Thursday, December 24, 2015

Believe in Santa, or not. (Or, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.)

It's not everyone who has a picture of themselves taken a nano-second before they stopped believing in Santa. But here you have it:

That's me, the little blonde, looking at Santa, still a believer.

I'm wearing a very fetching red wool jumper, which actually might have been fetching if it wasn't a hand-me-down from my cousin Barbara (by way of my sistert Kath). Since Babs is nine years older than I am, I'm pretty much fashion-backward in this ensemble. I have attempted to make it more fashion-forward by augmenting my outfit with a pop-bead necklace, which I made myself.

Pop beads were the Legos of the child jewelry world. You could pop them together and pull them apart, creating all sorts of pieces. These beads are reddish, white, and aqua, and I'm quite certain I have on a bracelet to match the necklace. Bring on the bling!

My stick-straight, baby-fine hair has been styled with Spoolies, a rubber curler you wound your hair around in order to - hoping against hope - produce Shirley Temple-like curls. Clearly a fail! Kath, standing behind me, has apparently had better Spoolie luck than I had. But she is, of course, two years older and much more adept at hair care than I. Or perhaps her poodle-poof hairdo is the result of a permanent, administered by my mother in the kitchen. Tonette, probably. Possibly a Lilt.

If she had a permanent, I had one, too. No way I let her get the spa treatment while I missed out. My permanent must have proved non-permanent. My hair too straight, too fine. Or perhaps I couldn't take the brain-stabbing tight plastic curlers used to give a permanent, or the smell of the chemicals, for long enough to get a good "set." Come spring, in any case, when the Rogers kids had professional portraits snapped, I had a poodle poof do every poodle-poofy as Kath's.

Kath, at nine, is not, you will note, looking at "Santa."

She is looking at the camera, her hands protectively on Tom's shoulders. At four-and-a-half, he is agog at the idea of Santa. Kath is holding him down, so he won't float off in a swoon of ecstasy.

The kid peeking out in the background is my wise-guy cousin Rob. At twelve, he's long past Santa. He is, I'm quite certain, laughing up his sleeve at his babyish, naive younger cousins. Believing in Santa. And that Santa, to boot. So clearly an imposter.

The man looking fondly, yet clearly with amusement, at his children is my father. It is characteristic of my father that, in almost every picture we have of him, he is looking not at the camera, but, rather, at the people he's with. Gotta love a guy like that. (We sure did.)

It's Christmas Eve, our first Christmas in our new house.

Until the summer before, we lived in my grandmother's decker, but have now moved to a modest standalone home on the next block, on top of a hill my father called "Old Smokey." That green living room wallpaper held up for another seven years. The weekend after JFK was assassinated, my parents repapered the living room and hall with a stylin' white with a gold design in it. We watched Lee Harvey Oswald kill Kennedy while, around us, my parents papered. But that's all in the future. This is the now. And it's Christmas.

I'm seven, and have been for a few weeks.

At seven, I'm still a believer.

Santa reaches into his bag and hands me a doll. The doll is called Vickie, and she's a toddler, but is wearing a royal blue and white outfit, with hat, that can only be described as adult.

There's also something for Kath, for Tom, and for my brother Rick. At one, he's off camera somewhere. I think Santa gave Rick a stuffed Mickey Mouse doll. Rick carried that stuffed Mickey around by holding the nose in his mouth. That pretty much took are of the black paint on Mickey's nose, which became a somewhat obscene fleshy pink. (While Rick was sucking the paint off Mickey's nose, I was chewing on the ends of the pop beads, destroying their stick-together-capability.)

At this time, we did not have a camera that took colored pictures. All we had was a b&w Brownie. (Our happenin' b&w Polaroid was a couple of years out.) My mother had borrowed a colored camera from our friends the McGinns.

As Santa was about to leave, my mother asked him whether he was heading to the McGinns.

Santa said 'yes,' so my mother asked him to return the camera to then.


I was already suspicious.

That outfit wasn't quite right. Santa was too tall. He was too thin. And why would he be bee-lining directly to the McGinns when there were plenty of houses with kids in them between us and them. Plus that Santa sounded exactly like.....MR. MC GINN!


'That's not the real Santa Claus," I cried, "That's Mr. McGinn!" J'accuse!

And, having drawn that conclusion, I realized then and there that there was no such thing as a "real" Santa Claus, and that the entire Santa thing was a fake and a fraud.

As Mr. McGinn headed out the door, my Uncle Ralph grabbed the leg of the Vickie doll, saying, "If that's not the real Santa, then you have to give the doll back."

I hesitated. No way I wanted to surrender that doll, hideous though she may have been. "Okay," I conceded. "That's the real Santa."

But that was the last of Santa for me. And I never did like that Vickie doll.

Anyway, that's my Christmas story.

Meanwhile, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

In keeping with Pink Slip practice, I'll be taking the week off from posting, and will return the first Monday in January.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Takin' care of business, Tom Brady edition

He's rich. He's handsome. He's talented. He's got a wife who, by all accounts, is even richer, more handsome, and more talented than he is. (Plus a lot brainier.) He's a tremendous athlete. He's a winner. He's a leader. He seems to be a doting father and loving son. He's involved in the community. As a quarterback, he may well be the GOAT. (That's Greatest Of All Time to you non-sports fans.)

Forget the Deflategate kertuffle that cast aspersions on our Tom's character. In  these parts, Tom Brady can do no wrong. In fact, we even light a candle to this guy. (St. Thomas of Brady, play for us AND pray for us.)

So it was tough to pick up a copy (virtually pick it up, that is) of Sunday's Boston Globe to find an article on Tom, his somewhat sketchy business partner, and their cosy relationship with the Patriots.

Tom's partner has, in the past:
...faced federal sanctions after falsely presenting himself as a medical doctor and deceptively promoting nutritional supplements. 
One notable product that Brady’s partner, Alejandro “Alex” Guerrero, promoted — and the quarterback enthusiastically endorsed — was marketed as helping to prevent and heal concussions, a grave health issue for NFL players and a challenge to the sport’s image. The Federal Trade Commission effectively shut down sales of Guerrero’s “neuroprotective’’ drink, Neurosafe, in 2014, repudiating his “extraordinary claims.’’ (Source: Boston Globe)
Earlier, Guerrero "who doubles as a fitness specialist", had been santctioned by the FTC for claiming that his beverage "could help prevent or cure cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes." Some of his earlier partners have accused him of fraud. Guerrero's also on record as having lied abou conducting a clinical trial that showed that almost all the terminally ill patients who followed his advice lived beyond five years, as well as aggrandized himself by claiming that Richard Branson bought out one of his companies for $500M. (When you lie, go big or go home, I guess.)

I'm a big believer in redemption, that people can turn their lives around, that someone can mess up big time and put it behind them. (Some Catholicsm really did manage to rub off.)

Yet it does seem peculiar that someone as image-conscious as Brady would throw in with someone with such a shady past, and that the Patriots (an organization that's supremely image-conscious) would also be in cahoots with the guy.

The company that Brady owns in partnership with Guerrero, TG12 Sports Therapy Center, is located in the shopping/entertainment complex next to Gillette Stadium, where the Pats play. The Pats hire the center to treat and advise (on nutrition) a number of the Pats players.

I'm sure the team figures why not. If it works to keep Brady in such superb condition - he's 38, an age at which few football players are still on the field, let alone on top of their game, as Brady is - why not share the treatment and advice with everyone else? 

And yet...
Some of Guerrero’s former associates also wondered why Brady and the Patriots would want to forge financial relationships with an entrepreneur whose history of legal trouble includes business partners accusing him of fraud.
And the Pats go above and beyond - probably because Tom Brady is so valuable to the franchise - giving Guerrero sideline access and travel privileges on the team's charter flights. Guerrero also got one of this year's Super Bowl rings. 

For Brady's part, Guerrero turned him from a junk-food junkie to the picture of nutritional health, and also got TB12 on a training regimen that maximizes Brady's "endurance and flexilibty rather than brute strength."

All for the good.

The guy (TB12) really is an amazing specimen.

But there's taking someone's advice, and there's going into business with him. 

And Brady's all in. 

