Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas, 2014

It’s been a year, that’s for sure.

Last Christmas, my husband was dying.

He was still doing well enough that we could get out to lunch once in a while. We did our traditional thing and watched White Christmas, finally admitting to each other – after all those years – that it is a truly awful movie.

This year, I carried on and watched it solo.

It is, indeed, a truly awful movie – so awful that I cried during the entire thing!

But, oh, that Bing-Rosie rendition of the eponymous song…

Meanwhile, life – and Christmas – go on.

This year, I found out that it is indeed possible for me to single-handedly get a 7’ tree in the stand, and make sure it’s upright and stable, by myself. And it only took me about 5 minutes, which was far less time than it ever took us to do it together. I will not be counting on a Miracle at Beacon Street next year, and will be ordering one of those foot-levered stands that promise you an upright and stable tree, even if you’re putting it up on your own. We’ll see.

Pink Slip has a couple of traditions, and one is shXmas Tree - for the blogowing a picture of my Christmas tree.

So, thar she blows. Not my best photo ever, but you get the point. Next year’s shot will be taken with something other than an aged Blackberry.

It’s not exactly a perfect tree, and it’s not exactly perfectly decorated.

But if I live by one rule in my life, it’s my grandmother’s: if a man on a galloping horse wouldn’t notice, then don’t bother with it.

So I could have done a better spot of placing that bare spot to the rear. And making sure that the lights and ornaments were more precisely placed.

But, since a man on a galloping horse wouldn’t notice…

What matters more to me is the ornaments themselves.

Some were picked up on our travels. So I have ornaments from Ireland, Paris, Prague, Budapest…Some are New Yorky – the yellow cab, the Empire State Building.

I have ornaments that my mother made, and ornaments – they take pride of place – from my parents’ first Christmas tree.

A lot of my ornaments were gifts, and when I hang them I enjoy thinking about the friends and family members who gave them to me.

Some of my ornaments commemorate pets, living and dead.

I have a number of angels, a number of pigs, a few sweaters, and an awful lot of VW Beetles.

I have some that are family in-jokes: the Jell-o mold, the sock monkey. And some that I just think are funny. (E.g., Groucho nose and glasses.)

Out my kitchen window, I can see a neighbor’s tree. Perfectly lovely, perfectly boring. All red shining balls.

No handmade felt cat (the late and much lamented Emily, the most dog-like cat in the history of catkind). No first-Christmas-after-The-War Santa in the sleigh drawn by the reindeer with the broken leg. No Irish Post Office (Oifig Phoist).

Imperfect as it is, I love my tree.

Tonight I’ll be enjoying it with my perfectly imperfect family. (Or is it the other way around? Whatever, they’ve made this past year one whole hell of a lot easier for me.) We will drink wine, eat too much, and belt out Christmas in Killarney, Good King Wenceslas, and Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Our Yankee Swap will the best – or worst – ever.

We will talk about Christmases past (a bit), and Christmas present.

We will miss old friends and relations. (That’s for sure.)

Anyway, Pink Slip wishes you all a very Merry Christmas, a very Happy Holiday (if yours isn’t Christmas), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year.

Pink Slip is taking the week off, and will return next week to ring in the New Year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Well, I’m all for Christmas presents for pets.

This year, the pet in my life – my sister Trish’s black lab – is getting a box of Greenies and some fancy treats that quite literally have his name (Jack) on them. Greenies are dental chews, and, while I don’t want to imply that Jack should be doing a better job brushing his teeth, he did just see a pet dentist, and we all want Jack to keep his fine white choppers in good shape.

Plenty of people get their pets gifts:

An estimated 50% of dog owners will buy their dog a gift, spending an average of $10, and 36% of cat owners, spending $7.80 per gift, the group says.  (Source: WSJ Online)

An average of $10? Guess I went overboard. And my gifts to Jack will by no means be the only presents he receives. By dollar value of the total swag Jack gets at Christmas, I’m guessing he’s something of a one-percenter.

Pet gifting is extending beyond dogs and cats:

Now, more families are trying to include other types of pets in their Christmas festivities, including guinea pigs, ferrets, hamsters and rabbits.

Some 28% of owners of these “small animals” are expected to buy their pet a Christmas present this year, spending an average of $16 per gift, according to the trade group American Pet Products Association.

Sixteen bucks for a rodent vs. ten for a canine? I know it’s all in the eye of the pet-holder, but I’ve yet to meet a hamster that’s worth 60% more than a dog. But if it’s your little guy, and it’s the most wonderful time of the year, etc., it’s hard to restrain yourself. And there’s plenty of stuff out there to spend on.

New items include gingerbread houses and scuba-diving Santa decorations for fish tanks and reindeer antlers and Santa hats for guinea pigs.

Hamsters are harder, Mr. [Steve] Chattin [VP PetSmart] says. “You try to put a hat on a hamster and their natural instinct is to take it off,” he says.

Red, green and white shredded-paper bedding to line animal cages is a big seller to “pet parents,” PetSmart’s term for its customers.

Santa hats for guinea pigs, eh?

On Christmas Eve, I’m sure that Jack will be sporting a holiday collar.

But that’s about it.

Other than an assortment of collars, the only clothing Jack owns is a Thundershirt, which is supposed to calm a dog down when it’s scary outside.

But if you do want to dude your pet up:

Many dogs happily sport Christmas sweaters, hats and bow ties, but persuading other species to wear clothing over their fur coats isn’t always easy. Petco says its new holiday stoles, made for rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets, were designed in consultation with a veterinarian toBN-GB906_1217pe_M_20141218120730 (1) be sure the fit is safe and comfortable, especially given the animals’ propensity to chew, burrow and squirm. Ms. [Jennifer] Loesch  [VP Petco] says “the stoles have Velcro closures for a quick breakaway if they want to wiggle out of it.”

For those less likely to wiggle, Ms. [Cindy] Breninger sells Santa hats for tortoises online.

Not content with a Santa hat, Ms. Breninger crafted up a little Christmas tree for her little critter to tote around. (Question for K&R: What Would Sluggo Do?)

I suspect that most folks don’t deck out their turtles.

But ferrets, now there’s another story altogether.

Ferrets are, apparently, the new dog.

Not only does Marshall Pet Products make all  kinds of Christmas gear with which to deck the ferrets:

Demand for holiday-themed ferret hats is so strong that next year Marshall, based in Wolcott, N.Y., plans to add a witch hat for Halloween, a party hat and a top hat for black-tie events. The Uncle Sam hat, sold for over 15 years, has become increasingly popular as more people involve ferrets in Independence Day parties, Ms. [Linda] Cope says.

As. More. People. Involve. Ferrets. In. Independence. Day. Parties.

We the ferrets of the United States…Ferret

When in the course of ferret events…

All ferrets are endowed by their creator…

Would the average ferret include being dressed up as an elf under the “pursuit of happiness”?

Is this a great nation (or at least an imaginative one) or what?

Meanwhile, back to the holiday at hand.

Dara Foster, a pet stylist based in Port Washington, N.Y., advises pet owners to remain calm and loving when trying to dress any animal, but especially hamsters and guinea pigs. “They don’t understand voice commands, but they’ll pick up on your energy,” she says. “And avoid anything with sleeves if you possibly can.”

Ms. Foster mostly dresses dogs on behalf of private clients and pet-product companies and for media events. But she anticipates her client list soon will include other types of animals as more owners seek ways to humanize them.


Rather than trying to figure out how to make pets more like humans, maybe we should be figuring out how to make humans more like pets. (Or at least like dogs…)

Anyway, they may not know it’s Christmas, but Merry Christmas to critters every where.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Company Holiday Party? Come on, most folks would rather have a Dunkin Donuts gift card.

There was an article the other day on on the return of the company holiday party. The news that companies that had put the kibosh on this mode of torture were roaring back party-wisesurely dashed the hopes of those reluctant party-goers who’d been enjoying the respite brought about by the economic downturn.

I’m all in favor of celebrating the holidays with colleagues.

In fact, a few weeks ago, the marketing department of one of my local clients invited me to their group outing.

The outing was held in a bowling alley on a workday afternoon. We had drinks and bar food; bowled one game; and did a Yankee Swap.

It checked off all the boxes I like to see checked off for a company event:

  • Small
  • Low key
  • No spouses
  • Business hours
  • Regular clothing

Despite the fact that I’m a horrendous bowler, it was tremendous fun. (And despite the fact that I’m a horrendous bowler, my score of 83 put me right in the middle of the pack. I might have done better if the chargĂ© d'affaires hadn’t laughed off the request of several bad bowlers to put the bumpers up,  removing the possibility of throwing any gutter balls. And, yes, for the curious, this was “big ball” bowling, not candlepin, so 83 is really nowhere near an acceptable score.)

In the past, I worked for companies that made an extraordinarily big deal out of holiday parties: fancy venue, weekend night, party clothing, spousal drag.

I learned to get in and get out quickly, making sure that I at least nodded to everyone you needed to nod to.

No way did I want to come in on Monday and have some Mr. Big or other tell me he hadn’t seen me at the big do.

