Thursday, March 31, 2016

Poor Little Rhode Island

God knows, plenty of people – marketing pros and amateurs alike (and there are a ton of amateur marketers out there, as it’s a rare individual who doesn’t think they can do marketing)  – make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are typos. One company I worked for printed a gazillion brochures for DataWidow. Too bad the product was called DataWindow.

Another time, we left an apostrophe out of a direct mail piece. Too bad it was in the front-page headline, not buried in the text. It wasn’t a major mailing, so we actually printed out a bunch of apostrophes on clear, sticky-backed paper and made the correction that way. It was cheaper than doing the entire piece over.

Sometimes the mistakes are image-related.

In the early days of PCs, a brochure went out with what was obviously an Apple computer on it, when all we supported was the Intel-based PC.

Years ago I had as a client a small software company made up entirely of men who were originally from Poland. When they put together their first web site, they used a stock photograph on the page where they had their bios. The photo showed the usual stock photo diverse set of employees: white man, black woman, Asian woman, Hispanic-looking guy. This image was right next to the list of employees, all of them with distinctly male first names (even if you didn’t know any Polish) and distinctly Polish last names.

I’m not even going to go into the crazy-factory software company that did a very expensive brochure using the Brooklyn Bridge as an image. Unfortunately, it rang a bit too true…

But poor little Rhode Island had two pretty significant boo-boos come to light this week.

First, there was the tourism video that used footage from Iceland:

The video’s intro features a skateboarder outside a glass building and has a narrator saying, ‘‘Imagine a place that feels like home but holds enough uniqueness that you’re never bored.’’ People on social media said: Hey, that’s not Rhode Island — that’s the Harpa concert hall and conference center in Reykjavik. (Source: Boston Globe)

There are plenty of fabulous Rhode Island scenes out there. Even a non-Rhode Islander like myself can quickly come up with a bunch: Newport mansions, plenty of old houses on Providence’s College Hill, farms on the ocean in Tiverton/Little Compton, downtown Providence Water Fire, some harbor filled with sail boats, the home of the Pawtucket Red Sox. These may all be the clichéd views, but surely the production company should have been able to come up with something other than Iceland. I mean, maybe you could borrow a Connecticut or Massachusetts scene and no one would notice the difference. But, but, but…Reykjavik?

I guess Iceland and Rhode Island both have the word “land” in them, but in terms of similarities, Rhode Island is not even an island.

A Rhode Island Commerce Corporation spokeswoman, in confirming later Tuesday that the building in the state’s tourism ad is Harpa, said an editing company used the wrong footage.

‘‘As the Commerce Corporation put this presentation video together, explicit instructions were given to the local firm that helped with editing to use only Rhode Island footage,’’ spokeswoman Kayla Rosen said. ‘‘A mistake was made. Once the mistake was identified, the video was removed.’’

Unfortunately for poor little Rhode Island, the social media crank-fest that sprung up over the wrong-footed video got folks looking at what else state tourism folks might be up to.

Turns out that, on the state’s tourism web site, one of the boasts is that Rhode Island is home to 20 percent of the historic landmarks in the United States, which would certainly lead a would-be tourist to figure that mighty-might Rhode Island punches way above its weight when it come to historic landmarks.

The National Park Service lists more than 2,500 national historic landmarks in the country. Rhode Island has 45, or less than 2 percent. (Source: Boston Globe)

That’s a long way from 20 percent, whether they’re counting the Harpa concert hall or not.

No state has 20 percent. New York and Massachusetts have the most, with 10 percent and 7 percent respectively.

Hmmm. I was going to have a hard enough time figuring out what those 45 historic landmarks in Rhode Island might be, let alone the 350+ in Massachusetts. But I can probably come closer in Massachusetts. Plymouth Rock, Boston Massacre, Old North Church, Lexington Green, Concord Bridge… I’m getting there.

But back to the subject of the day. I really do feel bad for those poor little Rhode Island tourist folks. Marketing’s harder than most folks think it is.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wolfman wanted

Every once in a while, I hear about a job and say to myself, ‘hmmmm, that might be interesting.’ And then I remind that same hmmmmm-ing self that, in all likelihood, I will never have another job in my life. Oh, I’ll keep doing the freelance thing as long as it keeps dropping in my lap. I’m sure I’ll do some regular volunteer thing, beyond the committee stuff I do now, and that might look like a job in that I go somewhere and do something on a regular basis. Every once in a while, I think it might be nice to get a “small” part time or seasonal job. Mostly accept that fact that I’ll never really hold a job-job again.

Even if I were on the job hunt, the position of Wolfman, even if I qualified for it and it was on the Esplanade rather than way up in New Hampshire, would not be one that I’d put my coonskin cap in the ring for.

But someone will no doubt jump at the opportunity to be the Wolfman at Clark’s Trading Post.

The family-friendly theme park in Lincoln, N.H., put a call out this month for a person to take over the role of the “Wolfman,” a character that has been used at Clark’s for decades to add an element of excitement to the company’s 2½-mile steam-powered train tours.

Clark’s will hold open auditions for the role on April 9, and anyone with acting chops and the right amount of facial hair is welcome to try out, said Anne Clark Englert, one of the park’s owners.

“A good Wolfman needs to be scruffy and unkempt on the outside, but also outgoing on the inside,” Englert said.

A working knowledge of vintage dirt track race cars, used to pursue the trains, and a valid driver’s license are also a must.

Smelling bad? That’s optional. (Source: Boston Globe)

It’s a full time Memorial Day through Columbus Day job, which leaves out college students or school teachers. But it would work for snow plow drivers or someone who works the lifts at a ski resort.And it would work for someone with at least a tiny bit of inner creep. Come on, you have to be willing to jump out of a wooded area and scare kids? Doesn’t that kind of say creep?

Anyway, it’s a wonder to me that places like Clark’s Trading Post – these small, mom-and-pop, somewhat seedy, incredibly odd-ball, throwback places – manage to survive. Although I’m not enamored of the idea that Clark’s has trained bear shows – no thanks –  I’m mostly happy that amusement parks like these are still around.

I grew up in the era when most amusement parks were on the crummy side. Generally tawdry (or at least tawdry-ish). Limited in what they offered. Nothing glam, nothing glitz, not that commercial. But FUN. As a kid, I would have been just as happy if we went to one of these dumps once a week rather than once or twice a summer.

Where did I park when I was getting amused? White City in Shrewsbury (where I once fell down in the quite misnamed Barrel of Fun, and had to be helped out by a nice “big boy,” my family apparently having abandoned me to my revolving fate. Whalom Lake in Lunenburg, a bus trip with the Junior Catholic Daughters of America. Paragon Park at Nantasket Beach, where the real attractions were the beach and LeHage’s salt water taffy – oh, so good , but where we always at least took a ride on the merry-go-round. Later on in my childhood, I went to Canobie Lake Park in NH, and was shocked to find that an amusement park could actually be clean and attractive. I had no idea.

On one family trip to Chicago, I may have gone to Riverview Park. I either have a memory of being there – or not. I do remember that my Uncle Bobby (who, at 10 years my senior, was more like a cousin than an uncle) bought or won me a plaster-of-Paris kewpie doll. I believe the plaster-of-Paris doll he bought or won for my sister Kath was a hula girl.

If I really did go to Riverview, the fact that I actually got something tangible to show for it – a prize, a gift, a thing – would elevate it to the finest amusement park I’d ever experienced in the whole-wide-world. Whether it was as clean as Canobie, I’ll have to ask my Chicagoland cousin Ellen to report back to me.

The other amusement park I remember going to was a truly crumb-bum roadside attraction, cowboy themed, somewhere outside of Chicago. There may not have been any rides there – I don’t recall any – but it was something out of the ordinary: a real fake Wester town with a real-fake saloon with real-fake swinging doors and a real-fake shoot out. It was almost like being on the set of Range Rider or Bronco Lane, minus the horses and cute guys.

But these were the days of black and white TV. Kids weren’t expecting much. We all watched the opening of Disneyland on those b&w TVs, but I didn’t know anyone who actually expected to get there. Just out of the realm of possibility.

But Disneyland (where I managed to get to as an adult) did start to set a new expectation about what an amusement park could be. And it pretty much sets the standard for what kids and parents can expect: clean, exciting, attractive, lots of stuff to buy.

I’m happy to see that, in this world, a place like Clark’s can still manage to stay alive, and that they’re looking for a full time wolfman.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Oh, grow up. (Seriously, folks, what IS wrong with adult egg-hunters?)

This past weekend produced not one, but two – count ‘em two – absolutely edifying (NOT!) Easter egg hunt-related stories, both of which took place in New England – not the location I would have imagined would be so prone to Easter egg hunt riots.

The first, and most notorious one, took place at the US headquarters of PEZ.

The good folks at PEZ, hoping to spread a bit of PEZ-ziness and some Easter cheer, organized an egg hunt that went bad.

…marauding helicopter parents ruined a Pez Easter egg hunt. Hundreds of people showed up for the 9,000-strong egg hunt, and some parents disregarded the staggered start times, instead rushing the field, pushing past actual children to grab eggs…

Nicole Welch told WFSB that those parents ‘‘bum-rushed’’ the area, leaving her 4-year-old son ‘‘traumatized’’ and ‘‘hysterically crying.’’

