Friday, March 31, 2017

“Retail outrage of the day”

It’s not that I’m opposed to dropping a reasonable amount of coin on an article of clothing. Decades ago, when menswear suits for women (oy!) were all the rage, I “invested” in a number of very pricey suits. I’m too lazy to look up the inflation numbers and fast forward what those suits would cost today – if anyone were daffy enough to buy one – but the answer would be: A Lot.

Not that I’m exactly a dedicated follower of fashion, but when these “penis envy” suits went completely out of style, and more casual dress completely pervaded the tech community, I stopped wearing them. And breathed a big sigh of relief. For a while I kept them around, wearing the skirts with sweaters, and the jackets with jeans. But that wore thin, and they went into the donation pile, and likely ended up being ragged.

I have also purchased some pretty expensive sweaters over the year. (If you’ve ever looked at the Peruvian Connection catalog, you know what I’m talking about.) But here’s the thing with those expensive sweaters: they last. I still wear one that I bought in 1989.

So, when I make fun of the Ben Taverniti Unravel Project, it’s not about the money. Okay, I wouldn’t pay $975 505006939_1_BottomCropFrontfor a pair of jeans to begin with. (Well, maybe a pair of jeans that would make my jean-wearing body look like it did in my twenties.) But my real problem with these jeans is that they’re ridiculous.

Made in Italy, Ben Taverniti Unravel Project's blue cotton denim inside-out crop jeans are distressed with rip details at the knee. The style is finished with "To create something new you must first destroy" lettering at the right inside-out pocket. (Source: Barney’s)

My favorite feature is that “lettering at the right inside-out pocket.”

Sorry, but “to create something new you must first destroy” is about as hogwashy a bit of hogwash as I’ve ever seen. It’s apparently borrowed from Prometheus, a sci-fi movie I know absolutely nothing about. But I do know a fair amount about hogwash.

I once worked for a company that farmed out the development of an overarching corporate brochure to some outside “creatives.” I was asked to give it a read to see if it accurately reflected our products and services.. I could barely get by the opening line, which was something along the lines of “all ideas are brilliant, they are to be extolled, cherished, praised.” Well, it took me about a nano-second to come up with a whole laundry list of bad ideas, starting with the copy for the new brochure.

Anyway, I’m wondering if there’s really a market for $975 jeans that are inside out and have nonsense printed on them.

I do realize that, whether it exists or not, I’m not the target for this item.

Among other things, the highest size is L, and they’re already out. As a size 12, I’m normally an  M or an L. But in the world of Unravel, I’m an XXL. And they don’t make these suckers in XXL. By the way, their L maps to men’s jeans size 29. Only in the world of high fashion would someone wearing size 29 pants be considered an L. When I could fit into size 29 jeans – and there was a day, now shrouded in the mists of time, when that’s the size I wore – I was thin. When I see pictures of myself at that size, I look scrawny.

And if I’m not the audience for those “you must first destroy”, I’m OWCE038S174730157300_1_BottomCropFrontdefinitely not the audience for a pair of $1,075 Off-white c/o Virgil Abloh’s distressed boyfriend jeans.

Forget the price.

I’m way too literal to go for a pair of off-white jeans that are actually blue. And no one wants to see my knees in a peep show.

Of course, even if I wanted a pair, no can do.

Even at my scrawniest, I wouldn’t have fit in their M (men’s 28), which is the largest size they’re available in. Apparently Virgil Abloh isn’t interested in any L (men’s 29) porkers wearing his off-whites.

I will be in New York City for the weekend.

Cold and rainy is predicted, but I’ll let you know if I see anyone wearing either of the above. Maybe I’ll drop into Barney’s and give them a scare….

A tip of the Pink Slip hat, and a rip of the old jeans, to my sister Trish for providing the link and the title for this post.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A little executive hand-holding, why don’t we

Even before someone invented the term “C-Suite,” perks (above and beyond above and beyond salaries and bonuses, and sploshier offices) have always gone to those higher up the corporate food chain.

When I worked at the long-gone First National Bank of Boston in the mid-1970’s, there were two subsidized cafeterias in the basement: the officers’ dining room and the people’s caf. I always ate in the people’s caf, but sometimes I got to go invited to lunch or to an after work drink at the Federal Club, on the building’s top floor, which was reserved for the upper echelon of the upper echelon. I think you had to be an SVP to dine or hoist a few at the Federal Club. No peons need apply. (I couldn’t take my invites personally: my boyfriend (later husband) was consulting to the head of the department where I worked, who was an SVP. Any time I got dragged along to the Federal Club it was because of Jim.)

A decade later, Wang Labs was chock full of perks for those with offices on Mahogany Row (the execs), and for anyone VP level an above.

As I recall, VPs got closer parking, bigger offices, and a clothing allowance. They also got to stay at better hotels. I don’t think I ever traveled with a VP, but it was always pretty amusing if you went to some away event where VPs were also present. Us lesser beings stayed in dumps one step above SROs. (One time in Chicago, I stayed in a hotel that was surrounded by a parking lot that had max security prison barbed wire coils on top of its fence.)

When things got tough – and things were always getting tough at Wang – they cut back on overhead lighting and daily cleaning and trash pickup for everyone except the big guns. Daily trash pickup may not sound like such a big deal. After all, there was one mega trash barrel on each floor where we could dump our banana peels and tea-bags. Unfortunately, Wang began limited the number of times they emptied the mega communal trash barrels, so they’d be overflowing with garbage. What a treat! The sneakier among us would drop their banana peels and tea bags in the VP wastebaskets, knowing that they got daily pickup.

Most of my career was in smaller companies, where the perks were just less in general, but they were generally there somewhere. (Sometimes there were anti-perks. When I was a VP at one small software firm, I was on the list not to get paid if we were short in terms of making payroll.)

Snark aside, there’s no reason why those in upper level positions shouldn’t be treated well – all part of the overall compensation package. Hey, I never got a clothing allowance, but you can bet I liked it when I clawed my way into a window office and a richer bonus pool.

Anyway, yesterday’s perks are nothing compared to what Johnson & Johnson is doing for its execs so they don’t burn out. (I will note that no one ever worried about my burning out, although I did wig out one of my bosses when, at a meeting, he asked me about some deliverable I hadn’t yet gotten around to delivering. Mostly because I was working long days (including weekends), and was completely exhausted. Anyway, when he made his ask – which was in no way nasty - I burst into tears. The only other woman at the meeting burst into sympathetic tears. What a sweetie! Perhaps we both could have gotten something out of some J&J-type TLC.)


J&J is launching an intensive program today to make sure its senior executives stay in top physical, mental, and emotional form. The program, which the health and personal care company is calling Premier Executive Leadership, will surround its leadership class with specialists like the medical crew around an astronaut after splashdown. A battery of services will include abdominal ultrasounds at the Mayo Clinic and home visits by a dietitian for cupboard inspections. (Source: Bloomberg)

Well, I’m sure everyone could use a Mayo Clinic abdominal ultrasound – I’m wondering what’s in my abdomen that’s giving me that ultra-attractive muffin top – but cupboard inspections? Tell me someone Type-A enough to be a senior J&J exec a) stocks their own cupboard, b) wouldn’t go in there an edit out the junk food before the inspector arrived.

"Leaders aren't a set of skills and tools. They're a human being," said Lowinn Kibbey, the head of Johnson & Johnson's Human Performance Institute, which developed the program. "Many of these leaders arrive in these roles without being equipped with how to stay healthy and resilient."

Human Performance Institute? Sounds pretty invasive and dire. Guess they do more at J&J than make baby powder and Bandaids.

So J&J has spent the past year trying out its anti-burnout initiative on seven of its own executives (citing privacy, the company declined to say whether its chief executive officer has enrolled) and will start marketing the program today to other Fortune 100 companies, at $100,000 a head.

My initial reaction is that most of them would probably rather have the $100K. But,

To be sure, the burned-out CEO makes, on average, 373 times as much as his or her (also burned-out) employees and has much heftier retirement benefits, too.

So $100K means, as burnt-out CEO Tony Soprano might have put it, stugats.

They’re burning out in today’s VUCA world. Not familiar with VUCA? Thanks to a couple of my clients in the leadership development world, I throw VUCA around a lot. That’s because the modern business world is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

One might argue that so is much of life.

But VUCA, we are told (by Seymour Adler, a partner in a big HR consulting firm) “takes its toll” in the business. And, one might further argue, in life in general.

But VUCA in business is the reason behind J&J’s pricey focus on their execs. After a deep-dive physical at Mayo:

The executive then meets for a number of days with her three coaches—the dietitian, the physiologist, and the executive coach—all of whom will closely monitor her progress over the next nine months. The dietitian will offer her a number of tips on how to stay healthy on business trips.

