Friday, October 30, 2015

Spoiler Alert

Well, just in time for Halloween, the Huffington Post comes out with a meany-pants list of the ten least healthy candies you’re apt to find in your trick or treat loot bag.

Now ain’t nobody wants to find anything healthy in there, so it does seem a bit mean spirited to point out that so much of it is so bad for you. It’s only one night of the year, and your parents end up spiriting away most of it, anyway.

As for healthy Halloween treats…

We had an elderly Irish immigrant couple in our neighborhood, and they followed an Old Sod tradition and gave out apples.

Apples? Apples!

Pitooey! If we wanted apples, we could get them at home. Who needed to take up any space in their goody bag with an apple. Except for their grandchildren, I don’t remember anyone ever bothering to ring the Dowds’ bell.

Similarly, the quasi-healthy popcorn ball.

No, we didn’t make popcorn balls in our house. Who wanted to gunk up perfectly good popcorn with a meld of sugar and corn syrup? But we always had popcorn on Friday nights, so who wanted or needed a popcorn ball? Yes, the orange and black cellophane wrapping was appealing, but as for eating it…

I suspect that one thing that hasn’t changed over the many decades since I was a trick-or-treater is that kids want candy. Even in this hyper-vigilant age, it should be the one night that no one (other than diabetics) worries about health.

So spoiler alert!

Here’s the Daily Meal’s list of the worst of the worst when it comes to Halloween candy.

Number One of the s/hit parade: 3 Musketeers, which is an enemy of the state because it contains loads o’ saturated fat and trans fats. I’m not wild about 3 Musketeers, but just the mention of them makes me kind of crave one.

Sour Patch Kids I would not have to worry about. Even without knowing that they contain something called “invert sugar”, I can’t stand the taste of them.

Bad day for the folks from Mars: it’s not just 3 Musketeers. Milky Way is apparently no darned good for you, either. Of course, we didn’t need anyone to point this out to us. But did they have to rub it in and mention that the  caramel and nougat sticks to the teeth and “can cause cavities.”

If there’s one thing I will always raid from an unsuspecting kid’s Halloween bag, it’s a Butterfinger, truly one of the greatest candy inventions of all time. So what if it’s loaded with sugar, with saturated fats. And so what if it “also contains a host of other artificial preservatives, like TBHQ, which is made up of phenol and butane (also known as lighter fluid).” Nothing beats a Butterfinger, and I intend to make my way to a CVS this weekend and get me one.


More Mars bashing: Down with Snickers. Bad for HDL, bad for your LDL. Even “thought to lead to the development of metabolic syndrome, a pre-diabetic condition.” Snickers and Good ‘n Plenty were my husbands two favorite candies, and in the later stages of his life, Jim liked having Snickers around as a little treat. I would carry some “fun sized” pieces with me on chemo days, when he especially liked to pop one in for a little energy burst. So to hell with these spoilers. Snickers can be good for you.

Even without the stupid ads with Nick Lachey – the ones that keep popping up when I go to play a game of solitaire – I don’t like
Twix. Still, it’s shocking to find that “one fun size pack…contains 250 calories.”

Starbursts  have, among their many nasty ingredients, Red Dye 40. I thought this was banned. Didn’t we have a scare a few decades back in which they took the red M&M’s out of the packages? Not wild about Starbursts, even before I learned that Red 40 “contains a known carcinogen called bendizine.” I suspect you’d have to wolf down quite a few Starbursts before you got cancer from it. Still…

I’d never heard of Fun Dip, but it looks like a descendant of Lik-M-Aid. Only now, instead of wetting your finger and sticking it in the package of flavored sugar – or just throwing back and tossing it down your gullet – you get a stick made of sugar to dip into the packet of flavored sugar. Capitalism is all about the innovation. And, apparently, the pure sugar. (Never liked Lik-M-Aid. Even as a kid, it was an act of pure sugar desperation that would get me to eat it.)

Don’t like Nerds either. But it’s not because of the pure sugar, the artificial flavors, and the unnatural dyes. I just don’t like them.

And what’s a Take 5, other than a wad of sugar and fat?Whatever it is, I couldn’t care less that it’s on the top/bottom ten list of Halloween baddies.

All I can say is, I’m just delighted to see that there are things a lot worse for you than candy corn.

Happy Halloween, by the way.

I’ll be going out (or staying in) as a harried, getting on in years renovator looking forward to nestling up in my new couch with a Butterfinger.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What’s for supper on Saturday? Frankensteins and Beans

Even before Otto von Bismarck mentioned it, it was always best not to see how sausages, and their subgenre, the hot dog, are made. Talk about the ultimate mystery meat…

But Clear Food (the online zine of
Clear Labs) went ahead and looked anyway.

Well, “looked” isn’t exactly the right word. They went ahead and did genomic testing on 345 hot dogs and sausages, and found that 2% of them had human DNA in them. Okay, that’s only seven humanoid hot dogs, but if you’re the one who thought you were biting into a tasty dog and learned that you were really taking a bite out of Aunt Mabel…

Anyway, when I ran this bit of news through my mind my first thought was that someone was messing around in the labs and adding an eye dropper of human to Porky Pig and Elsie the Cow to come up with some hybrid humanimal. Bwahaha.

But the more I thought about it, the more it seems likely that that human DNA – which is categorized as a “non-harmful contaminant” – was from a bit of skin, hair, or fingernail. Or, I suppose, if someone were having a really bad day at work, some spit. Not exactly what you want to sup on, but a far cry from finding out that your donkey snacks are contaminated with fox meat. (This was a Wal-Mart food crisis a couple of years ago. Just because you don’t like spiced donkey…)

This on top of the WHO report that connected processed meat like hot dogs consumption to colo-rectal cancer. Not a good day for the meat industry – and red meat to the vegetarians out there.

Not that vegetarians are safe. Some of the hot dogs that contained human DNA were labeled as vegetarian. And Clear Food also found that 10% of the vegetarian hot dogs contained some traces of non-human meat.

Snopes – my go-to for ‘can this possibly be true’ stories - did a wait-just-a-durn-minute on this story, mostly pushing at the fact that Clear Labs/Clear Food hasn’t revealed much about how they actually did the testing, and sort of implying that it was more or less a PR campaign to help kickstart a Kickstarter campaign for Clear Food.

Clear Labs, itself, has substantial venture backing. The Kickstarter effort is more or less a chump change initiative that will spread interest in and awareness of Clear Labs. They certainly appear to be a legit enough outfit, with the requisite genius PhD-types flying around. I suspect that they’re plenty capable of fulfilling their mission to bring “
clinical-grade genomic analysis and the best tools in big data to the food industry.”

Me? I want to know what’s in a Twinkie, in candy corn, in Peeps.

And next time I’m at Fenway Park – which will likely be the next time I have a hot dog – I’d like to know whether I’ll be having a Donner Party experience or not.

Not that I’d be that grossed out by human DNA in my dog. After all, with enough mustard and relish slathered on it, who needs the meat. And I’d still rather have an adulterated hot dog than spiced donkey, with or without any fox in it.

Some of the info in this post came from an article in USA Today, which was pointed out to me by my omnivore friend Valerie. Thanks, V!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Q. Hooka tooka my Titanic cracker?

A.  Somebody with a lot of bread to spend on a cracker that’s well past its “best by” date.

titanic cracker
While it may look innocuous enough, this is not, of course, just any old cracker – or biscuit, as it seems to be interchangeably referred to. It’s a cracker/biscuit that was included in a survival kit on one of the Titanic’s lifeboats.

A humble biscuit that survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 became the most expensive nibble in the world on Saturday when it was sold at an auction in England. (Source: Yahoo)

The price: a tasty $23K.

I suspect that, if the proud new owner were to bite in, it would taste pretty much the same as a just off the factory line and onto the store shelf pilot cracker: dry, tasteless, without the redeeming Saltine feature of salt, and good only as a carrier for a tasty piece of cheese or a smear of peanut butter.

The person who recovered the cracker was not, by the way, a Titanic survivor. James Fenwick was a passenger on the Carpathia, one of the ships that helped rescue Titanic survivors.

The question, of course, is not who would want to eat it. It’s who would want to buy “’ the world’s most valuable biscuit’” to begin with.

Someone from Greece did. Apparently not one unduly suffering from austerity.

There’ve been other pricey biscuit sales in the past, as well as museum quality crackers:

"In terms of precedence, a few years ago a biscuit from one of Shackleton's expeditions (to the Antarctic) sold for about 3,000 pounds (almost $6,300) and there is a biscuit from the Lusitania in a museum in the Republic of Ireland."

A biscuit from a Shackleton expedition? I’m surprised that there was anything left over. Weren’t those guys eating snowshoe laces and walrus nostrils at one point?

As for the Lusitania cracker, it doesn’t even make the list of the History of Ireland in 100 Objects. A ticket to the launch of the Titanic does, however, make the cut.

Anyway, $23K for a stale biscuit, however interesting and illustrious its provenance, seems like an awful lot. So does $88K for a menu, which was what the carte from the last first class lunch fetched up at the same auction.


