Monday, November 30, 2015

Signs of a Broken Corporate Culture? Been there, got the tee-shirts (and the pink slips) to prove it…

Let’s face it, anyone with a blog called Pink Slip is going to be over the topic of “broken corporate culture.” Looking back on my full-time career, it’s hard to believe that, when it comes to corporate culture, there’s any other kind.

Thus, I was white-on-rice to a post by Liz Ryan I saw on on the signs of a broken corporate culture.

When the energy in a company is good, you can feel the cushion of air that carries you throughout your workday. When the energy is bad, you can feel the gray cloud that hangs over the place and makes everything so much harder to do. ( Source: Forbes.

Ryan ticks off the signs of a bad culture, starting with people quitting left and right, but no one addressing the problem head on. Instead, they have an excuse for everyone who exits the building: bad fit, etc.

This is all true, but, of course, in my case, I tended to be one of the bitter-enders, sticking with a high-toxicity culture (they do tend to be wildly interesting) unless or until the toxicity flames started licking my heels. And then it became a case of why quit now. Let them make it worth my while.

Maybe they’re quitting because nobody knows what “the plan” is.

It’s certainly true that, in my places of work, there was often a lack of clarity about the company’s strategy, goals, and tactics. Often, there was lip service paid to something that sounded coherent (at least on paper). And yet we’d see time and time again that there’d be some “opportunity” that was off-track and, no matter how hare-brained and inconsistent it was, we’d head off in a new direction. Wheeeee!

Then there’s Ryan’s observation that, in a broken culture nobody tells the truth.

I’d counter this with my personal experience, which was that there were always a couple of folks willing to tell the truth, but they (me) were perceived as naysayers, Debbie Downers.

In one of my liar-liar-company-pants-of-fire outfit I worked at for many years, I sat down with my manager (the president) and went through observations of what we weren’t doing well and what I thought our prospects were. His response was that, in his moments of weakness, he felt the same way.


I would have thought that those would have been his moments of strength.

To me, unless you have an accurate read on a situation, you can’t do anything about it.

As it turned out, we both should have saved our breaths. Within a couple of months of that conversation, our little company was put out of its misery and rolled into another entity our parent company had also acquired.

For Ryan, a sign of a broken company culture is the the priority governing decisions is “don’t screw up.”

I’m trying to put my finger on what the overarching decision priority in the companies I worked for was. It doesn’t seem to me that it was “don’t screw up” so much as “don’t make waves.” (There is a difference.) You could screw up all you wanted as long as it was in pursuit of something that the “bigs” had declared worth doing.

Ryan’s point is that in a healthy culture, people make mistakes and learn from them. I’d say that in an unhealthy culture, people make mistakes all the time. It’s just that, after the fact, there’s no analysis of what went wrong. Thus, no one ever learns from their screw ups and, as I saw time and again, companies were condemned to repeat them.

Ryan is spot on with her notion that the blame/shame game is a hallmark of a broken culture.

In the companies I worked for, at those times when the culture was at its very worst, blame and shame ran rampant.

On a number of occasions, I saw very senior managers throw someone on their team under the bus in very public ways. Just hideous.

The final item on Ryan’s list is that w
hen a company culture is broken, the joy and creative excitement of any job disappear.”

In my experience, this isn’t necessarily true.

My full time career was almost exclusively in companies where, in many respects, the culture was as often as not broken. The clearest demonstration of just how broken was that most of them ended up in a death spiral.

Interesting, the company that had just about the WORST culture in ways that went well beyond Ryan’s list is still standing. Go figure.

What’s missing from Ryan’s post is this:

There are plenty of places with crappy culture that end up going out of business, but there may well be aspects of those cultures that work – or are at least fun and entertaining. I tended to favor cultures that favored smart odd-balls, and there was something about having great, smart odd-ball colleagues that made you (or me at least) forgive the lying, denying, blaming, shaming, etc. that characterized the overall culture as set from the top.

At the same time, there are plenty of successful companies where I would have hated the culture. (I’m thinking GE in its prime.)

This post is top of head, but I’m going to have to think about this broken corporate culture thing a bit more.

Stay tuned. Pink Slip may have a list of its own coming up.

Friday, November 27, 2015

On Black Friday,window shopping with Gwyneth Paltrow

Well, it’s Black Friday and, as is my tradition, I’m not out shopping.

Okay, I may head over to Macy’s a bit later in the day to buy a couple of pans that will work on my new induction cook top. Or I could just stay home and whip up an omelet for myself on the one and only pan from my past life that has magnetized bottom and, thus, can be used with the new cooker. (I do have a gorgeous sea-blue Dutch over that will work, but I don’t consider that part of the old me’s kitchen, given that I haven’t yet used it – other than as the springboard for determining the paint color for the kitchen walls.)

In any case, my Black Friday shopping will be light.

Mostly, I’ll be spending the day unpacking the remaining boxes, organizing a few of the drawers I just pitched things to – every drawer a junk drawer! – and waiting for UPS to deliver the living room registers that better @#*@()#*! fit this time. (Needless to say, the less expensive cool-looking brass registers didn’t fit. I do think that ones that cost more than twice as much will. Knock on wood, quartzite, quartz, marble – any of the new surfaces in my sleek new digs.)

But I will be doing some window shopping with Gwyneth Paltrow. Or rather on Gwyneth’s virtual, share-with-us home, thumbing (virtually) through her Goop Gift Guides, which aggregate quirky gifts from all over.

Where to begin?

Many years ago, Julie Andrews, channeling Rodgers and Hammerstein, told us to “start at the very beginning.” So, although I’m not a Centered Soul – maybe I am but just didn’t know what it means – I started with the Centered Soul guide.

Centered Souls, as it turns out, sit around in camis and teddies all day, burning incense, reading Rainer Marie Rilke, and wondering what goes on in the soul of an octopus. So my intuition about not being a centered soul was correctomundo. And that was reinforced when I read the Electric Love dreamcatcher as Electri Clove. (Must be smokin’ too many of them e-cigarettes.)

I guess I’m not a Collector, either. The only thing that caught my eye was this skull with the flowers painted on it. Not that I want one, mind you. I really don’t need any memento mori, thanks a bunch. Anyway, porcelain skulls are a specialty of a company called Nymphenburg. Gwyneth just subs them. (Call for pricing.)

Goop has collected stuff for kids, too. No memento mori here. But if you’re willing to shell out $459 for a kiddie play kitchen, you can get one with a look-a-like SubZero fridge and Viking range. Never too young to enjoy the finest things in life. (Hypocrisy alert, I suppose: I will confess that, based on my address and condo re-sale advice, I have a SubZero. My very own signifier…And if you have a problem with my SubZero, I guess you can go fly a kite. The $64 kite that Gwyneth likes. Didn’t kites used to cost 15 cents?)

There’s an entire section devoted to personalizable goop. My personal favorite: a personalized jar of sriracha. Only $9! See, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy the same things that Gwyneth does!

Maximalists, who appear to be for women only, are in for a lot of pricey handbags – if you consider $2.5K pricey – and a $530 pajama top. Matching tap-pants for $320, but I’d rather direct that money to the $245 headband and keep the change. (Or perhaps order a couple of personalized sriracha bottles.)

On Dasher, on Dancer, On Precious, On Gooper…

For the Entertainer in your life, I liked the $190 linen bento bag. And “Running a Food Truck for Dummies.” (Oh, that Gwyneth.)

Doers are urged to chill out a bit. Of course, one of the chill-out gifts is a corset unitard (indeed) that’s designed for working out, but can also be worn while just hanging out on the couch, couch-potato-ing on Goop.

For Wanderers, a.k.a., travelers, who can’t live without their tunes, there’s a portable wireless speaker ($449). Just don’t sit next to me on the plane with one.

Nothing to report on the Secret Santa Goop Guide, but that’s probably because I was dying to get at the Ridiculous and Awesome gift list. Given how ridiculous, yet awesome, most of the stuff in all of the gift guides are, I figured this would really be something.

It mostly lived up to its promise. Hermes $46K mah-jong set, anyone? Not to mention the $125K gold-plated dumbbells. If you don’t have that kind of dough for gifting, most everyone can afford the $55 yoni steamer. (It does seem kind of personal. Maybe something you’d buy for yourself, rather than hint around for. Personally, I wasn’t aware that yonis need steaming, but what do I know? Gwyneth is clearly more on-trend than I am, and maybe if you do a lot of lounging around in the corset unitard, a yoni steam might be just the thing.)

While we’re below the belt, there’s also a $956 fancy-arse toilet paper kit. You’ll never squeeze Charmin again!

Oh, Gwyneth, the goop-a-thon window shopping did not disappoint. Like you, it was ridiculously awesome.

How fun it must be to curate this nonsense and put it all in one place for us.