"You pack like you're on a canoe trip," said David Astorino, one of the program's executive coaches. If execs don't eat every three hours, blood sugar drops. "We want energy," Astorino said. The home visit and cupboard diagnosis are meant to ensure they have access to the healthiest foods at home as well as at work.

Well, on a canoe trip one wouldn’t be taking a laptop or wearing a suit. But I guess they mean a baggy of gorp or a KIND bar to keep up that executive strength.

The J&J executive coach really gets to know their coachee. The intake interview lasts two days, during which the exec tells their life story and defines a purpose bigger than making money for themselves and J&J. The coach also interviews friends, family, and colleagues. (I’m exhausted just thinking about it.)

All of this is said to pay off big time in terms of “productivity, quality, organizational strength, and shareholder value worth almost six times the cost of coaching.”

I know enough about how ROI studies go to have my doubts, but I’ll be a sport here and take their word that all this coaching, abdominal scanning and cupboard inspecting is worth every penny.

I’d still rather pocket the $100K. Maybe that’s why I’m not an executive worthy of any of this.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

You Load Sixteen Tons

One of the big hit songs of my early childhood – right up there with “The Ballad of David Crockett,” “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window”, and “Black Denim Trousers” – was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s rendition of “Sixteen Tons,” a song about a coal miner.

That song came out in 1955, a year when there were more than a quarter of a million coal miners in the US.

I’m not sure if our house was still heated by coal in 1955, but I do remember coal.

The Claflin-Sumner truck would back up our hilly, rocky, unpaved driveway. The driver would hop out and adjust the chute at the cellar window. And the coal would come rumbling down.

We lived in my grandmother’s three decker, and in her cellar there were three “coal rooms”, and three furnaces – one for each flat.

I remember my father shoveling coal into our furnace, and my grandmother’s, how exciting it was to see the roaring fire – the fires of hell, it looked like. How brave my father seemed, tossing those shovels full of coal in there, then slamming the asbestos-lined door shut.

Coal kept us warm, and it also meant that our snowmen looked like real snowmen, as we were able to use chips of coal for eyes, mouth, and buttons.

At some point, before we moved up the hill from Nanny’s, we converted coal oil. At our new house, we had gas.

So by the mid-late 1950’s, coal was already losing popularity in some quarters. It may have been firing power plants, but it wasn’t fueling homes. What coal was being used – and there was plenty of it (more than twice a much in 2000 as in 1955) - was produced more efficiently. And that meant fewer miners.

In 1950, there had been 488K coal mining jobs, so by 1955, the number of coal miners was down by almost half if just five years. By 1960, the number was down to 188K.* In 2015, it stood at 65,971.

But the job of coal miner looms large in the American psyche. It’s dirty. It’s tough. It’s manly. It’s dangerous. And all that makes it dramatic (all those disasters!) and perversely romantic. (All those brave, weeping yet stoic widows in How Green Was My Valley, one of the B&W oldies I loved to watch on “Boston Movietime.” OKay, it took place in Wales, but you get the point.)

However dramatic and romantic, coal mining is something of a buggy-whip of an occupation.

Those living in the Appalachian coal fields may want those jobs back, but there seems to be both declining demand for coal, and less need for coal miners to actually extract the coal.

You can see the decline around here.

My sister Trish lives in Salem, Massachusetts, and the town used to have a massive coal-fired power plant. Well, that sucker has been dismantled and replaced by a more modern plant fueled by gas.

Whatever does or doesn’t happen with the EPA, a lot of places just flat out don’t want coal, however much they try to sell us on the clean version. And if some states decide that dirty coal is just fine and dandy, well, you can bet that the states that don’t want soot wafting their way will be setting up blowers on their borders, and suing the overalls off the states that pollute.

As for the demand for coal miners:

The image of miners toiling underground is increasingly antiquated, as companies use automated tools to extract coal from giant seams in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. There, electric shovels are able to claw 400 tons worth of coal at a single time from open pits, and load them up onto rail cars bound for plants as far away as Georgia. 

As a result, total U.S. coal employment plunged to 53,000 last year; in the 1940s, West Virginia alone was home to 126,000 miners. (Source: Bloomberg)

But you tell that to the coal miners at your political peril. Hillary Clinton talked retraining for clean energy jobs. (Boo!) Trump promised to put coal miners back to work. (Yay!)

Unfortunately, that ain’t going to happen.

Getting rid of all clean air regulations isn’t going to staunch the flow away from coal. Natural gas is cheaper. The cost of renewables is coming down. And – oh, yeah – people really do prefer to breathe cleaner air.

“The reality is that the demand for coal has been decreasing for a while and it’s going to continue to decrease,” Sheldon Stone, a partner and head of restructuring at the investment banking firm Amherst Partners, LLC, said in an interview. “Even by doing this you are not going to be bringing mining jobs back.”

So, we’re willing to play Russian Roulette with the environment to allow some coal producers to temporarily (maybe) produce more coal and profits. But there won’t be any more coal miners. Meaning the folks who voted for Trump, thinking that he was going to miraculously turn the clock back and restore the jobs that have been on the way out for decades, have been chumped.

Wonder where the blame will fall? I understand that Hillary Clinton is available. And there’s always Barack Obama.

And wonder what he’s going to tell the truck drivers in 2020, when self-driving trucks start hitting the roads.

Washington, we got a problem, and it ain’t going to solved with lies from the pit of hell, or from a coal pit.

*These numbers came from

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Growing up and paying $30 for the kit

When I was growing up, menstruation was a pretty hush-hush deal. Mothers closed the bathroom door and whispered the icky info to their daughters. Out came the box of pads and the belt, and a just-in-time demonstration of how it was all supposed to work. I recall howling madly about how unfair it was when my mother took my older sister in for “the talk” and didn’t include me. So,naturally, when Kath got her period I unwrapped one of those used pads swathed in toilet paper to see what was up. I couldn’t quite piece it all together, but I did cannily figure out it had something to do with blood.

Anyway, I got my turn, and like my sister Kath and millions of girls before us, I’d been prepped by reading “Growing Up and Liking It,” which was put out by one of the sanitary napkin “Big Two” – either Kotex or Modess.

By the time it came into my greedy little hands, the pictures of the girls in it already seemed out of date. They were from the 50’s, not the 60’s. Not that the cross-cut of the uterus changed between the 50’s and 60’s, but it was really difficult to take the book seriously given how old-timey those pony-tailed, pedal-pushered girls looked to me.

But at least “Growing Up and Liking It” had concrete info and facts. Unlike the ads for Modess and Kotex, which barely mentioned just what unmentionable they were for.

The ads – magazine, only, thank you; it was okay to advertise beer, cigarettes, and Preparation-H on TV, but nary a mention of sanitary napkins or tampons – pictured beautiful ladies in beautiful chiffon ball gowns. Modess…Because. Because what, exactly? Who cared? We cut those pictures out and put them in our scrapbooks. Why not? Those scrapbooks were full of actresses we’d never heard of. I remember clipping a picture of Terry Moore out. Who the hell was Terry Moore? As long as it said ‘movie star’…And as long as the ladies were beautiful.

Back to periods: among the hush-hush-ness in my house was my mother’s telling me not to discuss periods with my friends.

Well, that didn’t last long.

I remember being out in the backyard, on a nice summer day, under the big tree in the corner, lolling about on one of my father’s old Navy blankets with my friends Bernadette and Susan, talking about our periods. Which we were all having. Which meant that, by the time eighth grade started, we “got” the joke that Patty G – a somewhat racier and more advanced classmate – whispered to us in the schoolyard at recess. (“Not for mixed company,” she began, and then launched into a “dirty joke” that had to do with using paint to show your boyfriend that you were having your period and couldn’t have sex. Green paint, the punch line went, meant that your period “wasn’t ripe.”)

Having your period did, of course, involve a ton of embarrassment. Periods were messy. Everyone I know had at least one “accident” experience. One of mine was the pad coming unhooked and dangling while I was playing kickball – in mixed company, no less – when the smart kids who took after-school Spanish took our break before Senor Ramirez showed up for class. I ducked into the priests’ garage and hooked it back up, but it wasn’t all that wonderful to have been running the bases with my Kotex pad flapping.

Buying sanitary supplies was also an embarrassment. When I was in early high school, I needed to buy some. How, in a home with three females regularly “on the rag”, as we used to say, we ran out, I’ll never know. But my other asked my father to drive me to the drugstore to stock up. Driving to the drugstore – a 5 minute walk if that – was a hoot to begin with, especially given that my father didn’t have a lazy bone in his body. But there we were, in the parking lot of Sol’s Maincrest Pharmacy, me telling my father that he had to go in and make the buy. He was a bit pissy about it, but he went in anyway. (Thanks, Dad.)

