Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Most days, it’s probably pretty good to be Brian Cullinan

Most days, it’s probably a pretty good thing to be Brian Cullinan. He’s a big mucket-y muck at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and, for the past four years, he’s been Mr. Limelight with respect to the super-big-deal-security-hush-hush-what’s-in-the-envelope at the Oscars. He’s the one who just the other day was boasting about PwC’s fail-safe process for making sure that the awards are awarded flawlessly. Only he and one other PwC bigwig knew who the winners were before the big reveals.

And then there was Monday evening…

If it had been a regular old Oscar-y Monday evening, Cullinan would have been swanning around in his tux, getting up somewhat close and somewhat personal with Hollywood royalty, and basking in the glow that all was well with the 83 year relationship with The Academy. Which is almost as long as the Oscars have been in existence.

And then, there was the big OOPS moment.

God knows, most of us have had them at work. It’s just that ours aren’t televised to tens of millions of viewers.

Amazingly, I actually was watching the show when the mistaken announcement of Best Picture was made.

I say amazingly, because I think this is the only time in my life I’ve watched the Academy Awards in its entirety. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve watched any of it. This year, the only film that was up for anything was Florence Foster Jenkins. (Meryl Streep was nominated for Best Actress for her eponymous role.) But I’m never all that interested. What got me to tune in was to see what kind of digs at Trump would be made. I’m not a big Jimmy Kimmel fan, but I think he was doing a pretty good job. And there were enough barbs – direct or oblique – directed at the Tweeter in Chief to keep me entertained.

So I was still with when the culminating award was made.

Just after Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had fumbled their way through announcing Best Picture, and as the presumed winners from La-La Land took to the stage for their moment of glory and started thanking their blue-eyed wives (one actually did specify the color of his wife’s eyes) and grammar school teachers, I saw some guys who looked like Secret Service start making their moves. My first thought was that there was some security threat, and that the muscle was about to clear the stage. Now that would have been something.

But what had happened was the Cullinan had handed Warren Beatty the wrong envelope. Instead of the one containing the name of the Best Picture winner, he was given the duplicate of the one for Best Actress, which had minutes before been awarded to Emma Stone for her role in La-La Land.

Beatty was clearly befuddled, and pretty much realized he had to wrong envelope. So he handed it off to Dunaway to see what she made of it. Well, old Faye went ahead and, spotting the words “La-La Land” on the Emma Stone, announced that La-La Land had won. (As one of my friends said as we were discussing why neither Beatty nor Dunaway had the presence of mind to say, “hey, this is the wrong envelope,” these folks are used to being handed a script, not thinking or taking charge.)

Anyway, all Hollywood hell then broke lose before the “real” winner – Moonlight – was announced.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, this is no big deal.

Sure, people do a lot of betting on the winners. And winning does translate into box office and better gigs. But it’s just the movies, for crying out loud, not real life.

But because this is Hollywood, it somehow matters more.

And this year it seemed to matter a lot more, because La-La Land was a throwback paean to old, white, Singin’ in the Rain Hollywood, while Moonlight chronicles the coming of age of a poor black guy from the mean streets of Miami.

Anyway, the mistake was quickly rectified.

Some ruffled feathers: the La-La Land folks who’d embarrassingly given their acceptance speeches. Old Faye and old Warren for being kind of dopey (and too vain to wear glasses). The august Academy itself for having made the envelopes more difficult to read this year. But most of the crap came down on the head of Brian Cullinan, the culprit who had handed Warren Beatty the wrong envelope.

I’m actually glad that if someone had to take the blame – and props because the person who had to take the blame seems to have been the person who actually goofed up - it was a head guy, not some little underling.

As it turned out, Cullinan was tweeting a few minutes before the mix-up – tweeting a picture of Emma Stone backstage just after she’d won her Oscar. (Note to Cullinan: if you’re the man next year, hand your phone to one of your underlings, and let that person do the intra-show tweeting.) So Cullinan took his eye off the prize, and goofed up big time.

I suspect nothing will bad will happen to Cullinan, other than the humiliation factor. He’s too high up and, thus, protected (he’s some sort of super-partner). And, truthfully, the mistake is pretty damned petty when you consider the real problems of the world.

So nothing will happen to Cullinan. Unless, of course, the Academy gets their shorts in a knot about this regrettable event, goes full frontal fiasco, and replaces PwC with E&Y or some other firm. But I wouldn’t bet on that happening.

I’m guessing that the big outcome will be that PwC will tone down some of the advertising about how the Academy has so trusted them over the years…

(Is it just me, or isn’t it more impressive when a really big and respected corporation trusts them with their accounting than when the Motion Picture Academy trusts them with tallying some votes?)

Meanwhile, I will note that, predictably, the Tweeter in Chief’s response to the screw up was that it occurred because there was altogether too much focus on politics during the show. Sad, he told Breitbart. Sad.

Me? I’m sad that a) he’s talking to Breitbart; and b) that he can’t help making everything about himself.

Oh, and I now have Moonlight, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Lion on my to-watch list.

Monday, February 27, 2017

PSA for UPS customers: beware of phishing after a LiveChat session

I bow to no man or woman when it comes to the level of misery I’ve encountered when the online whatever I’ve ordered is coming UPS. Oh, most of the time it works out okay. I pay for MyChoice, which lets me direct packages to the UPS Store around the corner. I don’t have to worry about being around to receive a delivery, and I don’t need to worry about it being left on the doorstep on a well-traveled street that thousands of people walk by on the average day. (A couple of years ago, I devoted a screed post to just one of my experiences with UPS. That sinking feeling I always get when the package is coming via UPS…)

I really do want to like UPS. A kabillion people work for them, the pay and bennies are supposed to be good, and the UPS folks I’ve dealt with have been almost uniformly pretty darned good. So I honestly don’t want them to be replaced by robots and drones. Cross my heart and hope to die trying to take delivery of an online order.

My most recent experience with UPS occurred last week.

I had ordered some clothing from a new place and – ugh – saw that they used UPS all the way. Fingers crossed, I directed the package to be delivered to the UPS Store on Charles Street. But when I hadn’t received any notification, I tried to track it down.

For some mysterious reason, it could not be delivered to Charles Street, so UPS made a (bad) decision to try to bring it directly to my place. Door locked. No one home. Package now in some infinite loop that I can’t figure out.

While this should have been simple enough - I mean, there is all that scanning and tracking technology out there – I ended up on multiple phone calls (mostly in which I was, admittedly and apologetically, venting my spleen). And on multiple chat sessions via UPS LiveChat.

Shortly after the first chat session, I received an email ostensibly from “UPS My Choice”, but really from some scam artists at <ups20@rnmk.com> telling me:

You shouldn't have to worry about whether or not you'll be home when your package arrives.  UPS My Choice membership offers you an option that helps you manage your most valuable commodity--your time.

Click here to learn how to take control of your deliveries.

Despite my pique – which was considerable – I cannily recognized a fishing expedition when I saw one. (Thanks in part, I suppose, to the quarterly security eLearning training that one of my clients requires me to go through so that I can use their email and other systems.)

So, I did not “click here”. After all, I already am a UPS My Choice subscriber. And if ever a URL looked phony – Russkie, even – it would be rnmk.com. A quick google confirmed that they do a lot of customer support phishing aimed at a number of well-known companies. (No info on UPS, however.)

But it would have been easy enough to click through. And if I hadn’t already been a UPS My Choicer, I could have easily signed up and given them my credit card info, etc.

Good little citizen of the world that I am, I forwarded the email off to the UPS Fraud Protection address listed on the UPS site. And received this in response:

Thank you for forwarding this information to us. The e-mail you received is not a legitimate UPS communication, nor was it sent through or by our system.

Our UPS fraud group is aware of this malicious e-mail. Please do not select any links or open any attachments in the e-mail as they may contain a virus. Since UPS has all of the information we need, we recommend that you permanently delete the e-mail.

We appreciate you taking the time to make sure we were aware of the situation. 

Same thing happened after my second chat session: the bogus email, followed by my passing it along to UPS.

But here’s my question to UPS:

If you’re aware that customers using your chat support are being sent phishing emails, WHY DON’T YOU HAVE AN AUTOMATIC WARNING e-MAIL SENT OUT TO THEM WHEN THEY INITIATE A CHAT SESSION. Something along the lines of what to do when you get an email from @rnmk.com. Don’t click, delete it, report it to us.

You know you’ve been hacked, UPS. It seems to me that it would be easy enough to let your customers know that they’re potential victims of a scam.

Maybe they don’t want to admit that they’ve been hacked, but still.

I’m sure that some of their customers have been suckered. I could easily have been.

I’m ticked off enough about the package problema. Image how I’d feel if I’d given my credit card number to one of Vladimir Putin’s cronies?

Friday, February 24, 2017

This year’s swag bag. (Who wouldn’t want to be nominated for best supporting whatever?)