‘‘Somebody pushed me over and take my eggs,’’ Vincent Welch, 4, told NBC Connecticut after the event, ‘‘and it’s very rude of them and they broke my bucket.’’ (Source: Boston Globe)

I saw the Welches, mere et fils, on the news, and I would like to acknowledge that young Master Welch was one of the most self-possessed children I’ve ever seen on TV.

I also want to say that the term “hunt” is used very, very lightly these days. Does not the word “hunt” imply that there’s actually something to look for, something hidden? Yes, I know that big game hunters now go on special retreats to kill fenced-in endangered animals, shooting fish in a barrel, as it were. So I guess this trend of making things easy-peasy has passed on to the egg hunt, where the eggs no longer seem to be hidden, but simply strewn all over a field.

Not that there was such a thing as an egg hunt when I was a kid, but didn’t the eggs used to be, like, hidden behind rose bushes and the bathtub Madonna or something? Perhaps it’s better this way – the better to let the greedy egg-grabbers have at it. Remove all element of challenge. But where’s the hunt – and where’s the fun – in this approach.

Before we move any further on, I would like to see a bit more truth in advertising in these so-called egg hunts, and start calling them egg gathers.

Meanwhile, what’s with these adults that they’d push kids over to get a crappy plastic egg with a Hershey’s Kiss stuffed in it? And what’s wrong with these adults that they’d drive 2 1/2 hours – as one of the PEZ Debacle mothers claimed she did – toddler in tow, for the chance to pick up a couple of crappy plastic eggs with a Hershey’s Kiss stuffed in them?

Like Prissy, I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies, but I think I would have been smart enough to figure out that, for a really little kid unsteady on their pins, the place to bring them is not a big crowd of similarly unsteady kiddos, especially when you factored in the greediness and pushiness of older kids, not to mention all those unrestrained adults. Not to mention that most of the videos I’ve seen of the really little guys at these and similar events showed them toddling around right past plastic eggs. They didn’t even get the plot that they were supposed to pick up the damned things.

Wouldn’t it be better to hide a couple of eggs in almost plain sight in the living room and let your toddler have their own private hunt? Or a semi-private hunt in the company of sibs and cousins? Where everyone would be at least quasi-looking out for everyone else, and there’d be little likelihood of anyone getting trampled?

Oh, well.

I feel bad for the kids who got roughed up, and for the folks at PEZ who thought they were doing a community-building event. (The community would have been better served by just having someone in an Easter Bunny suit stand there giving out Easter-themed PEZ dispensers. And they could have really kept the crowds down if they’d advertised that the eggs to be “hidden” were going to be real hard-boiled eggs. Who’d want to maraud for that?)

But these pushy, greedy, grabby grownups?

I’m sure they didn’t come with marauding in mind. But they saw someone jump the gun, and thought their kid would lose out. They saw a slightly bigger kid sweep in and pick up an egg their little guy had had his eye on and was stooping to grab, and jumped in to grab it back. They saw the toddler field open up – the fields were divided by age group, and the “hunt” times staggered – and thought ‘game on.’

It does leave one lifting her Easter bonnet, scratching her head and asking why people are such jerks that they can’t even keep the lid on during an Easter egg hunt.

The other egg hunt incident took place in Proctor, VT, where one.

Police were called to a hunt, in Proctor, Vt., after receiving a report of “multiple irate parents.”

One fellow started threatening the cops who were brought in to police the melee. He ended up being pepper-sprayed and charged with disorderly and resisting. Way to go, Dad.

As I said, I was a bit surprised that these events took place in New England. Sure, we’re rude and pushy, but it just doesn’t seem like the sort of place that would bring out a 1,000 folks for an Easter egg hunt. For one thing, the weather’s too rotten, or at least it was on Saturday. Cold and blustery. But never underestimate, I guess.

And I really should have known better.

Many years ago – the little boys in the story are turning 35 this year – my husband and I took two 9 year-old friends of ours to the old Boston Garden. For some charitable donation or other, you got to walk through the Celtics locker room, and have a few minutes playing hoops on the parquet floor.

There were two sets of baskets: one set were the “real” ones that were actually used in NBA games. The others were opposite each other at mid court.

Want to guess how long it took for grown men to take over the real baskets, leaving the kids to the baskets on the sidelines?

Jim went out for a bit to play with Justin and Sam and block out a few of the “grownups” so that the kids could get a chance or two to heave up a shot in the same baskets that Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish used. But mostly the kids were relegated to the non-real baskets. (Frankly, the biggest excitement of the day is that we were featured very prominently on the news as we pushed through the turnstiles at the start of the event.)

Is it to much to ask these sorts of yahoos to just grow up?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Kids– and AI chatbots–say the darnedest things, don’t they?

Back in the day, in the early 1980’s, when those of us laboring in the tech fields did so on mainframe computers, we would occasionally entertain ourselves playing with some version of ELIZA. ELIZA was a computer program that did a very early, very primitive version of natural language processing.

You could type in a question, and ELIZA would answer, handing you back some of your own words, cocooned in canned phrases.

It was stupid. It was fun. And it didn’t take long to realize kinda-sorta what ELIZA was doing. But we wanted it to believe it was more or less real, in much the same way that we’d all grown up hoping that some day we’d have a close encounter with a talking horse like Mr. Ed.

But, of course, of course, we were smart enough to figure out that someday computers (unlike horses) were going to be able to engage in some sort of conversation with us.

Fast forward, and there’s Siri…

Fast forward and just last week Microsoft released, “an artificially intelligent chatbot.”

“Tay is designed to engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation,” her about page said. “The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you.” (Source: Geekwire)

Well, I do prefer a conversational experience that’s at least somewhat personalized to me. And it’s is always fun chatting with someone who gets smarter as the conversation goes along. For most of us, the experience is at best neutral and at worst the opposite. But Tay doesn’t just depend on her own native smarts, or on plucking your obvious improve-as-the-conversation-goes-on memory, intelligence, and wit to enhance her own conversational ability.

Microsoft’s Technology and Research group teamed up with Bing to experiment and research conversational understanding in machines. The team used public data, along with input from improv comedians and AI experts alike.

Public data, improv comedians and AI experts! Let the personalized conversations begin!

But wait….

Oh, no.

Tay is not targeted at the AARP brigade. Not even close. She:

lives inside Kik,GroupMe and Twitter. She can chat about snowboarding, play two truths and a lie, and ask about your wildest dreams…

The bot, targeted at 18–25 year olds, can learn about your relationship status, favorite food and nickname—all the important parts of a millennial’s life.

Widow. Ice cream. Moe. I wouldn’t say these are all the important parts of my life, but they’re right up here. So I’m feeling a bit left out here. I guess it’s because I don’t snowboard, nor do I know what GroupMe is. (On the other hand, I know how to play two truths and a lie, and even at my great advanced age, I’m still capable of some pretty wild dreams.)

Mostly, Tay absorbs what “real” millennials are telling her, and speaks back in fluent millennial-ese.

As it turned out, Tay wasn’t quite as smart as Microsoft thought she was. Within a day after she first started engaging with all those millennials, she was given a time out. Not surprisingly, she’d been pulled into sexting. But the real problem is she started trash chatting, blaming GW for 9/11, calling Obama a monkey, and defending Hitler. That’s because she was keying off what some not-so-nice users were telling her.

“The AI chatbot Tay is a machine learning project, designed for human engagement,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement. “It is as much a social and cultural experiment, as it is technical. Unfortunately, within the first 24 hours of coming online, we became aware of a coordinated effort by some users to abuse Tay’s commenting skills to have Tay respond in inappropriate ways. As a result, we have taken Tay offline and are making adjustments.” (Source: Geekwire)

I’m sure that Microsoft anticipated that some of her “friends” would get her to talk dirty. I’m sure that they anticipated that she would end up throwing an f-bomb or two. How did they not anticipate that she would dragged into places where no AI chatbot should ever, ever go.

Anyway, I’ll wait until Microsoft perfects Tay before requesting one for Boomers.

But I do have my wish list.

Boomer Tay shouldn’t be called Tay. She should have a Boomer name. And given that we’re reaching the age where the women are starting to really outnumber the men, I’d like our chatbot to be a guy. Call him Wally, or Beaver, or Bud.

Wally/Beaver/Bud will need to be able to talk rock ‘n roll, know the names of all the Cartwright brothers, and sing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song. Wally/Beaver/Bud will have to be sympathetic to our gripes about our aches and pains. He will have to use a big, legible font – in black. He will need to be able to get any lame old Mr. Ed joke we want to tell. And, even though Eddie Haskell wasn’t really crude or dirty – just smarmy and sly – our chatbot needs to be smart enough to avoid bad companions.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Happy Peep-ster, all you peeps out there

It’s not as if I’ll be heading out to the Easter Parade in my pastel topper, straw hat, and new patent-leather Mary Janes. It’s not as if I’m holding a backyard egg hunt. It’s not like I’ll be climbing a mountain for sunrise service.