You may not be able to read the menu, so let me help you out there. Some of what’s on offer sounds fine, but Grilled Mutton Chops? Wouldn’t Grilled Lamb Chops have been a little tastier and a tad more tender?

And I’d rather have a bite of that pilot biscuit than snack on Corned Ox Tongue. (If this is first class, what, pray tell, did the folks in steerage get to eat? Corned Ox Toenail?)

I also might have passed on the Soused Herrings. You’d want to have your wits about you if your were maneuvering for a spot in one of the precious few lifeboats. This menu was saved by a passenger who managed to horn his way into what was called “The Money Boat” or “Millionaires Boat”, as it held a precious few passengers – all first class – and would have had room for a dozen or so more, but… Apparently it was more important to make sure a souvenir menu was saved than a sniveling, smelly immigrant child…The boat got its name from the rumor that a group of swells had bribed some crew members to row away fast rather than trying to take on more passengers.

Good to know that some things never change.

Anyway, it’s interesting what people will pay a lot of money for, isn’t it?

The menu I can more or less understand. But that lone pilot cracker?

Must be nothing to buy in Greece, these days. Hope no hungry pensioner living on reduced rations and air comes across it.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Start spreading the news: New Yorkers have the sexiest accents?

British Airways, in what I suspect was a completely non-scientific survey of UK-based travelers, found that the sexiest American accent belongs to New Yorkers.

Say what?

Let’s face it, the accent most closely associated with New York is that of large and small screen portrayals of Italian Americans, mostly those associated with the Mafia.

From Mean Streets, to The Godfather, to Goodfellas, to The Sopranos,

It’s Luca Brasi sleeping with the fishes. It’s the car talk patter of Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny. It’s Tony Soprano ordering some gabagool. (That’s capicola to you, and yes, I do know that Tony Soprano and the gang at the Badabing were from New Jersey.)

Maybe they were thinking about the posh flutey voices of the one-percenters in Depression era movies. You know, the ones swanning around in white tie and tails while everyone else was selling pencils and apples on street corners. Katherine Hepburn’s plumby haute-Connecticut voice.

Is that what people think of as New Yorker sexy?

In either case, I don’t quite see it. Or hear it.

What other New York accents are there? The Marx Brothers? The Three Stooges? Howard Cosell?

I also don’t quite understand why anyone would say that the Boston accent sounds the most intelligent, which was another finding of the British Airways survey.

Just who do they have in mind?

Cabot Lodge Saltonstall IV? The ultra refined, jut-jawed tones spoken in Brahmin drawing rooms or at Locke-Obers on the day the Harvard-Yale game was played in Cambridge. (Fight fiercely, Harvard!)

Were they thinking the Kennedys? Hmmmm. I’ve lived in these parts my entire life, and the only people on the face of the earth who actually had a Kennedy accent were the Kennedys.

Surely survey respondents, in designating Boston the most intelligent accent, weren’t thinking about the classic blue collar Southie way of speech.

Yous know. The local vocal yous heah goin’ and comin’ which some of us think sounds cretinous, but which others (othas?) seem to find wicked f-in’ pissah.

Or maybe they were just thinking of me and my friends. Intelligent, well-spoken Bostonians all!

We may not be sexy, but we’ve got brains!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Our house is a very, very, very fine house. Except for that one little matter…

The building my condo is in is over 150 years old. I suspect that, at some point during those 150+ years, a soul or two has given up the ghost while in house. |

If I were willing to part with $11.99, I could tap into the database at DiedInHouse and see if I could find out. But I can use that $11.99 for something else. (Soap dispenser? Toothbrush holder? Dishtowels?)

Still, I am a teensy-weensy bit curious.

Who might have died there?

Some Beacon Hill WASP grandee who used his last breath to disinherit a dissolute son? Some nameless down-on-his-lucker who lived there when the building was a Single Room Occupancy flop house?

I’ve lived in other old places, as well.

The place I lived in on North Anderson for a couple of years was one of the last remnants of the old West End. Immigrant housing built in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s. A bathroom that – bizarrely – didn’t have a sink in it. (You had to wash your hands in the kitchen.) Surely someone died of typhus or consumption in there over the years.

The apartment on Queensbury? When was that built? Somewhere in the 1920’s? Maybe even the guy who lived there before my roommate and I took possession. We found a bunch of empty booze bottles amid the dust kitties under the claw-foot bathtub when we cleaned. Who knows?

The first seven years of my life were spent in a flat in my grandmother’s triple decker in Worcester. My grandfather had died well earlier (1924) in my grandparents’ bedroom in the apartment on the first floor. I don’t remember it being haunted, but there was the gruesome story about my father (then 11) and his sibs sitting at the kitchen table while the undertaker undertook his tasks, bleeding out my grandfather’s body. And taking a few basins of blood out of the bedroom and into the bathroom to flush down the toilet while the kids watched. (I’m always a bit skeptical when folks are nostalgic for a kinder, gentler time.)

Anyway, well after we moved out of Nanny’s house, my uncle died in the back bedroom of the first floor flat.

So chalk up two deaths at least to 5 Winchester Ave.

The house I mostly grew up in had no deaths while my family was there. It was a new house, so it was “clean” when we moved in. My father died in a hospital, as did my mother.

And I’m just as happy that my husband died in hospice rather than in our condo. Just as happy…

Anyway, if you do feel the urge for knowing what’s happened in your place, Roy Condrey’s DiedInHouse is for you.

Two years ago, Condrey launched DiedInHouse, a website that allows customers to find out if someone died at a specific address and the cause of death. Using news reports, obituaries, and some search juju Condrey prefers not to disclose, his company has built a database of 4.5 million houses that were the sites of confirmed deaths. (Source: Bloomberg)

Some people just want to check on the history of their house (or prospective house). Others want confirmation of their suspicion that there are paranormal goings on that might be attributable to some ghostly hangers-on.

So far, Condrey has had 30,000 property searches conducted on his site.

Setting aside ghost stories, there are some down-to-earth forces fueling the business. Stigmatized properties, which is a polite way of describing the scene of a horrible crime, often sell at a 10 percent to 15 percent discount shortly after the event, said Randall Bell, a Laguna Beach-based appraiser who specializes in real estate damages.

I don’t think I’d want to live in a place where a grisly murder had taken place – many states (including Massachusetts) don’t require sellers to disclose it -  but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask. Now it might. How easy to get suckered in to purchase of a house where four family members were murdered when it’s build as the “’perfect place for a growing family top plant their roots.’” Which is how one realtor billed a house that he’d scooped up for rock-bottom.

A “perfect place for a growing family.” Unless, of course, you were the growing family murdered there. They just got planted. (And a year after the crime, the murder – parents and their two young sons – remains unsolved.)

No, I don’t think I’d want in on that house.

So maybe it’s best to check what’s happened.

If you use DieInHouse, they’ll also let you know if there was ever a meth lab on prem (no extra charge).

Now that would surprise me. Meth lab and Beacon Hill just don’t mesh.

Despite the lure, I’m still resisting the urge to fork over the $11.99 to check out whether there’s ever been any action – deactivation – life-and-death-wise at my digs.


I think I can find out for free whether anyone’s got their unit for rent on airbnb. That actually might be more useful.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Shootout at the Not-so-OK Corral

I grew up in the glorious era of TV Westerns. Even in those  limited three-network days, there wasn’t any day of the week when you couldn’t find a cowboy show.* Let the bullets fly!

And the fake bullets, too!

There was no such thing as a red-blooded American boy who didn’t have a holster and pair of six shooters. A Davey Crockett rifle. Bang!

And yet, in those placid fifties, we did not seem to be the gun-mad country we are now.

Other than on TV (cowboys, soldiers, and cops), you didn’t hear a lot about people having guns, other than cops and hunters. And kids. Only the kids’ guns were toys.

Basically, guns and their associated violence just weren’t all that front and center.

On TV, however, they were romanticized and glossed over. Our trigger-happy heroes solved pretty much everything with a quick draw. Bad guys dispatched. Good guys survived to shoot another day. If a good guy was shot, he’d call out “he just winged me,” or “it’s just a flesh wound.” If it were a really serious winging or wounding, the good guy would sport a sling for the last five minutes of the episode.

I started thinking about guns and the good ol’ west when I saw a news item the other day on a reenactment shootout at the OK Corral that went awry.

Tombstone, Arizona, is a tourist town, but before that it was a Wild West town, and the site of the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” which featured a battle between the bad-guy Clanton Brothers et al. and the good-guy Earp Brothers et their al., who was Doc Holliday.

Part of Tombstone’s tourist lure is reenactments of gunfights, both in the O.K. Corral and elsewhere around town.

The reenactments are staged by two different outfits, one of which is called the Tombstone Vigilantes, a group “founded in 1946 and performs gun skits and mock hangings in the former frontier town”. The Vigilantes dress up in period costume and shoot it out, getting to play at cowboys while raising money for charity. They were doing so last Sunday, and all was O.K. until one of the actors forgot to swap out his real bullets for blanks.

Tom Carter and Ken Curtis, two actors with the group The Tombstone Vigilantes, were performing a show in Tombstone, Arizona, when Carter shot Curtis, who fell to the ground, according to a statement from the Tombstone Marshal's Office.