But these parties were definitely not my thing.

And I don’t think they’re most anyone else’s thing, either.

I’ll exempt from this the twenty-somethings (and the odd full grown up) who want to dress up, get blasted, and have a raucous old time, blithely unworried that they’d gotten in the grill of the company president and told him what you think of the way the company’s run.

Good times, good times.

One of my favorite company holiday party memories is that of one of my colleagues introducing her spouse to the COO.

The COO was a career military man who had grown up in the Midwest, and he and his wife were famously conservative and completely stood out in our hippy-dippy left-bank tech-weirdo environment.

Anyway, my colleague who was introducing her spouse was gay, and although this was more than a decade before gay marriage became a reality, she introduced her partner as her wife.

Our COO did a fairly good job of containing himself, but I thought that his wife would fall off of her pumps.

So the company holiday party is not necessarily devoid of entertainment and fun.

Still, I don’t actually know anybody who enjoys a full-blown company blowout.

But I, of course, don’t know everybody.

Somebody must be enjoying these blessed events – at minimum the folks planning them:

The Boston branch of an international financial firm hired an aerialist to pour champagne into people’s glasses from the ceiling. A local pharmaceutical company put on an elaborate “Alice in Wonderland”-themed event with life-size chess pieces, 20-foot hedges, and chairs hanging from the ceiling. The Somerville entertainment company Paint Nite rented a trolley with a disco ball and took its employees on a pre-party shoe-shopping spree. (Source:


A drug company ran a party with an Alice in Wonderland theme? Hope they at least had the wit to play Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit. (“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small. Go ahead. You know you want to.)

As for the pre-party shoe-shopping spree, it all depends on where the spree took place. Big deal if it’s Payless.

“They’re going over the top,” said Ken Barrett, executive director of BG Events and Catering in Boston, noting that his holiday party business is double what it was five years ago.

Large financial firms, banks, and insurance companies in particular are going all out this year, event planners say, and the price tag for some of the most lavish galas can reach $150,000 or more.

Maybe I’d feel differently if I’d ever gone to a corporate “gala” that cost $150K. I’ve been to some pricey weddings, and I’ve got to say you can have a pretty darned good time even if you have to get dressed up to do so.

But nice as some of the corporate functions I’ve attended have been, I’d still rather have half of what the per capita spend was in cash. Or a Dunkin Donuts card.

Fostering this type of camaraderie can have benefits: It increases trust and boosts productivity in an age of nonstop work when there is little opportunity to socialize at the office, said David DeLong, a Concord workplace consultant.

On the other hand, where there’s free booze to foster the camaraderie, things other than trust increase.

Anyway, there were plenty of fun touches written up in article. Among other goodies – in addition to the aerialist pouring champagne from the ceiling - some holiday gatherings have hadtarot card readers.

Tarot cards, huh?

What could possibly go wrong when the reading suggests poor judgment, stagnation, missed opportunities.

Here’s to a swell 2015!


Thanks to my sister Trish – still enduring the company holiday party, unless she can avoid it – for sending me the link to the party article.

Friday, December 19, 2014

If we can put a man on the moon, surely we can solve the virtual reality vomit problem

Me? I’ve got enough reality-reality in my life to worry about without going out and larding on virtual reality (VR).

But for those who prefer their reality virtual, there is a problem: VR makes some folks sick.

Well, reality-reality can be pretty darned sickening, too.

The Taliban slaughters a bunch of school kids.

But even when I’m reading the racist, misogynist, just plain cretinous comments on I don’t tell to become dehydrated, get the sweats, and lose my cookies.

While most VR producers and aficionados have declared the motion-sickness, nausea, headache problems solved, others – brimming VR sickness bag in hand – insist that there are still many folks who suffer from what has to be one of the more peculiar 21st century maladies.

Joshua Brustein, who writes for Business Week, is one of them:

The unconvincing quality of the virtual experience is what makes people such as me take ill. If the eyes register one thing while the inner ear encounters something else, the result for some people is nausea. Much of the sickness comes from the lag that occurs with motion observed inside the VR headset: You move your head, and the virtual world takes a fraction of a second to catch up. (Source: Business Week)

Help may be on the way. It will be coming from Oculus, the VR gamer acquired by Facebook early this year. (To the tune of $2 billion. Remember when we used to think that $500 million, or even $1 billion was a lot of money?  Chump change!) Sometime within the next year or so, VR-ites will be able to buy new VR headsets, which does the trick:

Oculus has been adding sensors to its new headset to eliminate that lag just as it improves the software that converts the sensor input.

Make that does the trick, more or less. Brustein gave an Oculus Crescent Bay headset prototype a tryout. He found it an imperfect improvement:

After 10 minutes, I felt only the slightest bit dehydrated, with no need to heave. Count that as real progress for virtual reality.

Oculus CEO Brendan Uribe admits that:

…It will likely take years of consumer-level products, he says, before the motion sickness issue is completely solved.

I’m sure that there will be plenty of things that virtual reality will be great for: training simulations, especially in dangerous simulations; therapy; design. And maybe I’ll benefit from it some day. (Probably not the dangerous situation training; maybe in kitchen design; most likely in old geezer therapy.)

I will admit that I am pretty darned certain that I’ll never be a VR gamer.

I’m more of a Parcheesi kind of gal, I guess.

But on behalf of VR gamers everywhere, I sincerely hope they solve this problem for once and for all.

Surely, if we can put a man on the moon…

Thursday, December 18, 2014

It’s nice, you know, to kiss your beau…just watch for the drone-bearing mistletoe

Not scary enough that the skies will sooner or later be filled with drones bearing whatever we order from Amazon. Not sufficient that we’ll be trying to duck and cover while walking down the street and a drone overhead loses altitude while delivering something heavy: a canoe, a fridge, a side of beef. Not unnatural enough that so we’ll be observing chevrons of drones where we once observed chevrons of geese. (With luck, Canada geese going elsewhere fast. One thing in a drone’s favor is that they don’t leave nasty turds behind.)

Maybe none of these bad drone things will happen.

Maybe we’ll all have 3D printers and will be able to print up that canoe, fridge, side of beef.

But what if 3D doesn’t work out, and all these private, unregulated drones start colliding with real planes? What if they start peeking through our windows? Stalking us?

It’s raining drones, alleluia…

Well, as nerve-wracking as the idea of drone-filled skies is, we apparently won’t be safe from them when we’re indoors, either. At least if you’re supping at the TGIF in Sheepshead Bay, New York.

That’s where, a few weeks ago, someone got the bright idea of having a mistletoe drone do a fly-about version of the kiss-cam, hovering over couples until they locked lips.

To cover the TGIF event – a powerfully irresistible combination of schlock holiday and cool technology - Courier Life’s Brooklyn Daily sent a reporter and photographer over to TGIF. Unfortunately, photographer Georgine Benvenuto lost a bit of her nose, plus got clipped on the chin. I don’t believe that these sorts of things are generally associated with mistletoe, but it’s been a while…

The operator, David Quiones, claims the accident wouldn't have happened if the reporter didn't flinch when the flying contraption landed on her hand, sending the drone hurtling towards her companion. (Source: Engadget)

Well, if something with whirring, uncovered blades landed on my hand, I might flinch, too. Maybe Courier Life’s Brooklyn Daily needs to equip its reporters with falconer gauntlets, and its photographers with hockey masks.

Despite drawing blood from someone's face, he doesn't believe the incident will affect business: "If people get hurt, they're going to come regardless. People get hurt in airplanes, they still fly. There is a risk involved -- anything flying, there is risk."

Actually, I don’t believe that most people who get hurt in airplanes still fly. I’m guessing that, statistically speaking, the majority of folks who get hurt in airplanes get hurt hurt. As in BIG HURT. As in die. So, other than flexing their angel wings, their flying days are over.

As for TGIF, well, a spokesperson told Brooklyn Daily that the company isn't worried about more customers getting injured. People generally steer clear of the drones on their own, she said, adding that they do not let consumers touch them.

TGIF may not let its diners touch the drones that are flying around, but what happens if a drone stalls and crashes into your nachos or potato skins? Drops into your pitcher of margaritas?

The world is a dangerous enough place without having to worry about a drone attack at TGIF.

Talk about you better watch out

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

That sinking feeling I always get when the package is coming via UPS…

Trust me on this one. If you live:

  • On a main thoroughfare
  • In a large city
  • In a small condo building that does not have a concierge or doorman or whatever
  • In a small condo building that has a locked front door such that the only way into the vestibule (where a package could be safely left, as opposed to on the stoop, where you take your chances) is to have someone buzz you in – unless, of course, you are the good old fashioned USPS mailman with the passkey
  • A life that is busy enough that you do not want to sit at home all day waiting for a delivery


For years, I had my UPS packages sent to the home of one of my sisters.

And then I discovered MyUPS, a service you can join – I think it’s about $40 a year or so – that will let you direct packages to a UPS Store for free (once you pay the $40 a year or so).

Since there is a UPS store about a two minute walk from where I live, this has worked out famously. Mostly.