When he does end up hanging up his spikes, Brady is thinking of going into the health business. Which is a disappointment to those who hoped he would run for public office in Massachusetts. (And a relief to those of us who feared that he would.)

It may turn out that Brady should have contented himself by working with the "good" Alex Guerrero - the body coach - and avoided doing business with "bad" Alex Guerrero - the false-claiming, supplement-shilling charlatan. (Brady, in the past, endorsed Neurosafe, the drink that supposedly guards against brain damage. The FTC went after Guerrero on Neurosafe, and the product was withdrawn from the market.)

Maybe Guerrero has turned the corner on his false-claiming ways, and his business is now on the up and up. 

Certainly, that's what Tom Brady believes.

But for all his football brilliance - and I do believe that Brady is magnificent in this respect - Brady may not be all that good a judge of character, or have particularly sharp business instincts.

Remember, this is a guy who kinda-sorta-maybe endorsed Donald Trump because he's a good guy who Brady had golfed with.

Meanwhile, the relationship with Guerrero certainly puts Tom Brady at risk of being tainted if Guerrero turns out to be a recividist who reverts to his huckster ways. If not, I guess we can look forward to TB12's post-Pats career as a health guru. 

Personally, I'd rather see him pushing supplements and balanced nutrition than running for political office. (Any friend of Donald Trump's...) But going into business with someone with Guerrero's past history doesn't seem like a particularly Hall of Fame, GOAT play...

We'll see whether Brady gets sacked on this one or finds a receiver for a TD.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

It couldn't happen to a nicer pharma exec

Given his back story, he's really someone you should want to root for, if not like:

The madein-America son of immigrant working stiffs (an Albanian and a Croatian who were janitors); a graduate of one of the City University of New York schools (Baruch); born on April Fools Day (no kidding); and with name that, if he were the kinder, gentler type, might have ended him up with a loveable little nickname (Shrek).

And yet, instead of rooting for him, most of us are booing at him. Or, if you look at the most recent bit of negativity he's gotten himself involved in, actively rooting against him.

Martin Shkreli got on the collective radar screen a few months back.

He became famous within a certain world [an internhsip with Wall Street loudmouth Jim Cramer, and early success running a hedge fund] but entered public consciousness after he raised the price more than 55-fold for Daraprim in September from $13.50 per pill to $750. It is the preferred treatment for a parasitic condition known as toxoplasmosis, which can be deadly for unborn babies and patients with compromised immune systems including those with HIV or cancer. His company, Turing Pharmaceuticals AG, bought the drug, moved it to a closed distribution system and instantly drove the price into the stratosphere. (Source: Bloomberg)
Raising the cost of this drug so quickly and steeply? We're talking kicking the dog and knocking the walker out from under an old geezer territory here. 

Shkreli's decision did manage to unite pols across the spectrum. Both The Donald and Hillary went after him, and Bernie refused his campaign donation. Shkreli's response: he tweeted out an LOL directed at Hillary, and said that, if he had to do it all over again, he would have lifted the price even higher. After all, as he said, "My investors expect me to maximize profits."

Or at least produce some return on investment. And Shkreli's secret sauce was, apparently, the same one that Bernie Madoff used.

As we learned just last week, when he was arrested, accused of running a Ponzi scheme, "repeatedly losing money for investors and lying to them about it, illegally taking assets from one of his companies to pay off debtors in another." He was pinched by the FBI, and had to o a perp walk at FBI headquarters. 

Shkreli has, apparently, been Ponzi-scheming for quite a while:

...authorities say Shkreli began losing money and lying to investors from the time he began managing money. In his mid-20s, he got nine investors to place $3 million with him and at one point he had only $331.
That's some fancy-pants investing, I'd say. No wonder he felt the need to raise that pill price form $13.50 to $750

Moving from bad to ridiculous, the Shkreli story gets even more cra.

The rap group Wu-Tang Clan decided they were going to release only one copy of their new album, selling it to the highest bidder. That bidder couldn't sell it on the secondary market, but could give it away for free or sit at home and listen to it all by his lonesome. It almost, but not quite, goes without saying that, for $2M that may or may not have been his, Shkreli bought the album

Anyway, it may not be a pretty story, and it may not be the ones we love to tear-up over, but Martin Shkreli's story is sure All-American. Who gets to play him in the movie? And will the soundtrack by from Wu-Tang Clan? All America wants to know

Monday, December 21, 2015

Not too late to shop the NM Christmas Book

How fancy is this year's Neiman Marcus Christmas Book?

Well, it doesn't even say 2015 on the cover. It writes it out for us: TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN.

So if you haven't finished your Christma shopping for 2015 Two Thousand Fifteen, you might want to start turning those nearly 200 two hundred pdf pages fast. After all, you have the list, but they have the magic.

And when we're talking magic, we're not talking the pedestrian, hey-I-can-afford-that items like the $80 Stella McCarthy iPhone case shaped like a shark. Or the $58 Christian LaCroix advent calendar. (Actually, you're a bit late in the game for that one. Maybe it's on sale. Buy one cheap and save it for next Xmas.)

They also have hoverboards, only they call them Personal Transporters, which, come to think about it, is what I call my feet. Only they don't have the cheapskate(board) ones that turn into personal powering infernos. Theirs cost $1,800.

But I know you. You want to buzz right down to page 37, for this year's Fantasy Gifts. My fantasy gift would run more along the lines of a two-hour walk in Central Park with Pierce Brosnan, but I'm sure there are plenty of folks who'd like to be heading down the highway, looking for adventure with a couple of studly young men. Those two studly young men are Keanu Reeves and his pal Gard Hollinger, and you and your pal would be riding an Arch Motorcyle side by side with them, up and down the California coast for two days. $150K.

If you don't have quite that much to spend, fantasy-wise, you can sign up for a couple of cases of each of eight "orphan bourbons", "long forgotten" rare whiskeys, including Lost Prophet, Rhetoric, and Old Blowhard. $125K. Go for it.

It would be worth $90K to me (more, really) to get my husband back so I could send him on a trip 20 miles into nearly outer space in a high altitude balloon. Not exactly the space shot he'd always wanted to go on, but pretty darned close.

Limited edition Mustang ($95K). Artisanal tour of Venice and Florence with Ippolita and Artemest craftsmen ($150K). Lots of good fantasy stuff, on down to the low-low price of $10K for a couture diary in which an artist will paint 20 of your favorite outfits, which are then notated with the scoop on the designer, the occasion, etc. (Green jumper and white blouse. Eisenberg and O'Hara. Worn for four years of high school, day in day out.)

The ultimate trip to India - pack your dancing shoes for a lesson on a Bollywood set - goes for $400k, but that's for two folks.

If you want to treat the kiddies, how about $5K for a costume trunk, replete with costumes: super heroes (boys), prinessses (girls). How deliciously retro...And speaking of retro, there are some non-fantasy tunics in there that wouldn't have looked out of place on a college girl in 1970. Only we wouldn't have paid $300 for one.

Again on the non-fantasy end, if you're going to have to give a toast, and you don't know what to say and you don't know how to google the word "toast", there's a $95 book, Rising to the Occasion, that will help you out. And if you're looking for a gift to accompany that toast, and you don't want to buy off the registry, there's a peacock figurine covered in Swarovski crystals for $28K.

I was intrigued by the 25 different colored thongs (served up in a cookie jar) that are one size fits all, size 0 to 10. I know there's not much to a thong, but I really don't see how something that fits a size 0 is going to be an equally good fit for someone who's a 10. But what do I know about thongs?  And that cookie jar's acryclic. Who wants that?

I can't say I was disappointed to get to the end of the TWO THOUSDAND FIFTEEN NM Christmas Book. Lots of stuff I don't want. Lots of stuff I don't need. Lots of stuff I don't like. Lots of stuff I can't afford. The one item I coveted at all was the cashmere robe. Having thrown out my old Polarfleece one with the bleach stain, I am the in market for one. But I just can't justify $500 for a bathrobe. Even if it is monogrammed.

But that's just me.