Meanwhile, I’d love to see your home. Feel free to invite me over any old time. Maybe we can do an apartment swap?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Over the river and through the woods: Thanksgiving 2015

Actually, I’m not going over the river or through the woods. Not to mention that, at my age, there’s no grandmother’s house to go to.

But I will be heading out to my sister Kath’s in Brookline for dinner.

If I did have a horse, and if there were snow enough on the ground for a sleigh ride, that horse would definitely know the way to carry the sleigh to Kath and Rick’s, where I spent the better part of the last three months while my reno was underway.

That reno is nearly done at this point – just a few stray bits and pieces, like shower doors and heat registers – for which I am immensely thankful.

Even with those finishing touches still to go, a ton of boxes still to be unpacked, a ton of pictures that need hanging, those (bookcases in need of a coat of paint, everything is beautiful. When I sit on my new couch (or in my old bed with the new duvet cover), looking around at things, I sometimes want to pinch myself. I really live here? (You’ve come a long way, baby, from that three-decker in Main South Worcester…)

Much else, of course, to be thankful for.

As ever, for my wonderful family and friends, especially Kath and Rick for taking me in (and to Kath for taking her weekend to knock the bedroom and den into shape – no small task).

I’m thankful for my clients, still providing interesting work (which, admittedly, is on occasion a tad dull and wonky), which I’ll take for as long as they’re willing and I’m able.

I’m thankful for my general contractor and his ace construction crew. (And I’ll be even more thankful when they get back in here and finish up the odd bits and bobs.)

I’m thankful for health, and for what wealth I do have (even if it didn’t budge much this year: at least it didn’t lose money…).

I’m thankful for the folks at St. Francis House, who take such excellent care of Boston’s poor and homeless. If you’re looking for a place to make a holiday donation, this is a good one.

I’ll end with two things.

One, in keeping with Pink Slip tradition, is a link to last year’s Thanksgiving Day post. (Trust me, the 2015 edition is cheerier…)

And two, this picture I found of a balloon from the 1949 edition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I was not yet born, but I was just around the corner. Given that this was what was in store for me, it’s no wonder that, as my mother told me on more than one occasion, I tried to crawl back up in the birth canal rather than drop into the world.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tweet, Tweet. No time for a full blown Pink Slip, 2nd edition.

Another Bloomberg Headline:’

Why People Will Spend $120,000 for a Chair

Because they have nothing better to do with their money?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tweet, tweet. (No time for a full blown Pink Slip…)

Tweet inspired by Bloomberg headline:

Would You Pay $550,000 for a Tintin Cartoon? Non, non, a thousand times non. (Under 140 characters.)

Monday, November 23, 2015

All reno’d out

Yesterday, after two and a half months living at my sister’s, I moved back into chez moi.

My sister and her husband could not be more generous and gracious hosts. Kath is a fabulous cook, Rick has a fabulous wine cellar, they have a beautiful home, they’re terrific company. What’s not to like?

The answer, of course, is nothing. Other than that I was beginning to feel like Sheridan Whiteside, The Man Who Came to Dinner. And never left. (That Sheridan Whiteside.)

So yesterday, with what I believe is the end in sight, I returned home.

With Kath’s help, we have my bedroom pretty much knocked into shape. Sure, my clothing is either in suitcases or Fibber McGee’d into my closets. I left home in summer weather, I’m returning past the date when I would have done the closet and dresser swap on summer-winter clothing. I’ll get to it at some point. Meanwhile, clothing is pretty much haphazardly stuffed wherever.

I’m good on the bathroom end, if you consider no shower doors, partial lighting, no vanity (main bath), no mirror (guest bath) “good”. Still, the toilets flush and the water runs hot and cold.

My den is in relatively good shape. Now I just have to figure out how to figure out the TV situation. Buying one would, I suppose. This was my husband’s department. Where’s Diggy when I need him? (As if I needed another reason to miss him. Oh, boo-hoo.)

The downstairs hall has way too much construction junk in it.

The light fixture in my office is dangling.:

The living room is a full blown disaster. New and old furniture remains shrouded. Construction gear too much in evidence.

No registers on the heating vents. Yet.

And then there’s the track lighting in the kitchen.

It was looking great. Then it flickered. Then it died.

This was Saturday evening.

I texted my GC. He told me to make sure the light switch was off.

He called the electrician, who texted me to call him. Which I did. He told me to make sure the light switch was off.

Now that is something you don’t have to tell me twice.

The electric crisis should be resolved today.

Most of what needs doing is small stuff and clean up.

So far, I’m loving it. Looking forward to settling in.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned plenty, including that olive oil and salt removed scratches from furniture. (Thanks, Kath.)

In another couple of weeks, everything on the punch list should be punched out. My old painted bookcases will have received yet another coat of paint. I’ll have gotten a couple of pots and pans to use on my new induction cooktop.

Reno, sweet reno. Home, sweet home.

Feeling a bit mixed-emotional.

Yes, everything is beautiful. But it’s going to be a lot different than the place where Jim and I lived for more than 20 years. (Did I all ready say Oh, boo-hoo? Life really does go one.. Just a bit sadly…)

Meanwhile, Pink Slip is taking a mini break. The posts for Tuesday and Wednesday will be my version of tweets. (I.e., posts under 140 characters.)

Back by Thursday. That’s assuming I can get the cable hooked up…

God, this is exhausting. You’d think I was the one swinging the hammer.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ya gotta spend money to make money

Last year, at a family wedding, the bride was toasted by one of her bridesmaids, a classmate of hers from Harvard Business School. Her speech was larded with you-have-to-have-been-there references to trips they’d been on together while at HBS. Stranded by a canceled flight at Mumbai Airport. A ghastly headache while visiting Dubai.

An awful lot of time during business school was spent in places other than Harvard’s pristine campus on the banks of the river Charles. (Pristine is not even the word for it. I’ve been to a couple of functions there in the last couple of years. The grounds are so manicured, I nearly gave in to the temptation to toss a kleenex on one of the velvety green lawns, just because. The janitors’ closets all seem to be made of hand-rubbed cherry wood. In the “cafeteria” they use china plates. No wonder these folks end up acting like they own the universe: they do.)

In fact, spending on the extras – travel, entertainment, travel and entertainment – has become a reasonably big chunk of the budget for students at elite business schools.

When I was in business school, at MIT-Sloan, way back in the last century, there were no such expenses.

This was, of course, before the concept of networking was invented.

We went to class, bitched with each other between classes, worked on projects together, graduated, got jobs. Socializing – which was what, I guess, would be today’s networking -  meant going out to some dumpy eatery in Kendall Square (which was all there was then), having a beer at the week-ending Consumption Function - (Consumption Function! Get it? Haha. You know, Keynes and the relationship between income and consumption. Only we had no income and our consumption was a beer…), or going to a party at someone’s not-so-great apartment.

But my talking about being in business school back in the day is like my parents telling Depression stories. That was then, this is now. Yawn…

Today’s elite b-schoolers have better things to do than sit around bitching or quaffing a glass of Bud at the weekly Consumption Function. (Yawn.)

They’ve got places to go, people to see – and that means money to spend.

If you’re at Harvard, on top of the annual $98K it will set you back for tuition, fees, books, room and board, you best be prepared to keep an extra $16K for extras.  (MIT, on the other hand, has more modest requirements. Never the high-livers like our brethren at HBS, the median extra spending for Sloanies is a relatively meager $10K.)

bschool extras

Sloan, of course, has always attracted more geeks than high flyers, so this is not exactly a surprise.

Columbia students who join the wine club or the gourmet club go to the priciest New York City eateries, said [Columbia MBA student Victor] Eng. Professional clubs, of which Eng is a member of five, offer valuable networking opportunities with companies and typically charge a few hundred dollars in annual membership fees, plus the price of ticketed events, he said. (Source: Bloomberg)

And then there are the “study” tours to spots like Mumbai and Dubai, or networking “treks” where you never know what might happen (or who you might meet). These are opportunities where you get to take a break from the rigors of the wine club and the gourmet club to “travel the world.”

It’s worth it, however. Business schools where the students require the most walking around money are also the B-schools where the graduates demand the highest starting salaries. (Could there be a correlation? Such a Sloan question to ask…)

At the University of Chicago, where, on average, students spend $12K over-and-above each year, Austin Fang maintains that the spending is purposeful, not frivolous:

"There are definitely a lot of people who come from finance backgrounds and from affluent families, but no one's going out every night and buying bottle service," said Fang. "It seems that everyone is cognizant that we're not making money right now."

I for one am relieved that today’s B-school students aren’t going out every night buying bottle service.

And I’d also like to go on record as saying that, one of the great pleasures of getting older is comparing the relative rigors, wisdom, and practicalities of our youth with what’s going on with today’s young whippersnappers.