There are a couple of flaws in the system as far as I’m concerned.

  1. You can’t use the UPS Store address for your delivery destination. You have to wait until you get the shipping notice, then go in and make your choice of diversion online.
  2. Once you make your choice of diversion, it can take a couple of days to reroute the package, even if the place where you want it delivered is about a two minute walk from where you live.

I understand why there’s a delay.

After all, I could be diverting the package from delivery to my home to delivery in, say, Ocean Park, Washington. And I know that can’t happen instantaneously.

Still, one might hope that there’s a way that “the system” could be configured such that, if the delivery point of your desire is about a two minute walk from where you live, the reroute only takes a day.

Mostly the day of delivery doesn’t matter.

If I don’t get the navy blue LL Bean turtleneck right away, I’ll live.

But sometimes it does matter

As when my lawyer overnighted the tax filing for my husband’s estate, and it took three days to arrive. We had enough leeway that this worked out, but if it had been time-critical, I would have been sunk. (Or had to schlepp up to his office on the North Shore.)

And the latest – well, debacle is really too strong a word, so let’s just say – annoyance has been receipt of a toy for a homeless kiddo that I really do need to have wrapped (the gift, not the kiddo) and ready pretty darned soon.

Here’s what happened.

As I do each year, I took a few kids from a charity run through my gym. As I do each year, I took older kids. I do so because most people would rather by fun stuff for the little ones than gift certificates to Wet Seal for teenagers, while I – who live in a toy store challenged city - find it much easier to bop into Wet Seal and pick up a bunch of gift certificates, or bop into Radio Shack for an MP3 player, or bop into City Sports for a basketball.

When I picked up my assignment this year, I took three teenaged girls, and their younger sister.

The gift request for the younger kid was something LeapFrog-ish.

So I went online and ordered something LeapFrog-ish, and sprung for two-day delivery (nearly half the cost of the item I purchased), figuring that would translate into four-day delivery, but would still get here in enough time that I wouldn’t be having a nervous breakdown over it.

Four-score and seven days ago…

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. But five days after I ordered it, it still hasn’t arrived on my doorstep the doorstep of the UPS Store that’s two minutes away.

Anyway, here I sit, fingers and toes crossed that the Leapster shows up in the next day or so.

I do want to say that everyone I have ever spoken with at UPS customer service, and everyone I have dealt with at the UPS Store that’s two minutes away, has been a paragon of efficiency, helpfulness, charm, and follow-up.

And the ones on the phone clearly don’t hold it against me that, the minute I hear that Valley Girl voice that’s on their voice response system, I go bonkers and start muttering both under and over my breath. (Why is it that the prompts speak Valley Girl, but when I attempt to answer the prompt in my best Valley Girl version of “track a package”, the voice recognition system doesn’t seem to recognize a superlative imitation of its very own voice? Is it because by the second time around, I’ve attached the f-word to my input?)

So here’s hoping that the package gets here in time.

I’m pretty confident that it will.

Still, it’s no wonder that, every time I see that the delivery method is UPS, I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

When it positively, absolutely has to get there overnight, just hop in a Zipcar, drive out to the ‘burbs, and get it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An app for everything, and everything for an app

Last week, I decided to get a bit more organized in the hall closet.

Sick and tired of pulling out armloads of mixed up scarves, gloves, and caps and sorting through the mass of everything every time I have to head out, I thought I’d get a few storage containers. So I’m now the proud owner of a tub full of scarves, a tub full of hats, a tub full of gloves, and a tub not so full of umbrellas.

Oh, I suppose there would have been other ways of organizing things – by color, by frigid-weather level – but I chose a pretty basic approach.

It works for me, and now I know – and can remember in my own little brain – where my outdoor accessories are. With outdoor accessories at my fingertips, I hadn’t thought that I also might want to have information about the whereabouts of my outdoor accessories at my fingertips, too.

But if I did want to know exactly what was stored in each of my clear plastic tubs, I could have downloaded the free HomStorage Appz Smart Storage app. (That is, I could have downloaded it if I had a new-fangled iPhone, rather than my retro Blackberry.)

I suppose that there are people who really do need an app to tell them where everything they own is stored. But those would be folks with a lot more stuff on their hands than I have, and a lot more places in which to stow it than the paltry 1240 square feet I call home.

Sure, I sometimes do lose track of my stuff – as in when I discovered a few months ago that I owned eight pie plates. Given that I might bake a pie once a year, this was quite a revelation. I solved to surfeit of pie plates pretty easily by donating four of them – okay, I didn’t exactly donate them; I left them out on trash day in an open bag and someone picked them up – and have the remaining four where I can keep an eye on them. Just to make sure that they don’t go replicating themselves again.

But mostly I know where things are.

When you don’t have all that much room, there’s a place for everything and everything has a place.

Anyway, there is at least one major benefit to having not all that much space: it’s just plain tough to keep acquiring things. (Pie plates aside, I’m pretty good about getting rid of stuff I don’t need. Mostly. I still can’t part company with a batik quilt I got 40 years ago, a quilt I loved even when I was watching Charlie’s Angels one night and saw that one of the angels had the same quilt (only she had the all-blue one, rather than the much more sophisticated,  interesting and attractive brown-blue one) on her bed. I think it was the angel that Jacqueline Smith played. Or maybe Farrah’s sister. And there are a few other things I could definitely part company with. Maybe I’ll give everyone a door prize on Christmas Eve…)

In any case, even if I did have an iPhone, I don’t think I’m quite at the stuff level where I need to keep tabs on everything I own with an app.

I’m not anti-app by any means.

But the apps I could really use don’t seem to exist.

How about an app that could find – and fetch – the juice oranges (vs. navels) I prefer for my orange-chocolate pound cake. None to be found at Shaw’s or DeLuca’s. Off to Whole tomorrow…

How about an app – a press button app – that I could press to my forehead and, based on some sort of app mind-meld. pAnd immediately – in real-time, as they say - df’s with design specs for my do-over kitchen and bathrooms would spring forth.

Which, of course, suggests another app that I could really use: the line up the contractors to get the kitchen and the bathrooms done. I’ve got a great painter and a great electrician – at least I did a decade back when I last used them – but for a really big job that entails pulling up tile and sledgehammering cabinets that were completely cool in 1979, I need help. Is there an app for that? And I don’t mean Angie’s List of Yelp. I just want it done. Pick out the appliances while you’re at it, why don’t you.

How about an app that will polish up my scratched up furniture. Sure, shabby is chic, but…

If there’s an app that’ll take about ten pounds off if I put it under my pillow, I’ll even buy an iPhone.

But I really don’t need an app to tell me that the Liberty shawls, the wool infinity my sister Kath made me, and anything else that goes on the outside of the coat, are in a clear plastic tub in the hall closet, while all the indoor scarves are in drawers two and three in the tall chest in the bedroom.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Rats are never in vogue

As a city dweller – make that a city dweller dwelling in reclaimed ocean – I am no stranger to rat sightings.

Sometimes they’re scurrying in and out of a sewer. Sometimes they cross my path while I’m strolling on posh Newbury Street. Sometimes – and these are, rat-wise, the best of times, even with the blood and gore – I see one flattened out in the middle of the street. One down, I always tell myself, another couple of hundreds of thousands to go.

There are few things I despise more than rats. Perhaps even worse than bedbugs, they’re the stuff that my nightmares are made of.

City’s are full of them, but mostly they’re out of sight. And, blessedly, out of doors.

The only place I’ve experienced indoor rats up close and personal was when I was a waitress at the Union Oyster House.

Screaming when one ran over your waitress shoes was a firing offense. If the rats came out while we were cleaning our stations, we could leave the dirty plates right there. And on one memorable day a dishboy known as The Animal unclogged a sink by pulling a drowned rat out of it. Our hero!

This was, of course, decades ago. I’m sure that there’s been an exterminator or two on site since I hung up my waitress shoes and served my last platter of cherrystones. (“Whaddya mean these are uncooked?”)

Outdoor rats are bad enough – and plentiful enough in these parts.

But, inside rats.

Nasty business, that…

Blessedly, while my workplaces may have had an occasional mouse, they have been four-legged rat free.

Those who labor to make the world safe for fashion, however, are not so lucky – at least those who call Vogue home. The magazine recently moved from mid-town to the new World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. What happened when they began occupying their new digs is downright CondĂ© Nasty. I mean, there you are working with fashionistas, dressing to the nines, and asking yourself the big questions like “does the devil really wear Prada?” – and here you go: a bunch of fashion-forward rats are peering over your shoulder to see what’s in this month’s fashion spread.

According to the New York Daily News (excerpted in Jezebel):

"A bunch ate through the ceiling of a sports editor's office and crawled all over his desk and left poops on his keyboard," said a different source. "They ate through his rug to fit under his door."

We're told that Conde has sent a memo to their staff in the building telling them that "they cannot eat at their desks" and that a complaint to the city's health department is next on the agenda. (Source: Jezebel)

Rats, as it happens, are almost always found found where there’s new urban construction.

