that, check the scores to see what happened).

The survey mostly focused on the Fenway Park experience which, as it turns out, has nothing whatsoever to do with the game, and everything to do whether you enjoyed Wally the Green Monster, buying your hot dog, and singing Sweet Caroline.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help answering a couple of questions as if I were being asked about the actual game.

Thus, I said that my most recent visit to Fenway fully met my expectations, given that my expectation was that Bucholz would last four or five innings before blowing up (he went four), and that Big Papi would hit a home run (which he did).

I was also asked to compare the overall Red Sox experience to the experience of attending a Celtics, Bruins, Patriots, or Revolution (soccer) game, and to which represented the best value.

Since I will barely follow the Celtics now that my husband has died, and since the only way I’d go to a Patriots game is if I were helicoptered down to Gillette Stadium and got to sit in Bob Kraft, the owner’s, private box, there’s nothing to compare things to.

I have been following the Bruins pretty closely, and hockey is my number two, but it’s been years since I saw a game up close and personal.

As for the Revs, I have seen them a few times, and it has been an enjoyable experience but, what can I say? Soccer is not baseball. And I can’t walk to Foxboro to see them play.

In any case, because I actually like baseball, going to a Red Sox game – W or L – provides the best experience and the best value.

Man, these questions seem designed for people who really don’t care about the game, but who consider it just another experience.

What motivated me to attend this event?

How come the answer can’t be that I like baseball, and I’m a Red Sox fan.

Which weren’t on the pick list.

No, the Sox wanted to know about my parking experience (NA), my concession experience, my overall in-game entertainment experience, my between-inning entertainment experience, my post-game entertainment experience (sorry, I left too soon to hear Love That Dirty Water and Tessie).

And they wanted to know whether I follow the Red Sox on Twitter, on FB, on Pinterest, on Instagram, on Vine…

No, I’m one of those sorry-ass old schoolers who follow them on, on (for the box scores, not the Red Sox account), on ESPN, via MLB, and, on occasion, on one of the discussion boards.

I’m a bit bummed that the Red Sox are having such a lousy year, but watching baseball’s still fun. And it could be a lot worse: I could be a Cubs fan.


P.S. When I filled out the demographic detail on the survey, I really didn’t want to check Divorced/Separated/Widowed.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Naked Came the Dater

I’m a true believer that “reality” TV serves an important keep-the-lid-on function in our society. After all, it provides hope for those who are woefully lacking in truly worthwhile attributes, talents, or capabilities – beyond an often uncannily shrewd marketing sense for building and exploiting a brand (look no further than Honey Boo Boo’s earthy mother or the Duggar clan’s smug daddy-o. Hope for those without worthwhile attributes, etc., but singularly possessed of shamelessness, devoid of any need for privacy, and just plain hungering to make a quick buck. (Well, what could be more All American than that?)

So what if you weren’t born with a silver spoon full of 1% in your mouth? So what if you didn’t get to take AP classes at Ritzboro High School? Heck, so what if you can’t spell AP even if someone spots you the A?

If your reality show strikes the right chord with the American people, there’s your chance to cash in and/or get discovered.

Why, it’s even better than playing the lottery, since if you’re the star of a reality TV show, you actually get to be famous – at least for the duration of the show’s run or, if it’s one of those one-shot shows, for the duration of your episode. Or until the next breakout reality star comes along. (And wanting to be famous is probably even more All American than wanting to have lots of $$$.)

One of the latest reality shows is something called Dating Naked.

A new social experiment provides daters with a radical dating experience where before they bare their souls they bare everything else first. Each week on a primitive island resort, far from the masks of modern society, daters will go on exotic dates and be naked every step of the way.

Let’s face it, there comes a time in most of our lives when we look better in a burka than in a bikini, and that time for me is well in the past. So even if I were to go on a dating show, it wouldn’t be naked. (And speaking of dating, the other day I got an e-mail - Hi, Maureen Rogers, Want to meet singles over 50? - inviting me to look into Our Time, an online dating service for the AARP-eligible. The timing – almost 6 months to the day of my husband’s death – was especially odd. Do you think they comb obituaries and put widows and widowers in tickler files for a 6 month follow up?)

But there are apparently enough folks who like the idea of throwing off the masks of modern society, and going on a few dates on a primitive island resort (whatever that oxymoronic thing means).

One of those folks was Jessie “I’m really a model” Nizewitz, who’s suing Dating Naked for $10 million because for a split second her most private of private parts, which were supposed to be blurred out, were exposed while she was in what, to the naked eye, might appear to be a semi-pornographic pose, frolicking in some sort of naked dating mud-wrestle with her show beau.

In a statement, Nizewitz claims she was told that her lady parts were going to be completely blurred for the show and that she was manipulated and lied to. The Long Islander said, “If you watch an episode, you will see that the blur actually makes it less revealing than a bikini would. Obviously, I did not expect the world to see my private parts," reports Variety. (Source: Huffington Post)

This revelation apparently set off a Twitter storm of people making fun of her. Not to mention that her grandmother got ticked off at her. (So, her grandmother was okay with watching her granddaughter cavort around nude but blurred with a complete stranger? It was just seeing the actual orifices out there for all the world to see that got granny’s goat? Well, that makes sense.)

The suit, obtained by PEOPLE, claims Nizewitz suffered "severe emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment" after the slip-up…"I immediately started getting text messages. Everyone saw it." (Source: People)

Ten million dollars worth of  Tweeters making fun of her, causing“emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation and embarrassment”?

I guess if the reality show in itself fails to provide the pay-day you’re looking for, there’s always the after-the-fact they done me wrong civil action.

And to add insult to injury, it’s not just her grandmother who’s not thrilled.

Poor Jessie believes that the accidental peep show put the kibosh on a relationship that was just starting out.

"He never called me again after the show aired," she told the paper. "I would have hoped we could have had a long-term relationship."

Longer term even than those three naked, unmasked dates on the primitive resort island?

Jessie, Jessie, Jessie.

Guess that’s reality for you.

Friday, August 22, 2014

One awful way to make an awful living

One thing I’ve got to say: there are an awful lot of awful ways to try to make a living out there.

And one of them has to be dressing up like Elmo, Spider-Man, or Cookie Monster and hanging around Times Square, hoping that you can sucker some tourist into taking a picture with you – and giving you a tip.

I am a bit familiar with the posers – or whatever you call the folks who paint themselves verdigris, don robes and diadem, and stand stock still while holding a torch – you see in Battery Park and elsewhere in Manhattan. A while back, I took a picture of my niece Caroline with one of them. I’m not sure if there was an explicit charge, or whether I just tipped her. But I paid up.

Fast forward a couple of years, and there were some gold and black painted posers, representin’ King Tut, hanging out along the banks of the Seine. I think we took a picture of them, but not with them. Did we tip? Probably. I know I would have wanted to avoid any potential for someone screaming “Ugly American” at me in French.