If you want to do some last minute glam shoping, here's your link to fantasyland.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Hoverboard inferno

I'll look beyond the misnomer that is the "hoverboard." I.e., they don't actually hover. But whatever they should be called - and I vote for orthogonal motorized skateboard - there are going to be a lot of disappointed teenagers this Christmas. Or a lot of homes burning down when those battery bombs start bursting in air.

Is the hoverboard a nasty product or what?

Banned in the UK. Banned in New York City. Banned by Amazon. Banned by Walmart. (Imagine that.) Banned from flying - carry-on or checked baggage - on most US carriers. Banned by the US Postal Service. (Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can tay these couriers fro the swift completion of their appointed rounds, but don't ask them to reach into their bag for an exploding hoverboard. And I sure don't want one left on the mail table in our building's vestibule. I'm not worried about the 98 year old guy downstairs, or the 8 year old upstairs, but there are three twenty-something guys sharing digs on the 3rd floor. I know from the mail that I do see coming to them that they all seem to be applying to top tier business schools, but you never know.) And in January, the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas isn't going to let its gadget-geek attendees buzz around the show floor on them.

Forget about unsafe at any speed. These puppies are unsafe at total cessation of all forward movement.

Some folks are arguing that hoverboards should be banned or regulated because kids are falling off of them and breaking their wrists. And some unfortunate kid in London lost his life when he ran into a bus while hoverboarding.

But in this respect, how's a hoverboard that different than a skateboard or bike. Sure, it's not self-propelled or pedal-powered, but tell me there's anyone on the face of the earth (who's not a male between the ages of 12 and 19) who doesn't look at a hoverboard and make an immediate association with the word "risk."

This is, after all, something that you could fall off of. And when you're on something that you could fall off of (whether it's on wheels or standing stock still), there's a danger that you could, indeed, fall off of it.

Toys will be toys and accidents will happen.

Caveat hoverboarder.

So, no, I'm not with those who think that hoverboards should be banned because they're accidents waiting to happen.

I'm one of those in favor of banning the cheapo-deepo ones that were quicky-made in China with zip attention paid to safety. The batteries and cords are faulty, and if you've seen any pictures of a melted down hoverboard on the news, you don't want to be any where near one when it breathes its last. It may be safer than napalm or an IED, but just barely.

The high-end ones are, apparently, safe (i.e., won't burn your house down, not 'safe' as in you won't fall off and end up with a concussion), but some retailers and consumers aren't taking any chances. And some consumers, of course, can't afford the good ones, and are, thus, tempted to buy the junk.

Here's where I have to come down on the side of regulation.

If someone's flooding the market with something that presents a clear and present danger from their very existence - not from the way in which you use them - then they ought to be banned.

In truth, part of me just doesn't want to be bothered by a-holes cruising around the sidewalks of Boston on them. A few years back, we the people managed to get Segways thrown into the streets rather than have conga lines of Segway tourists racing around ogling tourists sites while trying desperately to maintain their balance and/or their dignity. And I wouldn't mind if the sity set a speed limit for motorized scooter users. Some of those folks drive too damned fast, and, in my experience at least, a lot of those too-fasters and obese. If one of them runs into you while they're humming along, they could do some real damage.

But mostly I don't want to see kids and their homes burnt to a crisp because some shoddy manufactured goods made their way to our virtual shelves.

Wait until next year. The prices on the good stuff will come down, and the safety features on the bad stuff will come up.

Meanwhile, don't b tempted by what's on offer on eBay.

Better your kid bursts into tears than bursts into flamesw.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Party on, Yahoo! Party on...

Later today, I'm going to a low-key holiday gathering with the marketing group of one of my clients. I've worked with these folks for years, and really enjoy them. Last year's party was at a bowling alley; this year, it's at a venue where we all get to spend an hour or two painting. Piss-poor artist that I am, I'm not especially looking forward to the painting part, just as last year - piss-poor bowler that I am - I didn't exactly look forward to the bowling. Thankfully, I wasn't the worst bowler out there, so I didn't completely disgrace myself. And thankfully I didn't get invited to the overall company holiday bash of the dress-up and spouse sort.

Truly, one of the best things about being out of the corporate whirl is not having to put in an appearance at the holiday extravaganza. I've always liked the small group gatherings - lunch, Yankee Swap or whatever - and despised the dress up, slap on a smile, drag your spouse and make sure that the boss-men and boss-women see you there. (And do grab a bacon-wrapped scallop on the way out the door.) I've generally maintained that, given the choice of a couple hours off (or a $50 gift certificate) OR the company party, most would opt for the gift of time or money.

Although most of the corporate holiday parties I went to weren't all that blow-out, a number of them did cost quite a bit to put on.

But nothing that could apparently compare with the Yahoo! par-tay for 2015.

According to one irate hedge fund manager, who wants CEO Marissa Mayer gone-baby-gone, the company went out and spent $7M on a Roaring Twenties-themed employee party. (The $7M figure is, not surprisingly, disputed. One person claiming to be in the inside know claims that the cost was less than one-third this. Whether $7M or $2.3M, that's a lot of bathtub gin and flapper-ing. Assuming half of Yahoo's 12,500 employees are in the Bay Area, the upper figure would be over $1K per employee. Even the lower figure would be nearly $400 a pop. Then you have to figure that employees out in the hustings expected some serious partying for all their efforts during the year. It all adds up.)

I know that Silicon tech companies are known for their major (and, to me, majorly awful) bashes. And, admittedly, I'd rather sit around in a pile of ashes wearing a hairshirt, or hang with the poor little match girl freezing to death, than attend a Roaring Twenties themed corporate party with thousands of my colleagues. Still, this one sounds pretty awful and over-the-top.

Among the lavishments were the obligatory Rolls Royce; a gambling parlor where employees could play with fake money, with real winnings going to charity (okay, a decent touch); and aerialists pouring bubbly from champagne towers. (Who dreams this stuff up?)

In the articles I saw, these aerialists were described as wearing flapper garb. This looks more like Gay Nineties attire to me, not the sort of thing one would do the Charleston while wearing. Then again, I'm the sackcloth and ashes type myself.

There may well be a parallel universe out there where employees actually enjoy events like this. I've never worked in one, but I do acknowledge the possibility that they exist.

To me, one of the worst aspects of this party would have been the picture "opportunity" with Marissa Mayer. This sure has joy fest - and making a real connection with your employees - written all over it, doesn't it?

But you learn something new every day. I was not aware that pinto fur was associated with the Roaring Twenties. But I suppose when you're slugging down enough champagne poured by aerialists, you don't bother to criticize the details.

Anyway, with all the flak that Mayer's has taken lately about mismanagement and poor decisions, you'd think she'd have gotten the word out to her event planning staff that they might want to do something a bit more dignified this year. But maybe this is what her employees clamor for. Who knows?

And I guess the wretched excess of the Roaring Twenties is a more fun party concept than, say, a Depression-themed event, with all attendees issued shoes with holes in their soles, and fascistic strong men exhorting employees to make Yahoo great again.

In any case, I'm happy I wasn't expect to be there.

But I may have gotten some inspiration for this afternoon's art project...


Sources: Business Insider, Daily Mail, and my always-the-eye-out sister Trish.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Weather or not you like it, Christmas is coming. (Mele Kalikimaka)

Nothing says Christmas in New England like weather in the 50's and 60's. Forget all that wishful dreaming about White Chrismas. There are buds on the forsythias in the Boston Public Garden, and my sister Kath saw cherry blossoms the other day. And here's a look at my front "yard".

Hard to see, but I've got planters full of still-blooming begonias out there. (Yes, I know, it needs to get raked. It was last week. This is the remainder of the leaves on the tree next door.)

Hope this is just a weather fluke - El Nino meets the Polar Vortex - and not the Ghost of Christmas Future.

There are some good things about having unseasonable weather greetings, mostly having to do with walking around with your coat open and not having the heat kick on.

But I prefer to decorate my tree singing "See amid the winter snow," and "The weather outside is frightful." (Well, it is frightful in its own special way. But there's no snow to see anything amid. I guess after last year's wretched excess, I should be merry that there's no snow on the ground. Still.)

This year, it's strictly Mele Kalikimaka, I guess.

Meanwhile, here's this year's edition of O, Tannenbaum.