But certainly by later in high school, I was capable of buying my own sanitary supplies, which somewhere along the line meant tampons, rather than sanitary napkins.

My formative experiences, period-wise, are 50+ years ago. I was certain that there were hipper and more knowing places where modern, cool moms bonded with their daughters over period talk, and where modern, cool girls zipped, breezy-peasy, into the local pharmacy and brazenly bought their own supplies. But, Patty G’s dirty joke aside, Irish Catholic Main South Worcester wasn’t one of them.

Not quite Laura hand-washing cloth pads with Ma Ingalls in the backyard of that little house in the prairie. But still, one would think, a primitive era, comparatively, both attitudinally and equipment-wise.

Fast forward, and a local mother of two girls mom “has started a company selling feminine products by mail order to young women.”

Mail order sounds to me the 21st century equivalent of making my father go into Sol’s to buy Kotex.

Getting your period has been making adolescent girls nervous eons. But Helen Walsh wants to make the first period a moment that’s much more, well, chill.

The Milton-based mother of two daughters is the founder of LoveJane, an online, subscription-based feminine care service, launched last month, that targets adolescent girls with BPA-free products that are sized for growing bodies. (Source: Boston Globe)

There are, apparently, any number of “subscription services” aimed at menstruating women. Because…well, because it’s still apparently embarrassing to have your period. And it’s just too inconvenient to have to hop into CVS every once in a while. And because none of the other services are aimed at newbies.

The site offers several kits — a $30 first-time period kit includes a book, a carrying bag, and a pair of backup underwear. Follow-up monthly boxes of tampons and panty liners cost $15.

I just don’t see the demand. Sure, it gets rid of the embarrassment factor (it’s painful to me that this hasn’t gone the way of the napkin belt), and I guess if you want more upscale wares… but monthly boxes of tampons and panty liners cost a lot less than $15 at CVS.

Walsh hopes her service has an edge in that it targets the parents of young women at the beginning of their periods, when they start developing loyalty to one brand.

That tracks with a recent research report on the tampon industry from Global Industry Analysts, Inc. “Mothers usually introduce a specific brand preferred by them to their daughters,” the report reads. “If the daughter finds the product satisfying her requirement, she is least likely to shift brand.”

Tell me about reluctance to shift brands. Scott toilet paper. Hellman’s mayo. But I didn’t stay loyal to my mother’s sanitary pad choice. I switched to tampons.

But, hey, everyone loves a good disruption story. Innovation ‘r us, the rise of the subscription service for all sorts of stuff and all that. (Forget the Book of the Month Club, or the Fruit of the Month Club: you can get just about anything on a subscription basis.) And, given that, once you rope someone in, you’ve got them for 40 years or so, 12 times a year, well…Go for it, Helen Walsh.

And Helen Walsh isn’t the only one trying to make the latest generation of girls grow up liking it. When I googled for this article – I’d seen it, but hadn’t pulled it into Pink Slip yet – I found a story about two Rhode Island School of Design grads who’d invented a board game, The Period Game. (Motto: Let’s flow.)

According to their website, the game “strives to turn a typically uneasy situation into a fun, positive, learning experience” and aims to “teach participants about what is happening within the female body and how to ‘go with the flow.’ ”

“Every turn begins with a player turning one of the two ovaries, releasing a marble into the tray below. A red marble came out? Congrats! You got your period. A clear marble? Better luck next time.” PeriodGame_25names01_liv

With game pieces shaped like tampons and sanitary pads, and playing cards with phrases like “oops . . . you leaked,” we’ve never seen anything else like it. (Source: Boston Globe)

Okay. A subscription service for tampons is one thing, but The Period Game? I’m guessing non-starter.

I grew up liking board games, and, when we weren’t talking about our periods, Susan, Bernadette and I were out there on that Navy blanket playing Clue or Parcheesi. We may have been embarrassed about buying Kotex, but I can pretty much guarantee that, even though we may have lacked the sophisticated knowingness of Patty G., we would have been rolling around on that Navy blanket, laughing our asses off each time one of us twirled an ovary…

Monday, March 27, 2017

Office supply

I worked in “corporate” for enough years to recognize that there’s an office supply full of predictable types. In a recent column in the Chicago Tribune, Rex Huppke catalogued some of them.*

He starts out with that instantly recognizable type:

The $%&hole:Every office has one. Some offices have many. It's even possible that you're one and don't realize it. These people are disruptive, difficult and only interested in advancing their own careers or somehow making yours more miserable. There is nothing you can do with an $%&hole, aside from report her or him to your boss or human resources if the behavior becomes too bad. But there's also a chance your boss or HR representative is an $%&hole, so reporting another person from this category is pointless. Best to just steer clear and take comfort in the fact that every co-worker who does not fall into this category hates the person as much as you do. (Source: Chicago Tribune)

Long-term readers will recognize that I’ve been on to this topic for almost as long as there’s been a Pink Slip.

Here I am in 2006 – on my birthday no less – with one of several posts spurred by Stanford Professor Bob Sutton’s terrific The No Asshole Rule, which has just celebrated the 10th anniversary of its publication. (Congratulations, Bob.) In my post, I focused on three sub-categories:

  • Credit Grabbers (inverse: Blame Gamers)
  • Weaklings
  • Charismatic Assholes (CA's)

CA’s are really in a class by themselves, and I have worked with some beauts over the years. Enough so that I gave them a post of their own, All Worked Up, in which I described three of the most incredible CA’s I worked with (each of whom I reported to, so I really got to see them all up close and personal). I didn’t use real names, but, for the record, in no particular order, that would be Mark, Rob, and Paul. The use of the name “Dennis” for one of these guys was an inside joke, as in real life “Dennis” was the most deplorable asshole I ever worked with, and one absolutely lacking in charisma. What Dennis lacked in charisma, he absolutely made up for in terms of sheer malevolence. As in chortling and high-fiving himself when he laid off one of his direct reports while the fellow was in the NICU with his wife, keeping vigil over a newborn who was in danger of not making it. Ah, Dennis.

I also gave a shout-out to a Bob’s book on the occasion of its publication.

So, yeah, I’ve been on to a-holes for quite a while now.

Back to Rex Huppke, among the other types on his list are:

  • Hand-Raisers, who prolong meetings with their tedious questions. He doesn’t consider them a malicious type, but he’s not thinking of the malicious subtype: the brown-nosing hand-raiser, who’s only waving their hand as a prelude to some ghastly suck-up-ery.
  • The Narc, who spends their time undermining their colleagues. Great bit of advice on the Narc: “Once identified, you should treat a Narc as a live microphone and assume anything you say will be recorded and used against you.”
  • Snack-Noses who are to a sheet-cake as Smokey the Bear is to a fire before it starts to flame. The minute there’s a goodie in the office, they’re on it! Sometimes they actually chip in a bit for that sheet-cake. But mostly they’re just there, sniffing around for crumbs+, and not giving a hoot that Kristin’s having a baby or that Andy just turned 50.

These were all good categories, and his readers sent in some additional ones, of which my fav was:

The Sports Guy: Tanned. Wears cuff links from the NCAA Final Four. Can't resist shooting crumpled papers into trash cans. Runs office pool for every major sporting event and keeps an Excel spreadsheet of staff winnings. (Source: Chicago Tribune)

Sports Guys don’t necessarily wear cuff links, but if they do, you can bet your LeBron James’ that he’s a sales guy. Just sayin’.

I also liked:

The Hide-and-Seekers: These folks go out of their way to be missing from their office from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Then they appear like magic at 4:46 and are working diligently. They wait until everyone else leaves the office so it appears they work harder than everyone else.

I would have thought that decades of dead-wood layoffs would have rid the workplace of this sort, but apparently not. My closest encounter was when I worked at Wang in the late 1980’s. Two of my colleagues would show up at 8 a.m., drape their suit jackets over the backs of their chairs, and head down with their newspapers to the caf for a nice leisurely breakfast. They returned to their cubicles in time to leave for the gym, followed by a long lunch, followed by their afternoon coffee break.

Wang was a matrix organization to beat all matrix organizations, and, if you were in product management, you had to deal with parties spread across many different locations. Given this, you could be anywhere. So if someone came looking for Kevin or Dick, it was reasonable enough to assume they were down in engineering, over in manufacturing, meeting with marketing, off with customer service, hanging with sales. I liked both of these guys, but when the grim lay-off reaper showed up at their cubes swinging his scythe, I thought it was a righteous hit.

