Thursday, May 28, 2015

Technology Shock

Well, last week I got rid of my trusty old Blackberry and replaced it with a spiff new Galaxy 6S. Still getting used to the ins and outs, but overall the experience is quite good.  Texting and answering e-mails are both marginally better, if for no other reason than the size of the screen makes input easier. Plus Internet search is 1,000% improved. And the camera is about a thousand percent improvement, too. I can now take a selfie and see what I’m doing. Ain’t technology grand!

There are a few things that aren’t so hot, like having 2 million names in the contact list for texting. I think resolving this  one is just a matter of cleaning up my various gmail contact lists. (Some of the names I don’t even recognize.  There are two Barbara D’s. One I know; one I’ve never heard of.)

And the new Galaxy is a tad on the large size. (Had to buy a new wallet to accommodate it.) Of course, the larger size makes texting and e-mailing easier. (I’m sick of trade-offs.)
But overall I’d give the Blackberry to Galaxy transition experience an A-.

Having settled in with my new, very smart phone, I decided to put off purchase of a laptop replacement for a bit.

And then my trusty Dell – now 3+ years old, and longest I’ve ever managed to hold on to a laptop – started to kick into nag-to-the-glue-factory mode.

Things were running ultra-slow. Apps – and here I’m talking Office apps, pretty much the only ones I use – were taking forever to load. Mouse and keyboard inputs were jumping around a bit more than usual. The laptop would freeze up on me, and not come out of sleep mode without my removing power source and battery.

And then it started to make noises. Really bad, whining, nasty noises.

At first I thought it might just be the fan, but the fan fixes and workarounds weren’t working.
Plus it started to make noises other than really bad, whining, nasty ones. It started making really bad, clicking, nasty ones.

When I Googled up all the symptoms, it started sounding mother-board-ish. Or, at any rate, something bad.

I have an interview later today with a client’s client for a customer user story. Tomorrow, I’m taking part in a 4-hour analyst session for another client. For both these calls I’ll be taking notes, and I can’t afford to have things go from bad to worse.

I had already decided on a Surface Pro 3 as the replacement. So what was I waiting for, other than the obvious of not wanting to shell out, in one month, for:
a) a costly new phone: seriously, how does something that’s supposed to cost $200 end up setting me back $450; it’s not all because I sprung for the cool Kate Spade case, is it?
b) a vacation (heading to Edinburgh for a week in June);
c) my homeowner’s insurance bill.
This is purely a psychological reluctance, a holdover from a no-money childhood in which being able to load up on goodies was an unimaginable luxury. Seriously, I better get used to minor expenses adding up if I’m ever going to get my kitchen and bathroom rehab projects off the ground.

Anyway, yesterday I found myself at the Microsoft store.

I’ve already test-driven the Surface Pro 3, and, although the keyboard’s a bit tinny, it’ll do. The weight (or lack thereof) makes up for the tinny-ness (and, of course, accounts for it). Hopefully, I’ll get used to the overall flimsiness for what is going to me my workhorse.

Of course, there are some aspects that I just out and out don’t like.

I’ve degunked most of the things I’ll never use from the main screen, but I don’t like the swoop your finger stuff.  I don’t like where it puts things where I can’t find them. I want the task bar where I can see it.

I don’t like the fact that my trusty old laptop always had at least four bars on my wifi network, while the new sucker doesn’t seem to chug above three. (What’s that about?)

And lots of other little things.

Oh, I’m sure that this will just take some getting used to, and once I’m into the new finger-swooping UI (which is also on the phone) I’ll be fine. But I’m someone who was just as happy managing files at DOS level well into latter-day versions of Windows.

This post may be the last thing I ever do on this laptop (sniff, sniff).

New phone. New computer.

I’m suffering from some sort of technology shock that’s making me long for a rotary dial phone and a typewriter – you know, the sorts of devices you couldn’t take on vacation with you.

I’m sure my suffering will be temporary.

I’ll get used to the new stuff. I always do.

But why does everything have to be so freaking hard?

You’d think I hadn’t spent the last 35 years in the technology biz…

Anyway, if Carbonite manages to back everything up onto my new best friend, and if I can get my blog writing app (nice, no longer supported blog writing freeware from Microsoft – by far the best blog writing app I’ve ever used), and if I’m in the mood, there’ll be a Pink Slip post on Friday.

If not…you'll know I'm still sitting around in a state of techno-shock.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Turtle farm in the North Korean soup…

If someone made up North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (and his father, and grandfather before him), the character would be dismissed as over the top, preposterous. And if it weren’t for the violence and out and out mind-fuckery he inflicts on his country, the real-life Kim Jong Un would be a laughing stock. Oh, wait. He is a laughing stock. And I find myself laughing right along with it, until I remember his wanton cruelty. (A typical recent incident: he reportedly had his aunt poisoned because she was upset that KJU had killed her husband.)

I can’t imagine how awful it must be to live in a country under the thumb of such a depraved individual.

And yet, here he goes again, showing the world the idiocy of totalitarian rule in general, and his version of totalitarian rule in particular, this time going on the record with a stinging critique of a terrapin farm that failed to make a go of a  lobster breeding initiative – a project that had been backed by Kim Jon Un’s father, Kim Jon Il.

There are so many paths this story could take me down…

The most obvious, of course, is promoting a luxury good like lobster in a country that in recent memory experienced a self-induced famine that may have killed one-tenth of its population. And which still experiences famine conditions with some regularity. I suspect that lobster is a delicacy that most North Koreans can only dream of. That is, if they’re aware of lobster’s existence to begin with. It’s not as if the countryside is full of summer shacks where you sit at picnic tables and gorge yourself on lobster, all the while drooling melted butter down your chin and onto your plastic lobster bib.

The average North Korean’s probably happy to have their rice bowl full, and to have spent another “free” day when neither they nor any family member was whisked off to a prison camp.

There is, of course, no such thing as a famine for Kim Jon Un, who is notorious for living the good life, replete with expensive booze, cigars, and food.

And then there’s that poor turtle farm. Just their luck that the Dear Leader would decide to come calling.

Kim expressed his supreme displeasure with Taedonggang Terrapin Farm for being out-of-date -- and worse, not revolutionary enough -- during a tense visit reported by official newspaper Rodong Sinmun. He was particularly angry that a two-year-old lobster breeding project never got off the ground, calling it a "manifestation of incompetence, outmoded way of thinking and irresponsible work style." (Source: Huffington Post)

Well, I too have worked in companies that were "manifestation of incompetence, outmoded way of thinking and irresponsible work style." But it never made the news, and, while we may have feared for our jobs, we never feared for our lives.

And to think – as I suspect the managers of the Taedonggang Terrapin Farm were thinking – it was just a few years back that Kim Jong Il was praising the farm for having:

…"proved in practice that the word 'impossible' is not to be found in the Korean vocabulary."

So what was this terrapin farm doing with lobsters to begin with?

Apparently Kim Jong Il put it all together in one of those epiphanies that supreme leaders tend to have, combining the notion of the impossibility of finding the word “impossible” in the Korean lexicon, and his desire to tuck into a lobster dinner. And why not? I suspect that KJI would be able to chow down on lobster without having to do any of the dirty work: no twisting, cracking, picking, pulling to get the precious meat out. No, there’d be some lackey to wield the lobster crackers, the lobster pick, the tiny little fork.  (Having waited tables at both the Union Oyster House and Durgin-Park, I am past-master of working a boiled lobster, which means, I suppose, that I could have been that lackey…)

Anyway, Kim Jong Un was especially pissed off because the 70th anniversary of the founding of North Korea is soon upon them, and he was apparently hoping to have lobster on the menu for the celebratory clambake. (Wonder if Dennis Rodman will be invited.)

Of course, if North Korea had anything resembling a normal market economy, the farm managers, having gotten wind of the impending visit of Kim Jong Un, might have been able to scoot over to the local lobster pound or grocery store and stocked up on live lobsters. They then could have, quite humorously (ahem), scooped a wriggling crustacean out of the tank and held it in front of Kim Jong Un’s face – which surely would have been a Dear Leader pleaser, especially when they pointed out that the thick rubber bands on the lobster’s claws would prevent anything untoward – like a nip at his nibs’ nose – from happening.

Beyond the farm not having been able to produce lobsters – either via production or purchase – they were in for even further grief when Kim Jong Un discovered that:

…the farm did not even have a room dedicated to education about the "revolutionary history" of his family's regime. "The employees who failed to bear deep in their minds [Kim Jong Il's] leadership exploits could hardly perform their role as masters in production," Kim chided. He continued with the ominous warning: "They may bring such grave consequences as impairing the prestige of the party."

There were a few times over the course of my long career when I did something that ticked off the powers that were. But I never had to worry about “impairing the prestige of the party.”

All this went down a few weeks ago.

Wonder if the managers of the Taedonggang Terrapin Farm still have a livelihood. Or even a life.

Thank you, Valerie, for pointing this one out to me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What next?

Last week, a group of VCs taking part in a tech trends dinner out in Silicon Valley predicted what technology is going to bring us over the next five years.

Shervin Pishevar has what to me is a fairly dire forecast:

Before we know it, apps driven by artificial intelligence will predict our needs and make decisions for us, for example, where we want to go in an Uber, and when we want to arrive somewhere if our flight is delayed. (Source: Forbes)

I’m quite certain that, while Shervin Pishevar may have a more odd-ball name, he is smarter and richer than I am. But is it just me, or is having an app know where you want to go actually a good thing? I can see the Uber driver showing up and insisting that you want to go to the airport, when you really want to go to Brookline. Just who will win these battles? You or the Uber driver?

As for having an app that can tell us “when we want to arrive somewhere if our flight is delayed,” am I missing something, or is the answer – app or no app – going to be “as soon as possible” at least 99.9999% of the time?