Their burrows are dislodged when the digging starts, and they eventually find their way inside of the structure, where they hunker down as squatters until the paying tenants come in and – eventually – evict them.

But you’d think that the owners of the building would try to do a bit of rodent control before the human occupiers move in, wouldn’t you?

It apparently didn’t happen in the new World Trade Center.

One thing to think of trading floors and other fin-serv offices being overrun with rats. Not that anyone wants to work in a smelly, germy, scary, rat-filled environment, but if this happened at a brokerage, say, I’m sure that the rat jokes would be flying, and “the boys” would be running contests to see who could bag the biggest rat. Rat Patrol!

Quite another when it’s the voice of American fashion where no one but no one wants to step toe of their Jimmy Choos into a rat turd, or find the edge of their Tory Burch bag gnawed.

I’m betting that no one needed a memo to be told not to eat lunch at a desk where there’s dripping rat pee. anna wintour

Anna Wintour, the last word in fashion, is reportedly quite a bit unnerved by the rat-festation. Not that I blame her, but it would be kind of fun to be a fly on the wall as she takes on the landlord over this debacle.

How unnerved is the Divine Miss W?

Well, she was spotted – spotted coat and all – leavingann with glasses the building without the signature sunglasses she is always seen in.

I’d have thought she’d keep those glasses on, the better to block out rat-spotting. On the other hand, she might want to keep her eyes peeled, just in case one of those little critters that don’t lend themselves – or their pelts – to a good, pricey fur coat decides to cross her path.

The thought of working in a rat hole is beyond disgusting.

Hope that Vogue’s holiday party is off premises this year…



Source for both pics: Daily Mail

Friday, December 12, 2014

All that and a bag of nuts

As Peter Paul Candy taught us year’s ago, some times you feel like a nut, some times you don’t.

I’m one of those folks who, most of the time, does feel like a nut. And when I do, I tend not to care whether that nut comes out of a bag, sits in a dish, or is served on a silver platter.

Like everyone else, of course, I occasionally have to struggle to open the nut bag on the airlines – or I did, until most airlines I fly on banned nuts. When the incredible shrinking nut bags were handed out, I was always worried whether I’d chip a tooth trying to rip it open with my teeth, or whether the bag would explode and send those few, those proud, those eleven salted and/or sugared peanuts flying.

And while on the subject of nuts, I do have to say that when I’m at Fenway Park sharing a box of Cracker Jacks with my sister Trish, we are generally appalled by the paltry number of peanuts. Bad enough that the surprise inside is a shadow of former Cracker Jack greatness. Wouldn’t you rather have a tiny plastic yo-yo that doesn’t work than a wash-off tattoo?

But my next round of Cracker Jacks is months away, and the nut-related subject at hand is the Korean Air exec – the VP of cabin service and catering - who reportedly went a bit nuts last week when a flight attendant served her macadamia nuts in a bag, rather than on a plate.

Heather Cho – who’s not just any old airline VP, why, she’s the daughter of the chairman – wasn’t content to just chew out the flight attendant on the spot, or write up this completely egregious breach of protocol and destroy the flight attendant’s career after the fact. No, she had to demand that the pilot pull the plane back to the gate so that the unworthy flight attendant could be bodily removed.

Here’s how the initial reports said things went down:

Local media reports said that a junior attendant had offered Ms. Cho macadamia nuts in a bag, instead of serving the nuts on a plate.

Ms. Cho, daughter of company boss Cho Yang-ho, then questioned the chief flight attendant over in-flight service standards and ordered him off the plane.

Korean Air said the plane arrived 11 minutes late, and that the decision to expel the senior flight attendant had been made in consultation with the pilot. (Source: BBC)

Ms. Cho, whose charter includes service standards – which, as the CEO’s daughter, likely translates into jetting around in first class, back and forth between Inchon and wherever; getting fawned over by airline employees; and collecting a big, fat paycheck  - was, as it turns out, just traveling as a regular old passenger when the incident occurred.

As a passenger, she had no right to demand that the plane get turned around, which got South Korean travel authorities trying to decide whether a criminal offense had occurred. I mean a criminal offense above and beyond serving macadamia nuts in a bag.

In the bag, or not?

A few days after the nut news broke, it was announced the Ms. Cho had resigned, at a meeting “presided over” by dear old dad.

“I apologize to the customers and the public for causing social issues and to those who have been hurt by my actions,” Heather Cho said in the statement. “I will take full responsibility and resign from all my positions.” (Source: Bloomberg)

She had been getting it in the neck from South Korean news, which cited her as an example of what happens when above-it-all family members of the families that run the country’s business conglomerates get jobs in the family business. Surprise, surprise.

Meanwhile, there’s a conflicting story about the kernel at the center of Nutgate. It may not have been a case of plated vs. bagged nuts, after all.

Heather Cho ordered the head of the service crew on Flight 86 from New York to Seoul to deplane on Dec. 5 after an attendant earlier had served her macadamia nuts without asking, the carrier said Dec. 8. Cho then summoned the purser to ask a question about the airline’s policy on serving nuts. She ordered the plane back to the gate and instructed the man to leave the plane when he couldn’t answer.

Given the sensitivity – life and death sensitivity, at that – around all things nutty, it does make sense to have a policy about nuts: ask and you shall receive, keep them in the bag, or do away with nuts on the plane, altogether. Much as I like nuts, I think I could live without them for the duration of a flight. (I would be less happy if ballparks banned Cracker Jacks, but I’m fine if they want to have peanut-free sections in the stands.)

What was over the top was Ms. Cho’s reaction.

From the sounds of things, the crew member that she booted off the plane is now on leave, doctor’s letter in hand.

If this were the states, I think we could safely say “law suit” here.

Don’t know what this bodes in South Korea.

Anyway, just because she’s the boss’s daughter doesn’t give Heather Cho the right to act like a boor boss to some hapless employee who, senior flight attendant/purser or not – is well down the totem pole, let alone order a plane back to the gate.

I’d say good riddance, but the betting money has it that, once things die down, she’ll be back in some capacity.

VP title, no doubt, safely on the business card.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Trendspotting for Foodies

As 2014 draws to a close – and the sooner the better, from where I stand – my thoughts have turned to what to be on the lookout for in 2015.

Will my L.L. Bean and Talbot’s duds still be on the cutting edge of fashion?

Once I get around to putting in that tempered glass counter top in the kitchen, will it turn out that the trend-meisters were wrong about granite being the new cardboard?

Will Canasta be making a comeback, or will this just be in my narrow circle?

And, most important, there’s the food front.

Will Greek yogurt still rule? Can I take kale off my learn-how-to-live-with list? Will Caprese sandwiches remain a menu staple?

None of those particular questions (except, maybe, the yogurt one) were answered in a recent piece on Huffington Post. But I did learn was what “the hottest food trends of 2015, brought to you in partnership with ConAgra Foods and Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert.”

Now I’m not quite sure I want to trust my trendspotting to the likes of ConAgra. Their brands seem to be pretty anti-trend: Swiss Miss, Chef Boyardee, Slim Jim, Reddi-Whip, and Jiffy Pop. Not to mention Peter Pan Peanut Butter and Blue Bonnet Margarine, both household staples when I was growing up, but products I didn’t know still existed.

And I wasn’t familiar at all with Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert.

I guess I’ll just have to accept that he is, in fact, a bona fide Supermarket Guru.

What do Phil and the mavens at ConAgra predict is in store for us?

Gluten free is – at last – so yesterday.  Which is too bad for folks like my husband, who had celiac disease. The elective gluten-free-ers will, I guess, move on to the next.

If there’ll be fewer new GF foods, what can we expect to see on the shelves next year? Fermented foods, like yogurt and sauerkraut.

Personally, I’d never use the words “yogurt” and “sauerkraut” in the same sentence, but, apparently, because fermented foods are such a digestive aide, and help us absorb nutrients. Looks like I’ll have start trending off of cottage cheese, and back on to Greek yogurt. Sauerkraut, nein danke.

Smoked everything will be making more appearances as well. We won’t be seeing just smoked meats, but “vegetables, cheese and even cocktails.” And if you don’t have a backyard smoker, well, you’d better be asking Santa for one.

Not a big smoked anything fan, so I have no intention of being the first person on Beacon Hill with a backyard smoker. (Let alone put an indoor version in my dream kitchen, if and when I get moving on that project.)

There are a number of generational predictions.

Us old geezers will become old grazers, picking throughout the day rather than sitting down for three squares. Boomers will be munching on snacks that are protein rich, full of fiber, and promote our bone health with Omega 3s. I don’t see myself snacking on fish oil supplements – they’re no Cheet-os, that’s for sure. But you never know.

Generation Z  - those born after 1995 – supposedly “most enjoy cooking simple, healthy meals with fresh ingredients.”

Maybe it’s just me, but the Gen Z-ers I know are either eating what their moms put on the table, what’s on offer through their campus meal plan, or cooking up a simple, not especially healthy, bowl of ramen noodles.

We also learn that Miillennials, those monkeys in the middle between the Boomers and Gen Z, will be looking for craft foods, items that are unique and of “authentic origin.”