Anyway, always fun thinking about the office types, and I’ll be giving it a bit more thought over the next couple of days to see if I can find some types that have so far been missed.

Meanwhile, if you have anything to add, you can comment here or send your suggestions on to:

*I saw the column thanks to a head’s up sent from my Chicagoland cousin Ellen who, this time of year, is reading The Trib from the warmth of Florida. So a doff of my worker’s cap to Ellen.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Float like a drone, pollinate like a bee

I suspect that one of the things that allows us to turn a blind eye to all sorts of environmental depredations, whether all-natural or man-made, is the belief that technology will bail us out.

Ocean level rise? We’ll put gates at the mouth of Boston harbor?

Wind power. Solar. Scrubbers. We’ll figure things out.

Sorry about the fact the wooly mammoths no longer roam? Let’s find some frozen DNA and make us some new ones. Hell, maybe we can even shrink them down and make them household pets. No more endangered species! No more extinct, as long as we can find a viable frozen specimen.

This belief in technology isn’t all that unfounded. Technology solves a lot of problems. A man, a plan, a canal, panama and all that.

One of the environmental problems that’s gotten a lot of publicity over the past couple of years – even if the problem has apparently been a bit exaggerated – was the collapse of bee colonies, a situation that was supposed to wreak havoc with all those parts of the food supply that rely on pollination. Stuff like almonds, asparagus, blueberries, cherries, clover, eggplant, squash, and watermelon. Oh, turnip depends on pollination, too, but, frankly, the end of turnip would be no great loss as far as I’m concerned. (With apologies to my cousins Babs and MB, the only people I know who actually like turnip. There weren’t many foods that my parents gave us a pass on growing up. If creamed corn was put on your plate, you ate it, dammit, even if it did taste like vomit. But, for some reason, the Rogers kids were allowed to omit turnip from our plates. We even had a chant for it: turn up your nose at turnip. My father must have hated turnip. The chant sure sounds like him.)

Anyway, while the demise of the pollinating bee colonies may have been greatly overblown, just in case it does happen, there’s a technical solution on the horizon.

That’s thanks to Japanese scientist Eijiro Miyako

Miyako has invented an adhesive gel that collects flowers’ pollen grains and deposits them on other flowers upon contact. His goal is to offer farmers a tool to complement, not replace, bees and other natural pollinators. (Source: Bloomberg)

There are some decidedly low-tech aspects to his work. “The gel is applied to a small patch of horsehair.”

I know that horsehair is (still) used for bow strings and paintbrushes, but there’s something so quaint about the idea of horsehair. It brings up thoughts of horsehair plaster (defunct in this era of sheetrock, no?). And horsehair mattresses. (I had a friend in high school whose ancient family house at the Cape actually had horsehair mattresses – blue leather stuffed with horsehair. It was like sleeping on a bolder.) Not to mention hairshirts (which, creepily, you can buy online).

But Miyako’s innovation is mostly techie. It is, after all, a drone. Bee drone

Miyako pilots the drone from flower to flower, rubbing the horsehair against pistils and stamens. Like the adhesive in a Post-It note, the gel is tacky but not sticky, so it releases some of the pollen grains on contact.

No word on drone safety, but so far the gel has passed do-no-harm experiments on mouse cells, and it “could be tweaked to be made biodegradable.”

To his wife’s chagrin, Miyako paid for the drones himself. Last year he received a $32,000 grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science to further develop them.

To which I say, thank you Miyako-San.

I will sleep better tonight, knowing that if the bee colonies actually do collapse, I’ll still be in clover, cherries, and watermelon.

Yay, technology!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Making Wisconsin Great Again, one butter pat at a time

Jean Smith lives in Wisconsin. As in Dairyland USA Wisconsin.

Alas for Jean Smith, she can’t buy Kerrygold butter in her home state. Thus, she has to cross the state border and stock up – 20 bricks at a time – so that she doesn’t have to go without. And for Jean Smith, going without is really going without. She even “plops a tablespoon of the Ireland-made butter into her tea each morning.”

Well, that I haven’t tried, but I do love Kerrygold.Kerrygold

Other than for baking, I don’t use a ton of butter. But when I want butter on an English muffin or a piece of toast or a slab of soda bread, I’d just as soon it be Kerrygold, which is absolutely delicious and – get this – actually tastes like butter. That’s because it comes from contented, hormone-free, grass-fed cows. Cows with nothing better to do all the long day than mosey around in those naturally-irrigated green fields, chomping on all that un-pesticided green grass, and chewing the old cud. And mosey around they do. I read somewhere that Irish cows spend more time grazing and cudding than do cows anywhere else.

The fact that Kerrygold is banned in Wisconsin is not a reflection on its quality. Not at all.

It’s just that Wisconsin has a law on the books that requires that any butter sold in Wisconsin has to be graded by US or Wisconsin inspectors. For Kerrygold, that’s an impossibility, given that their gold is produced and packaged in Ireland. There may be US customs officials stationed in Ireland, but there aren’t any butter inspectors.

Some stores do risk fines and jail time to sell it – not really much of a risk, given that it’s not particularly enforced – but few stores carry it regularly. And, while the state doesn’t go about fining and jailing over butter, they do inform/warn grocery stores. So it’s easier to just not have any Kerrygold on the shelf, where it would compete with home grown product.

So a group is suing the state of Wisconsin to get rid of the law that’s keeping Kerrygold off the shelves:

Wisconsin is the only state in the nation with such a stringent butter provision, which the lawsuit argues amounts to an unconstitutional "government-mandated 'taste test.'" The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative legal group representing the plaintiffs, said the grading process is subjective and doesn't protect consumers. The real issue, the group argues, is personal freedom. (Source: ABC News)

I’m all in favor of buying stuff made in the US. Especially food stuff, even though I turn a blind eye to wear those winter fruits and veggies are being flown in from. But I’m no rabid locavore, and Kerrygold is so damned good…

And, of course, this is a global economy, despite what they think in some quarters.

I suspect that keeping the fatwa on Kerrygold in place isn’t going to impact the Wisconsin dairy economy much one way or the other. There are only so many Wisconsin-ites (Wisconsinners?) who want it in their tea and who are going to load 20 bricks into their shopping cart when they’re at Piggly Wiggly, especially when they’d have to pay $7-9 a pound for it. Not when Land o’ Lakes goes for a lot less than that. So keeping Kerrygold out won’t be making Wisconsin great again, one pat at a time.

Me? I don’t use enough butter to blink at the price tag, so I’ll keep buying my Kerrygold. I may even try it in my afternoon cup of (Barry’s) tea. Maybe. (I did google butter tea, and apparently it’s a Tibetan thing, generally made with yak butter.)

Anyway, Kerrygold Abú!

A tip of the Pink Slip scally cap to both cousin Rob K (not to be confused with cousin Rob W) and brother-in-law Rick T (not to be confused with brother Rick R) for pointing this one my way. Goodon yez.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Industrious prisoners

When I was a kid, we all knew that prisoners made license plates. And every once in a while there’d be some small frisson of excitement when a plate with a “bad word” was found. We never actually learned what the word was, just that it was plenty bad. Were these rogue plates discovered by the prisons? The Registry of Motor Vehicles? Or some lucky motorist who pulled their license plate out of its wax paper sleeve, only to discover that it contained the F-word?

You actually couldn’t blame the prisoners. How boring to be stamping license plates, day in, day out, and never getting to drive a car bearing one of your plates. All for way, way, way less than the minimum wage.

Anyway, prisoners are pretty industrious. According to an article I saw in The Economist (and using their very British spelling):

At the federal level, the Bureau of Prisons operates a programme known as Federal Prison Industries that pays inmates roughly $0.90 an hour to produce everything from mattresses, spectacles,road signs and body armour for other government agencies, earning $500m in sales in fiscal 2016. Prisoners have produced official seals for the Department of Defence and Department of State, a bureau spokesman confirmed. In many prisons, the hourly wage is less than the cost of a chocolate bar at the commissary, yet the waiting list remains long—the programme still pays much more than the $0.12-0.40 earned for an hour of kitchen work. (Source: The Economist)

And most states get in on the act as well. California prisoners work as meat cutters. In Idaho, they roast potatoes. In the 1990’s, female prisoners in South Carolina made lingerie for Victoria’s Secret. And, not to be outdone, prisoners in Massachusetts produce:

…Braille transcription, business cards, clothing, decals, embroidery, eyeglasses, flags, furniture, letterhead, license plates, metal products, pillows, printing, sheets, & pillow cases, signs, silk screening, towels, & face cloths, mattresses & box springs, and wastebaskets. These products are sold primarily to state and local government entities and are also available for sale to private entities. (Source: Mass Department of Corrections)

Massachusetts prisoners also make binders, presumably the ones that our former governor (and thwarted presidential candidate) Mitt Romney stuffed full of women. (I know it’s hard to recall the quaint old days when there were election kertuffles over claims that one had “binders full of women.”)