Not the most magnificent tree ever, but, as I realized last year, my max height for soloing a tree into the stand in upright fashion is 5 1/2 - 6 feet. But it looks fine, (That said, I can hear my mother pointing out the bare spots. Hard to concentrate on making the tree look perfect when the only relevant song on the hit parade is about Hawaii's way of saying Merry Christmas.)

The tree smells nice and balsamy, as a Christmas tree should.

But, apparently, if your tree is not real enough to smell nice and balsamy, you can buy a can of stuff that will "make trees smell like CHRISTMAS."

Our magnificent economy at work again, meeting yet another unmet need.

Although I'm not wild about artificial Christmas trees, I have considered breaking down and getting one. The reason is that I am actually allergic to the pollen in trees.

This wasn't always the case, but this annual tree challenge has come on in the past decade or so.

From the minute the tree goes up to when it comes down, I'm perpetually stuffed up, with watery eyes, soar throats and headaches on a come-and-go basis.

Then I googled the problem and, sure enough, there's a solution: hose down your tree.

So, this Sunday, I dumped the tree in our miniscule front yard and hosed it down before bringing it into the condo.

Sure enough, no more stuffy nose, no more watery, itchy eyes.

I have to say that standing there with a hose in hand, watering down my Christmas tree, was a lot more pleasant in 60 degree weather than it would have been if it had been 40 out.

Maybe those Mele Kalikimaka folks are onto something...

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

There's always somthing. (The incredible shrinking font...)

I use an old (excellent) blog writing app, Windows Live Writer, where I write my posts and then upload them to Google Blogger (my blogging platform). Microsoft stopped updating Live Writer years ago, and last year there was some hoo-hah when Google did something to thwart Live Writer users. After much hue and outcry, this problem was resolved.


Open Source folks has now taken over Live Writer.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it won’t work with Blogger for a while.

Which means I’ll have to work directly in Blogger.

Which would be fine, other than that working directly in Blogger apparently means that the posts will be published in mini-font in any browser other than Google Chrome.

I don’t have time to figure this out quite yet, so we may remain font-challenged for a bit.

With luck, the Open Sourcers will get crackin’ on when they’ll get Live Writer to work with Blogger.

The joys of technology!

Storage extraordinaire

I still have two – count ‘em two – boxes to unpack, but they’re book boxes. And since I haven’t painted the two bookcases they’re going in yet, it will be a while before I get to them. I did go through them to make sure that neither one held the missing Euro sham for my new bedding. Alas, neither did. Fortunately, Pottery Barn hadn’t discontinued the pattern I ordered last summer, when the reno project was slowly inching forward.

When I say it will take a while to get through those boxes, I do mean a while, now that I realize that, before I can put books in those bookcases, I need to let them “cure.” Who knew? When I painted that little childhood bookcase years ago, I didn’t know cure from schmure. It looked fine, but, when I went to clean it off just now, I did see all kinds of yuck patches that lead me to believe that the paint hadn’t cured by the time my husband started stuffing his books in it. So this time, I’ll go for the cure.

Speaking of Jim’s books, when I was unloading a box with a few books in it just now, I realized that I hadn’t tossed out quite as many of his books as I’d thought. In the end, I did keep a dozen or so of his favorite titles or favorite economists (and, natch, an unbound copy of his dissertation), but I chucked another dozen or so. (They went into recycle. Trust me when I say that no one would want Jim’s books, given that they’re both well out of date AND solidly marked up with red Bic pen.)

So, a ka-zillion boxes down, two to go. (Then I’ll have to tackle the Fibber McGee closets and junk drawers, but that’ll be a good post-Christmas project.)

Anyway, I’m pretty much moved back in – just in time to lug out all the boxes full of Christmas ornaments, d├ęcor, wrapping paper, cards. (Oh Christmas card, oh Christmas card: will I get my act together in time to get them out this year?)

I have noticed that, having so assiduously tossed out SO MUCH DAMNED STUFF before the reno, there is more room for storage. I’m especially looking forward to rationalizing my one quasi-large closet. Just need to find a home for all those moribund, outmoded laptops occupying some of the lovely space in there.

Although I’m feeling pretty good now, storage-wise, I can’t help but have a bit of storage envy. My sister Trish just moved into a new place. She lost an attic, but picked up some excellent “real” storage space, including a linen closet. My sister Kath, well, it’s almost as if her closets have closets. And don’t get me going on my cousin Ellen. Her storage space is probably the size of my condo.

But there is an upside to having minimal storage, and that’s not accumulating as much excess baggage as I might be tempted to do otherwise.

No, my choice is pretty much getting rid of something old to make room for something new or renting storage space. which I’m loath to do. If I don’t use half the stuff I have near at hand, am I ever going to use stuff that’s in a storage facility miles away?

Still, although I never stored anything off-site, I couldn’t help but feel a bit nostalgic when I read that Metropolitan Storage, plunked in the middle of the MIT campus in Central Square Cambridge, is closing and will be converted into MIT housing

The closing of Metropolitan Storage is a sign of the times in booming Cambridge, where housing is in short supply and MIT is under pressure to add more for students. It’s also the end of an era; the place opened in 1894, was fully built out by 1912, and its nearly 1,500 units — dark cells with steel doors that bring to mind an old prison — have been in use ever since. (Source: Boston Globe)
For some folks, Metropolitan was more than just any old storage facility. One couple was renting four units. One they turned into mega walk-in closet with fancy track lighting and Elfa shelving. They used another as a photo studio. Not to be undone:
Behind a big sliding door on the first floor there’s something you don’t often see in a storage unit: an office, fully built out with a couch, electricity and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. It belongs to Steve Columbia, a consultant who lives in Charlestown and “found it very distracting to work at home.”…
Columbia even has clients in:
“People look at me as if I’m insane. Then when you slide that door open there’s an impact,” he said. “There is a certain ‘wow’ factor.”
I get the “’wow’ factor.” And I get having an office in a warehouse.  What I don’t get so much is the giant walk-in closet. I know that you swap out season-to-season, but track lighting an Elfa shelves sounds like a closet that gets used. Does the owner pop on over in her bathrobe when she’s getting ready to go out?

Anyway, I do hope that MIT really does convert this to dorms, rather than do a complete do-over.

Seriously, if you were going to have off-site storage, or on-campus housing, wouldn’t you want it to be in a place that looks like this?

As with a lot of things in this life, they don’t make storage facilities the same way they used to.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Retire that obnoxious whatever-it-is routine, Camille

No, she didn’t out and out call Taylor Swift a Nazi.

But in her critique of girl squads in general, and Swift and her girl squads in particular, Paglia did write (italics are mine):

"Swift herself should retire that obnoxious Nazi Barbie routine of wheeling out friends and celebrities as performance props." (Source: Paglia’s essay in The Hollywood Reporter)
“Obnoxious Nazi Barbie routine,” huh?

Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and I’m entirely sure that there are plenty of folks who find Swift obnoxious.

I’m not one of them.

I’m not a capital-f fan, but I have a few of her CD’s. I enjoy her music, and admire her business and fashion acumen. I find her smart, talented, and pretty darned adorable – in a sort of hard-headed business success kind of way.

Somewhat nasty to call her a Barbie, but I get it.

Just like Barbie, Swift is tall, blonde and leggy. And some may well find her plastic. Just like Barbie.

But what, pray tell, makes Swift’s routine “Nazi”?

Why choose that particular word?

Why not cute-sie, vapid, fake? Or steely, ice cold? There are plenty of other words that someone who doesn’t buy Swift’s act could have chosen.

I’m not following Swift’s career all that closely. Has she been wearing black leather with a red and white armband during her “routine”? Grown a brush mustache? Has she been singing about her admiration for Der Fuehrer? Thinking out loud how much fun it would have been to have Eva Braun as part of her girl squad? Tweeting anti-Semitic memes? Goosestepping off and on stage? Are her fans chanting Sieg Taylor?

I’m the old fashioned type and I think that the word Nazi should actually be reserved for those – or the obnoxious Barbie routines of those -  who, ah, are actually Nazi-like.

