Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Back home again, in Williston, ND

A few months ago, I watched a POV documentary on PBS – how’s that for a nifty double use of acronyms? if only I could have thought up a third – on the shale oil boom town of Williston, North Dakota. The show focused on the men who’ve flocked to the town to work as roughnecks. They were living anyplace they could find: crummy motels, RV’s, cars, trucks, cots on church floors, chicken coops, camps with slapped up quarters that looked like the “nice” portapotty setups. You know, the white plastic looking ones where you can actually flush the toilet and don’t live in fear that your watch and glasses are going to drop into the horrific portapotty slough of despond.

Pretty terrible, all round, and quite a jolt for the residents of a quiet All American town straight out of American Graffiti. Letterman jackets. Ham and bean suppers at the Lutheran Church. Kids decorating their bikes for the 4th of July parade.

Then all of a sudden, their population almost doubles. Mostly single men from somewhere else, without wives and kids. We’re not talking Tom Joad here. No Ma and Pa Joad. No Rose of Sharon. We’re talking about single men, on their own, and bringing with them the problems that come when you’ve got thousands of unaccompanied males with money in their jeans.

Then the oil boom began to get into a bit of a bust.

A lot of those migrants-in became migrants-out.

Unfortunately, not before a building-binge started:

After struggling to house thousands of migrant roughnecks during the boom, the state faces a new real-estate crisis: The frenzied drilling that made it No. 1 in personal-income growth and job creation for five consecutive years hasn’t lasted long enough to support the oil-fueled building explosion.

Civic leaders and developers say many new units were already in the pipeline, and they anticipate another influx of workers when oil prices rise again. But for now, hundreds of dwellings approved during the heady days are rising, skeletons of wood and cement surrounded by rolling grasslands, with too few residents who can afford them. (Source: Bloomberg)

Development companies, it seems, misread both the boom-bust nature of oil production (oil prices are down), and the interest that there would be in family-friendly apartment complexes and suburban subdivisions to begin with.

Apparently, as depressing and hideous as they were, the men folk were pretty content with whatever man camp they found themselves in. They knew they were only their temporarily. When the boom goes bust, they pack it in and head back home to wherever their families are – or on to the next place where there’s an employment rush.

The migrants out are leaving a trail of RV’s behind them:

As the migrant workers leave, their castoffs pile up in scrap yards such as TJ’s Autobody & Salvage outside Alexander, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Williston. More than 400 discarded vehicles crowd its lot, including souped-up pickup trucks and an RV with rotting potatoes and a dead mouse in the sink.

This must be doing wonders for the look and feel of Williston.

Not to mention what the half-built housing subdivisions are doing for it. Most don’t seem to be abandoned – yet. But in the pictures, parts of Williston are starting to look an awful lot like the “ghost estates” that you’d see throughout Ireland in the wake of their real-estate induced economic crisis.

A few years back, on what turned out to be our last trip to Ireland together, my husband and I walked though one near Shannon Airport, where we spent our last night before heading back to Boston. Talk about hideous and depressing.

Back in Williston, some of the property developers claim to be in it for the long pull. They think that there’ll be enough local oil production in the Williston area to attract a more permanent workforce – the kind that live in houses with their families, not in RV’s with rotting potatoes and dead mice.

Good luck to Williston.

As it happens, North Dakota is on my bucket list. I’d like to do all 50 states, and ND is one of the few remaining states on my list (along with Alaska, Kentucky and Tennessee). Maybe when I get to ND, I’ll take a detour from Fargo and check Williston out. Unless there’s another boom, I suspect I’ll be able to get some short term digs pretty cheaply.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

More from the OED (“It pays to increase your word power.”)

A few weeks back, I blogged about the choice word Masshole getting the nod from the Oxford English dictionary. Nothing we don’t deserve,of course. But I wanted to demonstrate that I’m not so massholishly self-absorbed that I couldn’t give a nod to the other words that are in the OED as of June 2015.

So here goes.

I have a reasonably good vocabulary, but as I started down the OED list, my word wealth wasn’t looking too promising.

Maybe I should have known that an
Antikythera mechanism was used by the ancient Greeks to predict the next eclipse and schedule the next Olympics. But I didn’t. I pretty much struck out on all the “a’s”: arré? audax? autotune?

Oh, you could look it up. Which I did for the a’s. But the list is long, and I’ll never use any of these words, anyway.

Although I’d never heard the lead “b” word, I do like backronym, which is kind of an acronym in reverse. As in Marvelously Over Excellent could be a backronym for MOE.

Some of the “b” words made me wonder. Birdhouse wasn’t a recognized word up until now? Nor was boiler room? And what’s so special about blue star? I mean, blue I know, and star.But blue star?


I didn’t have to look it up to know that I like the word carcade, even though the only carcades I’ve been in have been the ones from the church to the cemetery. But why would cluster be a new word, unless they’re avoiding the accompanying second part – the luscious f-word – which has certainly come into wider usage in the past decade or so. (I do recognize that many of us shorten it to cluster.)

Crowdfund. Declutter, Dog whistle. Downtick.

All words I use. (Especially dog whistle, which I have often used to describe what a woman’s voice sounds like in the workplace. Only a few ears, I have said, are attuned to it.)

Although my drumbling days are well behind me, I like drumble – drunken mumble.

Sorry I bothered with fap fap fap. (Jerking off.) And what am I missing with go fish?

Gunna makes the list, but where’s gonna? I must already be in the OED, but I’m not gonna check. Too lazy.

On the ass front, half-ass and hard-arse both make the list. I approve.

Hard launch is on the list, but no soft launch. Maybe hard launch made it because it’s always more fun to get a product out the door with a lot of fanfare. Of course, a hard product launch (money spent, and all that) raises expectations about product success. Sometimes it’s just as well to sneak a product out the door.

Hot mess is now made official. As is kryptonite. (What took them so long?)

I’m kind of meh about meh now being in the OED. And what’s new and fresh about North Korean and South Korean? Meh…

SCOTUS and FLOTUS have joined POTUS, by the way.

I don’t drink coffee, which may be why roastery sounds so darned pretentious.

Seachanger and self-immolate are right next to each other on the list. This has a certain logic. I’ve certainly seen it plenty of times in business that yesterday’s seachanger turns into tomorrow’s flaming out self-immolator. (Never the reverse, I’m afraid.)

Shirtfront seems a bit quaint and old-timey. (I may be missing something here. For all I know, it’s another word for fap.) But I do like some of the s-words: shitshow, shizzle, skort, smash-mouth.

Tea partier is on the list. Now that it’s a recognized word, maybe they can just fade away.

Tweet, twerk, twitterati. Got it.

But what’s uncanny valley?

Oh, no. It’s where the animatronic figures start passing for human. Gulp! (But can they twerk?)

Yarn bombing sounds like fun, but I’m probably too much of a wuss to actually do it.

In a nod to us oldies,
young at heart makes the cut. (Note to self: never, ever, ever let anyone use these words to describe me. I’ve always been more of the old soul type.)

The list ends with zef, South African for common, but not so common that I’ve ever heard it.

Vocabulary lesson’s over. Go forth and tweet away. (No fapping, please. At least not in public.)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Office of the future? I quit!

Is it just me, but are “things” getting too darned smart, and kind of in a dumb way? As in the “smartest building in the world”. That would be the Edge, an Amsterdam office building.

Oh, there are lots of great things about the Edge – and isn’t The Edge the lead guitarist for U2, not a building in Amsterdam?

It’s the world’s greenest building, with the highest sustainability rating ev-ah granted by the Brits – a near perfect 98.4%.  Sensors – there are 28,000 of them throughout the building – monitor motion, light, temperature, humidity, etc. – and make all sorts of green-friendly adjustments. Robots do the cleaning, and rain water is used to flush the toilets. In the gym, some of the exercise stations throw your energy back into the grid. (Do you get compensated for that, or is it a freebie?)

But what sets teeth on edge at the Edge is not that the building is so enviro-friendly. It’s that it’s so (to my way of thinking) worker unfriendly.