In keeping with my annual tradition, I will probably not watch the Academy Awards on Sunday night. I’ve never really been enamored with the show. Even in the prime of my movie-going days, I rarely watched it. These days, I rarely go to the movies, so don’t really have any horses in the race. I’ll be a hometown honey and root for “Manchester By the Sea”, which is on my to-watch list, just as last year, I was rooting for “Spotlight”. (Double reason there, of course: Boston setting, and, given my Catholic upbringing, a topic of supreme interest.) I did turn the Oscars on at the last moment and did see “Spotlight” win, which was gratifying – I yelped - mostly because of the topic. And in part because it was the only nominated film I’d seen. Anyway, the Academy Awards aren’t really my thing. On the other hand…

In keeping with my annual tradition, I will be commenting on the swag  bag, which is provided to the nominees for best/best supporting actor and actress, and best director, so that everyone takes home some sort of consolation prize, even if they don’t win the golden statue.(Or at least the major “everyones”. No swag bag for the Best Use of Black & White Cinematography in a Full-Length Documentary Not Made in the US of A.)

This year’s swag assortment -  valued at roughly $200K (taxable) -  includes a CPR Anytime kit. First, shouldn’t it be the CPR Anywhere kit? Wouldn’t that be the appeal? That you’d have it whenever you need it? Because “anytime” isn’t when you need it. The only time you need it is if you or someone nearby have heart failure. Anyway (anywhere, anytime), it seems to me that this is an item that you might want to have on hand at the award ceremony, given that someone could throw a big one when they do or don’t hear their name called. But the swag bags are delivered to the nominees ahead of time, so they’d have to lug it with them to the show – not easy for the actresses tottering down the red carpet in 7 inch heels, and wearing gowns that don’t exactly come with deep pockets.

Another swag bag item is a box of personalized Crayolas. Now this is a low cost item, but how fun. I just checked, and you can pick the colors you want in our box of 64. I was delighted to see old favorites like Sky Blue and Blue Violet are still available. And Raw Sienna, which I never used, but liked the name of. But Crayola is getting as tricky as everyone else with their naming schemes: Granny Smith Apple, Asparagus, Macaroni and Cheese. Timberwolf. Tickle Me Pink. (Sounds like an O.P.I. nail polish color.) You can also put your name on the crayons, and your picture on the box. Don’t know if the actors/actresses have to do the heavy lifting of color choice and headshot upload. Maybe that’s what assistants are for.

Another one of the lower-end gifts in the bad is a pack of sweat-absorbing patches – just press on and you’re good to no-sweat go. There used to be something called underarm shields that you sewed into your good dresses and sweaters to protect them from unseemly and destructive perspiration, but the Dandi Patches seem a lot easier. But who really needs them? Isn’t sweating good for you?

There’s also some type of pelvic floor exercise thing-y. (And I wasn’t even aware that men did pelvic floor exercises.) And, especially nice for the losers, a wooden box containing 40 cards on which positive quotes are printed. Perhaps they can consult their Stewart Smalley Affirmations which doing their pelvic floor exercises. If they don’t want to bother with the kegel kit, but want to get down on the floor, the swag bag includes a cellulite massage mat. Or you can just forget your pelvis and cellulite, and sit around grazing through your box of pithy quotes while munching on pecans from the jar that’s made its way into the swag bag.

The real goodies are, of course, the trips.

A five-night holiday to Kōloa Landing, a luxurious resort on Hawaii's Kauai island is included, costing around $1,150 a night, along with a week at Golden Door, an exclusive California spa where a "Classic Women's Week" costs around $8,850.

If the nominee prefers a European adventure, then a three-night stay in a suite at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como is also on offer, which retails at around $1,400 a night, before taxes. Also in the swag bag are three nights in the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento, where a suite costs upwards of $700 a night. (Source: NBC News)

There’s also a jaunt to something called the Lost Coast Ranch, a private mansion where the non-winner and 9 guests can hang out for a  3 night stay. At a value of $40K, this is the priciest item in the bag.)

The swag bags came about 15 years ago, in response to Bette Midler’s grousing about going home empty handed. Since then, an outfit called Distinctive Assets has been putting them together. For those who populate the bag, it’s pretty good marketing publicity. Or, as Distinctive Assets would have it:

“We give the bag out to acknowledge a job well done. Celebs are just people and they love getting a gift,” founder of Distinctive Assets Lash Fary told Fox News. (Source: Fox News)

Just people? Just people!

I don’t believe that for a New York minute.

I suspect the only thing we have in common is that a stay at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo sounds good to us common folk, too. The pelvic floor exercise tracker? The box of quotes? You can keep them. And I can buy my own jar of pecans, thank you.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The rich are different from you and me. Yes, they have more money to spend on survival.

My husband and I used to watch a “reality’ show called Doomsday Preppers, which focused on folks who acted on their fears – the grid goes down; California gets hit with the big one and sloughs off into the ocean; the feds seize their guns; Sharia law takes hold; carnage moves from the inner city to rural America (hmmm: sounds like a certain someone’s dystopic inaugural address) – and stockpiled guns, canned goods, toilet paper, etc. so they’d be all prepped for doomsday. Some folks on the show planned to shelter in place, guns poking out the turrets in their steel-encased houses. Others had armored vehicles in which they planned to get away to their safe houses in the woods. And some lived in remote fortresses, ready to live off the land. I remember who had even built himself a machine for making bullets.

While the preppers were assiduously making sure they had a lifetime supply of canned green beans and shampoo, or were prepared to make their own (or make do without), I don’t recall any of them making sure they had a full library, or collection of CDs. Me? Once I saw who was planning on surviving whatever nasty bit was going to take life-as-we-know-it out, and nary a one seemed to want to have books around, I pretty much decided that my preference would be to be sitting fat, dumb and happy at ground zero of whatever nasty bit was about to hit. Sure, I do hope that there are some monks in Ireland who are going to survive in their clochans and preserve the written word. But I’d just as soon not wait around to see whether they’d transcribed the complete works of Jane Austen and Anthony Powell, or Fifty Shades of Grey.

Anyway, whatever cataclysm comes our society’s way, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to survive anything that’s so dire that it would have justified doomsday prepping.

But apparently there are plenty of uber-wealthy folks who do want to survive. They’re not hand-crafting bullet-making machines. But they’re nonetheless doing some doomsday prepping.

The founder of Reddit, Steve Huffman, had laser surgery.

“If the world ends—and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble—getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass,” he told me recently. “Without them, I’m fucked.” (Source: New Yorker)

Huffman also has “a bunch of guns and ammo. Food. I figure that, with that, I can hole up in my house for some amount of time.”

And Huffman’s not alone.

…in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters [than the nutters on Doomsday Preppers], taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.

Antonio García Martínez, who made his coin at Facebook, bought island property in the Pacific Northwest, and has it stocked.

“I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”  

He deliberately chose a survival site that wasn’t totally isolated, so that he could form a militia with likeminded others so that he can successfully “ride out the apocalypse.”

My question, of course, is you ride out the apocalypse – then what? It’s not like you’ll go back to dim sum in San Francisco.

Silicon Valley boys are hording gold, bitcoins, cryptocurrency. Bitcoins? Cryptocurrency? That’s going to survive the apocalypse.

More practically, IMHO, they’re investing in real estate and keeping their helicopters gassed up. They’re armed – some with guns and ammo, others with bows and arrows.

And, unlike most of those profiled on Doomsday Preppers, these guys are 1 per-centers, society’s winners. They’re educated. They’re affluent. They’re not so much worried about tsunami as they are financial meltdown or societal/political breakdown.

Interestingly after its Doomsday Preppers show took off, National Geographic (the network it ran on) sponsored a survey that:

…found that forty per cent of Americans believed that stocking up on supplies or building a bomb shelter was a wiser investment than a 401(k).

Sure hope that the sixty percent are right. I would like to get the opportunity to spend at least some of my 401(k). As for the tech preppers, they’re not bound by the constraints of a 401(k). They’ve got serious coin to spend on their survival.

Yishan Wong is an alum of both Facebook and Reddit. He says:

“The tech preppers do not necessarily think a collapse is likely. They consider it a remote event, but one with a very severe downside, so, given how much money they have, spending a fraction of their net worth to hedge against this . . . is a logical thing to do.”

…The fears vary, but many worry that, as artificial intelligence takes away a growing share of jobs, there will be a backlash against Silicon Valley, America’s second-highest concentration of wealth. (Southwestern Connecticut is first.) “I’ve heard this theme from a bunch of people,” [Linkedin’s Reid] Hoffman said. “Is the country going to turn against the wealthy? Is it going to turn against technological innovation? Is it going to turn into civil disorder?”

Among the fifty percent of the Silicon billionaires who aren’t prepping is PayPal founder Max Levchin.

“It’s one of the few things about Silicon Valley that I actively dislike—the sense that we are superior giants who move the needle and, even if it’s our own failure, must be spared.” 

A number of the Silicon preppers – and there are estimates that half of the Silicon billionaires have some sort of what’s called “apocalypse insurance” - are thinking New Zealand. (I will note that there’s an East Coast ritzy prepping cohort as well.) Other well to do preppers are investing in luxury “condos” built in de-commissioned bomb silos in the Midwest.