Then in Rome a year or so ago, there were some guys – unpainted – floating around the Coliseum dressed as Roman centurions. They were good-humored, in a creepy kind of way, and Caroline wanted her picture taken with them. (My niece Molly’s creep-ometer was too flashing to want the same.) That, I do believe, cost an outrageous five euro.

Statue of Liberty poser. King Tut poser. Roman Centurion “re-enactor” (hah!).

Each time I forked over a tip I remember thinking “that’s one lousy way to make a living.” I also remember thinking, in the case of the Statue of Liberty and King Tut posers, about the scene in Goldfinger where the girl covered in gold-leaf ends up asphyxiated.

Like I said, it’s a lousy way to make a living.

But I suppose when you’re an artist of some sort, it’s at least something.

Unfortunately, it’s something that must get pretty uncomfortable in less-than-clement weather. And to have to rely on the kindness of tourists to earn your keep. Take it from one who did so as a waitress at Durgin-Park and Union Oyster House…...

Anyway, the news from NYC is that the NYPD has been cracking down on the character portrayers, going so far as to hand out flyers (handily printed in five languages) letting tourists know that they are under no obligation to tip.

The crackdown followed a string of harrowing incidents in which some of the characters assaulted tourists, including children. Others harassed people and groped women. The face-offs peaked last month when a Spider-Man demanding money punched a police officer telling a woman she was not obliged to pay. (Source: Latino Fox News.)

TIme Square characters

Needless to say, the characters are not exactly delighted with this turn of events.

Some costumed characters in Times Square ripped off their mammoth heads on Tuesday, showing their real faces to protest what they call a "hostile move" by police telling tourists they don't have to tip for photos.

And those characters are even organizing. I’ll be in NYC in a couple of weeks. Maybe I’ll see if I can line up a Joe Hill costume.

More than 130 formed a group this week called NYC Artists United for a Smile to explore how the characters might regulate themselves instead of the licensing now being proposed in the City Council.

Artists United for a Smile, huh?

Maybe it’s just me, but being approached by someone in a sweaty, matted Elmo suit looking for money is not going to make me smile. It’s going to make my cringe, shudder, shy away, and – certainly if I took a picture of one –be completely overwhelmed with pity for their plight, and guilt that I could afford to swan around Times Square taking pictures with my smartphone.

But make me smile?

Maybe if I were a three-year old kid who could look past the sweaty, matted costume and get jazzed at the thought of meeting the “real” Elmo…

This is, by the way, a job that earns around $50-$70 for a 12 hour day. How desperate do you have to be to work for an uncertain $50 a day – an amount that doesn’t come any where near minimum wage? Plenty desperate, as it turns out. Many of the characters are undocumented workers from Latin America.

And just the thought of there being 130 people in NYC alone attempting to make their livings posing as cartoon characters is mind boggling. Although not when you consider that, as I learned when I posted about them earlier this week,  as of 1992 there were some 35,000 Elvis impersonators out there.

The characters are positioning their protest in constitutional terms:

Lucia Gomez, executive director of La Fuente, a pro-immigrant nonprofit that helped organize the performers, said it's their First Amendment right to entertain people.

I hadn’t realized that the “right to entertain people” is a First Amendment right, but there was Lenny Bruce back in the day. And George Carlin. (I know, I know, that wasn’t about the right to entertain, but the right to use the type of language that – as I read the other day – can to this day get you arrested in South Carolina, where the f-word is outlawed.)

In any case, I suspect that the First Amendment doesn’t cover using an Elmo or Spiderman costume for commercial purposes without paying a licensing fee to Sesame Street or Marvel Comics. Or is the licensing fee implicitly incorporated in the price of the costume?

Amazing that the owners of these character brands haven’t cracked down yet. Didn’t Disney actually go after a bereaved family that had etched Winnie-the-Pooh on their dead child’s headstone? You’d think the studios would be all over this.

"Once you start putting forward any kind of regulation on a group of workers, you better be prepared to do it to all workers, because you cannot single out one set of workers and not provide the same kind of regulations for everyone within the performance art industry," Gomez said.

Which, I guess, would mean the Statue of Liberty posers (who in their “real lives”, I suspect, are something other than desperate undocumented workers).

I have tremendous sympathy for anyone trying to hustle up what amounts to a pretty darned awful living in this way. Just thinking about the desperate poverty some of them left if hoping that some tourist will give you a buck for taking a picture of you in your Hello, Kitty outfit is a better alternative…

I wish them well, but the idea of so many characters on the make swarming around Times Square is one more reason for me to avoid that particular neck of the woods when I’m in The City in September.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Truth in advertising, or infographic gone bad?

Well, I’m on of those out-of-fashion readerly types who believes that one word is worth a thousand pictures, so my bias is clearly toward the written word over the graphic depiction.

I am, of course, at odds with the (marketing) times, as so-called “infographics” have become all the rage as a means to quickly convey lots o’ information (numerical and other) to those put- upon, info-overloaded folks who have time to read bullet-points at best, but who have not yet gone over to the totally dark side and become capable of receiving input only via audio-video.

Me, I have to work too hard at infographic interpretation to make trying to parse one out worth my while. If I don’t get it at a glance, I give it a pass.

But in my business, I do see plenty of infographics, and, on occasion, even have to come up with suggestions for them.

Whether I come up with suggestions or not, I do find that infographics are increasingly cluttering up the content that I work on. Sigh…

(I do fear that within a few generations, humans will have the literacy level of the average Lascaux cave-dweller.)

Anyway, infographics have become so popular in marketing that last year I even took a one-day course with Edward Tufte, the guru of data visualization. The course was quite interesting and, if nothing else, I learned that a lot of what passes for an infographic these days is nothing more than a glorified design element with a number smacked on it. The course also came with a box full of Edward Tufte’s books. The books are actually quite beautiful, and I put them aside, telling myself that one day I would actually delve into them and turn myself into an infographics expert.

Well, that day didn’t come, but I happily gave them over to a couple of brainy younger relatives of my husband’s – a computer science professor and her husband the mathematician – when they came by for lunch the day of Jim’s memorial service. I suspect that Steph and Scott are getting more out of those tomes than I ever would have.

One of the least info-rich infographics I’ve ever seen showed some type of chart, but an axis wasn’t labeled, so even if you put your mind to it, there was no way you could really figure it out.

Anyway, sneer as I might, there are plenty of times when even written-word little old me finds a graphic approach to conveying information understandable, useful, and helpful.

One of the graphic types that I tend to find particularly clear is the Venn diagram, a pretty good way to indicate the proportional relationships between and among things.

Thus, I was very quickly able to interpret the Venn diagram used in a recent ad for Thomson Reuters, itself an organization dedicated to providing all sorts of information, reuters values_0presumably as clearly and accurately as possible.