Rebecca Lynn predicts that, while bitcoin will bite the dust, startups will start taking over some of the functions of banks. These startups may not, however, provide things like “back-end infrastructure.” Ummm, isn’t it the back-end infrastructure that makes things go? If the fancy-pants front-end apps take away all the fun stuff and do it oh, so cheaply and efficiently, won’t the banks start charging more for the fancy-pants startups for the use of their boring, tedious, back-end systems? But what do I know…

Jenny Lee predicts that we’ll all have so much data out their we’ll all have a “virtual me” out there. She said:

“I hope that someday, someone will tell me what I want to do, or what I want to buy.”

This sounds a lot like what our friend Shervin was saying. Either way, I really don’t want big data telling “me what I want to do, or what I want to buy.” Sheesh. I already have my sisters for that.

Steve Jurvetson thinks that “low-altitude satellites will give affordable broadband access to the unconnected billions.”

The good new is that the unconnected billions will be able to improve their lives. The bad news is that that unconnected billions will now be able to waste time googling, start making rancid comments in on-line forums, engage in cyber-bullying and get recruited by ISIS. And become ‘virtual me’s”.

With all these “virtual me’s out there, “more of the economy will become “personal”, with transactions that are online and often one-on-one. Who needs to go to a brick and mortar store, anyway? Especially when we all have sophisticated 3-D printers humming along in our spare rooms, churning out products that we’ll sell in our online boutiques – or on Etsy. Then, once someone gets sick of using our products, they’ll sell them on eBay and Craigslist.

While I do order quite a bit of stuff online, I do not look forward to a brick-and-mortar-less world, with no retail stores to shop at. Plenty of days the only reason I have to get out of the house is to go buy grapes or toilet paper. Having a drone drop my order off on my doorstep will not satisfy the basic human need to have a conversation with someone, even if it’s only an exchange over whether or not you want a receipt.

Bill Gurley believes that:

“We may have hit what’s called peak car. Kids aren’t showing up on their 16th birthday to get a driver’s license. The smartphone is more of a social status than a car is.”

As a car-free Zipster, can I get an “Amen”?

Sure I can. But, realistically, I can’t see the US becoming much less of an auto-nation any time soon. Not that I don’t look forward, with Shervin Pishevar, to hyperloop trains that could get me to NYC in 20 minutes. As for “massive drones”, all I can say is 21st century Lindbergh baby.

Then there’s the robocar, which Steve Jurvetson sees in our future. (We’ll still be auto-nation. It’ll just be that the cars will be driving themselves.) And for those who believe that Uber’s self-employment model is the future of work, here’s a scary thought:

Jurvetson said Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told him that if Tesla cars are autonomous by 2020, Kalanick wants to buy all 500,000 that are expected to be produced.

Other predictions?

Remember the ladies:

“In the next 5 years, half of computer science students will become women, which will lead to more female founders and CEOs.

These CEOs will be focus on smiley tech things, like nice-girl games:

”Instead of killing people, you need to be helping animals,”[Rebecca Lynn] said.

And, of course, smartphones will “be the remote control of our life.”

At least now, with my Android, I have a smartphone that’s capable of doing so.

Just keep that damned massive drone off of my doorstep, thank you.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Up the Republic! (And Happy Memorial Day.)

On holidays, I usually have a post about the particular holiday, and Memorial Day has been no exception.

My first post, Decoration Day, was written in 2007. (Which means I started posting in 2006. Now that I have something to shoot for, I guess I’ll keep Pink Slip alive at least until I hit the big 1-0 in 2016.)

Last year, I had a sad Memorial Day post, as I’d lost both my husband and oldest friend in the preceding moths.

This year, while I will keep up the tradition of thinking about veterans in general, and my dead loved ones in particular, my shout out this Memorial Day goes to The Republic of Ireland, which last Friday became the first country to approve gay marriage by popular vote. And that popular vote wasn’t close at all: 62.1% voted a resounding YES!

I must note that the one and only voting constituency (out of 43 in the country) that voted NO (narrowly) was Roscommon, from whence cometh the Rogers family. My other ancestral precincts (Mayo an Louth) were with the majority.

One area of Donegal which, like Roscommon is rural and remote, narrowly voted YES – by 33 votes.

Many years ago, my husband and I spent a weekend in Donegal Town (population 2,600), and on Saturday went into a pub for a traditional session. We were struck by the number of seemingly gay men who were there. Now I’m not sure that these lads, who were mostly older, were actually out, but they sure seemed gay. And they were having a great time singing along with the session musicians, and busting a few moves. We had a great time, too. As the Irish might say, it was a good bit of the old craic.

I thought of these fellows when I read about that small margin that carried YES in Donegal.

I like to think that at least some of the Town’s voters went to the polls and voted YES because they knew some of those lads who Jim and I had run into in what was, at least for that Saturday night when we were there, Donegal’s gay bar, and said, ‘Fair play to them.’

YES, indeed.

Imagine that: poor, backward, priest-ridden Ireland…

Anyway, this being Memorial Day, I will be heading out tomorrow with my cousin Barbara to put geraniums on family graves, including those of our great-grandparents John (Co. Roscommon) and Margaret Joyce (Co. Mayo) Rogers, and Matthew and Bridget Trainor (both from County Louth).

Up the Republic!

And Happy Memorial Day to all.

Friday, May 22, 2015

One more reason I’m glad I dumped my Blackberry

For the longest time now, I’ve lived with the burden of being one of the last people on the face of the earth still using m Blackberry.

Not that I was especially enamored of it. It certainly outlived its usefulness a couple of iPhone versions ago. But I was just too lazy to replace it.

What got me unlazy happened a few weeks ago.

I woke up at about 4:30 a.m., checked my e-mail, looked at the headlines, and then – I actually had a reason – looked up Carl Yastrzemski’s birthday. I then set my B’berry down on the nightstand, only to hear something that sounded like the phone ringing. On the other end.

I picked up the phone and saw to my horror that my not-so-smartphone had random dialed a friend and neighbor who lives up the street. I quickly turned the phone off, hoping that the call hadn’t gone through. (Hah!)

Sure enough, at 8 a.m. I got a call from Bill asking me if I were okay, and telling me he’d missed my call because his phone was charging in the living room. At least it hadn’t gotten him and his wife up in the middle of the night, panicking that there was some kid or grandkid crisis.

I explained that the phone had just gone off on its own, but I’m sure he was thinking drunken, middle of the night, stalking widow.

So I figured it was time. And now I have swell new Galaxy S6 that’s probably the size of the screen on my parents’ first Philco TV. But it’s nice. And hip (enough). Or would be, if I weren’t old enough to actually remember Philcos.

Anyway, I was especially relieved that the Blackberry is no more when I saw an article in the Boston Globe on the difficulties of aging in the tech start up space, which had as it’s URL Does This Blackberry Make Me Look Old?

The article talked about how difficult it is to be in your 40’s and 50’s and working in a tech startup where everyone else is in their 20’s or 30’s.

I can sympathize – in spades.

I work almost exclusively with tech companies, occasional startups, and it’s a rare event to see anyone my age on prem, unless someone’s hosting “Take Your Grandparents to Work Day.”

Recently, I was at a startup client’s with workspace at a trendy NYC tech incubator. The head honcho is no kid – he’s 50 – but he’s not old, either. Yet he had a good twenty years on everyone else I saw buzzing around the space. Our meeting included his PR guy, who’s about my age. When we went into the communal kitchen for coffee, we stood out completely (not to mention raised the average age by a decade or so). Sure, we all looked plenty hip and current by my standards, but we were the only people in that room who weren’t lanky twenty-somethings in skinny black jeans, Chucks, and hipster glasses.

A week or so later, I was on the elevator at another of my client’s when the CEO stepped on. The woman I’m working with introduced me, and we looked each other up and down, age-gauging. He’s younger than I am. But not by much.

I’ve yet to see anyone at this company other than him who looks north of 40.

I’ve worked for these folks for years, and the people I originally worked with are all long gone. Most of them would now be somewhere in their late 30’s to late 40’s. They’re all still in tech, but were they starting to feel age inappropriate in a business that, while established, tries to maintain a startup culture?

More to the point, would I still be working for them if they had any idea how old I am?

They all know I’m old enough to be their mother, but I observe ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’

So I won’t be volunteering that Medicare coverage is great and that I just got my geezer pass for public transportation.

I’m just happy that they’re still throwing work my way. And in any case, it’s their world not mine:

There are 53.5 million of them, and their ease with all things digital, social, mobile, and Meerkat is making even fortysomethings feel like old timers…

In the first quarter of 2015, millennials surpassed Gen-Xers as the largest generation in the US labor force, according to the Pew Research Center. (The millennials, generally considered to have been born after 1980, blew by the baby boom generation last year.) (Source: Boston Globe)

And none of them use a Blackberry:

At 51, [Maria] Cirino, the venture capitalist, has not only observed others struggling to avoid the dreaded “in my day” syndrome, she’s living it. She recently ditched her beloved BlackBerry because it was pegging her as old.

“I’d go to meetings and a lot of guys had never seen one,” she said. “They’d say, ‘Is that a BlackBerry? I didn’t think those were still around.’ ”

The article also threw in the Mark Zuckerberg quote: “Young people are just smarter.”

I will  note that Zuckerberg is now in his thirties, so I’ll remind him what we used to say: Don’t trust anyone over thirty.

We weren’t right, and neither is he.

But it may be worth listening to Satchel Paige:

Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Put on your high-heeled sneakers…and head on over to Cannes

This week’s big fashion news has been the women who were turned away from a screening at the Cannes Film Festival for not wearing appropriate footwear, i.e., sky-high heels. That one of the women who was – at least initially – given the (ahem) boot had a partially amputated foot just seems to have added to the stir. As did the fact that the women caught flat-footed by the fashion police were mostly in their 50’s. Not to mention that the women whose entrances were spiked were on their way to the film Carol, which is about a lesbian romance.