Ah, imagine what we would have said at a Consumption Function – when we were most likely talking about the problem set for Operations Research – if someone had told us that we should be spending an additional $10K+ per year on the wine club and treks.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I get that you want feedback, but please just leave me alone

Customer engagement is all the rage these days, and it doesn’t matter what you’re a customer of, it’s pretty much a guarantee that they’ll want to engage. A big part of customer engagement is, apparently, eliciting feedback.

Thus, last summer, after I was a customer, that is to say, patient, of Dr. I, who was the surgeon for my eyelift (non-cosmetic, I hasten to point out; I have hereditary ptosis, or drooping eyelids – thanks, Nanny! – which was causing me all sorts of problems), I received 3 or 4 requests for me to complete a survey on my “experience.” If I thought that anything I had to say could help improve things for other patients, I would have filled in the survey. But I didn’t have anything to say, and didn’t feel compelled to fill out a five-point-scale rating just so that Dr. I’s office could use the ratings to sell someone on what is, in many cases, elective/vanity surgery. (The good news if it’s not elective/vanity surgery: insurance pays for it.)

Anyway, the one thing that stood out on surgery day was that two of the nurses working in the eye surgery assembly line center were named Maureen. Not something I needed to report back on a survey. Keep up the good work! Never enough Maureens! Just say Moe!

For some reason, I find physician surveys particularly annoying. If they were just open-ended – is there anything we could do to make things better? – I’d be just fine with them. But that wouldn’t supply the coveted (and often meaningless) metrics that everyone craves these days.

I did fill in one MD survey – for my PCP, someone I particularly like. But mostly I’ll be taking a pass on these, once they start to come along with regularity as my journey to geezerhood progresses.

Medical practices are not alone when it comes to reaching out to their customers for feedback.

Open Table wants to know how I liked Toscano’s. Just great! Which is why it’s been one of my go-to neighborhood spots for years, thank you very much.

British Airways wants me to help shape the future. Here’s my advice to BA: if you want me to fly to the UK, do something about the fact that, even when you use frequent flyer miles, it still costs $800 to land.

WGBH wants to know what I think of their programming. Here you go: as long as you keep running old folkie specials and ask for money, I’ll watch your old folkie specials and send you money. I’ll also keep sending money to your radio station because I listen to the Celtic Sojourn.

Yale Appliance wants me to review my recent purchases. Well, they’re mostly installed, but I haven’t actually used any of them yet. But I can tell you that the fridge smells really awful and the box of baking soda I put in it doesn’t seem to be dissipating the plastic-chemical odor. Maybe once it’s plugged in and I actually use it, the odor will go away. I hope so. A fridge that costs this much should absolutely NOT smell. As for the rest, the only question I have is why is there a metal rack in the Bosch microwave. (For some reason, this feature only serves to remind me of the urban legend of the old lady who accidentally microwaved her toy poodle.)

Armstrong Flooring. MIT’s Credit Union. Zappo’s. The place I bought the cool dress. And these aren’t even all of the outfits that have tried to engage me in the last week or so.

Everyone – or at least everyone I don’t actually know - wants to know what I think. (Zappo’s appeal: Help Others! by writing a review…Ah, the old Help Others! gimmick.)

I did review the Task Rabbit guy who moved the leather couch over to my brother’s. And I do press the Great button for my Uber drivers. But those are people that, however fleeting, I actually had an engagement with. (Okay, I also had an up close and personal engagement with Dr. I. I guess I just hate MD surveys.)

And sometimes I answer phone surveys, especially the political ones (especially, I must admit, if they’re from the Party I Do Not Belong To; I do answer honestly, and I’m sure they must be scratching their heads over how I got on their call list).

Hey, I’m a marketing person, so I understand the value of getting feedback, and the value of engaging your customers.

But when you’re asking for feedback, you’re asking for my time and I get nothing in return. Let me tell you, I’m a lot more apt to answer your survey if I get put in a drawing for the iTunes card or whatever. Even if my odds of winning are infinitesimally small, at least you’re acknowledging that my time is worth something. (Some companies do use this approach. Costs little, and I suspect the yield is pretty substantial. But perhaps marketers don’t want to sully their surveying by bribing their respondents.)

Mostly, I just don’t want to be engaged, thank you. Mostly, I just want you to leave me the hell alone.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

As if the NFL doesn’t have enough to worry about

I’m a sports fan, but as I have said in the past and will no doubt say again, watching professional football is like eating veal: if I thought about it, I wouldn’t do it.

But I occasionally do both, even though there are countless reasons why veal-eating is nasty and the National Football League is just plain god-awful.

Where to even begin with the god-awfulness of the NF?

Might as well start with the brain damage thang. For years, the NFL denied that its players experienced instances of substantial brain damage, and of both Alzheimer’s and ALS, that are well above the norm. Forget ALS as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS should be named after a footballer, not a baseballer.

Turns out that the souped up gear – supposedly designed to improve safety – actually makes players more likely to engage in dangerous maneuvers like spearing someone with your head. And we used to say that playing without a helmet was a bad thing…

So after years of denying there was a problem, the NFL kinda-sorta acknowledged it, and put a paltry amount of money aside to take care of retired players who were pretty much out of it.

One could, of course, argue that those playing professional football are grown men, making an informed decision to accept the trade off between getting paid a lot of money to play a violent sport in the now and going gaga in the then. But it would, nonetheless, be wise for the NFL to take better care of its own cadre of brain damaged former players than it’s been doing.

Then there are all those mamas who won’t let their babies grow up to be Cowboys. Or Seahawks. Or Packers. Or Patriots. Or even Pop Warner or high school footballers. Who wants to see her baby boy get his brains bashed in?

On top of the brain damage issues, there’s the inordinate number of players who’ve been involved in truly dreadful off the field behavior, generally (but not always) having to do with the abuse of women. And the fact that, despite an occasional slap-on-the-wrist suspension meted out, the NFL is cable of tolerating anything off the field as long as someone’s performing off the field. Admittedly, they do have modest standards. Once the Patriots’ Aaron Hernandez was arrested for killing the fiancé of his girlfriend’s sister – he’s now serving life, and early next year will be tried for an additional two murders (that of strangers who managed to somehow diss Hernandez in a nightclub) – the Patriots dumped him.

The NFL ends up with an oversupply of bad actors because, as long as they can run, block, tackle,and score, teams (and fans) are perfectly capable of overlooking college predictors of bad behavior and criminality. And once the players are in the NFL, well, they have to do something really egregious to get booted out. Like murder three people.

And don’t get me going on the “defend the integrity of the ‘shield’” brouhaha that is Deflategate.

So the NFL has plenty enough to worry about, without the add on of ColorBlindGate.

Here’s what happened with last week’s Thursday Night Football game between the NY Jets and the Buffalo Bills.

For some reason, no doubt to do with hawking even more merchandise to their fans (with the NFL, it’s almost always about the money), both teams wore monotone uniforms, something called “Color Rush,” in which both the pants and shirts were the same color. Matchy-tatchy, as my mother would say. So there were the Jets in solid green and the Bills in solid red. (Generally, the home team wears a colored shirt and contrasting pants, while the visiting team wears a white shirt and contrasting pants.)

Unfortunately, when they went monotone, the NFL neglected to factor in the 8 percent of the male population (and the 0.5 percent of women) who are colorblind.

So rather than see Christmas-y red and green on the field, colorblind fans saw this:


Forget ‘you can’t tell the players without a scorecard.’ If you’re colorblind, on long shots where you couldn’t see the logo on the helmet, you couldn’t tell the Bills from the Jets.

The NFL will be reconsidering its upcoming Color Rush shirt days.

Meanwhile, this little bit of silliness couldn’t happen to a more deserving sports league.

Source for Color Rush info: Huffington Post

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Slip Siding Away

Every once in a while, there’s a local business story that truly captures my interest. This one hits on all cylinders: it’s more than a bit preposterous while at the same time being more than a bit sad and heart-strings tugging. And, to my way of thinking, it involves more than a bit of wishful thinking on the part of the business owner, and some addle-pated decisions on the part of the loan officers he was working with.

Anyway, i
n 2008, one Kevin Dumont of Candia, New Hampshire, decided to open a water park, Liquid Planet.

From the get-go, it was a tough go.

The first couple of seasons were inordinately rainy ones. And, as one can imagine, the season for a water park in northern New England is inordinately short.

Dumont and Liquid Planet soldiered on, adding, over time a zipline and a summer day camp. The business developed a loyal following of patrons. (Just not enough of them…)

But running a short-season enterprise in New England is going to be chancy, and Liquid Planet is running out of chances.

The park has a $1.6 Million (!) bank loan that’s coming due, and Dumont is in no position to pay it off. When it goes, he’ll lose his business, as well as his home, which is also on the property. But Dumont is not going down without a fight.

Kevin Dumont says he’s “not crazy,” but the Liquid Planet Water Park founder has taken an unconventional strategy to save his floundering business.

Faced with foreclosure, Dumont has chained himself to the top of the Candia, New Hampshire park’s 30-foot water slide.