As the Thomson Reuters Venn diagram clearly shows, when it comes to values like Trust, Partnership, Innovation and Performance, there is precious little overlap with the values that Thomson Reuters in fact espouses.

Personally, I don’t really give a hoot about when I have any sort of partnership relationship with an information provider. Just provide me with the damned information.

Innovation is a tad more important. After all, if Reuters Thomson didn’t care about innovation, information would still be sent via carrier pigeons or the clickety-clack, dot-dash of the telegraphy machine. So it is somewhat surprising that Thomson Reuters has so little regard for it.

The same goes for performance. Come on, who wants to read (or listen to, or watch, or find in an infographic) yesterday’s news?

But, gee, you’d think that one value that an information provider would really want to get right would be trust. Dewey defeats Truman, anyone?

No doubt the designer who came up with this ad didn’t know a Venn Diagram from his elbow. Ditto the hapless marketing person who okayed it.

But surely there is someone somewhere in the vast Thomson Reuters empire who knows something about infographics (or at least Venn diagrams) - someone, somewhere who should have been able to put the kibosh on this howler.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s some much welcome truth in advertising.


Thanks to my brother-in-law Rick for pointing this one out to me. He saw it on Zerohedge.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Elvis Biz

Last weekend, we observed the 37th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.

Well, I actually didn’t observe it.

Amazingly, I can go weeks, months, maybe even years, without thinking about The King.

And then I’ll have an oldies station on, and there I’ll be singing along to “Hound Dog,” “Return to Sender,” “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You”, “In the Ghetto,” or “Teddy Bear.”

Or I’ll see that Jailhouse Rock is on, and tune in to see that incredibly wonderful scene where Vince/Elvis and his fellow jailbirds rock out to “Jailhouse Rock.”

In any case, while I was never a huge fan, there can be very few folks who came of age with their ears glued to a radio during the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s who don’t have an Elvis favorite or two.

That said, I don’t think I’d go very far out of my way to see an Elvis impersonator perform. (Not that I wouldn’t enjoy seeing a passel of them stroll by. Years ago, my husband and I were in a hotel somewhere that was hosting some sort of gathering of Cher impersonators, who were quite fun to observe. No Sonnys, that I recall.)

But Elvis impersonation, while it may not be a major industry, like energy or healthcare, is, in fact, a distinct and solid business.

At least three competitions will crown a champion tribute artist at this year’s Elvis Week, the annual remembrance of Presley’s death, which concludes this weekend in Memphis. That includes the Ultimate, which boasts a $20,000 top prize, and Images of the King, which features separate divisions—the Early Years, the ’70s, and a category for Elvis-impersonating youth. The Elvis Entertainers Network World Championship, a spinoff of [Elvis impersonator Ronny] Craig’s old event [King of the World], drew 35 performers and hundreds of paying guests to an airport hotel. (Source: Business Week.)

The “mini-industry” that is Elvis impersonation was started by Edward Franklin, who was the vet for Elvis and Priscilla’s animals. As the 10th anniversary of the King’s death neared, Franklin decided to capitalize on it. He set up a tribute contest, Images of Elvis, which he held at the nightclub he owned. (I guess old Doc Franklin was a different kind of animal when compared to the vets I’ve known.)

Pretty soon, multiple Elvis – or Elvii – shows were popping up around the country.

True Elvis believers scorned the impersonators – ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby – but then someone in Elvis-ville figured out there was some coin to be made:

Tribute artists weren’t fully sanctioned until 2007, when Elvis Presley Enterprises, the business arm of the musician’s estate, held its first Elvis Week contest, called the Ultimate.

All these years after Elvis’ death, Elvis Presley Enterprises generates quite a bit of income. In 2012, it’s licensing business brought in $32 million. (When someone, upon hearing of Elvis’ death, commented that it was a “smart career move,” they were on to something.)

Some of that licensing revenue came from impersonator contests, but Elvis Presley Enterprises apparently doesn’t go after unlicensed contests or individual impersonators.

Just how many impersonators are there?

Rick Marino is president of the Elvis Impersonators Association:

"In 1977, there were 28 Elvis impersonators, and I was one of them," Marino told the San Francisco Chronicle last year. "In 1992, there were 35,000. Do the arithmetic. That means by 2017, one out of every four people in America will be an Elvis impersonator." (Source: ABC News.)

Won’t that be something to look forward to! I’m all shook up at the very thought of it. Wonder who I know who’ll end up one of the Elvii?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Be afraid, be very afraid…(Damn, that technology can be scary sometimes.)

It’s not as if I don’t like technology.

Come on, I’ve spent the last 30+ years making my living in the tech biz.

It’s not as if I don’t embrace technology.

Come on, I’ve got the requisite gear: smartphone, laptop (soon to be replaced by a Surface Pro super-tablet), Kindle, special decoder-looking ring that I use for my Charlie Card (smartcard for Boston’s rapid transpo system), programmable thermostat (okay, so I haven’t actually programmed it yet…). And while I’m not “always on”, I spend an awful lot of time online.

It’s not as if I don’t understand technology.

Come on, I’ve actually ghosted articles that appeared in EE Times.

And yet, deep in my heart – or at least in part of one ventricle – there’s definitely an inner techno-worry wart. Maybe even a bit of a Luddite.

The latest thing to unleash that inner Luddite was an article on Bloomberg a week or so ago that warned that:

From Ancient Greece to Mary Shelley, it's been an abiding human fear: A new invention takes on a life of its own, pursues its own ends, and grows more powerful than its creators ever imagined.

For a number of today's thinkers and scientists, artificial intelligence looks as if it may be on just such a trajectory. This is no cause for horror or a premature backlash against the technology. But AI does present some real long-term risks that should be assessed soberly. (Source: Bloomberg)

AI has been around for quite a while.

Many, many years ago, a bunch of my colleagues fled the company we were all working at to join an AI start-up that was supposed to be capable of making the right business investment decision. I wanted to join them, but wasn’t artificial or intelligent enough to get an offer. (Formal word came back that I didn’t seem “ready” to leave the company where I was working; informal word came back that I’d asked too many questions, which led the hiring folks to determine that, in an environment that required true believers, I would be one of those ye of little faith types.)

Of course, it almost goes without saying that that start-up went out of business.

Since then, of course, AI has become a ton more intelligent.

Yet it still hasn’t gotten to the point where, when it comes to “’general’ intelligence”, it’s as good as one of us actual human beings. I.e., there’s still no such thing as a:

…machine that can independently solve problems and adapt to new circumstances, like a human.

Bravo, us!

Maybe AI can beat a humanoid at chess, but we’re still Number One when it comes to things like figuring out what to do when siblings are squabbling, spouses are aggravating, and the dog needs a scratch behind the ears. When it comes to things that require gut instinct, human experience, and emotional intelligence, which – so far – hasn’t leant itself to artificiality, we rule.