Most of the items produced by our Massachusetts prisoners seem sensible, but I’m sitting here wondering what state and local government entities are doing with embroidery. Maybe embroidered items get sold to private entities. And, sexist me, I’m having a hard time envisioning male prisoners sitting there with their embroidery hoops, making French knots. This is not just the sexist me, by the way, it’s the child embroiderer me – the one who knew the blanket stitch, the feather stitch, and how to make a French knot.

The reasoning behind having prisoners occupying their time with useful activity is fine. Here’s the reasoning from my very own Commonwealth:

In an effort to develop strong work habits and employable skills, MassCor operates manufacturing plants at various facilities. MassCor employs more than 350 inmates in several institutions where emphasis is placed on developing strong work habits and employable skills that can be used by the offender when he/she is returned to the community.

I don’t know just how transferrable pillow case making is to the real world, textiles having fled our fair state decades ago. But the work habit intent makes sense. And if this helps the state and city governments save on what they’re spending on pillowcases and box springs, well, that’s all well and good. (Even if I do have to wonder how much the city of Boston spends on pillow cases and box springs in any given year.)

Whether these justifications prove out is another question. There aren’t a ton of metrics to support the case.

But there’s something a bit off-putting at the idea of private industry profiting by paying next to nothing to a captive workforce. I’m pretty sure that most of the work schemes are voluntary. Still, something more than $.90 an hour seems in order. In the summer of 1967, I made $1.40 an hour working in a shoe factory. Surely embroidery, an altogether higher-skill task than cleaning rubber cement off of combat boots, should be worth at least $2.00 and hour in this day and age.

There was no mention of Maine in the article, but I rather like their approach. Oh, I have no idea what they pay their prisoners, but they sell their wares in a uniquely wonderful and completely oddball retail outlet in Thomaston, Maine – right on the main drag in town, so you can’t miss it. There they sell all kinds of items made out of wood, and a few soft goods (tee-shirts, ball caps). You can’t buy their products online, but you can check out the gallery here.

I’ve been there a couple of times, and have a pair of toaster tongs to show for it.

It’s just such a Maine thing. Nothing fancy. In keeping with Maine’s being the Pine Tree State, and having a lot of forests. The products are old-fashioned, simple, well made. (Still using those tongs I got a long time ago.)

Other than for a couple of holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year), a few days for inventory, and snow days, they’re open daily, and if you’re in that neck of the woods, it’s definitely worth a stop and shop.

Are Maine’s recidivism levels any better than other states? I don’t have a clue. But I do like to think that someone making toy wooden fire engines that are sold in a store that’s open almost every day has a better shot at successful life on the outside than someone getting paid exploitative wages that put profits in the pockets of private industry.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

“A specialty cocktail served in an ostrich eggshell”

I have been to a few upscale weddings in my day. You know. The kind where you really can’t help running the numbers in your head, followed by making at least one discreet cost comparison with someone sitting at your table. And I will say that I really enjoyed myself at those upscale weddings. What’s not to like about beautiful venue, great food, fun band, open bar, and – if you’re lucky – the chance to take home a centerpiece?

But I have yet to be served “a specialty cocktail served in an ostrich shell.” The closest I came was being offered a Moscow Mule in a copper mug, which I took a pass on, opting instead for a Kir Royale.

Then again, I wasn’t on the guest list for the $3 million dollar shindig that celebrated the nuptials of Alix Carl. Her parents had actually intended to put on a more modest event, somewhere in the $1M range. That’s strikes me as a reasonable budget. (As if!) But $1M or $3M, it really doesn’t matter. That’s a big budget event with a lot of details to manage. So Joan and Bernard Carl hired a wedding planner, and brand unto herself, Mindy Weiss.

Well, $1M wedding ain’t what it used to be, and Mindy apparently assumed that she had a blank check, while the Carls assumed that they would have some control over costs.

Live and learn, I guess.

And what you learn is that 3,500 white roses “individually studded into the lawn” of the Carls’ Southampton estate, where part one of the movable feast took place don’t come cheap. At Southampton:

The reception included a specialty cocktail served in an ostrich eggshell; the after parties offered a Calvados and cigar bar, plus hot chocolate and brownie stations. (Source: WaPo – may need a subscription to access)

Cigar bar. Brownie station. No big deal. But a cocktail served in an ostrich eggshell? Who dreams up this stuff?

While she may not have “authored” the splosh concoction herself, that would be Mindy Weiss, Hollywood wedding-planner extraordinaire. Weiss has worked with the likes of “Sofia Vergara, Ellen DeGeneres, Gwen Stefani, the Kardashians and ABC’s “The Bachelor.””

Mindy’s also into favors. Because the 250 guests wouldn’t want to come home empty handed. No Jordan almonds in a net bag for her weddings. She spent:

$4,300 for totes, $5,000 for T-shirts, $1,000 for hangover Tylenol pouches.

Okay. When you’re spending $3M, or even $1M, for a wedding, what’s $10K on party favors. But it’s only $40 per guest, so the guests who were doing their running mental calcs of costs may well have felt slighted, wondering why the Carls had stinted on gifteens for them. I spent $2K to attend this wedding and all I got was this crappy tee-shirt. Still, who needs this stuff? I can guarantee that, while the hangover pouches might have come in handy, most of those totes and T-shirts ended up at Goodwill.

It wasn’t just Weiss who was going all-in.

The mother of the bride commissioned monogrammed napkins for each place setting, as well as a custom fabric for the tables and the flower girl’s dress.

Probably not as cra as it sounds, given that the Carls own D. Porthault, the luxury linens purveyor. Still: custom fabric? Sheesh!

Part II of the wedding was at the Carls’ Loire Valley chateau. To make up for the lack of specialty cocktails in ostrich eggshells, this part featured hot air ballooning.

This wedding made the news at the time – the double dos were featured in Brides Magazine – because it was so pricey and fancy. It’s in the news now because Weiss is suing the Carls for unpaid fees ($340K) plus $1.4M in damages. And she’s hanging on to the wedding video until they pay up.

For folks who were sufficiently enough successful financially that they could afford to throw a $1M wedding, the Carls were a bit on the naive side when it came to the business side of things. They were the ultimate “owners”. So why weren’t they managing the wedding planner better? A question I’m sure they’ve asked themselves plenty of times..

It’s something of a they-said/she-said sort of deal.

In the lawsuit, Weiss contends that the Carls “expressed an interest in an extravagant affair, never mentioning the word ‘budget.’ ” That assertion is “absolutely, unequivocally, totally untrue,” Carl says. He says he expected to spend in the neighborhood of $1 million and was waiting to see her proposal before discussing final numbers. (The event ended up costing more, although he would not disclose the final tally.)

The bottom line on the bottom line was that it wasn’t until 6 weeks before the wedding that the Carls saw the $3M proposal. Talk about poor business practice. Talk about feeling cornered…

The father of the bride was stunned and refused to pay some charges that he considered to be wildly inflated. Because Weiss had waited so long to submit her plan, he says, it was too late to hire other vendors.“In mid-May, this wedding was very close to being almost canceled,” he says.

“At one point, I told Joan I was prepared to write a very big check to the kids as a wedding present, cancel the wedding and sue Mindy. I was done. I was really done.”

Bet that would have gone over well, all the way around.

Anyway, here we have it: Mindy Weiss suing the Carls. And the Carls really do want to get their mitts on that wedding video.

But Mindy Weiss and the Carls sure sounds like a marriage made in hell, doesn’t it?

Plan on the next Carl kid wedding not being planned by Mindy Weiss.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Come on, a trial would be waymo interesting

Well, the news came in last week that Google v. Uber might not be going to trial, but could be heading for arbitration instead. Is it just me, but – costs be damned! – wouldn’t a trial be waymo fun? After all, arbitration tends to result in a confidential finding. If we don’t have access to the facts of the matter, guess we’ll have to follow the current trend and just make up our own alt facts, which will depend, I guess, on whether we like Google better than Uber or vice versa. That’ll be a hard one. I am an occasional Uber-er, once every couple of weeks or so. But I’m a daily/hourly Googler. My natural tendency would be to lean Google, as their motto – “Don’t be evil.” – is a lot more woke than Uber’s “Evolving the way the world moves.”