Another bullet fired from Carter's weapon "grazed" passerby Debbie Mitchell, said Carol A. Capas, a spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff's Office. Capas told NBC News that Mitchell refused medical attention at the scene. (Source: NBC News)

Ah, yes, “grazed.” Another way of saying “winged.”

Well, Ms. Mitchell grazing didn’t even require a sling. Mr. Curtis was not so lucky. He was shot in the groin, which would definitely make it a flesh wound+. Fortunately, he will survive, and it’s not sure whether there’ll be any charges lodged against Rootin’ Tootin’ Tom Carter.

Theoretically, the guns are inspected before each “skit”, but Mr. Carter was running late – maybe his horse threw a shoe – so he skipped the inspection and just started in, guns blazing.

One has to wonder just why these guys were using real guns, rather than fake guns that couldn’t possibly fire real bullets. I guess the more authentic the better.

Meanwhile, the shootouts have been put on hold until the town of Tombstone comes up with some procedures to prevent something like this happening in the future. Nothing like a tourist being blown away to put a crimp in their business. No word on whether they’ll still be reenacting hangings. (“Do I have a volunteer from the audience. How about you, sonny, would you like to put your neck in this here noose?”)

In any case, the new rules will take a couple of months to put in place, which means that the reenactment of the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” scheduled for the event’s actual anniversary – October 26th – won’t be happening.

Still, Tombstone is the “town too tough to die,” so I’m guessing that the reenactment shows will go on. Minus, I suspect, Tom Carter.

One of the Westerns was called Tombstone Territory. One of the lead characters – in addition to the sheriff – was the editor of the town’s newspaper which was, I believe, the aptly named “Tombstone Epitaph.” The theme song included a refrain with the words “whistle a tune that will carry me to Tombstone Territory”, which has now ear-wormed its way into my skull…Better that than the theme from Gilligan’s Island, I guess.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mulling over what to do with müll. (Vaste not, vant not.)

In all the trips I’ve made to Ireland, probably the worst thing I ever ate was a scampi-flavored Tayto crisp. I remember exactly where I was when I tried it (Kinsale – it was the only snack item available in the pub we stopped in after a grueling climb up to that town’s ancient fort). My husband and I each ate half a chip, gagged, then crushed and tossed the bag in the trash.

This was a while back, but if I had tossed that crisp bag into the trash more recently, it might well have ended up in a trash-burning power plant in Germany.

While garbage is probably not in the Irish export league as Kerry Gold butter and Donegal tweed caps, it is an important export. Less goes into landfill – which are being phased out across the EU - plus they’re doing Germany a favor. Win-Win. (Win-Vin?)

The Germans are apparently such avid recyclers that they don’t product enough trash to fuel their trash-burning waste-to-energy plants.

Over the past decade, heaps of garbage-burning power plants and composting facilities were built throughout Germany as the country shut off all its landfills to new household trash. But instead of growing, as many thought it would, household-waste production flattened, in part because sparing Germans edged their already-high recycling rate even higher.

Taken with the effects of a declining population and the global recession, plants in Germany were left short millions of tons of garbage a year, a quandary for companies that depend on a steady stream of rubbish to keep the lights on. (Source: WSJ)

Fortunately for Germany, there’s oodles of Eurotrash out there. And it’s not just coming from Ireland. Garbage is on the move from England, from Italy, from Switzerland. (That last one surprised me. Who’da thunk that that the Swiss produce trash? I thought they just did watches, chocolates, and secret bank accounts.)

Once the garbage finds its way to the vaterland, it’s converted to electricity that heats and lights German homes. Germany’s not alone here: the Netherlands and Sweden are both big in the waste-not-want-not world of rubbish importing.

Not that being a trash-importing country is an unalloyed joy.

Before the plants get to do their let-their-be-light magic with the trash heaps, the garbage-in sometimes mounts up and – as anyone who’s walked by a garbage truck in July well knows – starts to stink.

A minor price to pay for alchemizing trash into energy.

As a source of power, trash is somewhat controversial, with some maintaining that it takes more energy to produce energy than makes sense.

Oh, well.

I like the idea that garbage can turn into something other than landfill. Even a relatively low producer of non-recycled trash like me regrets all those shiny black plastic garbage bags full of banana peels and orange rind, tea bags and snotty Kleenex, pizza napkins and the peanut butter jars that it doesn’t seem to make sense to wash out for recycling, popsicle sticks and chicken fat…

In my new kitchen I’ll have a garbage disposal – my old one has been broken for years – so I’ll be producing even less garbage than I used to. Would that even my meager residual could serve a higher purpose…

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

As the cockatoo flies…News from Brookline, Massachusetts.

Since early September, I have been living with my sister in Brookline, a near (non-killer walking distance) suburb of Boston.

Brookilne is lovely, but as far as news-making goes, it’s pretty much a non-starter.

The big news items are generally around how high to go on funding their already excellent public school system.

Not that Boston is crime central, but compared to Brookline, it’s a lawless free-for-all where you take your life in your hands the minute you step toe out of your house.

Oh, there was a carjacking in Coolidge Corner (an area of the town where there are a number of stores), but Brookline is mostly a place where you can walk around after dark without looking over your shoulder. (An urban habit I haven’t managed to shake, given that there are not that many street lights in my sister’s ‘hood. I may have a greater chance of being mugged in Boston, but at least I’d get to see the mugger’s face.)

While there hasn’t been a lot of crime news since I’ve been here, there have been a few stories that my sister and brother-in-law tell me are well out of the ordinary in this affluent, educated, liberal – in 2012, Brookline went Obama over Romney by almost 4:1 – enclave. Two of them are crime stories.

Smoked house: One is about a local restaurateur – owner of a joint called the Village Smokehouse, of all things – who was arrested for arson of a spec house he was building. The other day, Kath and I took a walk by the “quote unquote scene of the crime”, which took place a couple of years ago. The plot of land where the house burnt down is in an area full of what I’m guessing are $2M homes (probably a low ball estimate…), and is one of the few pieces of open, unhoused land in the town. A few years back, this fellow put up a house that violated the size rules for the plot. The town (and some neighbors, of course) went after him. Next thing you know, the house is in ashes. Hmmmmm. Anyway, the guy’s just been arraigned and, of course, is proclaiming his innocence. What’s bizarre about this one if just the idea of an arson incident occurring in this neighborhood of magnificent homes. Arson – and fires – are risks that the poor shoulder, not the well-to-do.

Naut Guilty? Maybe, maybe naut.The other crime involves an off-duty firefighter who got in a “let’s take it outside” tiff with a guy who was taking too long to order at Anna’s Taqueria. The jake has been charged with assault with a weapon (shod foot). But what makes this crime of above-average interest is the lawyer who’s defending one of Brookline’s Bravest. It’s none other than Benjamin Urbelis, a local attorney who mostly does DUI cases. Anyway, late last spring, Urbelis was arrested because of an incident that occurred on his boat, the Naut Guilty. (Naut Guilty. Get it? Ha, ha, ha.) Anyway, the story involved a bunch of guys in their early thirties – including Urbelis – and a bunch of young, bikini-clad women in their late teens. Urbelis’ arrest came after a young woman on his boat lost her arm when trying to get back onboard. She had jumped into the drink to retrieve a seat cushion that went overboard.As it turned out, Captain Urbelis was not at the helm when the poor girl lost her arm. But it was, all in all, a terrible and messy story. And now he re-appears defending Brookline’s pugilistic fireman.

Free Larry Chen! This is a town that rightfully prides itself on the quality of its public schools. By all accounts, Larry Chen – a young, middle-school teacher – was on the best teachers in the system. Loved by parents, adored by students, and – in a town with a significant Asian population – one of a handful of Asian-American teachers. Chen was fired a few weeks ago after a fellow teacher reported him for saying “bullshit” in front of students. That this occurred outside of the classroom, and in front of high school students, apparently didn’t matter. The School Committee hinted that there were other issues with Chen – not, they were quick to acknowledge, issues that were criminal or sexual in nature – and that the use of foul language was just the frosting on his cake. Parents and students alike called BULLSHIT! The subtext in all this is that Chen might have been too popular for his own good, and that he may have ruffled more than a few colleagues with his unorthodox methods (and popularity). Parents and students came out in droves to support Larry Chen, and it paid off. Chen, as of yesterday night, has been un-fired. He has to go through some professional development training, but he’ll be back in a couple of weeks. (No, teachers shouldn’t be cursing out students. But using a relatively mild expletive like bullshit, in conversation outside of school, and with high school students. Well…I can pretty much guarantee that you’d be hard put to find many kids in the Driscoll Middle School who haven’t heard (and probably used) words a lot stronger than bullshit.) Congratulations, Larry Chen!