Me? I’ll be sitting in my home sweet home with the covers pulled over my head. And it really doesn’t matter to me whether those who are going to survive are the tin-foil brigade with their bullet-making machines, or the Silicon big boys with their New Zealand getaways and their helicopter, sitting their gassed and read to go. Include me out!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Don’t bogart that joint my friend, pass it over to Grandma Moses

The other day, I was talking with a friend whose mother is 95. Her mother is ready to go. She’s not only ready to go. She wants to go. Ninety-two was the last age when she felt good and enjoyed her life. That was about the time when one of her sons died, so there’s no surprise there. But now her life is a lot of aches, pains, and sadness. She’s ready. She’s not sitting around pissing and moaning. She’s a good-humored old Irish lady who’s still got all her marbles. Pain aside, she lives comfortably with one of her daughters, and enjoys the company and affection of her children and grandchildren. But she’s in pain most of the time (arthritis in her back), and the pain-killers aren’t killing her pain.

Then there’s my friend N, who’s in her late-eighties and is also ready to go. (She has told her friends that she anticipates that her death will be soon.) She doesn’t have any pain free days since a nightmare spill in which she broke her wrist. But they don’t want her to take anything too strong for the pain, fearing that she’ll become addicted. N isn’t afraid of becoming addicted. She’d just like the pain to let up while she runs out the last while of her life.

Last spring, my neighbor J died. He spent the last week or so of his life in a nursing home, but he was living at home (with a 24/7 home care aide the last couple of years) until his 99th birthday. But his last few years were pretty miserable. He was praying to die, and spent much of his day moaning. J went into a nursing home shortly after a couple of us heard a new tone in his moaning – it was beginning to sound physical, not existential. After speaking with his home care aide, I alerted J’s landlord, who called J’s West Coast daughter,the Visiting Nurses Association and the VA. They sprung into action and brought J to a nursing home, where his pain was better managed (so we heard) for his last few days.

Isn’t there a better way to manage the pain of the elderly? Well, since that could be me in a few short decades, I’ve got a vested interest in the answer here. So I’m delighted to hear that there is, in fact, a better way.

Medical marijuana is coming to the rescue.

One 98 year old in a NYC nursing home takes a little green pill full of cannabis oil.

Then Ms. [Ruth] Brunn, who has neuropathy, settles back in her wheelchair and waits for the jabbing pain in her shoulders, arms and hands to ebb.

“I don’t feel high or stoned,” she said. “All I know is I feel better when I take this.” (Source: NY Times)

Ms. Brunn, who has been able to stop taking morphine because of her use of marijuana, is not alone.

From retirement communities to nursing homes, older Americans are increasingly turning to marijuana for relief from aches and pains. Many have embraced it as an alternative to powerful drugs like morphine, saying that marijuana is less addictive, with fewer side effects.

It’s used for a lot of achy and pain-y problems: neuopathy, muscle spasms, Parkinson’s. Pot may also help with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Toking up, or popping a greenie, may be something new and weird for the older-elders, who came of age during the cigarette and good stiff drink era, but the boomers should be right at home when we start rolling in mass numbers into nursing homes. After all, rolling a joint is like riding a bicycle, isn’t it. (Do Zig-Zag papers still exist?)

There are both medical and legal concerns about elder use of marijuana.

Medically, there are some who believe that “marijuana could possibly make them [old folks] confused, dizzy or more likely to fall.” Not to be too cute about it, but they may already be confused, dizzy and more likely to fall than they used to be. Maybe toking up (or washing down) will help them relax and better cope with their pain. More research, please.

As for legal issues, while a lot of states have legalized marijuana, there are some concerns that the feds could crack down on it being dispensed in institutions that accept Medicare or Medicaid payments. Which would pretty much be most nursing homes, I would think. So far, it hasn’t happened, but you never know what can happen when there’s a new incumbent. Things could get bad enough for the old folks if mass deportations begin, given the population that provides a lot of the heart and muscle when it comes to elder care. I would hope that when the human element has been deported and replaced by robots, our elders will still be able to bliss out a bit, without the feds going haywire.

To get around the potential legal hurdles, some nursing homes are turning a blind eye to MJ use by their residents. They don’t help dispense it, but if someone’s using, they take a more or less ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach.

Like pretty much everyone else I know, I want to die in my sleep the day before (or the day after, at the very latest) I learn that I will be institutionalized and bed-ridden. But if medical marijuana can postpone that date, or – just in case I get stuck – make those final institutionalized, bed-ridden days a bit easier to withstand, well, don’t bogart that joint, my friend. Pass it over to me.



Tuesday, February 21, 2017


As a non-skier, I don’t pay a lot of attention to what’s happening at the ski resorts. But they do talk about it on the weather news, and the sense I’m getting is that this is a pretty good year, snow-wise, for New England. We’re not getting whited-out like we did in 2015, but it’s not the snow-drought we experienced last year, either, when, if not for snowmaking machines, folks would have been skiing on rock face.

Overall, however, as the world gets warmer, snowfall has become less predictable and skiing seasons in most of the places where people want to ski have grown shorter.

Since the 1970s the duration of the snow season, averaged over the northern hemisphere, has declined by five days a decade, according to the European Environment Agency. Huge regional variation exists, however, both in Europe and elsewhere. Californian slopes that were unable to open in recent years because of snow shortages had to close at the start of 2017 because too much of the stuff had fallen. (Source: The Economist)

What is bad luck for some (in this case, Mother Earth, and the ski resorts that now have to pay for what they used to get for free) presents an opportunity for others, namely, those who produce snowmaking equipment. 

The Economist article – those Euro-centrics! – only cites European companies, one of which (TechnoAlpin) claims to have roughly 50% of global market share. Not that I know anything about the snowmaking industry, but whenever I hear 50% market share, one of my eyebrows goes up. But whatever.

I’m going to do my bit to boost American greatness by giving a shout out to our native snowmakers. So let’s give it up for:

Victor, New York’s own Ratnik, makers of the Sky Giant Snow Gun, and the Mid-Energy Triple Baby Snow Giant High Capacity Tower. How much fun must it be to get to name your product a Triple Baby Snow Giant. (On the other hand, for some folks, the idea of a Triple Baby Snow Giant might be nightmare-inducing.)

Ratnik has its Babies, but Snowmakers (Snow Machines, Inc.) has Kids. You can get a Super Polecat, a Silent Polecat, or a Kid Polecat. A Viking or a Kid Viking. A Super Wizzard or a Kid Wizzard. (And you thought the only company in Midland, Michigan, was Dow Chemical.)

HKD used to be USA! USA! Then it went and merged with a Canadian outfit. But their US presence is in Natick, Mass. So they get a nod here, even if they don’t have Babies or Kids, just devils (Diablos) or angels (Halos).

I’m glad that these companies are making stuff, and that they’re making stuff in America. (At least I think they are.) I like that they make cannons and guns that have nothing to do with killing people, but are making skiers and snowboarders happy.

But with the upside of more demand for snowmaking equipment due to warmer temps, there’s a big downside: snow turns to slush, and then outright water, when the temps get above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. I am well familiar with this, as the snow on the roof of the building next store is seeping through my ceiling whenever we have a melty-day.

Anyway, because of this – warming temps, not the leak in the flashing next door - snowmaking companies plow a fair amount of money into R&D. I’m sure they’ll figure it out. Too many snowboarders and skiers out there who’ll be piste off if they don’t.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Just in time for Presidents’ Day

Every few years, C-SPAN conducts a survey of historians, asking them to rate all past presidents. Here’s the methodology:

C-SPAN's academic advisors devised a survey in which participants used a one ("not effective") to ten ("very effective") scale to rate each president on ten qualities of presidential leadership: "Public Persuasion," "Crisis Leadership," "Economic Management," "Moral Authority," "International Relations," "Administrative Skills," "Relations with Congress," "Vision/Setting An Agenda," "Pursued Equal Justice for All," and "Performance Within the Context of His Times." Surveys were distributed to historians, biographers, and other professional observers of the presidency, drawn from a database of C-SPAN's programming, augmented by suggestions from the academic advisors. (Source: C-SPAN)

Before I get into the results – every bit as exciting as Adele vs. Beyoncé at the Grammies, or whether LaLa Land will sweep the Oscars – I’m actually wondering where they found 91 people (even in this vast country) who are actually capable of rating all 44 presidents on each of those categories. Come on, William Henry Harrison was only in office for 31 days before he died of pneumonia. And you’re telling me that there are 91 historians who can rate him on “Crisis Leadership” and “Relations with Congress?” And are there really 91 historians who can tell the difference between John Tyler and Zachary Taylor? Apparently, they were able to discern enough differences to rank Zachary Taylor 31, and John Tyler 39.