For those who hadn’t gotten word about the autonomous car brouhaha, Waymo is Google’s self-driving car division. It – or their parent company, Alphabet, which no one calls anything but Google – is suing Uber:

…for allegedly using 14,000 documents of proprietary information stolen from Waymo by former employee Anthony Levandowski, who went on to start autonomous truck company Otto—which, in turn, was purchased by Uber. (Source: The Drive)

How this all came to light was that someone from Uber accidentally included someone from Waymo on an email that attached some Otto designs that had a suspicious resemblance to Waymo design. Oops…

Anyway, this whole thing is/was a lot bigger than Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s recent set-to with one of his drivers. With Google coming after them:

…the company must worry about a legal dispute that could cost it a truckload of money, kill its self-driving research, and even land more than one executive in prison. (Source: Wired)

If this incident goes to arbitration, it’s unlikely that anyone will be Ubering off in an orange jump suit. After all, arbitration has been dubbed “corporate America’s ‘get out of jail free’ card.” But truckload of money and killing their self-driving initiative don’t sound like Ubers to the beach, either. Wonder if there’s claw back so that Uber – if it ends up with a big fine – can retrieve the $680M is spent last summer to acquire Otto. Anyway, if the allegations are true, well, is this any way to evolve the way the world moves? I think not…

Part of the forensic evidence was that, on his way out the Waymo door, Levandowski allegedly sucked gigs of data pertaining to Waymo’s trade secrets on LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) out of his laptop and onto an external hard drive. LIDAR’s what helps those autonomous cars and trucks get around without crashing into other autonomous cars and trucks. It’s a really big deal.

…a legal loss could devastate Uber’s self-driving car program, and thus the company’s future. Uber’s developing a self-driving car in the hope of cutting out the expensive middlemen, its drivers. But it’s also a defensive move, because if another player—Waymo, Ford, GM or anyone else in this race—gets there first, they could do the same thing, undercutting Uber’s human-dependent service….

This is an existential crisis.

Existential crises sure aren’t what they were when Sartre was a boy, but as current day existential crises goes, this is right up there.

As so often happens, this really big deal reminds me of a really no big deal incident that occurred in the course of my long and really no big deal career.

Back in the day, I worked for an underfunded software company that had great ideas and technology, but could never get out of its own way. It didn’t start out all that underfunded. In a time when $40M was a lot of money, we had managed to suck that amount out of our hapless investors, a group that included (of all things) a true widows and orphans fund. But then our investors ran out of patience – you know how those widows and orphans can be - and we were limping along with one of our great ideas, just trying to stay in business. The market for this particular tech application area was just getting hot, but our technology hadn’t gotten a ton of care and feeding. So we were just getting by. Everyone knew what we needed to do – get rid of our dependence on OS/2 (an IBM operating system), develop an interface that someone who was not a core programer could actually use – but pretty much all we were able to do was patch it up and get it out the door, hoping each month that we could find enough custoers to keep the roof over our heads.

The lead engineer on this product had been “working from home” for a good swath of time over an extended period. He was supposedly head down coding some new miracle version of our pathetic and worn out product. But we weren’t seeing anything of it.

Then there was the day when a couple of developers walked out the door with a server. Which a day later they returned, and proceeded to give in their resignations, as did the lead engineer. And they went off to found a company in the same domain we were in.

Only they were starting with a blank slate and investment money.

I really don’t think that they stole our IP. Who wanted a product based on OS/2? This was, after all, just about the time that Info Week had a cover depicting OS/2 in a coffin with a lily on its lid. But I do believe that what this crew had been doing was spending their last couple of months at our company working on the new exciting stuff for their new company. Thus, the walk out with the server. It wasn’t our stuff; if was their stuff. Sort of. They’d quite dishonorably done their work on our dime. (Why did they need to “borrow” the server? Were there no portable hard drives they could have backed it up to then? This would have been somewhere in the mid-90’s.)

Fast forward, and we ended up suing them. They settled with us for less than $1M, but that was a big deal for us, and it was a cash infusion that we sorely needed. But they had real investment money, and they flourished while we just managed to keep our nose above water. We lasted a few more years before being acquired for chump change, but chump change was all we were worth. A few years later, they were acquired for non chump change. ($100M.) I lost a friendship over the law suit. As Michael Corleone famously told his consigliere Tom Hagen, “don't let anybody kid you. It's all personal, every bit of business.”

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this Google-Uber thing plays out.

A trial sure would have been interesting, though.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Faith and Begorrah

This will be the 11th time that Pink Slip celebrates St. Patrick’s Day. All I can say to that is beejaysus.

Today I have no plans to do much by way of celebrating. I’ll probably listen to some Irish trad CDs, but there’s nothing special about that. I do that plenty.

I’ll check and see if WGBH (PBS) has some type of concert on. Failing that, I’ll probably watch the evening boy-o lineup on MSNBC: Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Larry O’Donnell, Brian Williams. (I’m guessing three, possibly four, green ties in there.) Of course, if I’m up for the full liberal lament lineup, I’ll also watch Rachel Maddow (the rose amid the thorns) in there, too.

I will water me shamrock, drink Barry’s tea, and eat some soda bread with Kerry Gold butter.

I will wear green, at least to PT in the morning, when I’m up for an eval of the tendonitis in my ankle that’s been treated since the first of the year. Having worn a green jumper throughout grammar school and high school, I’m not all that big on the wearin’ o’ the green, that’s for sure. But I do have a green workout shirt. And some cheesy shamrock earrings.

Last Friday, I went to an Irish music concert in Worcester with my sister Trish and cousin Barbara.

We had dinner at Bab’s before-hand, and I brought an entirely fitting Roche Piedessert, which I’d seen by chance at the Roche Bros. that morning. Now I ask you, is that a spectacular looking lemon meringue pie or what? It was actually very tasty. (Apologies to flag purists, by the way, I know that the orientation of the Irish flag is green-white-orange, not the other way around.)

As for the concert, young Irish tenor Emmet Cahill sings some of the corniest of cornball Irish (or Irish-y) songs – if “Danny Boy” and “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen”* came to your mind, you’d be dead on - but he has a gorgeous voice, and is an extremely warm and personable performer. (Not to mention completely adorable.) Plus he took my request (“Galway Girl”) and seemed happy to receive it, as most of the requests he fielded were for dirges and “Galway Girl” is a lot of fun. (Here’s a very entertaining performance of it done by Mundy and Sharon Shannon on the streets of Galway last summer, with a crowd in the thousands singing and playing along.) One of the requests was, bizarrely, for the “Irish National Theme Song.” I think the guy meant anthem… There was a promise to end up the concert with it (as was often done at trad sessions when I first went to Ireland many years ago; not so much any more), but that didn’t happen.

Young Mr. Cahill did have the good sense to say that he couldn’t do “Mother Machree”, claiming he didn’t know it. Good on him. I like to think I contributed to what may have been temporary amnesia on his part, because when I heard the request go out for “Mother Machree” I let out an involuntary and quite audible groan. (This was a small venue – full house, but maybe 300 or so folks.)

Emmet also blessedly ytranslated someone’s request for “Molly Malone” to “My Irish Molly O”.

“Galway Girl” and “My Irish Molly O” (both apt, given that my niece Molly is a Galway girl for the semester) more than made up for “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.”

Plus, he ended with “The Parting Glass,” a lovely tune (and one dear to my heart: it was sung at my husband’s memorial service).

Last night, I attended The Celtic Sojourn concert in Beverly. I’m writing this before that event, but I’ve been to Celtic Sojourn (a Saturday program on WGBH radio I often listen to) concerts in the past, so I’m pretty sure that it will be great craic, and that I’ll much enjoy myself.

So, that’s it for this edition of St. Patrick’s Day, except to add slán agus sláinte

And to provide a list of past episodes, some of which are pretty good reads:

2016: Kiss Me, I’m Half Irish

2015: The Wearin’ 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.

*A song that my sister Kathleen most heartedly despised. I suspect if we’d had a brother Daniel (the boy’s name lined up for my sister Trish), he wouldn’t have been all that wild about “Danny Boy”, either.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Just a bit off target

It’s been a hallmark of the past few decades that much of what’s familiarly local (First National Bank of Boston, Dini’s Seafood, Filene’s) has become regrettably bland and interchangeable (Bank America, Red Lobster, Macy’s). I will make one note here: ain’t nobody misses Dini’s. But, yeah, we all miss the local color.

Some organizations try to make us forget that everywhere has become anywhere. Occasionally they succeed. A few years back, Bank America had a series of billboard ads that brilliantly captured Boston’s being a Red Sox town. (Can’t recall the details, but they were terrific.)

Most attempts to at localization are pretty feeble. But Target’s recent try at acting locally was a really big swing-n-a-miss. tshirt

What Target did was start to sell Boston-themed tee-shirts.