As the cockatoo flies. Last summer, a nasty, screeching cockatoo flew its coop in a Brookline apartment. “Dino” – so named because his screech was likened to that of a dinosaur – may, in fact, have been shown the door by his owner’s uncle, whose finger Dino had bitten through. Anyway, Dino headed over to one of Brookline’s tonier districts and started terrorizing the residents. In particular, Dino took a liking – or disliking – to the woodwork of the home of Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge who lectures at Harvard Law School. Gertner’s home is not just any old house. It’s the birthplace of Robert Kennedy.(Kath, Rick, and I walked by last Saturday, but did not spot or hear Dino.) Despite numerous attempts – including those by Dino’s owner – no one’s been able to capture this bird of prey (whose prey equals wood). Dino is a cockatoo of few words, but the one word he does use is “no”, which is what he’s been saying to his potential captors. The fear – or hope – on the part of the locals is that a solid freeze might take care of the Dino problem, while still giving Gertner enough time to fill in the holes in her house before the snow flies.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print from Brookline, Massachusetts. I’ll miss it when I’m back in the Big City with all its true crime, teachers who no doubt say bullshit all the time, and rats and pigeons, but no cockatoos.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What next, the Philip Morris Center for the Treatment of Lung Cancer?

I know, I know, you have to take the money from those who give the money, and, in the case of the University of North Carolina Children’s Hospital, the money for renaming their pediatric clinic the Krispy Kreme Challenge Children’s Specialty Clinic came from Krispy Kreme.

Sure, we know what Krispy Kreme is, but just what is the Krispy Kreme Challenge?

2400 calories, 12 doughnuts, 5 miles, 1 hour.  The mantra of the Krispy Kreme Challenge epitomizes the test of physical fitness and gastrointestinal fortitude.  What started as a challenge among ten friends has transformed into a nationally publicized charity race, and the number one tradition to complete before graduating from North Carolina State University.

Because it’s raised $1M to support the Children’s Hospital – and has pledged to raise another $1M over the next five years – I guess we’re suppose to overlook that little bit of grotesquery:

2400 calories, 12 doughnuts

Admittedly, I am not much of a Krispy Kreme donut fan to begin with. Tried one once, but found it too darned sweet. Apparently that was the verdict throughout the New England region – we are, after all, dyed in the fry-o-lator Dunkin Donuts fans in these parts – as there is only on Krispy Kreme location in our six states, and that’s at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. But a charity that supports children’s health by encouraging folks to consume a dozen doughnuts in one sitting running?

Isn’t there, like, a correlation between eating a dozen doughnuts at a time and obesity?

I mean, it’s not as if childhood obesity isn’t a problem. According to the
CDC, the rates have more than doubled over the past 30 years. As of 2012, 18% of kids aged 6-11 were obese, and 21% of those 12-19 years old. This, of course, sets kids on the path for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and puts them at “greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.” Which will then feed on itself – box of Krispy Kremes, anyone – leading to adult obesity which is associated with just about every bad thing that can happen to someone, health-wise.

One of the specialties of the Krispy Kreme specialty clinic, by the by, is – you guessed it – childhood diabetes. But, Mommy, why can’t I have a doughnut? The clinic is named the Krispy Kreme Clinic, so Krispy Kremes must be good for you…

And it’s not just Krispy Kreme, of course, that’s trying to tie it’s brand to a noble purpose that seems at complete cross-purposes with its fundamental, core business.

Out in Iowa, there’s a teacher on a nationwide tour of schools talking up how he lost weight on a McDonald’s diet. (The sponsor of his tour: Mickey D’s, of course.) Somehow, I trust that Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me experience is closer to the norm. Spurlock lived for a while on a strictly McDonald’s
diet, and, as a result, gained weight and felt like crap.

Nothing wrong, of course, with an occasional doughnut (if I do say so myself) or a burger and fries from one of the many fast-food emporia that dot our national landscape.

But to pretend that Krispy Kreme’s promotes children’s health, or that eating regularly at McDonald’s is good for kids (on top of the heavy-cal, heavy fat meals, there are those terrible Happy Meal toys to contend with), is pretty much beyond the pale.

So what’s next? The Philip Morris Center for the Treatment of Lung Cancer? Which would, come to think of it, actually be the right thing to do.

Businesses have the right to sell all sorts of not-so-good-for-you products. And we have the right to consume those not-so-good-for-us products, thank you. I don’t want to live in a world where the only food options are tofu, seitan, and brussel sprouts.

But putting the names of one of these not-so-gooders on a clinic goes a bit too far.

Maybe Krispy Kreme thinks its fooling us, but this sure looks like a see-through scrim to me.

A nibble of the Dunkin Donut to my sister Kath for steering this story my way. Her original source:  
Stat News: Reporting from the frontiers of health and medicine.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Medieval Manor closing? Foresooth.

One of the things that I LEAST enjoyed during my full-time working career was participating in sales kick-offs.

Oh, it might seem like that it would be fun enough to get a week away from the office – often in someplace nominally fun like Bermuda or Las Vegas – where your only responsibility is to listen to a bunch of presentations that you can mostly tune out, give a couple of presentations that the folks in the audience can mostly tune out, and chat up some sales guys about how wonderful your marketing programs and/or the products you support are. But, but, but…
There was so much god-awful stuff you had to put up with.

Like cowering in your room while a passel of drunken sales guys marauded around the hotel wrapped in sheets, with jockey shorts on their heads. (I guess if you’re drunk enough jockey shorts look like a laurel wreathe in the same way that a sheet looks like a toga.) Not that the marauding was scary. It was the standing ashtrays they were using as battering rams against the doors of those boring deadheads who didn’t want to join in the revelry.

Or watching as the drunken company president pulled a lobby palm tree out of its planter.

Well, I could go on with the drunken hijinks, but then there wouldn’t be room for the non-drunken, daytime idiocy.

Like the day when I had to sit through a presentation of one company VP in which he droned on about the company’s financial outlook, and quoted the Thomas Hobbes bit about life being “nasty, brutish, and short.” I have to give this guy props for avoiding the usual tone of sales kick-off presos: snooze-inducing anodyne pronouncements or giddy, insane forecasts that would do the chirpiest of cheerleaders proud.

While his forecast wasn’t all that wild, I once heard a divisional VP say that we would plow through the market with “all the momentum of an entrenched juggernaut.” (The friend I was sitting next to leaned over and asked, “just how much momentum does something that’s entrenched have?”)

Sometimes at sales kick-offs, you got to hear famous (or famous-y) people: Mia Hamm of soccer fame (fairly boring). Father Guido Sarducci (at least he was fun.) Scott McNealy of Sun Micorsystems (boy, he was obnoxious).

Anyway, my experience at sales kick-offs is that they were invariably nasty, brutish, and way too long.

Sometimes, fortunately, they didn’t involve getting on a plane and flying someplace that was supposed to be fun. Sometimes – in times of fiscal restraint – the kick-offs were purely local.

Thus, I got to spend one hideous evening at Medieval Manor in the company of my then-company’s sales force.

The theme at Medieval Manor is you’re at a banquet back in the day, so you drink mead out of goblets and eat chicken with your hands. And you listen to a troubadour in a velvet jerkin strum a lute, or a fair maiden in a velvet gown trill “Greensleeves.” And you pretend – or don’t – that the ribald jester’s jokes are funny.

Oh, and the “king” sits at the head of the table and, if you have to get up and use the restroom – all that mead – you’re supposed to beg the king for permission, and it’s a laugh riot if he doesn’t let you go right away. I will say that these guys can size up an individual pretty darned quickly, as I learned when the king was about to light into me. I shot him a look and he backed right off. Good move, Sire.

I’m sure some people go in for entertainment like this, but I’m not one of them.

But there have been enough of them to keep Boston’s Medieval Manor
open for 43 years.

Time is running out, however, and the last troubadour strum will take place on New Year’s Eve.

Other than the king being smart enough not to include me in the permission-to-go revelry, the other thing I remember most clearly about my night at the Medieval Manor was the impromptu performance of the head of sales training. Half way through our oh-so-fun evening, he grabbed a giant baguette off of a table, held it between his legs, and began running around wagging it in the face of all the women. (Ah, the things you could get away with/had to put up with 30 odd years ago.)

Did I say that I really hated sales kick-offs?

Hadn’t thought of them in a while, but the announcement that the Medieval Manor was closing got me thinking. (First thought: they’re still open?)


Friday, October 16, 2015

They’ll be the best of jobs

Yesterday’s post was a gloomy one – at least if you’ve had your heart set on becoming a tiler or a floral arranger. But today’s post is more upbeat: my take on Kiplinger’s list of the top 10 go-go jobs.

Not surprisingly, most are healthcare and/or tech related. (And are all pretty well compensation positions, unlike pretty much everything on yesterday’s buggy-whip list.)

On the healthcare end, let’s give it up for the baby boomers who will be needing all that healthcare. We’re an engine for job growth! Talkin’ ‘bout my generation…Yea, us!

Projected job growth for speech pathologists is in the 20% range over the next decade. Lots of jobs, plus decent pay. (Median annual salary: $70.5K.) A lot of these jobs will be in schools, working with kids with language disorders. But a lot will be taking care of boomers with hearing loss and strokes.

Something called community service manager – who takes care of things like adult day care and meals on wheels - is also booming, thanks in part to the boomers. Treatment programs for drug users are also run by these folks. Kiplinger’s take is that we’re becoming less likely to jail drug offenders and more likely to treat them. Sounds good.