A day at the Edge in Amsterdam starts with a smartphone app developed with the building’s main tenant, consulting firm Deloitte. From the minute you wake up, you’re connected. The app checks your schedule, and the building recognizes your car when you arrive and directs you to a parking spot. (Source: Bloomberg)

Well, I’m down with getting directed to a parking spot, as long as it remembers where you parked and lets you know at the end of the day. But do I really want “them” knowing where I am and what I’m doing – or should be doing – from the moment I wake up? Is nothing sacred? Do “they” need to know I’m in the shower, dawdling over breakfast, sitting in traffic grinding my teeth? I guess if you’ve got an app’d up smartphone, spies really are everywhere.

Then the app finds you a desk. Because at the Edge, you don’t have one. No one does. Workspaces are based on your schedule: sitting desk, standing desk, work booth, meeting room, balcony seat, or “concentration room.” Wherever you go, the app knows your preferences for light and temperature, and it tweaks the environment accordingly.

With 2,500 Deloitte workers and only 1,000 desks, this sounds  like a weird version of musical chairs.

The concept is called hot desking, and it’s supposed to encourage new relationships, chance interactions, and, just as important, efficient use of space.

I like that “just as important”? What makes me think it just might outweigh the benefits of “new relationships” and “chance interactions”.

Meanwhile, I can easily imagine employees gaming this, and figuring out how to prime their schedules so they actually get to stay put for a few hours at a time, rather than having an app dictate that it’s their turn to stand up or bide a bit of time in a balcony seat.

If you’re wondering where people stow the stuff – comfy shoes, a hairbrush, tampons, a toothbrush, a few packages of peanut butter crackers – they used to keep in their desk, the answer is: no place. Workers do have access to a locker. But they’re “discouraged” from using the same locker for any extended period of time:

…because part of the het nieuwe werken philosophy is to break people away from their fixed locations and rigid ways of thinking.

Yes, indeed, the desire not to have to schlepp your sweater and mouthwash in every day is a sure indication of a rigid way of thinking. Oh, wait a minute, in a smart building you’ll never need a sweater.

And as for the personal stuff – pictures of the kids, Dilbert cartoons, that mug filled with pencils, the communal come-on-in candy jar – that people used to keep on their desk. I guess the answer is forget about it. Only a rigid thinker would want to go to the same fixed location everyday, and look at a picture of the same damned kids.

Is it just me, but does all this sound like a nightmare?

Just as it’s wonderful to walk in the door when you get home at night and just plop on our very own couch and decompress, when you’re at work, most of us want to, say, come back from a grueling meeting and plop into our very own desk chair and decompress.

Maybe none of this bothers the hellzapoppin’ millennials who are always on, tech savvy, and, let’s face it, know that they’re just one bean-counting minute away from having their job downsized or outsourced, or being turned into a contract worker on a short term contract.

But human nature being human nature, it’s hard to believe that millennials don’t want to have a home base, with their own stuff in it. That they don’t want to know that they’re going to see their office buddy first thing Monday at the coffee machine. That they wouldn’t even miss the annoying neighbor who’s always on the phone complaining about something.

Why are new relationships so much more important than old relationships?

Guess it’s just my old school, fixed location way of rigid thinking.

Glad I don’t work at the Edge.


With special thanks to one of my oldest – and most fixed – relationships, my sister Trish, who saw a reference to this article on Huff Po.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hello, Barbie

Not that I’m much of a toy shopper – the little kids on my list these days tend to get boring old books – but a Bloomberg article on the hit list for the upcoming holiday shopathon season caught my eye. Star Wars. Yawn. Frozen. Yawn. Hello Barbie, equipped with artificial intelligence and speech recognition. Yikes.

I guess it’s good that they’re equipping Barbie with intelligence (artificial or not).

But do we really need this sort of living doll?

I loved dolls when I was a kid, and was always a bit miffed that – unlike some of my friends – I never had a doll that “said” Mama in a “voice” that was so recognizably not human that, if you were out of the room when “it” spoke, what you heard was something that pretty much sounded like a bleating sheep.

I also would have liked a Chatty Cathie. You pulled the ring on the back or her neck and got a couple of stock phrases. (E.g., “I love you.” Awwwwww.)

But Chatty C was way too novel – and probably way too expensive – for my family’s tastes. Besides, my brothers would have tugged on that ring as if they were starting an Evinrude. I would have been lucky to get through the full litany of sayings before that toy went bust.

Then there was Tickle Me Elmo, which I believe my niece Molly might have had. She had some sort of talking Sesame Street muppet. I may even have gotten it for her. I think that Elmo went rogue and started to monologue – or, worse, laugh - in the middle of the night at one point, waking everyone up. But TM Elmo only had to say what he had to say.

Hello Barbie is all AI’d up. Think Siri. Think Cortana.

Ask and you shall receive. Tell and you’ll get some sort of answer. Call and you’ll get a response.

Is it just me, or isn’t it better if kids get to use their imaginations, and improve their verbal skills, by controlling both sides of the conversation? Or am I just an old fogey who doesn’t think that technology necessarily improves everything it touches.

Mattel had experimented with a talking Barbie a while back. Remember the Barbie who said that “Math class is tough.” (Maybe so, but couldn’t she have said “I really like math” instead?)

There are so many concerns that Hello Barbie raises.

Barbie, as we know, influences little girls about gender roles (“Math class is tough.”) and body image (if you’re not 7 feet tall with an 18 inch waist, and walk on your tippy toes, there’s something wrong with you). How will Hello Barbie respond if your little girl says “I can’t do math” will “she” say, “Sure you can” or “Neither can I”?

Then there’s the question about whether small children will be able to distinguish what’s real and what’s not real. Sure, little kids already invest their toys with human attributes, but will this send some of them over the reality edge?

Will kids who talk to smarty pants Hello Barbie get bored with their human friends, who aren’t quite up to Barbie-level snappy repartee? Will they still want real friends?

And my biggest concern about what having pre-programmed dolls hurt the development of creativity and imagination.

It’s not just Barbie, of course. So many toys come with story lines these days. Even those purpose-built Lego kits are more like puzzles than a tabula rasa inviting kids to knock themselves out and let the number of Lego pieces they have be the only limit to what they can build.

Sigh… At least adding all this technology has put a bit of meat on Barbie’s plastic bones. Her thighs have thickened a bit, so she’s a bit more normal in terms of her proportions.

Anyway, the bottom line is Mattel’s bottom line. Barbie revenues have fallen off in the last few years. Hello Barbie is supposed to take care of that.

Maybe they should ask her whether she thinks she’ll be a success.


There’s an interesting article in The New York Times on Hello Barbie. It gets into the technology and the process that was used to fill Barbie’s bubble brain with personality and intelligence.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I’m old enough to remember coal.

I spent  my first seven years living in a flat in my grandmother’s decker. Our heat came from coal. In the basement, each of the three flats in Nanny’s house had a furnace and a coal bin.

I remember the coal being delivered by truck by Claflin and Sumner, the chutes poked in through the windows in the cellar, the sound of the coal shuttling down the chute.

I remember my father shoveling coal into our furnace, and into Nanny’s. (I certainly don’t remember my Uncle Charlie, who lived with Nanny, ever putting his shoulder in to this effort. Building up a sweat was not exactly Charlie’s style.)

I remember picking small pieces out of the coal bin to use on snowmen: two for the eyes, three to five for the mouth. Much better than using stones!

Because I’ve held pieces of coal in my very own hand, I actually know just what “black as coal” means.

More recently – but already 25 years ago (sigh!) – I traveled to Berlin during the winter, at a time when East Berlin was powered by dirty, smelly, sulfur-ish coal.

So, yes, I remember coal. But I also know that coal is a big polluter – all those scrubbers aside – and the world will be a better place once it’s phased out.

The US coal industry is dealing with its worst market slump in decades because of a global supply glut, escalating competition from cheap natural gas and tighter regulations as policy makers try to wean the power market off of fossil. (Source: Boston Globe)

Of course, I do feel bad about the displaced miners and all those desperately poor communities where coal has been king, but coal mining has always been a dangerous, lousy job, and a destroyer of the local environment. So in the long run, we’ll be better off without it. And it’s not just environmentally concerns and competition that are hurting the coal industry. Mines are playing out. And they’re not making a lot more coal in any hurry.

But there is a flicker of coal-fueled light.