And it’s not that the women who were turned away were wearing New Balance walking shoes or Topsiders. They were on trend and wearing pricey rhinestone-encrusted flats.

Those who squawked were initially told that high heels were part of the dress code from women, just as black tie is required for men.

There is, of course, one important difference.

As far as I know, black ties do not cause wearers to suffer temporarily from aching feet, and long term from all sorts of foot, back, and hip problems. Admittedly, black ties get loosened and heels get kicked off over the course of an evening, but that’s about the only similarity I can see.

Maybe the old theater good luck wish, “Break a leg”, should be updated for Cannes. It’s now, apparently, “Break an ankle.”

Whenever I see women teetering down the street in ultra-high heels, I just have to shake my head in amazement. I always want to ask them two questions: Why do you do it? How Do you do it?

Okay. I get at least some of the why they do it: guys like it.

But guys in ancient China liked tiny little hoof feet, so women’s feet got bound. That doesn’t mean it makes sense to do it.

Other than the guy thing, I just don’t get the ‘why’. And when someone tells me that it’s actually comfortable to walk around in a four-inch spike with a pointy toe, I really do have to call BS. (Ever been to a wedding where 90% of the women’s shoes are kicked off by the end of the night? Me neither.)

As for the how they do it, well, I do know you have to practice, which I did last year for the two weddings I went to that required the wearing o’ the pointy-toe, relatively-low-but-still-treacherous black patent leather numbers that are now back on the shelf where they belong. And, as I have observed when I see the young couples of Boston pounding our brick pavements, it helps to have a man to hang on to.

When I was growing up, girls started wearing something called “squash heels” when they began wearing nylons – around in sixth grade. These were short, stubby heels – one step more grown up than flats. By eighth grade, we graduated to spikes for formal occasions. Spikes were three inches high, and plenty difficult to walk in, as I recall.

Over time, shoes seemed to get more comfortable. Either that or I just never bothered with uncomfortable shoes. But in the 1980’s, high heels – again the spikes of the three and maybe now four inch variety -  made their way into the workplace. They were even worn – can my memory be correct here? – with the menswear skirt suits we wore with menswear shirts and floppy bow ties.

For every pair of high heels a working gal had, however, there was a pair of moderate-heeled glorified loafers that gave the wearer a lift and were comfy (and, of course, dowdy). And there was the fashion pièce de résistance: the clunky white athletic shoes we wore to and from work. (Today, I have noticed, the to-and-fro footwear for the young is more likely to be support-free ballet flats or flip-flops. These will not cause problems as grave as those produced by wearing heels. Still…)

I’m at the sensible shoes point in my life. Other than those kitten heels I’ll truck out only for weddings, if it ain’t comfy, I’m not wearing it.

Admittedly, I do still experience the pedestrian foot woes associated with breaking in new shoes, and sometimes end up with blisters a plenty.

Still, I never have to fear breaking either a heel or my neck.

Unlike those who attend premieres at Cannes.

Cannes festival organizers has, by the way, issues a clarifying statement, saying that women must wear appropriate footwear, with no mention of how high the heel or how Christian the Louboutin. They have also apologized for the overzealous staff members guarding the gates against fifty-year-old amputees with the audacity to try to storm in wearing flats.

As for me, I’m staying out of Cannes altogether. Too comfy hanging in my sneakers of the non-high-heeled persuasion.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dubuque Rebuke

In 2009, IBM – tax-incentives happily placed in their grasping, outstretched palm – established tech centers in Dubuque, Iowa and Columbia, Missouri.

That was then, and this is now: half of IBM’s Dubuque workforce has been laid off, and Missouri’s headcount – thanks to lay-offs there – has dropped below the 500 employee threshold for their tax credits. Between them, the cities forked over $84M that resulted in a few years employment (albeit well-paid employment) for a couple of thousand folks.

Back when the deals were struck, both cities were no doubt envisioning a restart for their economies would build off of the IBM and become tech centers.

Hey, if it happened to Research Triangle, why not us?

Rick Dickinson, a Dubuque official who helps lure new employers, said he’d expected IBM to put the city on the map and help Iowa transcend Midwestern stereotypes he describes as: “red barn, silo, Holstein cow, hog and a bale of hay.” No company before IBM has moved into town or ramped up so quickly - - only to scale back, he said. (Source: Bloomberg)

Alas, that just ain’t the way the world works, and it looks like it’s back to red barn silo, Holstein and hog for Dubuque. Which kind of fits, given that two of the major employers in town are Hormel (think hog-to-Spam) and John Deere (think field-to-silo-to-hog).

This is, of course, terrible for the towns and for the employees who no longer have work, and are in an area where there’s not a lot of other tech options for them.

Which is one big difference between losing your job in a place where there are many like opportunities out there – tech centers like Research Triangle, Silicon Valley, Boston, NYC… – and losing your job in an isolated area where the firm you worked at was a one-off.

Part of this is just how the economy works these days: an acceleration of what happened in the latter part of the 20th century when the Northeast and Rustbelt factories first moved South chasing cheaper labor, and then out of the country entirely. The fortunate places, like Boston, were able to replace manufacturing with medical, education, tech/bio-tech. The less fortunate places, like Detroit, found themselves hollowed-out.

Now it just happens faster, especially in technology, where yesterday’s know-how is tomorrow’s so what.

Yet there remains the lure of having a big name like Big Blue smile benevolently on you, even if you paid for that smile. Caveat, Dubuques:

“Going after big names makes you vulnerable to the vagaries of the company’s fortune,” said Howard Cure, director of municipal research at Evercore Wealth Management LLC in New York.

This reminds me of my stint in a company that claimed its sweet-spot was mid-market organizations, and in fact put it in its mission statement. The CEO was fond of saying how well-suited we were to serve mid-sized companies, because we ourselves were mid-sized.

My mantra to sales was ‘if you’ve heard of the company, they’re probably not right for us.’

Despite all our pronouncements, our sales guys were always on the elephant hunt, dragging in big name accounts – like IBM, in fact – that were never, ever, ever going to work with us – at least not on reasonable terms. I was once accused of being defeatist when I told a rep that it wasn’t worth responding to an RFP from Bank of America, since we clearly didn’t meet several criteria explicitly presented as deal-breakers. (I threw in on the RFP because I didn’t want to be blamed for the loss. But predictably, we didn’t get the deal.)

And when we did get a deal with one of the elephants – like IBM, in fact – we had to jump through so many hoops and promise them so many things: customizations, free support, deep discounts – that we always lost money on them. All for the glory of having their name – fleetingly –on our customer list. Anything for a bad deal!

If elephant-bagging incentives don’t work on the micro-level like this, they don’t seem to work all that well for cities and states, either.

Yet the promise of rebirth, the lure of bringing in good jobs. It’s just irresistible.

And for the IBM’s of the world, if it makes at least temporary economic sense, why not?

If it doesn’t work, on to the next…

Governments seem to do an even worse job when they actually invest in a new enterprise. Talk about a place that the market should be taking care of…I can see government getting involved in training, but investing in start-ups? How about leaving that to VC’s who can afford to lose on nine out of ten deals.

And don’t get me going on tax incentives for Hollywood.

If someone wants to make a film that takes place in New England strike a note of authenticity by actually being filmed in New England, they’re most welcome. I love seeing places I recognize, and enjoy movies being made on my door-step. Why, just last summer I narrowly missed seeing Johnny Depp and Benedict Cumberbatch on my block making a movie about Whitey Bulger.

But if we need to bribe them to do so on the sketchy promise of job-creation and boost to the local economy (c.f., box lunches), well…

Let those who must be bribed to film here take their camera crews elsewhere – and suffer the scorn of the cognoscenti when those of us in the know spot the fakery.

A few years ago, there was a TV series – something dystopic starring Noah Wylie – that was supposed to take place in and around Boston. I watched an episode, and one scene took place on the town green. I was just telling myself that this didn’t really look local when they panned on a war monument, which gave the dates of World War II as 1939-1945. Oh, Canada!

Conviction, an otherwise pretty good movie set in New England, was shot on location in Michigan. Which looks vaguely like New England if you’re from the Southwest, but nothing like New England if you actually live here.

Back to Dubuque and Columbia. I feel badly for those who’ve lost their jobs with IBM, and don’t have a lot of other local options.

But this is the way the world works, and it’s only going to get worse as globalization and automation keep chugging along.

Today it’s a rebuke to Dubuque. Tomorrow it’s your job.

I don’t know what the solution to what seems an intractable problem for those interested in stability in their professional and personal lives, who want to live and work in wherever their own private Dubuque is. But I’m pretty sure that government tax breaks aren’t it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cease and Desist. (So I did.)

Nearly two years ago, I had a post about a couple who were suing their kid’s school over a fund-raising hoo-hah, in which the school claimed they had made a pledge for $XXX, when the couple felt that they were only on the hook for $X.

The suit against became something of a kitchen sinker, with while-we’re-at-it claims that their kid was mistreated at the school, etc. Damages sought included a year’s severance pay for the car service driver that had been schelpping their kid to school, since, at the new school, the driver would no longer be needed.

As I often do with my posts, I cited the news stories I’d seen on this brouhaha, and added in my own meandering speculation on what was really going on.

It just didn’t strike me as believable that someone in the development office at a pricey private school would make an order-of-magnitude mistake and not immediately apologize, etc. for it. There just had to be something more to it. My guess was that there had been a miscommunication along the way – either parents-school or husband-wife.

As it turned out, someone at the school had – incredibly – gone ahead and done the fake bidding, but had been fired for it. Despite the firing, the suit progressed.

It also struck me that what the couple were claiming as mistreatment of their child – a typically innocuous example cited said that their kid had been made to hold the door open for others – might well be more along the lines of helping a child learn to play well with others and take their turn. (Not that I don’t believe that kids can be mistreated in their schools. I know about all that up close and personnel, having logged my years at Our Lady of Misery watching mistreatment and having been the occasional target of it.)