Which is not to say that AI won’t someday surpass us:

Experts in one survey estimate that artificial intelligence may approach the human kind between 2040 and 2050, and exceed it a few decades later.

Hmmmm. Wonder what the survey would have said if they’d asked AI machines themselves? Something to wonder about…

They also suggest there's a one-in-three probability that such an evolution will be "bad" or "extremely bad" for humanity.

There are some pretty big names that are worrying about machines going Frankenstein on us:

Elon Musk has warned that it could be "more dangerous than nukes." And Stephen Hawking has called it"potentially the best or worst thing to happen to humanity in history."

They worried that AI could get too big for its smarty-pants britches, to difficult for mere mortals to “understand or predict…more difficult or impossible to control.”

What could happen that’s so bad?

To use a simplified example: A self-learning AI programmed to calculate the decimals of pi might, as it became more intelligent, decide that the most efficient way to meet its goals would be to commandeer all the computing power on earth.

Swell. Satellites will fall from the sky, the grid will go down, heart monitors will stop monitoring, and I won’t be able to get my daily Daily Mail UK fix, all because some jerk of a machine wants to calculate pi  to well beyond the number of decimal places where even the most obsessive, nerdly kid would decide that the task was useless and boring.

What to do, what to do?.

… researchers in the field need to devise commonly accepted guidelines for experimenting with AI and mitigating its risks. Monitoring the technology's advance may also one day call for global political cooperation, perhaps on the model of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The bottom line?

There may be no immediate danger, but, in the long run, there’s every reason to be afraid, be very afraid.

Technology capable of calculating pi to infinity and beyond could end up doing some pretty awful things.

Monday, August 18, 2014

I know where I’ll be planted, but what about my plants…

I don’t have the green thumb that my mother had – Liz was a complete and utter plant lady. But I don’t have a gangrenous black thumb, either. If I had to characterize my thumb, I’d say it’s grayish-green. Or greenish gray.

While I was plant-free for quite a long while, I now have several plants that seem to be thriving on the kitchen windowsill.

Two are them were sent to me shortly after my husband died, the other – an oxalis – I had at the church where Jim’s memorial service was held. That was right after St. Patrick’s Day, and an oxalis looks like a shamrock, only a bit jacked up, so the florist recommended it when I asked for a shamrock.

The oxalis is the one plant I’d really like to hang on to, but if it goes, it goes.

And if when I go, and the oxalis is still with us, well, I actually haven’t given much thought to who gets it. Make that any thought. If it ends up in the trash, well, so be it. (I’ll probably stick to my guns on this. Unless, that is, we find out that plants have some level of sentience that has so far gone undiscovered. In that case, I guess I’ll have to make provisions. Afer all, I’ve grown rather fond of that oxalis in an inanimate, no exchange of emotion kind of way.)

Some folks, however, have developed true relationships with their fine potted friends.

Pittsburgh’s Ronna Scoratow – une dame d’un certain age, i.e., mine – is one of them.

She’s had her dearly beloved plant for over 40 years, even longer than I had my dearly beloved husband. Her plant is a 7-foot-tall lacy tree philodendron.

Ms. Scoratow has no children. Her siblings don't share her enthusiasm for indoor greenery. So last year she put a provision in her will granting $5,000 for a friend to use in caring for the plant. "It was interesting," her lawyer, James Wood, said when asked about that provision. "I've done provisions for pets but never a plant." (Source: WSJ Online)

As plants go, I do get how one could grow attached to a philodendron, since they have a tendency to get attached to whatever they’re around, twirling their tendrils around.

Personally, I’d rather have the more contained coleus or sansevieria. You get your greenery, and you don’t have to worry about it wrapping its metaphorical arm around you and getting you in a chokehold, as I can imagine a philodendron might be tempted to do. Especially if, in fact, plants are as sentient as we may well find out they are.

Whether they’re proven to be sentient or not, many plants apparently do know something we don’t.

Some plants live for centuries. A giant cycad has thrived in London's Kew Gardens for nearly 240 years….Bonsai trees are famous for lasting centuries. The National Arboretum has one more than 400 years old.

So while your plant I not likely to survive to infinity and beyond, it may well outlive you, as Ms. Scoratow believes that hers will.

The money set aside in her will isn’t the only amount that she has spent on her plant. In addition to its regular care and feeding – a bit of water, an occasional sprinkle of plant food, the odd re-potting event – she paid movers $370 to move her plant when she changed locations last year.

Would I have moved a plant?


If it were going to set me back $370?

Well, maybe not.

By the way, Ms. Scoratow’s posthumous plant caring doesn’t extend beyond the philodendron.

She hasn't made long-term provisions for her other plants. "I don't have the same love with them. I don't know how to explain it. I don't want to be cold or anything." The others are smaller and easier to move, so she hopes someone will take them when the time comes. Her philodendron is special, Ms. Scoratow says, because "I've had that one the longest."

Even if her concern is limited to her one special plant friend, Scoratow is not alone. A Maryland couple interviewed in the article has a ponytail palm that they’re rather fond of.

They call it Gordon, after a friend who swapped it to Ms. [Karen] Upton 37 years ago for a Porsche steering wheel…Eventually, though, the Uptons may grow too frail to care for the palm. Mr. [Christopher] Upton, 62, said their exit strategy might be to take Gordon down to Florida and "set him free" outdoors..


I seem to be detecting a pattern. An understandable pattern.

As the old memento mori starts to click in when you’re in your sixties, and folks start giving some thought to where they’ll be planted, it’s no surprise that they start thinking about what’s going to happen to the things they’ll leave behind. Plants included.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Just a couple of degrees of separation from Bernie Madoff

I never took a course with him – he was in Operations Research* which, beyond the one required course, I avoided like the plague – but when I was a student at Sloan (MIT’s business school), Gabriel Bitran was a new faculty member. A lot of the folks I knew took courses with him.

Perhaps because he wasn’t much older than the students, I remember him as being quite popular. Because Sloan was so small at the time – maybe a hundred students, plus or minus, in our class; and very little hang around space that was shared pretty much equally by students, faculty, and admin – I’m sure I met him at some point or another, if only to say hello.

Well, Gabe Bitran, it seems, has gotten himself into quite the soup.

A couple of years ago – and I missed this one completely – Bitran and his son Marco, who’d been running a $500 million fund:

…agreed to pay $4.8 million to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission claims that they lied to investors about their track record. (Source: Bloomberg)

Their Ponzi within a Ponzi unraveled during the Madoff debacle, because they:

…put money into “funds of funds,” which rely on investments by other hedge funds, and fed money to Madoff’s firm and Madoff feeder funds, according to prosecutors.

While Bitran père et fils were running GMB Capital Management into the ground – the fund lost more than $140 million over time, which is $140 million worse than money in a mattress – they were also paying themselves handsomely. (Surprise.)