But Swift apparently gives Paglia flashbacks to a youth populated by fascist blondes. As in:

"Writing about Taylor Swift is a horrific ordeal for me because her twinkly persona is such a scary flashback to the fascist blondes who ruled the social scene during my youth,” she says of analyzing the pop star and her entourage.
I can buy that those blondes were bullying, snotty, mean, tribal, cutting, nasty. But Paglia is roughly my age – she’s a couple of years older – so I know what high school girls of her era looked and acted like. Hard to imagine fascists wearing Villager sweaters and skirts and penny loafers, and carrying Bermuda bags that matched their sweaters. Or debating whether the Beatles were greater than the Stones. Were all those well-to-do girls in my high school – or at least the blonde ones – some sort of secret fascists?

I guess that back then I was just too simple-minded to be able to form any type of brilliant cultural critique. The best I could come up with was that the rich girls weren’t as smart as the kids who couldn’t afford Papagallo flats and didn’t have Mustangs.

And my shallow approach to things cultural hasn’t gotten any deeper with age.

So it’s well beyond my ken when it comes to whether or not Taylor Swift has an obnoxious Nazi Barbie routine. Or whether she is, indeed, like those nasty girls of Paglia’s youth, just another fascist blonde.

The best I can come up with is to quote Taylor Swift herself:

The haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.\
 And I bet I know what Swift is gonna do. She’s gonna shake it off, shake it off.

Or maybe Swift will get in the shower and belt out a chorus or two of mean:
You, with your words like knives
And swords and weapons that you use against me
…Someday I'll be living in a big ole city
And all you're ever gonna be is mean
…Why you gotta be so mean?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dolph Schayes, Mensch

The sport I love best is baseball, but my husband was a basketball fan.

Jim played basketball as a kid for some sort of Knights of Columbus team, but mostly he was a fan. An NBA fan, a Celtics fan, a Bill Russell fan.

He’d talk about coming down on the bus from Bellows Falls when he was in high school to watch the greats – Cousy, Sharman, and, of course, Bill Russell – play. While he was never a can’t-miss-a-game, I-bleed-green kind of guy – he rarely went to games in person as an adult -  he kept a regular eye on the Celtics over the years, and saw it through its many different eras. But he really loved the old guard teams, and knew quite a bit of the lore and the history of the early NBA.

Sometimes, I would hear a basketball game on, and when I’d come into the room, find Jim avidly watching an old film of a game from the era of those who-wears-short-shorts uniforms. Sometimes the games were in black and white.

Jim spent most of the last week of his life in the hospital.

A couple of days before he died, I was taking a break from MGH. I came home for an hour or so, and after I walked in the door, I just collapsed on the couch to look through the mail.

There was a letter addressed to Jim from Syracuse, NY. From Dolph Schayes, a Hall of Famer, early NBA star who’d played for the Syracuse Nationals. (Those were the days when an NBA star could have gone to NYU, and a town like Syracuse – or Fort Wayne – could have an NBA team.)

My friend Sean lives in Syracuse, and he knew that Jim was a major fan of the old-time NBA, so I figured he’d gotten an autograph from Dolph Schayes through someone he knew who knew someone who knew who knew someone who knew….

But when I opened the envelope, I found a long and detailed letter to Jim from Dolph Schayes.

I know the letter’s around here somewhere – I came across it when I was putting some stuff away a week or so ago – but I can’t put my hands on it at the moment.

The letter was full of wonderful reminiscences about Dolph’s playing days – late 1940’s up until the mid 1960’s – with special bits about playing against the Celtics. He shared his observations about the greatest players ever – was Oscar Robertson his main man? I can’t remember – and also shared his observations on the current state of basketball.

When I got back to the hospital that evening, I started to read the letter to Jim.

About half way through, he fell asleep.

When he woke up, he asked me to read him the rest. When I finished, Jim smiled, closed his eyes, and said “Perfect.”

And it was perfect.

How kind and generous of Dolph Schayes to take the time to write such an interesting, personal and thoughtful letter to someone he didn’t know. Oh, I’m sure Dolph as happy to have an audience who could appreciate what he had to say, but it was just a supremely nice thing to do. He could have just dashed off a “best-wishes-Dolph-Schayes” little note, but he took the time to put something quite wonderful together.

A few days later, after Jim had died, I wrote Dolph Schayes a letter to thank him for his note to Jim.

There’s a word for guys like Dolph Schayes, which I’m almost certain I used in that letter I wrote. That word is mensch.

Dolph Schayes died yesterday. He was 87. He was a mensch.

They don’t make ‘em like they used to.

A nod of thanks to my brother-in-law, Rick, for pointing out that Dolph had died.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Gravity has a way of making things fall back to earth

Last spring, when I read about Gravity Payments, I was intrigued by the decision of Dan Price, their CEO, to set the minimum salary at his company at $70K.

It seemed like a decent enough idea – if you didn’t think about it for all that long.

Here’s the thing: without getting into the “if you cost too much we’ll replace you with a robot” argument, there is a certain amount, plus or minus a few K, that a certain job is worth. If a company pays much below that certain amount, they’ll probably not attract and retain good people. If a company pays much above that certain amount, they’re not making good business sense – over-paying is seldom worth it.

So I get why companies institute salary bands. If you reach the upper limit of your band, without taking on additional responsibility, you’re not going to get merit raises. You’ll just get cost of living increases when the band is adjusted.

That I get.

Different companies also have philosophies about whether they peg their salary levels at market, below market, or above market.

There’s an argument for each approach, but if you choose to pay below market, you better be prepared to a) offer plenty of bennies, financial or otherwise, or b) live with a below market workforce.

Anyway, when it comes to setting salary levels, there’s a lot to think about.

But when Gravity lifted the bottom employees up to the $70K level, I did ask myself how I’d feel if I’d had a “real” $70K job and someone with a job that required less education, knowledge, effort, experience, whatever, all of a sudden made the same amount I did. Hmmm. Unless my salary were also increased, I’d probably be a bit miffed.

But, in raising the salary floor at Gravity (and lowering his own $1.1M comp ceiling), Price felt he was on to something:

The idea came to him, he’d later tell the media, after talking to a friend who earned less than he did. He’d read about a study showing that extra income improves the happiness of people who earn less than about $75,000. “It’s not about making money; it’s about making a difference,” Price told the Today Show, one of two dozen TV interviews he did in the days following the announcement. (Source, quoted material and other information, article by Karen Weise on Bloomberg.)

No surprise that Price’s decision grabbed so many headlines, what with all the talk about income inequality. (Among the headlines: Rush Limbaugh branded Price a socialist.)

Over time, Gravity experienced a few negatives:

Job applicants had overwhelmed his company, and two employees quit, saying the increase wasn’t fair to higher earners.

Then the story goes way beyond the $70K salary floor.

For one thing, there’s the lawsuit.

“Potentially the worst blow of all,” the Times wrote, was that about two weeks after the announcement, Price was sued by his older brother Lucas, who owns about 30 percent of Gravity, alleging Price paid himself too much in the first place.

Price hinted that “his brother may have sued in reaction to the generous pay increase,” but the suit was initiated before the everyone-a-winner plan was announced. And, objectively speaking, it does appear that Price was overpaid, relative to other chief execs in companies of similar size or revenue.

It’s also possible that Price increased employee salary in reaction to the lawsuit, to show his brother up.

Then there’s the speculation that Price’s strategy was less about noblesse oblige than it was about self-branding. After all, he now has a hefty book deal, all sorts of TV and speaking appearances, magazine covers. So much publicity and ego-stroking that it’s been contended that:

…he’s solidifying his place as the next do-gooder businessman, joining the CEOs of bigger companies, such as Zappos’s Tony Hsieh and Whole Foods Market’s John Mackey. In the process, he’s surely become the only credit card processing executive to be feted by Esquire, courted by literary agents, and swooned at by women on social media who declared him “yum”

(Yes: Price is good-looking.)

Price even turned Russell Brand into a fan boy, joking in a YouTube video that, “It’s difficult to ignore the fact that Dan Price looks a lot like Jesus.”

Apparently, having Russell Brand carrying your water may be too, too, much. Price has said:

“I’m just so sick of attention ... It just feels like a lot of investment of yourself.”