Here, from Politico, are the full rankings:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
4. Teddy Roosevelt
5. Dwight Eisenhower
6. Harry Truman
7. Thomas Jefferson
8. John F. Kennedy
9. Ronald Reagan
10. Lyndon Johnson
11. Woodrow Wilson
12. Barack Obama
13. James Monroe
14. James Polk
15. Bill Clinton
16. William McKinley
17. James Madison
18. Andrew Jackson
19. John Adams
20. George H.W. Bush
21. John Q. Adams
22. Ulysses Grant
23. Grover Cleveland
24. William Taft
25. Gerald Ford
26. Jimmy Carter
27. Calvin Coolidge
28. Richard Nixon
29. James Garfield
30. Benjamin Harrison
31. Zachary Taylor
32. Rutherford Hayes
33. George W. Bush
34. Martin Van Buren
35. Chester Arthur
36. Herbert Hoover
37. Millard Fillmore
38. William Harrison
39. John Tyler
40. Warren Harding
41. Franklin Pierce
42. Andrew Johnson
43. James Buchanan

(Note that there have been 44 presidencies, making the incumbent #45, but Grover Cleveland had two separate terms, so he nabbed two numbers, but is only ranked once.)

The Big Three (as historian Douglas Brinkley calls them) are no surprise. Lincoln and FDR are my two personal favorites, which is kind of like saying that my favorite movies are Casablanca and The Godfather.

Obama had a pretty good showing, all things considered. He lost most of his ground (ranked 39th) because of his relations with a fractious Congress, and got his highest marks for Public Persuasion (ranked 10th), Economic Management (8th), Moral Authority (7th), and Pursuit of Equal Justice for All (3rd). On that final point, Obama was bested only by Lincoln (1st) and LBJ (2nd). (Here’s the link to the the full, category by category, rankings.)

Of all the presidents of my lifetime, Obama is definitely my favorite, but he’s not in the same league as The Big Three.

And then there’s the bottom of the barrel, James Buchanan, who was rated dead last in most categories, and achieved his highest ranking – 41st – for Administrative Skills.

Off the top of my head, I would have said Warren Harding (40th) was the worst. Or Andrew Johnson (42nd). Either of these gentlemen would have gotten my nod only because the incumbent is not yet in the mix. But James Buchanan? I know absolutely nothing about him,other than that he was the president before Lincoln. So I googled, and found that he apparently earned his reputation by pooh-poohing the importance of arguments over territorial slavery and may, in fact, have done some SCOTUS tampering around the Dred Scott decision.

Buchanan has been ranked among the three worst presidents in every poll and survey conducted since 1948 and in the past decade, and replaced Harding as the usual last-place finisher in these studies. (Source: National Constitution Center)

Looks like C-SPAN does their rankings whenever there’s a change in office. They’ve done three so far. Who knows, they may be conducting their next one any day now. I’d say that Buchanan supporters have reason for cautious optimism.

Anyway, Happy Presidents’ Day.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Food, glorious expired food

A number of months after my husband died (which, sigh, was 3 years ago today), I rounded up some of his gluten free foods and attempted to drop them off at a local food bank. Alas, I was turned away because these items – all completely non-perishable – were a couple of days past their use-by date. I guess it might be demeaning for someone picking up food from a food bank to be given expired food. But,r ealistically speaking, there was NOTHING wrong with any of this stuff (pretty much soups and a packaged “risotto” that was one of the few things that tasted good to Jim during the final stages of his life). And my thinking was that someone with celiac disease might appreciate getting food that would work for them.

Anyway, I took the food back home and used it myself. It was fine – even if it was a few months past the whatever it was date on the can/box. Don’t we occasionally read about folks who open a can of something or other, fifty years after the bought it, and find – yummers – that it’s still good? I seem to remember a Civil War ration can being unearthed and can-opened when I was a kid. And someone ate it and declared it fine.

Certainly, there are foods that go bad. Like milk.

The store that’s closest to me is one I seldom patronize. A few months ago, I needed milk, it was getting late, I didn’t want to schlep to one of my preferred stores, so I stopped in at my local. I’ve lived in this hood for over 40 years, so I knew enough to check the dates. Hmmm. I couldn’t find a pint of 2% that was younger than 2 weeks expired. I took a pass.

Similarly, I always look at the expiry date on bread, yogurt, fresh-squeezed OJ, and packaged salad greens, reaching way back on the shelf to get the furthest date out. Fresh is better than not-so-fresh.

Thanks to my fancy-arse fridge, those greens last well by the best-by date. Yogurt, I know, is good well beyond whatever date is stamped on the cover. As for milk, well, I use the sniff test. If it’s a day-or-so beyond, I’ll take a whiff. If it doesn’t smell sour, and if there’s nothing solid chunking around in it, it’s on the cereal. (Or, I guess, I could make a sour milk chocolate cake, which I haven’t had in years. Got the recipe here somewhere…)

Completely rotten fruits and veggies go down the disposal. If there’s just a bad part, I’ll cut it off and go ahead and eat the rest. Mold on bread: gone! In my experience, in a loaf of bread where one slice has mold, the rest of the slices will tend to smell a bit off. But if the bread is just stale, well, dealer’s choice.

Same with a lot of food stuffs: slightly stale ain’t going to kill you.

Use common sense. Which is how us Baby Boomers grew up.

As for drugs, I usually have aspirin and some sort of cold and flu whatever around. When I go to use them, which is not all that often, I invariably find that they’re expired. I then go online, and most of the time, I find that they’re fine. Now, if you’re taking something life saving – like insulin – you have to be more careful. But for general purpose OTC stuff, the potency may somewhat deteriorate, but most of it still works up to a point well beyond what’s indicated.

But, basically, I really don’t know what those dates are supposed to mean. Which apparently places me in the majority of my fellow Americans, or so I learned from a recent article in the Washington Post (which you may need to be a subscriber to access). But help is on the way.

On Wednesday, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the two largest trade groups for the grocery industry,announced that they’ve adopted standardized, voluntary regulations to clear up what product date labels mean. Where manufacturers now use any of 10 separate label phrases, ranging from “expires on” to “better if used by,” they’ll now be encouraged to use only two: “Use By” and “Best if Used By.”

The former is a safety designation, meant to indicate when perishable foods are no longer good. “Best if Used By” is a quality descriptor — a subjective guess of when the manufacturer thinks the product should be consumed for peak flavor.

That's what most "use-by" dates indicate now, though studies have shown that many consumers believe they signal whether a product is okay to eat. In fact, it's totally fine to eat a product even well after its so-called expiration date. (Source: WaPo)

At least I have figured out not to be duped into deciding that something is unsafe to eat based on a date stamp. But what a con on the part of manufacturers this has been, if people are tossing out all of this perfectly good food.

Anyway, it looks like the simplification of the food expiration info will be a good thing. We’ll just have to remember the “Use By” is about safety. Wouldn’t it be better if they changed it to “Safe if Used By” or “Do Not Use After This Date.” Just saying. I’m sure I’ll keep using my visual inspection, sniff, and taste test. It’s worked so far!Ancient butter

And what are we to make of the different standards in other countries?

My niece Molly is studying in Ireland, and sent a picture of a mound of 1,000 year old butter from Cork. Looks more like a biscuit to me, but what do I know? All I can say is I will no longer worry when I can’t find the expiration date on my tub of Kerry Gold (butter that tastes like what butter should taste like, whatever its age)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ark of the Arfs

I’ve been on a couple of flights where pets have been onboard. A few years ago, my sister Kath and I were flying back to Boston from Florida, and we kept hearing this yipping noise. We actually thought it was someone with Tourette’s. But when we were disembarking, we watched as the woman a few rows ahead of us took a pet carrier out from under the seat in front of her and freed up the furry little head of her mop-mop dog Charlie.

The other pet experience I had was even more memorable. On a flight home from a business trip to Cleveland, a passenger took over one of the two toilets on the plane so that she could try to calm down her howler monkey. That monkey wasn’t having any of the calming down, and all I can say is that they don’t call them howler monkeys for nothing.

Anyway, whether yipping under the seat or howling in the rest room, a traveling pet is a lot better off in the cabin than it would be in the cargo hold. Honestly, it’s hard to think of a more disturbing experience for one of our furry friends than being cooped up in a cage in a cold, dark, and noisy space for a few hours. Traveling in the cabin if you’re a human flying steerage isn’t exactly a picnic, but at least we all know what we’re getting into: no leg room, bad or no food (not sure which is worse), the person in front of you reclining with his head in your lap, the kid behind you kicking, etc. The thought of how the animals have to travel. The horror!

While not much is happening on the in-flight end of the pet travel continuum – unless you’re willing to spring for a private plane – there is something that will make man’s best friend, as well as other members of the animal kingdom, more comfortable while they’re hanging out pre or post-flight at the airport.

The Ark at JFK, a new, $65 million facility in a 178,000-square-foot warehouse, is one step toward improving the latter [i.e., non-flight] experience. It will have a splash pool, overnight kennels, and pre-flight micro-chipping services to track your animals. Eventually, this first-of-its-kind service in the U.S. will feature an in-house pet spa, too.(Source: Bloomberg)

The JFK location is the key here, as one of the main services is helping dogs clear customs.(Is there extreme vetting for pooches?) It will also take care of the animals during layovers and see them through the boarding process.