Computer systems analysts, it seem, will always be in demand. Wait until the Internet of Things takes full hold, and our smart refrigerators start communicating with our smart wristwatches to remind us to pick up some dumb old milk on the way home. If there are going to be 50 billion connected devices by 2020 – or whatever the prediction is – we’ll need more and more folks who put it all together for us. Excellent growth, and good pay. (Median: $80K)

Bette yet, become an App Developer. Mo’ better jobs. Mo’ better growth. Mo’ better salary. (Median: $92K) Thank you, Internet of Often Useless and Stupid Things. We really NEED more useless and stupid apps for our smarty-pants smartphones.

Once again, thanks to the nearing decrepitude of the boomers,
RN is a growth profession – and a great one, IMHO. I’m sure that there are plenty of Nurse Ratchets out there, but during my husband’s long illness, the care we received from the many nurses we encountered at MGH was first rate.

But it you don’t have it in you to become a nurse, you can make more money and, if not keep the world safe for democracy, then keep the world’s bank accounts safe from hackers by becoming an i
nformation security analyst.(Note that demand for security analysts is being driven not by the boomers, but by cybercriminals who aren’t all that likely to be in that cohort. And here you thought that the millennials were perfect…)

Back on the healthcare front, we’re going to be needing a lot more health service managers. Someone’s got to make sure that there are enough Cling peaches and bingo cards in all those nursing homes that will be springing up.

The most rapidly growing job on the list – although by no means the largest – is that of m
edical sonographer, someone who takes a non-invasive look at what’s going on inside. Again, all hail the job-creating baby boomers.

When we’re not having our innards sonogrammed, or working with our speech pathologist, or eating Cling peaches at the bingo table, us boomers will be boosting demand for physical therapists and occupational therapists.

RNs with a bit more ambition may choose to become nurse practitioners or physicians’ assistants. As with our experience with RN’s, the NP’s and PA’s we worked with at MGH were remarkably helpful and compassionate. Glad there’ll be more of them around when it’s my turn.

Nothing on the list that catches your eye or interest? You can always take your chances and focus on one of those jobs in decline. Who knows, you may find your niche as a tiler who arranges flowers on the side…

What’s interesting when you do a compare and contrast of yesterday’s list with today’s is that, for the most part, the jobs that are dying out are those that require little education beyond high school. The jobs that are growing are for the more highly skilled and better educated.

Which kind of leaves you wondering what’s going to happen to those displaced. No one’s going to change from being a tiler to becoming an occupational therapist or information security analyst overnight.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

They’ll be the worst of jobs…

Kiplinger’s had a recent list of the jobs that, from an employment outlook point of view, look like the worst bets at this point in time.

So, if you planned on becoming a floral designer, sorry pal. Folks are still buying flowers, but they’re buying them from the supermarket and via the ‘net, not from their charming local florist. I don’t buy a ton of flowers, but when I do it’s mostly from the nice little florist on Cambridge Street or, if I’m feeling a bit flush, from the fancy-arse florist on Newbury. I do sometimes pick up a bunch at Whole Foods, but most of the flowers I see in supermarkets tend to include really weird-colored carnations. I happen to love carnations. Just not the weird-colored ones, although I will tolerate a green-tinged one for St. Patrick’s Day.

I’ve had mixed luck over the years with ordering Fed-exed flowers online or via catalog. My worst experience was sending flowers to my cousin’s house after her brother died. The bouquet and vase in the catalog looked gorgeous. Unfortunately, what was delivered was a spray of dead flowers in a vase that looked like a funeral urn. My family being my family, this instantly became a joke. I was, of course, incensed about the dead flowers, so I called to get my money back. They explained that the flowers had frozen, prompting to me to wonder why they had delivered frozen flowers, and whether they were familiar with January in New England. They said that, of course, they would not charge me for the flowers, but that if I wanted a refund for the vase, I had to send it back. Huh? Well, that didn’t fly. I got the entire thing refunded. But it put me off ordering remote flowers. Since then, if I’m sending flowers to someone, I try to find a legitimate local florist and call them directly.

Anyway, there will be fewer flower shops in the future. Too bad. But I guess as long as we have still have flowers…

Kiplinger suggests an alternate career: interior designer, which is forecast to grow healthily – and pays better. Or become a merchandise displayer. Rhoda Morgenstern lives!

Over 65 years after Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman debuted, the door to door variety of salesman is, indeed, dying. Oh, the odd Fuller Brush salesman survives, but seriously folks: do you know anyone who’d let a door-to-door salesman or woman into their house? Not that Perry and Dick were salesmen, but, forget Arthur Miller. I’d be thinking Truman Capote’s In Cold  Blood.

Fortunately for those who want to sell – but, perhaps, unfortunately for the rest of us – the number of insurance sales agents is on the increase. As are manufacturers’ reps.

Woodworking machine operators – sanders, planers – are being teched out of existence, but there’ll still be demand for machinists. Cabinetmakers – also being done away with – should consider upskilling and becoming carpenters, who, despite their connection to the fickle housing market, are forecast to be in increasing demand. Metal and plastics molding machine operators are going the way of the buggy-whip maker. Machines and robots are stepping in to replace them. But if you’re skilled enough to operate a computer-controlled metal or plastic machine, you’ll be in business.

I can’t recall the last time I used a travel agent – probably when I was working for a company where we booked our business travel through an agency. Frankly, I’m amazed that, in this day and age, there are still nearly 75,000 travel agents.
The thought of travel agents, however, does make me miss my own personal travel agent, my obsessive-planner, crazy-detail-guy of a husband who planned all of our trips down to where we’d have lunch on day six. Taking care of travel is a total pain in the arse, and I never really appreciated just what a drag it was when I had Jim doing it all for me.

For those who like to plan, event planners have had a lot of new jobs added in the last ten years, and should continue to grow for the next decade.(While Jim was an excellent travel planner, he would have made a terrible event planner, so the skill set is not completely fungible…)

There will be fewer couriers bicycle racing around big-city streets, pell-melling the wrong way down one-way streets and endangering the lives and limbs of us pedestrians. Good. Let them drive trucks.

There are still more than 150,000 sewing machine operators in the US. Wow, just wow. But don’t start looking for the union label. Those numbers will be going way down. What’s not made in Vietnam and Bangladesh death-factories will be automated. Custom sewing and tailoring positions will hold steady.

Dry wall installers and tilers will both experience declines (worse for dry wall installers). Dry wall installers are advised to become brick masons, while tile setters may want to look into becoming solar photovoltaic installers. As long as there are dry wall installers and tilers to finish up my reno project, I’ll be happy.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a job, these are all pretty much dead-enders. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Forget cemeterian, how about being a dog telepath

Well, the other day, I was looking through the Brookline Adult Ed catalogue, and they had a listing for a one-day preparing-for-your-death class that was being taught by a “cemeterian”. I wasn’t familiar with this profession, and I’m still not sure whether it means someone who runs a cemetery, is interested in cemeteries, or – as the Urban Dictionary has it – is someone who’s one step away from the cemetery.

Anyway, I wasn’t interested in the program. Sure, I do have to re-do my will and pull a few things together so that – come the day – I’ll be ready. Wait a minute. Come the day, I won’t have to be ready.

Well, anyway.

I already have my ash plot bought and paid for, so I do know where my remains will remain.

I was going to do a post about what an interesting job cemeterian – whatever it actually is – must be, when I came across an even more interesting profession: animal telepath.

I read about animal telepathers in an article in The Boston Globe on what some might consider the extremes that some dog owners go to tend to their pups: dressing them up, buying (and wrapping) them presents, baking them cakes, procuring sex toys for them (yes indeed…the side of the couch and anyone’s leg just will not do), sending them to doggy day care, and plumbing the depths of their doggy little souls by hiring someone to communicate with them telepathically.

Other than sporty collars, I’m not much for dressing dogs up, other than maybe a silly hat for a quick picture. I’ve really never seen a dog that looked all that happy to be wearing a tutu, tux, or Sponge Bob outfit – and I’ve witnessed Boston’s pet Halloween Costumer Contest a couple of times.

But I have a recipe – which I’ve used – for doggie-delicious (no sugar) carrot and peanut-butter cake. I smile every time I see the doggy day care bus pull up a couple of doors down from my house. And I have gotten my dog nephew a subscription to a site that analyzes a pet’s type and suggests activities that will make their lives more fulfilling.

Apparently, I ain’t done nothing:

Dog owners can now hire canine-specific fitness trainers, chiropractors, and massage therapists … and we can dress our pups in Halloween costumes running the gamut from Yoda to the pope. We can buy dog strollers, automatic tennis ball launchers, and the MTI Jentle Pet, a dog hot tub with massage jets. Getting even weirder, there are pooch perfumes and colognes; Neuticles, a prosthetic testicular implant for neutered dogs; and the Hot Doll. (Source: The  Boston Globe.)

No wonder pet spending has tripled over the past two decades, and is now running at about $60B per year in the US.

Dog spending is nothing new. At just about the time that “the first commercial dog foods appeared in America in the 1870s, so did the first knitting patterns for dog sweaters.”