If Price is indeed sick about all the attention, he’s due to become even sicker. His ex-wife gave a talk in October – now scheduled to be posted online by TEDx – in which she claims that she was body-slammed and waterboarded by Price. (Price denies that this happened.)

It will be interesting to see how Price weathers all this.

Wonder if he’s still happy with his decision to pay all his employees something closer to the happiness salary.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Mouse ears off to Disney: these folks sure know how to market…

An article in The Boston Globe caught my eye yesterday:

Walt Disney Co. is adding a fresh perk for top-spending members of its D23 fan club: a tour of Walt’s office, including the ashtrays where he’d stub out his Chesterfields. (Source: Boston Globe)

My first reaction was: ‘ashtrays? didn’t old Walt die of lung cancer?’ (Answer: yes.)

My second thought was that, while, if I were at Disneyland and you didn’t have to stand in line for an hour to see it, I wouldn’t mind seeing old Walt’s office. It would have been interesting to see where the cranky old coot genius came up with his ideas.

Third thought: what’s the D23 fan club.

After all, it looks like you have to be a member of that illustrious group – named for the year in which old Walt left Kansas and headed to California – in order to get in to ogle old Walt’s sanctum sanctorum.

Fast forward to 2009 – long after old Walt had figured out that this wasn’t Kansas anymore, long after old Walt followed Bambi’s mother into the great beyond – and CEO Robert Iger figured out that he was leaving money in the pockets of its most avid fans. And so Disney came up with the concept of D23, “for the fan in all of us.”

Man, oh man – or is it mouse, oh mouse – these folks know how to market.

Sure, it helps to have iconic product to market, and a product set that keeps adding icons. Snow White fans grew up and bought Cinderella watches for their daughters. Those daughters had little girls who wanted to be the Littlest Mermaid. Who, in turn, begot Elsa-crazed daughters. Let it go? NEVER! The idea pipeline will never be frozen.

The D23 folks are past masters at what today is called “engagement.”

On D23, you can listen to Leonard Maltin “discuss the genius behind the Silly Symphonies cartoons. And while you’re at it, load up on a set of Silly Symphony cocoa jars. (They’re stackable!)

You can find a recipe for brandy snaps that look like cannoli.

You can read about the Christmas card old Walt sent his mother in those early years (D24, D25) when he didn’t have much money.

But you, Disney fans, you do have money. Money to spend on all things Disney, including fan events held in your very own home town (at least, in the near future, if you live in Portland or Salt Lake City). And every two years, you can attend the D23 Expo and drill down on the origins of the Three Caballeros. Figure out the difference between Robert Sherman and Richard Sherman, the brothers who wrote the music for Mary Poppins.  Meet the original Mouseketeers – now in their late sixties to mid-seventies. (Sixty years too late for me to meet Cubby O’Brien.) And buy all sorts of Disney-related stuff, that’ll take you – and your wallet – well beyond the Davey Crocket cap and rifle your brother had in the 1950’s.

Disney does manage to have a powerful hold on those of us who grew up with it. And who in the world hasn’t?

Just the other day,my sister and her husband and I were having a conversation about Pinocchio. (I always will have a soft spot in my heart for Jiminy Cricket singing When You Wish Upon a Star.)

Anyway, those D23’s will now have the chance to tour old Walt’s office.

They mentioned the ashtrays. What about the cash registers?

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


Yesterday we marked the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

I wasn’t around for it, but The War brought about my existence, as my father – who joined the Navy shortly after December 7th – met my mother while he was stationed in downtown Chicago for the last couple of years of the war. Don’t laugh. Someone had to keep Navy Pier safe. And, as my father used to say, you went where Uncle Sam sent you. In his infinite wisdom, Uncle Sam sent my father to Norfolk, Virginia; Trinidad; and beautiful downtown Chicago.

Today we observe an inventory of far different weight and importance: 35 years ago, John Lennon was killed in front of the building where he and Yoko lived, The Dakota.

I was in business school at the time, and went through one of those “I heard to news today, oh boy” moments when I heard that Lennon had been shot.

By the time Lennon was killed, I wasn’t a particular fan one way or the other.And in high school – little snob that I was – I was reluctant, late-comer Beatles fan. I liked Bob Dylan. I liked Tom Rush. I liked Simon and Garfunkel – they were “deep.”

But the Beatles were fun, and after a period of initial stand-offish-ness, I jumped on board and became at least a moderate fan.

No, I didn’t jump up and down screaming at the thought of them, but I watched them on Ed Sullivan. I went to see Hard Day’s Night and Help. And, if you put the (metaphorical) needle down on any (metaphorical) album, I’ll pretty much be able to sing it through without missing a word.Not to mention that I went out and bought John Lennon’s books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works.

It probably goes without saying that John – the brainy one – was my Beatle. Paul was the cute one, George the sensitive one, and Ringo was the goofball. Process of elimination, I was a John fan. (On an earlier front, my Cartwright brother of choice on the cornball Western, Bonanza, was Adam. Adam was the brooding, brainy one. Little Joe was the cutie, and Hoss was the goofball. The guy who played Adam took the brooding, brainy part to heart and quit the show because he considered it a cartoon.)

I didn’t figure out until years later that John was also the mean and nasty one. I found him brilliant and witty.

In any case, I felt terrible that John Lennon was killed.

I can’t remember if we knew that night that he was dead.

There was no 24 hour news cycle to tune into. You heard things on the radio, watched the standard news shows at their regular times, and picked up the newspaper the next morning.

Having started the year before during the Iran hostage crisis,Ted Koppel’s Nightline was on at 11:30, and I was a pretty regular watcher for years. So I probably pulled myself away from the books – it was end of semester time at Sloan and I was studying and/or working on papers – to watch Nightline, and I suspect that, on December 8th, the topic was
John Lennon.

If cable news was around, I didn’t get it on my tiny black and white TV.

Thirty-five years ago…

I never saw the Beatles in concert, but I did see John Lennon on stage at one of the marches on Washington to protest the War in Vietnam. He sang – and we (all half million of us) sang along with him – “All We Are Saying, Is Give Peace a Chance.”

John Lennon may have been a nasty a-hole, but he didn’t deserve to get gunned down in cold blood. And he sure did have a lot to say that still rings true.

Thirty-five years ago…Imagine that.

Monday, December 07, 2015

The best place to live

Instead of spending any time focusing on Pin20151206_205740k Slip this weekend, I did other stuff.

I got all the pictures up in the living room, including my wonderful new gallery wall.

You really can’t see what’s there, but everything means something to me. There’s a painting that my sister-in-law Betsey did, and one of Fenway Park done by a guest of St. Francis House. There’s an Irish blessing – in Irish – calligraphied by our Irish friend Lorraine. There are items from our travels – Ireland, Paris, Prague, Budapest.

Opposite the gallery wall is my fireplace. As you can see from the stuff in the fireplace, I don’t actually use this as a fireplace. In nearly 25 years, we had exactly one Duraflame fire in there. Oh, well.

Other than getting most of my stuff on the walls, I hosted a birthday luncheon for my sisters and cousins – one of my cousins is the birthday girl, with a milestone birthday this year. This got me to finish knocking my living room into order, which mostly meant getting those pictures up. Now, other than for the gaps where the register grilles will go, the empty space where the steer horns from my grandfather’s saloon will soon hang, and one of my aunt’s beat up old dining room chairs that I have to spruce up and recover the seat of, the LR is pretty much done. Oh,I forgot. I should get a little table to put my CD player on – rather than the tray table where it’s currently perched. (One thing about renovating, it’s definitely a one-thing-leads-to-another-purchase type of thing.) Anyway, having the banshees over for lunch forced me along pretty much completing the living room move in.

Having folks over for lunch also got me to finally figure out how to use the new induction cooktop. Easy-peasy. And I figured out the oven while I was at it. So I’ve now used all the new appliances. Good for me!