I was going to say that I wished there were something similar for humans. But, silly me. It’s the First Class or Frequent Flyer lounge. I have been in enough of those to say that it really does make a difference to be able to lounge around, in a comfy chair, without having to fight off every else looking to use a plug. You’re away from the hoi polloi waiting for your flight to be called, and you get to the gate through the secret entrance.

The Ark at JFK's equine component will have stables for importing and exporting racehorses, show horses, and polo ponies, all of which follow relatively predictable schedules.

An aviary is also in the works.

I’m not all that fond of birds as pets. And I don’t know any horses. But I’m happy that there’ll be some more creature comforts from the canine creatures who do so very much to make human life worth living.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

All’s well that wormswell

Here’s the sum total of what I know (or thought I knew) about hookworm:

  • Runny-nosed, overall-wearing kids in the South got it from walking around barefoot in areas where there wasn’t a lot of indoor plumbing
  • Hookworms wormed their way into the kids’ bloodstream through the soles of those bare feet
  • The kids became anemic, emaciated, sickly
  • The Rockefeller Foundation wiped out hookworm in the American South early in the previous century

I have absolutely no idea why we would have been taught about hookworm in grammar school, but I’m pretty sure that’s where I learned about it. Was it a way to demonstrate both Northern superiority and largesse? Did the nuns want to point out that Protestants – who lived in the South – got hookworm, while Catholics – who lived in the North – didn’t?

In any case,that’s my deep dive on hookworm.

And then my brother-in-law, Rick, who apparently has as much time as I do to while away the hours skipping around the ‘net looking for weird stuff, pointed me in the direction of Wormswell.

Wormswell’s is selling hookworms – members of the helminth family -which they claim can be used to treat a raft of disorders:

Clinical trials on animals have shown helminths to be effective in treating asthma, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, food allergy, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In the limited number of studies using human subjects to date it, has been seen to be safe and effective in treating allergies, asthma, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and there are studies on going at present into these and a number of other immune mediated conditions.

I had heard about people using fecal transplants for certain disorders. In fact, I believe that there’s a non-profit outside Boston that accepts stool donations which it passes on to those suffering from colitis. So I guess if someone’s willing to treat themselves with shit, it’s not a big leap to treatment with hookworms.

The need for all these new approaches to inflammatory diseases is because said diseases have proliferated. One hypothesis is that the proliferation has been brought out precisely because modernity – and folks like the Rockefeller Foundation who went through the South wiping out hookworm – has done too good a job. We’ve sanitized ourselves to such an extent that we don’t have enough of the microorganisms needed to keep us healthy.

Anyway, it turns out that hookworms – necator americanus – are particularly ideal for helminth treatment. So, if you’re suffering, you can order up some hookworms for Wormswell. What they’ll send you is a vial containing clear liquid and hookworm larvae (5 hookworms for $85, 25 for $200), along with info on how to apply it to your foot. (In the old days, kids in the South just had to step in a place where someone had crapped.) It wends it way into your system where it does good. Or so the theory goes.

If you live in the US, you actually can’t get them delivered, since the FDA hasn’t yet blessed this treatment. And, quite quirkily (at least to me), you have to use bitcoins to pay for your order.

I have to say that I would feel creepy crawly if I had creepy crawlies creeping and crawling inside my gastrointestinal system. I’m sure I’d have tapeworm nightmares, and wake up in the middle of the night quite certain that a 50 foot tapeworm was about to escape through my left nostril. But if I had to pick between hookworms and a fecal transplant, I actually don’t know which I’d choose. With luck, I won’t have to ever make a decision of this sort. Not that I’d worm out of making it. I just hope it never comes up through the sole of my bare foot.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine’s Day, 2017

Well, it’s that time of year again, the day we’re bombarded with all those messages letting us know that if we don’t have someone buying something for us we are miserable, alone and unloved. All those TV ads for things I don’t want. Which is, of course, a good thing, because I’m not going to get any of it:

  • One of those ghastly chocolate covered, preservative-sprayed fruit arrangements. Come on, if they really were edible, would they have to spell it out for us?
  • An oversized teddy bear – maybe even a pink one – so that every time the object of someone’s affection moves, she has to make a decision on whether the 4 foot teddy bear stays or goes. (Of course, the answer is easy if the giftee has broken up with the gifter: out that bad boy goes!)
  • Entwined hearts jewelry, because who would know better what a girl wants than Kay Jeweler’s (every kiss begins with “k”) or Zales?
  • And that old standby, a dozen long stemmed American beauties. Only we know that, to meet the Valentine’s Day demand, they were probably picked months ago and are being kept alive through heroic measures that aren’t known to you, so yours will start to droop and blacken by tomorrow.
  • Heart shaped box of chocolates.

Okay. I lied. I really wouldn’t mind the roses or the chocolates. But I might as well wait a day or two, until the rush has passed, and I can get roses that are fresher and a heart shaped box of chocolates on sale. Of course, you’re still paying extra for the box, and since I don’t have any nuns to donate the empty box to (see below), what am I going to do with it?

In truth, other than when I was a really small kid, I’ve never been a big Valentine’s Day fan. My late husband had the odd romantic moment, but it seldom if ever coincided with Valentine’s Day.

One year, while helping take care of a friend who was dying of AIDS, I accompanied J to a dinner that some other friends were hosting. The guys got me a very nice ceramic heart pin, which, yes, I will be wearing today.

When I was a kid, however, Valentine’s Day was fun.

My mother would get these big books of Valentine’s. You had to cut out the Valentine’s, and the envelopes, which you then needed to fold into the right shape and paste along the seams. And why use LePage’s Mucilage or Elmer’s GlueAll when you can teach the kids a lesson on paste making? So we’d glue our envelopes together with homemade flour and water paste. Talk about lumps in the gravy.

This approach was good enough for kindergarten and Mexican valentinefirst grade, but after that, we prevailed on Liz to get us the boxes of “normal kid” Valentine’s, which probably came in 50 packs. (Enough to accommodate everyone in the class, as that was the rule: you brought in a valentine for everyone or no one.) They all sort of looked like this one, and they slipped into little envelope sheaths that – get this – you didn’t have to paste together with lumpy glue.

Running up to Valentine’s Day, the nuns also sold cards that they’d made in order to raise money for the missions. These were the ones you bought for your parents, and for the nun. Believe me, there was pressure to buy at least a couple from the nuns, because you had to prove that you were a good Catholic, didn’t you? For two cents, you got a construction paper heart with Happy St. Valentine’s Day written on it. For a nickel, you’d get a card with a holy picture (i.e., picture of saint) glued on. And for a dollar, you could get a valentine that some nun had crafted out of a heart-shaped candy box, which they were always scavenging around for. Needless to say, my shopping was of the two-cent plain or nickel holy card variety.

In first grade, I remember a very sweet boy, Stephen W., crying because he couldn’t afford to get his mother one of those candy-box valentine’s. Stephen was the youngest kid in the class – a late December birthday – and came from a large family. So where was he going to get a buck? Sister Marie Leo, you old meanie: why didn’t you just give him the damned valentine? It’s not as if any kid in OLA’s first grade could afford to buy it.

By fifth or sixth grade, interest in Valentine’s Day petered out, and kids started ignoring the all-in rule. Girls just gave to the other girls. Boys brought in joke valentines – Mad Magazine sorts of things – and if you were lucky you got one or two of them. I remember being thrilled when Jackie P – who was both cute and smart – gave me a joke valentine in fifth grade – all the sweeter because his sister made a follow up phone call to tell me that Jackie liked me.

Ah, that was then, and this is now. Thanks to my sister Trish and cousin Babs, I got a couple of valentines this year. Thanks, ladies!

But mostly, this quasi-holiday will just blow over.Creepy valentine

In ending, I will leave you to a Buzzfeed link to 27 Weird & Creepy Valentine’s Day Cards. Here’s an example, but the full assortment is definitely worth a look-see. This is one of my favorites, not just because of the weird and creepy satyr-looking lamb, but for the use of the word “gambol” as a pun for “gamble.” We sure have gotten dumbed down from an era where it would be taken for granted that someone knew the word “gambol.”

Anyway, to those who celebrate Valentine’s Day, Pink Slip wishes you a happy one. Please let me know how you enjoyed that edible arrangement.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Look, up in the sky! It’s bird. It’s a plane. It’s a flying Uber!

One of my favorite books as a kid was The Flying Sandbox.flying sandbox Because what kid wouldn’t want to fly around their neighborhood in a sandbox? I sure did, even though, given that our sandbox was four boards my father had knocked together – and painted a really curious color of pinky-purple: did the hardware store give him the paint, or was it leftover from one my grandmother’s paint-the-furniture adventures?  Since there was no bottom to our sandbox, just a frame with sand in it, it would have been a good trick to fly in it. Of course, our sandbox did have seats in every corner, so we could have hung onto those. Wheee…..

And then I grew up, and didn’t give much thought to stuff like flying around in a sandbox, or in any other personal, or semi-personal, flying device.