Which would have been fine, if they didn’t botch them so badly.

On that shirt to the left, they included Cambridge in with The Hub. That I can actually forgive. Much as it is (and considers itself) a separate city, Cambridge is part of greater Boston.

But Mission Hills? Huh?

Mission Hills sounds like a development in Southern California, like the one E.T. was filmed in. Adobe, terracotta, backyard pools, and a nod to Junipero Serra and the Franciscans who set up all those missions. Here, it’s Mission Hill, a single hill named after a Redemptorist (not Franciscan) church established when the famine Irish started flooding into Boston. Mission Church actually has a name – Basilica and Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help – but no one in Boston (even the parishioners, I suspect) knows it by that name. (I had to google it, and I lived for four years in spitting distance of it.) Around here, it’s Mission Church. On Mission Hill.

Mission Hills? Go back to California.

The shirt to the right is even worse.

Bad enough they spelled Jamaica Plain wrong. (Jamaca Plain.) But, as anyone in Boston can tell you, when you ask someone from Jamaica Plain where they live, the answer, as often as not, is JP. Saying Jamaica Plain is almost as much a giveaway as telling someone to take a right off of Massachusetts Avenue onto Commonwealth Avenue. (That’s Mass Ave and Comm Ave, to you, stranger.)

And I have never heard anyone use the word Central to describe downtown Boston. From the map, they’ve lumped Beacon Hill, the Financial District, and Chinatown together. That’s quite a lump. And it’s a lump no one calls Central. The only Central around here was the Central Artery which, thanks to the Big Dig and the largesse of the American taxpayer, is all dead and buried.

The goofiest goof on the shirt, of course, is calling Southie Southy. Given how Southie has, thanks to Matt, Ben, and Marky Mark, become a trope for a certain type of foul-mouthed, scally-capped, stupidity-prone Irish American, you’d think that they could have got this one right. Are these tee-shirt designers not familiar with that grand old song, “I was born down on A Street, brought up on B Street, Southie is my home town”? Sheesh. Even folks from Worcester know Southie is Southie. Accept no substitutes, especially Southy.

On yet another shirt, they had West Roxbury as West Roxberry. Maybe if locals pronounced it West Roxberry, that would make some sense. But it’s West Roxbry. Or just plain old West Rox.

Then there’s the Neponset River, which in Target-ese is Nepsonset.

The shirts are being pulled, but what do you expect? They were apparently designed by a New York tee-shirt company.

All this reminds me of non-local intra-inning commentator that the Red Sox employed a few years ago. Part of her job was reading tweets that came in during the games, and one time I heard her call one of the Twitterers “Do-Trat.” LMAO. Anyone from these parts knows a Dot Rat (someone from Dorchester) when they see their handle.

Target has, of course, offered up a mea culpa of sorts.

“Certainly, localization is something Target is committed to, and we love to be able to carry products that are reflective of the local community, which is why you would see Boston T-shirts in our Boston stores,” said Target spokeswoman Jessica Carlson in a telephone interview.

“We apologize for any disappointment that this may have caused.” (Source: Boston Globe)

Boston to Jessica Carlson, who’s probably a perfectly nice person working out of Minneapolis HQ:

Disappointment? You have got to be kidding. Ain’t nobody here disappointed to see Southie as Southy, Jamaca Plain, Mission Hills. Jessica, Jessica, Jessica. If you need to know anything about targeting products to us locals, you need to know that we thrive on stuff like this.

Meanwhile, in a few weeks there will be kids in the Third World wearing Nepsonset tee-shirts and wondering where the hell Nepsonset is.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Snow Day

Ever since the Blizzard of ‘78 – back in the day when weather forecasting was not quite the “science” it is today, and people actually were stranded in their offices, cars, and Boston Garden for days on end; when everyone lost power; and the stores, banks, and just about everything else were closed – people (including those who weren’t alive in 1978) go into a grocery-buying panic whenever a major storm is forecast. The scenes are hilarious, of course. Five gallons of milk? Really?

Monday the scene was the usual: markets with lines wending their way up and down the aisles, and folks reporting waits of 2 hours in some stores. While the bread and milk shelves were, not surprisingly, stripped bare by early evening, people at a couple of stores tweeted that supplies of broccoli were all out. 

I had stopped in Roche Bros. for bread and bananas – both normal purchases – on my way to the gym around 8 a.m. Monday morning. Pre-panic mode.  No mobs, no long lines at that point.

Anyway, I was all set for whatever Mother Nature threw our way, and settled in on Monday night with a forecast of 12+ inches and blizzard conditions for Boston.

When I got up on Tuesday, about 8 a.m., there wasn’t much on the ground and it was just snowing lightly, so I decided to take 20170314_103823my chances and get in some of my 10,000 steps out of doors. (Circling my dining table and pacing my galley kitchen make me dizzy after about 500 steps, and I do so want to get my 10K in.)

It wasn’t too bad out. I wouldn’t say pleasant, but it was fine. And a lot warmer than it’s been the past couple of days. So I cut through the Public Garden, past Mrs. Mallard and her brood, and headed toward the Back Bay, where there was little car or foot traffic, but where businesses were already out cleaning the sidewalks.

The walkways on the Commonwealth Mall and in the Public Garden were also being cleared, even though the accumulation when I was out was barely an inch.

Between the steps I had cobbled together before heading out, and my meander around Back Bay for 45 minutes or so, I knew I was nearing my goal. So I decided to tack on a stroll down Charles Street, where our wonderful local (locally owned: the proprietor and his family live over the store) hardware store and saw that they were open, in case anyone 20170314_104223was in need of firewood, a shovel, ice melt, paint, garbage bags, a corkscrew, a hairdryer, or anything else our wonderful general store sells. (Yay, Charles Street Supply.)

There were folks in all the coffee shops, including one lone new economy worker-bee wonking away on his laptop in J.P. Licks, which is mostly for ice cream. Just not today.

This is the sort of a day when my husband and I would have gone out for lunch to one of the restaurants around the corner. (One more reason to miss him…) But I had bread. And bananas. So I was fine with lunch on my own at home.

By the time I got to Charles Street, the wind was picking up. Blessedly, it was to my back, but that didn’t bode well for the return trip, which I foolhardedly decided to take along Storrow Drive, which runs along the banks of the River Charles. But the wind on Storrow was coming sideways, which was fine.

I reached my front door at 8,988 steps, knowing20170314_115204 it would be easy enough to get the remaining steps needed to crest 10,000 just by making lunch and doing a load of wash.

It was an afternoon designed for baking and, having gotten my buttermilk and caraway seeds over the weekend, I was set for making Irish soda bread, which I do each year around St. Patrick’s Day. I put on Ceol Tigh Neachtain, a CD from my favorite trad pub in Galway, and baked away, stopping on occasion to admire the snow scene out my window.

Speaking of stopping, during one of my admiring looks out the window, the snow – which couldn’t have accumulated to more than 6 inches by mid-afternoon – seemed to be turning into rain. (The weather folks were still assuring us that at least it was a blizzard in Worcester. Of course.)

But it was snowy enough that, with a cup of Barry’s tea (sweet and milky, my grandmother’s way) and a chunk of soda bread slathered with Kerry Gold butter, there was nothing left but to curl up with “The Dead,” arguably the greatest short story ever written. It doesn’t snow much in Ireland, but it does during “The Dead,” and this is James Joyce at his best.

My recipe for soda bread comes from County Cork, from whence cometh James Joyce’s antecedents. My Joyce antecedents hailed from Co. Mayo, so we’re no relation. But perhaps the recipe I use was the self-same one that James Joyce’s mither followed.

Ready for another cup of tay, I texted my upstairs neighbors to come down for tea and soda bread, which they did (and reciprocated with an invite for home made beef stew for dinner: yum).

Other than cleaning off the steps and front walk at one point, I didn’t do a lick of work all day, at all, at all.

Altogether, an excellent snow day.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cigars? Cigarettes? Tiparillos? IQOS?

I grew up during the Great Era of Big Tobacco Advertising. Ask any Baby Boomer, and I’m pretty sure that 99.44% of them can fill in all of these blanks*.

  • Take a puff, it’s..
  • I’d walk a mile for a…
  • Winston tastes good, like a…
  • Step up to Dutch Masters, and smile…
  • Switch from hots to…
  • Call for….

One of my favorite smoke ads was for Tiparillos. The setting for the ad I recall is a swinging night club –check it out here; watch for the couple doing The Hitchhiker – and the main action is a cigarette girl making her way around the floor with her tray, purring, “Cigars, cigarettes, Tiparillos” to all those sexy, cooler-than-cool, dancers.