Anyway, the couple that was suing the school seemed completely worthy of making light fun of, if only because of their much-documented appearances at events (some of which they’d thrown for themselves)  in which the husband was once pictured in velveteen slippers with crests on them.

I wasn’t familiar with any of the outlets that featured the goings and comings of this couple. I think the rags where the couple got their mentions were online-only – not that there’s anything wrong with that – and dedicated to the more minor society leagues. I wasn’t familiar with the names of those profiled in them, either. I.e., there were no instantly recognizable big-buck names mentioned. (Not that I’d recognized the names anyway. Maybe Babe Paley’s or Jackie O’s, but I think they’re both dead.)

And the woman of the house seemed to have some masthead relationship with a couple of the zines in which she and her family were so prominently featured. She did seem awfully dedicated to getting her picture, and those of her husband and kids, in the “news.”

I also found the couple worthy of being made light fun of because the husband’s business – wealth management – pictured a ludicrous this-could-be-yours pile – think Downton Abbey – on its home page.

I thought nothing about any of this until I received a cease and desist request from a Park Avenue lawyer asking that I remove the offending post, claiming, among other things, that the post was “off topic” (huh?) and that I had made false statements within my “article.”

I reread the post, and, unless what was mentioned in published news stories was false, there were no false statements. There were a number of “I wonder if” and “it sounds like” statements, in which I offered conjecture on just how the brouhaha had come about, but these weren’t false statements. Just blog-jecture.

Then there was something about my “denigrating” their minor child. Okay, maybe it was mean to point out that he had appeared in some society ‘zine or other dressed like Lord Fauntleroy – surely through no fault of his own. And I had hypothesized that what the parents felt was mistreatment may have been more along the lines of ‘how-to-handle-a-kindergartner’. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought the kid into the make-fun-ism. But that Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit had been too much to resist. (What both those kids are going to go through once their school friends start googling each others’ names and come across some of their star-turns…)

I was also, apparently, violating copyright and stealing intellectual property by having grabbed a jpeg of the pile on Daddy-O’s web site and using it (with attribution) in my blog. Well mea culpa. (On top of everything else, I bet it was stock photo…)

But the real point – and the lawyer did have a point – was that someone had made a comment accusing the father of being something of a flim-flam man, and that this was damaging his business.

Point taken.

When I write about people in the news, especially if there’s any controversy attached to them, I do occasionally draw a lot of comments. But the ones that are libelous – those of the “liar” and “thief” variety I always delete.

Apparently not always.

As a way of excuse, this was during my husband’s treatment for a recurrence of the cancer that killed him. So I might not have been as vigilant with my comment monitoring as I should have been.

Anyway, there was all sorts of tort-rattling in the letter from the lawyer.

I immediately deleted the comment. The lawyer was right: I was wrong to have left it there.

Then I took out the picture of the castle from their site and swapped in Disneyland.

Then I took out any hypothesizing mention of the kid.

Then I rewrote the post without using any names.

Before I pushed the “publish button,” I had an f-them moment in which I considered contacting my lawyer.

After all, other than the comment, what was there said on my little blog that was harmful or untruthful? Maybe a tiny little bit mean, if you were on the receiving end. But I do think that folks who do foolish things in the public arena, and who are obviously publicity hounds hungering to make a splash in someone’s idea of society, leave themselves open to being made fun of. And I reserve the right to continue to do so.

Then I reread the missive from their attorney which contained some legalese about ‘even if you take the post down my clients may still sue you for ruining their lives.’

And I said to myself, my life’s too short and this one ain’t worth a First Amendment suit.

To hell with it.

I deleted the post, let the tort-rattler know, and, in response, he informed me that I would not be hearing from him again.

I am sorry about letting that libelous comment stand for as long as it did. What was said about the man may well have been true, but let someone take him to court and prove it, not leave an anonymous comment on my blog.

As for the rest of the post, on reflection, I should at most have done a light re-write, removed the picture of the castle, taken out the name of the kid, and let it stand.

I googled the names of the couple, and there are a few other spots out there on the web where they – especially the woman – are made fun of, most notably for her pretentiousness and naked Jay Gatsby-like striving to make it among the swells.

Frankly, the more I read about this woman, the more I felt kind of bad and embarrassed for her. And exhausted for her: making sure your name, pic, and the names and pics of your husband and kids are in the news so frequently must get tiring. Maybe not if you think there’s some pay-off.

Fundamentally, I don’t get the real or fake society-page mentality – either those who are born into it, or those “nobodies” who do their damnedest to claw their first generation way in.

And I will more than likely have further posts on minor royals, society folks (“authentic” or wannabe), and rich people who do things with their money that IMHO are ludicrous. (It’s my blog: I get to say what’s off topic or not.)

Anyway, having ceased and desisted, I’ll now cease and desist on this one.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Fantasy Land? Daily fantasy is taking over the sports world.

So far, I’ve been to two baseball games this season. The Red Sox lost both, but I nonetheless enjoyed myself.

Baseball is the name of the game.

It’s been years since I’ve seen the Celtics and the Bruins play. I’ll go to a Revs game when invited, but soccer is not a sport that I’ll seek out. I’ve never been to see the Patriots – although it could be fun this coming season, given the likelihood that tailgating could well involve burning Roger Goodell in effigy. But I never let a baseball season go by when I don’t get to Fenway for a couple of Sox games, which I can enjoy with the other old fogeys who like baseball in general, and baseball in person in particular.

These days, younger folks enjoy baseball (and the other major sports as well) by proxy, by participating in fantasy leagues, where it doesn’t really matter whether the actual pro team you follow wins or loses. It depends on how the individuals that you’ve drafted into your virtual team do.

A month or so ago, there was an article in The New Yorker on fantasy sports, which has become quite a big business, with an awful lot of fans. Fantasy sports has:

…forty million participants in North America, including eight million women. (Source: New Yorker – may need a subscription to see the full story.)

The article focuses in part on writer Daniel Okrent, who way back in 1979, invented Rotisseries League Baseball.  “Club owners” would develop their rosters and keep a close eye on what “their” players were doing:

Within a few years, baseball officials had a genuine nuisance on their hands: “the number of people calling the P.R. department and pretending to be journalists, asking whether the pitcher’s arm was still hurt,” as Okrent put it. Those callers weren’t gamblers, either; they were Okrent’s proliferating disciples, looking for inside intel to exploit on the virtual trading block.

The fantasy sport concept kept growing, moving onto other sports as well, and all of a sudden, fantasy sports was a real industry with its own trade association and hall of fame.

Okrent, of course, was one of the first inductees. Not that he cared: he didn’t attend his own induction ceremony. And, given how these things go, he’s made very little money out of what’s become a large and (potentially) lucrative business. But what Okrent regrets most about having invented the concept is what it does to you as a fan:

“…by your fourth or fifth year, the actual game has lost meaning for you. You’re engaged in the numbers that the game spins out and engaged with millions of others in the same way. It has no relationship not just to the fan attachment that you may have had to a particular team but to the physical thing that’s taking place on the field. It’s the representation of it in a number that’s what’s important. I’m thinking of our original group. A couple of them really don’t give a shit about baseball at all anymore.” He added, “When people say, ‘How do you feel, having invented this?’ I say, ‘I feel the way that J. Robert Oppenheimer felt having invented the atomic bomb.’ I really do. I mean, pretty terrible!”

J. Robert Oppenheimer!

Now that’s what I call regret…

Fantasy sports has also transmogrified from the Field of Dreams that was Okrent’s Rotisserie League into massive online gaming increasingly dominated by “daily fantasy.” 

Forget rooting for the home town team! Forget worry about free agency! Forget knowing and loving “your” players. Forget all the palaver about the season being long. For the “daily fantasy” picks, the season lasts an evening, and players are unceremoniously dumped. Just as unceremoniously as they were “signed.”

The actual outcomes of real games, no one cares about. You just need the core events so that the fantasy leaguers have something to base their league on. (And the professional leagues themselves like it because fantasy players watch an awful lot of televised sports so they can keep track of what’s happening in all the remote outposts of their franchise. Me, I just have to keep an eye on the Red Sox, with an occasional glance at the league standings, in which the two most evil of empires, the Yankees and the Dodgers, are currently astride the top of their divisions.)

Maybe major league sports will end up playing to empty stadiums as a matter of course, just as they did a few weeks back in Baltimore during the riots, when the Orioles took to Camden Yards before nobody.

Two companies dominate the daily fantasy business: FanDuel and Boston’s own DraftKings.

Neither FanDuel nor DraftKings is currently profitable, although both are increasingly mentioned as possible “unicorns,” a term used by venture capitalists to refer to startups valued at a billion or more dollars on the basis of fund-raising alone. In the race to attract customers, both companies have been spending more money on radio and television commercials, and on the whopping prizes that those ads promise, than they’ve been taking in via the rake—a cut, around ten per cent or less, of all the user entry fees. Nonetheless, their combined revenues have increased by nearly twentyfold in the past two years, and ESPN is said to be close to acquiring a twenty-per-cent stake in DraftKings.

Love when the VC get involved with the no-real-societal-value but potentially big buck companies. Capitalism – venture or otherwise – is, indeed, a wondrous thing when it can keep coming up with ideas like daily fantasy sports.

There’s a lot to like about watching sports. It’s entertaining. It’s engaging. It gives you home town good feeling – even folks I know who don’t give a hoot about sports tend to get a bit jazzed when “their” team is in the thick of things. It gives you something to chat about with the man in the street – or the man in the gym . (Although these days, in these parts, DeflateGate and St. Thomas of Brady’s time on the cross pretty much dominates sports conversation at the gym.) Oh, yes, and you can nap during it and wake up to find that something “big” has happened. But not to worry. If it’s that big, it will be run in such an endless loop that by the time you’re ready fro bed-bed, you’ve seen “it” so many times you not only feel that you were there, you feel that you were one of the actual athletes who took part in “it.”