The growing appetite for coal-fired pizza is creating new demand for anthracite coal -- it’s the hardest kind and burns the hottest. “That market just kind of snuck up on us,” Greg Driscoll, chief executive officer of Pennsylvania producer Blaschak Coal Corp., said in an interview. “It’s sort of in the face of everything that is going on.”

I actually don’t know whether I’ve ever had coal-fired pizza. From Google, it doesn’t look like there’s a ton around the Boston area, although it looks like there’s more coming. (Frank Pepe’s of New Haven is expanding this-a-way.) The flavor is supposed to be good – carcinogenically, no doubt. In any case, I’d be happy to give it a try.

Anthracite won’t be getting back to its glory days any time soon. Those days would be when World War One was ending, and 100 million tons were mined. The forecast is that anthracite will average 5 to 10 million tons in the next couple of years.

I guess this is good news and bad news.

Good news if you’re a Pennsylvania miner, where anthracite comes from. Good news if you like coal-fired pizza. Bad news if there’s a mining disaster, which does tend to happen with fair regularity. Bad news, no doubt, for the environment (although I don’t imagine the coal-fired pizza ovens give off a lot of pollution).

Me? I’ll give it a try it it opens nearby.

But pretty interesting that such a dying, old-school industry would get a bit of a lease of life from a food fad.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

From peanut gallery to rogues gallery

It’s a bad week for corporate malfeasance. Or a good week, depending on which way you look at it.

There was the Volkswagen brouhaha (which I posted on yesterday), and then there was Stewart Parnell, former head of the Peanut Corporation of America. Parnell’s going to be spending the next 28 years behind bars for his roll in a salmonella outbreak that’s implicated in nine deaths – “potentially the toughest punishment in U.S. history for a producer in a foodborne illness case.” Parnell is 61, so 28 years is pretty much a life sentence.

Parnell’s brother Michael, a food broker, will be serving 20 years in the stir. And Mary Wilkerson, who was in charge of the company’s quality control, got a five-year term.

The case stemmed from U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings that traced a national salmonella outbreak to the Parnell company's peanut roasting plant in Blakely, Ga. The outbreak sickened 714 people in 46 states and may have contributed to nine deaths, the CDC reported.

The illnesses began in January 2009 and ultimately prompted one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.

A federal jury convicted Parnell last September on 71 criminal counts, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice and introduction of adulterated food. The verdict came after prosecutors presented evidence that Parnell and the co-defendants knowingly shipped salmonella-tainted peanut butter from the Georgia facility to Kellogg’s and other customers — who in turn used it in products ranging from packaged crackers to pet food. (Source: USA Today)

The devil’s in the details:

Among other goodies, the Feds found that the Peanut Corporation was a breeding ground for salmonella: leaky roof, roaches, rodents, bird droppings and all.

Bad enough that Peanut Corp. was a petri dish as far as salmonella was concerned. The real kicker was emails and records that show that food stuff known to contain salmonella was knowingly shipped to their customers. For other batches of peanuts, the company faked up records showing that tests for salmonella were negative. They may or may not of been. Who knew? Not the Parnells or Wilkerson. No tests were ever done.

As someone who consumes her fair share of peanut butter  - I’m a locavore: Teddie’s only; not the the peanuts are local, but the company is – I’m delighted to see these clowns go away. Hundreds of people were sickened, and nine may have been killed.

I’m also wondering what the working conditions were at the Peanut Corporation of America.

No, I don’t suppose they were quite as bad as those found by Upton Sinclair when he took a look at the early 20th century meat-packing industry. His exposé –  fictionalized in The Jungle - helped bring about laws about meat inspection, as well as the establishment of the FDA.

Good to keep in mind that, even with regulation, we still need regulation. Sure, you can wait for the market to clean house. But it doesn’t do the 714 sick and the nine dead much good that Peanut Corporation of America is now defunct.

Not surprisingly, a defense attorney (not, I think, Parnell’s), Ken Hodge, finds the sentence “absurd.”

"The truth of the matter is Stewart Parnell ate that peanut butter; he fed it to his children and fed it to his grandchildren," Hodges said in the interview. "He never intended to harm anyone."

I’m sure he didn’t deliberately and intentionally set out to slaughter an innocent bunch of folks who, like me, like to feast on an occasional PBJ. But he played fast and loose with the truth about the condition of his product because it was going to cost him $$$ if he didn’t get his wares out the door.

And now it’s really cost him. If his appeals don’t work, he’ll probably live out his years in prison.

Parnell claims that he didn’t know what was going on, but there were three little words in one little email in which he ordered a plant management to “just ship it.”

Pretty amazing news this week. We have a major, respected multinational – Volkswagen – playing fast and loose with emissions standards. And a small company that no one would have otherwise heard of – Peanut Corporation of America -  who made a big mistake when they decided to cross their fingers and hope that that tainted peanuts were really okay enough.

Interesting that much of Peanut Corp’s business was institutional, with their peanuts making their way into products for prisons.

The Parnells and Ms. Wilkerson must be hoping that the vendors supplying the food they’ll be dining on maintain higher standards than their outfit did.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Way to go, VW. (NOT!)

If asked to pick an automaker that I actually liked, I probably would go with VW. I’m not much of a car person – and am un-American enough to have reached great old age with only three cars to my name – but I was once the owner of a New Beetle. Maybe even a proud and happy owner of a New Beetle. (All these years later, I still get a small smile on my face when I see one, and when I walk by, check to see whether they have flowers in their vase. I was a daisy person, myself. And when I see an Old Beetle, I get a large smile on my face.)
Anyway, if asked, Volkswagen would probably have been my favorite car manufacturer.

And then I read that they’ve been cheating on their emissions tests:

Volkswagen admitted on Sept. 18 to fitting some of its U.S. diesel vehicles with software that turns on full pollution controls only when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday. Affected are diesel versions of the VW Jetta, Golf, Beetle and Passat and the Audi A3.

During normal driving, the cars with the software -- known as a “defeat device” -- would pollute 10 times to 40 times the legal limits, the EPA estimated. The discrepancy emerged after the International Council on Clean Transportation commissioned real-world emissions tests of diesel vehicles including a Jetta and Passat, then compared them to lab results. (Source: Bloomberg)

And now the US DoJ has begun a criminal investigation, which could lead to charges against VW and/or the lausbuben* who decided it might be a good thing to futz around with pollution controls.

Cheat, cheat, never beat: the company’s stock took a cheat, cheat beating on the Frankfurt exchange, at one point taking a dive that translated into a nearly 20% decline in market value.
Although I highly doubt that he had anything to do with this, it’s definitely bad timing for CEO Martin Winterkorn, “whose contract renewal is scheduled for a supervisory board vote on Friday.”

What do you think’s going to happen here? I know that CEO’s can be forgiven (and even rewarded) for an awful lot, but nobody likes to see bad behavior of the destroying the environment ilk, let alone a deep plunge in market value.
Winterkorn has made a public apology, but sorry may not take him very far, given that:

The violations could result in as much as $18 billion in fines, based on the cost per violation and the number of cars.

It will be interesting to see just how far up the decision-making chain the shocking decision to cheat in such an egregious way was made. As I said, I doubt that the CEO knew about it, but just who did?

This is not quite up there with deliberately lying about cigarette smoking causing cancer, and other killer product decisions. Still, especially with environmental concerns being what they are – or what they should be – this is a plenty lousy thing to have done.

A while back, VW used the word "fahrvergnügen” in their marketing. The word translates as “driving enjoyment”. In one catch phrase, fahrvergnügen was “what makes a car a Volkswagen".

When I had my Beetle, I did get a good deal of fahrvergnügen out of it.

For one of the few times in my life, I was an early adopter – I bought the first model, back in 1998. When I went to a party shortly after I bought it, guests – most of them my age – lined up to take it for a spin around the block.

It was fun to drive, and fun to own. It  even made me like the company.

Never say never: if I ever own another car (which I hope not to), I guess I’d still consider a Volkswagen. But this sure isn’t making me feel benevolently disposed towards them. Not at the moment, anyway.

What’s German for ‘cheating on admissions’?

Fahrvergnügen indeed….

___ _______________________________________________
*This was one of the words my German mother would throw into a conversation. It was her word for brat, but it also translates as scoundrel, knave, rogue, good for nothing.