But the tech companies, bless ‘em, are apparently thinking about it for me.

Google’s Larry Page has financed two startups – Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk – that are aimed a building flying cars. And Uber has decided that they also want to slip the surly bonds of earth – or at least achieve some hovering level above ground. They’ve gone and hired a former NASA engineer who’s done research on vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), i.e., flying cars. At Uber Technologies,

[Mark] Moore is taking on a new role as director of engineering for aviation at the ride-hailing company, working on a flying care initiative known as Uber Elevate. “I can’t think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real,” he says. (Source: Bloomberg)

Personally, I’d like to see Uber focused on getting my sister Kath’s address straight, so getting an Uber pickup there isn’t a big fandango, but, hey, it’s Uber’s money, and if they’d prefer to come up with a flying car rather than come up with a way to find my sister’s house, that’s their lookout.

Uber is still in the exploratory stages. For now, they’re focused on problems the VTOL industry is facing: “like noise pollution, vehicle efficiency and limited battery life.”

If I were going to pick one, I’d put my focus on the limited battery life challenge. No, I’m not looking forward to the noise pollution that will come with flying cars (not to mention all those delivery drones), and, sure, vehicle efficiency is a nice to have. But I really don’t want to be out there taking my 10K Fitbit steps when an Uber Elevate’s battery goes end-of-life.

Nikhil Goel, Uber’s head of product for advanced programs, says the company wants to organize the industry to help spur development of flying cars. “Uber continues to see its role as an accelerant-catalyst to the entire ecosystem, and we are excited to have Mark joining us to work with manufacturers and stakeholders as we continue to explore the use case described in our whitepaper,” Goel wrote in an e-mailed statement.

Emphasis mine, and I really only put this para in here because it would be a great statement to have on hand if one were playing business buzzword bingo. Catalyst. Ecosystem. Stakeholders. Well played, Nikhil Goel! (As an aside, I googled Nikhil and found that he is a graduate of Virgil Grissom High School, named for the unfortunate astronaut Gus Grissom who lost his first space capsule – he got out, but the capsule sunk – and who lost his life when the command module he was in caught fire while on the launch pad. So, looks like an apt job for Mr. Goel. With luck not a precursor of ill luck.)

Uber’s vision is a seductive one, particularly for sci-fi fans. The ride-hailing company envisions people taking conventional Ubers from their homes to nearby “vertiports” that dot residential neighborhoods. Then they would zoom up into the air and across town to the vertiport closest to their offices. (“We don’t need stinking bridges!” says Moore.) These air taxis will only need ranges of between 50 to 100 miles, and Moore thinks that they can be at least partially recharged while passengers are boarding or exiting the aircraft. He also predicts we’ll see several well-engineered flying cars in the next one to three years and that there will be human pilots, at least managing the onboard computers, for the foreseeable future.

Well, I’m not a sci-fi fan, so I’m not sure just how seductive that vision is, but I’m happy that there will be human pilots on those Elevates for the foreseeable future. Nice that there will be some jobs around, given that Uber plans to buy up a ton of self-driving cars once they come onto the market.

Meanwhile, I’m back to thinking about just how much fun a flying sandbox would have been…

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mold for sale?

As a toddler, my brother Rich was hospitalized twice for pneumonia, likely brought on from the fact that he was a preemie – at a time (1955) when preemies didn’t survive. Penicillin helped save his life. So the Rogers family has a lot to be thankful for when it comes to Alexander Fleming and his wonderful and life saving discovery.

I’ve also benefited from penicillin. When I was in the second grade, some sort of throat infection rampaged through our class. It was just about the time we were scheduled to make our First Holy Communion, and there was some fear that it would have to be postponed. There were 45 or 50 kids in my class, and I remember one day when there were only 5 of us in attendance.

Eventually, I fell victim. (Either that, or I was Patient One – I can’t remember whether I was a leader or a lagger.) Because of this, I missed my grandmother’s 75th birthday party. Because the party was held in our small house, I didn’t miss much, as pretty much every attendee, which I believe included all kazillion of my father’s first cousins, stuck their head in the bedroom to say ‘hello.’ And someone brought me a piece of cake, which was special because – in a scratch-baking family – it was a fancy store bought cake. I was disappointed. It was covered with whipped cream, not frosting. (Boo.) And it wasn’t chocolate – it was white with strawberries and peaches. (Hiss, boo.)

But I got back on my feet in time to piously receive my First Holy Communion, thanks to a dose or two of penicillin.

And I’ve had strep throat twice as an adult. Thank you, Alexander Fleming for discovering penicillin and for making it safe and comfortable to swallow when those nefarious white splotches appeared at the back of my throat.

So while I’m a big Alexander Fleming fan – way to go with the Nobel Prize, by the way – I’m not about to enter into the bidding war for “two samples of the original mold that Alexander Fleming used to produce penicillin”, which are going to be auctioned off on March 1st.

If you’re interested, bring your checkbook. Another sample, auctioned off in December, went fo $46K.

Along with it, the buyer got a letter Fleming's housekeeper had written, with this postscript: "P.S. As though you didn't know — but just in case — this round affair is a blob of the original Mould of Penicillin, not to be confused with Gorgonzola cheese!!!" (Source: Stat).

Of course, $46K for something associated with one of the most important discoveries in the history of mankind is chump change, when compared to the $75K that a Tom Brady jersey is expected to fetch, which I blogged about just last week. And that $75K is nada if you consider this: shortly after the Super Bowl ended, Tom Brady’s game jersey was ripped off from his equipment bag. Given the irrational – IMHO– amount of money spent on sports memorabilia, one would certainly expect that a jersey worn by the football GOAT (Greatest of All Time), at what is being called the greatest Super Bowl game of all time (okay: yawn) would be “worth” more than a jersey worn on Breast Cancer Awareness Day. Anyway, the dollar sign that’s been put on the missing Super Bowl jersey is $500K.

Who would want Tom Brady’s sweaty old jersey? Who would want Alexander Fleming’s moldy old mold?

I just don’t get it. Dumbfounded might be the appropriate word here.

But I do know this: whatever the auction value of their leave-behinds, Alexander Hamilton’s work did a lot more good for mankind than any pass Tom Brady ever completed, GOAT or no GOAT.


Thanks to my sister Kath for pointing this one my way.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Pacemaker under your skin?

Throughout my life, I have enjoyed pretty good health. At the moment, I’m actually nursing a head-cold – one of those “I want to blow my nose right off my face” things  – but I seldom have a sick day, don’t take any prescription meds, and – other than my 2015 droopy eyelid surgery  - have never gone under the knife. I count myself quite fortunate that my main medical complaints are mechanical ones. Right now, I’m dealing with posterior tibial tendonitis. No big deal.

Long-winded way of saying that, despite all the heart disease that courses through my mother’s family, I don’t have a pacemaker under my skin.

Lucky me.

Ohio’s Ross Compton is not quite so fortunate as I. At 59, he wears a pacemaker. And he may soon be wearing an orange jumpsuit, thanks to the data that his pacemaker registers.

According to officials, 59-year-old Ross Compton stands accused of burning his home down on September 15 and faces charges of aggravated arson and insurance fraud.

Police say they obtained a warrant to search all electronic information stored on Compton’s pacemaker when he gave statements that were not consistent with the evidence found at the fire.

He told authorities that “he packed belongings when he saw the fire, threw them out of a window and carried them to his car.”

According to court documents, a cardiologist who reviewed the data on the pacemaker determined “it is highly improbable Mr. Compton would have been able to collect, pack and remove the number of items from the house, exit his bedroom window and carry numerous large and heavy items to the front of his residence during the short period of time he has indicated due to his medical conditions.” (Source: ZeroHedge)

The pacemaker data isn’t all the goods that the authorities have on Compton. According to another article I saw, they also found gasoline on his clothing, and the fire – suspiciously – started in multiple places. Still, the info they got by looking into Compton’s heart of hearts is a critical piece of evidence.

Compton has pleaded not guilty, and his next day in court is later in the month. But this is a big deal on a couple of fronts.

One, the property damage is in the $400K range. Plus there’s the fact of putting firefighters at risk, which is always a big no-no. All round, arson is a pretty awful crime. And then there’s the privacy angle.

Electronic Frontier Foundation Criminal Defense Staff Attorney Stephanie Lacambra is concerned that technological advancements will lead to a loss of individual privacy, with this case setting a dangerous precedent.“Cases like this could be the canary in the coal mine concerning the larger privacy implications of using a person’s medical data,” she told SC Media.

There is nothing that I like me more than a canary in the coal mine analogy. Bring it on. (Chirp, chirp.) But pacemakers are just one example of how we’ll soon be up against the invasion of the data snatchers.

I may not have a pacemaker, but I do have a Fitbit. I actually don’t know whether it does continuous geo-location tracking, but, hey, there goes a perfectly good alibi if it does.

Then there are all the embedded medical devices that, like the pacemaker, are used to make adjustments to and/or monitor a patient’s condition. These devices can haul in an awful lot of data. Why not use it? I even read somewhere that, in the not so distance futures, newborns would get a miniaturized implant so that their pediatricians could keep a remote eye on them.