Smoking was everywhere: homes, offices, streets, movie theaters, airplanes. Even hospital rooms. As my father lay dying, he had to ask my Uncle Charlie not to smoke during his visits. I once saw a decades-old episode of Dr. Kildare (a popular show of the early 1950’s) in which Jim Kildare’s mentor, Dr. Gillespie, gets off an elevator at Blair General Hospital, cigarette dangling from his lips.

The tobacco industry was HUGE. Not just financially, but as a presence in our consciousness.

But that was then and this is now. Fewer people – at least in the US – smoke, and it’s considered pretty shameful and embarrassing to be a smoker.

But Big Tobacco, unlike the lungs of smokers, didn’t exactly shrivel up and die. It’s not like coal mining, for instance. Tobacco companies expanded overseas, encouraging all those young Chinese folks to light up. Some of them got into parallel businesses (junk food). I suspect that some of them are getting into wacky tabacky.

Mostly, I don’t spend a ton of time worrying about how the tobacco companies are faring.

Still, I was interested in a Bloomberg article I saw recently on how Big Tobacco is remaking itself.

Call for Philip Morris International’s new website and they’re touting that they’re “Designing for a smoke-free future.” And asking “How long will the world’s leading cigarette company be in the cigarette business?” (The US version of Philip Morris, while not exactly pushing everyone to smoke ‘em if they got ‘em, is a lot more tobacco-friendly than PM International.)

One thing they’re looking at is a “tobacco gizmo” called an IQOS.

To use an IQOS, you push a flavored packet of tobacco called a heatstick into the mouth of a tubular, pipelike holder, which is a bit smaller than a kazoo. When you press a button on the holder, it heats up a metal blade inside, which cooks the tobacco to roughly a third of the temperature of a traditional cigarette. Then you puff away. The tobacco is warmed without combusting, so it doesn’t release any fire, smoke, or ash. This, in  theory, makes it healthier to inhale when using heat-not-burn gadgets than when smoking, for instance, a run-of-the-mill Parliament. On the internet, various users have theorized that IQOS is an acronym for “I Quit Ordinary Smoking.”

The name IQOS? It:

“…has no meaning in particular—it’s meant to represent quality, technology, electronics, intelligent systems—because this is not a tobacco category.”

It seems to me that anything to do with putting a lighted object full of tobacco into your mouth ain’t never going to be an “intelligent system.” But why quibble. Mostly it pretty much sounds to me like vaping on an e-cigarette. There is, however, a difference:.

Executives say current smokers may be more likely to switch to an IQOS rather than to an e-cigarette, because they believe the heat-not-burn experience more closely resembles the taste and buzz of cigarettes. It’s a key selling point. Some packs of IQOS refills are marked with the slogan “The pleasure of heated tobacco.” The heatsticks, branded as Heets, look . like stumpy cigarettes with a filter on one end and the hyperprocessed golden-brown tobacco neatly packed in cigarette paper. Right now the tobaccomagineers are getting ready to field-test a disposable heat-not-burn product called Teeps, which looks like a standard cigarette.

Tobaccomaginers? Now there is a job title. And I’m sure for smokers, someone having imagined something that looks like a “standard cigarette” (even one with a name so close to Peeps) is a good thing Remember, holding a lit cigarette used to be considered sophisticated and alluring.

Philip Morris views its heatsticks as a “platform”. Ah, platform, one of those words that have crept into marketing over the last decade or so. In the tech world, every product is a platform. Every individual who wants to burnish their brand – brand: another word that’s crept in – must have a platform. And for tobacco, it’s not just a platform. It’s an intelligent system. (Sometimes I really despise the marketing profession.)

While they’re talking platform, Philip Morris is also talking end-of-lifing the cigarette business. Oh, they’re not using the term end-of-life. That – gasp - would be too close to home. But they do want to see it “sunsetting.” And they’re hoping that having a critical mass of smokers adopt IQOS (image: blue-green hummingbird) will help accelerate the process. None of this “I’d rather fight than switch.” (A Tareyton (image black eye) ad from the way back.)

Innovation fever isn’t limited to Philip Morris.

Everywhere you look in the industry, companies are pouring money into product development while borrowing liberally from the style of Silicon Valley. They’re funding tech incubators, running venture funds, hosting TED-style talks, and developing apps. The new dogma has spread. Cigarettes are the industry’s past. Reduced-risk tobacco platforms are the user interface of the future.

Tobacco executives often sound like media owners talking about content. That is, they’re open to delivering their drug via whatever pipe the consumer chooses—be it e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn devices, gum, lozenges, dip, or some medium that hasn’t been invented yet. They are, as the media gurus would say, “platform-agnostic.”

As it happens, I’m working on a data sheet for one of my tech clients,and I’ve actually had to deploy (another fine tech word) the term “platform agnostic.”

So that’s where I stopped reading.

A “platform-agnostic” intelligent nicotine delivery system.

Things were a lot simpler back when Lucky Strike Meant Fine Tobacco.


*Springtime; Camel; cigarette should; brother, smile; Kools; Philip Morris

Monday, March 13, 2017

Wasting away in Margaritaville (literally)

I have lot maintained that Jimmy Buffett is a MARKETING GENIUS.

After all, he’s parlayed a rather modest repertoire of hits – not that I don’t yip for joy when “Margaritaville comes on the car radio, but I can never get beyond “Margaritaville” and “Come Sunday” when I do my Parrotheadcount – into a major brand. And a major fortune. There are the restaurants, the casinos, the clothing line…

And now - attention Baby Boomers – there’s his chain of retirement communities.

The first one will be located in Daytona Beach, Fla., and more locations are expected to be announced soon.

Latitude Margaritaville is being marketed as senior living “for those looking to live the Margaritaville lifestyle as they grow older, but not up.” It will essentially be a walkable neighborhood for older adults with a “no worries, tropical vibe” and will feature exercise facilities, an indoor lap pool, a band shell for live performances, and indoor and outdoor dining areas where Parrotheads can kick back and enjoy Margaritaville-branded food and drinks. According to the Latitude Margaritaville website, the sales center at Daytona Beach is scheduled to open this fall, and model homes should be ready early next year. (Source: Boston Globe)

Well, it’s not exactly my idea of a nightmare. A nightmare would be retiring to Branson, Missouri, and being swept into a non-stop Lawrence Welk concert (with the luffly Lennon Sisters). Still, I don’t want to spend my declining/reclining years surrounded by a bunch of shaggy-haired dudes in Hawaiian shirts, cargo shorts, and flip-flops. I personally don’t want to sit around all day slurping piña coladas in my floral sarong, gardenia stuck behind my ear. (Actually, the piña coladas sound pretty good.) But being with all those folks who don’t want to grow up while they grow old. Someone that appeals to, well…

I’m all for staying independent, for maintaining a “youthful” outlook, and I’ve got nothing against forever-young-ness (as long as it comes with a strong overlay of also-adult-ness). It sure beats sitting around staring out the window. But, let’s face it, if we live long enough, a lot of us will age out of dying with our flip-flops on, and age into old age. No “tropical vibe” is going to forestall all the depredations of old age, at least not for all of us, much as we might be all fingers-crossed hopey about that being the case.

But I guess if you’re going to be wasting away, Margaritaville is as good a place as any.

Just not for me.

My ideal retirement community would feature a “book vibe”. There’d be libraries everywhere, and book swapping would be a way of life. There’d be four seasons, too – none of this 365 “tropical vibe.” Only we wouldn’t have to actually go out it in. We could look out at it, smiling benignly at snow we don’t have to shovel, ice we can’t slip on, leaves we don’t need to rake.

Outdoor dining would be fine – I’m with Latitude Margaritaville there. But I’d want something beyond Margaritaville fare. Beyond piña coladas, I’m not quite sure what the Buffett diet is. Papaya in salad? Fried conch? Good once in a while, but as a steady diet? I’d vote for a bit more variety.

You can buy in to Daytona for as little as the low-$200s. Not clear what happens when you really start wasting away. And, as a business proposition, what’s the long-term outlook on this. Are there rising generations of Parrotheads, or are they all dying out, as will be happening over the next several decades to the Baby Boomers.

It’s actually kind of fun to fast forward and imagine what the culty brands will be for the millennial generation. Will there by Justin Bieber retirement communities? Taylor Swift? Bruno Mars? Lady Gaga? I’ve gotta say that Parrotheads sound like more fun. But it’s still a case of include me out. I may not start wearing muu-muus and orthopedic sandals from the Vermont Country Store, but I do not believe I’ll be sitting around in a Hawaiian shirt, either.

But never say never. Maybe Margaritaville will be really good on the medicinal marijuana front…