Monday, September 21, 2015

News from Fashion Week

This September’s NYFW – that’s New York Fashion Week to you, bub – is now in the rearview mirror.

Fortunately, Bloomberg was there to make sure that us absentees – fashion-forward and fashion-challenged alike – don’t miss out on the trends that will be impacting our very way of living (or at least the dressing part of it) come next spring.

Here’s what to expect.

Florals – you may have missed it – were big this past summer, “even on men’s shoes” (this I definitely missed). And they’ll be with us for a while longer. Not that they were going anywhere, but I’m delighted to learn this, given that I have several floral sweaters, including one from Peruvian Connection that I’ve had for about 20 years. My other florals are more of the Talbot’s variety, so are not as likely to say my wardrobe for 20 years. Still, when I don me now my floral apparel next spring, I fully expect fashionistas to stop me in my tracks and ask me where I got that happenin’ sweater. Can’t wait.

Black Dress Pants are, as women of a certain age are well aware, a never-in-style, never-out-of-style fashion staple. Something that can take you from break of day to dead of night, and from wake to wedding. It’s all about what’s on top. Oddly, though, Fashion Week seems to think we should be wearing black pants under our “favorite black dress.” Won’t happen for women of a certain age, given that we grew up when pants under a dress were snow pants. Not a look that any of us will want to revisit.

Baja-Inspired Everything Hmmmm. I guess if you live long enough, everything makes its way back, and what’s made its way back is “Woodstock by way of Southern California.” This includes tie-dye, which I have observed truckin’ – like the doodah man – back into fashion. I suppose I should say that I wish I’d hung on to a couple of those long wispy skirts from the 80’s, which was the last time that 60’s clothing made a bit of a rebound. But that would be a lie. I’ll stick with my floral sweaters and black pants.

Summer Whites Are always in style. At least theoretically. I used to wear white pants and white skirts, but I can’t remember the last time I wore either. For me, black must be the new white.

Sneakers Dress Down After years of crippling themselves with higher-than-high heels, it’s now apparently okay for women to dress everything down with a pair of sneakers. Here, I’ll say, old ladies have been in the vanguard. For years.

Wider Leg the Better Skinny jeans are on their way out. Good thing I was waiting to get skinny before I invested in a pair. Stickin’ to those tried and true boot-cuts. But I don’t know if I’m quite ready for wide leg pants. Will these be elegant, Katherine Hepburn flowing trousers? Or hippy-dippy elephant bells? If it’s the former, I may take a look. And I wish I’d hung on to a very nice pair of grey tweed wide-leg pants I had 20 years back. Of course, that was also 20 pounds back, so they wouldn’t fit, anyway. But I could use a nice pair of charcoal – or black even – pants. Let’s see if I can shed 10 pounds and find a leg that’s widish…

Exposed Midriffs I know I’ll be doing florals. I’m always up for black pants. Although I skipped Woodstock to work the lucrative weekend shift at the Big Boy’s in Webster Square, I can even see myself doing a bit of the Baja thing. Summer whites I might do. And sneakers, I’m all about the comfort. But I can guarantee you’ll see me strolling the streets of Boston in black snow pants under a black dress before you see me sporting a belly shirt.

Anyway, this is apparently what you missed at NYFW. If you hustle, you can make it to London for the tail end of their FW, or to Paris or Milan for the full megillah there.

Me, I’m happy just to read about it, content that I really don’t give a hoot about any of it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The pump don’t work ‘cause the vandals took the handle*

Well, I’m not exactly suffering the subterranean homesick blues, but I am experiencing the subterraneous reno drive me crazies.

The day began with a visit to the scene of the renovation, for what I thought was going to be a fairly straightforward meeting with the electrician. While that went better than I had anticipated, there were still a couple of potential gotchas, and an unexpected trip back to the lighting place this morning. (They don’t open early enough for my GC to take care of the grab-and-go we need.) Then there’s the extra up-to-code stuff in the new fuse box I’ll need if I want – which I do – to replace the old ivory colored sockets and switch plates in the bedroom and den with more up-to-date white ones.

Then the plumbers informed me that the pressure valve for one of the bathrooms needed to have an integral diverter. Oh, that. While I had explained to the person at the plumbing place exactly what I needed, given that I was going with both a shower head and separate spray “thing”, they set me up with the wrong pressure valve. I may have solved my own problem: just use the spry thing-y as the shower fixture. But we’ll figure it out.

A bit more problematic is the vanity for the downstairs bathroom. The good news is, it’s in! The bad news, well, now that they opened up the walls, they’ve found that they need to do some finessing to bring things up to code – which I’m learning is the magic word here. Which means that the 30” vanity, will have to shrink down to a 24” vanity. Not exactly what I wanted in a space where there’s no storage to begin with, and no place else to put the storage. Sigh!

The worse sigh is that there’s 30% fee to take back the wonderful vanity I wanted. But the good news is that, since the incredible shrinking vanity will be cheaper, I might even break even on the transaction.

It’s not as if my head weren’t exploding enough, but I called to reschedule when the cable guy is coming so that we can try to figure out how to get the cable to where the new cable lines need to go, and was told that the meeting – which “Joe” at Comcast had supposedly set up for me – was never set up to begin with.

This is actually good news, as I was rescheduling it because, as it turned out, the electrician couldn’t be there on the day I thought Comcast was coming. We’ll see if they show up today.

Perhaps they can explain why the cable runs through the bathroom to begin with…(I have no recall about when we got cable put in. We’ve been at our place for nearly 25 years, but, whenever it was installed, it was my husband’s bailiwick. Now all the bailiwicks are mine. Where’s Diggy when I need him?)

Meanwhile, all the work-work I thought I was going to get done today – including a “real” episode of Pink Slip – went by the boards.

Anyway, I’m learning all sorts of new stuff, but it’s nothing that I have any interest in learning. And, trust me, it’s nothing that I’ll ever use again in my life.



*Those of a certain age and/or inclination will recognize this line from Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hotel for Sale

Not that I’m looking to become a hotelier any time soon, but an ad in The Economist for a hotel in Rogaska Slatina, Slovenia caught my eye.

It’s a 13 room (31 bed) 3-star hotel that’s nearly 150 years old, so it “benefits from many original features.” Living in a home of the same vintage, I can read between the lines on what “many original features” might mean. All I can say is that you have to take the good (charm and character) with the bad (no insulation and a continual battle against the depredations of old age). In this case, I suspect that there were further depredations stemming from the fact that many of those years were under Soviet domination.

Here’s a bit of the charm:

Vila Anan

And here, I suspect, is some of the Soviet era look and feel, maybe with a bit of modern slapped on.  (In case you’re wondering, this is a bathroom shot.)


As is befitting a 3-star hotel, it’s minimalist and not very expensive. (Recent rack rate: $69/night per person. Breakfast included.)

But you wouldn’t be coming to hang around the Vila Ana Hotel for its comfort and joy. You’d be coming to Rogaska Slatina for the waters, as the towns a mineral water spa. Or, if you were a mass grave buff, for the mass graves. There are a couple of them in town, full of folks slaughtered after World War II was over, but, apparently, before all the scores were settled. One of the mass graves is located in a ravine behind a hotel. Fortunately, not the Vila Ana.

The “Vila Ana is the only small 3-star property in Rogaska Slatina, and does not have any direct competitors.” From a business perspective, I do have to say that it’s not necessarily a good thing to have no direct competitors, as it does seem to suggest not much of a market. In any case, there are plenty of choices to pick from along the star scale. If I were going to Rogasks Slatina, I might notch up to 4 stars for the occasion. I so do not like the looks of that bathroom.

It’s also noted in the ad that “Russians and Italians comprise 57% of arrivals to the town.”

Whether this is a come-on or a caution, I don’t know. But Vila Ana must not attract many of the Italians, as Italian is not one of the languages that their staff speak. They do Russian, however, and English.

The asking price is 500,000 Euros, which sounds like a bargain. Until you start multiplying number of beds times rate.

It would take an awful long time to pay off a 500,000 Euro mortgage.

But maybe someone who likes to take the waters will pick it up and convert it to a single family. Maybe a low-end Russian oligarch.

Anyway, I always browse The Economist’s classifieds, and this was the most interesting one I’ve seen in a while.

It must be the inner B&B-running fantasist in me.