Still, there’s something about an early Easter that I just plain don’t like.

But it’s Easter, and that means a late-middle-aged blogger’s fancy turns to Peeps.

Oh, it’s not quite the same as it used to be, given that Peeps aren’t just for Easter anymore. There almost always available, what with Christmas Peeps, St. Patrick’s Day Peeps, Halloween Peeps. But the yellow chick Peep, well, that original is still the greatest.

My favorite Peep-related event is the Washington Post’s annual Peeps Diorama Contest.

I am not a big fan of this year’s winner. And it’s not just the odious subject matter. I just don’t find “Trump 360” an especially fine or creative use of Peeps.


I thought the Adele concert, Shacklepeep’s Expedition – 100th anniversary, the Peeple’s Pope’s Visit, the Peep-inspired Day of the Dead were all a lot better and more interesting. (You can watch a slide show here.)

Entering the Wa-Po Peep-o-rama is on my small b-bucket list.

I will not go it alone. My peeps – i.e., my sisters – will need to be in it to win it with me.

We can wait and see what topical ideas shake out in the next 11 months. Or we can anticipate it by looking at what 2017 is the 100th anniversary of. (If we’d done it this year, we could have had something to do with Ireland’s Easter Rebellion. Michael Collins and Eamon DeValera.)

  • In 1917, the US entered the War to End All Wars. Peeps in the trenches? Peeps Over There? Kind of a grim topic…
  • T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock was published. Too obscure. The Wasteland would be better, but we’d have to wait until 2022. (“Hurry up please, it’s time.”)
  • The Russian Revolution? A possibility. To The Finland Station! On the other hand, who wants to glorify Communism? And do they even make bright red Peeps?
  • Better: Ella Fitzgerald was born. So were JFK, Dizzy Gillespie, and Arthur C. Clarke. I vote for Ella: “A Tisket, a Tasket.”

Of course, there’s more to the Kingdom of Peeps than the Washington Post’s dioramas.

There is, as my sister Kathleen discovered, when she unearthed a bit on Serious Eats devoted to Peepshi,“sushi” made out of – you guessed it – Peeps.

Something a little different as an appetizer before the ham or lamb. Something a little different as a dessert if you want to just say no to carrot cake. Maybe a little something to tuck into the Easter baskets of kids too jaded for jelly beans, Cadbury eggs, or just plain Peeps.

Ah, Peeps.

What would Easter be without them?

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Peeps have been a recurrent Pink Slip theme. Here’s my 2013 post, with links to prior Peepish musings.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, where Ima gonna go…(Or, Pink Slip does politics)

The other day, my niece Molly – who’s definitely a plan-ahead kind of gal -  sent me to a link to an article she’d seen on The Irish, it seems – or at least the citizens of Inishturk – are putting out the fàilte mat for Americans who don’t want to stick around if The Donald somehow is elected president.

While Pink Slip does not, as a general rule, “do” politics, as one of my sister’s has observed, it probably wouldn’t take a genius to figure out mine. But lest there be any doubt, let me say it loud, say it proud: ich bin ein liberal. Baptized a Catholic, but born a Democrat. Left of center on a sliding scale, depending on the topic. Lefty enough to get Bernie’s appeal; pragmatic enough to answer George Clooney’s call to support Hillary.

I would not want to live in Donald Trump’s America.

He has understandably struck a chord with a lot of folks. And a lot of those folks are right. While globalization (as I have written many times here over the years) is not an unalloyed good. Yes, it raises many people in exceedingly poor countries out of abject poverty. Yes, it lets us consumers buy throw-away smartphones that have the computing power of a 1971 mainframe in them, and three pairs of jeans where we used to get by with one.

But the benefits of globalization aren’t costless. Sure, it’s all good on paper, and in the macro sense, but at the micro sense, a lot of workers get screwed. Jobs disappear, wages are tamped down, communities are hollowed out. (Forget the abysmal working conditions, the environmental impacts, of so many of those out-of-sight, out-of-mind offshore factories.)

Globalization is pretty much inevitable. As will be automation, which will be doing away with millions of jobs over the coming decades.

What’s not inevitable is recognizing that many workers and their families will be impacted. And putting some energy into retraining programs, better education, a tighter safety net, and maybe things like investing in our crumbling infrastructure – which would make life better for everyone, improve our economy in the long run, and provide a lot of displaced workers with decent jobs.

But I digress.

I get that Trump has tapped into real concerns. Fine.

What’s not fine is fomenting anger, nativism, violence, sexism, and racism, all of which I believe he does on a regular basis. (Which is not to say that his supporters are all angry, nativist, violent, sexist and racist. Not in the least. But some of them sure are. When you have someone working the get-out-the-vote phones who has white supremacist tats on her arms – including “88” the super-secret, clever devil code for Heil Hitler (H being the 8th letter of the alphabet) – then it’s hard to deny that some of the people whose chord Trump has struck are of that ilk.)

What’s not fine is throwing out off-the-top-of-the-head “solutions”, simpleminded answers to complex problems.

What’s not fine is saying that only feint-of-heart, PC-addled, haters of America do not think it’s perfectly alright to engage in water boarding and worse.

What’s not fine is seeing a presidential contender who, while not seemingly wed to any ideology, regularly borrows the trappings of “strong man” fascism: nativism, fear and loathing of “the other”, bullying, degrading insults, gross disrespect for opponents and the press, etc.

So, no, I don’t want to live in Donald Trump’s America.

But, much as I love Ireland, I don’t want to live in Inishturk, either.

I’ve never been to Inishturk, which is 9 miles off the Mayo Coast, but it looks absolutely god-forsaken.

Population 58. A couple of B&B’s but not much else. Daily ferry service to Roonagh Pier, which is a few miles outside of the mainland town of Louisburgh (population approx. 800).

I looked at a site for Inishturk, and when I clicked on restaurants and shops, they all seemed to be somewhere else. Somewhere like Achill Island, where I have been.

Achill Island is spectacularly beautiful, and it has the benefit of being tethered to the mainland of Mayo by a causeway. So you can actually walk out of it. But when I was there – maybe 10 years ago – the hotel and restaurant scene was pretty bleak. I did enjoy one aspect of it: I think it gave me a pretty good picture about what travel in Ireland was like in the 1940’s and 1950’s, right down to the damp nylon sheets, the toilet that didn’t have room for your knees unless you kept the bathroom door open, and a braying donkey just outside the window – braying in a pasture filled with rusted out farm implements.

The big attraction on Achill, other than the lovely scenery, which is what we came for, was/is something called The House of Prayer, where controversial and scandal-ridden faith healer Christina Gallagher delivers “heaven’s messages to the world”, operating – in the words of the local archbishop – with “no ecclesiastical approval whatever.” And plenty of financial swirl round and about, of course.

And then there’s poor little Inishturk, which doesn’t even have the causeway to the mainland or the House of Prayer going for it.

The dwindling community's leaders are desperately trying to entice families to move over to breathe new life into the isolated outpost and secure its future.

And they stressed their tranquil isle, located nine miles off the coast, could make the ideal permanent refuge for those who cannot face life in a United States headed by Donald Trump.

Mary Heanue, Inishturk development officer, said: "Our big concern is employment and trying to encourage families to move over here because the population is declining.

"The island featured on an Irish TV documentary last year which gave us great publicity and a good few extra bookings. But we ended up having a terrible summer and a lot of people canceled.

"I've heard there are quite a few people in America looking to move to Ireland and other countries if Donald Trump becomes president. I'd like them to know that we'd love to see them consider moving over here."They'd be given a huge welcome and they'd find this is a fantastic place to live and to bring up children. Their kids would probably get the best education anywhere in the country too, because the teacher to pupil ratio is nearly one-on-one.” (Source: Irish Central)

Much as I love Ireland, Inishturk would not be for me on a permanent basis. (I may go there for an overnight at some point.) Even if it did have a grocery store, would it stock Talenti ice cream? How good would the Internet connection be? Do the Red Sox ever play an away game there? Will there ever be a Springsteen concert there?

Good luck to Inishturk, I’d say.

And good luck to America. We may be in for a very bumpy ride.

But I think I’ll stick it out.

You never know when my services will be needed to protest massive roundups, waterboarding, and an invasion of Iraq to just “take the oil.”

And although I may blog about the potential damage Ivanka Trump’s doing to her brand, this will be it for me and politics for a while.

And a tip of the scally cap to Molly for sending me this story.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Oh, if we’d only had “placemaking” back in the day

When I was in business school, at MIT-Sloan, there was nothing – or, more generously, next to nothing -  in the surrounds. If my recall is correct, there was a greasy-spoon sandwich place called Alexander’s, a post office, and a drug store. That and a T-stop.

This was, of course, 35 years ago. So change is, of course, to be expected.

Still, when I’m in the Kendall Square area, which happens on occasion when I’m on my daily walking rounds, I’m always amazed by what’s sprung up. There are several hotels, both chain and boutique (one of the boutiques is in an old firehouse). Plenty of restaurants and bars. A movie theater. Office buildings, some in new buildings, others (cool!) in repurposed factories. Apartment buildings – when I was at Sloan, the only apartments there were MIT grad-student housing – and condos.