“I am doing this in a last ditch effort to save all that I have created,” Dumont announced Monday on Facebook. “The bank has foreclosed on me and is auctioning the property on December 2nd so I am staying up here to try and save it.” (Source:

Dumont plans to stay chained until the cash miraculously appears, or he’s “forced off his property” once auction time comes around. Meanwhile, he’s trying to raise some coin via GoFundMe. Unfortunately, keeping a NH water-slide business afloat can’t compete in terms of heart-string tugs with the kids who’ve lost their parents, or the dog that’s lost its hind legs, or the family that can’t afford to bury their dead child. When last I look, Dumont had raised a whopping $1,495 of the $1,000,000 he’s hoping to raise. (He’s quite an optimist, however. He puts the odds of his saving his business at 50/50. Me, I’d put them at 1,000,000/1,495, or maybe even a million-to-one. But I guess I’m just the half-empty type.)

Wherever his business acumen is lodged, Dumont’s heart appears to be in the right place. He wanted to build a locally-owned and run business that would provide jobs to his community. He’s tried to be environmentally conscious.

“I just wanted to have a little business,” Dumont said Tuesday evening. “I took the money I made and put it to something I thought would be an asset to the community, that would bring jobs, and create memories. That’s why I started a water park—not a car wash or something.”

Easy for me to say, but at least with a car wash you get 12 months worth of business. That said, my husband and I had an older friend – now long deceased – who’d lost his investing shirt in a Connecticut car wash business years ago.

Meanwhile, Kevin Dumont, the poor guy, has recently lost both of his parents. (Other than the heart-string tugging element, this info is really neither here nor there.)

What I’m really thinking about is what was going on in the mind of the loan officer who okayed a $1.6M loan for a NH water park business to begin with.

Was this all an upfront loan for the initial capital investment? Did it include credit lines that got tapped? Was the business “breaking even” (ahem) if you didn’t take into account any loan repayments?

I just can’t imagine what the business plan looked like that would get someone to sign off on this sort of $$$ for this sort of business, especially one being run by a seemingly inexperienced business owner.

Plus Liquid Planet came to life in 2008. Wasn’t that the year we became an illiquid planet?

I hope Kevin Dumont doesn’t freeze up there when his water slide turns to an ice slide. I hope he finds a way out of the mess he’s in. I hope he has good rest of his life.

But I think it would be a hope against hope to believe that he’s going to raise the money he needs to salvage its business.

I could be wrong, but I suspect this business is going to be slip sliding away.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Last Time I Saw Paris

I’m not sure exactly when the last time I saw Paris was. My husband and I had been a handful of times over the years. When was our last visit?

Was our last trip the one where we took our nieces Molly and Caroline? The one where we stayed for a week in the cool (yet a bit weird) apartment on the Rue de Suffren, where, from our living room window, staring us right in the face, we could see the Eiffel Tower.

No, I think we went a couple of years later.

Yes, that was it. In May 2010, we rented a cool (yet a bit weird) apartment in the Marais, on the Rue de Turenne, where the neighborhood was so dark, the streets so convoluted and winding, that each time we walked out after dark, we got turned around.

We had a trip planned for May 2013, but that was not to be.

Jim’s cancer had returned. We had to cancel our trip.

We had always talked about spending a month in Paris, but that was not to be, either.

So it’s been a while since I’ve been to Paris, but it is one of the remaining places that Jim wanted a bit of his ashes to land. So I still hope to get there again someday. Maybe when the nihilism, the fanaticism, the insanity, the rancid terrorism dies down. Would that it happens in my lifetime. Not for the sake of my ash-strew trip. No, I want everyone I know who loves Paris, or thinks they might love Paris – especially young travelers - to get their chance to visit this beautiful and brilliant city. If I never make it there again, well, we’ll always have Paris.

While I haven’t been there in a while, my friend Michele was there a few weeks ago on business. My friend Mary and her husband were planning a trip around Vin’s birthday. I know it’s in November. Are they there? Are they back? Were they going next week? My friend Marin was there in June with her husband to celebrate Brian’s 60th.

And my cousin Ellen and her husband Mike were fortunate enough to do that glorious month in Paris, which they did last September.

Molly, Caroline, Michele, Mary, Vin, Marin, Brian, Ellen, Mike.

I’m sure that today they’re all mourning for Paris.

The first couple of times Jim and I vacationed there, we stayed at a small boutique hotel,
Hôtel Splendid Etoile, which is located across from the top of the Champs-Élysées. In the distance outside our window – we booked the same suite each time we stayed there – we could see the Eiffel Tower and, further out, Sacre Coeur. But right outside our window was this:

arc de triomphe

At night, we’d always spend a bit of time just standing there, staring out the window, watching the traffic whizz around. Pinching ourselves that we were actually here. In Paris.

Here’s hoping that, sooner rather than later, decency and sanity will triumph over pure, unadulterated evil,

Friday, November 13, 2015

Color me cheater pants

Everything these days seems to be about engaging the customers, the wisdom of crowds. And when you can combine them, so much the better. Or so the MBTA, Boston’s transportation system, thought when it asked riders to weigh in on the paint schemes for its new cars. Not the color scheme, mind you. Those are set in stone. As folks in the area know, the rapid transit lines are all color-coded: Red Line, Orange Line, Green Line, Blue… But folks were asked to vote for the paint pattern that they wanted to see. The voting vehicle: SurveyMonkey (online surveying), since, as we all know, you can’t really engage a customer or tap into the wisdom of crowds without deploying some wise and engaging technology.

But something gang agley with the whole thing, one of the worst things to happen to local transpo since Charlie got on the precursor MTA without the extra nickel he needed to get off. (I guess the other worst thing that happened to public transpo was of more recent vintage: last year’s periodic shutdowns during Snowmageddon, when we got 10 feet of snow in 5 weeks.)

Participation during the two-week survey period was seemingly enthusiastic, but then the T started taking a closer look at survey results: On Tuesday, it acknowledged that:

…its fun little survey had gone awry. The agency said it would put off the choices on the paint job for now.

“The MBTA has decided to hold the results of the survey in abeyance until this matter has been resolved,” spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an e-mail. (Source: Boston Globe)

The reason for keeping results in “abeyance” – abeyance: no wonder Boston always wins the polls as the smahtest city in the US of A – was that voting seemed “normal” for the Orange Line, but was suspiciously skewed for the Red and Green Lines.

For the Orange Line, 25,000 votes were recorded, and the winning paint scheme got 41% of the votes. Sounds about right.

For the Red and Green Lines, there were over 175,000 votes cast, and the top scheme captured roughly 90% of the votes.

Hmmmm. Now the home turf of the likes of Martin Lomasney and James Michael Curley is no stranger to the notion of stuffing the ballot box. But there’s voting the dead, and then there’s:

Hundreds of votes appeared to have originated from the same computer, which submitted as many as three survey responses per second, according to results posted online. Vote totals spiked unusually late in the survey period.

Obviously someone wanted to game the system and make sure that “their” paint pattern of choice got chosen.

And with spamming vote-bots hammering away, so much for engaging the customer and the wisdom of crowds.

It’s interesting to note that the Orange Line, where it doesn’t appear that there was any cheating, services less affluent neighborhoods. Sure, there are plenty of yuppies in Charlestown and Jamaica Plain, but there are also projects and poor people.

The Red Line, while also going through some non-upper-crusty ‘hoods, has a stop at Harvard, and two stops (Kendall and Central) that flank MIT.

And the Green Line, before it terminates in the nice and leafy burbs, runs by or to pretty much every other college in Boston: BU, BC, Northeastern, Simmons, Emmanuel, Wentworth, Emerson…

Should we be smelling a student techie rat here?

Since the first of the trains (Green Line trolleys) won’t be delivered until 2017, the T has some time to figure out what’s what, paint-scheme wise.

Maybe they need another way to engage and wisdom-tap.

Me? I actually liked things better when every entity I purchase something from wasn’t trying to “engage” me. I’m much more into the old philosophy of leave-me-alone.

And as for the wisdom of crowds…

Not with Donald Trump and Ben Carson leading the pack…

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Red Starbucks cup, I fill you up…

I’m not a coffee drinker to begin with, and I don’t really like the smell of Starbuck’s coffee, so I don’t spend a lot of time there.

That said, I occasionally meet a friend at the one that’s about a 30 second walk from my house. And, during my reno – which, up until Tuesday – was toilet-less, I did drop in a couple of times to use their loo when I paid one of my regular visits to my worksite. And I generally felt obliged to buy something for the privilege of standing in line with a bunch of tourists and doing my thing in a none-too-clean (but not completely putrid) public facility.