I am going back and forth about whether I dislike the term “craft food” more than I dislike the term “artisanal food.” Decisions, decisions. If I throw in “house made”, which I increasingly see on restaurant menus, there’s no contest: worst in its class is definitely “house made.” (Artisanal gets a pass because it’s so often misspelled as “artesian.”)

More and more information will be at the fingertips of shoppers, so we can get all the skinny – and the fat – on the craft foods we’re grazing on. And, if we don’t want to lug it all home in our handy-dandy shopping carts (geezers) or our Patagonia backpacks (GenZ), same day delivery will be everywhere.

My favorite trend is that the supermarket will become spaces for socializing. And not just socializing over how to gauge the freshness of a cantaloupe.  Supermarkets will be opening restaurants, hosting seminars, running cooking classes.

Sure, if you’re Whole Foods, or Wegman’s, or some other upscale super-duper market. Not so likely if you’re a regular old grocery store where people, ah, come to by ground beef, and lettuce, and Rice Krispies, and clementines, and a gallon of milk.

Folks who shop there aren’t looking to graze. They aren’t that concerned with whether the food is craft. They just want to fill their cart, check out, and go home and make dinner for the kids. Same day delivery? They’ve already got that covered. DIY.

So much for the 2015 food trends…

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

“Solving upper-class problems since 1912.”

While I was thumbing through last week’s New Yorker, a couple of ads caught my attention.

One was a full-page, full-color, full-sized head shot of a man. A black man wearing dreads. The man is pulling his lips down, and on his lower lip the words PINE BROS. are printed.

Pine Brothers? I asked myself. As in those first cousins to the Smith Brothers? As in cough drops?

At the bottom of the page it read “Love your Brothers” – Waka Flocka Flame.

I suspect that, if I have one thing in common with the average New Yorker subscriber, it would be that I have no idea in the world who Waka Flocka Flame might be. (We would only know his name if there’d been an article on him in the mag, one of those articles geared at keeping old fogeys up to date on celebrities, in case we missed this week’s People or the latest Access Hollywood.)

But I was quickly able to find that he is a rapper, and that he has recently replaced Martha Stewart as the spokesperson for Pine Brothers softish throat drops.

Talk about shaking things up.

Admittedly, Martha is not without edge herself, orange being the new black and all that. But the shift to Waka. Wow. (Or, as stoners used to say, Oh wow.)

Waka is certainly an interesting dude, one who “this year started a search for his own personal blunt roller, offering $50,000 a year.”  Who said there aren’t any more solid, entry level middle class jobs out there? Anyway, Waka can afford  to pay to get his blunts rolled, especially if he’s being paid anywhere near the $1 million Martha was supposedly getting.

The Waka video ads, which were “shot the weed-loving Waka in the smoke filled house from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” were banned by NBC and CBS.

The clip shows Waka alone on a couch, surrounded by puffs of smoke. Amid the fog, he says, “Can’t live without my Pine Brothers, straight up.” Shooting a knowing glance at a plume of smoke, he adds, “Next time you need some throat relief — for whatever reason — get your Pine Brothers.” (Source: PageSix.)

While “our” ads are a bit more subtle, who knew that The New Yorker audience could be hip and happenin’ enough to be graced with the presence of Waka?

The other ad of note was for Manhattan antique dealer S.J. Shrubsole.

One might infer from the somewhat starchy name S.J. Shrubsole that the company would have an advertisement that was somewhat prim and proper.

Oh, no, they didn’t…

In fact, their ad – one-third page, black/white/greyscale – was captioned “HAVEN’T GOT A POT TO PISS IN?”

Well, you would if you had $125K to fork over for the pictured “Rare George II Champerpot made for the Earl of Warrington.”

That would be some conversation piece, but who wants to have to polish up a sterling silver chamberpot, even one that had been doused by the Earl of Warrington?

The ad doesn’t stop with the pot to piss in.

Right underneath the picture of the chamberpot is a second headline: “WIFE KNOWS OTHERWISE?”

And beneath this caption are a couple of art-deco bracelets ($75K, $82.5K) are shown.

In truth, while The New Yorker demographic is plenty upscale, I suspect it’s not exactly laden with folks who routinely spend $125K for a collectible, whatever its pedigree, or $82.5K for a bracelet, however lovely. Probably about the same proportion of readers who kick back and blunt roll while watching Waka Flocka.

Shrubsole makes no bones about its demographic.

The Shrubsole tagline?

Solving upper-class problems since 1912.

I suppose they do solve some upper-class problems – like what to get for the man who has everything, especially if he has had a secret man-crush on the Earl of Warrington for years. But it doesn’t solve other exceedingly difficult challenges that I upper-class New Yorkers have had to overcome since 1912.

Why, the very year 1912.

How would Shrubsole have helped a first class gentleman decide whether to give his space on the Titanic's last lifeboat to the pregnant young woman from steerage?

Does Shrubsole make house calls if you need your tie tied for a white tie do? Can they help you decide where to buy in the Hamptons? Can they help get your kiddo into the right pre-kindergarten? Tell you how much to tip the doorman?

Perhaps a more appropriate tagline would be “solving some upper-class problems since 1912.”

Truth in advertising, bros. To put it bluntly.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Hall of Famers: the 2014 Inductees (Toy Edition)

Well, yesterday, I took on this year’s lousy toys. Today, we’re in kinder, gentler territory, with the classics that were inducted last month into the Toy Hall of Fame.

First, the non-winners, the toys and games that made it onto the finalist list:

American Girl dolls, Fisher-Price Little People, Hess Toy Trucks, My Little Pony, Operation Skill Game, paper airplanes, pots and pans, Slip‘N Slide, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Source: Museum of Play)

I’m a big fan of American Girl dolls.

Sure, they’re a major ka-ching factory, but they’re also wholesome, age appropriate, and extremely well-made.

Not that anything this ka-ching would have made it into our house, but I would have given my eye-teeth, not to mention the eye-teeth of each and every one of my siblings, to have one of these dolls as a kid.

Which one would I have craved the most?

Kit because she looked like me, and was an aspiring writer? Molly, the little girl of World War II, much my favorite era? (That is, if an era when tens of millions of people were wiped out could actually be anyone’s favorite era. Sorry about that. It’s just a time when I would have liked to have lived. Maybe in a past life I was killed by a buzz bomb. ) Or would I have gone for Kirsten, the pioneer girl from another era I fantasized about as a kid? The big attraction of Kirsten was that she had a nifty Saint Lucia outfit, crowned with a wreath and candles. (I’m sure I would have lit the candles and burned Kirsten’s wig off.)

But much as I would have loved an American Girl doll (and as much money as I’ve spent on outfits for my nieces’ AG dolls over the years), I’m actually not that disappointed that they’re not in the Hall of Fame. They’re great, but maybe when they’ve been around as long as Barbie…

Of the other finalists, my two favorites are the paper airplane (inexpensive, skill-based, class disrupting), and pots and pans.

My Little Pony?

Just say no, neigh, never!

But I can’t quibble with the winners:

Magical, iridescent bubbles; monotone, miniature little green army men; and the colorful, puzzling Rubik’s Cube became the latest inductees to The Strong’s National Toy Hall of Fame.

Last year, Pink Slip was quite disappointed that bubbles had been dissed.

Bubbles! What a perfect toy! Inexpensive, “fun for all ages,” portable, and requires no ability whatsoever to make work and enjoy.

When I was a kid, fancy-dancy bubble pipes were the rage. This was the one and only image I could find of the type of bubble pipe I’m talking about, and you can tell from the b&w and the outfit on the kiddo that we’re talking ‘bout myBubble pipe of my childhoodgeneration here. In fact, this little guy looks a lot like my brother Rick.

While this was the preferred pipe of my era, I will admit that, as an adult, I have grown fonder of the simple and perfectly functional wand that comes inside the bubble bottle.

So, congratulations to Bubbles! Way to blow!

And blow they do:

Today, retailers sell more than 200 million bottles of this inexpensive and clean toy annually. 

Little green army men are also a pretty good pick. Like bubbles, they’re inexpensive. If they get dirty, they’re easy enough to clean. And you can gnaw on their heads.

We may not have had American Girl dolls Chez Rogers, but we absolutely had little green army men.

The only downside: if you stepped on one while barefoot, it hurt.

Anyway, in case you wanted to know, they were introduced in 1938, just as the US – admit it or not – was ramping up to war. Wildly popular through the early 1960’s:

 Little green army men suffered a decline in popularity during the Vietnam War, but their sales increased in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1995, they hit the big screen in Pixar’s Toy Story—and they appeared in two more Toy Story films. Today, multiple manufacturers produce millions of little green army men annually, and they continue to prompt narratives of heroism and daring in children’s imaginations.

When I see ads for a lot of today’s toys, my reaction is that many of them do too darned much for the kids. Everything’s scripted or mechanized, making any prompting of a kid’s own narrative optional.

But little green army men don’t do a darned thing on their own. Alpha. Bravo. Charlie.

This year’s third inductee is the Rubik’s Cube.