To get to the action in Cambridge, you had to traipse through MIT’s numbered buildings – MIT buildings back then didn’t have names; they had numbers. Most of Sloan was in Building 52. Numbering was ditto for areas of concentration. Business was Course XV. (Electrical Engineering, which was considered far more elite, was Course VI.)

Anyway, once you cut through Building 6 or Building 10 or whatever it was, you were on the main MIT campus (which, in fact, does not really exist). Whatever the greater MIT off-campus had to offer started there, with Joyce Chen’s Little Eating Place, where I once saw famed MIT genius professor Jerry Letvin and his wife Maggie dining. Maggie was one of the original fitness gurus, post-Jack LaLanne, but pre- any widespread health and exercise craze. Maggie was spectacularly fit. Jerry was, well, spectacularly unfit. The evening I saw them was in January, bitterly cold. Jerry had no coat, and was in short sleeves. I remember wondering whether his weight was keeping him warm.

If you headed past Joyce Chen’s, you hit Central Square, which was where there was “stuff”. But most of what was there was ratty and unhip, more geared towards the actual working folks of Cambridge, as opposed to the students and the academic crowd.

Most of what mattered in Cambridge was in Harvard Square: restaurants like the Harvest, greasy spoons like Charlie’s, lunch spots like Elsie’s, shops that sold Marimekko material and funky jewelry, shops that sold pipes, tweed jackets and bowties.

Heading out of Harvard Square were the rich-people neighborhoods, populated by Harvard professors, management consultants, Edwin Land of Polaroid fame, et al. No one lived in Kendall Square unless they were stuck there for some reason.

And now…

Kendall Square, thanks to MIT and bio-tech and other-tech and location, location, location: a short walk across the Charles River and you’re practically in downtown Boston, is the place to be. (Even before Kendall Square was the place to be, it still had a pretty good location. When I was at Sloan, I was able to walk to school. I don’t think I took the T more than a couple of times while I was there.)

While Kendall Square has taken off, it’s still not what the local biz folks want it to be, so there’s going to be some sprucing up going on:

Efforts range from new walking maps and kiosks that will be launched this spring and summer to big projects such as MIT’s proposed six-block Kendall Square Initiative near the MBTA stop that will include everything from housing and retail outlets to open spaces where passersby can watch science experiments outdoors. (Source: Boston Globe)

Well, I’m kind of glad that, when I was in B-school, there weren’t distractions like outdoor science experiments. How much fun to watch a science fair volcano blow! What a nice break from worrying about the Capital Asset Pricing Model.

And we could have used some of those retail outlets. Oh, wait a minute, we didn’t need them. At least I didn’t. When I was in school, I didn’t have any money.

“We’re absolutely committed to placemaking,” said Sarah E. Gallop, who was elected the association’s president Tuesday morning.

Placemaking? Never even heard of it, but I’m all for it.

Just make sure you through a grocery store into the mix. That’s actually more important than outdoor science experiments.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

National Goof Off Day. (Perfect timing…)

Well, I was cruising the web last evening, looking at the usual suspects when it comes to finding Pink Slip topics, and not finding anything that leaped out as particularly blog-worthy. Was I going to have the flip through the last couple of Economists, just sitting there on my night table, waiting to be flipped through?

I was tired, cranky.

I’d been in PT for 4 hours in the morning. (I had counted on 3 max.)

What’s the PT for?

I’m “suffering” from shoulder impingement, brought on, I’m pretty sure, by SOFA (Sedentary, Old, Fat Assing). If you catch it early, you can fix it through exercise. If you don’t, you get frozen shoulder, which leads to surgery OR extremely painful PT. Fortunately, I caught mine early, and with the help of the brilliant PT genius I go to when I have something like shoulder impingement, I should be good to go after a couple of weeks of PT.

While I truly love my PT guy, it’s not the most orthodox of PT outfits. Thus, what might take an hour at a normal physical therapist, will take a lot longer at Jake’s. It is, I can assure you, well worth it.

Still, although I do know what to expect at Jake’s, I had hoped that I’d be there for 3 hours, not 4.

Anyway, the day started positively, in that I’m on my way to being able to more easily comb my hair and hook my bra, a pretty modest goal, given that most of the other folks at Jake’s are trying to get ready to run the Marathon. But the day also started negatively, throwing my schedule off a bit.

So there I was last night: 8 p.m. and topic-less.

And then the light bulb went off: it’s always National Something-or-Other Day.

And as it happens, the something-or-other day observed today is National Goof Off Day.

Which kind of makes me wish I worked full time, so I could really goof off.

So there you have it: Pink Slip is observing National Goof Off Day.

But not without mentioning that it’s also the actually pretty serious and important National American Diabetes Association Alert Day. With that, I’d like to alert you that diabetes is serious. A lot of people end up with the largely avoidable Type 2 version. And if you’re a tiny bit on the zaftig side, are a SOFA-type person, and have any family history of Type 2 diabetes, you ought to have your blood sugar tested when you have your annual. Just sayin’. Just alertin’.

Serious national days aside, it’s also National Bavarian Crepes Day. Which seems like a not very good pick on the part of the Bavarian crepers, given that those consuming too many Bavarian crepes will find themselves creping their way into Type II diabetes.

I promise that this will be the last National Something-or-Other Day post for a while. Which is kind of too bad, given that tomorrow, we celebrate:

  • National Chia Day – which, I must point out, is dedicated to the chia seed, not the chia pet. We of course realize that, without the seed, there is no pet. But it seems as if the chia pet deserves a separate day. I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.
  • National Chip and Dip Day – which should always fall on a weekend
  • National Near Miss Day – whatever that means
  • National Melba Toast Day – better for you than Bavarian Crepe Day, Type II diabetes-wise

and, ta-da:

  • National Puppy Day – awwwww

Everyday should be National Puppy Day.

But we’ll just have to settle for National Goof Off Day for now.

Consider yourself officially goofed-off.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hello, demo dolly.

Many years ago, I attended an after-hours event at some mega industry trade show. Comdex? Internet World? I can’t quite remember.

What I do remember is that Microsoft sponsored the event, and the big entertainment was Chicago. By this point – somewhere in the 1990’s - Chicago was well past its prime. Even back in the day, when the band was Chicago Transit Authority, I wasn’t a particular fan. I’m pretty sure I checked out of the concert somewhere between Bill Gates introducing the band (it was a surprise) and the band’s launching into “Saturday, In the Park.” Chicago isn’t the worst. I don’t start stabbing at the radio buttons when one of their tunes comes on. I mean, they didn’t do Space Cowboy or Horse with No Name.* Just not a fan.

But at least, as an after hours event at a trade show went, a Chicago concert wasn’t offensive in any way.

Unlike Microsoft’s par-tay last week, when the party at a video game developers’ conference came replete with “scantily dressed female dancers.”

The party sparked a firestorm of criticism this week, in an industry that's been struggling to overcome longstanding complaints that it has objectified women and made them feel unwelcome as players and game-builders. In response, the head of Microsoft's Xbox division issued a statement saying the after-hours entertainment "represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was absolutely not consistent or aligned to our values."

An Xbox spokeswoman declined to answer questions about the dancers, who wore abbreviated school-girl outfits as they reportedly greeted party-goers and danced on platforms…In a statement, Xbox chief Phil Spencer acknowledged the event "disappointed many people" and pledged to "do better in the future." (Source: Bloomberg)

I am old enough to remember when scantily dressed females weren’t part of an after-hours gathering. They were on the conference floor.

I went to a ton of trade shows and conferences over the course of my career, and plenty of tech companies hired women dressed as cocktail waitresses to man, or, rather, woman, their booths. Their purpose, of course, was to seduce the largely male attendees in for a product demo.

Although we sometimes called them “demo dollies”, they were not generally capable of demoing much beyond cleavage. Many of them weren’t, after all, company employees. They knew how to turn something on, but it probably wasn’t a PC. Once they got you into the booth, someone in a business suit or, as the business world got more casual, khakis and a logo’d polo shirt, took over.

One time, I stopped by the booth of a tech company that my company was going to be partnering with. I wanted a product demo. There were nearly a dozen very pretty women in the booth, all wearing black cocktail dresses and heels. I spoke with a couple of them and they were, in fact, employees. But they were not in the part of marketing that felt compelled to actually understand what their product actually did. They were the ones who ordered the logo golf balls and looked cute at trade shows.  After coming up empty finding someone who could show me the product, I finally spotted a woman in a not-so-cocktailish black dress. More like something you’d wear to your grandfather’s funeral. She also had on sensible shoes and tights. I made a bee-line over to her and got a perfectly fine product demo.

But I walked away feeling a bit bad for both her and for the demo dollies.

The most outrageous thing I ever saw at a conference was at one run by the Security Industry Association. It will surely come as no surprise to anyone who read Liar’s Poker or saw The Wolf of Wall Street or Working Girl, that there are more than enough macho jerks in the financial services industry to go around. And the macho jerkiness extends to the behind the scenes guys, too. The ones who come to look at new and exciting products at the SIA show.