So I’m not all that familiar with their annual starbuck's cupChristmas (or Winter Holiday or Whatever) cup. I understand that they are fairly neutral – snowflakes and small town winter scenes.No cup of Joe proffered by the Magis. No shepherds watching their flocks by night while sipping a venti. No Holy Family stopping at a Starbucks. Not even anything as Christmas-y as Santa Claus. What they have in common is that they’re red (and green, given the Starbuck’s logo) and holiday-ish. As in this reindeer number.

But Starbucks decision this year to go the minimalist red solo cup route is causing a tempest in a teapot 2015 red cupcoffeepot, and some red-staters are seeing red, viewing what appears to be an aesthetic decision as part of the War on Christmas.

It seems to me that preserving the red cup theme – red and green being the colors, however secular and pagan in origin, that are associated with Christmas – suggests that they’re hewing to a general holiday, leaning-towards-Christmas theme. And the company, by the way, is selling a Christmas blend coffee that’s called – get this – Christmas Blend. They also sell – get this – an Advent Calendar, and even though plenty of secularists no doubt use an Advent Calendar without giving it a second thought (or lighting purple and pink candles on their Advent wreathe), there’s no getting around the fact that an Advent Calendar is an Advent Calendar. And you can get a Starbucks gift card that says – get this – Merry Christmas.

With all this Christmas-related “stuff”, and with their longstanding practice of having a red cup in winter, Starbucks has shown, yet again, that they’re pretty darned good at marketing. Starbuck-ianados, apparently, look forward to the cups and the whatevers each year, collect them, cherish them…And given the dark and gloom that plagues the Northern Hemisphere in December, it’s nice to see something cheery and red. (I won’t get into the fact that the doom and gloom of December is a big reason why we actually celebrate Christmas at the most wonderful time of the year.)

And yet there’s all this faux outrage, with some calling for a Starbuck boycott, and others insisting that the name that gets scrawled on their cup must be “Merry Christmas.” (Look for misspellings here: Mary Krissmiss to you.) At least one person’s taking it further. He’s both insisting on getting Merry Christmas written on his cup, and on coming in armed, despite Starbuck’s decision to make their stores gun-free zones. Nothing says spirit of the season of hope and peace like a Merry Christmas yammering hoplophile.*

Makes me want to go into my local and get me one of those red cups. Fill ‘er up!

*When I first saw the word “hoplophile”, which was quite recently, I at first thought it was a reference to Hopalong Cassidy, iconic cowboy character of yesteryear. Instead – alas – it means someone in love, love, love with firearms.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Just in time for Veterans Day.

I’m not a big fan of the military shout-out that most sporting events seem to come equipped with these days. Sergeant Joe Blow/Jane Doe is introduced, and the crowd has to give him/her a standing ovation for being a “hero”. To me, these bits don’t really honor a member of the military (not all of whom, by the way, are heroes: I like to reserve that word for those who actually do something heroic – like the guys who took down the terrorist on the European train a couple of months back). No, to me all this fawning is just a simplistic and crude trade-off that we as Americans have decided to make.

Hey, we can get into all sorts of foreign entanglements and misadventures, but we don’t have to worry about our own asses being shot off. Instead, we let those who serve bask in some occasional limelight, hoping, I guess that they won’t notice that, these days, they’re generally being ask to serve in a messy war that no one really understands and – if they manage to survive – many of them will come back with all sorts of terrible damage to their bodies and/or psyches.

Personally, I think that the best way we can honor service members is to make sure we don’t deploy them in ill-thought-out, no-win wars, and, once they’re veterans, provide them with the medical, educational, and other support they need to get back on their feet.

Still, I suspect that these “Honor Sergeant Blow” moments will continue.

Much as I dislike them, what I hadn’t realized that many of the salute the troops events we see at games aren’t just some hokey thing dreamed up by a team or a league as a cheap feel-good. No, they’re doing it – bless their patriotic little hearts  – because they’re being paid to do it. As, just in time for Veterans Day, we have recently learned.

Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake began looking into the Defense Department’s spending of taxpayer dollars on military tributes in June after they discovered the New Jersey Army National Guard paid the New York Jets $115,000 to recognize soldiers at home games.

The 145-page report released Wednesday dives deeper, revealing that 72 of the 122 professional sports contracts analyzed contained items deemed “paid patriotism” -- the payment of taxpayer or Defense funds to teams in exchange for tributes like NFL’s “Salute to Service.” Honors paid for by the DOD were found not only in the NFL, but also the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. They included on-field color guard ceremonies, performances of the national anthem, and ceremonial first pitches and puck drops. (Source: Huffington Post.)

Some of the $53 million that the Department of Defense spent with sports teams over the last several years included plenty of “legitimate” marketing. Recruiting is tough these days. I read recently that most branches of the service are having a hard time filling their numbers – even while the military is downsizing. With an improving economy, there are fewer potential recruits in the pool, and a lot of what’s left in the pool can’t pass the physical and intellectual requirements. So they’ve got to advertise. I get that. (“There’s strong; and then there’s Army strong.” “The few, the proud, the Marines.”) It’s the $6.8 million that went to paid tributes to pay tribute that I find pretty obnoxious.

Most of it went to the NFL. No surprise there, given how football has always used the metaphor for war, and has generally been pretty militaristic in terms of its image. But while the connection is pretty obvious, it’s not as if those guys needed another money-making opportunity.

The NFL – all about the “integrity” (ho, ho) of “the brand”, of course – has claimed that the picture about the relationship between the NFL and our military has been “distorted.”

Not that I don’t trust Roger Goodell and his minions, but: I’ll. Just. Bet.

Asked if soldiers knew the Pentagon had paid teams for these sorts of tributes, McCain said: "I've only talked to a few of them, but the ones we did talk to, obviously they did not know."

And they’re not so thrilled when they find out.

The Pentagon is apparently phasing out the paid patriotism programs.


Now if only we can get the sports teams to do something a little less knee-jerk – and a little more meaningful – to support service members than the ubiquitous ‘how about a standing o for Sergeant Doe.’

I’m all for “Salute the Navy” (or whatever branch) nights when members of a particular service, and vets, are asked to stand while Anchors Away is played . But have the 50-50 raffle that game go to a Veterans’ Shelter.

Have games where active service members and their families attend for free. Then announce a donation to a scholarship fund for military kids.

Ask ticket holders who aren’t using their tickets to provide them for free to service members. (Some teams, I know, already do this.)

And do it because, for whatever reason (patriotism, pandering) you feel it’s the right thing to do. Not because you’re being paid to do it.

Meanwhile, Happy Veterans Day.

For a less teeth-gnashing Veterans Day post, here’s what I had to say in 2012.

Finally, Pink Slip would like to end with an unpaid salute to our veterans, especially the remaining WWII vets – including my mother’s best friend, Ethel, who was a WAVE. Ethel was, like my mother, a big city girl – Ethel from NYC, my mother from Chicago – who met and married her Main South Irish guy during the war. And thus ended up in Worcester, Massachusetts, rather than a glamorous metro like NYC or Chicago. Not all war is about death and dying. As it was for my mother’s friend Ethel, it’s also about love, marriage and the baby carriage. So it goes…

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Planet of the Vapes

Of course you see them around, twenty-somethings who are probably right that vaping’s not quite as bad for your health as cancer sticks cigarettes. So they’re vaping, puffing away with their e-cigs. Take a puff, it’s springtime!

But I had no idea whatsoever that there is such a thing as competitive vaping.

And then, just last week, I read about a vaping contest held in Quincy, just outside of Boston, where the “athletes” (???) did a filler-up with their lungs, and then let out:

…swirling clouds of sweet-smelling vapor shaped like horizontal tornadoes.

The panel of three judges in the “Cloud Competition,” where 100 people had gathered, watched closely for three things: distance, density, and dissipation. (Source: Boston Globe)

There were 28 contestants in the Quincy Cloud Competition. The winner walked away with $1K. Not bad for just blowing smoke.

While “Cloud Chasers” come to compete, and others just watch, still others use the gatherings as a place to practice tricks. Using their hands and the clouds their devices produce, tricksters pucker their lips to create “jelly fish” — rings of vapor with squiggly frills extending from the base — and other shapes.

Carson Perkins, who goes to Lasell College in Newton, blew “O-rings” into the air before pushing them skyward with his hand.

“There’s a lot of creativity to it,” he said. “People go all out.”

I was never much of a smoker, but in my younger days I smoked a bit. This was mostly when I was a waitress, in a time and place where pretty much all waitresses smoked. This was mostly because smoking a cigarette gave you a 3 minute break. If someone was looking for you, you could always say “lemme just finish my cigarette” and people would pretty much leave you alone. When I was a waitress at Durgin Park, my roommate and I, along with our waitress pals Marilyn and Pam, bought and pooled packs of Newports, which we’d leave in a cubby hole tucked away between two of the dining rooms. 

I was not much for smoking tricks, however.