It’s just that there’s so much these days that goes beyond the choice of dog food – my dog nephew Jack is partial to Holly Jolly Pot Roast and Brats and Tots – and the pattern for the argyle sweater vest. And even beyond perfume and sex toys to the frontier of telepathy, both live and posthumous.

A local practitioner mentioned in Globe article is one Maureen Harmonay. My fellow Maureen is a central-Mass real estate agent with a sideline business with Animal Translations. Here’s a bit from her FAQ:

How can you be sure that you’ve really connected with my animal? In most instances, the animal will provide specific, verifiable details about something that is important to him.   It could be a memory, an unusual favorite food, a physical description of his home or environment, a recent event, or even the name of someone (animal or human) who has played a significant role in the animal’s life.   In many cases, an animal will provide information that I could not possibly known.

Are you a psychic? No.  While animal communication requires an intuitive sensibility, and the ability to perceive subtle energies, it does not rely on psychic prowess.   I do not make predictions about the future nor do I “read” the animal in some inexplicable way.

The information I receive is transmitted to me directly by the animal, through energy pathways.  These pathways, though invisible, are nonetheless quite real.   With the proper training, almost anyone can learn to develop the ability to use telepathy to connect with animals in a meaningful way.

Can you deliver messages to my animal for me? Yes.  The communication pathway is a two-way street.  During the course of a telepathic communication session, I receive impressions from the animals, and I also transmit information, images, ideas and queries back to them.  I may suggest to an animal how his behavior might be changed, or I might relay reassuring messages or expressions of encouragement from his person.  And of course, I can always ask questions on your behalf; in many cases, your animal will respond with specific answers.

She tuned in for a virtual “telepathic powwow” with one of the Globe writer’s pups and reported back that Biff does, indeed, prefer human food to his old brand, that he fears falling out of bed at night, and that he does not especially like wearing clothing. (I don’t think you need a telepath to figure that last one out.)

Biff also doesn’t like people laughing at him; “he would prefer to be respected.”

Many years ago, my roommate and I gave our dog Grimbald a particularly hideous toy: a rubber man’s wingtip shoe that he was especially fond of. One time we were laughing at Grim - kindly and gently, of course, not in a bullying or mean way; this was our dog – for the enthusiastic way in which he was playing with this toy. A look of pure embarrassment passed over Grim’s face, and he took the shoe into another room with him. So there.

So I understand that Biff might want respect.

I also understand that dogs can be especially empathetic and attuned, and definitely know what’s going on. Jack sure knew when my husband died. The first time he visited after Diggy’s death, Jack went around looking for this buddy, then let out a moan, and lay down (facing away from us) with his head on his paws and had his moments of grief.

So maybe someone really can have a telepathic encounter with a dog.

Should we try to find out what Jack is really thinking? Is he jealous that Molly gets to go away to college and he doesn’t? Should I try to tap into Grim and see if he was reunited with Diggy in the great beyond?

Hey, what the hell, I’ve spent money on stupider stuff that was a lot less fun and interesting.

A nod to my sister Trish, Jack’s mom, for pointing this article out to me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Slush as a Service, Icicle as a Service, Acorns as a Service: You heard it here.

Last winter, Kyle Waring – a local advertising/marketing guy who works in the gaming industry – came up with quite an idea. Ship Snow, Yo! offered boxes of snow, which were FedEx’d to those who live in snow-deprived regions. One of his taglines: Our nightmare is your Dream!

That was apparently true for over 200 folks, who actually ordered product – or, as Waring dubs it “Snow as a Service”. While Waring was at it, he also raised a few bucks for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.

nd, by the way, no shipping within the state, where – after 10 feet in 5 weeks - we had had enough already:

Note: We will not ship snow to anyone in Massachusetts! We're in the business of expunging snow, no joke!

As a long-time veteran of the wonderful world of Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, Security as a Service, Whatever as a Service, I was delighted to see that Waring has commandeered the as-a-Service thang.

And as a marketer who for years has held up the guy with the truck that said We clean blinds as the master of messaging clarity, I doff my ear-muffs (or will, once winter rolls back around) to Waring for including in his messaging the words: We ship snow.

For years, I longed to work on a product/service that could be explained in three little words. Instead, it was largely my marketing lot to work on products that were complex (and generally high priced). When I was commuting on Route 128 all those years ago, I would see that blinds van and think to myself “maybe someday.” Well, it hasn’t happened yet.

Anyway, Waring is at it again, with a new offering, Foliage as a Service, “Shipping New England Foliage to Anyone in the US.”

Once again, a marketing message of inordinate clarity. And there I was, trying to define Genuity’s Black Rocket in fewer than 100 words. I did get it down to three words at one point – Glorified Web Hosting – but that wasn’t actually a message that we could use externally.

Foliage as a Service doesn’t come cheap: $19.99 for just three leaves. 3-leafBut, it’s not as if Waring just picked up a couple of leaves off the sidewalk and threw them in an envelope.

The leaves are collected from trails and others spots around New England, and then carefully cleaned and preserved with ammonia and glycerin, to ensure they stay alive and colorful for years to come, Waring said. (Source: Boston Globe)

Gotta love this guy!

And folks absolutely should take advantage of New England foliage while there’s still time. The leaves are turning later and later each year – last year, most of the trees on the Boston Common were still in full green leaf running into Thanksgiving – so it’s probably just a matter of time before there’s no foliage season at all to speak of.

Which will really be too bad. Forget the havoc being played with our environment – as if that’s not bad enough – but the idea of not being able to experience gorgeous fall foliage…Well, sigh. I won’t miss the bus-loads of leaf peeping tourists, but when you’re on the road, on a blue-sky day, during foliage peak, there’s really nothing quite like it.

I’ve been thinking about it, and I have a few ideas for product extensions that I’d like to see Waring bring to market.

How about Slush as a Service? It could come in two sizes: ankle length and mid-calf. Why not let everyone experience that wonderful New England feeling of stepping off the curb and having the slush slop over the top of your shoe or boot?

And why not Icicle as a Service? Sizes could range from 10” length with half inch diameter, way on up to 6’ with a nine inch diameter. You could charge extra based on how pointy the end was.

For fall, I recommend Acorn as a Service. No, oak leaves aren’t as colorful as maples, but still…

Spring is more difficult, but folks who visit Boston in late April-early May do tend to go ga-ga over the magnolias.

I see two forms of Magnolia as a Service. Peak would be a beautifully preserved magnolia blossom. (Would ammonia and glycerin do it?) And Past-Peak would be a slippery, brown-edge blossom on a brick. Wheee….

Summer’s harder, still. I was toying with the idea of beach rocks or scallop shells, but I think that Fenway Park peanut shells, soaked in Bud, would be a better representation of summer in New England. Fenway as a Service could help us keep our minds off the abysmal quality of the play. (Oh, but that was the 2015 season. Wait until next year.)

What do you say, Kyle Waring? All yours. Just say that you heard it here.

Waring used to work for a site called If you’re in need of a time-waster, this one’s for you.

And thanks to my sister Trish for sending this one my way. I’ll be looking for a very nice leaf to gift you with next time I see you.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Columbus Day, 2015. (Welcome, welcome, emigrante…)

Pink Slip readers know that, on holidays, I typically write about the holiday. Columbus Day is no exception. It’s a holiday I’ve always enjoyed – even though in order to do so, you have to turn a blind eye to the devastation that Christopher Columbus wrought once the Nina, the Pinta, and the Sancta Maria blew into port.

Of course, having grown up in New England, I don’t so much associate Columbus Day with Christopher Columbus as I do with Italian-Americans. The Irish have St. Patrick’s Day, the Germans have Steuben Day, and the Italians have Columbus Day.

Some places – Seattle is one – have reworked this holiday as Indigenous Peoples Day. In South Dakota, it’s Native Americans Day.

I’m all for setting aside a day to honor Indigenous People. God knows they deserve something more than crummy reservations and the rights to casino gambling.

But if we need to rename Columbus Day – and we probably do – I’d like to see it become Immigrants Day.

Most Americans are from immigrant stock, and, while many would like to pull up the ladder now that we’re here, we continue to be a nation enriched by folks coming from somewhere else who want to become Americans.

Not that it’s likely to happen at a time when there are some who want to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and double down on a wall between the US and Canada while we’re at it. Still, we could do with a holiday honoring our heritage as a place that says – or at least used to say – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

No, we can’t take in everyone on the face of the earth. Then again, not everyone on the face of the earth wants to come here. But plenty still do.

Here’s Buffy Sainte-Marie from back in the day, welcoming emigrants. As the daughter of one of them, all I can say is thanks.


Here’s last year’s Columbus Day post, which includes a couple of links to Mary Black songs.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Take a vacation, please

I was fortunate that most of my full-time career took place before the expectation that employees would be at least quasi-available 24/7/365 took hold.

I remember – mid 1980’s? – making a phone call from Logan to check in on something. But then I got on the plane with my husband for a California vacation. As for work, once I hung up it was buh-bye.