One year, an exhibitor – I believe it was British Telecom – had models in French maid costumes that barely covered their butts, tottering around on 5” heels giving out boxes of Twining’s Tea.

My company were giving out Harbor Sweets Sweet Sloops – a wonderful local candy – but I, in my menswear suit and floppy bow tie, could just not compete.

But that was way back when. Could it be 30 years ago already? Maybe more…

Kind of pathetic that, when the scantily dressed are wearing porn-y, disgusting “school girl” outfits – do I hear a yuck? – that things seem to have gone from bad to worse.

Let’s hope that Microsoft XBox, as they’ve promised, does better in the future.

That doesn’t have to mean a boring old Chicago concert, of course. Just something that’s not demeaning to women, thank you very much.


*Not that our current reality isn’t depressing enough, I just googled “Horse with No Name” – quite possibly the worst song ever written, IMO – and read an article on America’s (then) upcoming appearance in Elkhart, Indiana. A pop up on the screen advertised a Spring Break Getaway to Fort Wayne. How desperate would you have to be to take your Spring Break in Fort Wayne? Maybe to escape from an America concert in Elkhart. I’ll admit to humming along to “Sister Golden Hair Delight,” but given the risk of hearing “Horse with No Name” I will not be attending America’s April concert in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Here’s to good old milk

In 1945, America’s per capita milk consumption was a quite astounding 42 gallons. That was the high-water mark – or the high-milk mark – for drinking milk. By the time I became a post-formula milk drinker, in the early 1950’s, Americans were already drinking less of the white stuff.

You would never have known it Chez Rogers, where milk was pretty much the house drink.

Soda, or, as we would have called it, tonic, was in the fridge on warm-weather holidays only. So, around Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day, we could generally count on a glass of orange soda or a glass of root beer capped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. My mother would often make up a pitcher of lemonade (from the frozen cans, and often blinged up with grape juice ice cubes), or a pitcher of Zarex, the poor man’s, liquid version of Kool-Aid. Ginger ale was available for upset stomachs, as was coke syrup (but never Coke). But milk never went away. A glass of lemonade or Zarex might be an afternoon treat.

Cold weather holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas – meant cider from Parson’s Cider Mill.

Juice was served at breakfast, in juice glasses the size of thimbles. To this day, when, on occasion, I pour myself a normal-size drinking glass full of juice, I imagine my mother shuddering over my shoulder. The very idea of drinking juice as if it were water. Imagine that!

Speaking of water, back in the day, kids just didn’t drink that much of it unless you were outside in the heat, running around playing hard in someone’s yard. Sometimes you could get a mother to hand all the kids glasses of it, but mostly water came out of someone’s backyard hose. Or, if you were outside in the heat, running around playing hard in a city park, water came from a water fountain, or, as we would have called it, a bubbler. (There’s still a bubbler in the Boston Public Garden, and I occasionally take a swig just for the hell of it.)

But mostly we drank milk.

Milk, glorious milk.

We drank milk at breakfast. We took a milk break mid-morning at school and all guzzled down your half pint. Each week, you had to bring in your “milk money” – 10 or 15 cents – to pay for that milk.

Everyone went home for lunch where the drink on offer (or was it the drink being forced down our throats?) was milk. The local noon-time kiddie TV show was Big Brother Bob Emery’s Small Fry Club. We did not watch Big Brother while eating, but there was ample post-lunch time before legging it back to school to watch a cartoon or two, and take part in Big Brother’s daily Toast to the President of the United States, a big glass of milk lifted towards a photo portrait of the incumbent. I don’t remember Harry Truman; I do remember Ike.

If you had anything to drink with a post-school snack, it was milk. Unless you stopped in to visit my grandmother on the way home from school, in which case the drink was tea, served the Irish way, milky and sweet.

Milk was served once again at supper.

My mother never liked milk (nor does my sister Kath), but it was what we drank, in vast quantity, delivered by the milkmen from Blanchard’s Dairy. One of my father’s cousins had married a Blanchard, and the weekend milkmen were usually my father’s cousin-in-law Phil, or his cousins Matt and Ned.

Unlike my mother, my father was a milk drinker. Sometimes he’d have a beer with supper, and a highlight was when my father would start singing “Here’s to good old beer,” which we knew would be followed by a chorus of his own invention: “Here’s to good old milk, it will go down smooth as silk; Drink it down, drink it down, drink it down.”

Whether he had a beer with dinner or not, within a couple of hours after the table was cleared and the dishes done, my hollow-legged father was snacking on something, often a stack of Saltines slathered with peanut butter. All washed down with a big glass of milk.

So I can honestly say that, while we may not have been there during the peak year of 1945, the Rogers family contributed mightily to per capita milk consumption in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

But milk consumption isn’t quite what it used to be. In 2013, it was down to 19 gallons per head.

Despite it being on a downward slope, Coca Cola and others are entering the fancy-pants food market in hopes that they can win consumers back.

In its quest to slake the world’s thirst, Coca-Cola is intent on making milk a billion-dollar brand. But not just any kind of milk. Coke has joined forces with a dairy cooperative to create Fairlife, which produces a filtered, high-protein, low-sugar, lactose-free designer milk also called Fairlife. It costs about $4 for a 52-ounce bottle—more than organic milk and about double what the conventional stuff sells for. In its first year on shelves, Fairlife reached about $90 million in sales, giving a sizable boost to the specialty milk category, which includes milk with more calcium or no lactose. (Source: Bloomberg)

They’re doing so because soda consumption is going down, I suspect even more radically than milk consumption has been. There’s that link to obesity and all sorts of attendant ills, after all. And there’s also been some backlash against bottled water, given the anti-environment aspect of all those plastic bottles.

While “specialty milk” has grown quite a bit, jumping “21 percent in 2015, up from 9 percent in 2014”, it’s not clear that there are a ton of folks who will pay a premium for milk. But there are some drivers that would lead folks to pay more:

Consumers, especially millennials, want animals and workers treated well without compromising taste, convenience, or quality, says Fairlife co-founder Mike McCloskey, a veterinarian turned farmer. He’s long been fixated on the comfort of cows and sustainable farming methods, such as converting manure into methane to power dairies.

As for me? I’ll take a pass on the high priced alternatives. But I do got milk, and I’ll keep on keeping a pint of 2% in the fridge for that morning bowl of cereal – water just doesn’t do it – and my afternoon cup of tea. Here’s to good old milk.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Kiss Me I’m Half Irish

I’ve been at this a while. Long enough that this is my tenth St. Patricks’ Day post.

My St. Patrick’s Day celebration will be simple. I will eat soda bread, following my Aunt Margaret’s quite wonderful recipe. I will make sure that my dog nephew, Jack, for whom I’ll be dogsitting, is wearing his green collar. (O’Arf!) On Sunday, I’ll go to the Celtic Sojourn concert at Harvard’s Sanders Theater.

That’ll be about it. That’ll be plenty.

Mostly because this is my tenth time writing about this holiday, I don’t have all that much holy ground to cover that hasn’t been covered already. If you’re inclined to click through on anything, I think I’d go for You Say Po-tay-to (2008). In that post, I go into my supreme act of fifth grade courage, in which I proclaimed myself half-German when it was pretty clear that the nun running the ethnic-identification event wanted everyone who had a scintilla of Irish blood to beat their Irish little chest.

I suppose if I’d grown up in Chicago, where my mother hailed from, I might have been more identified with being German. Lots of Germans out that way, including all those Wolfs, Folkers, and Seilers my mother was related to.

But I grew up in Worcester, which had just about all of the major European ethnic food groups covered, except for German. The corner of Worcester I grew up in was predominately Irish-American. The church had, almost exclusively, Irish-American priests. Our school had – god help us – almost exclusively Irish-American nuns.

We were around my father’s family, and they were Irish-American.

Irish wasn’t the only game in town, but it was pretty much the thing to be.

I never met anyone from Worcester who came from a German background. Other than my mother, that is.

So Kiss Me, I’m half Irish.

Anyway, while it’s hard to imagine anything less important to my current life, it’s pretty much the case that my core identity, world view, humor and approach to life were largely informed by the experience of having grown up an American Irish Catholic. For better and for worse.

In the Say Po-tay-to post, I also give the recipe for the world’s best soda bread. That is IMHO, of course, but it really is pretty darned good. Those large, seeded raisins are pretty much impossible to find, but Sun Maid does have a mixed bag of large raisins (called Mixed Jumbo Raisins), which I highly recommend.

Enough with the gift of gab, a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all.

Earlier Paddy’s posts:

2015: The Wearing o’ the Green

2014: St. Patricks’ Day 2014

2013: The Ides of St. Patrick’s Day

2012: Answering Ireland’s Call

2011: St. Patrick’s Day 2011

2010: St. Paddy’s Day No More We’ll Keep.

2009: Irish Eyes Not So Smiling These Days.

2008: You Say Po-tay-to, I say Po-tah-to. Who’s Irish and Who’s Not.

2007: Kiss Me, I’m Irish.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

No pasta salad for you, Reebok employees

Reebok has been on a fitness tear for a while. And why not? Their business is aimed at getting all of us out there running, walking, cross-fitting – and getting the couch potatoes among us lounging around in fitness gear, pretending that reaching that chip into the dip bowl and power-lifting that soda from a barca-lounger cup holder is exercise enough.