The smoking gun on the Bitrans was some e-mail exchanges. (Duh! This is an MIT business school professor and he doesn’t get how e-mails can bite you in the ass. Yikes!)

“A person with experience and knowledge of the financial sector and a veteran professor of MIT should not have engaged in this type of behavior,” Gabriel Bitran said in an e-mail to his son in July 2009 that was cited by prosecutors. “I feel very embarrassed because we told them a story that was not true!”

Well, I guess embarrassed could be one way to look at. But, really, deeply ashamed and absolutely contrite might have been better.

For his part,

Marco Bitran said in a September 2009 e-mail to his father that “we are certainly sharing equally in this” and that “lots of problems were caused by my good intentions but very poor actions when it came to true honesty,” according to prosecutors.

“Good intentions but very poor actions when it came to true honesty.”

Huh? Talk about gobbledygook. This from someone with degrees from MIT and Harvard Business School. (I had to get this dig in . I’m not putting this all on MIT.) Tsk, tsk.

Oh, indeed, my intentions – make everyone a lot of money, especially me – were excellent, it was just that piss-poor execution. That and, oh yeah, lying through my teeth. And beyond:

After the SEC began its probe, the Bitrans took steps to shield their assets by transferring them out of GMB to other entities using the name of a family member who wasn’t aware of what they were doing, prosecutors said.

Mighty fine thinking there, boys, mighty fine. Bet that family member was just thrilled to death to be made part of the grand scheme.

Despite the fiasco that the Bitrans got themselves involved in, Marco apparently doesn’t share his father’s embarrassment. On his blog (which, admittedly, was last updated nearly a year back; but still well after he and his father agreed to the SEC fine), he brags:

..,Bitran grew an exchange-traded fund to $550 million in assets using models developed by MIT professor Gabriel R. Bitran and MIT graduate Shioulin Sam.

Well, he may be blogging from prison, because Gabriel and Marco Bitran, it seems, are about to each:

…plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, wire fraud and falsify documents and face a maximum sentence of five years in prison, according to agreements with prosecutors.

According to their lawyers, Gabriel “accepts responsibility” and Marco “looks forward to…putting [this matter] behind him.”

Say hello to Bernie for me.


*I remember nothing about OR, other than that we had to do some computations – by hand – involving some type of matrix, something called dual simplex, and something called pivoting. That and a case study called “Red Brand Canners” about optimizing the production of canned tomatoes. So clearly my education wasn’t wasted on me.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bosses ask the darndest things

The Guardian recently asked readers to send in the oddest (generally inappropriate) things that there managers had ever asked them to do.

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of goodies.

On fellow reported that a friend was asked to break in his boss’ shoes for him. (Let’s hope the boss got blisters, anyway.)

Another person said that a colleague who was leaving the office because her water had just broken was criticized for “abandoning her job.” (This reminds me of a colleague who was laid off while pregnant and showing. When she told the HR person who was seeing her out the door that it was going to be difficult for her to find another job, the HR manager told her to wear loose clothing and pretend she was fat.)

One guy was asked to remove a dead cat from under the hood of the car of his boss’ daughter. The cat had been strangled in the fan belt. Which explained why the car hadn’t started…

Then there were the garden variety requests – like ordering flowers for both wife and mistress. (No small thing, apparently. I have a friend who works in high-end retail, and they have to be very careful about delivering anything, especially sexy lingerie.)

Anyway, it got me thinking about odd (generally inappropriate) work requests I’d gotten.

Numero Uno happened when I was a product manager, reporting to one of the few female VP’s in the company.

I was asked to come up with the plan for product enhancements, the market research, revenue outlook, and cost benefit to justify the plan, and the script for a demo for a rough prototype.

Great! Happy to do it. My product, after all.

Alas, I was told by my boss, I would not be attending the meeting at which all this was presented. She was going to be taking care of that.

Product managers, she assured me, had never been invited to participate in the meetings at which senior management decided whether or not to keep investing in their products.

I made a strong case for my presence – and for product managers in general – to attend the meeting, but she insisted that it was just not possible.

To add insult to injury, on the day of the big meeting, I had to surrender my PC for the day, as it was the only one on which the prototype demo could be run. So I had to spend the work day using a battered old spare PC squirreled away in a glorified storage closet.

Grrrr, grrrr, double grrrr, triple grrrrr.

As lunch time approached, my boss stuck her head into the glorified storage closet and told me, “I think I’ve found a way for you to get into the meeting.”

I asked her whether she wanted me to talk through the research, explain the proposed features, give the demo.

Oh, no, she told me, “Since it’s almost lunch time, I thought you could go out and pick up pizzas for us. Then, when you brought it in, you could just stay for a while.”

My jaw went completely slack.

I told her that if she wanted someone to fetch lunch, she could ask our admin, but there was no way I was coming into that meeting as the waitress. I went to business school precisely so I wouldn’t have to take food orders, hand out napkins, and serve the grub.

Furthermore, I told her that, as the only woman participating in that meeting, she shouldn’t have been the one jumping up to take the lunch order, either. (We both knew that she was always, but always, the one who did so.)

So there.

She was pretty much in shock that I wasn’t going to make the pizza run. “You’re usually so easygoing, I didn’t think you’d mind.”

Anyway, after the meeting she swung by to apologize, and told me I was right that she shouldn’t keep playing the good girl who took care of the hungry boys.

The only other odd work request had happened years earlier.

Before I went back to business school, so I wouldn’t have to be a waitress, I did scut work in the economics department of a large bank.

At one point, my boss – the chief economist – decided that he’d have everyone work on some research on the New England economy, specifically, the New Hampshire economy. And that he was going to provide this research to a senator who was running in the Democratic primary for the presidential nomination.

Although this was post-Watergate, and people were growing a bit more conscious of what you could and couldn’t do for a political candidate, none of us gave second thought to preparing briefing materials for the good senator.

Until one day, when it dawned on one of the senior economists that this might not be a good – or even a legal – idea. (She was a Republican, so probably wanted to rat the big boss out for helping a Democrat.)

Anyway, she stopped by the bank president’s office and – so she told us – presented him with a hypothetical, what if situation.

The president was able to quickly interpret the hypothetical, and was told, “You tell J that he’s got 24 hours to get every piece of paper that mentions anything about working for the senator out of the bank.”

This was on a Friday, so us trusted troops were invited to work on Saturday, purging the files. We put them in cartons, taxied them off to the chief economist’s condo, and shoved them under his bed. He then made Tex-Mex food for all of us.

Those are my top two. I’m sure there are others – make that I know there are others – but I’ll save them for another day.


Thanks to my sister Trish for this idea.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Internet of Things. (Wake up, baby, this is NOT all for the good.)

I have a “smart thermostat”.

I haven’t actually done anything particular smart with it.