The colorful cubes can be arranged 43 quintillion (a number with six commas) ways and have inspired organized competitions in more than 50 countries. The current speed champ, Mats Valk of The Netherlands, solved the cube in 5.55 seconds. There are also official trials for solving it blindfolded, one-handed, underwater with one breath, and with one’s feet.

Although I was barely able to line up two of the same color squares in a row – other than by accident – I love the colors, the Mondrian look, and the fact that this toy is a nerd kid’s dream. (Maybe a nerd kid can tell me how this works when you’re blindfolded. Surely you must get to take a peek before you start twirling away?)

That’s it as far as Toys ‘R Us week at Pink Slip goes.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Forget the land of the misfit toys, these toys are outright bad

One of Pink Slip’s annual holiday traditions is checking out the toys that have made their way on to W.A.T.C.H.’s list of the “10 Worst Toys” of the year.

It’s actually pretty incredible that in this day and age – when there actually is such a thing as consumer protection, and when parents are seemingly more involved and protective than they were back in the day – there are still so many hazardous toys out there.

But indeed there are.

A few of the toys on this year’s list are aimed at very small children.

There’s a pull toy – the Alphabet Zoo Rock & Stack – that could cause  strangulation in a child under 18 months. (Fortunately, that warning’s on the packaging. Too bad the average 18 month old can’t read.)

But this toy, marketed for babies – as is a little instrument set for 12 month olds that could cause choking, the Little Cutesie doll (also a potential choker), and the stuffed hedgehog with the poorly rooted fiber-like hair (age 0 and over): aspiration problems  – would be easy enough for someone to throw in the shopping cart, probably thinking “no on would manufacture and sell something that’s dangerous to a baby.”

These baby toys are inexpensive, so they’re probably especially alluring to those who don’t have a lot to spend on their kids (and who are unlikely to be aware of the W.A.T.C.H. list).

Then there’s Radio Flyer’s Ziggle, a low-riding four wheeled cycle that required “continuous adult supervision.” Forget the other don’ts on the warning list about not Ziggling near cars, streets, pools, hills… Something that requires “continuous adult supervision” is really not much of a toy.

There are plenty of weapons on the W.A.T.C.H.’s worst of the worst, including something called the Air Storm Firetek Bow, homage to Hunger Games, no doubt. This toy is aimed at kids 8 and up, and comes with warnings about aiming at eyes, aiming at people, aiming at animals. One warning cautions about pulling arrows “back at more than half strength.” And, by the way, don’t use this “toy” in complete darkness.

Gee, who’d be tempted to use something described as follows at anything more than half strength or when the lights are out?

This “light-up power” bow and arrow set is sold with three “screaming whistle” arrows which are marketed as being able to fly “up to 145 ft!” (Source:

Well, an 8-year-old might be so tempted. Good thing they’re generally quite proficient at heeding warnings, eh?

Crappy, cheese-ball bow and arrow sets were a staple of my neighborhood, so I guess it was a miracle of sorts that no one lost an eye. But ours were crappy and cheese-ball: no “screaming whistles”, no “light-up power”, and certainly nothing that was going to fly “up to 145 ft.” 14.5 ft. Maybe.

This would definitely be off my list – or would be, if I were looking for weaponry toys for an eight year old. Oh, wait, I was – looking for a toy for an 8-year-odl, that is. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled with the piggy bank.

And how ‘bout the Catapencil?catapencil Suggested use: “target practice for your desktop.”

Hmm. The catapencil.

If you were a kid, what might you think would make for an excellent projectile to use with this?

Well, how about a sharpened pencil.

That’ll work.

Particularly given the recent death of the little boy in Ohio who was carrying a realistic looking weapon, the warning attached to the SWAT Electric Machine Gun is particularly chilling:

“CAUTIONS: This toy is a replica of a real weapon and is designed for amusement only. This is not to be used against any living beings. This product may be mistaken for an actual firearm by law enforcement officers and others”, and other cautions on packaging.

Even those who might not be tempted to pBottle Rocketut a realistic assault weapon in the hands of their kids, might be tempted by the Bottle Rocket Party.

Oh, sure, it comes with warnings about “strict supervision of adults” (yawn) and “harmful if misused.”

But what could possibly go wrong?

Ditto with the True Legends Orcs Battle Hammer, recommended for children 3+.

3Tomahawk-year-old children are encouraged to play the part of a “Savage Orc” by wielding a hard plastic “Battle Hammer” measuring almost 2 feet in length. There are no accompanying cautions or warnings.

It’s fairly well known that kids can and will turn anything into a weapon.

Not much you can do about that.

But who in their right mind is going to hand a 3-year-old a two-foot long “Battle Hammer” and have him (and, yes, we do know 99.9999% of the time it’s going to be a ‘him’) go at it.

As I said, hard to believe that there are still so many god-awful toys out there…

Be warned!


Here’s last year’s edition: You Better W.A.T.C.H. Out.

Friday, December 05, 2014

All Perked Up

Let me see if I get this straight.

Pinterest has 450 employees, and ten of them (Jen Nguyen and her nine direct reports), during ‘a busy week in August’ saw to tasks like this:

One  taught a company-only class in muay thai, a martial-arts style with kicks and punches. They put dried mango and fresh towels throughout the online scrapbook service’s new office. There was a postmortem of why a Japanese-themed lunch ran out of rice. (The reason? The rice was tasty.)  (Source: WSJ Online.)

Dried mango? Fresh towels? And a postmortem on why the rice ran out.

Well, at least I’ll give them credit for getting to the root cause during their postmortem. If I had a dollar for every time I participated in a postmortem – why the release was delayed, why the launch failed, why the sale was lost – I could afford to strew my home with dried mango and fresh towels. But only if I got the money even when we didn’t get to the bottom of the problem.

“We are just providing basic standards,” says Ms. Nguyen, 40 years old, whose title is head of workplace. Free lunch, dinner, snacks and events like a Jell-O shot-making “studio night” are a big part of what it takes to keep Pinterest’s roughly 450 employees productive and happy, she adds.

The definition of “basic standards” is sure changing. In my day, we never dreamed of Jell-O shot making “studio nights”.

Back then, the office manager took care of things like making sure the phones worked, that we all had business cards, and that the receptionist had plenty of little pink note pads to leave our “while you were out” messages on. But now:

…the role of office manager has transformed into a so-called workplace coordinator, who often leads a staff of aim-to-please specialists. Such employees function as concierges, responsible for everything from planning outings to memorizing favorite granola-bar flavors…

Tech companies say it is hard to avoid creating at least one full-time position devoted to the pursuit of worker happiness once a company hires about 100 employees.

All part of the “frenzied job market”.

Me? Well, I’ve mostly lived through bad economies, downturns, bubble bursts, and just plain grubbing for survival, but amidst all the sturm und drang, I actually had lived through a “frenzied job market” or two. But never saw anything quite like this.

My first job out of business school, at Dynamics Associates, the “pursuit of worker happiness” was pretty much holding “Friday Party”, a beer, wine, and junk-food blast that took place late Friday afternoon. The big perk was that there were always leftovers around for the weekend warriors. There were also a couple of video games in the kitchen, but they were pretty much obsolescent within a month or two after they were installed.

If there had been someone responsible for the pursuit of worker happiness, that person might have had to spend all their time trying to dislodge the company execs from the offices they barricaded themselves in. (I once suggested that they cut a dog-door in the side of the president’s office. If anyone were willing to go through the humiliation of wriggling through the dog-door then, well, they should be entitled to an audience.)

My next job was at Wang, the anti-perk to beat all anti-perk companies.

Sure, if you were way up there you got an office, an indoor parking space, access to the executive dining room, and even a clothing allowance.

But for the rank and file, the big perk was that there was a Burger King in the basement. (At some point, during all the downsizing, the BK closed.)

Among the other anti-perks were no trash pick up, and the removal of 2/3’s of the overhead light-bulbs.

The day I came across a mega hawked-up loogie – already congealed - on the stairwell was the day I decided to quit.

Next up: Softbridge, another company with Friday Party. (No surprise there: both Company Number One and Company Number Three were founded by the same fellow.)

Perks? What perks? We didn’t need no stinkin’ perks.

At Genuity, we did. Sort of.

The biggest perk was food being served at pretty much every meeting. And since meetings were held continuously from dawn until dusk, that meant a lot of meals.

The other perk – although I don’t think that it exactly perked up morale – was the quarterly Good Humor afternoon, during which senior executives would wheel an ice cream cart from floor to floor giving out ice cream sandwiches.

The company also tried to perk us up with a big blow-out party on the day of our IPO.

Unfortunately, the IPO was a big, fat failure, with the stock price plummeting from the moment the opening bell was rung. Many employees lost tens of thousands of dollars.

At my next – and final – stop, NaviSite, the biggest perk that I can recall was that they did put out mousetraps when we requested them…

At least they were responsive to our needs:

One worker at Pinterest recently wanted the company to build a zip line to a nearby bar…The zip line got a no.

How incredibly short-sighted.