An early foray occurred a few years back, when Reebok began aggressively offering fitness classes (CrossFit) at their Canton, Massachusetts, headquarters. And now they’re making their move on what’s served in the company cafeteria. To this end:

Reebok International Ltd. announced it has banned a litany of bad-for-you food, including white breads, pastas, fried foods, and large candy bars at its global headquarters….Since earlier this year, it has slowly been replacing junk food in its cafeterias and vending machines with nuts, fruits, and vegetables. (Source: Boston Globe)

Not quite sure how vending machines full of veggies are going to work. Press A4 for raw broccoli? Press C8 for kale? Nuts and an apple, sure. Even a baby bag of baby carrots. But I wouldn’t want to be the vending machine guy cleaning out the rotting produce.

But the idea of putting better food on offer is not a bad one. Most of my corporate cafeteria-eating over the years has been of the salad bar variety – truly, who wants a steady diet of cafeteria glop – but when you’re taking your lunch break at work, it’s easy enough to push your tray through the line and grab something that’s not so great for you. Substituting healthier items for fried shrimp wiggle (which was actually a choice way back in the day when I lunched at the cafeteria at the First National Bank of Boston) is all for the good.

And, let’s face it, most white bread – except, of course, for Nashoba Farms French and Thomas’s English Muffins; and for white bread permissible when you’re ordering a BLT, club, or grilled cheese  – is execrable.

Getting rid of it will be no great loss, even if the alternatives won’t be all that much healthier – just a little darker.

Actually, one of the worst things I ever saw offered wasn’t in a corporate caf, but was in a coffee shop at Mass General Hospital.

When my husband was in his final hospitalization at MGH, I stopped there for a cup of tea one morning. Exhausted, stressed out of my gourd, agonizing over what Jim was going through, I reached for a double (or was it triple) chocolate muffin. And then I saw the calorie count: 780 calories. Even in this low moment of my life, even a chocolate maniac like myself was able to just say no.

So I’m all for cafeterias (and hospitals) putting more healthy stuff out there and getting rid of some of the worst caloric, sugary, and fatty offenders.

But pasta? Pasta?

Didn’t carbo-loading used to be a good thing for strenuous exercisers? Didn’t they used to have a big spaghetti supper for the runners the night before the Boston Marathon?

Oh, cafeteria pasta – soggy, sitting around in vats of luke-warm water – wouldn’t be something that I’d be drawn to. But a forkful or two on the side with a cafeteria sandwich (mostly on non-white bread, of course, unless it’s a BLT or a grilled cheese)? Come on.


Employees who bring leftover pasta or white-bread sandwiches from home will not be met with judgment.

Phew. That’s a relief. Can you think of a worse job than checking employees on the way in to see what they had in their brown-bag, or going from cubicle to cubicle to police what people are eating.

It almost goes without saying that there’s a fatwa on soda.

I don’t drink a ton of soda, and what I do consume is of the diet variety (not, I’ll admit, that this makes it healthful). I do, on rare occasion, have a “real” soda – a coke, a ginger ale – and enjoy it. But as a regular dietary item, it’s hard to think of anything that’s more useless and potentially harmful to your health than a big old sugary soda.

The decision to remove it was spurred by the company’s national survey on soda consumption. Reebok’s survey found that 4 in 10 Americans cannot name three of the ingredients in soda, including water.

Not able to identify water as an ingredient of soda? Say what?

Maybe the question had tricky wording. Maybe folks didn’t understand that water can be an ingredient.

Even though, as H.L. Mencken told us years ago, ‘nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,’ it’s hard to believe that most people don’t realize that there’s water in them thar bottles and cans. Wow. Just wow.

Nothing wrong with trying to help your employees get a little healthier. So good for Reebok. I suspect that other corporations will be doing the same.

Wonder if State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Illinois, will get the word.

Years ago, I had a business trip there to meet with a client, and we all had lunch in the company caf. Amazingly, the cafeteria offered several varieties of dessert Jello molds. Maybe not as bad as a two-liter soda, maybe not as bad as a double-wide chocolate muffin, but surely not good for you. Bet you won’t find any Jello molds at Reebok.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Happy on the job/unhappy on the job. (There’s a list for everything.)

I’m a colossal sucker for a list, and it almost doesn’t matter what the list is of. But one I saw recently is especially near to Pink Slip’s workplace-y little heart. It’s one from Career Bliss (ommmmmm)  -  I saw it written up in Forbes - that ranks the happiest and unhappiest jobs out there.

In addition to compensation, CareerBliss evaluated employee sentiment regarding relationship with one’s boss and coworkers, work environment, professional resources, opportunities for growth, regular tasks, company culture and reputation, and how much control an employee has over the work they do on a daily basis.(Source: Forbes)

I was kind of surprised that the happiest job was recruiter. I would think that this would be a plenty tense and cutthroat position, and one that was completely subject to the whims of the business cycle. I guess you get the matchmaker thrill when something clicks, and there’s the fun of puzzling out who might fit where. Anyway, if I’d had to come up with the happiest of jobs, it wouldn’t have been recruiter.

My first thought might have been free lance pundit. Or cupcake baker.

Recruiter would not have been top of mind.

What didn’t surprise me was that the majority of the happiest of jobs were techie ones: full stack developer, senior java developer, Android developer, CTO, lead engineer, lead developer, senior QA engineer.

Good working conditions, good colleagues, good pay. Being able to put your head down and work. At the end of the day, being able to see something concrete that you’ve accomplished.

The other two jobs on the happiest ten list were research assistant and COO.

For much the same reasons that techie jobs are good, I can see that being a research assistant would make you happy. You get to put your head down, you get to accomplish something tangible, etc. I’ve worked on plenty of research projects over the course of my career, and they’ve been quite enjoyable.

COO I can also see as happy-making. You’re in control. You have visibility into everything going on in your company.

Sure, sometimes you get to be a bum, but a lot of times you get to be the hero. Plus you don’t have to be doing the glad-handing and being the face of an organization that a CEO has on their plate.

The most miserable, the unhappiest of jobs were service tech, machine operator, sales, guard, maintenance manager, driver, cashier, merchandiser, security officer, sales account manager.

Low power, low pay. In the case of sales – which, on the high end can be a lucrative job with tons of career upside (but I’m guessing we’re not talking enterprise software sales pros here) - there’s high pressure. Interesting, these jobs (machine operator excepted) all involve interacting with the public. The happiest jobs (recruiter quasi-excepted: it’s a cherry-picked version of the public) just plain do not.

Working as a sales clerk – which I guess is a combo of cashier and merchandiser, working as a waitress, working in a campus grill where you both took the order and cooked it up or scooped it out, I had my share of up-close-and-personal with the public.

Mostly, I didn’t mind it. Sure, there were occasionally folks who were a real pain to deal with, but mostly it was fun. On the other hand, those were summer or semester or part time or temporary jobs, nothing I was going to have to do day in, day out, for the long term. No bliss, maybe, but no career, either.

Happiness is, of course, a squishy term. What exactly does it mean?

For the most part, I enjoyed my work. It was interesting. I had great colleagues. I got to use my brain. I got to soak up (and occasionally participate in) corporate craziness.

I had a couple of jobs where,despite the excellence of my colleagues and the fun of watching the meshugas unfold, I was not especially happy.

My most unhappy job was at Wang Labs, where the problems were a bureaucracy that made it almost impossible to get things done, and the amazing control that executive management exercised over the organization. (At least these were the problems from my vantage point in the middle of the management pack).

Oh, it was kind of fun when you figured out a workaround and actually got something done. But those thrills were few, far between, and ultimately not all that satisfying. At one point, when I couldn’t get my product released through official channels, even after it “went golden” (i.e., the software and documentation had been through QA and blessed), I went so far as to xerox my own documentation, copy my own disks, and shrink-wrap and ship out release packages to my clients. That was kind of fun.

But when you had to wait until 5 p.m. the evening before an entirely necessary business trip to find out whether your group EVP had okayed the trip…

Well, it was definitely the no fun zone.

When I was at Wang, by midway through Sunday afternoon, I’d start getting a dread pit in my stomach. I’d just get so down about having to get up on Monday morning and head off to Lowell, where I worked in corporate HQ – the Wang Towers. And Wang was the only place I worked where I ever took a mental health day. (I took one in 2 years, 7 month, 14 days.)

But I don’t think I ever really looked for my happiness at work. Let alone career bliss. I obviously tried to pick my spots to avoid the places that would actively make me miserable. Sometimes I made a boo-boo, as in Wang. But even Wang had its moments.

Anyway, I do like lists. This wasn’t one of the better ones I’ve come across. It doesn’t make me blissful. It doesn’t make me happy. But, as blog fodder, it’ll do.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Let there be daylight savings time. (Ahh, ahhh, ahhhhhhh….)*

Well, over the weekend, we sprung ahead, clock-wise. So now it’s light into the evening. Psychologically, this is a biggy. Sure, we’ve been getting used to later-in-the-day in itsy-bitsy increments since December. And your really do begin to notice things lightening up by late January. But when we get the extra-hour in one fell swoop, the great leap forward, it’s a thing of beauty, a joy forever. At this point, we begin to believe that there actually will be a spring.