And – weather aside – sports are so much the better when you’re there in person, where you can develop instant camaraderie with those seated around you, boo more lustily than you do at home, sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and eat a hot dog, Sports Bar, and Cracker Jacks. (And, yes, still get a bit of a nap in.)

I hope all this doesn’t go away…

There’s a song from the musical Gigi, in which – in the movie version at least – the odious and smarmy Maurice Chevalier sings “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore.”

If the only baseball that’s going to be played is fantasy league, you can sing that again.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Fiat luxe workout duds

I am quite content that the gym  I go to is an adjunct of what is primarily a PT location. The gym is pretty rundown. Much of the equipment is dated, purchased second hand when a “real” gym upgrades. And much of it is falling apart – at any given time one of the machines I want to use is out of order, and will remain that way until the missing piece comes in. That or someone, anyone, fixes it up with baling wire and spit.

There’s a radio that plays a station with a playlist that includes Perry Como, Kate Smith, and the Mermaids. And the radio competes with the TV that’s always on, sometimes on the news, sometimes on a sports network. (The TV, by the way, was paid for with donations from the regulars to replace the one that broadcast fuzzz.)

Good thing the PT is excellent. (The head guy is a genius.)

But what I like about my gym is that, while people who work out there there actually do take fitness quite seriously (if not the fitness of the equipment), no one cares what they look like.

Among the women, I’m in the upper echelon, gymwear-wise, in that I actually wear fitness tee’s rather than oversized, faded, worn-out tee-shirts from the 2008 company outing.

And the worst dressed woman there is a fashionista compared to the average guy.

Forget 2008 company outing. We’re talking 1992 company outing for the guys.

In any case, I was very interested to read that workout gear, which – thanks to Lululemon and other yupscale brands – had already done a price and prestige upward climb, is now going “luxury.”

Forgot my fabulous L.L. Bean workout pants – three pairs long, three pairs cropped, all washed weekly, still holding up after seven years! And you can even forget about your Lululemons – which is easy enough for me, since my understanding is that in Lulu’s world, I’m an XL Amazon, and that they hide the pants for us zaftig gals in the pack.

Quietly, a smattering of new true luxury activewear labels have appeared, each with the hope that affluent shoppers are willing to shell out $300, $400, or more on a pair of pliable pants. Think about it this way: If you're a luxury shopper who buys $1,500 designer dresses, pays $250 a month for an Equinox gym membership, and totes around a $4,000 Chanel bag, why would you spend a mere $100 on the leggings that you wear to the gym, on errands, and on the weekend? (Source: Bloomberg)

Well, my crummy gym membership isn’t a whole lot more than $250 a year, and my priciest handbag is a Longchamp (gift). So I guess it goes without saying that I’m not the market for $400 “pliable pants.”

“Some of the newer brands that are emerging are going to give activewear a whole level of status we haven’t seen in this business before,” says Roseanne Morrison, fashion director at trend intelligence firm Doneger Group. The “designer casual” look is prominent these days, championed by luxe labels like Brunello Cuccinelli and Isabel Marant.

Look, I’m not someone who believes there’s no quality difference between something the costs nothing and is shoddily made, and something that costs plenty and is well made. And that most of the time it’s worth paying more even if it means buying less. Good stuff lasts.

One of the most beautiful and durable items of clothing I have is a Jill Sanders skirt I got for about $60 at Off Fifth about 15 years ago. (The tag price was $400 or $500.)

The cut is wonderful, the fabric is lovely, the skirt couldn’t be any comfier (even when compared to my workout gear), and I love it to death.

So much so that I brought it to an “invisible weaver” when I got moth hole in it, and they had to do some costly odd-ball hemming and hawing to weave that moth hole into invisibility. And the skirt still looks great.

But black leggings, black workout pants?

After a point, they all pretty much look the same, so why, after a point, pay more?

Oh, well.

One of these days, my trusty LL Bean workout pants will finally fall apart, and I’ll have to replace them.

I don’t think I’ll be paying $400 for the pleasure…


A tip of the cap to my sister Kath, who looks great in her workout clothing, even if she didn’t pay $400 a pair for those leggings, and who first pointed this story out to me.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Nailed! One more thing to feel guilty about.

The New York Times has been running an exposé on the miserable conditions that New York City manicurists work under.

While I don’t get my mani-pedi work done in The City, my first thought was ‘Swell. One more thing to feel guilty about.’

The Times reported that workers – generally young Asian and Hispanic women, often recently arrived – are badly exploited, miserably paid and sometimes even physically mistreated.

Lawsuits filed in New York courts allege a long list of abuses: the salon in East Northport, N.Y., where workers said they were paid just $1.50 an hour during a 66-hour workweek; the Harlem salon that manicurists said charged them for drinking the water, yet on slow days paid them nothing at all; the minichain of Long Island salons whose workers said they were not only underpaid but also kicked as they sat on pedicure stools, and verbally abused. (Source: NY Times)

$1.50 an hour, huh?

I think my first job paid $1.40, and that was nearly 50 years ago.

How desperate do you have to be to work for $1.50 an hour?

(Free marketers back off: there’s nothing good about this lousy wage.)

In addition to a crappy hourly wage, when they start out on this career path, manicurists typically have to pay the salon owner an upfront fee – and subsist on tips-only until the owner decides they’re worthy of getting paid. (One worker profiled in the article worked for three months for nothing, before getting “promoted” to being a paid worker – for $3 an hour.) Of course, those being groomed would have no way of knowing whether their “girl” is being paid a wage – living or non – given that there’s no price differential whether you’re having your cuticles trimmed by a novice or an old pro.

The juxtapositions in nail salon workers’ lives can be jarring. Many spend their days holding hands with women of unimaginable affluence, at salons on Madison Avenue and in Greenwich, Conn. Away from the manicure tables they crash in flophouses packed with bunk beds, or in fetid apartments shared by as many as a dozen strangers.

Bunk-bedded flophouses? Where’s Jacob Riis when we need him? (Free marketers back off.)

The nail salon workers in NYC are easy enough to exploit – few speak English, many are here illegally. And – in what must be the one and only thing that’s cheaper in NYC than anywhere else – the average price of a manicure is $10.50, about half what it is across the country. So, owners make it up in a combo of high volume and rotten wages.

What’s all very interesting about this is the proliferation of nail salons.

Maybe because I wasn’t looking for one – I clipped my own ragged nails and cuticles – I wasn’t aware that there was such a thing until a decade ago or so. Hair salons often had a manicurist, but that was about it.

But I never had my nails done anyway. Until relatively recent times, I’d never even worn nail polish. The only time I painted my nails was when I was a kid and we’d dip a red pencil in warm water and pretend it was nail polish. Maybe my lack of interest in getting my nails done was a hold-over from having been a nail-biter until I was 20 or so, when the nail-biting just stopped.

Then fast forward a couple of decades and, all of sudden, there were nail salons everywhere. (I can think of four within a two minute walk of where I live.) So I said ‘why not’ and started getting regular manis and pedis.

The proliferation of salons has, of course, made competition fierce – low prices, depressed wages – especially so in NYC, where the growth in the number of nail salons has been especially strong.

The Times article had a companion piece on what mani-pedi seekers can do about the problem of maltreated workers.

Bizarrely, the first suggestion was “interview your manicurist” and ask them about their working conditions.

This sounds like a non-starter for a couple of reason. First off, many of the mani-pedi workers don’t speak much/any English. (Mine speak Vietnamese.) Second, if the owner is on prem, well, I suspect the last thing a mistreated, brutalized (illegal) worker wants to do is blab to a customer about how rotten things are.

The second suggestion was “look around” and see if there’s a punch clock which might be an indicator that workers hours are at least being kept. (And just what a hawk-eye owner wants you to be doing: snooping around.)

The final tip for alleviate worker plight was that we should patronize salons that cost more and, thus, are more likely to pay better wages. I.e., if a price is too good to be true, someone’s getting hurt – likely the worker. Tipping, by the way, does not apparently cut it, as owners keep wages skimpy because their workers make tips. And the tips may, in fact, be skimmed or, if put on a credit card, never passed on to the worker.

The good news is that, as a result of the Times story on nail salons, the State of New York is going to see if they can do something about it. (The bad news is that they’ve set up a task force…)

The other good news is that the Massachusetts nail salon industry doesn’t seem to be the snake pit that New York is.

So I won’t have to resort to dipping a red pencil in warm water and “doing” my nails that way.

And there’ll be no need for me to brush up on my Vietnamese so I can interview the woman doing my nails. (It would be fun to know what the mani-pedi workers are saying. I suspect they always comment to each other on how long and skinny my feet are.)  And I can maybe tip (in cash) without having to worry about whether the tip is going into the wrong pocket.

Happy to have kinda-sorta dodged the guilt bullet on this one.

There’s plenty enough guilt to go around already.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Chuck Barris is alive and well…

It’s hard now to imagine that we ever lived in a time where shows like “The Newlywed Game” and “The Dating Game were, with their moderately sexual banter and occasional off-color innuendo, considered skirting the borderline of good taste.

This was, of course, before reality television got “real” and there was nothing that someone out there wouldn’t say or – better yet – do to get on television. And maybe even win a few bucks.

Today’s entry into the how-low-and-distasteful-can-you-go sweeps, game show edition, goes to a new show on TLC called Labor Games.

The concept: Expectant parents try to win prizes by answering trivia questions in a delivery room while the woman is in labor. While the woman is in labor. Presumably “Cash Cavity,” in which root-canal patients answer questions while being operated on by a dentist, was rejected because potential contestants couldn’t make themselves heard. (Source: NY Times)

Well, like Scarlett O’Hara’s maid Prissy, ‘I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies’, but I also don’t know any woman who would want to be in labor – no matter how early on – and have the experience packaged up and televised.