As Lacambra went to point out:

“Americans shouldn’t have to make a choice between health and privacy. We as a society value our rights to maintain privacy over personal and medical information, and compelling citizens to turn over protected health data to law enforcement erodes those rights.”

Are your medical records currently admissible as evidence? I honestly don’t know, but, if they are, what’s the difference whether the record is on paper, in the cloud, or embedded in your body?

It’s not just medical data, of course. Every time you swipe your card at CVS, every URL you access, every credit card purchase, every call you make, every automated toll you accrue, that data can – and will – be used against you in a court of law. Not to mention the equally hideous prospect that it will be used to market to you. Aaarrrggghhh…

Of course, for all the conveniences, benefits, and entertainment value of high technology, we’ve long since ceded a lot of our privacy to The Man. Or The It. Or whatever we want to call it. And if everything is electronic, why shouldn’t digital “stuff” be treated the same way paper “stuff” is? Is it just that there’s so much more digital “stuff”, and the whole thing just feels so much more invasive?

It is just plain creepy, that’s for sure.

While I don’t have any embeds on me, just stuff close to me like the Fitbit on my left wrist, there may well come a point where I’m wired up so that someone can tell whether I’ve taken the meds that I will no doubt be prescribed in the future, so that someone can tell if I’m eating my Wheaties (in real life: Cheerios or Shredded Wheat), so that someone can tell whether I’ve fallen and can’t get up. And I’ll no doubt be happy they’re doing so, if it keeps me independent and in my house. And I’m not planning on committing any crimes: no murder, no arson, no nothing.

But what if certain acts that we take for granted today become criminalized? Do I want any old evil power to come down on me because I follow RoguePOTUSStaff and Elizabeth Warren on Twitter?

Of course, we can come up with rules of law about canaries in coal mines, but if the government in place is rancid enough, why would they care about the rule of law?

And we, of course, are just setting ourselves up by putting so much of our lives out there in cyberspace.


Anyway, Sting sure was prescient way back in 1983 when he wrote:

Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take (I'll be watching you)
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay (I'll be watching you)
Every move you make, every vow you break
Every smile you fake, every claim you stake (I'll be watching you)
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay (I'll be watching you)

And every damned heart beat, as Ross Compton found out. (Damn, it would have been so much more fun if this song had been written by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Can’t have everything, I guess.)



A note of thanks to my b-in-l Rick for sending this post idea my way.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Post called on account of leaks…

Well, with so much leaking news these days – White House (Rogue POTUS Staff is excellent) and Wiki – I sometimes forget that there are real, water-based leaks. And one of them is coming down on my head at the moment.

I’m pretty sure the source a bathroom in the unit above me. Or the one above that.

Waiting for the cavalry to arrive. Finishing up my mopping up. Running sheets, towels, duvets, etc., through the wash. And tossing stuff out. New pillows on the shopping list. And I was meaning to toss that Oxford English Dictionary out (abridged, but still weighing about 50 pounds). It I want to look up the etymology of the word “soak” I’ll need to do so online…

Usually I have a post or two stockpiled. Not this time.

Drip, drip, drip…

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

When it came right down to it, of course I rooted for them

Trust me when i say that I would have been just fine if the Atlanta Falcons had won Super Bowl. I enjoy football, but I’m not that major a fan. If the Pats hadn’t gotten good – make that great – during the Belichick-Brady era, it’s doubtful that I would have watched much – make that any – football over the past decade in a half. I don’t recall watching any Super Bowls before the Patriots got good – make that great. But the team has been exciting during the Age of B-B, and – as a general purpose sports fan (and one who understands football and who watched a lot of it as a kid), I was drawn in.

So if the Pats had lost, I might have been mildly disappointed. But I wouldn’t have shed any tears or lost any sleep over it. Thus, by halftime this past Sunday, when I looked like the Pats were going to be majorly blown out, I was just sitting there with my numbers from the squares in the gym pool, hoping that, if the Pats continued to so thoroughly suck, I would at least have a chance to make some money.

Even though I’m pretty lightweight by football fan standards, my natural inclination would, of course, be to root for the home town honeys.

After all, what bona fide New Englander wouldn’t want to see the look on NFL head Roger Goodell’s face when he handed the Super Bowl trophy to Bob Kraft, and the Super Bowl MVP trophy to Our Tom. (Even if Tom was enough of a knucklehead to display that MAGA cap in his locker.) After all, if you live in New England, there is NO WAY that you don’t despise Roger Goodell, after the over-the-top “punishments” meted out to the Pats in general and Our Tom in particular in the wake of the ridonculous Deflategate situation.

On the other hand, this year, the Trump Connection was giving me pause.

I realize that most of the buddy-buddy talk was coming out of Trump’s mouth, not out of the mouths of any of the Big Three: owner Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady. All three did admit to being friends (or golfing pals) of Trump, but certainly none of them came out with any big endorsement statements. Still, it seems that they were pal-y enough with him to ignore all the many warning signs that there was something gang agley with Trump. Okay.I can do the hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner with the best of them. I was after all able to root for the Cubs in the World Series even though the owners were major Trumpsters. But, yeah, Trump’s love affair with the Patriots did give me pause. (And it did make me feel a bit icky when white supremacist Richard Spencer went on a tweet-fest about how wonderful the Patriots win was because the team is so white.And because Tom Brady and his wife Gisele Bundchen represent the best of whiteness. Not sure whether the Pats are, as Spencer claimed, the whitest team in the NFL. As of 2014, it wasn’t the Patriots, it was the Eagles. And I’m pretty sure the Pats are color-blind. Sure, they have some white stars. But they also have some black stars. While Tom Brady dominated the game – quarterbacks tend to do that – the second most notable Patriots player in the game was James White. Who isn’t white; he’s black.)

But Trump Connection aside, I go back to my lukewarm-ish fandom to reinforce the point that I wouldn’t have been particularly bummed out if the Pats had lost.

The bottom line was that I was half-heartedly pulling for the Pats. But a loss wouldn’t have been a crusher.

Anyway through quite of a bit of the game, it was looking my heartfelt lack of interest in the game’s outcome was a good thing.

But it really is impossible to watch any sort of sporting event and get any pleasure whatsoever out of it if you don’t pick a side. And when the glimmers of hope started glinting late in the game, I was sitting there with my sister and a couple of friends, screaming my head off with the best of them.

For those who manage to turn off news entirely, the Patriots won what is being deemed the greatest Super Bowl comeback, a sudden death win, with the Pats coming out on top by a score of 34-28, after having been behind by a score of 28-3.

Yes, the Pats got lucky, and the Falcons got tuckered out. But in all my years of sports fandom, I have rarely seen a display of mental toughness like that put on by the Patriots, and rarely seen a display of mental toughness and technical execution like that put on by Our Tom once the Patriots got their groove on and the Falcons lost theirs entirely.

I was delighted to hear the boos the rained down on the head of Roger Goodell as he quickly and clumsily handed the Super Bowl trophy to Bob Kraft, while Our Tom and Bill Belichick appeared to be chortling in the background. (Ditto to watch Goodell on Monday when he had to give the game MVP award to Brady. AWK-ward for Goodell. Brady appeared to be enjoying himself no end.)

Today will be the duckboat celebration parade for the Patriots. The weather is supposed to be miserable, but I suspect I’ll take in a couple of minutes of it.

Let the rest of the country hate on The Great. Let them hate on The Great out of jealousy. Out of pique at Trump. Out of overblown reaction to any rumor (let alone evidence) that the only way the Pats win is by cheating. Out of annoyance at the arrogance and general obnoxiousness of Belichick. (I get it.) Out of annoyance at the too-good-to-be-true-ness of Mr. Perfection, Our Tom. (I get it.) Let ‘em.

I’ll be enjoying the celebration. When it comes right down to it, I’m delighted that the Patriots won.

And, as a true-blue baseball fan, I’m even more delighted that yesterday was Truck Day, when the Red Sox equipment got loaded on a truck for its journey to spring training in Florida. Looking forward to the clarion call of Play Ball!

Monday, February 06, 2017

Just say no. (Or at least not ‘yes’.)

Once in a while, I use it for a concall, but my landline is largely reserved for incoming calls I have no interest in taking: people looking for money; some energy company or another that wants me to change suppliers – whatever that means; the folks dangling the “free” trip I’ve “won” that entitles me to a vacation someplace I don’t want to go; the credit card schemers; the guys in India who want to convince me that Microsoft told them to call me. (No they didn’t, “Brian”.)

Sometimes I miss a call that’s a real call. Like last week, when Circle Furniture wanted to schedule delivery of my new Stressless chair. (Yes, I have officially gone over to the geezer side and gotten a comfy recliner, the better to doze in front of the TV while comfily reclining in.) Fortunately, I checked my voice mails – which I often go weeks without listening to - and got my comfy reclining chair exactly where it belongs: in my den, parked in front of my TV. (I think I’m in love…)

And, yes, I have done call blocking, but you can’t block an organization you’ve contributed to. (I’m looking at you, Democratic Party.) Or an organization you’ve purchased something from. (That would be the bombardment of calls from some electricity supplier.)