It is set up so that it sends me an e-mail every time I make an adjustment. (Thanks for letting me know that I just turned “cool” off! It’s certainly possible that I could have experienced a senior moment between going downstairs to adjust the thermostat, and moseying upstairs to enjoy that “cool” being off. So I guess it’s good to get the information via e-mail.)

But I have yet to sign up for the really smart thing to do, which would be to turn on, or up, or down, the HVAC system when I’m an hour or so away from home. That way, I wouldn’t have to experience the complete and utter inconvenience of having to wait for a freezing 66 degree or sweltering 76 degree condo to get to just the right level of comfy cozy.

Other than that smart thermostat – which will get smarter only if I apply some of my smarts to figuring out how to remotely operate it – I’m just not all that into the Internet of Things or, as we in the trade say, the IOT. (Unless you count things like laptops, wireless routers, and Kindles…)

I say “we” because, while I personally have precious little to do with IOT, I do have a client whose business is involved in the technical underpinnings that support it.

I write their weekly blog post, and, in the past year or so I’ve written about smart cars, trucks, trains, medical devices, front door locks, basketballs, soccer goal scoring, and, yes, thermostats.

All part of the marvelous IOT, which Cisco is forecasting will grow, Carl Sagan style, to 50 billion connected devices by 2020.

Is all this smart IOT stuff making us any smarter, let alone happier, more productive, more secure?

Hard to say, but having every inanimate object around you suddenly smartening up is not without risk.

ONE NIGHT IN April a couple in Ohio was woken by the sound of a man shouting, “Wake up, baby!” When the husband went to investigate, he found the noise was coming from a web-connected camera they had set up to monitor their young daughter while she slept. As he entered her bedroom, the camera rotated to face him and a string of obscenities poured forth. (Source: The Economist.)

This hyper-vigilant dad had apparently not changed the factory-issued password, opening up the family to being punkeChuckyd by some jerk with nothing better to do than wake up babies and scare the bejesus out of new parents. (As if being new parents wasn’t scary enough, now they have to worry about being tortured by some remote Chucky…)

Unless it gives you a heart attack, having someone take over your webcam is probably not going to kill you. (Or course, having some creep with videos of what’s going on in what we once quaintly referred to as “the privacy of your own home” is not exactly a pleasant thought.) But someone seizing control of your smart car and driving you off the road could. As could someone who decides to amp up your heart pump, which was how the VP was killed in Homeland a couple of seasons back.

It all sounds rather worrying, but so far there has been no known case of a cyber-attack in which a car has been forced off the road or a medical device misappropriated.

Phew! But, hey, it’s probably just a matter of time before something gets seriously and dangerously hacked.

While most of what “they” are after (other than the sheer sporting fun of waking up baby) is your passwords and the ability to use you as an unwitting spammer.

That is annoying enough, but what if a tech-savvy arsonist were to find a way of, say, taking control of home boilers and turn them up so much that they burst into flames?

I’ll have to take all this into account when I replace my appliances during my upcoming (some day, anyway) kitchen remodel.

Buying smart tech may be unavoidable, but I just may figure out some way to dumb it all down.

I don’t want a hacker turn all the lo-cal fudge pops in my freezer into mush. Or boil the bottom out of my teakettle, something I have proven I am capable of on my very own unconnected own.

Hackers could turn on my shower and flood the whole place. They could blast Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo at high decibel, so that my neighbors can be lead to erroneously believe that I actually watch this show. (I’d rather watch Extreme Couponers, thank you very much.)

Something to be said for embracing the inner Amish Luddite…

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

House calls

A few months back, I saw an article in The NY Times that I found a bit unsettling.

I filed it in my “possible topic” folder, and kept coming back to it.

Now, with the start of the school year looming – odd, how even when you don’t have kids and haven’t had any back-to-school jitters of your own for decades, early September always seems to be the start of something – I’ve pulled it out of the topics file, and am ready to take it on.

The article was about a progressive Manhattan pre-K-eighth school, Manhattan Country School, that serves a racially and economically diverse population. It also brings its pre-schoolers, who are 4- and 5-year-olds on field trips to one another’s homes.

“We knew we needed to talk about social class,” said Lois Gelernt, the teacher who came up with the idea. “It was opening up a can of worms, but if we were never going to talk about who we are and where we come from, the sense of community wasn’t going to be there.” (Source: NY Times)

Okay, it’s easy enough to make fun of the liberal parents who want to have “the conversation” with their 4-year-olds, but better the crunchy granola, do-gooding liberals than the callous jerks going nuts if their 4-year-olds fail the entrance interview for the pre-school that will set them on the Ivy track.

Still, there’s something disturbing about shepherding a group of little ones on a totally inorganic play date that maybe opens the eyes of some of the have kids, but that maybe also makes the have-nots feel a bit bad and embarrassed.

Not according to the Manhattan Country School:

“Four-year-olds have no value judgments about one house being better than another because it’s fancier,” said Sarah Leibowits, who teaches that age group and now leads the visits. “They don’t think that way. That’s what adults think.”

Maybe I was a bit older, but at a pretty young age, thanks to the compare and contrast between what I watched on TV and where I actually lived, I knew there were social and economic differences out there. Certainly by first grade, I had already hypothesized that Ozzie and Harriet must be Protestants because they lived in such a nice house.

I grew up in a blue collar-lower middle class neighborhood in Worcester. The “housing stock” was mostly three-deckers (some of which had shops in their basements or first floors), modest pre-war single family homes, big old run-down rattling houses that dated from when the neighborhood had been a lot less populated and a tad more prosperous, and slapped up GI-bill ranch and Cape Cod houses built in the 1950’s.

Those of us who lived in those modest pre-war single families or slapped up GI-bill homes had mostly started out living in a flat in a three-decker. Most of us had grandparents and aunts and uncles who still lived in deckers.

Plus or minus a bit, most of the families in our neighborhood lived at pretty much the same level.

Yet we knew there were differences.

The kids who lived on the other side of the tracks (literally) on Lyman Street were poor.

The people who lived in the beautiful old colonial – built in 1760 – that incongruously sat around the corner from our house must have been rich. (They were Protestants, so that pretty much sealed it.)

Relatively speaking, we were among the haves. Our gerry-built house had two bathrooms, my father wore a tie to work, and we had a lot of books. But the over and under in our hood wasn’t all that great.

Around Christmas, when we drove around to see the lights, we especially liked to go over to Worcester’s West Side, where the real rich folks lived. They didn’t go in for a lot of colored lights, glowing Santas, reindeer on the roof, plaster crèche scene.

No, they went for the ultra classy white candle in the windows, and a spot-lit wreath on the front door.

Ah, those rich folks had class! And nice, big comfy repro-Colonials and mock Tudors. Full of nicey-nice families, no doubt Protestants all, just like the nicey-nice families I saw on Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It to  Beaver, Father Knows Best, Donna Reed. A Protestant ascendancy, if ever.