Some years, we appreciate this more than others. Last year, for example, when us hearty New Englanders felt like we were stuck in an endless recitation of John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Snow-Bound.” Last year, well, Daylight Savings Time couldn’t come fat enough.

This year, not so much. Not so much snow. Not so much cold. Lots of eerily early spring – we’ve already hit the 70’s a couple of times. That shouldn’t happen in March…

Nonetheless, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t look forward to Daylight Savings Time; who wasn’t delighted, years back, when Daylight Savings Time fell back from April to March, so that we could spring ahead sooner.

But I, of course, do not know everybody. And both spring-ahead and fall-back bring out a lot of different viewpoints about what to do with Daylight Savings Time.

There are the “let’s get rid of it.” They say that farmers deserve that extra hour of light to work their 40 acres with a mule who doesn’t know what time zone he toils in. They claim that daylight savings time brings out muggers, They say that there are more accidents driving in the dark in the morning heading to work, than driving in the dark in the evening heading for home. They say it’s dangerous for the kids, waiting for their school buses in the dark.

There are the “let’s make it permanent” folks, who argue that most people would rather have that extra hour of daylight at the end of their workday than at the beginning. I come down on this side. Give me the dark in the morning, but let there be light later in the day. If it’s too dangerous for the kiddos, lets take a look at those who are arguing that school should start later in the day, anyway. Their point is that teenagers, because of their peculiar circadian cycles, don’t get the right amount of REM sleep. I realize that the kiddos folks are worried about are the kindergartners, not the high schoolers. Still, we could figure this out. 

Still others just want to eliminate the semi-annual switcheroo, and don’t seem to care whether we take our darkness a.m. or p.m. Their point seems to be that adjusting your internal clock is just plain bad for everyone’s health. (I have to ask how these folks cope when they want to travel outside of their time zone. How do you handle jet lag after an all-nighter to Europe if you can’t manage an hour twice a year. Do they just stay home?)

I suspect that most of those arguing on behalf of the farmers, who want to eliminate daylight savings time, don’t live at the beginning of a time zone. Maybe I’d feel different if I lived in Ohio, where they get more light in the evening to begin with. In Boston, we’re on the leading edge. More sun in the morning for all those urban farmer types. More dark at night for everyone else.

More recently, another faction has emerged: those who want New England (or all of New England other than the New York commuting counties in Connecticut) should get on American Standard Time and just stay put. Voila: we’re at the end of the time zone, so we get daylight at the back end of the day. We’d be with the Maritime Provinces. We’d almost be Canadians. (Given what might be looming for us, this might not be a bad idea.) The problem with this is that we’d no longer be in the same time zone as the rest of the East Coast, which seems like kind of a dumb thing to do. New York for the day? Change time zones! Head to DC for a protest march. Change time zones! Take the kids to Disneyworld. Change time zones!

I don’t see this working out all that well. We really are more identified with the Eastern Seaboard of the US than we are with PE Islanders. Plus I wouldn’t want to stay up until 11 p.m. to watch The Americans when the new season starts this week. Okay, I can catch it on demand any old time I want. But maybe I want to see it in real-time.

Mostly, I’m just happy to have that extra hour of light at the end of the day. Let the evening walks begin!

*In case you’re wondering, that was an angelic chorus.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Never chat what you can speak when you’re talking about Hulk Hogan or at any other time, for that matter

Group chatting is nothing new in the workplace.

Way back in the early aughts, I worked in a company that was an agglomeration of a bunch of small Internet services providers. I was at corporate HQ, but my closest colleagues were elsewhere. Although we worked miles apart, and only saw each other a few times a year, we all became fast friends. (We still are.) We spent a lot of time on the phone with each other, and, when we were sitting through especially tedious meetings, we hung out together making snarky comments via IM. (I can’t remember what we used; it may have been AIM, as in AOL Instant Messaging, which certainly dates things.)

We apparently never got out-of-hand snarky, because we were never ratted out by spies in IT who were monitoring IM. This happened to someone who went on an IM rant about the incompetence of the companies COO. I don’t think the guy was fired, but he was slapped around a bit.

But these days, folks are using group chat more often, and are being caught out more often, sometimes while using a chat app that their company has blessed as the means to do work group chats. Collaboration being all the rage that it is, companies are encouraging employees to use platforms like Campfire, Slack, and HipChat, as it’s reputed to be so much more time-efficient and productive than face-to-face meetings or (groan) email.

While these platforms can be used for “legitimate” collaboration, they’re also used to just hang out. (And, of course, even a work conversation can always take a side trip…)

Workplace chat is often called a "digital water cooler" because it's where co-workers have informal, nonwork-related conversations at the office. Slack has features that encourage levity, including a GIF generator and a custom emoji creator. But it's also the nature of chat, its informality and speed, that make gossiping and joking easy. "Much more our normal workplace interactions have moved to digital environments and therefore become permanent in ways that water cooler chat never was," said Eric Goldman, a professor of technology law at Santa Clara University School of Law. "There is no more deniability about these casual social interactions." (Source: Bloomberg)

The latest folks to get tripped up by these “casual social interactions” are at Gawker.

Gawker is being sued by wrestler Hulk Hogan – you really can’t make these things up – because the Gawk-sters posted a sex tape involving him getting it on with a friend’s wife – or was it a wife’s friend? (You really can’t make these things up. I’m enough of an old fuddy-duddy to question why there’d be a market for a celebrity sex tape. Or any sex tape. Or any tape in which Hulk Hogan appeared.)

Anyway, what’s come out in court are “penis jokes” that a senior Gawker editor and his staff traded while they were sitting around the digital Campfire. Now that “penis jokes” have become standard in Republican debate circles, maybe they don’t count for as much as they once did, in terms of negative reaction, Still, the fact that these guys were apparently trash-talking Hulk Hogan’s man parts may encourage the jury to decide that Gawker done Hulk wrong. Maybe even to the tune of the $100M Hogan is looking for.

Now, we can’t exactly hold Gawker up as a sterling example of vaunted corporate do gooder, an exemplar of business rectitude They’re a gossip site. So we don’t especially hold them  to any vaunted standard of inter-office intercourse. (Okay: ahem.)

Still, we know that chat will be chat, and that, in the office, pretty much anything goes.

Some of the running Hulk commentary was about “the color and consistency of Hogan’s ‘pubes’”. Let me get this out of the way: ewwwww…..

But it does remind me of an incident of yore. As I recall, during the Clarence Thomas hearings – in those pre-always on days – some of the conversations that were reported included chat (real my lips to your ear, physical chat) about penis size and pubic hair. As I further recall, Senator Orrin Hatch was completely horrified, and said something to the effect that anyone who would use the words “pubic hair” in the workplace would have to be insane.

Well, not that we were talking pubes with any regularity where I worked, but to do so would certainly not have been considered insane. To say the least.

The bottom line is that, while you always need to watch what you say, you really need to watch what you put in digital writing. What you say at the water cooler is literally hearsay. He said-she said. Subject to faulty recall. But you commit it to email, chat, twitter, Facebook. It’s out there just waiting to be discovered.

As a great Boston Irish pol once famously said,

“"Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.”

I’ve used this quote before –  more than once -  because, more than 100 years after Martin Lomasney uttered these words, they’re as relevant as ever. Maybe we need a slightly updated version:

Never write/email/tweet/comment or chat if you can speak…

You just never know who might be out there watching and listening.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Remarkable art world markups

Earlier this year, there was a piece in The New Yorker about a scandal brewing in the art world.

Not that I know much about the art world, but I know enough to know that the terms “scandal brewing” and “art world” are regularly combined in the same sentence. Many of the scandals are around forgeries, in which a work of dubious provenance is vetted by one expert or another, only to be found out years later by one expert or another that the work is an expertly rendered dud. (A couple of years ago, I read a novel called The Art Forger. It wasn’t all that great from a literary perspective, but it was a good read. And it included a lot of information on the lengths to which forgers go to make a convincing replica – down to research on the types of pigments and canvases that were available at the time the real artist was working. It’s a tough job and, while nobody has to do it, it does require a lot more than replicating the image.)

Anyway, the scandal The New Yorker article got into involved a Russian oligarch and a Swiss middleman, with a backdrop of Monaco and Geneva. Although there weren’t Russian oligarchs in the 1960’s and 1970’s, this one has all the makings of one of those caper/heist films like Thomas Crown Affair or To Catch a Thief

The oligarch is Dmitry Rybolovlev, who forged his oligarch-ery on a mess of potash; the middleman is Yves Bouvier, who owns a high-end warehousing and transfer facility for $$$ works of art. At some point, he branched out into becoming a go between between the “got art” brigade, and the “need art” folks. Like any good scalper, he marked things up.

Problem was the mark up.