Although why someone who hates to cook would be interested in running a B&B is beyond me. I do like to do laundry, so I’d have the first B covered. For the second B, Cheerios are in the cupboard. Help yourself.

If you’re interested, offers are due by October 20th…

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Cow. Any questions?

My husband was a big fan of cartoonist Gary Larson. I was, too, for that matter.

A cartoon that we frequently referenced – you had to be there – was one in which (in our recall, anyway) a cow stands in front of a classroom, pointing at a chart with a picture of a cow on it, and asking the audience, “Cow. Any questions?”

At least that’s how we remembered it.

Who knows?

When I looked for it, this is the closest I came, which is either a wonderful follow-on to the original. Or is the original that Jim and I just misremembered.

Cow - any questionOther than that, I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about cows, but cows and I do have a bit of a history that goes a bit beyond Gary Larson..

I grew up in Worcester, in the city. When you walked out our front door and turned left, if was all city: three-deckers, small shops (Vic the Blind Barber, the Paree Beauty Salon, Morris Market, Sol’s Maincrest Pharmacy, Teddy’s Dry Cleaners…), a used car dealership, a gas station, a double three-decker that sold gravestones in their double front yard. But if you veered a bit to the right, just down the street was a quasi-working quasi-farm that had a couple of cows. Once in a while, the cows would make a run for it, and we’d see a Holstein (Gary Larson’s cow of choice) loping up the street. Then there was the winter when the cows froze to death. I think they froze to death standing in place – can this be right? However these cows met their fate, the health department had to come up with a bulldozer to knock ‘em down and drag ‘em out.

Anyway, I’m rather fond of cows. If nothing else, they make me smile. (Plus I’m an ice cream addict.)

So I was interested to read about Fair Oaks Farms which is not only a mega dairy (36,000 cows, thank you), but “the country’s only dairy theme park.”

Not only can you watch a live birth – anywhere from 80 to 100 calves are born each day, or watch the cows do their thing in the milking parlor. But:

Children can clamber up a “Calcium Climber” magnetic wall, ascend “udder heights” on a 25-foot milk bottle, milk a robotic cow and watch the making of 12 varieties of cheese and ice cream. (Source: The Economist)

Fair Oaks Farms is not, as you might expect, in Wisconsin. But it’s not all that far. It’s in Indiana, a stop along the way between Chicago and Indianapolis.

But they’re not just another roadside attraction. And they’re not only a working farm. They’re all about the sustainability.

Fair Oaks Farms brings Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to a whole new light.  Our entire facility runs on cow & pig manure.  We transform our farms' waste into energy by way of our anaerobic digesters, we reduce our dependency upon natural gas and electricity during the milk and manufacturing process. (Source: Fair Oak Farms)

How serious are they about recycling? Once they mine their manure for fertilizer, they send the leftover water through a “nutrient-recovery system”. The remaining “tea-colored liquid” might be used for irrigation. But they’re also exploring making it potable. (Remind me not to ask for water if I ever eat in the Fair Oak Farms restaurant.)

Not content to just work with cows, Fair Oak also has a Pig Adventure Center.

I like pigs as much as the next guy, but I’d be a bit concerned about the smell. Cows are one thing. Pigs…

When we’d take drives around Worcester County back when I was a kid, we went by plenty of farms that had a few cows. There was something kind of pleasant about getting a whiff of cow. But when we got near a pig farm, it was roll up the windows time.

I think about those farms. There can’t be many of them left in Worcester County. And certainly nothing of the magnitude – or even order or magnitude – of Fair Oak.

If I ever find myself tootling down the pike on the way from Chicago to Indianapolis, I’ll be sure to stop in.

Cow. Any questions?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Boca Chica vs. SpaceX. (Good luck, Boca Chicans.)

Boca Chica Village is about as far south as you can get in South Texas. It’s a tiny gulf town, poor and sparsely populated: 26 folks – “mainly seasonal blue-collar workers and retirees” – who like the beach, and don’t care if there’s not much doing in town. To get in on any action, you have to trek on over to Brownsville, the area’s “big city, 22 miles away. Folks in Boca Chica Village pretty much like it that way.

But Elon Musk’s SpaceX needed a site for his commercial rocket-launch business. They’d been using government facilities – Vandenberg AFB and Cape Canaveral – for their early work, but needed a place to call home. And, let’s face it, they weren’t going to find it in Central Park.

Certainly not after the state of Texas wooed them with $15M worth of incentives, and a local economic-development group anted up another $5M.

Then the Musk-ovites started blowing into town.

The company began snapping up more land in the area, renaming roads, such as Rocket Road and Mars Crossing. Then last spring, it bought a house on Weems Street, the heart of the village with two lanes and crumbling asphalt.

Residents grew suspicious -- why would a billionaire want to own a $37,000 home with no running water, bars on the windows and a rusty horseshoe hanging over the front door? Although SpaceX has used the house, now equipped with security cameras, for public meetings, neighbors remain on edge. (Source: Bloomberg)

Shouldn’t that be why would anyone “want to own a $37,000 home with no running water, bars on the windows and a rusty horseshoe hanging over the front door?”

But, hey, I haven’t been to Boca Chica Village, and it may be worth the no running water, etc. etc.

Space junkies are also looking to buy in so that they can get a bird’s eye view of the Mars launch and whatever else is going to get shot into space.

And now the locals are going NIMBY on the deal.

The residents say SpaceX representatives told them recently they would be required to register with the county, wear badges and pass through checkpoints on launch days, which will occur about once a month beginning as soon as next year. During a 15-hour launch time frame, their movement around the village could be restricted. If they happen to be picking up groceries past a designated "point of no return," forget about going home.

Even worse that those stinkin’ badges, SpaceX is considering using video surveillance and drones to keep an eye on the beach. 

"I’m like, ‘Are you out of your mind?’" said Cheryl Stevens, 55, who settled in Boca Chica Village a decade ago in search of quiet, rustic beauty. "It’s like Nazi Germany."

Well, not exactly like Nazi Germany, but I can understand the annoyance factor, the worrying about having your peace disturbed, your quiet pounded down, drones spying on you when you head in for a quick dip.

After all, Boston just dodged a bullet when the city backed out of the bid for the 2024 Olympics. One proposal was for beach volleyball on Boston Common, another was to turn the Boston Public Garden into some sort of velodrome for bike racing. Forget NIMBY. On this one I was going all NIMFY: Not In MY Front Yard!

So I get the concerns. You want one thing, and life sometimes hands you another.

But while I could see absolutely no benefit to having a mini-Tour de France spinning out of control across the street from my house, I can see that there might be some upside for Boca Chica Villagers.

The first and most obvious is that property values will go up.

Admittedly, it won’t do you much good if you manage to sell a house you paid $50K for $100K and can’t find any other waterfront property to buy for even that higher amount. But I suspect there are other poor South Texas beach towns that haven’t yet been turned into resorts or spring break destinations where you might be able to find a place.

That said, if you don’t want to move from your community, you don’t want to moved from your community.

But there are other upsides. The crumbling asphalt gets repaired. Maybe more places get running water. Maybe a shop or two opens.

This is, of course, imposing my own desire to live in a place where the asphalt doesn’t crumble, there’s running water, and places you can walk to where you can buy stuff. And yet I do feel that these are pretty general human desires.

Personally, I won’t be opening up any bidding war for property in Boca Chica Village. My one and only space shot was last October, when I sent a bit of my husband’s ashes on a return trip to infinity and beyond. Jim’s star trek took off in New Mexico, in some desert patch where no one lived.

But Boca Chica has people, And they’re not too happy that SpaceX is coming to town.

Maybe Elon Musk should give them all a Tesla. Maybe that would help.

In the meantime, good luck, Boca Chicans. For better or worse, “progress” usually wins out.

Monday, September 14, 2015

It’s official: Masshole’s word

It’s official. The Oxford English Dictionary has recently added the zesty neologism “Masshole” to its long and storied list of words.

I don’t believe it’s on track for the published tome, but it will be on

I have a two-volume – which is to say abridged – old version of the OED, probably from the 1980’s). I haven’t looked at it in years, yet when I did my pre-reno house purge, I hung on to it. Not so the mega American Heritage Dictionary I got as a Christmas gift from Genuity’s advertising firm back in the day. That went out with the trash, but – as I knew they would – someone rescued it.