I did master the sophisticated plume of smoke out the nostrils exhalation. And occasionally, almost by accident, I could produce an O-ring. (In much the same way as I could occasionally produce on bona fide, two-finger cab whistle. I must add mastering this technique to my bucket list.)

But as far as I know, there was nothing that came close to making a jelly-fish. And as far as I know, there weren’t any smoking competitions.

Boston is not, of course, the only place where Cloud Competitions take place.

Last spring, the Wall Street Journal reported on a competition in Plano, Texas, writing:

Welcome to the newest entrant in the extreme sports category: “cloud chasing.” Competitors play it not with balls and bats, but with electronic cigarettes. They are called cloud chasers, and their devoted fans are cloud gazers.

Competitions like Vaping WSJthis have been heating up world-wide, spreading from Raleigh, N.C., to Los Angeles and Canada to Indonesia. This showdown is one of the smaller contests, but on the same day, there are three others taking place around Dallas at various vape shops, which specialize in sales of refillable e-cigarettes called vaporizers. (Source: WSJ)

I’m know vaping judge, but I’d say the dude in the green wins it on distance, and the dude in the black gets the density nod. As for dissipation, there’s a certain sense of that around all vapers, no?

Vaping competitions haven’t gone pro quite yet, but it’s surely a matter of time. Teams are being formed, sponsors sought.

Not everyone’s a fan. Some vapers fear competitions stigmatize e-cigarettes by making them look more like gaming devices than smoking-cessation tools. They worry contests could escalate pressure on an industry already facing questions from regulators about e-cigarettes because they come in kid-friendly flavors and are sold online.

Smoking cessation tools? Oh, I’m sure that plenty of the vapers are two-pack a day folks. But I’m also sure that plenty of folks are taking up vaping who’ve never smoked cigarettes. And they’re doing it to be trendy, to be hip, and – apparently – so they can take part in vaping contests.

If e-cigarettes turn out to be a healthy alternative to the real thing, have at it. But something tells me that puffing on a device and gathering up clouds of smoke in your lungs can’t exactly be a good thing for you. The thought of smoking an e-cigarette just gives me, well, the vapors.

As for the contests, well, I’m thinking folly of youth. And, of course, the fact that one of the great pleasures of getting older is rolling your eyes and snorting at what those crazy kids are up to.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Looking for an inclusive, AI, real-time job?

Interesting article on Bloomberg last week on what’s in and out in the tech recruiting biz.

Textio – a Seattle startup with a snappy motto: words + data = magic – uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyze text to see, when it comes to the written word, just what matters. They started out by looking at which Kickstarter projects got funded, and much of it came down to “the words used in the listing, the fonts that were chosen, how the images got placed, and how many verbs were included. In fact, the specific project idea was mostly irrelevant to its funding outcome.”

I find it pretty shocking that the “specific project idea” was of no importance. Who’d want to kickstart something if they don’t know what it is? Not me. I’ve thrown a few bucks into Kickstarter projects over the year. Once for tee-shirts – they were pretty nice – that are made in the USA, and another for the secret decoder ring that doubles as a T-pass. (Alas, you can’t get the senior discount rate on the decoder ring, so I’ve more or less retired mine.) Wonder what the magic verbs and fonts were that got me to spring for these “investments”?

Anyway, I’ll take their word for it…

Having tested their concept by analyzing Kickstarter, Textio decided to productize/monetize – how’s that for buzzword use? - their technology by coming up with an app (ditto). For starters, they’ve got a product that helps you perfect your job listings to see how well they’ll perform.

Will it be popular among qualified job seekers? Will the role fill quickly? How gender-biased is your listing? Our predictive models give you analytics and feedback right as you’re typing. (Source: Textio website)

And to raise awareness and interest – it worked for Pink Slip – Textio:

…tracked more than 50,000 unique phrases commonly seen in tech job listings, said Kieran Snyder, the company’s chief executive officer. The startup compiled a list of terms that experienced the biggest changes in impact, positively and negatively, over the last year. Among the five biggest losers, none were turn-offs to job candidates in 2014, which shows how fast the industry changes. (Source: Bloomberg)

The buzzwords that are running on empty this year:

  • Big data
  • Virtual team
  • Troubleshooting
  • Subject matter expert
  • Drug-free workplace

I certainly understand why drug-free workplace would come up as a dud. Most of us, of course, would prefer a drug-free workplace. (At least I would. Many years ago, I worked for a company where coke use was, if not pervasive, not exactly rare. It was NOT a pleasant environment.) But a company that styles itself as drug-free may be pegging itself as an uptight no-fun zone. Drug-free is, of course, associated with government entities and other large organizations. I suspect that most job applicants don’t need to see “drug-free” to know that there are going to be rules and bureaucracies in there somewhere.

As for the rest of the terms, I’m happy to see big data get the boot. Since every breath we take – or at least every keystroke we make – is captured somehow, somewhere, by something, pretty much all data these days is BIG.

I’m surprised that virtual team is not a come-on, what with its promise of telecommuting. Maybe despite all the hype about the joys of working in your PJs, most people just plain don’t want to work in environments where they can’t grab lunch with their colleagues.

Textio found that diagnosing, problem solving, and fixing work better than troubleshooting. Personally, I prefer troubleshooting to diagnosing. And problem solving and fixing are what you do after troubleshooting. Don’t get why folks don’t like it. But I’m not in search of a tech job, either.

I always enjoy working with SME’s,

…but the term carries a connotation that the ideal candidate knows one thing very well and little about anything else, Snyder said. She said tech applicants want to be “full-stack engineers,” a buzzword that performs 32 percent better than “subject matter expert.”

Hmmmm. Wonder how many “full-stack engineers” are SME’s at any one layer of the stack?

While some terms are on the wane, others are waxing away:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Real-time data
  • High availability
  • Roust and scalable
  • Inclusive

Intelligence is certainly getting more and more artificial these days, and pretty soon those robots will be taking over. But when I read about AI, my mind always wanders back to the mid-1980’s when AI was flourishing as an idea, but a total bust as an actuality. A number of my friends worked for an especially snotty AI outfit in Cambridge, where everyone was so convinced of their own brilliance that they couldn’t see how brilliant I was, so they didn’t hire me. Which turned out to be okay, as the company went down in total, scorching flames. (Hah!)

Real-time data is another term that’s coming into its own. When we used to talk about it – back in the day – we were talking strictly about stock market data coming in over the wire. Now, every breath we take – every keystroke we make – is real-time data. Which is how the minute you search for “x” something scarily appears before you pointing out comparable “y”.
And plotting more and more invasive ways to get at you.

High availability, robust and scalable are terms that I’ve used so often over the years in writing about technology products. If I had a dime for every time I’ve done so… Interestingly, there used to be a web site (HubSpot?) that had a free press release analyzer that combed through your releases looking for jargon, missing info, etc. I do believe that robust and scalable were on their buzzword bingo list.

I don’t really know what inclusive translates into in actual words, given that tech companies have been notoriously uninclusive in some respects – especially when it comes to women.

Anyway, an interesting list to go to – and an interesting concept from Textio.

Friday, November 06, 2015

$650 Large for parking? If you want to rub fenders with the swells at the Brimmer Street Garage.

For less than $400 a month, you can get round-the-clock parking at the Boston Common Underground Garage. (I have no idea if that’s the actual name of this garage, but it used to be.) The garage – where I paid for the nights-and-weekend option when I was commuting to the ‘burbs – is clean and well lit. Sure, there is an occasional mugging, but the security is relatively good. And, except for temporary shutdowns to accommodate races, parades, and other events, it’s open 24/7/365, giving you continuous access to your vehicle.

The location – as the name implies, it’s under the Boston Common – is less than a 10 minute walk from most locations on the front side and flats of Beacon Hill. It’s about 2 minutes from where I live, and it’s where I pick up my Zipcars. It’s also where my car-driving guests park. (Yes, in addition to offering monthly parking options, parking under the Common is available on a come and go basis to that great unwashed: the public.)

All told, it could not be more convenient.

The Brimmer Street Garage is probably a 5 minute walk from the Common.

But there’s a world of difference.

Brimmer Street is private. And you don’t rent there (sniff, sniff), you buy.

Garage parking at Beacon Hill’s Brimmer Street Garage represents the most exclusive venue to capture a parking space in the historic Boston neighborhood. The garage was converted into a “condominium” in 1979, making individual parking spaces in the garage deeded pieces of property that can be bought and sold. In 1979, single parking spaces were being sold for $7,500, and now, area residents are paying upwards of $250,000 to lay claim to one of the most exclusive parking spaces in Boston.

“Upwards” is the operative word here. In October, one went for $390K. Then a space at the Brimmer Street Garage was recently listed with an asking price of $650K. Now there’s asking and then there’s bidding, and it’s not clear if anyone’s bidding as of yet. But, if you’re parking a car worth $200K, I guess you don’t want to take the risk that someone might give it a bump and grind while backing out of a space in a public garage. Or take the chance that some green-eyed riff-raff might give in to the temptation to key it.