(It didn’t take a genius to figure out that even though religion never came up, The Honeymooners were Catholics. And a few years later, who were they kidding when they made Archie Bunker a Prod? Come on, if ever there were a Queens Irishman…)

I had a set of relations who lived in Newton, in a neighborhood that was hardly posh, but which was recognizably more affluent and upscale than ours. This set of cousins were the closest folks I knew who were as near to Ozzie and Harriet as you could get without actually being Protestants living in Hollywood. (It helped that these cousins, even though they were Catholic, went to public school.)

On the other side of the family, our Chicago cousins, the Dineens, lived, like us, in one of those slapped up GI-bill houses, in a neighborhood like ours that was teeming with kids.

Nobody in either of those neighborhoods had much by way of money, but there wasn’t much by way of stark poverty, either.

But you’d have to have been blind not to recognize a few differences.

The kids whose families didn’t have cars, or who had older models – this in an era when everyone seemed to replace their car every couple of years. The kids who came to school in shoes worn down at the heels, or whose parents looked kind of rag-baggedy.

I had friends who lived in three deckers that didn’t have heat in every room. They slept in bedrooms off of the dining room that had some kind of heating stove in it.

I remember playing at one girl’s house – a classmate that I wasn’t particular friends with, but with whom I played when the different neighborhood orbits came together. Her mother gave us glasses of water served in jelly jars. Now pretty much everyone had jelly-jar glasses. Welch’s grape jelly came in jars that featured cartoon characters on them – Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam. But the jelly jars that Theresa’s mother gave us to drink out of were not of the rim-less Welch’s kind, but were the lipped jars that regular old jelly came in. No one said anything, but I could tell by the look on Terry’s face that she was a bit embarrassed, ad we all felt a bit bad for her. But, hey, water was water, and the M’s had a ton of kids.

But I guess if you aren’t able to figure out who has what from the up-close and personal experiences that happen in the natural course of events, or go in for wild extrapolation from what you see on TV, which was my forte, making show-and-tell a movable feast is one way to go.

…[Teacher Lois] Gelernt specifically remembers an effusive greeting from a neighbor of a child who lived in the Bronx. He came out of a store and shouted her name; it turned out he was the local numbers runner.

On another visit, the small children sat in tall chairs in an oversize Park Avenue dining room as a father emerged from the kitchen with a snack of truffles. None of the students ate them.

Surely those truffles were a jest…

Part of me thinks I should be lauding the Manhattan Country School for not shying away from the fact that some kids know the numbers runner and other kids know where to get the best truffles.

Still, I can’t see what taking these kids on these little home visits actually accomplishes.

Maybe it’s that it’s all too official and contrived. A birthday party, an afternoon playing at another kid’s home, a parent explaining to their little ones that not everyone gets to vacation in Nantucket. That all makes sense to me.

But this approach almost seems like a way for the haves to make sure their kids get an opportunity to learn there are have-nots. (Hard to believe the have-nots would be clamoring for this.)

Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, other than that this approach seems way too much like a trip to the aquarium or the zoo.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Clutter in the workplace

There was a piece in a recent Economist on how organizations need to wage battle against bureaucracy/clutter in the workplace, and it had me at ‘hello’:

PETER DRUCKER once observed that, “Much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.” (Source: The Economist)

The essay (by Schumpeter; no, not that Schumpeter – he’s dead: it’s a nom de plume) went on to tease out the elements that slow organizations down.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has been studying organizational complexity, for nearly 60 years. They have a formula for defining complexity that includes the number of management layers, the number of corporate objectives, and the number of co-ordinating bodies (whatever that means, but it sure sounds like it adds an unnecessary level of complexity to the mix). According to BCG’s calculations, organization complexity has increased by a factor of six since 1955.

The most insanely bureaucratic company I ever worked for was Wang Labs.

One the one hand, in terms of complexity, it was all rather simple: Dr. Wang made pretty much every decision even, it was rumored, on the weight and quality of the paper that data sheets were printed on.

Knowing exactly where the buck stopped should have simplified things, but it was working your way up to where the buck stopped that could bog you down.

Getting anything done at Wang was a colossal hassle.

Permission to go on a business trip required 4 to 5 levels of signature.

OK, your trip didn’t have to be signed off on by Dr. Wang.

But it did have to be okayed by Horace Tsiang, the EVP who was Dr. Wang’s right-hand man.

This was in a company that had over 30,000 employees, and revenues of $3B – back in the good old days, when those billions were actually in revenues (as opposed to “market value” funny money), and a billion dollars actually meant something.

Working through and around the Wang bureaucracy was depressing and enervating.

There were, of course, ways around some things.

Those of us with software applications with a limited audience were known to bypass the normal product release process and cut our own disks – 8” floppies – and send them off to our customers. One of my colleagues went so far as to shrink wrap her product’s documentation, using a hairdryer and Saran Wrap, so that it would look more official.

But for other things…

When I was first at Wang, a guy in my group made a bet with me that it would take me 6 months to get a function strip printed. (A function strip was a piece of plastic that you used to overlay part of the keyboard. Product-specific roles for each of the function keys were printed on it.)

Well, he was almost right.

It took me only 5 1/2 months of continuous pushing and shoving to get function strips printed for my product.

Of course, by that point, we’d added a new function, so the strips were now partially obsolete.

Wang didn’t go out of business because of its insane bureaucracy, but it sure didn’t help matters any.

Meetings are another cluttering time waster.

The most meeting’d up company I ever worked for was Genuity.

You could start in on meetings at 8 a.m. and not come up from under until 6 p.m., with barely a bio-break in there.  While you may have had the opportunity to run to the lav, there was no time for meals, so first-thing meetings had full breakfast served; mid-morning meetings brought you coffee and donuts; lunch was served at noon meetings; and there were snacks brought in to mie-afternoon gatherings.

To say that nothing was accomplished at these meetings almost goes without saying, especially the ones that “featured” senior executives, which were characterized by sniping, subterfuge, backbiting, obstructionism, fief protection, and plain old garden-variety politicking.

Sometimes I just kicked back and enjoyed the show, but mostly it was god-awful and frustrating.

Genuity didn’t go out of business because of its insane meeting culture, but it sure didn’t help matters any.

After all, a fully meeting-involved day takes a toll on productivity and morale:

Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School studied the daily routines of more than 230 people who work on projects that require creativity. As might have been expected, she found that their ability to think creatively fell markedly if their working days were punctuated with meetings.

Another form of clutter is e-mail.

Bain estimates that the number of external communications that managers receive has increased from about 1,000 a year in 1970 to around 30,000 today. Every message imposes a “time tax” on the people at either end of it; and these taxes can spiral out of control unless they are managed.

BCG. Bain. Must be fun working for an organization that gets to study and tsk-tsk bureaucratic, meeting’d up organizations. I think I missed my calling.

But yes, there are way too many e-mails flying around out there.