I used to love browsing through a dictionary. But that was then and this is now. And now we have the OED, gifting us with the charming portmanteau Masshole.

Pronunciation:  Brit. /ˈmashəul/, U.S. /ˈmæsˌhoʊl/

OKay. Am I the only one who looks at those pronunciation guides and can’t make heads or tails out of them? Fortunately, there’s generally someone out there who’s done a handy-dandy YouTube guide to pronunciation. There are several for Masshole which, not surprisingly, is pronounced exactly like it looks, which isn’t mæsˌhoʊl  - mays-howl? – let alone mashəul – mas-herrrl?

Etymology:  Blend of the name of the U.S. state of Massachusetts and asshole n. at ass n.2 Compound.

U.S. coarse slang. A term of contempt for: a native or inhabitant of the state of Massachusetts. (Source: OED)

Part of getting a juicy little nickname like this is being blessed – ahem – with a state with a first syllable that contains the word “ass”. If we were called, say, Winthrop, no one would bother with Win-holes.

But some state names just lend themselves to this type of word-play. Californicate, anyone?

So, we’re stuck with it.

And, admittedly, we are a state that people seem to like to hate for some reason.

Personally, I believe – to borrow the saying from Patriots’ fans, via The Interview (which, it goes without saying, I didn’t see) – that they hate us ‘cause they ain’t us

After all, by just about any measure you can think of – health, wealth, educational achievement, crime rate – Massachusetts gets excellent ratings. And despite our reputation as terrible drivers, well, according to, we place d
ead last in fatalities per miles driven, and in the lower half for failure to obey, speeding, and careless driving. The only driving stat we’re high in is drunk driving (7th). So there!

Plus we are endowed with natural (albeit seldom very dramatic) beauty, charm, and history. McIntosh apples. Fried clams. Polar  Orange Dry soda. So there again!

Perhaps all our endowments make us come off as smug and arrogant. Know-it-alls. Jerks. But, gee, it’s hard not to ask yourself the question who wouldn’t want to be one of us?

But there we are, Massholes to the world and to the Oxford English Dictionary.

All this got me to wondering whether Massachusetts is actually the most disliked state.

The answer is a resounding ‘no’. Not even close. That honor goes to New Jersey, which has a net favorability factor (favorable opinion minus unfavorable opinion) of negative 10 – the only state to go negative.

This, at least, is according to YouGov.

Not that we’re covered with favorability. We’re in the bottom ten, tied with Michigan for 42nd, running ahead of California, Arkansas, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama and, of course, bottom-scraping New Jersey.

Why New Jersey? How can the Garden State be perceived as less favorable than Mississippi?


The top 10 makes sense, and I can certainly see why “our” Vermont and “our” Maine would rate highly. But why would people favor New Hampshire and Rhode Island over Connecticut (ranked 33) and the Masshole capital of the world?

Given that, like Massachusetts, Connecticut tends to rate pretty highly on most factors, it must get back to their jealousy and/or our arrogance. They hate us because they ain’t us. And why, pray tell, is Illinois – Land of Lincoln, land of half of my heritage – dragging along in the bottom, just a smidge above Alabama.

And just who did they ask that Texas comes up with such a high net favorability score. (+31). Not me!

While I do draw some comfort that at least we’re not as ill-regarded as New Jersey (or Illinois), I guess our lack of favorability is one reason why the OED embraced Masshole.

So, say it loud, say it proud. I’m a Masshole.

I saw a guy walking down Charles Street the other day wearing an “I’m a Masshole” tee shirt. Should have asked him where he got it.*



*Sullly’s Brand, apparently. And if ever there’s a Massachusetts name, Sully would be it…

Friday, September 11, 2015

Fourteen years ago today

Fourteen years ago today, I was in Orlando at a tech conference sponsored by Gartner. It was a pay-for-play deal: vendor companies paid to participate, and senior technology execs from major companies attended for free. The catch for those free-loading tech execs was that they had to sign up to attend a certain number of sessions. For us vendors, the come-on was that they were guaranteed that x number of tech execs for show up for each of our presentation sessions. There was also some sort of mini-trade show in which we got to talk to those vaunted tech execs while they wandered around during lunch break or cocktail hour. I don’t remember exactly what the hotel was, but it was a pretty swanky resort. (After all, this was a Gartner Group event. Nothing but the best!)

I’d flown in on Monday, September 10th, early in the morning. The plan was to fly back home late in the day on September 11th.

At 9 a.m., a few minutes after the first plane crashed into Tower 1, and a few minutes before the second plane crashed into Tower 2, I was standing in front of a bunch of tech execs talking about the wonders of web hosting in a Genuity data center. Not only did “we” have world-class data centers, “we” (BBN, actually) had, if not invented the Internet, then come damned close. And “we” (Ray Tomlinson from BBN) had indisputably come up with the @ sign used in web communications. And one of our senior architects had been chosen the “Sexiest Geek Alive” in 2000. Me? My claim to fame was that I had been one of the Genuity employees featured in Web Hosting Magazine. (Practically a center-fold.)

In addition to my fun talking points, I got to drone on about security, connectivity, applications, support, and Black Rocket (don’t ask), all the while trying to engage the tech execs in some sort of back and forth. After all, no one wanted to listen to me drone on for and hour. Including me.

By the time my first session of the day ended, the hotel folks had already rolled TVs into the open hall area outside the small session rooms, and attendees were watching the news, trying to make sense of what we were seeing. After a few minutes, I fled to my room, called home, and tried to make sense of it in private.

By noon, everyone was in a mad scramble trying to figure out how they were going to get home without flying.

I was fortunate to get on a north-bound Amtrak, on which I shared a sleeper bunk room with a (male) colleague. Not knowing how long it would take to get home, I went to the lobby shop in the hotel and bought a pair of black capri pants, a white sleeveless shirt, and a sweater that made me look like a member of the LPGA. I figured I might need a few things to augment the pants suit/two shirts that had been going to get me through the conference.

The only guarantee was that the train was going as far as Richmond, Virginia. With Washington DC and NYC under attack, it wasn’t clear whether we were at war.

All aboard!

In Richmond, on September 12th, we found out that the trains were moving, slowly but surely. Washington, DC, when we pulled in, was eerily quiet. But not as eerily quiet as pulling into NYC. When we left Newark Station, you could see the black cloud over Manhattan. And the hole in the sky where the World Trade Center had stood. No one in the car I was in – the passengers included Carol Burnett – said a word. We just sat there gaping.

It was close to midnight by the time I pulled into Boston. Jim met me at Back Bay Station. I went home and collapsed. (Couldn’t sleep but nonetheless collapsed.) I went into work at some point on the 13th, stopping at Logan Airport to pick up my car in the garage. Talk about eerily quiet.

Nothing much doing at work. We mostly sat around speculating on how Joel was going to get back from Phoenix (rent a car to St. Louis, then got one of the first flights out when service was restored), and on how Karl was going to get back from New Orleans (attendees at this conference chartered a bus to head north). We also talked about the last minutes of the handful of colleagues who’d been working at the Genuity network communications center on the top of one of the towers. They’d been talking to folks in our NOC when the building collapsed, telling them that they’d been told that they were going to be evacuated from the roof via helicopter. We took comfort knowing that they died with some hope.

Other of our colleagues – and these were folks I knew – were in Genuity’s NYC office, which was just across the street from the WTC. They witnessed the whole thing.

We also began figuring out how many degrees of separation we were from folks on the planes. The answer was not many. Boston’s a small town. Everyone knows someone who knew someone on one of those planes. (My cousin’s husband knew the women from TJ Maxx who were killed.)

Long time ago, now. Lots of water under everyone’s bridge.

But I still remember as vividly as yesterday that it took me weeks before I could shake the images of the collapsing towers out of my head, the images of those who jumped to their fate, the images of the ghostly “dust”-covered survivors fleeing. Every night, I watched hours of reports from “the pile,” hoping along with everyone else that someone would get found.

When I first returned to NYC the next spring, the financial district was still covered with flyers about those who were “missing.”

For those of a certain age, the September 11 attacks were our Pearl Harbor. You’d always remember where you were when you heard.

I was in Orlando, talking about web hosting.