After lunch, I went back up with my sister Trish to her new place – she has recently moved – where she made a family favorite (chicken goulash) and we got further caught up on House of Cards. We spent Sunday playing with her dog and working around her new house, getting a few things squared away. (It really is a never-ending process. I hope to have the final boxes emptied by Christmas, and then, in the new year, tackle all the closets and drawers I’ve rather haphazardly thrown stuff into. Trish has a larger house and more stuff, so her full move in will take a while, too.)

When I got home (after stops at Home Goods and The Christmas Tree Shop – never enough stuff, I say), I just had to watch a bit of the incredibly crappy Patriots’ game.

None of this left me with much time to ferret out a topic for today’s Pink Slip.

Oh, I have a few up my sleeve, but none of them managed to engage my exhausted mind.

And then I came across one of those stupid list of the best-to-worst. This one was of the mot livable states.

Such lists tend to be so arbitrary, so subjective, so incredibly ridiculous. Yet when they confirm our biases, ain’t life grand?

Life satisfaction in a given state is often based on highly subjective measures — whether the climate is nice, whether friends and family are present, and other factors. While a connection to a place can often be based on intangibles, a good quality of life in a given state is largely predicated upon a few key factors. The levels of poverty, education, and health can largely capture living conditions in a state, which tend to vary considerably across the country.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed statewide social and economic measures to rank each state’s living conditions. Massachusetts, home to one of the nation’s wealthiest and most highly educated populations, leads the nation. Mississippi, the poorest state in the country, trails the other 49 states.

There’s no doubt in my mind that there are plenty of people in Mississippi who believe that the Magnolia State is the best place to live. The best place to live, for most of us, is the place where we actually do live. But me, I’m plenty happy to live in Dear Old Massachusetts, and to have it confirmed – however ridiculously – as a great place to live. Where I do, happily, In my almost-done-being-reno’d condo.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Another reason why I’d make a lousy Millennial

Rather than continuing to read about nihilistic bastards murdering their colleagues at a holiday get together, I thought I’d graze around the business press for a bit of lightening up. After all, even the most dire of news from business and industry beats mass murder, no?

Anyway, there, on Bloomberg, I found an article on Social Finance, an outfit that specializes in making loans to twenty- and thirty-somethings. SoFi started out its life as a non-bank doing refinancing of college loans. It then decided to branch out to personal loans and mortgages.

The company’s mission: disrupt the boring, crappy old banking industry. In the words of Mike Cagney, the CEO, they’re out to “kill banks:”

“We can do some things that really get you to start to rethink how your relationship with a financial-services firm should work.” If he has his way, banks as we know them will someday be extinct. “We’re trying to make these guys dinosaurs,” Cagney says. “And hopefully I’m the meteor by which they all die.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Personally, I think getting struck by a meteor would be one kick-ass way to go, as long as I didn’t have to put up with Wolf Blitzer predicting where it was going to hit – and how much havoc it would wreak – for weeks in advance. But I digress…

SoFi’s shtick is putting the social in finance. They do so by hosting events – 45 parties in the last year – so that their customers can get to know each other.

One such event was recently held in Manhattan, at a cocktail lounge called the Happiest Hour. There, SoFi customers lined up for free sliders and vodka-cucumber cocktails.

[Azdar] Baghirov was invited because several months earlier he decided to take out a personal loan from Social Finance…“I never expected an event from a lender, to call me and say, ‘Come hang out with us, we are building community,’ ” said Baghirov, an IT system administrator. “Honestly, this is unbelievable.”

Honestly, Azdar, it is unbelievable. Not that SoFi would try this gambit. But that people would show up for it.

As compelling as the thought of free sliders and vodka-cucumber cocktails might be, I can’t imagine receiving or responding to an invite from BofA to come meet other folks with, say, checking accounts there.

But millennials, as we are so often told, are different.

In utero, they heard their parents announcing the pregnancy on a cellphone. They have no notion of pre-Internet life. (“You mean, like you had to write someone, like, a letter, on like paper? LOL”) They don’t use cash. (“You mean, like, you used to carry ‘money’ in a ‘wallet’. ROFLMAO.”) They embrace all things social, and are even breaking up with their boos via text message. (C ya.)

Hey, maybe it’s all this virtual social “engagement” that so makes them want to have small-f facetime with actual human beings that’s hoisting them out of their nose-in-smartphone zone at the behest of an entity with which they have a commercial relationship.

Other than that, I JUST DON’T GET IT.

I mean, when I go to Fidelity’s offices, I will take a bottle of water or a mini-Hershey bar. And I may nod to other customers sitting there waiting for whatever. But socialize?

Anyway, SoFi is

…soon planning to roll out a wealth-management tool, insurance products, and something that resembles a checking account.

Thus, their trying to connect with their customers (and solidify that lifetime relationship value) with sliders and Hendricks gin.

While all the while trying to stay an unbank so that those nasty Fed regulators can’t get anywhere near them.

Now that I think of it, given how inept the bank regulators have been over the past couple of crises, why not let the unregulated give it a try? Caveat millennials and all that, but if you’re willing to use something that “resembles a checking account”, have at it. (Say, why would a millennial even need a checking account?Other than paying my contractor for the reno work, even I – abn old geezer if ever – find that the only checks I’ve written in the last couple of years are as gifts and to my cleaning folks.)

Beyond offering checking accounts or not, SoFi has an interesting (smart) model. They’re choosy about their customers’ professions, looking to lend to those who are in good (read: lucrative) professions and/or earn a steady paycheck (think: nursing). And:

..when borrowers lose their jobs, SoFi allows them to stop making payments temporarily and lands them interviews with potential employers. If a customer wants to start a business, SoFi provides a six-month break from loan payments—and makes introductions to venture capitalists.


The company is betting that by making millennials feel as if they belong to an exclusive club, it can turn an entire generation into lifelong customers.The company is also counting on its members to start organizing themselves. After a recent event in Philadelphia, a group of borrowers got together to go bowling, all on their own. Another in Berkeley created a Facebook page to stay in touch after dinner.

Well, that would be the day. Then again, I’d make a really lousy millennial…

Thursday, December 03, 2015

A bittersweet chocolate pill to swallow

As a lifelong chocolate lover, it comes as no surprise to me that chocolate is good for you. And I firmly believe this to be true even though, at the age of 8, I lived through a chocolate incident. With a quarter on my hands and no parents monitoring me, I spent that quarter buying five chocolate bars from the vending machine at the Y,

It was exactly what one might expect to happen in the Young Women’s Christian Association, which – back in the day – Catholics were discouraged from joining. I don’t think it was a mortal sin to join, and it wasn’t an excommunicate-worthy offense, but it wasn’t exactly a good thing to do.

But the Y had swimming lessons, was inexpensive, and was relatively easy to get to – straight shot on the 19 Burncoat-Cherry Valley bus line. And my quasi-free-thinking father considered things like fatwas on the Y ridiculous. So away my sister Kath and I went.

Unfortunately, my father’s quasi-free-thinking extended to his taste in bathing caps.

My mother had dispatched him to pick up caps for us at Sol’s Pharmacy. At a time when the average bathing cap was white with a rubber pink or blue flower on the side, my father managed to find two unbelievably hideous caps in what was then known as “flesh-tone.” Think of the dark beige color of the industrial strength support stockings your grandmother wore with her black lace-up shoes, and you’ll have an idea about what those caps looked like.

It was, no doubt, because we stood out in that pool full of white-capped little girls that I felt it was okay to console myself with chocolate.

I do remember that a lot of the chocolate bars were “off brand”. There was one that was a HoJo bar that tasted more like vomit than chocolate. But I washed it down with a York Peppermint Patty (one of the few ‘real’ brands on offer).

I did feel a bit sick to my stomach when I got home, but there was chocolate cake (with chocolate frosting) for dessert. And I couldn’t turn that down.

All this exploded into a magnificent case of hives – hives the size of that very quarter I’d spent so unwisely on all those candy bars.

My mother slathered the hives with Vaseline – whatever good that did – and I do believe I got to stay home from school the following Monday.

But this episode did not in the least put me off of chocolate, and, to this day, I firmly believe that a day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine. And, during the last couple of years of my husband’s life, I came to the realization that chocolate is my drug of choice.