I also remember – late 1980’s, when I was working at Wang Labs  – getting off a plane at Shannon Airport and seeing all sorts of Wang ads. Wang at the time had quite a presence in Ireland, and I told Jim that I couldn’t really consider myself on vacation until we were out of sight of those damned signs.

As time, and career, marched on, email became more prevalent, and went from being an internal communication vehicle to something that let you communicate with the outside world.

Laptops replaced clunky “portable” computers that weighed a ton and were communal property, schlepped around when you had to do a product demo on the road or get some work done on weekends without having to come into the office. And then, all of a sudden, laptops were more the norm than desktops. A laptop – your personal computer or one from work – could be easily taken on vacation so you could stay in touch. But mostly I didn’t.

Then there was the Internet. If you didn’t want to drag your laptop with you, hey, you could check your email from an Internet Café. (Do they even exist anymore?)

By this point, everyone had a cell phone, and unless you were in the middle of the Gobi Desert or the top of Everest, you were reachable. And then the smartphone, the ultimate trap: always on…

I only got into one wrangle over taking a vacation. At Genuity, we had a major (and majorly expensive and, in truth, majorly idiotic) product launch coming up, and I was the launch captain. At a meeting shortly before my vacation, the CMO proclaimed that all vacations were canceled until after Black Rocket was shot into hyperspace. One of my colleagues immediately piped up, “Good idea. My family will go without me.” And I immediately said that I had no intention of canceling my plans – a trip to Christmas Cove, Maine with multiple moving friends and family parts. I said that the launch was in good hands, that if there was any problem – which I didn’t anticipate – my second in command knew where to get me.

The CMO gave me a look and said, “You know I’m postponing my honeymoon for this launch.”

This guy was no kid – my age, roughly – and was on his second or third marriage. And it was to someone he’d lived with for years.

I gave him a big old smile and said something along the lines of “and you’re not exactly 21, are you, pal?” We were buds. Sort of.

He laughed. Sort of.

I did end up calling into the main weekly meeting, but the connection was so terrible I had to drop out after a few minutes. And even those few minute were a waste. I was not needed in the least. But the expectation was that you had to show the flag. Just ridiculous.

But the fact is that, thanks to technology, the lines between work time and personal life are blurring.

Sometimes this is a good thing. You can go to your kid’s kindergarten play and put in a couple of hours after dinner. You can answer emails from the doctor’s office while you’re waiting.

And sometimes it’s a not so good thing in that your time is never fully your own.

So some companies are starting to mandate work-free weekends. Some offer unlimited time off – which, of course, no one really takes advantage of. And some are even requiring that employees take vacation.

At FullContact, a software company in Denver:

Each employee is granted a yearly $7,500 bonus to use for time off, with a mandate to stay completely out of touch while away. The extra pay is forfeited if that rule is broken. Co-workers pick up the slack for the vacationers and abide by detailed plans outlining who will fill holes during an absence. (Source: Bloomberg)

Ideas like this are mainly in play in the tech sector, where companies want to attract and retain workers.

Another idea is offering a sabbatical. Tom Corcoran lets employees take three paid months off after they’ve worked for his company – Corcoran Expositions – for ten years.

I never lasted anywhere for ten years. My longest time in was 9+ years at Softbridge. They dumped me with six months severance, so I guess I kind of got a sabbatical. Unfortunately, I had to spend it job-hunting.

I’ve been freelancing now for eleven years. I think I deserve a sabbatical. Too bad there’s no one to pay me for taking one…

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Not to blame Victim 1 and Victim 2, but wouldn’t you think they’d have noticed something was wrong a bit earlier

I don’t know why – I’ve never been an embezzler,* and to my knowledge, I’ve never known one – but I’m always intrigued by news items about employees with their hand in their boss’s cookie jar. And over the years, I’ve blogged about more than my share of them.

There was the woman – a volunteer, actually - who bought thousands of dollars worth of Pandora charms, and a fancy SUV for her husband – with money ($1M!) she embezzled from her kids’ hockey league. (When Hockey Moms Go Bad.)

I remember another woman who filched money from the construction firm she worked for. With it, she built herself a swell vacation house, and hired Burt Bacharach to sing at her brother’s wedding. But wait, there’s more. Having looked at my earlier post, I found that this thief had gone on beyond Burt Barcharach. She:

...indulged her love of Halloween by purchasing a 20-foot-tall, smoke-spewing dragon statue, mechanical talking trees, and a life-sized Al Capone statute [sic], federal prosecutors said...Prosecutors [also] said Platt threw lavish parties and flaunted her wealth, despite a $40,000 salary. For her brother's planned wedding in 2006, she hired legendary singer/songwriter Burt Bacharach and dancers from "Riverdance." (The original source of this excerpt was The Boston Globe, page no longer available. But my post on it is.)

Then there was the charming local who light-fingered $800K from a small-town library. That’s awful lot of overdue book fines.

The latest entry into the Pink Slip embezzlement sweeps is a local nanny who, over a year and change, ripped more than $280K from the Boston couple she nannied for.

According to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Sheila R. Magoon, [Stephanie] Fox allegedly took checks from the victims’ checkbook, made them payable to herself, and cashed them with forged signatures. The couple is identified only as Victim 1 and Victim 2 in court filings. (Source: The Boston Globe)

Ms. Fox – no Mary Poppins, she – had tastes that went far beyond a black umbrella and carpet bag.

Fox used the money to purchase jewelry including a diamond pendant necklace and three Movado watches,” Magoon wrote [in her affidavit]. “She also used the money for travel, including trips to the Bahamas, Aruba, Hawaii, Newport, Cape Cod and Disney. Fox also made a $10,000 down payment on a new truck.”

I don’t expect that embezzlers are going to spend their misbegotten moola on things like sensible shoes, So a diamond necklace and a few pricier-than-Timex watches are no surprise. Nor are the trips. But those must have been some trips.

Fox took $280K. What was she spending on the Cape – sure, she must have been staying in the Chatham Bars Inn, and not in Brownie’s Cabins, but still - that she couldn’t afford to pay cash on that new truck, but only made a modest $10K down-payment on it?

But the real surprise for me in all this is that it took Victim 1 and Victim 2 – I almost wrote Thing 1 and Thing 2 there – over a year to figure out that someone had written $280K in forged checks on their account.

Admittedly, I don’t balance my checkbook, and haven’t for years. I used to just do an adjusting entry each month and, as long as it was $100 or less, I wouldn’t bother to track it down. I certainly keep high-level tabs on what’s flowing in and what’s flowing out, but life’s too short to balance down to the penny. (Sorry, Ma!) Once I got overdraft protection, well, clear sailing.

Yet even I would most assuredly notice if someone had bilked $2.8K over a 16 month period, let alone $280K. (Not that $280K would have been a possibility, even with overdraft protection.)

Did neither Victim 1 nor Victim 2 ever bother to look at what was going on in their checking account? Apparently not. Nobody gets physical canceled checks anymore, but some folks gt paper statements, and the rest of us at least glance online once in a while. (Mr. and Mrs. Victim still get physical statements. According to the Patriot Ledger, Ms. Fox destroyed the statements before the Victims could see them. Didn’t’ they, ummmm, ever wonder?)

I guess if you keep enough money in your checking account to not notice that more than a quarter-of-a-million bucks are missing, you have enough money in your life not to notice that more than a quarter-of-a-million bucks are missing. Wow! Just wow! I’m nosy enough to want to know if not who they are, then at least what they did. Hedge funder? Professional athlete? Real estate developer? Wow, just wow.

Meanwhile, I’d say that someone who’s been caught embezzling is not going to be easily employable in the future. Then again, Fox had prior arrests for credit card fraud and identity theft, having stolen patrons’ numbers when she worked as a waitress.

That probably won’t be a problem for a while. Fox is facing 30 years in the slammer.

As for Victim 1 and Victim 2, while Fox will be liable to pay restitution, they’ll be lucky to get those Movados, which are likely beneath their wealth-grade to begin with.

*No, I’ve never been an embezzler, but I did have one infamous night at Durgin-Park when the sadistic owner was out for the evening. I ripped off the price of a couple of prime ribs, and a piece of scrod. Not my proudest moment, but you really had to be there.


Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Women keeping power? That supposes they want it to begin with.

Well, yesterday’s post was on how women could keep their power. Today’s story asks whether women want power all that much to begin with.

According to some research from Harvard Business School – and, let’s face it, who would know better:

Women aren’t in leadership positions because they just don’t want the jobs as much as men do.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), incorporates nine studies conducted on various high-achieving groups. Combined, the research indicates that women value power less than men.. . (Source: Bloomberg)

In one of those studies, researchers found that women don’t want the “stress, burden, conflicts and difficult trade-offs” that come with being at or near the top.

Women have other goals in mind – goals like having a family. They want it all, but recognize that wanting and having are two different animals entirely. Having power involves juggling power with the other items on the most wanted list. Power sometimes loses out. (The studies found that women tend to have more goals than men, and fewer that are power-related.)

This reminds me of a situation involving my sister. Many years ago, when she was discussing her upcoming maternity leave with her manager, she brought up coming back on a part time basis for a few months to ease her transition back into work. Her (male) manager said something along the lines of, “It sounds to me like you care more about your baby that you do about your job.”