Long time ago.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Hats off to Stetson

I caught an article on Bloomberg yesterday about Stetson hats, and thought about my father.

No, he wasn’t a cowboy. Far from it. But he stetsonwas a hat wearer, and a Stetson man. (Stetson’s came in fabulous hat boxes, by the way.)

No, he didn’t wear a cowboy hat. Far from it. But he did wear a fedora. (Felt most of the year; straw between Memorial Day and Labor Day.)

If my father was out of doors, he had a hat on. He did wear a golf cap (a billed, mesh baseball-cap like chapeau) when he golfed or was at the beach. But mostly it was a trusty fedora.

I can think of very few outside pictures where my father is not wearing a fedora. He even wore a fedora when he was out raking the lawn.

He was, of course, a card-carrying member of the Greatest Generation – in cleaning out stuff for my home renovation, I came across a laminated copy of the card-form of his discharge papers, which he carried in his wallet at all times; so, yes, he was a card-carrying member of the GG – and this was also the last generation where men wore a hat as a matter of course. (It wasn’t just men who wore hats. No woman would go out to dinner, to church, or shopping without wearing a hat. Children followed suit. Girls had hats for church and shopping – in our family there was no such thing as going out to dinner – and boys had snappy little fedoras, porkpies, or trilbies that they wore to church.)

Male hat-wearing started dying out when JFK – my father’s fellow Massachusetts, Irish-Catholic, and WWII navy veteran GG-er, although that’s about where any resemblance ends –began going hatless. Suddenly, hat-wearing was stodgy and old-man.

Of course, JFK had a wonderful head of hair. My father had a wonderful head of bald. Which probably explains his fealty to fedora wearing, even when the hat became passé.

Stetson is still in business. No longer the hat behemoth that once employed 5,000 hatters, but still around. And trying to appeal to hipsters and fashionistas, while still hatting American cowboys, as they’ve done for the past 150 years.

They no longer make hats in Philadelphia. That plant shut down in 1971, the year my father died. (Coincidence? I think not…)

A company called Hatco now makes Stetson's emblematic cowboy hats at a factory in Garland, Tex. Stetson has survived as a licensing company. Whereas its bustling factory once employed more than 5,000 workers, fewer than 10 people, mostly in the New York office, now oversee Stetson's licenses and evangelize for the brand. (Source: Bloomberg)

Part of the evangelizing of the brand entails getting hip and happenin’ Stetsons on the heads of hip and happenin’ folks.

Celebrity endorsements are a key part of Stetson's strategy for garnering mainstream publicity. While Stetson doesn't have a marketing budget, some famous folks promote the hats free: The company sends an unlimited supply of hats to celebrities, including Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson, and Brad Paisley, provided they wear them in public.


Brad Paisley is in his early 40’s, still young enough to pass for hipster – if a country singer of that age can do so. Willie Nelson and Leonard Cohen are in their 80’s. Of course, Willie never went out of style, and Leonard Cohen, I suppose, has a certain ageless hipster appeal. (Snap, snap. When I was in college, and you wanted to slink off into a bluish funk, you put on a Doors album, followed by a round of Leonard Cohen. So long, Marianne.)

Brad, Willie and Leonard aside, Stetson CEO Izumi Kajimoto says:

"We must be at the forefront of haberdashery and fashion. I don't want the urban contemporary, city, international guy to think, 'I have nothing in common with Stetson.'"

On beyond hats, Stetson has a number of products that use its name, most playing on the Western heritage, a heritage that Kajimoto knows that “she needs to make [it]…seem cool.”

Come on! What’s not cool about Roy Rogers (no relation), Gene Autry, and John Wayne? About cattle drives and shoot outs at corrals? About spurs, chaps, and walking bowlegged? About dogies? And dogie crap? About saloons with swinging doors? About gunslingers and purdy little schoolmarms that try to find the goodness in gunslingers? About barbed wire, prairie dogs, and bucking broncos?

What do these hipsters want, anyway?

My father may not have been a cowboy. And he was no one’s idea of a hipster. But he sure knew how to look good in a Stetson.

They’re not making any more of my father, but I’m happy that they’re still making Stetson hats.

Hats off to that. And good luck with the hipsters.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Call of Jury Duty

Today I’m on jury duty. At least I am as of this writing (Tuesday afternoon). I may get lucky and not need to go. Or I may spend a sweltering day hanging around Brighton Municipal Court waiting to see whether I’m needed to weigh in on who did what to whom in a bar fight, or whatever else happens in municipal court.

I’ve been on juries in the past, but they were in state court. Muni will be another experience for me.

Anyway, what with my renovation starting today, I have been out of my mind, and Pink Slip, alas, has been suffering from benign neglect.

But since jury duty is on my mind, today’s post will be a revisit to one I did last time I was on jury duty, almost 8 years ago. (Seems like just yesterday.)


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Don’t txt what you can speak

Old-timey Boston political boss Martin Lomasney lived by a code that those involved in sketchy activities would do well to heed:

Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.

This could do with a bit of an update to cover more modern communications methods: Never txt or e-mail what you can speak…And never speak when there’s any possibility that what you say can be recorded.

For prosecutors hot on the heels of inside traders, the voyage of discovery through text and e-mails relies on checking for the use of certain acronyms and phrases.

TYOP (tell you on phone), TOL (talk offline) and LDL (let’s discuss live) are red flags for prosecutors combing through the e-mail transcripts of Wall Street traders suspected of illegal activity. (Source: Bloomberg)

After all, why would you have to TOL if you weren’t up to something shady? In legalese, it shows “evidence of intent,” awareness that what you were doing is wrong.

Of course, that something shady would not necessarily have to be insider trading. It could also be an extra-marital affair. But if that were the case, prosecutors wouldn’t be after you. Divorce lawyers, maybe, but not prosecutors.

Other expressions of interest include “call my cell” and “let’s go off e-mail.”

But the roster of suspicious wording is a living and breathing kind of thing:

New expressions and acronyms pop up all the time, and authorities say they build lists of favored terms.

There are also evasions, like substituting “fon” for “phone”, which is what Raj Rajaratnam, a hedge fund (phund?) manager now doing time in a Federal joint in Ayer, Massachusetts, did. Of course, maybe “fon” was just shorthand, and not an evasion tactic. (Raj is in prison at the same location where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was held during until he was convicted of the Marathon Day bombings. Nice company…)

Just because you text LDL is not, of course, the smoking gun. It’s just the smoke that suggests that there may well be a fire(arm).

Whatever the case, it continues to amaze me that there are people who remain unaware of the perils of using social media.

The guy who breaks into someone’s house and updates his FB page with a picture of himself with the loot he’s about to make off with. The intemperate tweet. The rancid e-mail that goes viral. The msg that puts you at the scene of the crime. The bullying comment. (A few months back, former Red Sox pitcher (and blogger) Curt Schilling went after – and unmasked – a bunch of young guys who had made outrageously vile comments about his daughter after Schilling posted about her heading off to play college softball.)

It may be that because 99.9999% of what people put out there is completely innocuous, they get lulled into forgetting that some of what they have to say could get them into trouble.

Same for searching for info on how to commit a crime.

Googling “how to get away with murder”? Nah, that one will never come back to haunt you.

From a law enforcement standpoint, I guess it’s fortunate that criminals are so focused on their crime, and so convinced that they’re smarter than everyone else, that it never occurs to them that they might get caught.

But they’re obviously not smart enough to know what Martin Lomasney had to say – and that, when it comes to criminality, Lomasney was right.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Labor Day, 2015

It’s Labor Day, and as is my tradition, I’m taking the day off.

On some of my Labor Day’s off, I’ve gone a bit long in my posts, and here’s one of my favorites: Once Again, I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.

I will not be seeing Joe Hill today, but I will be seeing President Barack Obama, who will be speaking at the Greater Boston Labor Council’s annual Labor Day Breakfast.

I’m not a member of the GBLC, but my brother Rick runs it, and he gave me one of his much-in-demand tickets.(Here’s the small tribute to this brother of mine, paid last year in my Labor Day post.)

I’m much looking forward to hearing the President speak, as well as, I think, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Which is as good a way as any to spend Labor Day, if you’re an old left-leaning romantic…

Anyway, Hail to the Chief, and Hail to the Chief of the Greater Boston Labor Council.