Two tips for not letting e-mails get in your way:

  • Don’t read anything you’re cc’d on. (Do, however, read everything you’re bcc’d on: this could be good.)
  • Limit your email read and response to a couple of set time each day.

Not that I’ve ever taken my own advice here.

Anyway, the best thing about working on my own is how de-cluttered it all is.

Sure, I have to deal with an occasional bureaucracy. Mostly it’s around how to get paid. (A few years back, one of my clients introduced a swell new system, “which will greatly benefit our suppliers.” I can’t believe that I was the only “supplier” who found that moving from a system that got you paid in two weeks to one that got your paid in 3 months (maybe) was a benefit.) Anyway, getting paid is a absolutely worth going through the bureaucracy for.

But mostly my work life is bureaucracy free, as the folks I directly work with take care of it behind the scenes.

I do meet with clients regularly, but they’re always purposeful meetings, focused specifically on whatever it is I’m working on.

No more mind (and butt) numbing meetings that don’t seem to have any purpose other than to make it look like the attendees are busy and important.

There’s no escaping e-mails, but, just like with meetings, I don’t tend to get added to e-mails strings just for the hell of it. Most of the work e-mails I send and receive are making or responding to specific requests.

So maybe the best way to de-clutter the workplace is to work for yourself.

Now if only I could get around to clearing the clutter off of my desk.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Parmigiano? Panama hats? Skee-ball? What’s in a name, trademarked or not.

A few weeks ago, I meandered across an article on the EU rattling its trade swords over use of words like feta, parmesan, and champagne.After all, they claim, Americans scarfing down feta, parmesan, or champagne made in the US would alternatively – i.e., if we knew any better – be consuming the real thing:  Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy; feta from Greece; and French Champagne.

Seriously, folks. I don’t know what the big hoo-hah is here.

I think most of us, even blindfolded, could tell the difference between freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, which we know is authentically from Italy because it’s got a red-white-and-green label (okay: we wouldn’t be able to see the label if we were blindfolded…) or because we paid $21.99 a pound for it at Whole Food -  and what’s sprinkled out of the Kraft Parmesan Cheese can.

But that real Parmigiano can get pricey, and sometimes all you want to do is sprinkle a bit of pale yellow, cheese-like substance on your spaghetti. And you don’t really give a damn what the source. It’s not like you’re going to convince yourself that the Kraft Parm is great. But it’s an either-ors thing. You’re either not going to know the difference, because you’ve never heard of Parmigiano-Reggiano (even though Wal-Mart carries it) and you wouldn’t pay the price differential for it even if you did; or you do know the difference, and can’t afford to pay the price differential; or you don’t think the difference is worth the price differential.

If you’re still following me here… (Hey, it’s Friday and it’s been a long week.)

As for feta, I don’t buy it that often, but I do occasionally get a Greek salad for lunch, and I’ve never noticed that feta tastes like anything much other than feta. This may be because I have lucked out and only frequent (or not so frequent) sub shops run by real Greeks who wouldn’t be caught dead on Mt. Olympus serving feta from anywhere other than Greece. Or it may be because, blindfolded, I couldn’t taste the difference between good feta (i.e., made in Greece) or bad feta (made in the US).

Champagne, well…

If we use the broadest of definitions of champagne – screw the terroir – to include pretty much anything that’s sparkling and white (prosecco, cava…), this is the one alcoholic bev that I would miss if I were told I had to give up booze. (God forbid.)

I used to be a French champagne snob, turning my nose up at anything that sparkled out of California, let alone New York. (The Buffalo terroir????)

But over the years, I’ve happily swapped out “real champagne” for the proseccos and cavas of the world.

Sure, given the choice, who wouldn’t choose Perrier-Jouet over Taylor Sparkling, if only for the flowered bottle.

But, as with the Parmigiano Reggiano vs. Kraft Parm, most people aren’t buying cheapo, faux champagne believing it’s a perfect alternative to champagne. They’re buying it because it’s cheaper and the difference doesn’t mean a thing to them.

So, for all the huffing and puffing. All the trying to force the issue by labeling that states that something not made there is “in the style of.” Or making us Americans rename products. (Kraft could just call it grated cheese – if, in fact, it’s cheese at all. Maybe grated topper would be safer…). THERE REALLY DOESN’T SEEM TO BE ANY REAL ECONOMIC LOSS TO THE COUNTRY OF ORIGIN.

Caveat emptor.

If it’s all that important, look for the label. (Or look at the price tag.)

Shortly after I read the article about EU coming after American expropriation of their names – what’s next? kielbasa? – I saw a reversal kind of story.

Panama hats, it seems, are not made in Panama.

Their terroir, in fact, is Ecuador.

I don’t believe that the Ecuadorians are arguing for a rename. Ecuador hat doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. I just think they want the Panama-hat wearing world to know from when cometh their topper.

And then there’s the case of Skee-ball Inc. vs. Brooklyn’s Brewskee-ball League for infringing on the use of their trademarked name.

Although I’m not interested in joining a skee-ball league – I’m just not enough of a hipster and/or bar denizen for that scene – I do love rolling a few games when I’m at an arcade. Next to Whack-a-Mole, I can’t think of an arcade game I like any better. So much fun rolling up the score, and how satisfying to see how many tickets you can accrue and turn in for swell prizes!

Anyway, I’m delighted that there’s a skee-ball league out there:

The national home is the Full Circle Bar in Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, where league games take place three nights a week. At the back of the pub are three skee-ball machines. Spectators sit on raised seating to watch and cheer. A “wall of fame” celebrates top-notch players with names like “Skeeopatra”, “Brewbacca” and “Skeebron James”. “Snakes on a Lane” is a star. The league runs on puns. It has three seasons, or skeesons, a year; each lasts about three months from kick-off to championship final…

The league has its fair share of hipsters, but they somehow restrain themselves from playing it ironically. (Source: The Economist.)

You have to ask why Skee-ball, Inc. would have gone after the Brewskee-ball league to begin with. Lawsuits are expensive. And, unlike skee-ball, are no fun.

I know you want to protect your trademark, but isn’t skee-ball kind of the kleenex of indoor sports?

Daniel Gervais, an intellectual property professor at the Vanderbilt Law School, thinks the league has a good argument. If consumers continually confuse a brand and a product, it could mean that a trademark has lost its uniqueness. The same thing happened to aspirin, the escalator and the yo-yo. Richard Idell, SBI’s lawyer, disagrees. “Skee-ball is not a generic term. It is not going to hold up in court. The machines are called ‘alley-rollers’.”

Fortunately, the suit – make that suits: Brewskee-ball League had counter-sued -  have been settled. In true hipster fashion, Brewskee “turned to crowdsourcing to help pay its legal bills.”

Next time I’m in Williamsburg, I might just show up on league night and watch the action. To really go hipster, I might even put on a Panama hat. It’s no fedora, but still…