If there comes the day when Pinterest has to a) make money, and/or b) have lay-offs, they could just hand every pink-slipped worker a chit for a drink and send them zip-lining on their way.

The bottom line on perks is that it’s not clear that they actually provide any bang for the buck in terms of employee retention and satisfaction. But hip and happenin’ companies feel they need to offer them in order to attract top talent.

But sometimes, frankly, the top talent just isn’t interested. At Pinterest, there was:

…an evening event in August where an artisanal jam maker was brought in to turn jam into cocktails, a vinaigrette and cookies. Seventeen employees RSVPed, but only two showed up.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Pay it forward! Pay it backward! Just keep paying the big bosses exactly what they deserve!

One of my earliest encounters with management consultants was when I worked for Wang Labs.

Wang was going through an effort – ultimately futile – to remake itself by focusing on a set of verticals.

I was a member of the financial services strategy committee – woo-hoo – and, as such, got to work closely with a couple of the high-priced consultants that Wang had brought in to help us see our way clear.

At one point during the period when I met fairly regularly with “our” assigned consultants, a colleague and I were sitting around while “our” guy picked our brains on what we thought the size of one particular sub-segment of our market was.

We sat there for a while, picking some numbers out of thin air and other numbers out of our orifices. Meanwhile, the consultant took notes.

We assumed that he was going to use our educated but decidedly thin-air guesses to sanity check the market research that his group would be independently conducting.

So I was a bit surprised a few months down the road when the consultancy presented its findings and proposals to the Wang senior execs while us team playahs sat in the audience.

There, up on the full screen, narrated by the big consultant cheese in his ultra-authoritative voice, were our unfiltered, undoctored numbers, listed as coming from “industry sources.”

That I did not immediately make my professional way out of technology and into management consultancy is clear testimony to my complete inability to act as a profit-maximizing careerist.

If meeting my first “real” consultants didn’t get me to jump (sinking) ship, it did open my eyes to what smooth operators these folks were.

So I wasn’t surprised at all when I saw an article in The Economist a few weeks back on the compensation specialist branch of the consultancy boondoggle.

The article summarized a recent study conducted by Cambridge University’s Judge Business School. The purpose of the study was to determine whether hiring a compensation consultant golden goosed CEO pay:

All told, the academics found that firms that hire compensation consultants paid their CEOs 7.5% more than those that did not. They concluded that “our study finds strong empirical evidence for the hiring of compensation consultants as a justification device for higher executive pay.” (Source: The Economist)

Kind of like the first job of any elected politician is to start raising funds so that he/she can get re-elected, I guess the first job of any consultant is to find more ways to stay barnacled to any firm that’s brought them in. (Full disclosure: as someone who works on a freelance basis, I have been known, on rare occasion, to make a further-work suggestion based on some opportunity I’ve spotted while working on the alpha project they hired me for. But, because I am not an especially cagey or avaricious consultant – in other words, not very smart – these occasions are exceedingly rare.)

But spotting an opportunity is one thing. Quasi-bribing the person in charge to hire you back because you did such a bang-up job goosing his pay for him the first time around is quite another.

No, I don’t think that these consultants go in and demand pay-for-play. Still, it doesn’t take a big leap to imagine that even the dimmest compensation consultant is at least marginally coin-operated, and subliminally making a connection between pleasing the boss and getting asked back.

These findings make it a little harder to argue that higher CEO pay is linked to shareholder returns or to greater talent; if that were the case, one would not expect such a clear correlation between pay and the use of consultants. The trend smacks more of the lickspittle courtier of Louis XIV, who, when asked the time, replied, “It is whatever time your majesty pleases.” The modern equivalent is, it seems, “Whatever pay your majesty pleases.”

And, since everything reminds me of something, this story reminds me of a compensation-related situation that occurred when I worked at Genuity.

As everyone who worked at Genuity for more than twenty-seconds realized, things got more interesting, compensation-wise, when you reached a certain level in the organization.

That level, as it happens, was director, which was the position I held.

For some reason, the bonus payout rate for directors and above was the same rate for everyone in this rarified group, including the executive management team. The bonus rate was a percentage of salary, so obviously if you were in a higher salary range you made more than someone at my level, who was – relatively speaking – carrying around a beggar’s bowl.

The annual bonus rate, for both those below the director level – poor things – and those above (yay, us!) – was set each year by the executive management team who were, in effect, voting themselves a raise while allowing them the cover of stating that they had come up with the “right” figure based on the merit and performance of the company’s directors and VPs.

Well, if there was damned little that we could count on the executive team for, we knew they would always act prudently when establishing the below-director bonus rate, and generously and wisely when determining what the rate that would include their mighty cohort would be.

Even when Genuity was teetering on the brink, those bonus checks were good and juicy. (Maybe not investment banking juicy, but I remember at least one 40% check.)

Probably more than even the most charlatan of compensation consultants would have proposed.

And best of all, the company didn’t have to pay a compensation consultant to do the deed for us.

All the more to toss in our very own seemingly bottomless bonus pool.

So while I’m not exactly shocked to find out that compensation consultants quickly figure out which side of the bread that butter is on, some companies manage to figure out how to take care of this particular business quite nicely on their own.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Uber Duber

Is it just my imagination, or is Uber turning itself into the hipsters’ very own WalMart: Destroyer of innocent businesses! Exploiter of workers! Outrageous profiteers! Rapacious surge pricer! Paranoid despisers of the fifth estate!

And – other than for that rapacious surge pricing (Uber, not Walmart) – cheaper than anything else out there. Bonus points to Uber for being cool. (Do hipsters snap their fingers beatnik style to signal approval? Snap, snap, snap…)

Sure, Walmart’s getting its traditional, seasonal bad press the last week or so: striking workers, Black Friday riots, the Ohio “associate” doing a can drive to support a sick (i.e., no pay/no benefits) fellow “associate.”

But Uber’s press of late has been just incredible.

I’m going mostly from memory here, but from that memory I seem to be able to dredge up a handful of sexual and physical assaults by drivers; a set to or two with blind passengers and their service dogs; uber duberly jacked up Halloween fares (free market: snap, snap, snap); tweeted out threats about going after journalists in general; and some exec using an internal tracking tool to track the whereabouts of one journalist in particular.

None of this is getting in the way of sucking in investment – over a billion – and enjoying a whopper of a valuation – nearly $20 billion. (Not that Uber appears to be in any big hurry to go public and cash in. More, better beatnik applause.)

But my favorite story of late is Uber’s participation in what some fear is the looming debt crisis: the likely collapse of the subprime auto lending market.

Tech blog ValleyWag had the scoop:

The subprime lending market that plunged America into the Great Recession is back and as unscrupulous as ever. Instead of mortgages, this time a bubble has formed around auto loans, and reliably ruthless Uber is in the thick of it. Two "partners" in Uber's vehicle financing program are under federal investigation, but Uber hasn't slowed its aggressive marketing campaign to get drivers with bad credit to sign up for loans. (Source: ValleyWag)

Unlike cab companies, which screw drivers while letting them use cars in their fleet, Uber screws drivers while letting them use their own cars, while simultaneously convincing them that they are in the millennial vanguard of cool operators – their very own self-entrepreneurs with full control over their hours, their bodies, their selves. (Snap, snap, snap.)

Here's how Uber fits into all of this. The company's financing program connects drivers with poor credit to auto lenders and dealers, promising better rates. Uber does not finance the loans itself. Rather, Uber introduces drivers to partners like General Motors, Toyota, "and several unnamed financial institutions." Why? The startup wants drivers with nicer cars, but it badly needs more drivers overall to meet demand and feed its growth spurt. Human drivers aren't as easy to scale as servers, causing competition between rivals like Lyft and Sidecar. Uber dubbed its recruitment efforts "Operation Slog." 

(By the way, Uber drivers are often referred to as the company’s “business partners,” which is even better than Walmart dubbing its workers “associates.”)

Meanwhile, Uber – which, when it’s not snap-applauding, crosses those fingers to claim that drivers, errr, business partners can easily gross $100K a year – has started, at least in some cities, lowering its prices to undercut the competition, while at the same time increasing the commission it charges its drivers, errr, business partners.

Not to mention that ugly little fine print that if someone who has gotten sucked into no-credit borrowing through Uber has pretty much become an ‘indentured servant” of the company. (Those are the words an Uber driver, errr,  business partner used to describe the lending system.)

I’ve never used Uber, and feel very little need to.

I walk. I take public transpo. I Zipcar. I borrow from a sib. I rent. And, on occasion, I grab a cab.

Maybe it I were a hipster out clubbing at 2 a.m. I’d Uber. But I’m not. So I don’t.

I remain a tad bit skeptical about the “sharing economy.”

I may be completely wrong – maybe this is just the wave of the future, and everyone will grow to accept (if not fully embrace) it. But I suspect that one day, all these fine young millennials, who, in their twenties, are happy enough being part time, no benefit, freelancers, are going to wake up one day and feel conned. They’re going to want to start a family, buy a home, save for old age. And they’re going to feel conned by the entire apparatus that got them where they are by convincing them they’re captains of their own destiny. When, in reality they’re, at best, buck privates of their own destinies. Sure, they may have managed to avoid working for “the man”,but instead they got suckered into being “business partners” for the early 21st century version of the man. And that man will have become a kabillionaire while the average Uber driver, errr, business partner is still paying down his or her crappy car loan.