And Happy Labor Day to blue, white, pink, and no-collar workers everywhere. This day’s for you!



Thursday, September 03, 2015

As summer wends its way to fall

It’s in the 90’s, so it’s hard to believe that summer’s winding down and wending its way into fall. But it is so.

The last month has been a blur. First, there was the frenzy of picking out and purchasing everything I needed for a major reno. I’m sure that there’ll be more, but so far there’s only been one hiccup: the place where I ordered my tiles couldn’t guarantee delivery of the Carrara marble jamb and threshold before the end of October. Too late! Fortunately, the tile place next door had them in stock, so the bathrooms will be able to be completed. Phew.

Once the buy-buy-buy frenzy ebbed, I went into the sort-toss-shred frenzy. Prepping the house for the reno is the equivalent of moving, and it feels good to unload a lot of junk. But, man, was it ever time consuming. And every sub-project (room, closet, drawer) is pretty much guaranteed to take at least twice as long as you anticipate. I did try (not 100% successfully) not to give in to the temptation to throw everything into a box and plan on figuring out the keepers when I unpack. Mostly I resisted. Come November, I don’t want to be unloading yet another box chocked full of stuff I should have jettisoned. There’ll be some of that, but not all that much.

Anyway, somewhere along the line, the project carpenter asked me if I were going to get “smart” appliances, i.e., appliances connected to the Internet, and part of the wonderful world-wide Internet of Things (IoT).

No way, I told him, am I going to willy-nilly introduce IoT into my home. Sure, I’ve got a smart enough thermostat, but that’s about it.

Besides, the writing projects I do for clients is increasingly about the IoT. Enough is enough. When it comes to the IoT, I gave at the office. But there’s really no escaping the IoT/smart tech and, in a few years, we probably won’t even be talking about it. IoT will just be computing technology. (Next stop: telepathy.)

Last week, one of my clients sent me a link to We Put a Chip in It. Motto: It was a dumb thing. We put a chip in it. Now it’s a smart thing.

We Put a Chip in It is an aggregation of smart applications that are mostly flat-out ridiculous. The smart water bottle. The smart gym glove. There’s an app that reminds you to take a deep breath. Ommmmm. OMG.

The videos I looked at are hilarious. They seem like parodies, but there appear to be “real” companies behind them.

So, as we leave summer, I offer you this end-of-summer treat.

If you need your laugh of the day, I believe you may have found it.

Meanwhile, I’m taking tomorrow off, but will be back next week.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Fuller Brush Man

I grew up in the age before going shopping was something that was done for pleasure. You shopped when you needed something, and – other than grocery shopping, which was an every week thing, with mini excursions mid-week, when kids were dispatched to pick up a box of raisins or whatever – was a Big Deal.

When my sister Kath and I went “down city” with our mother, we got dressed up – hats, white gloves, patent leather shoes – and took the bus for our forays to Denholm’s, Filene’s, and Barnard’s.

Surprisingly, there was also quite a bit of shopping done from the home. We had a milk man (Blanchard’s Dairy) who came a couple of times a week, and a bread man (Cushman’s Bakery) who did the same. For non-food stuff, you could order from the Sears catalogue. You could buy things from the Avon Lady (my mother’s friend Helen: I still remember trudging up the gloomy back stairs of Helen’s three-decker to drop off the payment and pick up the hand lotion). And you could buy things from the Fuller Brush man.

My mother bought hair brushes and, I think, some cleaning supplies. But the best thing about a visit from the Fuller Brush man was that he left a small sample-sized bottle of lilac toilet water. If you overlooked the – tee-hee – word toilet water, what you had (if you’re an imaginative six-year old) was a bottle of perfume. I still remember what it smells like. It’s one of the olfactory “madeleine” moments of my childhood. I’d know that scent anywhere.

While Fuller Brush is a thing of my particular past, it’s still in the present for the three Fuller Brush men who continue to ply their trade in Massachusetts.

Al Cohen is one of them, and he was profiled recently in The Boston Globe.  Cohen, who’s 64, has been selling for Fuller for over 40 years.

During the company’s peak in the late 1950s and 1960s, there were up to 35,000 salespeople across the country, the majority of them men, said Larry Gray, vice president of consumer sales for Fuller Brush which is based in Napa, Calif.

There were female “Fullerettes,” too, selling cosmetics and hair products, but it was the Fuller Brush man who achieved pop culture status. He showed up in comic strips and a Disney movie, “Three Little Pigs.” Blues singer Julia Lee crooned a raunchy “I’ve got a Crush on the Fuller Brush Man” in the late 1930s. Radio and television personality Red Skelton starred in a “Fuller Brush Man” movie in 1948.

Actually, I’m sorry to read that Red Skelton (yuck) played a Fuller Brush, but that “Crush on the Fuller Brush Man” put a smile on my face in a way that so-called comedian Red Skelton never did.

Cohen’s route is Newton – so he probably sold to my Aunt Margaret – and Hull – so he may have tried his luck with my sister Kath, who lived in that town for a number of years.

He still has his loyal customers – most of them older folks, but lest you think that Fuller is a dying business, the company also does a good business online, in what’s a restart of an old brand.

David Sabin, chief executive of the Fuller Brush Co., bought it in 2013 after the company went bankrupt.

“I decided the brand was a great nostalgic brand,” he said. The challenge was: “How do we bring it to the millennial customer?”

Their solution has been to go where they go. Though the company has kept staples like mops and detergent, it’s also launched a line of hipper home products like bamboo cutting boards and “eco-friendly” cooking utensils. Some are sold at Williams-Sonoma and Anthropologie. Everything is available online. Sales, Sabin said, are up.

Alas, I checked the Fuller site out and I couldn’t find any of that lilac toilet water. Come on, Mr. Stein. It may not appeal to the millennials, but I can guarantee you’ll appeal to a few of us boomers.

As for Al Cohen, as long as there are folks buying, he’ll be out selling.

“It keeps me going,” he said. “And if I stopped, it would almost be a letdown for some of my customers. Some of them depend on me.”

After 40 years at it, I wish him well. Keep up the good work.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Are squirrels getting smarter? What’s going on here?

Yesterday morning, while walking through the Boston Common on my way to an even more pathetic workout than usual – the gym has (unbelievably) little by way of AC and it wnutsas sweltering; I was exhausted by having spent 13 hours straight on Sunday doing some more packing up so the house would be ready for the looming reno – I came across this odd little sight.

At first, I walked on by. Then I doubled back to take a picture.

Despite the excellence of my smartphone shot – I really am getting to be something of a Margaret Bourke-White – if you can’t figure out what this is, it’s a Styrofoam takeout container filled with acorns.

My initial thought was that squirrels are getting more advanced, evolutionary-wise, and if they haven’t exactly grown opposable thumbs, they’ve started using tools, in this case, a handy carrying container that perhaps lets them gather nuts more efficiently.

And then I thought, nah.

After all, having efficiently gathered so many nuts, they were going to have an impossible time lugging their trove to the acorn burial ground.

Perhaps it was someone up to no good. Maybe this acorn treasure chest was poisoned by someone who’d had it with poisoning the pigeons in the park, and was now going after the squirrels. But who would do such a thing? Sure, squirrels are rodents, but if you’re going to come after rodents, why not choose rats? You could leave anything out for them, and you wouldn’t have to go through the pain of bending down and picking up all these stray acorns.

So I was left with the thought that this was probably some do-gooder, trying to help our furry friends out by doing some of their work for them.

Maybe they were worried that, if we had another winter like last year’s, the local squirrels would be needing a boost.

But even a bleeding heart die-hard like me has a hard time coming up with a rationale for the creation of the acorn bonanza.

Aren’t squirrels industrious and prudent? Don’t we want to encourage this behavior, not undermine it?

For some reason, I’m thinking ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; give a man a fishing pole, and he’s set for life.’

Only this is the reverse.

Anyway, inquiring minds – at least this one – want to know what’s up with this bit of nuttiness.

Maybe it’s performance art. Maybe there’s a YouTube out there already showing the reactions of passers-by. (I am not the zaftig woman in the pink shirt and workout pants. Not me at all.)
And maybe, just maybe, it’s as I originally surmised: squirrels are getting smarter.