I realize that the world has changed, and there are any number of reality shows that do bring us childbirth up close and personal.

Why, the Duggars alone could have a weekly series devoted to the baby-birthin’ of the Duggar matriarch, her daughters, and daughter-in-law.

But to combine it with a quiz show... “Labor Games” is breaking new ground there.I think of myself as someone with a pretty darned high threshold for things appalling, but this  manages to cross it.

And – let’s hear it for cable – there are even more goodies out there for us:

Last week, at its upfront presentation, the History channel announced a new digital series called “Shotgun.” The description: “It’s a game show on the road! Contestants try to answer questions while riding ‘shotgun’ in a high-performance racecar that’s flying around a track at top speed.”

…[and]  just wait until May 19. Nat Geo Wild is promoting a “mini-series event” beginning that night called “Are You Smarter Than ...,” in which people compete against animals.

By the way, my sister Trish’s reaction to hearing about a quiz show called “Shotgun” was:

… “ok, when I read this and saw that there was a quiz show called "Shotgun" I thought the contestants were going to have to answer questions with a shotgun pointed at them.  We're probably not too far off from that - Mad Max anyone?” (Source: e-mail from my sister Trish)

Everything doesn’t have to be “Downton Abbey” and other high-brow-ish fare, of course.  And this last one – “Are You Smarter…” actually sounds like fun. (Although scary fun. Who wants to have the world find out that you’re not as smart as your poodle?)

But “Shotgun” is just one accident away from infamy. And as for “Labor Room”…. I do suppose that the show’s producers would have the good taste not to run an episode where something bad happened to a couple and their baby. (Of course, there’s no guarantee that this would stop the parents…)

This all reminds me of something that I believe Chuck Barris – the inventor of “The Newlywed Game”, “The Dating Game”, and “The Gong Show” – said.

In discussing the downhill progression of game show concepts, he noted that, one day, there might be a game show in which players would be asked to do something awful – like kick the crutches out from under an old lady – with the show’s host upping the price until someone was willing to do it. (I suppose you could just televise the Milgram experiment, in which subjects were ordered to increase the voltage on the electric shock they were giving someone even after it went well beyond the pain point. About two-thirds of the Milgram experiment’s participants were willing to carry out orders that would have fatally shocked someone.)

Where could this all be heading?

How about “Last Laughs”, in which actively dying patients would be asked questions about various death rituals. (“How many days do people sit shiva?” “In what country do widows throw themselves on a funeral pyre?”)

How about “Doctor’s Orders”, which would be a take off of the old “To Tell the Truth,” in which three people claimed to be something or other – a custom accordion maker, the mother of four sets of twins – and the panel would guess which one was telling the truth. In “Doctor’s Orders,” three individuals – only one of who is a real doctor – would dispense medical advice. And – get this – you’d have to follow the advice of the one you picked. (On second thought, maybe this one could be called “You Bet Your Life.”)

Then there could be “ICU” in which you had to answer trivia questions in order to get your pain meds or one of those sponge lollipops with the ice water.

There’s just no end, is there?

How low can you go???? I suspect we haven’t plumbed the depths quite yet.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Nancy Drew just turned 85. (Doesn’t look a day over 16.)

Pretty much from the moment I began reading, I loved series – getting to know the characters over time or – in the case of ageless characters – in many different situations.

Some of the series I got sucked right into have stood the test of time and actually have some literary merit. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books and, most especially, Maud Hart Lovelace’s exceptionally lovely Betsy, Tacy, Tib series. (Oh, how I wanted to go back in time and know these girls in real life!)

Despite enjoying at least some good books, I wasn’t an especially discerning or picky reader.

Would I still be intrigued by what Vevi and the other Brownie Scouts were up to at Snow Valley or Silver Beach as I was when I was eight?

Maybe, maybe not. But I’m positive that some of the series I gobbled up as a kid would, if I were to revisit them, be just painful to re-read.

The Bobbsey Twins? Honey Bunch and Norman?

I suspect I would find these insipid and boring.

As I got older, I became more interested in reading about teenagers and young women.

I devoured so many Cherry Ames and Sue Barton books, it’s a wonder I didn’t become a nurse.

Then there were the Double Date/Double Feature/Double Wedding books that featured a pair of peppy and cute twins. I also read a couple of Donna Parkers, but I grew out of those and into adult fiction before the series ended. (YA didn’t really exist. You graduated from pap to the adult section.)

And then there was Nancy Drew.

I suspect on a re-read, these would fall somewhere on the merit continuum between Betsy-Tacy and Donna Parker, but I adored them.

What was not to love about Nancy?

She was smart, pretty, well-to-do, and had a roadster and a dead mother. (Sorry moms everywhere, but that’s how the kid fantasies sometimes go.) She was also an only child (sigh) and had a bland but charming boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. Plus she had two best friends, her own personal yin and yang: blonde, girlie-girl Bess Marvin and the butch George Fayne. And to top it all off, the Drews had a housekeeper (c.f., dead mother), and Nancy didn’t ever, that I recall, have to do a damned chore.

She didn’t iron, hang out and retrieve laundry, dust mop, vacuum, dry the dishes, burn the burnable trash, run errands, peel potatoes, crack walnuts, or do any of the other myriad chores that we all did as kids.

Of course I wanted to be Nancy Drew!

I remember getting the word that her latestwas in stock at Woolworth’s. If one of us had 50 cents, my sister Kath and I, along with our friends Mary Ann, Susan, and Elaine, would bee-line down to the Webster Square Plaza to buy it.

The Secret of the Old Clock. The Bungalow Mystery. The Witchtree Symbol.

Nancy sure knew how to have an adventure – and solve a mystery.

The mysteries most of us were capable of solving were about the whereabouts of our skate keys, or which of our younger sibs had scribbled in our coloring books.

As for adventures, well, one time when we were cutting through Hixon’s Hollow, a creepy old guy threw burrs at me and my friend Bernadette. And then there was the time that Bernadette and I melted some snow to baptize Tinkerbell, a cute little neighborhood dog – back in the day when both kids and dogs were free-range. We named him James Martin, after the classmate we both had a crush on.

Anyway, a few weeks back, Nancy Drew turned 85. Or at least her series did.

Nancy, I suspect is forever young. (I did read that they aged her up from 16 to 18. Someone, I guess, decided that roadstering around with a moderately butch friend named George was more appropriate for a high school grad, not a student.)

I also read the Hardy Boys, but that was probably to get closer to my one-time boyfriend (at a distance of 3,000 miles and about a decade in age) Tim Considine, who played Frank Hardy in the Disney Hardy Boy Series.

But I always came back to Nancy Drew.

I still like series, and look eagerly anticipate each new, say, Maisie Dobbs mystery.

I’ll read anything by Stewart O’Nan, including his grocery lists, but I especially loved Wish You Were Here and Emily Alone, because they featured the same character. Robertson Davies is not to everyone’s liking, but I loved his Deptford, Salterton, and Cornish Trilogies, which were long and complex, and made for excellent vacation reads.

And then there’s the peerless Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. Twelve volumes following the life of Nick Jenkins. (Just added this one to my re-read list.) More recently, I sped through Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series, a harrowing fictionalized account of St. Aubyn’s capital-D –Dysfunctional family life.

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Nancy Drew. You helped make me the reader I am today.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Las Vegas culture vultures shun “The Duck Commander Musical”

Before granpappy Phil Robertson got hisself in some duck soup by shootin’ his mouth off about gays and atheists and other no good sumbitches, I was only vaguely aware of Duck Dynasty.

Even by my exceedingly low standards of crap TV watching – I’ll confess that I’ve watched Honey Boo-boo, Hoarders, and Extreme Couponers – this one was not for me.

While I do laud the the Robertson family for having built a fortune out of duck calls – good for them – I’m just not interested in a show about a bunch of guys who look straight out of Deliverance, shrewdly promoting their business by pretending to be just folks. I call BS. Make that DS.

Perhaps because I am not a fan, I was not aware that Clan Robertson had a musical based on their lives.

The Duck Commander Musical, “how faith, family and ducks built a dynasty:

…transports the Louisiana bayou to the stage in a captivating 90 minute show- seasoned with all the southern spirit and down-to-earth humor you’d expect from America’s most famous rednecks, the Robertson family.  But while the true-to-life, rags-to-riches story behind A&E’s mega hit Duck Dynasty will surely please its most loyal fans, audiences unfamiliar with the Robertsons will also find themselves charmed- and even moved- by this surprising tale of faith, food and family. (Source: The Duck Commander Musical website)

I don’t know to you, but I suspect that my idea of down-to-earth humor has as much in common with Duck Dynasty’s idea of down-to-earth humor as Duck Commander Musical has with Lucia di Lammermoor.

And, although I’m not all that hard to either charm or move, I doubt I would have been charmed – or even moved – by this particular story.  (On reflection, I might have been moved to the exit, but that would be about it.)

Plus, I have made it a practice throughout my life to avoid anything that has in its descriptor the word “hijinx.” Or at least that part of my life which has occurred once I stopped reading The Katzenjammer Kids in the Sunday funny papers.

I also tend to pass on anything touting the “southern spirit.”

I understand regional pride. Nothing wrong with loving where you’re from. But there are, unfortunately, a lot of negatives built in to that – at least to me. Maybe they just mean the good stuff, like not giving a shit what some snotty Northerner thinks of them. But too often that southern spirit involves waving the lost cause flag that wasn’t just a lost cause. It was a terrible cause. Folks can yammer on about ‘states rights’, but that state right that the Civil War was fought for was pretty much a state wrong.

Yes, I know it would be naïve to say North = Good; South = Evil.

Still, one of the war horses was worth backing; the other just plain wasn’t – which is not to say that Southerners shouldn’t honor their war dead. (Speaking of war dead, depending on who’s data you believe, the total – both sides – killed in the Civil War could have been 620,000. Or it could have been 750,000. Which is an awful lot of soldiers, given that the US population in 1860 wasn’t much more than 30 million.)