Sounds more unter than uber to me.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

And yet another hearty welcome to the post-literate world

I’m one of those old fashion texters.

Sure, I’ll get in an occasional ROFLMFAO, the odd OMG. But while I have been tempted to use C YA or L8R, I generally manage to quell the urge. The written word is well on its way to full debasement. I don’t feel the need to heap on.

I have noticed, however, that more and more txt text terms are creeping into the general vocabulary. That is, IMHO.

Seriously, as more and more communications transition from the written word to audio/video, I worry about the day when reading is no longer considered fundamental but will become, rather, a luxury good. Instead of near-universal literacy, we’ll have near-universal illiteracy. The 1 percent will read; the great unwashed will watch.

And when the great unwashed goes to Pizza Hut, they won’t even have to speak, let alone text their order.

They’ll just make eye contact with a device equipped with vision sensors, and the seeing-eye menu will know what they want to order.

I learned this the other day in an article – which I read – over on Engadget. The article was on Pizza Hut’s new Subconscious Menu, which:.

…uses Tobii's eye-tracking tech to figure out which of 20 different ingredients you're looking at on a screen. It then takes all of three seconds to identify the pizza you really eye-tracking-pizza-menu-2014-11-28-02want based on which you looked at the longest. Pizza Hut says its Subconscious Menu is still in trials, but after testing to a 98 percent success rate, it may eventually appear in restaurants. (Source: Engadget)

As one of the commenters pointed out, your eye may be lingering on an image because you’re trying to figure out what it is, not because it is the secret longing of your heart.

Here’s Dallbatross’s first glance  interpretation:

Top row: bacon, BBQ sauce, prime rib, straw

2nd row: fish, chili peppers, cat food, Christmas ornaments, raisins

3rd row: onion, berries, peaches, a coaster, shrimp

Bottom row: ground beef, mint, corn, tomato

I’m with Dallbatross.

Even with my screen at 200%, I couldn’t’ figure out some of them, either. I think I got that the top row, furthest right is grated cheese. But is that yellow item in Row 3 – the one that Dallbatross thinks might be peaches – supposed to be yellow pepper? If not, where’s the pepper? If so, I’m guessing that your average Pizza Hut is more likely to have green pepper than yellow pepper. And where’s the sausage. while we’re at it?

Not to mention the unmentionable: is the green matter in the bottom row lettuce? Are there people who put lettuce on pizza? Say what?

Sorry. I’d rather read what’s in something, or on something, rather than look at a picture. But I’m on of those old geezer who believes that 1 word is worth a 1000 pictures.

Too much here that’s subject to interpretation…

Okay, so the company says that the sensors get it right 98% of the time, but I’d like to see how this was calculated.

Did they ask folks to write down what they wanted and compare it what the computer thought they would have ordered? Or did they just verbally ask their patrons whether they had, in fact, ordered straw, coaster, and mint, and found those folks nodding in agreement – half of them thinking that the computer would know better what they truly wanted? Could some sort of reverse confirmation bias be going on?

I actually love a lot of the vision systems, and think that Tobii, the Swedish company that developed the underlying technology for the Subconscious Menu, is doing some really magnificent work.

No, I don’t give a hoot about any improvements they’re making to gaming. Look, Ma! No hands! (Yawn…)

But I love what they’re doing with assistive technology. Anything that helps those who are somehow locked in to be able to communicate. Just wow!

(Of course, there’ll be a downside. Easy enough to imagine some new parents, over-eager to communicate with their newbies, who’ll end up stunting their infants’ speech development by using this type of technology to figure out whether their Baby Einstein wants to gum a graham cracker or sup on peas, without having to go through the nasty intermediate step of the headshake, the howl, the pursed lips, the scrunched face, the spit-out.)

I’m certainly less enamored of it being used as a substitute for reading and speaking among Pizza Hut customers.

This just brings out my inner Luddite.

Way too slippery slope for my sense and sensibility, I’m afraid.

Just gets me thinking that when I read Brave New World back in the day, it seemed like too far-fetched, too dystopic. Now we have these best and brightest  techies – who, no doubt, will teach their kids to read and speak – nudging society closer to the edge of a truly slippery slope.

Guess technology giveth and technology taketh away.

Or taketh out.

Make mine a cat-food and Christmas ornament special.

Monday, December 01, 2014


There’s really no reason, at this stage in my life/career, to worry about what my “brand” is. (When I hear the word, the image of Chuck Connors as the disgraced soldier in the really bad old-time TV show Branded always pops into my mind’s eye and ear.*)

And yet I am inevitably drawn to articles about defining your personal brand. (Perhaps part of my brand is that I’m like a metal shaving on the shop floor that can get sucked up if it’s anywhere within range of a magnet. Hmmmmm. Good thing it’s too late to worry about it.)

Thus I clicked right over to see what Peter Post had to say on the topic.

Peter Post, for those who don’t typically read advice columns, is the great-grandson of the great twentieth century manners doyenne, Emily Post. (Note to self: if you ever want to brand yourself as a columnist or expert, make sure that you have an illustrious ancestor whose name you can trade on. Not that all those Rogers, Trainors, Wolfs, and Folkers weren’t illustrious. Just not illustrious enough, I’m afraid.)

The importance of the perspective that another person has about you is one of two core concepts we teach at the beginning of most of our business etiquette seminars. (Source: Boston.)

And to think of all the time I wasted in seminars learning how to think out of the box, or think inside the box, to trust my colleagues enough to close my eyes and fall back in their arms, to build helicopters out of Tinker Toys, to structure a business plan, to give a better presentation.

Business etiquette would have been so much more fun!

Post it notes – sorry, couldn’t resist (and no, my personal brand would not be punster…)  - that, when it comes to building your brand:

Basics matter. Think in terms of appearance, actions, and words.

I guess it’s not surprising that, given his lineage, Peter’s first mattering basic would be appearance. But given that, in this digital age, you’re often working virtually, and the person you’re face-timing with is probably not examining your nails, appearance matters less and less. But obviously, if you are working and/or interviewing in person, you do want to be neat, clean, and understated.

Post has, apparently, not spent a ton o’ time in the high tech workplace. While the marketing folks I’ve worked with don’t need advice on being neat – neat is how marketing rolls – a lot of the techies I know don’t really care about:

Clothing with no wrinkles, tears or holes and that fit well; shoes shined and in good repair. Well-groomed hair, hands, and nails.

And I suspect that the people who should be concerned about clean aren’t reading Peter Post:

No stains or odor on clothes. No odor on your body or your breath.

We are also advised to:

Err on the side of conservative dress rather than loud flashy colors or designs. Minimal or no perfumes or colognes.

Okay. It might be best not to show up for a job in a zoot suit or a muumuu, but doesn’t this kind of depend on the type of business? Creative types get to wear retro Hawaiian shirts and techies get to wear whatever they damned well please. Within reason: at one company I worked at, one fellow showed up in a rumpled pajama top with holes in it, and what appeared to be blood stains on the back. Ewwwww. I was friendly enough with this guy to ask him not to wear that particular PJ shirt again…

Peter keeps appearances up in his brand advice about actions: Don’t slouch. Look folks in the eye. Stop twitching.

Advice that’s bound to get a nervous brand wannabe quaking in her boots.

Finally, words matter. Maybe not as much as appearances, in terms of the real estate they’re given in Peter Post’s article. Still:

A word or expression that might seem innocuous to you could be offensive to the person you are trying to impress.

This bit of duh advice reminds me of a funny informational interview story that someone told me years ago.

My friend, who happens to be gay, was meeting with a man who struck my friend as straight. Not that it mattered, but my friend’s gaydar wasn’t going off.

As the interview was running down, the prospective manager leaned across the table and said, “Just between us girls…” Which, according to my friend, is a phrase that gay guys will facetiously use among themselves.

My friend got a good laugh out of it, that’s for sure.

Peter ends with advice on how to get a grip on your brand:

… to gain an appreciation for the difference between how you perceive your brand and how others do is to try a simple exercise. Do it with a colleague with whom you have a friendly working relationship. Start by writing down three words that you think define how other people think of you: driven, team player, helpful, easy-going, considerate, reliable, honest. While you write down your three words, ask your colleague to write down three words that he or she thinks define you and your brand. Then take the time to compare how you see yourself with how your colleague does.

Come on, Peter. All that build up about how important it is not to smell, not to gnaw on your cuticles, not to say really offensive and stupid things, and all you can come up with are terms like driven, helpful, and honest.


Still, this wouldn’t be a bad little exercise.

I’ve actually done it a couple of times. I always think I’m going to get “witty” but as often as not someone comes back with “reliable.” At least I’m never gotten “slovenly” or “lettuce in teeth.”


*Doubt my word that this was a really terrible show, even by 1960’s standards? Check this video out.