So perhaps there is someone out there willing to pay $3.8K per square foot to garage their baby. Plus a monthly condo fee ($250), and taxes (roughly another $250).

To put this is real estate perspective, my condo – at least according to Zillow – is worth about $1K per square Brimmer Streetfoot. And while I do have neighbors above me, they’re not quite as openly on top of me as they would be if my I were a car living in a Brimmer Street Garage condo. Plus I have a kitchen, 2 baths, and don’t have to sleep on the back seat of a car.

From a out-of-pocket cost perspective, what with condo fee and property taxes, owning at the Brimmer Street Garage puts you out $500 a month. That’s more than the cost of monthly rental at the Common. And that’s forgetting for a minute that you paid $650K or $390K or some other outlandish amount to begin with.

You also don’t have 24/7 access to your car. Brimmer Street closes at midnight on weekdays, 1 a.m. on the weekends. So if you have the urge to hop in your car at 3 a.m. and cruise around, you’ll just have to grab a Zipcar. You can’t get to your own until 6:30 a.m. And forget about real spur of the moment. You need to give the garage 10-15 minutes notice so that the attendant can get the car for you. Of course, most civilians wouldn’t want to be messing with the sort of up and over parking apparatus that Brimmer provides.

Not to mention that, while in this glam shot Brimmer 2the Brimmer Street Garage looks rather staid and Beacon Hill appropriate, trust me when I say that it looks totally out of whack with everything that surround it. (Take it from someone who used to live in a carriage house kitty-corner to the Brimmer Street Garage.)

Anyway, whether the fellow gets $650K for this space, or a mere $390K, there’s something plenty daffy about paying that kind of money for a parking space. Makes spending large on a part of Yeezies seem sensible.

Me, even if I win the lottery and get meself another car, I can pretty much guarantee that it will be parked – not garaged – under the Boston Common.

General info source for this post: The Boston Globe


Thursday, November 05, 2015

Easement come, easement go

You can take the girl out of Main South, but you just can’t take the Main South out of the girl.

Thus, I am ever-enchanted by the fortunes and foibles of my “betters”, i.e., the starchy old Yankees who employed the likes of my great-grandmothers. Those antecedents were good, hard-working farm girls and, having bid the Old Sod a fond slán agat, they were fortunate to land on the shores of Amerikay in Boston. Where their “betters” were just de-lighted to scoop them up, call them Mary whatever their names were, and hire them to make their beds, light their lights, and peel their praties for them.

I actually think that only one of those great-grandmothers – County Mayo’s Margaret Joyce – worked as a servant girl. Still, I’ve always been interested in thems that hired the girls off the boat.

Many of those local grandees summered elsewhere. For Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University (yes, that Harvard), “scion of a wealthy Brahmin family with impeccable lineage dating to before the founding of the nation”, the place to summer was Mount Desert Island, up in Maine. While he was later joined by Rockefellers, Astors, and Morgans, Eliot more or less “discovered” Mount Desert and built a pile there called The Ancestral.

Fast forward a century, and the blood no longer runs quite so uniformly blue.

And, unlike those of us who managed to improve on the lot of our immigrant foremothers and forefathers, the Eliots have fallen a tad bit off.

Thus, somewhere back in time, Charles Eliot’s descendants sold The Ancestral to the Jay family, as in John Jay.
The Eliots managed to hang on to a nearby property, The Coffeepot (a house, by the way, not a diner: they haven’t fallen that far). And they managed to hang on to the rights – whether via deeded easement or custom, it’s not clear – to use the wharf and beach of The Ancestral, even though it was now someone else’s Ancestral.

In 2007, the property was sold to a Maryland parvenu, Mitchell Rales, for $5.5M. He tore The Ancestral down, and replaced it with a more modern, 34-room pile.

And after a while, he apparently got sick of the Eliots hanging out on his property.

Rales contends in a lawsuit that easements Eliot and his descendants created when they sold parcels of the original estate do not entitle Eliot’s surviving relatives or others to gain access to his beach for “sunbathing, gathering, picnicking, using the wharf, storing boats, and engaging in other inappropriate activity.”

Rales cites as particularly offending a Sunday, Aug. 16 barbecue on the beach this year. He alleges that the six defendants — including Eliot family members and other nearby property owners — were “wrongfully holding parties” on his property.

“These wrongful parties have included loud music, fireworks, crowds, nighttime activities, alcohol, and other offensive acts and disturbances,” according to the lawsuit, first reported by the Mount Desert Islander. (Source: The Boston Globe)

“Nighttime activities…alcohol…other offensive acts…disturbances…” Isn’t this the sort of behavior that the old-money set used to accuse the nouveau riche of?

The tsk, tsk tide has certainly turned. (And just what were those other offensive acts? Inquiring, low-class minds want to know.)

Quite naturally, folks on Mount Desert have taken sides. Some support Rales. After all, it’s his property, and if you want to hang on in perpetuity to something, you may want to actually hang on to it in perpetuity, and not sell it off and expect to keep the goodies that come with it. Others support the Eliot spawn, a tribe which includes:

Sara Pierce, a great-great-granddaughter of Charles W. Eliot, [who] said [in a statement], “Our family has enjoyed the beach and used the pier for fishing, swimming, boating, and quiet enjoyment for more than 100 years. We hope to continue to enjoy the waterfront for another 100 years.”

Well, I guess one family’s quiet enjoyment is another family’s offensive acts and disturbances.

It will be interesting to see what’s actually spelled out in the deed that Rales holds to the place. If there are no rights of passage easements for the latter-day Eliots, they may have to suffer a rite of passage and pursue their nighttime activities on the porch of The Coffeepot.

Poor babies…

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

While I wouldn’t pay $2K for a pair of Yeezies…

While hunting for blog ideas the other day, I dropped into Bloomberg with my pickax and sifting screen and, as I generally do there, hit pay dirt.

The article that caught my attention was about a young financial services guy – he’s the managing director of a fund management firm in Singapore – who’s got quite an interesting sideline. Cliff Hartono is a fossil collector and dealer who sells his wares via his gallery, Set In Stone.

Hartono has created a new niche market in fossils as art and chic home decor. His haul—including a fossilized marine reptile, a Jurassic-age ichthyosaur, that he sold for about S$200,000 ($140,000)—ranges in age from 20 million to 230 million years. (Source: Blooomberg)

Home décor is much on my mind these days, as I will soon be moving back into my reno’d digs. What’s going on the walls is what has always been on the walls, with a few newly framed editions and some items moving from Point A to Point B. I have some pretty interesting stuff, ranging from a late 1800’s circus-type poster, to works by my sister-in-law, to art created in the St. Francis House art room, to old mirrors, to a couple of watercolors a friend of my mother gave her as an engagement present, to things picked up on my travels, to a beautifully framed poster featuring the three-deckers of Worcester, to a crewel work piece of a vase filled with Japanese lanterns (done by my mother). I’m chuckling about this last piece, because my sister Trish came across an exact replica of it recently in the ladies room of a restaurant in Western Mass. (I trust that mine is still packed up and ready to be hung once everything is done chez moi.)

I also have a lot of decorative pieces: vases and bowls, vases and bowls, wooden frogs, vases and bowls, brick-a-brack picked up along the way, an empty gallon jug from Worcester’s long-defunct Parson’s Cider Mill…

What I don’t have is any fossil art, but, wow, is some of it gorgeous. As in this piece, a palm frond from back in the fossil 2day Wyoming (roughly 50 million years back in the day).

Really spectacular.

And, I suspect, spectacularly out of my price range. (You have to ask.)

While, as I wrote just yesterday, I don’t get why anyone would pay $2K for a pair of Kanye Yeezy sneakers, I do get why someone would pay plenty for something like this. After all, unlike sneakers – Yeezy or otherwise – they’re not making any more 50 million year old palm frond fossils. Sure, they may unearth more. But they sure aren’t making any.

Hartono isn’t the only one getting in on the act.

There’s a gallery in Hong Kong that’s got a triceratops skull on sale. Asking price, $1.8M.

Years ago, I had a stuffed triceratops that I used as an accent pillow. Other than that, and picking up the odd sand-dollar on the beach and keeping it around until it turns to dust, that’s about as close as I’ve gotten to fossil art.

But there is something so wonderful (as in makes you full of wonder) about the idea of possessing something this ancient – unless, I guess, you’re Ben Carson.

I know, I know. These fossils – like the most valuable man-made works of art - would be better off in museums where everyone could see them. Or in university labs where scientists could study  - and grad students could make a PhD thesis out of – them.

Hartono says commercial diggers can afford excavation projects that museums and universities can’t, spurring new discoveries. “Undiscovered fossils will just crumble to dust,” he says.

Kind of like my discovered fossil sand dollars.