Of course, most of my reason for disparaging the Duck dudes is that I am an outrageous snob. I don’t imagine that I’d be gung-ho to see a musical about a bunch of Downeast rubes named Uncle Eph telling knee-slapping jokes about Bostonians, either.

No hee, no haw for me.

But if I were the type of gal who, if I found myself in Las Vegas with time on my hands, and between $60 and $155 left in my pocket, wanted to catch this show, I would be duck out of luck.

The Duck Commander Musical, which opened in early April to less than stellar reviews, is closing this coming weekend.

The last performance is scheduled for May 17th.

I’ll be in Boston and, outrageous snob that I am, I’ll be going to the Sunday matinee of Henry VI, Part 2 at the Actors’ Shakespeare Project.

"The production [and here we’re back to Duck Commander, not Henry VI]  is thrilled to have had the opportunity to develop the 'Duck Commander Musical' at the Rio," the producers told theater magazine Playbill. "Much has been learned from this limited engagement, and from the great support from everyone who has come to see this first staging of this completely new musical. Duck Commander will now consider several possible opportunities for the next stage in the life of the show, including extended sit-down engagements in interested cities, as well as a national tour." (Source: MSN)

Sit-down engagements? Does that mean dinner theater? Will duck be on the menu?

I’ll never find out, as I suspect that Boston won’t be high on their list of potential tour dates.

Meanwhile, with respect to their first run, the people have spoken.

All I can say is Viva. Las Vegas!


A tug of the camo bandana to my brother-in-law John for spotting this bit of news.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Friday Fun. (Hey, how old DO you think I look?)

I bow to no man, woman or child in my ability to find ways to waste time on the Internet.

I know, I know.

We’re all pretty good at it.

After all, who doesn’t want to look at a video of a cute puppy hiccupping? Who doesn’t get up in the middle of the night and google up the name of a guy they dated a couple of times 40+ years ago to see what he’s up to? Who doesn’t hop on Amazon and comb through couple of dozen reviews of a book written by someone they vaguely know?

Then there’s looking at kitchen designs, auto-diagnosing an imagined illness, listening to some old song that pops into your mind. (Haven’t you ever had the urge to hear “You’re So Fine” by the Falcons?)

So it goes without saying that I was thrilled to find Microsoft’s

It’s a show-off site for Azure (which is MSFT’s cloud service platform).

The site was unveiled [last] Thursday at the company’s Build 2015 conference to show off the powerful of its cloud service platform. The website lets you upload a photo, and then quickly analyzes the individual, and spits out an estimated age. (Source: PC World.)

Well, what’s not to like about this time waster?

Especially if you put in a head-shot taken when you were 61 and it estimates your age as 55.Maureen Rogers - 12

Although this is my picture on LinkedIn, I’m not especially enamored of it. But I will admit that it looks like me. Sort of. (And, of course, I do look years younger than I am. You go, Microsoft. True that!)

One of the reasons I’m not wild about this picture is that it was taken at the request/on the demand of a former client of mine. Somewhere along the line, she decided she wanted me to be a co-author on a contributed article I’d written with/for her. The picture I sent her wasn’t professional enough, so I had to go out and get this one taken.

Anyway, I worked for this woman – who had a small consulting company in a niche technology area – for about a year, doing contract work: writing and research. Pretty much every blessed moment was sheer hell. (I can’t even begin to get into the awfulness…Someday I’ll dedicate a post to the experience.)

One of the high points of my consulting career was the day I told her that I could no longer work for her.

My husband cannily predicted that she would be back and, sure enough, over the next couple of years she put a couple of feelers out through an emissary.

All I can say is that I’d dig up my old white comfy shoes and apply for a job as a battle-ax Durgin-Park waitress before I’d do a lick of work for this woman. Unless she gave me a non-refundable (renewable) upfront payment of $25,000. A payment that I could keep in full if at any moment in time I felt she was being capricious or unreasonable.

The other picture I tested out on how-oDiggy and Sam (7) was one of my favorites. It’s a selfie taking by our virtual nephew Sam a couple of months before Jim died. Sam is 32 here. Jim is 69. (The scally cap – which Sam is now in possession of - was to cover the brain surgery scar. Jim didn’t always wear it indoors, but they’d just come back from lunch.)

The photo estimator puts Sam at 40 and Jim at 62.

Jim was, in fact, remarkably youthful looking, and young in spirit and demeanor.

I’m happy that MSFT’s facial recognition technology places him as younger than he was, especially given all he’d been through by this point.

When this picture was taken, Jim didn’t have much time, but he still had some life in him. He never really got all that old looking – at least not to me. (What can I say? To me, Diggy’s forever young. “Forever Young:” another song worth listening to. Here’s the Joan Baez version. What did I say about my most excellent capacity to waste time on the Internet?)

But this is about your capacity to waste time on the ‘net.

Come on. It’s Friday.

Go head. Take a selfie. Head on over to

You know you want to.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

My country, tis of me…

What with the arrival of Will and Catherine’s bébé princess, my mind has quite naturally drifted to royalty. Unless the rumor that all the Irish are descended from kings turns out to be true – and it was recently proven that there are millions who can trace their DNA back to Niall of the Nine Hostages -  I missed out on the royal birth thing. Just something I learned to live with along the way. Like having long skinny feet and not being able to curl my tongue, there’s not much I can do about. Or so I thought…

Oh, if all you’re after is a title, there’s definitely a marketplace, as I blogged about a while back in The Market for Titles and Passports.  But if you want the whole megillah – your own modest version of the megillah that Will and Kate will end up with some day, unless there’s revolution and the tumbrels start rolling through the streets of London, sending Will, Kate and the kids off to live in exile at The Carlyle. Or just saying f it and joining the other family’s biz and working with the Middletons in their party supply business. (Although now that I think of it, if there are tumbrels rolling through London, there may not be that much demand for party favors. Although now that I re-think of it, there may be plenty of demand. Please note that I’m talking metaphorical tumbrels here…)

Anyway, if you want the whole megillah, you’re more or less out of luck.

Unless you go ahead and set up your very own micronation.

By definition, a micronation is any entity—physical or virtual—that purports to be or have the appearance of being a sovereign state, but, you know, actually isn’t. They do not enjoy governmental recognition, but that doesn't stop them from trying. (Source: Bloomberg)

Mostly, as one attendee says of the micronation movement, what the Microcon folks indulge in is "’a big fantasy role-playing game that involves a lot of self-aggrandizement.’"

I could certainly manage to work with the self-aggrandizement, but I don’t know about that fantasy role-playing.

If I’m going to pursue micronationhood, I may need to start elsewhere. Believe it or not, there is another micronation conference coming up, and it looks somewhat more serious, academic and professional than microcon.

The third PoliNation conference will take place for the first time within the borders of an actual micronation; the Free Republic of Alcatraz is a social and environmental sustainability project conceived by renowned Italian actor, film-maker and social commentator Jacopo Fo (son of Nobel laureate Dario Fo). It occupies a five hundred acre site near Gubbio, outside Perugia in the central Italian region of Umbria. (Source: PoliNation)

Well, I guess you can’t top Jacopo Fo, but whether you’re out for a Microcon-style, self-aggrandizing good time – hey, there’s nothing wrong with having fun – or want a more cerebral sustainability kind of brainiac event, if you’re a micronationer, when it comes to nation building, you will want to avoid some of the pitfalls. These pits get fallen into it rulers start to take things too seriously.

For the Republic of Rose Island, founded in 1968, it didn't turn out so well. Italian Giorgio Rosa issued stamps and declared himself president of a floating platform in the Adriatic, all in a bid to draw visitors. But almost as soon as it was built, the Italian navy took dynamite to his dreams for failure to pay taxes. (Back to Bloomberg)

That wouldn’t happen to me.

I’d be happy with a flag.

Overall, there are 98 micronations around world.

Yours could be one of them.

No, it won’t be the sceptred Rule Brittania isle that Kate, Will and their kiddos inhabit.

But, oh why not…

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Now you’re cookin’. (Forget Roomba.)

I enjoy baking, but I’ve never had much interest in cooking. 

Oh, I have a few recipes up my sleeve, but it’s never been a case of ‘put me in the kitchen and I’ll jump for joy.’ Perhaps it was a couple of cooking fiascos in what would have been my formative, late teens/early twenties cooking years that put me off cooking. all these years later, I still clearly remember pot roast and onion flake soup (yum!), and Swiss steak pummeled to mush in the pressure cooker. (How could it have been that I never noticed – after all those years watching my mother turn green broccoli yellow - that when the pressure cooker began to hiss and spin, you turned the heat off? )

Certainly, I had an occasional baking incident, most memorably the baking powder biscuits where I absentmindedly substituted baking soda for baking powder. (The biscuits tasted like pretzels.) But never enough to put me off of baking.

I chalked my attitude and ability up to my being the natural heir of my grandmother Rogers. Maybe when she was younger she could put something edible on the table, but by the time I was around, you just plain didn’t want to eat at Nanny’s. Unless you wanted a chaw of the mystery meat she fried up in the black cast iron skillet in perpetual residence on her stove top.

My mother was a reasonably good cook, held back by my father’s being a meat-and-potatoes-man. (One time for her own birthday, she experimented with chicken jambalaya. No one – including my father – would touch it.) Liz was especially good at hearty fare: soups and stews. My mouth still waters for her pork chop potatoes, and, for a German girl married to an Irishman, she made a mean spaghetti sauce.

Both of my sisters became excellent cooks. Me, meh.

When I worked full time, my husband and I went out pretty regularly. Restaurants were too crowded on Saturdays, so that was the night I cooked.

When I no longer worked full time, we didn’t go out quite as often, but I rarely cooked. We fended for ourselves. I ate salads.