For Modigliani’s “Reclining Nude With Blue Cushion”, Rybolovlev paid $118M. (Let’s not even think about what Modigliani made when he sold this work in Paris in 1917. Maybe 10 francs?) Soon after the purchase – the owner he bought it from was famed hedgie Stephen Cohen – Rybolovlev found out that Cohen had sold the piece for $93.5.

Then there was the Da Vinci, “Salvator Mundi.”

Rybolovlev paid $127.5M. The prior owner got $50M.  That’s more than 25% on the Modigliani, and more than 150% on the Leonardo. Which would be okay if these finder’s fees had been properly disclosed. Apparently not, or so it has been claimed.

Rybolovlev, who reckons that he has spent about $2B on 40 works purchased through Bouvier over the years, is now going after him with a vengeance, claiming that he’d been swindled. And now the Feds are getting in on the act.

Justice Department prosecutors are now examining various art deals Bouvier struck on behalf of clients, including transactions involving not only the Modigliani but also works by Klimt and Rothko, focusing on the extent to which he may have misrepresented to clients how much he’d marked up prices, people familiar with the matter say. Of those works, the Leonardo is perhaps the most famous. If the investigation advances, Bouvier could face fraud charges in the U.S. (Source: Bloomberg)

Bouvier’s mounting a caveat emptor defense, maintaining that he was just charging what the market could bear. Which, given that he got what he asked for, seems to be the fact of the matter.

But, of course, this will only work if it can be proven that Bouvier hadn’t given his clients documentation with fake information on the price he’d paid for the work, and minimizing his skim.

The art world is not known for its transparency. When works are sold at an auction, buyers know what they’re up against. But in these one-on-ones, well…

If it turns out that Rybolovlev didn’t get things in writing, he may be out of luck – and Bouvier in luck. C.f., caveat emptor.

However that plays out, I’m guessing that Rybolovlev didn’t amass his potash fortune by being a nice guy. And I suspect he’s not thrilled to have been played the chump by Bouvier.

I hope Bouvier socked some serious coin. I suspect that, even if he’s found to be (technically) innocent, I’m guessing his art world middle man days are over.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Second Hand Rose, or, What Goes Around Comes Around

If you’ve been asking yourself whether you’d be able to find an Hermès Himalayan crocodile Birkin bag – and, let’s face it, who hasn’t? – I have some excellent news for you.

What Goes Around Comes Around (WGACA), which specializes in used designer clothing, including vintage items, is opening up a new shop in Beverly Hills.

Even though I grew up wearing hand-me-down hand-me-downs, I have nothing against second-hand clothing. In fact, thanks to my sisters, I have plenty of it. The other night I had dinner with my sister Kath. I showed up wearing a jacket, and carrying a bag, that she’d given me. I love trickle down clothing!

Naturally, it’s best when it’s free. But there’s a second hand store just around the corne, and, while I haven’t bought anything there, I’ve gone in once or twice.

My feelings about second-hand were not always so positive. I grew up with a sister who was two years older, an aunt who was six years older, a cousin who was nine years older. So I had a complete funnel of already-worn outfits coming my way. I so cherished the new. When, at age 4, someone gave me a tee-shirt with MAUREEN written on it in candy-striped lettering, I nearly wept for joy. Not only did I have something that was absolutely my own, there would be no expectation that I would have to wear the KATHLEEN shirt once Kath outgrew it.

But I’m not so sensitive now, and I’m always happy when one of my sisters shows up with a bag of goodies to paw through. And if there were an outpost of What Goes Around around here, I’d definitely stick my head in, even though I am not now, and never will be, in the market for a Himalayan crocodile Birkin bag that might go for as much as $185K.

I did do some virtual Windows shopping on WGACA, and found plenty of items that were a lot more reasonable than that Birkin bag.

Although they’re more reasonable that that Birkin bag, I still wouldn’t be willing to pay $500 for a 1978 Grateful Dead vintage tee-shirt. Which is not to say that there might not be plenty of Dead Heads out there willing to go truckin’ over to WGACA, like the doodah man, with that kind of coin in hand.

I would, on the other hand, be quite surprised if there were any aging AC/DC or Black Sabbath fans with that kind of dough. I was on a business trip to Hartford in the early 1980’s when Blue Oyster Cult and Black Sabbath were appearing there. From what I saw of that fan base, I doubt that they would, 35 years on, be in any position to spend $500 on a tee shirt. Not that I was looking any too closely at this posse, who were partying on the roof of the garage of the hotel I was staying in. I was actually a little nervous about what all these smoking, drinking, hollering guys who looked like Hell’s Angels were doing out there. Then I realized that they were there for a concert.

But it’s not all vintage at WGACA. Much of what’s on sale is of recent interest. But most of what’s on sale – Rick Springfield tees and 501 Levi’s aside – is designer.

And WGACA is not alone. There’s a growing number of brick-and-mortar shops and online sites, and even Christie’s is getting into the action. (Imagine folks bidding up on that Himalayan crocodile bag…)

[Stylist Lauren] Goodman adds that the lure of vintage is also driven by the rising prices of new merchandise. Designer labels have deliberately hiked prices of core items over the past decade or so; the cost of Chanel’s bags, for example, rises an average 15 percent annually. “It makes vintage feel better value than ever, and it’s already survived the test of time.” (Source: Bloomberg)

It’s not just well-enough-heeled no-names who shop around, either. The names Rihanna and Amal Clooney were thrown out there.

Somehow, I don’t think either one of them will be elbowing their way towards that AC/DC tee shirt.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016


I woke yesterday morning to the news that Ray Tomlinson had died.

I didn’t really know Ray. But I had met him a few times, and remember him – as I do so many of the techies in my past - as a pleasant, good-humored guy.

In 1999, I began working for GTE Internetworking, “powered by BBN”. GTEI was an Internet Services Provider/telecom firm. BBN was Bolt, Beranek and Newman which – sorry, Al Gore – kinda/sorta invented the Internet. (Among other things, BBN worked on the missing 17 minutes of the Nixon Watergate tape, and analyzed the sound track of the JFK assassination.) BBN’s Internet services business, BBN Planet, became part of GTEI. Which is where Ray Tomlinson came in.

Back in the early 1970’s, when the Internet was, indeed, being invented, Ray was the one who’d come up with the idea of using the @ sign to designate the location of the sender and the receiver on either end of an email. There had been internal email systems prior to this, but if everyone’s got the same address, who needs an address?

Anyway, as part of our marketing at GTEI (later, Genuity), we made a lot of our roots in BBN. It bolstered are bona fides, gave us some credibility, and provided us with plenty of bragging rights. We used all this, of course, to charge a premium for our services.

Ray did a lot more than come up with using the @ sign for email,and over the course of my time at GTEI/Genuity, I had reason to meet with him on a couple of occasions. He was quite helpful in answering my questions on networking technology, or whatever it was I was asking him about. (This was true of all the BBN guys who crossed over to GTEI/Genuity.)

But his main association at GTEI/Genuity was as the father of the @.

As I recall, Ray didn’t think it was that big a deal, treated all the fuss with good grace, and, I suspect, at times find it a complete, ridiculous pain in the arse.

Oh, the @ wasn’t the only thing we bragged about. We also had on our staff the guy awarded the Sexiest Geek Alive crown for the year 2000.

Amazingly, this laurel often found its way into our communications as well.

I’m not sure what it was supposed to convey exactly, but we did so like to use it.

It was actually a lot easier to talk about Ray and the @, or Tony, the Sexiest Geek Alive winner, than it was to explain some of the actual services we were trying to market.

Most were, in fact, pretty straightforward: we managed security, we hosted web sites.

But somewhere along the line, we forgot all about our deep technical roots and accomplishments,however oddly and ridiculously we sometimes conveyed them  - Hey, look at us! We invented the Internet! And came up with the @ for email. And we have the sexiest geek alive as a systems architect! – and opted to go for something that was just plain odd and ridiculous.

This was the Genuity Black Rocket platform, a cautionary marketing and product management tale for another day.

Today’s the day to remember Ray Tomlinson and his contribution to the wonderful world of technology.One that so many of us use multiple times each day.

As I said, I didn’t really know Ray, but I did run into him a few years ago at the memorial service for the husband of an old and dear friend of mine.

Wally was one of the original BBN geniuses – they were called wizards – and worked for BBN from the early 1960’s up until the time of his death in 2013. Ray had worked with Wally for many years.

At Wally’s service, Ray and I spoke for a few minutes, and the @ came up in our conversation. The topic was introduced by me, as a reminder to him how I knew him, and that we had once worked together. He was the same affable guy I recalled, reminding me of one of the things I most miss about not working full time: how little time I spend these days with the techies.

Most of my clients are technology vendors, but I don’t actually have much to do with the engineering side of the house. Oh, sometimes when I’m working on a more technical document, I’ll end up talking with one of the techies. I do have one client – a small firm made up of electrical engineers – where I get to be with the geeks. But mostly I’m with the product marketing and marcom folks.

Anyway, reading about Ray’s death made me nostalgic for the days when each one of those days meant some time spent with the technology folks. So many of them were like Ray: smart, affable, inventive, and always willing to make time for someone who genuinely wanted to learn something from them.

So long, Ray Tomlinson. Here’s looking @ you…