Anyway, I have plenty enough junk sitting around in boxes, waiting to see the light of day once I unpack all those boxes.

Still, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know about fossil backsplashes and the like when I was picking out my tiles. Might have blown a major hole in my budget.

So I’ll end with my delight at the beauty of fossil art, and at the thought of a fund manager who went digging around for it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Add paying $2K for a pair of Kanye kicks to the list of things I just don’t get

Although I find something vaguely disreputable about scalping in practice – the calculating, shifty-eyed meanness of the scalpers I’ve encountered (and, on a couple of occasions, actually bought tickets from) – in theory, I’m okay with it. (As long as taxes get paid and no one gets knifed in a dark alley.)

So, it’s okay to scalp tickets at Fenway Park – and to me, it certainly is. Why I even get to laugh up my sleeve at scalpers (both the in person “Need Tickets/Got Tickets” guys, and the more “legit” online version at Ace, Higs and StubHub) when they get stuck with tickets that ain’t no one wants. As happens when the Red Sox turn in a cellar-dweller season. Preposterously, they still mostly fill the stands, but no one has to pay a premium to sit in a squinchy seat in America’s Most Beloved Ballpark. Risk-reward in action!

But I don’t like the fact that sports teams and concert promoters seem to collude with the scalping organization. In return for getting all their tickets off their hands, they cede any excess profits to the middle man. In the process, of course, they squeeze out the little man…

But I digress.

What we’re talking about here is not ticket scalping. It’s product scalping.

Nothing new, of course.

Even in the pre-Internet days, back in the early 1980’s, there were black markets for Cabbage Patch Kid dolls, and the prices spiked.

Finite supply, meet infinite demand.

I get it, I get it. After all, I didn’t spend nearly 40 years in the company of an economist without having some of it rub off on me.

What I don’t get – on the sports event, concert, or object of desire fronts – is when the prices for scarce things get so far out of whack with the face value on the ticket, or what’s printed on the price tag.

I get a bit over. You really want it, have at it. 

So if someone is willing to pay a high-school kid $240 for a pair of Air Jordans that retail for $160, that I kind of get.Maybe what you want isn’t available online, only in the store. (Or online in the secondary, scalper market.) Maybe you don’t have time to get downtown and stand in line. A 50% markup? Okay.

Still, I wouldn’t want to stake my college application on having been a sneaker scalper.

Maybe in the Age of Trump, this looks like brilliant entrepreneurship, but I can’t get past the sleaze factor.

I don’t think next Elon Musk. I think next King Rat (or some other POW-camp conniver, a staple of the war movies of my youth).

Maybe because scalping shows initiative, but not creativity. Minor risk taking, but little effort. How to make a lot for a little.

Guess I’m just too much of an old-school, sweat of the brow (or fever pitch of the imagination) type.

But there are, apparently, plenty of high school kids socking away big bucks by reselling popular sneakers. (Sneaker resale, by the way, is big business: over $1B annually.)

In a market that mystifies non-sneakerheads — how can Kayne West’s “Yeezy” sneakers routinely sell for more than $1,000 on the secondary market? — some youths are earning hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars reselling mainly unworn shoes to friends, friends of friends, and thanks to eBay and the rest of the Internet, strangers across town and across the world. …The young entrepreneurs follow sneaker blogs and Twitter feeds and Facebook pages and YouTube channels, absorbing information about release dates and potential resale value. They try to befriend sneaker-store employees hoping to have exclusive releases put aside for them. (Source: Boston Globe)

Shouldn’t these kids be reading Wuthering Heights? Memorizing the periodic table? Lifeguarding? Mowing lawns? (Why when I was a kid…)

Not when there’s big bucks to be made as a sneaker magnate.

It must be hard to resist the lure. One kid featured in the article bought a pair of Kanye West Yeezy 750 Boosts for $350, and unloaded them a week later on eBay for $2,200. This fellow estimates that he’s netted $25K over the past three years. That’s almost a semester at a private college! Hope he’s mentioning it on his financial aid forms. He does intend to make it the anchor piece of his college essay.

I suspect it will be better received at a business school than at a Great Books college. One school’s head for business is another school’s unsavory dorm hustler.

What’s actually most stunning, of course, is just how much people are willing to pay for kicks, some of which keep getting harder to find.
Take these Yeezys. Definitely looks like some kid – that’s a twin bed - is selling them out of his bedroom in Queens. (Which, quaintly, has a landline in it.) You can avail yourself a pair, of order up 10 pairs for $20K, and do a turnaround jumper and see if you can get more than $2K a pair for them.

What would possess someone to pay $2K for a pair of sneakers!

Guess it could be worse. Elsewhere
on eBay, someone’s willing to part with a pair of vintage – and used - Air Jordans for $26K.

Oh, what a world we live in.

As for all those scalping high school kids: Everyone can’t be an inventor, an innovator, a do-gooder, a creator. Someone’s got to be the salesperson of tomorrow…

Have I got a deal for you…

Monday, November 02, 2015


I was reading an article on good, old-fashioned clouds in Bloomberg the other day. Real clouds, of The Little White Cloud that Cried variety. You know. The kind of cloud that Johnny Mercer sang about. The sort of cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hill. The kind of cloud Wordsworth wandered lonely as, just before he saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils. The type of cloud that the Stones told us to get off of. (Hey, you.)

Not the new-fangled, ubiquitous cloud where all business and a good bit of pleasure is now conducted.

Nope. The article was about real clouds, specifically the cloud-seeding business. Cloud-seeding is used in agricultural areas, especially those plagued by lack of rain, to see if a bit of precipitation can’t be coaxed out.

Planes are armed with:

…cylinders resembling sticks of dynamite wired to racks on the plane’s wings, 12 on each. The flares are filled with combustible sodium chloride—pulverized table salt mixed with a flammable potassium powder. When the switch is flipped, the end of the flare shoots orange fire and trillions of superfine salt particles are released into the cloud. Water molecules are attracted to salt, so they bond to the particles and coalesce into raindrops. (Source: Bloomberg)

At least that’s the theory. In reality, it’s not a miracle and there are really no guarantees that it’s going to work.

For one thing, you need to have clouds. Firing sodium chloride into the clear blue sky wouldn’t be much help.

But it does work. Sort of:

“There’s little dispute that if you can actually get the seeding material inside the clouds, it will enhance precipitation,” says Dan Breed, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “The question is, by how much?” Just as it’s hard to predict the weather, it’s hard to really know if you’ve made it rain or not. Breed’s own research—a nine-year, $14 million government-funded study he completed last year in collaboration with WMI and the University of Wyoming—found that seeding increased snowfall 5 percent to 15 percent from clouds in two Wyoming mountain ranges.

Whatever the doubts, the industry is growing. And will, no doubt, continue to grow as weather becomes wilder and iffier.

Not all the cloud-seeding ventures are devoted to agriculture.

There’s one outfit, Oliver’s Travels, that specializes in luxury travel, including luxury destination weddings.

Since no one would want a nasty rain storm to mar their day of days, Oliver has come up with a solution:

…We can now offer our customers a ‘cloud-bursting’ service that can 100% guarantee fair weather and clear skies for your wedding day! Currently available to customers organising a destination wedding in France (though we’re looking to expand to the UK and Italy if it takes off), the service employs the talents of pilots and meteorologists and takes over three weeks to plan, and uses silver iodide to ‘seed’ the clouds – essentially giving the water vapour something to condense around to produce rain.

Oh, and the costs start at $150K – a steep price to pay on top of what’s a pretty costly affair to begin with. But some brides have become so obsessed with getting hitched on the most perfect of perfect-a-mundo days: perfect church, perfect dress, perfect flowers, perfect venue, perfect table settings, perfect food, perfect wine, perfect wedding dance, perfect band, perfect videographer, perfect cake. Am I forgetting something? Guess my head was in the clouds for a moment there. Make sure to find a groom – perfect or not.

Perfect weather: Oh, why not?

I’m guessing that guaranteeing a perfect day is easier in the south of France, and in Italy, than it will be in the UK. But in France, at least, Oliver’s guarantees its results:

Q: Can success be guaranteed?

A: Yes, success can be guaranteed, however if a natural disaster such as a hurricane were to occur this cannot be controlled.

Wonder if the catastrophic rains that the south of France has been experiencing this month would count as a “natural disaster.”

My guess is that the luxury wedding planners plan for where and when the weather, based on historic patterns, will be the nicest. (There’s a reason for June brides…) If someone – and I seriously doubt there have been any takers – wants to fork over $150K to guarantee good weather, then all Oliver’s out is the cost of their cloud-seeding flight if they have to make good on the guarantee. And if the weather turns out to be perfect, well, $150K minus the cost of the cloud seeding is probably a pretty darned nice profit.

Rain or shine, the bride can swan in to “I’m gonna love you, like nobody loves you, come rain or come shine.” Or maybe “Don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky, stormy weather.”