In the last year or so of Jim’s life, I did cook more often, but it was the basics of what appealed to him. I scrambled up an awful lot of cheesy eggs and stirred up an awful lot of ground meat and rice.

I have had occasional fantasy flashes in which I one day turn my attention to mastering the art of cooking, but at this point I’m ready to admit that this is unlikely to happen.

But I do like to eat, so I was intrigued by an article in The Economist about what I can only call an excellent approach to cooking, introduced by Mark Olyenik, a London-based engineer. He’s come up with:

… a robot cook that is as good as a Cordon Bleu chef but which can be installed in an average house. A prototype of his idea, unveiled this week at an industrial fair in Hanover, Germany, has been demonstrating its culinary prowess in public, by whipping up an excellent crab bisque. (Source: The Economist)

Unlike existing robotic cooking devices – “essentially food processors with bells and whistles” – Oleynik’s robochef is a robotic pair of chefs hands working with regular appliances and utensils.


A pair of dexterous robotic hands, suspended from the ceiling, assemble the ingredients, mix them, and cook them in pots and pans as required, on a hob or in an oven. When the dish is ready, they then serve it with the flourish of a professional.

The robochef “learns” its way around the kitchen by borrowing from human chefs. The human chefs wear special, sensor-equipped gloves and whip up their special dishes. The data picked up here is augmented by videos shot from different angles.  Put all the data together, and now you’re cooking.

The robochef, which is expected to hit the market in 2017, will cost about $15K.  The recipes (including the moves) will be kept in an online repository and used as needed. Initially, the recipes will come from celebrity chefs. In the future, home chefs will be able to input their own favorites. (I don’t think I’ll be uploading my recipe for pot roast soup any time soon.)

Also in the future, capabilities that will be enable  robochef to:

  • Prep ingredients. (As of now, it requires a kitchen helper to cut and chop.)
  • Make trips to the fridge.
  • Clean up after itself.

Despite the fact that I don’t cook, I do still want to redo my 1980 kitchen – worthy of an exhibit in the Smithsonian, with it’s almond-tone cabinets with oak trim  - with something more up to Beacon Hill’s implicit code. My husband and I used to talk about a kitchen makeover, but our plans were a bit off-beat: we talked about converting it to a sun room where we could hang out, read and take naps

But I wouldn’t want my robochef to work in an out-of-date kitchen.

I now have a hard stop date for kitchen construction: 2017. Just in time for my new live-in cook.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

A tippable moment

When I’m getting an iced coffee at Dunkin’, or a burrito at Boloco, I’m still capable of being amazed that there are so many young folks who no longer use cash, even for small purchases.

And as I stand there being amazed, I’m also wondering what happens to those tip jars (or the donation boxes for whatever good cause) in a cashless environment. After all, you might throw 42 cents in the jar, but you’re probably not going to charge a tip. After all, this is a pretty quick and low-cost transaction. I don’t even think that people sign for these small purchases.

But the tip jar folks are apparently one step ahead of me.

At a growing number of coffee shops and casual eateries around town, countertop iPads and other tablets are outing customers’ tipping habits. Customers are presented with the device and directed — in full view of the server — to choose a gratuity option on the screen: 15 percent, 20 percent, 25 percent, “custom,” or, if they dare, “no tip.”

…The countertop technology doesn’t drive up gratuities through guilt alone. The systems’ preset default tip options tap into the power of suggestion, sometimes pushing tips into the 50 percent range or higher. Some math-phobic patrons are happy to give a bit more if it means they don’t have to do any calculating. And the ease of using a credit card rather than cash reduces the pain of paying. (Source: Boston Globe)

At one Boston coffee shop, if you order a $3 coffee, the tip options are $1, $2, $3, and no tip. And those tip options are right in your face as you face the server who handed you the $3 coffee.

I generally throw the coin part of my change in the tip bucket at places that have them. If I’ve chatted with, say, the server at Boloco while I’m ordering my Bangkok Thai on wheat with white meat chicken, I’ll throw in a buck. I know that the (mostly) kids working there aren’t making much. If I can afford a Boloco burrito, I can afford a buck extra.

But it seems a lot more like a choice – not an obligation – if I can put the tip in the passive tip jar rather than have to sign off on it or not. (I’ve occasionally been in restaurants where they take your charge card and swipe it on a device before your very eyes. The server stands there watching you put the tip in. Having been a waitress, and knowing what the wait-staff goes through, I’m a pretty generous tipper. But I still don’t like putting the tip in while the waiter’s watching my every move.)

Then there is something even newer on the horizon:

…it’s DipJar , a tip jar for credit cards that sits on a counter and lights up and makes the sound of clinking change when a customer inserts her card.

I’m okay with this concept. Sort of.  Most places that have them apparently deployed with a present amount of $1. So by not dip-tipping, and just throwing in coins, am I exposing myself as a cheapskate with no concern for the plight of minimum wage slaves? Do people no longer even want those coins?

As for that “sound of clinking change”, one would hope that this is an option that can be disabled.

Meanwhile, I also suspect that the cashless society will have an impact on panhandlers.

Personally, I seldom give money to stemmers.

Unless I’m in a really harried move, I’ll talk to them about St. Francis House. If they tell me that they’ve been banned, I tell them to get unbanned and give them a few bucks. If it’s really awful out – blazing hot, Arctic cold – I’ll generally give someone a bit of money, and once in a while buy them a bottle of water or a cup of coffee.

Maybe street people need the ability to process credit card transactions, too.

Forget ‘spare change.’ Someday it’ll probably be ‘DipJar.’

Monday, May 04, 2015

Congratulations! Our promotional department has authorized us to award you a Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise…

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten a scam e-mail from Nigeria, so I was dee-lighted to receive some scam snail-mail, from outfit unknown, offering me a free cruise. Woo-freakin’-hoo!

And – their “records indicate” – if I get back to them in 72 hours, I’m also entitled to “Round-trip Airfare for 2 Adults.” (Tick, tick, tick.)

Well, ain’t I the lucky duck.

The come-on includes a fake check for $1,897.00 (“void after 30 days”).

Too bad I can’t endorse it over to a Nigerian scam artist.

But, alas, it’s not real check. It “must be redeemed for cruise voucher.” Oh, that.

The check has all sorts of hilarious mumbo-jumbo on it, clearly “proof points” of the authenticity of the sender.

Document has a blue background & mircoprinting. Back has an artificial watermark. Hold at angle to view. Void if not present.

Well, other than the fact that the blue background is mottled with white, there is no watermark. Could mine be void? Ya think?

Face of document is blue. Document security includes copy-void safety, microprinting and simulated watermark.

And in real microprinting it says:

*Padlock design is a certification mark of the Check Payment Systems Association.

Because we all know that you couldn’t put a fraudulent padlock design on a fake check. No, that could never happen.

But my personal favorite is this honey:

Federal Reserve Board of Governors Reg. C.C.

Say what?

I will admit that, despite the fact that my husband’s doctoral dissertation was on how the Fed sets interest rates, I had to look this one up. What Reg CC is about is how long banks can hang on to a deposit before it clears.

Given that I can’t deposit the fake check to begin with, how, exactly, does Reg CC apply?

Reg CC, the better to scam you with…

I did call the 1-800-965-1152 Toll Free Number, just to see how they answered the phone.

Alas, it was just the old ‘next available agent.’

So the scam artists running this scam are no name.

Last year, apparently, they were dangling their offer under the name Promotions 2U.

And here’s how it works (or doesn’t work) if you want to redeem that offer for the free cruise:

You'll have to sit through a 90 minute sales pitch about for an expensive travel club membership, then get the one-on-one treatment from a salesperson whose goal is to get your to sign a contract for thousand of dollars. 

A major credit card is typically required just to get in the door.  And you have no time to investigate before you make a decision.  In most cases, you get very little information until you make your reservation for the 90 minute presentation.  Once at the presentation, you typically must make a decision to buy on the spot. (Source: KOMO News, Seattle)

It almost goes without saying that the Better Business Bureau, state Attorneys General, and others get plenty of complaints about these outfits from folks who claim:

…they've lost thousands of dollars to travel club membership promoters who use high pressure sales tactics, make impressive claims, then don't provide the promised services and don't respond to consumer complaints.

It also goes without saying that these creeps are using the logos of Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean without their permission.

But while the cruise line aren’t directly involved, according to KOMO, these travel outfits use multiple layers of “business affiliates so you never know exactly who you’re dealing with.”

I suspect that these scam artists stay just one side of the legal line. They certainly travel way far over the ethical line.

It’s easy to see how people who would never get sucked into a Nigerian “wire $10,000 to my account and you’ll inherit $100,000” too-good-to-be-true scams could get caught off guard by a scam like this.

A cruise sounds fun, etc., etc.

I suspect, however, that anyone who resists the sale pitch to sign up for Travel-a-rama never see the inside of a cabin on Norwegian. No “cruise like a Norwegian” for them.

Many years ago, in pursuit of frequent flyer miles, my husband and I signed us up to sit through a sales pitch for a Marriott time share.

We had no intention of buying – why would we need a time share in downtown Boston when we already live there? – but we sat politely through the presentation.  We wanted those 50,000 miles or whatever it was.

And we never – despite my writing to Mr. Marriott (or whomever) – got them thar’ miles.

Did we act in good faith?

Well, not particularly.

But the offer never said you had to buy. It just said you had to come to the presentation and take a tour of the facility (which we were genuinely interested in seeing: it was in the old Boston’s Custom Tower Building).

They invited us; we didn’t go after them!

Oh, boo-hoo.

At least we weren’t out thousands of dollars, and no one asked us for our credit card.

Believe me, Jim found any number of ways to accrue miles that didn’t require leaving the house.

Anyway, consider this a Public Service Announcement from Pink Slip. Throw that microprinted, Reg CC no value check in the recycle bin.

If only I could introduce these bums to Carmen from Cardholder Services…