Maybe it’s all a Verizon strategy to keep people paying for landlines that are used almost exclusively as a repository for unwanted phone calls.

Quite disturbingly, of course, nuisance calls are now being made to cell phones. If I don’t recognize a number, I don’t answer. If it’s a legit call, they’ll leave a message. And I block the telemarketing and scam calls as soon as they come in.

But now there’s a new scheming kid in town that makes me look kindly on all those calls about the trip I’d won. Or even the calls from “Brian.”

Police departments and consumer advocates are reporting the spread of an insidious new phone scam that hinges on that one little word. A person posing as a telemarketer or pollster will ask a seemingly innocuous question such as, “Can you hear me OK?” or “Are you over 18?” or “Do you have a home computer?”

The goal is to get a recording of you saying “yes.” Then they will, for example, use your verbal consent to bill you for a cruise you never booked, or authorize bogus charges on your credit card. If you challenge the demand for payment, they can play back your recorded yes, claiming you had agreed to the charge. They hope to confuse or scare you into paying. (Source: Boston Globe)

I can tell these scammers right now not to bother with either of my phones, as there is zero possibility that I would be confused or scared into paying for an unbooked cruise. Yet I can see how some people would be. A couple of years before her death, my mother got caught up in something with a scam artist who claimed she’d bought a home security system for more than $1K. Of course, she hadn’t, but she had spoken to the guy on the phone, and was a bit confused and a bit vulnerable, and was concerned that she’d agreed to something that she didn’t want. So when she got the paperwork, she wanted to make sure she did the right thing. (My mother, by the way, was highly intelligent, suspicious, and cautious. Plus she knew, down to the penny, everything she spent money on. If she could get almost drawn in…)

A while back – when I was still answering calls – I got one from a group running some fundraiser for police officers (a frequent front for scams, by the way). They were running something called “Envelope Day,” going through neighborhoods and picking up envelopes containing donations (cash only, please) for cops. They even gave me a fake room number of a fake office they were working out of at the State House.

I called the Secretary of State to report this scam and, of course, didn’t leave an envelope out. I also did a bit of research on the name of the organization that they’d given me, and learned that the guys running it had been arrested for it in the past. In Florida, I believe. Surprise, surprise.

Despite all the red flags that this call set off in my mind, I saw a fellow building resident leaving a cash-filled envelope out on envelope day. Fortunately, I was able to warn her off. (I almost wanted to sit there and wait for the con men to show up, but decided it was more prudent not to.)

I will note that I’m something of a sucker for a sob story told by someone who accosts me on the street. Yes, I know they’re probably fakers and frauds – they really didn’t just run out of gas; they really don’t need money to get the train to Providence; they really didn’t just lose their guitar – yet I do feel that a well-told tale is entertaining, and I will on occasion give the tale-teller a ten. Of course, if a few weeks later, they approach me again in the same location – as has happened – I will tell them off, warn off anyone within shouting distance, and tell them to move along. Which they, quite sensibly, do.

Phone scams are, of course, more insidious in that you can actually get tricked into departing with, say, a credit card number, which wouldn’t happen to the tale-teller on the street.

Anyway, the article I saw had some advice, which I’ll pass along here as a Public Service Announcement:

  • If you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer.
  • If your carrier has a call-blocking service that can keep these rancid calls from going through, avail yourself of it.
  • “If you do end up on the phone, avoid saying the word “yes.” Try specific, full sentences — ‘I hear you clearly,’ or ‘I do own a computer.’ Better yet, hang up as soon as you sense the caller is fishing for a yes.”

The first two are pretty simple and straightforward. But how many of us are going to have the presence of mind to avoid using the word “yes.” If someone on the other end of the line asks is we can hear them, 99.99% of us are going to answer with a simple “yes.” We’re not going to remember to omit the “yes” and give a complex answer like “I hear you clearly.”

Of course, if you do get sucked in, call your bank. Call your credit card companies. Call the Better Business Bureau.

Also, help authorities crack down on the scammers by reporting any incident to local police and the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

That is, if the Federal Trade Commission’s still in business…

Friday, February 03, 2017

TMI? Open the kimono? Need to know basis only?

Back in the day, when I used to do things like look for new jobs, I interviewed for a position as head of marketing for a mid-sized (by small software company standards) software company.

Having made it through Round One, I got to come in and meet with the CEO-founder. A colossal a-hole.

Having made it through that interview, Mr. A-hole handed me off to his second in command – COO? CFO? I can’t recall – who was not quite as abrasive as Mr. Big, but was prickly in his own way. Somewhere along the line, I asked about the company’s financials. The company was privately held (it’s now public), so I wasn’t expecting a lot of detail, just something about the magnitude of sales, and some indication of the company’s viability. After all, if I left the precarious company I was working for, I wanted my new spot to be a bit less shaky.

Rather than give me a straightforward – or even an evasive – answer, this fellow went on a long and intense monologue on why they never shared any information with employees. After he stopped for a breath, I put in a few words on behalf of employees and their need to know, but he totally blew me off, and went into phase two of his “don’t tell the children” rant.

Having met the CEO and CFO, I decided that I wasn’t quite a fit for the company. (I’m sure they were simultaneously coming to the same conclusion.) I did recommend a former manager of mine for the position. He accepted and was there for a few years, lasting longer than many of the folks I ended up knowing who worked there for a while. Most hated it.

I hadn’t thought about this company in quite a while, but it came to mind when I saw an article in The Boston Globe about companies with the opposite info-sharing philosophy of the outfit that, fortunately, I didn’t end up working for. 

When employees walk through the lobby of Apptopia Inc., a mobile-app market analytics firm in Boston, they pass a bank of 55-inch monitors displaying the kind of data that many companies guard tightly: monthly revenues, client numbers, customer churn. When employees log in to their computers, they can see even more, down to the status of every deal in the works.

Chief executive Eliran Sapir sees this transparency as a “silent motivator” for employees to keep the company moving forward.

Investors love it, too, he said. “When you have nothing to hide, things are going really well.”

Apptopia is part of a wave of companies throwing open their finances, e-mails, performance data, even salaries, for all employees to see as technology makes it easier to share information — and younger workers who grew up sharing everything on social media increasingly demand it. (Source: Boston Globe)

Whoa, Nelly.

Finances and performance data are one thing. (Or two things.) But salaries? And I don’t know what they mean by e-mails, but e-mails?

Certainly, it would be helpful for everyone involved with, say, a client account, to see all the email trails associated with it. Even then, there are limits, especially if there are personnel or personal information passed back and forth. In any event, people should be able to write a candid email without having to worry about whether everyone in the company is going to read it.  

I really think there’s a limit to what you want to be transparent about.

There are some things that just aren’t everyone’s business: employee performance, for starters. Then there’s every little in and out on matters strategic, every tactical jot and tittle. I’m a big believer that everyone should have an opportunity to offer their ideas and opinions on strategy and tactics, but, seriously folks, you can’t have everyone in the company involved in everything that happens. At some point, don’t these everyones have their own jobs to do? Yes, everyone should know what a company’s strategy is. In most professional-level jobs, you really can’t operate with any degree of intelligence if you don’t know what the strategy is. And it sure helps if you know what the tactics are that you’re supposed to be executing. But I don’t think everything needs to be open. I really think there’s a limit to what you want to be transparent about.

And salaries? I once worked with a very wise man who told me that you should set salaries and give raises under the assumption that everyone knows what everyone else is making. I.e., you should be able to justify those decisions, and operate as if there’s full transparency. Beyond that, I’m fine with people knowing what salary band within their level or department or whatever they fall into. But I don’t think that salary info (other than at the executive level) should be shared to the degree that you can attach a name to a number, unless you’re willing and able to spell out the rationale for all the salaries. Even then, I can imagine that most people – especially those at the ends of the salary spectrum – don’t want their salaries known.

Other information: bring it on. People should know about sales (wins and losses). They should know whether their company is in the red or the black. They should know when product releases fall behind. Mostly they should know the strategy, and how what they’re doing helps further that strategy.

Employees should know enough to be able to do their jobs better. And without someone else telling them what to do every step along the way what they should do next. I’m all for decision-making for the masses. (One of my strengths as a manager was not micro-managing or second-guessing. Oh, sure, it occasionally backfired – I made some hiring mistakes over the years - but mostly I had good people under me and it worked out just fine.

There can be drawbacks to all this openness, however. Employees and managers alike can become overloaded with information, analysts say, and disgruntled workers could potentially leak proprietary information to competitors. And if all this information and transparency isn’t properly explained, there’s a danger it could be misinterpreted.

But the young whipper-snapper millennial-employing firms are all up on it. Let ‘em have it. Me? I’m the nosy type, and would have found myself completely up to my eyeballs trying to keep up with all those emails, all that salary info (she makes what???) Glad I’m not in the fray anymore.