Let’s see. Well, one of these things I like well enough, but it will get along just fine without me for a bit, and other I will be head over heels in love with, and that one will actually not be able to live without me for a while. So, duh, yeah. Baby trumps job.

Although for those with seemingly infinite resources (and, yes, power) – like Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo – there appear to be fewer trade-offs. Mayer famously had a nursery built into her office, while at the same time clamping down on employees who wanted to work from home on occasion. To do things like minimize their commute so that they could maximize time with their kids.

In my experience, a whole lot of people – women and men, with and without kids – aren’t especially power mad. They want work that’s interesting (at least some of the time) and challenging (at least some of the time), and decently compensated (all of the time). And they want to spend time with family and friends, and on whatever else floats their boat: travel, sports (playing or watching while lounging around, beer in hand), music (playing or watching while lounging around, Beats on ear), hobbies, volunteering...

Didn’t Freud say something along the lines of love and work, work and love, that’s really all there is?

Hmmmm. I don’t see the word power in there, do I?

Anyway, in my humble experience, I worked with very few women in power positions – and none who were president/CEO.

Part of this was the nature of the particular industry beast I chose: technology. Sure, there are the Marissa Mayers, the Sheryl Sandbergs, the Meg Whitmans, and the Carly Fiorinas of the world. I just never worked for an organization run (or run into the ground) by one of them.

Two of the companies I worked for – companies where I served the majority of my corporate time – each had two women in senior management - VP positions. (At one time or another, I reported directly to three out of the four. At one of these companies, after enough downsizing etc., I ended up the only woman VP.)  Both of these yin-yang dyads would be a case study in itself. Grist for the mill of another day…

(I’ll have to think about whether to spend the time working them into Pink Slip posts – they’ve all, I must say, made a guest appearance or two over the years. Or make them characters in one of the novels I really do intend to write some day. The trouble would come from trying to make them characters that were reasonably believable. In order to do so, I’d have to jettison much of what I knew about them.)

Of the four senior-most women I worked with, I would certainly say that three were absolutely driven by the desire for power. (Two of these women had children, by the way.) The other I’d have to say appeared more driven by the acquisition of expensive clothing, jewelry, and furniture. Her nickname was, in fact, Material Girl. (This was at the outset of the Age of Madonna.)

One of these four women has dropped off the face of the work earth, but the others seem to have done okay for themselves – one in particular has achieved quite a bit of success. But none of them made it to the top of any corporate pinnacle as far as I can tell. Maybe, like most of the rest of us, they just didn’t want power all that badly. (And given that these women were all my age or a bit older, they’re all pretty much winding things down, not revving things up the ladder)

What am I trying to get at here? After re-reading the post up to this point, I’m not quite sure myself.

Maybe it’s the simple observation that women probably do have less of a tendency to go after power. Maybe it’s the simple observation that most people actually don’t want top-dog power to begin – it’s just not worth it. Or maybe it’s the simple observation that, unless you want power, you’re probably not going to go after it. And, even if you go after it, there’s no guarantee that you’ll do much with it when you get it. Assuming you get it to begin with…

Damn. Blogging sure is hard at times. Maybe I should have gone after power instead…

My personal bottom line: happy to be living in a work zone where I don’t have to worry about power one way or the other. (Assuming that folks that hire me manage to hang on to theirs…)

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

I’ve got the power! So, how do you keep it.

A couple of weeks back, I saw a post by Bonnie Marcus on Forbes in which she described the ways in which women give away their power.This is pretty familiar terrain, and certainly something that working women have been grappling with for as long as there’ve been working women.

As I look back on my experiences in technology companies, where I was – depending on the size of the company – either in upper-mid-level management or senior management, I find it an interesting and realistic list. Even if it’s a bit disheartening to read that issues haven’t changed over a generation. (I date the start of my “serious” professional career to 1981, when I graduated from business school. I worked in corporate settings until 2004, and have been freelancing since.)

Here’s the Marcus list on the ways in which women de-power themselves, (Her categories are in bold; all indented material is from Marcus.)

The use of minimizing language
Twenty years ago, give or take a few years, I read that women needed to stop saying “I think” and “I feel”, and replace these words with “I know.” I used to argue that my “think” was as good as some guy’s “I know”, but I finally had to acknowledge that, when you have a seat at the table – especially if you’re the only woman there - “know” trumped “think.” Today’s advice – from Jerry Weissman – gussies things up a bit. “I’m confident,” I’m convinced,” “I expect” should replace think/believe/feel. I don’t see that “I expect” is any more powerful than “I think”, but I kind of wish I’d tossed in a bit more of “I’m confident” and “I’m convinced.” Especially I’m confident. Like it.

Marcus herself recommends that we excise the word “just”.

I’m not convinced about this one. I do a lot of “just wanted to check” emails when I want to move someone along on a project or a payment. It generally works, without being accusatory or confrontational. Maybe it’s the difference between working in corporate, where you actually may want power, and working freelance, where you just want projects and payments.

Unnecessary apologies
Power, apparently, means never having to say you’re sorry. Or almost never.

Saying you’re sorry unnecessarily puts you in a subservient position. Women’s tendency to apologize and, in fact over apologize, is another subtle way we give our power away.

Even though I’m a generally non-confrontational person who doesn’t exactly thrive on conflict, I actually don’t remember all that much apologizing during my career. What sticks out is apologizing to the mega-polite, WASP-y gentile president of our company for having called him an asshole. His response was perfect – and perfectly him: “I wasn’t aware that you had.”

Other than that, I did notice that women – self included – were much more likely to admit that we’d screwed something up than men were. We’d have these project post-mortems or root cause analyses of problems and, as often as not, I was the only one to put on the table the things that I could have done better. Guess I was giving away power. And those ingrates never once thanked me for it.

Letting others take credit for ideas
After years of being galled when someone (male) would raise a point that I’d already made, and get the credit and praise for it, I started saying, “Thanks, Joe Blow, for supporting my point.”  According to Marcus, I was doing the right thing:

When we stay silent and let others take credit for our ideas, we give our power away. I coach my clients to take back the credit. “Thank you for bringing up this idea that I proposed earlier.” Make a statement that will remind the attendees of your ownership of the idea.

I’ve got the power! (Or did have it, back in the day.)

Anyway, as I’ve said many times – and written here just the other day – A woman’s voice is like a dog whistle. Only some ears are attuned to hearing it.

The hesitancy to self-promote
For a while, I would wait around for someone to notice my brilliance and competence. Then I figured two things out. Sometimes, in order to get ahead, you just have to step up and say “I’ll do it.” And sometimes you just have to outright self-promote. Which is how I got to be a VP in small Company A, and almost got to be a VP in large Company B. (In large Company B, when I broached the subject of VP-hood with the CMO, he said, “If you want to be a VP, I’ll make you a VP.” Then I thought about it in the context of this particular company, and decided that I’d rather have people asking why I wasn’t a VP than asking why I was. Turned out to be the right move. Sometimes personal authority/power is better than positional authority/power.)

Not understanding or using our influence
Based on my experience, this is good advice:

Offering to help others achieve their goals creates credibility that results in influence. Volunteering for special projects at work highlights our competence and influence.

Not leveraging relationships
Somewhere along the line, I figured this one out, although oddly the clearest example of my using it was when I wanted to get on the lay-off list at Company B. We were nearing a major lay-off, and I’d pretty much had it. Trouble was, the company had recently sent a group of VP’s and Directors off to a pricey one-week mini-MBA at Babson. We were supposed to come up with a plan for saving the company – hah – but whether that was going to happen or not, the president had apparently declared that no one on the Babson list could be pink slipped. I leveraged my relationships with all the more-senior folks I could think of, working like mad to get on the list. I made it. Then, oddly, on lay off day, no one bothered to lay me off – my manager was dealing with people who were crushed by getting their walking papers – so I left my laptop and Palm Pilot on my desk and just sort of walked away. One of the best career decisions I ever made!

Being reactive not proactive
Hard to argue this one.

A lack of allies and champions
Well, this seems to overlap with leveraging relationships, but, hey, I’m too lazy to re-read these sections to see if I can determine the differences.

I’ll just say that, as anyone who’s worked in an organization for more than four hours knows, you need a network in order to survive. I always focused on network-building with people I actually liked and/or respected. Bogus networks based on ass-kissing, short term alliances that were nothing more than conniving power-grabs – way too cunning and Machiavellian for my liking.

A desire to be liked
For better or for worse, I like to be liked and, gosh-golly, without going all Sally Fields here, this has stood me in excellent stead throughout my career. I did well in the corporate world because, for the most part, people liked me.I get my freelance gigs because people enjoy working with me. But I also figured out that I was not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, and that there were going to be plenty of times when I was going to have to be unliked. And I was, by Nick B. and that red-headed woman in sales (Joan something?). By Steve P. By Bernie L. And guess what? I didn’t like them much, either.

As Marcus notes,

Power comes from: being nice, effective, and powerful.

I wouldn’t exactly say that reading the article made me miss my old corporate power-play days. But it was fun thinking about them.