While I used it for my psychological well-being, chocolate is considered good for your physical health. And the candy-makers are exploiting the opportunity they see here:

…pumping up production of nutritional supplements with flavanols, a cocoa extract said to improve blood circulation. Barry Callebaut AG, the world’s No. 1 maker of bulk chocolate, is planning flavanol pills that have been approved by European health authorities as a supplement that’s beneficial to the heart, and Mondelez International Inc. is researching the benefits of flavanols for potential future products. (Source: Bloomberg)

Mars is also in on the act, with a supplement called CocoaVia (which will cost $45 for a 30 day supply).

I’ve lived the Cocoa Via, but I’d rather take my chocolate with the calories, rather than in boring pill form. Where’s the fun, the satisfaction, the joy in popping a pill?

Lindt, maker of those terrific truffles, as well as the chocolate I use to bake orange-chocolate pound cake for Christmas:

…said it isn’t considering cocoa supplements at this time because it wants to keep focusing on indulgence. Nestle SA says it’s researching the health benefits of flavanols but has no current plans to include them in its products.

Note to self: swing by the Lindt store on Boylston Street today…


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

I could use one of these. (Too bad the kitchen’s done.)

I’ve been using the fridge – excellent ice-maker, by the way.

I’ve used the garbage disposal. Nice to be able to grind up those clementine peels. But I’m amazed by the size. Do I really need something that looks like it would do the trick in a reasonably-sized restaurant?

I’ve used the dishwasher, even though, when I emptied it, I forgot to pull out that top drawer that holds the clean silver. (My old dishwasher just had the standup holders for my silverware.

I’ve warmed up water in the microwave, not because I wanted water warmed up in the microwave. But I did want to make some use of the microwave, just to make it mine.

But I’ve been avoiding the new induction stovetop and range.

Chalk it up to my brain being too fried to start in on something new at this very minute, and I figured the induction cooker was going to take a bit of adjusting. As Thoreau once said, “beware all appliances that require new cookware.”

I did do a bit of grocery shopping and, in fact, bought “stuff” to make Sunday dinner for my sister and her husband. But when the moment came, I just couldn’t do it. If I had a gas range, or an electric, I’d have known just what to do. But this is so new-fangled.

It’s not fear factor, mind you, that’s kept me eating peanut butter and tuna every evening since I moved back in. It is the sheer exhaustion that comes with moving back in. Honestly, I’d thrown so much stuff out, I thought getting everything back into place would be a snap, Instead, it’s become my life’s work.

Some things have been put back in place neatly, but I’m now the proud owner of several Fibber McGee closets, and a good half-dozen Fibber McGee drawers.

If I’ve thrown so much stuff out, why is there no room for anything? I’ve added lots of counter space and cabinet room, yet somehow they’re already full.

So what with all that stuff, and some last minute scurrying around – who knew the wall registers were going to be so difficult to lay my hands on. At least I found a source for the standard non-standard ones. Unfortunately, in the living rom, I’d like to go fancy-schmanzy with a couple of decorative registers. I’ve got an ‘ask’ in to one site to see if they can make me a couple of registers that will nicely pick up on the grapevine theme of my carved fireplace and plaster medallion ceilings. Can’t wait to get back that quote. All I know is that the living room heat registers are anything but standard.

And, of course, it’s going to take at least a month to get them made.

Should have started this months ago. No, wait, I did. It’s just so hard to find ones that fit, even though the ones from Reggio Register almost did. Ah, the pleasures of living in a place built back in the day when, apparently, no one gave a hoot about things like whether the holes in the walls were a standard size.

Anyway, to get back to the new range, I did begin to use it last evening. (Sick of PBJ, for sure.)

I’m wondering what Ike’s Table for Living would have suggested I do, based on the ingredients I’d assembled.

If I put the package of pasta, a carton of eggs, parsley, a slab of parmesan, and a slab of pancetta, would that smart table have suggested Spaghtetti Carbonara or something else?

The Table for living, which was created by Ikea Design Manager Marcus Engman:

,,,can detect the foods and ingredients on its surface and suggest recipes and preparation techniques. (Source: Bloomberg)

Here’s how it works: an overhead camera films your ingredients, and then “sends the images to your home PC for analysis by specially designed software.” Analysis complete, and after sifting through it’s virtual cookbooks, the recipe is sent to a projector that projects it onto the surface of the table.

Still under construction,

…The table could eventually incorporate induction coils to heat food or charge a phone,.

.You mean I could start cooking on my induction stovetop? Clearly there’s nothing to fear form technology.

I can just imagine what the smart table would have to say about some of the haphazard meals I’ve concocted over the years. What would it suggest for a meal centered on a sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mints. A jar of peanut butter with a broken piece of rye crisp hanging out of. An orange. A pint of Ben and Jerry’s. (Calm down, it’s only Fro-yo.)

I guess the Table for Living will give people a new response to the question what’s for dinner: Don’t ask me, ask the table.

Well, there’s no room for a table – even a dumb one – in my kitchen, so I just had to figure it out for myself.

The spaghetti carbonara tasted just fine.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Rotten corporate culture, the Pink Slip list

Yesterday’s post took a look at a list of signs of a poor corporate culture. As something of an expert in poor – make that piss poor – corporate culture, I thought I’d add a few more to the list.

  • Too many meetings  - I understand that the higher up the management chain you go, the more likely you are to spend a lot of time in meetings. But there’s spending a lot of time in meetings, and there’s spending a lot of time in meetings. I worked at one large company, which became briefly famous back in the early Internet days as having launched the largest (and largest failed IPO) of all time. That was back in the day when a billion meant something. Anyway, you could literally spend every hour at work (including lunch) at meetings that extended from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. If your dance card wasn’t full, you weren’t consider a pllay-a. We’d all march around, Palm Pilot in hand, figuring out where we were due next, passing in the halls as if we were in high school, trying to get to the next class on time to avoid a demerit.  Nothing was ever accomplished at these meetings unless, of course, you brought your laptop with you and actually did some work. In what I considered quite the bold move, my friend Rob went to a meeting (maybe 20 of us there) chaired by the company president and sat there checking his emails.
  • All decisions made at the top – And I do mean all decisions. And I do mean at the top. At Wang Labs, I was a senior product manager. At my prior company, I’d been able to decide to make a field or customer visit, let my manager know, make my arrangements and go. At Wang, I had to have the sign of my boss, the director he reported to, the VP he reported to, and the EVP. Oh, and you often didn’t find out that your trip was okayed until the night before you planned to leave. This process was such a ridiculous waste of time, not to mention completely demoralizing. But if you went without EVP sign-off, you risked not getting reimbursed. (It was rumored that Dr. Wang was so intimately involved in the minutia of the business that he decided on the quality of the paper that data sheets were printed on.
  • Bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy – Once a company gets to a certain size, you really do need some sort of bureaucracy, mostly useful to take care of all that crap that no one wants to deal with. Let the bureaucrats order the pencils! But I worked at one smaller company (fewer than 300 employees) that once published a 50 page flowchart we were to follow for everything we requisitioned, including – ta-da! – a pencil. (At Wang, on my first day on the job, I put in a req for a bookcase and file cabinet for my cube. The req came back to me because I hadn’t put in a reason for my requests. I sent it back with “bookcase to hold books, file cabinet to hold files” and it was approved.
  • Too much “keep me in the loop”-ing going on – I’ve worked in places where pretty much every memo you wrote, every document you created, had to be shared with dozens upon dozens of individuals. I think that folks collected circulation lists to be on just so you could talk about how important they were. And, of course, you always wanted to get on the circulation list for any item that those higher up in the organization was on. Nobody ever read any of the stuff being circulated, let alone contributed anything of value around it. They just needed to be in the loop.
  • Senior execs making bogus attempts to be seen with “the people” – Hey, it’s great if I run into you in the lunch line or elevator and we chat a bit. Great if we actually have a need to meet for some reason. But spare me the Santa hats and dishing out rubber turkey dinners on Christmas Eve. Thanks but no thanks for annual wheeling or the ice cream cart around giving out Good Humor bar. Sorry, but completely meaningless. I’m all for management by walking around. Just don’t show up in a white paper cap with a goofy grin on your face.

I could go on, but that’s it for now.